Reaching Annapurna Base Camp, which stands at 4,130 meters above sea level, is no small feat. This trek is known to be demanding, with long days and challenging altitude gain, but the rewarding view from the base camp as you’re surrounded by the glistening peaks of Annapurna I, Machapuchare, and Hiunchuli, makes our Annapurna Sanctuary Trek a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many. Solo traveller, Kate Latham, decided to celebrate her 70th birthday by retracing the steps of legendary hikers, which took her through rhododendron forests and bamboo groves and towards friendly teahouses and traditional Gurung villages enroute. Read on to find out more about her experience on the trail.

Solo Traveller Kate Latham and her journey to the Annapurna Base Camp

Kate was determined to write to us within 24 hours of returning from Nepal so that her memories of the adventure were still viscerally present in the hopes of helping other customers decide whether this trek is right for them. She explains, “The trek was a 70th birthday present to myself to fulfil my lifetime ambition of experiencing the high Himalaya up close and personal.”

“I had booked it about 18 months before I went, so as you can imagine it had loomed large in my life. Everybody seemed to know I was going. The grandchildren had mentioned that ‘Granny is going to climb a mountain’ in their ‘talk and tell’ show at nursery – which encouraged the puzzled teachers to double-check if they got their story straight.” She continued, “A dear old friend even seemed to think that I was going on some kind of Himalayan retreat at home, called the “Annapurna Sanctuary”, which involved relaxing massages with Himalayan rock salt and fluffy dressing gowns. Although this was far from the reality of my trek, I hoped I would find the same sort of peace and detachment.”

When it came to physical fitness, Kate said her friends assured her that she would be fine as she did, “Pilates twice a week, swam half a mile three times per week and cycled at the weekends. I have a step box beside my desk chair which I use daily, and I always walk up the stairs two at a time.” She’d taken a look at a training guide and was confident she could do all the individual elements. “In the past, I’ve completed 15-mile walks on the South West Coast Path, carrying my day pack and two litres of water and I could run 10k, albeit slowly. I did a test walk in Derbyshire in September and when I managed Jacob’s Ladder in the rain without stopping or puffing, I thought I’d be able, at the very least, to hold my end up. It turned out, in hindsight, that I may have been “Cornwall-fit”, but not “mountain-fit”, meaning that I hadn’t done any challenging day-after-day walking for an extended period of time.”

Solo Traveller Kate Latham and her journey to the Annapurna Base Camp

On this trek, she’d joined a group who had vast trekking experience in challenging places including the Ethiopian Highlands, the Table Mountains in Venezuela, New Zealand and Georgia and so she felt “lightweight in comparison” because her last trekking experience with Exodus was 15 years prior.

“I have to admit I was slightly spooked, and felt way outside my comfort zone, as I embarked on this walk of epic proportions, which I can only describe as ‘brutal’.” She elaborated, “There might be slightly shorter days on the trek, but I wouldn’t say there are many easy days, and some of the days are very long with early starts. Of course, this information is all in the detailed trip notes, but on paper, it had seemed much more benign and manageable.” At the beginning of the trek, Kate explained, “It felt like at times it was a walk of relentless ‘up’ followed by relentless ‘down’ and very little flattish ground. The stone staircases are feats of vernacular engineering but might go on for three hours or more. Having initially loathed the relentlessness of the staircases, I came to see them as my friend, as there was at least some predictability.”

When it came to the expert guides, Kate said, “They’re vigilant about everyone in the group, and I frequently had my day sack adjusted to make it more comfortable and efficient to carry. I could not have managed any of this trek without the poles, which the guides made sure were the correct height to offer maximum help. So, if the guides say do it, they really do know best, as they’ve trekked in the region countless times.”

Solo Traveller Kate Latham and her journey to the Annapurna Base Camp

“I am sure that everyone says their group is the best trekking family ever, but I really do think my group were extra special with the care, understanding and encouragement they offered. At times I felt like this old girl at the edge of her physical capacities, yet they were all very tolerant of the amount of time the guide spent with me, and I was never, ever made to feel like I was a pain in the neck. In fact, my coming in last at the end of the day became something to be celebrated, and it usually was, with a raised glass and everyone in the group cheering me on.”

Contemplating her experience, Kate said, “At the end of the day, I feel like it was the physical walking which was most difficult for me. Other challenges, such as mastering a squat loo (with a left knee which temporarily wouldn’t bend), the traditional accommodation in teahouses, and the different food were all part and parcel of the shared endeavour, and what I had expected and had eagerly signed up to. I think I simply underestimated how demanding the walking would be. In reality, I spent much of the adventure enduring the walking but fully enjoying everything else.”

“With the benefit of hindsight, I should have increased my trekking experience and completed a Level 3 trek about nine months before I confirmed my spot on this trek. It would have helped with some of the practical stuff, like knowing how to travel lighter and realising how to cope better, even on flattish ground, which would have helped me to keep up with the trekking pace.” She summed up her experience by saying, “Although it was a very demanding and physically challenging experience, the sights I saw en route were beyond my wildest expectations.”

Solo Traveller Kate Latham and her journey to the Annapurna Base Camp

If Kate’s rewarding experience on the Annapurna Base Camp trek has inspired you to take up the challenge and join our expert local guides, find out more information about our Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, or take a look at our other treks in Annapurna here.