I had 3 days left before leaving Nepal for good. So when I found out that Roger, Ramesh and Sudip were going to recce the Annapurna 100 race route, it seemed the perfect way to wrap-up my stay in Nepal. (View trail here).
The Annapurna 100 race is the 2011 version of the Annapurna 71k trail race I took part in back in March 2010. The 2011 upgraded version, to take place on New Year’s next year, has 50km, 70km and 100km options. We were to check out 50km of the route and the main section of trail.
We drove out from Pokhara on Thursday afternoon and followed the initial 15km road section that the runners will run down at the beginning of the race. At Phedi, we turned off the tarmac and then followed a jeep track heading up the mountainside. Only when we reached a muddy steep section that the car refused to pass did we get out and walk.
The route brought us towards Dhampus, a trekking village at 1650 metres. All along the trail, incredible views of the Annapurna Range were on display framed in bright blue skies. It will definitely prove a welcome distraction for runners as they begin this extreme ultra run.
From Dhampus we continued west, taking the old stone paved trail to Thoulo Kharka. All the time, the trail climbed and climbed. As if the distance isn’t enough to contend with, there are no flat, easy bits at all on this race.
It was getting late and we had hoped to reach Landruk by sundown. But in the end we only got to Bhichok Deurali before the lights went out. With one headtorch and 2 mobile phones between us, we edged our way down the pitch-dark trail for 90 minutes before finally calling it a day at Tolka. At the teahouse we dropped at, it was dal bhaat all around and cups of milky sweet tea before heading to bed at 9pm on firm wooden beds for an early 6am start.
And what a sight we woke to. Crystal clear views of snow peaked mountains that are on display only 1-2 months in the year. We ran on to Landruk, posting adverts and talking to locals on the way to tell them of the race that will take place on 1 January next year. From Landruk, a long series of stone steps brought us down to the Modi Khola River. And from there, a steep long drag up another staircase to Ghandruk strapped to the hillside some 700 meters above the riverside.
We stopped at Ghandruk for breakfast, stuffing down banana pancakes and omelettes with copious amounts of tea. We wanted ample fuel to take us on the 37km excursion that we had planned for the day. The food was good, much better than what I had eaten on the Langtang trail. In fact the Annapurna route seems to very plush in comparison to some of the other teahouse routes in Nepal I’ve seen.
From Ghandruk, Roger and I decided to push on to Tadapani, leaving Ramesh and Sudip to sort out race logistics. What faced us was another climb up 550 metres through thick ancient forest. The variety of terrain and views will definitely be a crowd puller for this young race that’s looking to become world renowned.
More climb up to Ban Thati and the highest point at the race at 3180 metres. On our way, we met the horders of holiday trekkers coming the other way, hundreds of big booted, day-pack carrying tourists tackling part of the Annapurna series of trails. We were the only mountain runners out, a fact noted by an American who came up to us at Ban Thati as we indulged in biscuits and tea. He lived in Aspen, at the end of the Great Western States 100 miler race. Indeed, we got many stops and stares as we ran along the trails, so unusual it is to take the route at a run.
Descending the ridge to Ghorepani, the mountain range views were still turned on even by midday. A quick lunch of noodles and yoghurt and we began the long fun trail back to Birethati, 20 kilometres with a great 1800 metre descent. The route though is technical and tiring, with steps and stones and roots littering the place. And for the 100km runners on the day, they will still have a long way to go back to Pokhara where the race will actually finish.
We got into Birethanti at 4.15pm, the finishing place for the 50km and 70km races. The 100km runners will continue on to the road and make their way back to Pokhara, completing the full circuit.
My verdict – an incredibly difficult, yet incredibly beautiful race route. It will definitely be one for people to put in their training diaries as a race to do in their lifetime.