Annapurna vs Everest. Your definitive trekking guide
Everest or Annapurna Base Camp? It’s the choice every adventurer faces eventually. Most travelers end up trekking both in the end, because it’s worth doing both.
On the one hand you have Mt. Everest. Its world famous and half your friends will probably assume you’re summiting the thing and planting a flag on the top. On the other hand you’ve got Annapurna: more diverse, less high, with gorgeous rhododendron forests and fewer crowds. If you are worried about acclimatization, scared of flying small planes or don’t like colder temperatures then Annapurna Base Camp might be a better option. Here is a short review of both treks and the pros and cons of doing each. Keep in mind at the end of the day this is a bit subjective and that they both deserve to be included in a list of the world’s greatest treks. Whose scene reigns supreme? It’s a tricky decision.
The first thing to consider is the scenery of each trek. The trek to Everest Base Camp I think wins by a good margin. One of my favorite things about the trek to Everest Base Camp is that you are almost in direct view of some amazing peaks.
Overview – Everest
If you’re coming just for the mountains, for the biggest, wildest, most precipitous mountains you can find, Everest is the way to go. It’s a high altitude trek through some of the most spectacular scenery in all of the Himalayas. Trekking through the Gokyo Lakes, they literally surround you on all sides. But be aware, you pay for these views with sore calves and aching thighs.
Overview – Annapurna Base Camp Trek
Annapurna is a totally different side of the Himalayas. You still get huge, snow-capped peaks, but they’re more of a constant backdrop. The Circuit begins in the fertile lower foothills and you spend most of your time trekking up the canyon of the Modi Khola which is fairly deep and obscures direct line of sight with the peaks. You start to get out of the canyon after you reach the small village of Doban but this is already close to Annapurna Base Camp. One of the peaks you will see before reaching Doban is Machhapuchhre or Fish Tail which is an amazing peak and often called the Matterhorn of the Himalayas, The trail follows terraced rice fields, oak forests and rhododendrons galore (come in April for the full bloom). And mountain-lovers, don’t worry, there are still the incredible sites of Machapuchare and the 8000m giant Dhaulagiri to keep you happy. Annapurna just has more diversity to go with its stunning views.
If you are short on time Annapurna Base Camp or even Poon Hill are great options. The Poon Hill trek can be done in as little as three days if you are fast and the views of Annapurna are amazing. I always put off doing this trek because it sounded like too much walking through the foothills but now I am a fan and its great option to get in and out quick. Most treks to Annapurna Base Camp make a loop that includes Poon Hill and lengthens the trekking time by several days. If you want to skip Poon Hill and just do Annapurna Base Camp ask us and we can shorten the itinerary by a few days.
The route to Everest has more up and down elevation gain so it is probably a bit more difficult. Everest trek is also colder and drier because of the higher elevations. Trekkers usually hike the Everest trail to get to the fluttering prayer flags of Basecamp, where many expeditions wait until their big ascents in May. The altitude is higher (you’ll reach 3420 meters in Namche Bazaar on Day 2), and you’re constantly surrounded by knife-like peaks. Gyoko Lakes and the lesser-trekked passes at Cho La are great detours from the usual trail, and Island Peak will get you some of the best views in the Himalayas.
If you’re unsure of your mountaineering abilities, Annapurna is a slightly less taxing circuit. Annapurna Base Camp is also quite a bit lower in elevation 4,130m vs. 5,380m of Everest. If you anticipate problems with altitude, Annapurna might be the better option. Plus, instead of being funnelled into the Khumbu Valley on Everest, you can choose from a variety of trails, some of which don’t exceed 2000m in altitude. The descents on Annapurna are also a bit gentler, which can help the knees in the long run. And don’t discount the advantage of a circuit route: trekking new terrain every day without ever retracing your steps.
Getting there – Everest
Hillary and Tenzing had to schlep it on foot all the way from Kathmandu in the 50s. No roads existed at the time. These days it’s a little easier, and travellers can take a short (and spectacular) flight from Kathmandu to the tiny airstrip at Lukla. The views on the way in, and the way out, are worth the journey alone. But the domestic flights in Nepal don’t have the world’s greatest track record for safety and the thought of flying on a small plane into the short airstrip at Lukla can be a concern, especially if you don’t like flying. I have met several trekkers who hiked all the way into Lukla from Jiri just because they wanted to avoid the flight.
Getting there – Annapurna
The gateway to the Annapurna’s is the cool little town of Pokhara, sitting on the shores of the gorgeous Phewa Lake. Pokhara can reached by bus and car from Kathmandu. So if you don’t like flying it’s a good option and since it does not require a flight it’s also the cheaper trek which is always a plus. Pokhara is a laid back place where you happily spend a week with a good book. Plus the mountain views from the lake is amazing as well.
Communities – Everest
The valleys around Everest are traditionally the home of the Sherpa people who follow Buddhism. If you are interested in Buddhist traditions the Everest region is definitely of more interest and all along the trail you will find many Mani stones with carved Buddhist mantras as well as small temples and prayer wheels. You can feel the strong sense of spirituality as you pass through. Tibetan traders still visit the village of Namche Bazaar, as they’ve done for centuries, and in fact word Sherpa actually means ‘east people’ (the Sherpas migrated east from Tibet long ago). If you’re trekking the Everest trail in March or April, you’ll probably come across professional teams looking to make their summit climb in May.
Communities – Annapurna
The Annapurna Circuit passes through a lot of rural settlements where small farming communities cling to the sides of valleys and life is pretty much as it was a hundred years ago. You’ll meet the Gurung people here, especially in the village of Ghandruk. Along with the Buddhist chants that dominate the Everest region, there are traces of Hinduism and Animism in the Annapurnas, which give the trail a slightly different vibe. If you’re looking for more local flavour from your trek, Annapurna is probably the stronger choice.