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Thanks again: Dhaulagiri Circuit is a great trek, perfectly organized and run, with great crew and interesting group
Piotr Zycki (Poland) | Dhaulagiri Circuit, Nepal

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Classic Circuit treks in Nepal

One of the most common questions we get from people enquiring about Himalayan treks is how the different Classic Circuit trails in Nepal compare and the pros & cons of each one.  

The Classic Circuit treks in Nepal are wonderful objectives as most of them start at a low altitude and ascend towards a high pass before descending into the next valley for walk out to road head or mountain airstrip. There is a huge satisfaction in completing a journey over a pass and connecting two valleys. These treks tends to be more popular than an "out and back" trek like Makalu Base Camp.

The main Classic Circuit treks in Nepal are as follows from East to West: Kanchenjunga Circuit, Everest High Passes, Manaslu Circuit, Annapurna Circuit and Dhaulagiri Circuit. All of these treks are very different in terms of scenery, culture, accommodation, grade and number of days on the trail. I (Roland Hunter) have been lucky enough to lead groups on all of these treks so have first-hand knowledge and experience of the itineraries.  I have summarised these differences below:

Kanchenjunga Circuit: this is the longest Circuit trek at 27 days from Kathmandu and the trail visits Kanchenjunga the third highest mountain in the world at 8,586m. This is a camping trek although over last few years lodges have been constructed however they are still basic and small buildings higher up. This trek does not get too busy apart from possibly October however there is likely to be more independent trekkers in future as the lodges improve.

The mountain scenery is superb as you see Kanchenjunga from North and South Base Camps. There is one pass to cross called Mirgin La connecting Ghunsa village to Tseram on North side. This pass is non-technical however we advise our groups to bring micro spike crampons (like Yak Trax XTRs), two trekking poles and gaiters.

Everest High Passes: this is a 22 day trek in the Khumbu region of Nepal incorporating a visit to Everest Base Camp and Kalapatar for Everest view point. If you have the time we would always recommend this trek over the standard Everest Base Camp trek at 19 days. For the additional three days you cross two passes (Cho La and Renjo La) and ascend another Everest viewpoint at Gokyo Ri. Everest Base Camp is an "out and back" trek whereas Everest High Passes is a circuit and the only section of the trail you walk twice is Namche - Lukla.

This is a lodge based trek as there is a good network of teahouses throughout the Everest region. Descent of Renjo La is quite steep for 40 metres and involves some scrambling, if dry this is reasonably straightforward however can be tricky if icey. For that reason we recommend like for Kanchenjunga Circuit you bring microspikes, trekking poles and gaiters. We also provide an ice axe to your guide in case he needs to cut steps for you on descent of Cho La.

Everest region will be much busier than more remote circuit treks like Kanchenjunga Circuit or Dhaulagiri Circuit however once away from the main Everest Base Camp trail it is unlikely you will see too many groups crossing the passes.

Manaslu Circuit: this is a shorter trek than Kanchenjunga Circuit and Everest High Passes at only 19 days from Kathmandu. Given poor safety record of internal flights in Nepal one of advantages of this trek is that there are no flights instead there is a roadhead at both start and end of the trek.

Manaslu Circuit is one of the most attractive treks with transition of scenery from 570m to crossing Larkya La pass at 5,135m. You will walk through many villages and observe Hindus lower down and up to Buddhists higher up in Lho, Samagaon and Samdo villages. There is a trading pass to Tibet above Samdo so there is a strong Tibetan influence higher up on this trail.

Over last few years a network of lodges has been constructed and we now use these properties for our groups. However we also send along tents so you have the choice to sleep inside the lodge our outside in the tents. For the day crossing Larka La we recommend bringing micro crampons, two trekking poles and gaiters in case icey and slippery on descent.

Annapurna Circuit: this is the classic and very popular trek in Nepal crossing Thorong La pass from above Manang into the Kali Gandaki valley. The complete Annapurna Circuit via Poon Hill takes 23 days although would be longer if you decide to trek up to Annapurna Base Camp too. It is also possible to do half Annapurna Circuit by finishing at Jomsom and from there flying to Pokhara.

The big issue over last 5 years on Annapurna Circuit has been construction of roads on both sides of Thorong La. This has impacted the trek as not so enjoyable walking along a dusty road with passing jeeps. However new trails have been recently developed off the roads called Natural Annapurna Trekking Trail ("NATT") although this is still at early stages and not many trekking guides know all of these new trails.

For more information on NATT please take a look at the guidebook Trekking The Annapurna Circuit by Andrees de Ruiter and Prem Rai. We have noticed more interest in Annapurna Circuit over last year however most people in practice choose Manaslu Circuit or Dhaulagiri Circuit.

Annapurna Circuit is a lodge based trek as there is a good network of teahouses throughout the Annapurna region.

Dhaulagiri Circuit: this is one of our most popular treks at The Mountain Company as it is a difficult trek to organise by oneself due to logistical challenges and it has a reputation for being tough for both groups and crew. Therefore for safety it is essential to plan this trek well in terms of allowing enough time for gradual acclimatisation (most other groups ascend too fast) and bringing the right kit such as porter shelters, PAC or gamow bags, satellite phones and comprehensive medical kit. On our kit list we include crampons and ice axe as sometimes the descent of Dhampus Pass is icey and slippery so this equipment is used for safety and security.

The Mountain Company always sends a western leader and Sherpa guides for Dhaulagiri Circuit. This trek is a suitable objective for an experienced hill walker as our leaders will provide some training for use of this mountaineering equipment.

Dhaulagiri Circuit is no doubt the most physically demanding of all Circuit treks in Nepal: the trails are less well established, narrow and steep in places, one crosses two high passes and sleeps in Hidden Valley at 5,000m for two nights. The views on this trek certainly make this effort well worthwhile as you will see Dhaulagiri from various viewpoints and one of the best views of this mountain is looking back on ascent of French Pass.

On Dhaulagiri Circuit you certainly get the feeling of really being in the Himalaya as the trail follows the glacier to Dhaulagiri Base Camp and then crosses two hight passes before descending into Kali Gandaki valley. As this is a remote trek there are no teahouse lodges available so this is a camping trek.

Dhaulagiri Circuit is different to Manaslu Circuit as this trail visits a more remote region with fewer villages up high. On Dhaulagiri Circuit after leaving Boghara on Day 5 one does not see any villages until Marpha in Kali Gandaki after crossing the passes. After Boghara one enters beautiful sub-tropical forest and then above tree line into juniper and azalea. Whereas for Manaslu Circuit as discussed above one walks through Buddhist villages up to 3,860m as there is a trading pass to Tibet.

 

We hope this helps you select the right trek objective for you, if you require further information please get in contact with us.