Trekking in Nepal During Monsoon Season

When I was planning my backpacking trip to Nepal this August, I couldn’t find a lot of useful info about trekking during monsoon season, and I also couldn’t find a lot of stuff about short treks, as opposed to the Annapurna Circuit, which takes two weeks to complete at a jog.

So having freshly returned from a five-day trek in Nepal with my brother Willbutt (two months ago), I thought I’d answer some questions for anyone else going to Nepal during monsoon season.

(A full packing list is at the bottom of this post.)

1) How much does it rain in the Annapurnas during monsoon season?

This was the biggest question on my mind before flying out. Every city, town, and village I googled in the upcoming weeks before our trip forecast rain rain rain 24/7. Obviously, this made me nervous cuz  who wants to hike in the rain, plus lots of rain means landslides and floods, especially on mountain trails in a developing country.

William and I hiked for five days, mainly on the Annapurna Base Camp trail (the ABC), which is not in the Annapurna’s “rain shadow.” Even so, the weather was manageable and we did not experience any flash floods or landslides, although some parts of the trail were blocked by landslides from earlier.

It rained  at least three times everyday: once at noon-ish (between 11 am and 1 pm), then in the afternoon sometime between 3 and 5 pm, and at nighttime. We usually hiked through the noon rain, then stopped at a guesthouse before the afternoon rain, and were playing Pokémon cards or sleeping during the night rain.

The noon rain wasn’t really hard and didn’t get us much wetter than we already were thanks to our sweat, so hiking through it wasn’t a problem. There was only one day when it rained all day; obviously, we got drenched that day.

Because of the rain, we used rain covers for our backpacks to keep everything dry. William had a good rain cover and his stuff stayed completely dry, but mine was lousy and old, so everything in my backpack got completely soaked the one day it rained a lot, which made my backpack heavier.

Which brings me to the next topic:

2) Which clothes/things should I pack? What should I plan to wear?

NOTHING COTTON. NOTHING COTTON. NOTHING COTTON.

NOTHING.

COTTON.

Pack two sets of clothes: one for hiking and one for resting in the evening. That’s it. That’s all you need. Your hiking clothes will get sweaty and dirty everyday, but your evening clothes will stay clean in your pack, so you feel fresh and new after showering at your guesthouse.

For hiking, I wore gym shorts, Flyknit Nikes (which were perfect for the trail and didn’t fall apart or give me blisters), nylon socks (which were a lifesaver and I’ll tell you why later), quick-dry undies, and A COTTON T-SHIRT because I was an idiot when I was packing. That shirt was never dry the entire week and I absolutely hated touching it by the end of the trek; I wish I’d packed a shirt made from a quick-dry material.

We never had to wear warm clothes while hiking because you stay warm enough hiking up stairs for TWO hours, but we also never made it past 2600 meters (8500 feet) in elevation, so it might be colder further up. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

For my evening clothes, I basically had another set of shorts, another shirt, more undies and socks, and some sandals (but I could have gotten away with flip-flops or another lightweight shoe). Once we hit 2600 meters in elevation, the evenings were too cold just for shorts and a T-shirt, so I also had a sweater and warm socks to wear, but I wish I’d packed some sweatpants or long johns as well. (William wants you all to know that he let me borrow his sweatpants, thank you.)

Willbutt and I also packed rain jackets, but we never actually wore them on the trail even when it was raining. Even so, we did wear them at our guesthouses when we went outside in the evening.

I also brought sunglasses and a hat, but I sweated so much while hiking they became annoying to wear, so I ended up not using them.

We also wore fanny packs for easy access to our cell phones and salt.

Why salt, you ask? Why nylon socks, you ask?

The Annapurnas are FULL of leeches during monsoon season. This bit of info never ever came up during my pre-trip research, so I didn’t find out about them until we got there.

Before getting covered with leeches in Nepal, I thought leeches only lived IN water (rivers, streams, ponds, etc.). Turns out, leeches in Nepal can survive in almost any moist environment: wet grass, wet leaves, wet rocks, mud puddles — anything wet. Because they like wet, they’re twice as active when it’s raining.

During one 12 o’clock rain shower, while we were hiking on a narrow forest path between Ghandruk and Ghorepani, William spoke up behind me: “My feet are covered in thousands of leeches.” I looked back and saw tons of wriggling tubers sticking onto his shoes and socks. I looked down at my own feet and saw that they were also covered!

Immediately, we shook off as many as we could then ran to the nearest village. When we took our shoes off, there were at least a dozen pulsing leeches latched onto William’s feet. (We’ll get to my feet in a sec.) Leeches stick really hard and they’re nearly impossible to squish, so it’s hard to pull them off. The most effective way to remove a leech is to sprinkle a pinch of salt on it because, like slugs, leeches shrivel up and die when they get salted. A nice Nepali lady gave us a small bag of salt that we sprinkled liberally on any stray leech for the rest of our trip.

How were my feet? Even though my shoes had also been covered in leeches, my actual feet never got touched and I think it’s because I was wearing nylon socks. William’s socks were just normal hiking socks, so the threads weren’t sewn closely together, whereas my nylon socks just had teeny tiny spaces between the fibers, so not one leech had enough space to crawl through.

While leeches are annoying and unpleasant, they don’t actually cause any harm. Their saliva is an anticoagulant, so you do bleed a decent amount after getting bit, but leeches, unlike ticks, rarely pass on diseases to humans.

Every afternoon, after surviving a day of leeches and getting soaked in sweat, we stopped at a guesthouse. Once we got a room, we took showers and washed by hand everything we’d worn that day. Guesthouses had buckets to use for laundry and we brought a packet of powder laundry detergent.

There were also clotheslines to hang laundry at most guesthouses, but we  brought our clothes in before nighttime or else they would get wet in the nighttime rain. I wish we’d packed a clothesline to hang in our room so that we didn’t have to drape everything over chairs and bedposts, though. Even so, our clothes were never fully dry the following day, probably because our shirts were cotton and the weather was humid.

3) How much water did you pack and how much did you drink everyday?

Willbutt and I each had 2 one-liter water bottles that we filled up before trekking out in the morning. That was always enough water, we never ran out on the trail. We also had soup with every meal to help keep us hydrated (we only ate breakfast and dinner), and we drank a bottle of water during breakfast.

There are no water bottles sold on the trail, so luckily we’d brought our own. I had a Nalgene and an empty soda bottle, but I wish they were both empty soda bottles because that would have been lighter.

We filled up our water bottles at guesthouses for about 100 Nepali rupees per liter, but it got more expensive the further up the trail we travelled. They told us that the water they gave us was filtered, but Willbutt and I purified it with iodine tablets just to be safe. You can also fill up at clear streams; there are often little plastic tubes shooting off from downhill streams and waterfalls just for that. Just be sure to use iodine tablets if you fill up there.

4) How much do the guesthouses cost?

In my pre-trip research, I read unbelievable stories about $1 housing on the Annapurna Circuit, but I never saw that. Maybe that’s the deal somewhere else, but housing on the ABC  usually cost between 400 and 800 rupees for a 2-bed room. In fact, the further up the trail we travelled, the fewer the options for lodging and food, the higher the prices went up (not dramatically, but noticeably).

I read online to budget $25 USD per person per day, and that turned out to be accurate. Some days it was on the nose, some days it was way under. Obviously, everything on the trail had to be paid in cash, so keep your cash dry in a plastic bag.

As for food quality, the general rule was that the closer to civilization we were, the better the food was, and the further onto the trail we went, the worse and more expensive the food got. Our first and last nights, we ate really well, but the day we were furthest up on the trail, our potato soup tasted like salt water and our pancakes were cooked slabs of batter. (That was also the night that our guesthouse was run by four 20-year-old guys, so maybe try to find one run by a woman who looks like your mom.)

Also, my brother and I ate a lot in the morning and a lot at night, which took a while for the hosts/hostesses to cook once we ordered. I recommend ordering your dinner when you arrive at the guesthouse and telling your host what time you plan to eat. That way they aren’t waiting around for you to order and you can eat at soon as you’re finished with showers and laundry.

Every guesthouse we stayed in provided bedding that always looked clean, but I brought a lightweight sleeping bag and William used a fleece sleeping bag liner. I don’t regret bringing my own bedding even though it was extra weight because it was something nice for me to snuggle in every night, but I also wouldn’t have minded using the bedding provided.

FYI: Higher up on the trail, they charge for wifi, hot water (for showers), and power (there are no outlets in the bedrooms). Also, sometimes the outlets are really old and are too loose for whatever adapter or plug you’re trying to fit.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The running tab of your room and meal costs are paid the morning you leave. When you pay, I recommend leaving a generous tip. Tourists are a huge (if not the only) source of income for these people. We’re so blessed to travel and see their part of the world, but they may never leave their mountains, so show them how much you appreciate them sharing their homes by giving them lots of money.

One more plug: Our second night, William and I stayed in Chomrong at a place called Heaven View Guesthouse. It is honestly one of my top 5 places to see in the world. It’s on the edge of a mountain overlooking the convergence of three valleys with waterfalls and rivers coming in on every side. I could see clouds drifting in between the mountaintops and above the valleys, raining somewhere miles away, then changing directions and raining somewhere else. It didn’t feel like there was any sky overhead because we were already in the sky.

5) What are some short hikes? Preferably something a week long?

I can’t really answer that question completely because I was only out hiking for 5 days and didn’t stay on one definite route the whole time, but having trekked in Nepal and seen how things are located on the map I can offer some observations:

The Annapurna Base Camp trail supposedly takes a week-ish to complete. We started trekking on Monday in Birethanti and got onto the ABC in Chomrong on Tuesday (we initially were doing a different trail but had to reroute because of the leeches). We made it as far as Dovan on the ABC, then turned around Thursday morning because we wanted to be in Pokhara by Saturday. If we hadn’t turned around, I’m confident we could have made it to Annapurna Base Camp by Friday or Saturday. Maybe if we had planned to do the ABC from the start, we could have done the whole thing in five or six days.

Another option is to basically start at the end of the Annapurna circuit, hike from Birethanti to Poon Hill to Tatopani, then back again. (We tried to hike from Birethanti to Ghandruk to Ghorepani, but the jungle between Ghandruk and Ghorepani is FULL OF LEECHES and not worth it, so that’s why we hiked over to the ABC. I mean, there are leeches everywhere during monsoon season, but they’re especially bad in that spot).

6) Some pro tips:

You can get to the end of the Annapurna Circuit/start of the ABC by taking a bus from Pokhara at Baglung Bus Park (not the Tourist Bus Park on the other side of town). The bus is very uncomfortable and shaky, but it’s  only 700 rupees for one person, which is much cheaper than a taxi; I just recommend getting off as soon as you can in Nayapul.

Unless you’re trying to do a quick weeklong or five-day trek, plan rest days. The Annapurnas are beautiful and you’ll enjoy them more by taking your backpack off for a day and just relaxing. If you do the ABC, I recommend stopping in Chomrong, Jihnu, Sinuwa, and/or Kimrong.

Heads up: The Annapurnas are amazing mountains and took my breath away when I saw them on my first Nepal trip in November 2016. Unfortunately, during monsoon season they’re covered by clouds and you can only ever get  glimpses of them when the clouds part in the mornings, even when you’re on the trail. 🙁

There weren’t very many hikers in August. We only ever shared a guesthouse with three other trekkers. It was nice not having so many hikers because you could totally pee anywhere on the trail (#freewilly). I have no idea how it is during tourist season, but once we started hiking on the ABC we ran into a lot more people so maybe during tourist season you’ll run into a lot more trekkers.

If you can, get used to the time difference before you go. Being jetlagged and hiking up a mountain? No thanks. Take a week or so before your trip to get used to Nepali time.

There are stray mountain dogs who act as guides along the ABC. They led Willbutt and me from village to village, often showing us which way to go when the trail forked. They would sit outside of villages and wait for trekkers to come, then trot ahead and stop whenever we fell too far behind. It was semi-magical.

You also bump into a lot of little kids on the trail heading to and from school. Not sad, orphan kids, but just normal kids. Sometimes they’d ask for candy, but we didn’t have any, so I recommend either buying some in Pokhara or Kathmandu, or bringing some from home. You can buy candy on the trail but it’s expensive.

There aren’t very many mosquitoes, even during monsoon season. Even so, we applied DEET along with with sunscreen everyday. DEET supposedly also works on leeches, but I can tell you from experience that claim seems to be FALSE.

Plastic ziplock and freezer bags are a great travel accessory: they can hold anything and keep everything dry. In my experience, America makes them best, so bring some!

Granola bars are also something that America does best and they are a 100% necessity while trekking. I brought a ton from home and we snacked liberally on the trail because we really needed the energy. There were some days I could not have made it without them. Plan for two to three bars each day.

Also, there’s not much fresh fruit on the trail, so if you want some, you’ll have to pack it in from Pokhara or Kathmandu and ration it throughout the duration of your trek.

Packing list:

  • One set of clothes for hiking (shirt, shorts, undies, 2 pairs of socks, shoes) made of quick-dry material (According to Willbutt, switching socks half way through the day is nice.)
  • One set of evening clothes (shirt, shorts/pants, undies, socks, shoes) made of quick-dry stuff
  • Warm socks
  • Sweatpants
  • Sweater
  • Rain jacket
  • Pantyhose or nylon socks (for leeches)
  • Fanny pack
  • Extra shoe laces
  • Watch (waterproof for sweat)
  • Clothesline/rope
  • Powdered laundry detergent
  • Rain cover for backpack
  • Sunscreen
  • DEET/bug spray
  • Toilet paper/wipes
  • Toiletries
  • Soap/sanitizer
  • Outlet adapter
  • SALT
  • Plastic ziplock and freezer bags
  • Granola bars (at least three per day)
  • 2 one-liter bottles (can buy for super cheap in Pokhara or Kathmandu, or just bring empty soda bottles)
  • Iodine tablets
  • Map (see if you can get a waterproof one)
  • Flashlight
  • Microfiber towel
  • A plastic bag for any trash you make while hiking

Optional:

  • Fruit
  • Knife for fruit
  • Simple bedding
  • Power bank
  • Notebook and pens/pencils

Well, I think that’s it. I absolutely loved my trip to Nepal and regularly think about not if I go back, but when I go back.