Thorong La Pass is the highest point of the Annapurna Circuit Trail, Nepal. In this post I describe what you can expect when hiking from Thorong Phedi to Muktinath via Thorong La Pass.
When we did this hike we’d heard a lot of things about the pass from other hikers. Differing accounts of what time to leave and how long it would take. It was difficult to know what to believe. So as someone who has independently trekked the Annapurna Circuit, I decided to put together this guide to hiking Thorong La Pass.
Is it safe?
Thorong La is a high altitude pass on the Annapurna Circuit trek. It is the highest point on this Annapurna trail and therefore the climax for many hikers.
We started our Annapurna trek in Besishahar. We started low and took our time, and this was a deliberate plan to prepare us for the high altitudes ahead. Along the trail we chatted with other hikers – where did you start, how many days are you taking, when do you plan to cross the pass? All of these questions were just building up to the anticipation of “the big day”. The day we all hoped to cross Thorong La Pass.
At 5416m, crossing this pass is certainly not a task to be taken lightly. Along the Annapurna circuit trail, signs warn of altitude sickness and outline symptoms for which to check. In Manang there are free daily altitude sickness talks. Learn more about AMS here.
The other danger which presents itself when crossing this Annapurna pass is the weather. In 2014 tragedy struck the Annapurna region as blizzards closed in on the pass and dozens of hikers were killed. Monitoring the weather forecast is therefore essential whilst hiking the Annapurna circuit.
Acclimatisation in Manang
However, despite the risks, with the correct preparation, crossing Thorong La is actually very achievable. Needless to say, prior to starting the hike you should be in good physical fitness and well practised at multi-day hiking.
The other key factor is to ascend slowly and include acclimatisation day/s. Due to the location of teahouses on the trail it is generlly accepted that the safest way to cross Thorong La is in an anticlockwise direction, from Thorong Phedi to Muktinath.
A practise that climbers adopt is to climb high and sleep low. In this scenario climbers will hike to high altitudes during the day, but then return to a lower altitude to sleep. From Manang or Braga it is possible to do this practise by including a day hike to Ice Lake at 4600m.
As we were hiking the circuit independently and had plenty of time on our hands, we were able to spend several days acclimatising. From Upper Pissang, we took the high path to Brag/Braka (3400m), which is the village just below Manang (3500m).
We had a rest day in Braga and took time to visit the nearby Monastery. The next day we trekked to Ice Lake and the following day took the short walk onwards to Manang. In this itinerary we therefore had 3 nights in Braga and 1 night in Manang to allow our bodies to acclimatise.
From Manang we hiked to Yak Kharka (4050m) where we spent one night, and then onto Thorong Phedi (4450m) where we spent our final night before crossing the pass.
The Thorong La Pass Trek
Our hike started at 5am after having breakfast at 4:30am. The teahouse kitchen where we stayed opened at 3:30am. Depending on your hiking speed it is recommended to leave for the pass anywhere between 4am and 6am. After long deliberations, Nick and I decided to plump for the middle and leave at 5am, which would hopefully put us at the pass for around 9am.
The purpose of leaving so early is to get to the pass before the wind picks up and conditions become tricky. This typically happens at around 11am.
Braced for the freezing cold I was literally wearing all the layers I had with me. Some other hikers had set off before us and I was anxious to get moving. This was it – the big challenge we had been building up to for the last 12 days.
As usual Nick set off in front. As soon as you leave the teahouse the uphill begins. Steep switchbacks that allow hikers to crawl their way up the mountainside towards a pass between the rocks.
As we neared the top of this section the sunrise was beginning to produce incredible colours in the sky. I had to stop and pull out my camera and tripod, it was just too good to miss. Unfortunately this process was quite a painful experience as I had to remove my thick gloves to operate the camera.
Within minutes my fingers would become numb and I’d have to tuck them away again quickly.
After 1 hour of strenuous trekking (and 20 minutes of camera faffing) we reached the flatter area where High Camp is located. Several hikers who had spend the night here were just setting off, but we could see that most had already left.
From the flat area of High camp, the trail once again begins to ascend but not so steeply this time. Upon turning a corner on the ridge we were faced with a path that was completely covered in snow. This valley obviously didn’t receive much sunlight and therefore still held onto the snowfall from several days before.
After crossing this valley we returned once again to the sunshine, where the trail was snow free and finally my multitude of layers became unnecessary. Approximately one hour after leaving High Camp, we came to the next natural stopping point which was a small teahouse. From this point there is one more push to the summit.
Leaving the teahouse the trail meanders its way through jagged snow covered mountains. The hiking isn’t that steep by this point, but as you are over 5000m that no longer matters. Every single step makes you breathless at this altitude.
We plodded on, gradually removing more layers as we went, until we reached 5300m. At this point all the hikers around us appeared to hit the wall. Hikers who had casually walked passed us early on had now stopped, their lungs unable to keep up with the pace of their legs.
Nick and I hiked on slowly. My breathing was heavy but steady and I was determined not to stop, for fear of not being able to start again! Gradually we passed others who had stopped for a break and over each false summit I thought “this must be it!”
What felt like a life time later though, we finally reached the pass. The familiar flutter of prayer flags and a traditional Chorten, to mark the highest point of the Annapurna Circuit trek. At 5416m and 4 hours after leaving Thorong Phedi, we had arrived at Thorong La Pass.
With big smiles on our faces we indulged in a congratulatory hug, before joining the short queue of trekkers who were waiting to have their photo taken with the congratulations sign.
Formalities complete, we took a break to admire the beauty of our surroundings and to let the wave of emotions pass over us – joy, relief, exhaustion and a massive sense of accomplishment.
However, we didn’t linger too long as the pass was cold and there was still a long way to go. The descent to Muktinath shouldn’t be underestimated. In total you will descend 1616m which is hard going for anyones knees and Nick and I certainly aren’t the youngest! This is where trekking poles come in very handy!
The landscape is noticeably drier as you begin to descend the never ending switchbacks. At first the trail wasn’t too steep and there was plenty of time to enjoy the differing views. However, the the final drop down towards Mukitnath is very steep and quite tough on already tired legs.
After this steep section there is a perfectly placed village where we stopped for lunch, before completing the final hour down to the pilgrimage town of Muktinath. In Muktinath our only chore was to find a suitable guesthouse and order in the beers for a job well done!
Thorong Phedi to Muktinath trail stats
- Distance: 18km
- Starting elevation (Thorong Phedi): 4450m
- Elevation gain: 966m
- Elevation loss: 1616m
- Finishing elevation (Muktinath): 3800m
- Time: 8 hours (including 1 hour for photos at the pass and lunch). From chatting to other hikers I believe this to be an average/above average time for completing this day.
Onward from Muktinath
The day after we crossed the path we awoke to a very gloomy sky. We were a little slow to get out of bed (possibly due to the beers), but eventually got moving and trekked out of town in the direction of Jomsom. As we climbed the ridge out of Muktinath, we looked back to see the cloud had lifted and revealed fresh snowfall on the peaks.
We crossed the pass just in time it seemed.
There are two options for the hike to Jomsom. One option is to hike to Kagbeni, but we opted to hike via the Tibetan town of Lupra. This beautiful hillside town practices the Bon religion, which predates Buddhism.
If you decide to hike this way, as you leave the town and cross the river look up to see the meditation cave set deep into the cliffside.
If you hike down as far as Larjung, I strongly recommend doing the side hike to Dhaulagiri Icefall. You can read a detailed trail description here.
What to pack for a Thorong La Pass Trek
Thorong La is a pass which, for most of the popular trekking months, is clear of snow and doesn’t require any specialist equipment. However, if you plan to hike the pass between December and February, you need to be prepared for hiking in snow. There is also the added risk of avalanches during this time.
For a full checklist on what to pack on this Annapurna hike, take a look at my Annapurna Circuit Packing List.
Looking for more hiking inspiration?
If you like big mountain hiking similar to Annapurna trekking, you should consider a trip to nearby Pakistan. There are two stunning hikes in the Hunza Valley which I can definitely recommend. Rakaposhi Base Camp in the Karakoram range and Nanga Parbat Base Camp in the Himalayas.
How about some reading to inspire your trip to the Himalayas?
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