Crossing Thorong La
Located at a height of 5,416 meters, the barren but beautiful summit pass of Thorong La is the highest point on the Annapurna Circuit. It is also the route used by local traders to travel between the village of Manang in the Manang district of Nepal and the village of Ranipauwa in the Mustang district, as well as providing access to Muktinath – a sacred place to both Buddhists and Hindus.
While locals are quite accustomed to the high altitude of Thorong La, for those who are trekking along this route as part of the Annapurna Circuit it is essential to take steps to acclimatize and thereby avoid Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) – a condition which is not related to one’s level of fitness and can affect anyone. It is for this reason the Himalayan Rescue Association strongly recommend that trekkers spend up to five nights between arriving in Manang and crossing the summit pass.
Most trekkers will cross Thorong La from the east proceeding westwards – from Manang to Ranipauwa – as this is both the easiest and safest direction to take, allowing for steady acclimatization to the altitude. Traveling this direction allows trekkers to spend the night at Thorung Phedi at an altitude of 4420 meters or at Thorong High Camp at 4800 meters, leaving a height of less than 1000 meters to reach the highest point of Thorong La. Strong winds usually start blowing across Thorong La within a few hours of sunrise, and it is therefore recommended that trekkers start their journey along the summit pass well before sunrise.
Another aspect of crossing Thorong La that must be taken into consideration is seasonal weather conditions. It is far too dangerous to attempt crossing during the winter months (December-February) as visibility is limited, increasing the danger of getting lost. Avalanches are also common during this season. The safest times to cross the pass is in March and April, and again in October and November, although the weather can be unpredictable at any time of the year. At the highest point of Thorong La, trekkers will come across a large pile of stones and strings of prayer flags placed there by the Tibetan and Nepali people as thanks to the gods for a safe passage. This may also serve as a reminder to travelers to respect the mountains of Nepal and not to take unnecessary chances when it comes to personal safety.