Pottering up Poon Hill

After scooting up Poon Hill from Pokhara in one day during the Annapurna 71k Trail Ultra, I’ve been dying to go back again and hike up at a more leisurely pace. The guide book said that it should take three to five days from Birethanti. I figured two days would more than do it.

At the entrance to Poon Hill.

Poon Hill lies on the western side of the Annapurna Circuit, a 20 kilometre hike from the road head. Its appeal lies in the spectacular views of the Annapurna range that it lays on from its 3,210 metre summit.

We started out midday on Monday with the plan to hike as far up towards Poon Hill before sundown. The original plan was to start around 8am and get as far as Ghorepani at the base of Poon Hill. However I had neglected to get the mandatory entry permits from the Nepal Tourism Authority and had to wait for their offices in Pokhara to open at 10am to finally buy them. Bit of a mistake.

The trail leaving Birethanti.

The noon time start meant we were beginning at the hottest time of the day. Fortunately the trail climbed quickly, from 1,050 metres to over 2,000 metres, taking us away from the valley heat. It was the steps at Ulleri that escorted us quickly away from the sweaty valley floor. And though I was glad to be on the cool mountainside, my legs weren’t too impressed with the 3,280 stone steps that they had to climb.

Some of the 3,280 steps leading up to Ulleri.

During the Annapurna ultra race, I had no idea what was coming next. This time around I knew what pain the steps were going to inflict. However, unlike the trail race, I could stop for half an hour at the teashop at the top and have noodles, masala tea, and banana pancake whilst taking in the fabulous views of the valley below.

It was 4.30pm by the time we hauled ourselves out of the teashop’s plastic chairs. We gave ourselves another 90 minutes of trekking to leave us time before it started getting dark. A board on the path said it would take nearly 3 hours to get to Nangge Thanti. However we were beginning to doubt the estimates they had written on these signs. It seemed like the times were estimates for grannies who hadn’t exercised since they were young gals. If you asked someone in the teahouses, the exaggerations were even worse. A path that took us an hour to complete, the teahouse ladies said would take double or triple that.

In the end, we reached Nangge Thanti in 90 minutes, and not the sign’s proposed 3 hours. There we decided to call it a day. The teahouse we stayed in was surprisingly well run, clean and efficient. The room was 200 rupees and a bucket shower a bargain extra 50 rupees. Only the food was expensive, given the food bill included portering charges seeing it all had to be hauled up from the road where we had hiked from that day.

Mini Tibetan prayer flags on the trail.

During the night, it rained. A lot. The monsoon was in full swing. When we got up at 5.30 am the next morning, the drizzle was still dripping down. We still decided to hike to Poon Hill to at least say we got there. But as we hiked through the thick mist, we knew that any chances of having a spectacular mountain range view from the top were quickly being wiped out.

We reached the top at 7am. It was chilly at 3,210 metres above sea level. We met 2 German guys and their Nepali guide who had been there since sunrise at 5 am. They had seen neither mountains nor the sun. I felt kinda sorry for them. But as we all descended the hill to go back to our respective teahouses, the cloud broke and for a few minutes we saw the grandiose spectacle of Annapurna South at over 8,000 metres in height. It was worth our hike and the Germans’ wait.

The clouds part to reveal Annapurna South summit at over 8,000 metres.

But the wet weather not only momentarily blocked our view of the mountains. It also brought out the forest beasts. No sooner than I had reached the teahouse than I noticed blood seeping from my leg. I’d been bitten by a leech. Fortunately the f*%@”r had had already its fill and dropped off, sparing me the agony of prising it off myself. But it still left an impressive blood bath that stained my shoes and socks.

Leech Attack!

We had breakfast of more pancakes and masala tea, then hurried back down the 20 kilometres to Birethanti. There a car would come to pick us up after 1 pm. Dreams of reaching Pokhara and having mango shakes, and steak and chips, and apple pie with cream, and massages, and maybe some of the World Cup hurried us along.

In the end, maybe three days would have made the hike more relaxed and fun. Or maybe I should just stick to running it in a few hours and, in one day, get all the pain over and done with?

Want to read more about mountain running around the world? Check out my book, “Mud, Sweat and Tears”.

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3 thoughts on “Pottering up Poon Hill

  1. We did part of this walk when I was in Nepal – that pic of the steps brought back some painful memories! Dead right about the times though, I do think they base it on the least fit person they could imagine, not sure what that kind of person would be doing in Nepal though!

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