I first discovered One World One Year through a news article I read from my former hometown of Provo, UT.  The article was about them and their crazy year-long trip, and how awesome they are.  I’ll be honest: I was jealous.  Where was our article?  We’re awesome too!

But that Daily Herald article was right. They are awesome. More so than us. Since that article I’ve reached out, and even without having met in person, us and the Johnstons became fast friends.  They’re a traveling couple, like many others, but they’ve done some things I haven’t seen any other travel bloggers do, like riding the Trans-Mongolian Russian Railroad, or hiking the Himalayas.

In particular, I wanted them to talk about their trip hiking the Annapurna Circuit, which is a hard-as-nails path that will quite literally take your breath away—and sometimes more. But these crazy cats tackled it with glee, and we’ve gotten them to share the tale with us today. Please welcome Britnee and Mark Johnston!

 

Annapurna Circuit

How did you decide that you wanted to do the Annapurna Circuit as opposed to, say, climbing K2 or Everest? 

We strongly considered trekking to Everest Base Camp (EBC) and for some time juggled the decision between that and the Annapurna Circuit (AC) trek. The two are in different regions of Nepal—Everest in the Khumbu region and Annapurna in the Annapurna Himalayan Range—and our schedule/budget only allowed for a visit to one.

We chose the AC trek because we’d heard that it provided a far greater variety of scenery and more interaction with mountain village life. Also, talking to friends who had done the AC trek before helped boost our confidence that we could do it alone without guides or porters. I don’t think you could go wrong with either trek, but we were really happy with our experience on the Annapurna Circuit and even added on an extra trek to Annapurna Base Camp. That being said, we’ll definitely return to do EBC one day.

P.S. K2 is in Pakistan and we’re not quite that adventurous… yet.

 

Can you share your experience on the trail?

We followed a strict schedule while on the trail, usually waking at 6:30 a.m. and after a quick breakfast we were on the trail by 7. The length of each day varied greatly depending on the difficulty of the hike and recommendations in our guide book. A mellow day would be an easy four to five hours with maybe one steep climb through beautiful rice paddies in shorts and T-shirts. The toughest day was a full eight hours climbing 3,000 feet and crossing the 17,769-foot Thorong La Pass in howling winds with a pounding headache.

Teahouses in villages along the circuit provided our shelter for only $1 – $3 a night. The comfort and cleanliness of the teahouses varied greatly, becoming more primitive the higher we got toward Thorong La Pass. But at the same time the views from our rooms also improved the higher we got! We ordered all our meals in the teahouses from menus that all started looking the same after the first two days. Eventually we just stuck to choices that gave us the best energy on the trail. Breakfast: oatmeal with fruit, two hard boiled eggs and hot lemon tea; lunch: dal bhat, veggie momos and a Snickers; dinner: tuna fried noodles and more hot tea to warm us up before bed.

For the entire trek we were treated to spectacular views while walking through rain forests, crossing narrow river gorges and hiking amongst 25,000+ foot, ice-clad peaks. We expected somewhat similar views on the second half of the trek after crossing Thorong La Pass, but instead were treated to a whole new landscape of the dusty Lower Mustang region. This variety of scenery truly made the AC trek worthwhile.

 

Have you ever done something as intense? Will you ever do something more intense?

It was certainly a challenging experience at times. We covered 113 miles over 20 days on the Annapurna Circuit and then added another 41 very-steep miles to Annapurna Base Camp in seven days. A lot of that, however, was spent hiking in absolute bliss, hypnotized by unbelievable views and enjoying the good company of friends.

Annapurna Circuit

Climbing Thorong La Pass was probably one of the most difficult experiences either of us had ever faced. It is higher than any mountain in the continental U.S. and I suffered from a severe headache and nausea due to the altitude. But it marked the halfway point of our trek, and after making the crossing safely we celebrated knowing that it was all downhill from there. We were left with a great sense of accomplishment that kept our spirits high in the tiring last days of the trek and will definitely keep us coming back for more, (which I guess it already did when we returned to trek to Annapurna Base Camp two weeks later).

While I love the outdoors, backpacking and rock climbing, I don’t ever see myself climbing higher on the treacherous Himalayan peaks. I even said so when talking with the experienced mountaineer Arnold Coster over lunch in Kathmandu. But he replied, quite plainly, that trekking is simply the start of mountaineering and that sense of accomplishment is very addictive. So you never know!

 

Annapurna Circuit

What was the best part about having gone through that experience now that it’s over?

I’m happy that one day, months or years from now when I’m settled in a more simple life, I’ll be able to stand in front of a map, point at a distant Asian country and recall so many wonderful personal experiences. Borders and contour lines mean so much more once you’ve traveled through them and laughed with friendly locals who inhabit those remote places, smelled the pine trees in the welcomed warmth of morning sunlight and sipped lemon tea with monks in a monastery at dusk. These memories, just a few of the many we’ve made in these past nine months of travel, will continue rewarding us for years to come and will keep us coming back to Nepal for more.

Want to know more about Britnee and Mark’s travels?  Read on at their website at OneWorldOneYear.com.  Currently they’re in New Zealand with 2 and a half months more to go, so you’ll have plenty of awesome things to see through their eyes.