Crossing over Thorong La Pass is both the highlight and the biggest challenge of completing the Annapurna Circuit. Trekking the Annapurna Circuit has changed a lot over the last twenty years as roads have replaced trails along a significant portion of the traditional trek. The stretch of the trek from Manang to Mulktinath over the pass is the last stretch of the circuit that remains completely roadless.
The pass is the highest point on the entire 300km Annapurna Circuit and at 5,416m (17,769 ft) is higher than Everest Base Camp (5,380 m). The trek between Manang and Thorong La is one of the most beautiful parts of the Annapurna Circuit with majestic views on the way up of Gangapurna, Annapurna III and Chulu West. Once you get closer to the pass Khatung Kang and the colorful peak of Thourungtse (6481m) come into view and from the top one can see out to the valley of the Kali Gandaki and the region of the upper Mustang. It’s a steep climb from the pass down to the booming village of Mulktinath 3710m which is famous for its sacred temple.
Most trekkers start the Annapurna Circuit in either Besisahar (the district headquarters) or a little further up the road in Syange and spend the next 4 or 5 days trekking to Manang. It’s possible to get a jeep all the way up to Manang but this shortens the trek quite a bit and does not allow for adequate time to acclimatize. The trek is not entirely along the road and you have a number of options in places to hike on the other side of the canyon and avoid any traffic. Even if you do opt for the road traffic is fairly light since the road is quite rough and travel is slow. It’s a full days jeep ride from Besisahar to Manang. The road actually improves quite a bit after Chame so if you have made it that far in jeep you might want to continue all the way to Manang. If you do decide on the jeep I suggest you spend at least 3 days in Manang to acclimatize before setting out for the pass. Manang is beautiful village with some great day hikes so it’s the perfect place to stop and acclimatize before tackling the pass.
Continuing on from Manang the route gets a bit steeper and the terrain more rugged. On the way up to Yak Kharta you will have some great views of Chulu West, one of Nepal’s 33 designated trekking peaks. Continuing from Yak Kharta one crosses a large suspension that goes over the upper Jarsang Khola before continuing up the steep walled canyon which in times of heavy snowfall is at risk of avalanches. Thorong Phedi is probably the best option for a nights rest before crossing the pass in the morning. Its possible to continue another hour up to Thorong High View Camp but the lodging is better in Thorong Phedi and staying lower longer probably makes sense in terms of avoiding altitude problems. Although if you have been following the traditional route and don’t have a headache it might be worth continuing up to the high camp just to make the following day easier.
The trail is quite steep between Thorong Phedi and Thorong High View Camp. Most trekkers will start the climb up to the pass around 4am in order to avoid the gusty winds that come up later in the day. Looking back towards Manang on the way up to Thorong High View Camp one has excellent views of Annapurna III and Gangapurna. Once you pass Thorong High View Camp it’s just a long gradual uphill hike to the top of the pass. A number of times it will look like the pass is in view only to find it’s another ridge or moraine in the distance. When you finally reach the pass you are rewarded with fantastic views in all directions. Don’t overlook the difficulty of getting down to Mulktinath which is a fairly steep decent of about 1500m. In front of you are views of the Mustang Region and the 8000+m peak of Dhaulagiri. If you’re tired or would like to stay in a quite village I suggest Chabarbu which is about an hour before Mulktinath. It’s possible to rent motorcycles in Chabarbu and skip the last part of the trek to Mulktinath. Regular buses and jeeps ply the road between Jomsom and Mulktinath so it’s possible to start the day in Thorong Phedi and make it to Jomsom by nightfall and take a flight the next morning back to Pokhara. Of course if you have time the best option is to continue trekking several more days down the Kali Gandaki Gorge which is said to be the world’s deepest. If you’re spending the night in Mulktinath a good option is the Bob Marley Guesthouse where you can unwind with a hot shower, pool and a beer. If you want to treat yourself Mulktinath has a couple of pricey options as well that attract the many pilgrims who travel to the temple which is just above the city. The temple with its ever flowing 104 waterspouts is certainly worth a visit. Hindus frequently travel great distances to the temple to collect water from the spouts which is said to cure any type of sickness.
Crossing the pass in the opposite direction is not advisable since it does not give one enough time to acclimatize. However, if you have spent a couple of nights in Mulktinath this might be an option.
Thorong La: What’s the Best Season?
September to November: This is the most popular time of year (particularly October). The weather is generally good and the air quality is generally good with excellent mountain views.
December to February: Most years it’s possible to do the trek but heavy snowfall can close the pass for days or even weeks at a time. Avalanches and white out conditions can make for potentially dangerous conditions. Its good time of year to avoid the crowds but one has to be prepared for snow and also to turn around if conditions become unfavorable.
March to May: Nice weather and generally not very crowded. Some slight chance of snow on the pass in March and April.
June to August: The Annapurna Circuit is one of the better options during the monsoon. The start of the trek near Besisahar and the end of the trek can get quite a bit of rain but the stretch of the trail from Chame to Jomsom generally lies within a rainshadow created by the Annapurna Range and is generally much drier. This is one of the few good trekking options in Nepal during the monsoon. The monsoon rains although limited do lead to excellent wildflower viewing.
Thorong La: Annapurna Circuit in 8 Days
The quickest trek over the pass is to take a jeep all the way to Manang from Kathmandu and then spend a couple of days acclimatizing and doing day hikes before going over the pass. It’s possible to cross the pass and fly back to Pokhara via Jomsom in as little as 8 days roundtrip form Kathmandu. However, this should be done only by experienced trekkers who have trekked at altitude before and are prepared to turn around should altitude related symptoms develop.
Thorong La: Internet Access
Currently Manang is the last option until Mulktinath for internet. I spoke with one of the tea houses owners in Yak Kharta in May of 2016 and was told that internet would soon be coming. For now getting online in Thorong Phedi and Thorong High View Camp is not possible.