Hiking the Poon Hill Trail: A Daily Journal of Achieving a Dream

Hiking the Poon Hill Trail: A Daily Journal of Achieving a Dream

We hiked in Nepal with a child. And it was awesome.

 

Hiking in Nepal has been a pipe dream of mine for years. I never thought I’d be able to figure out how to go, then assumed it would be impossible once I had a child. I was wrong on both counts.

When a friend invited us on a multi-family trip to hike Nepal we jumped at the opportunity. He lived in Nepal as a teenager and had been back with his own family already, so we were happy to leave all of the planning to him.

What he arranged was for our group of 16 to hike Poon Hill Trail, a moderate hike up the 3,210-meter Poon Hill Mountain.

The Ghorepani Poon Hill Trail is known as the best kids hike in Nepal. The trail begins outside of Pokhara, Nepal, and generally takes 4-5 days to complete. We decided to take Jeeps over the first portion of terrain then push a little harder than normal each day, condensing the 5-day hike to just three.

To help us on our hike we hired two guides and 8 porters. The guides met us in Pokhara and made sure each family was well outfitted for the hike, arranged the Jeeps, porters, and all food and rest stops along the trail, and made sure all hikers were taken care of while on the trail. Our head guide, Dharma, suggested hiring an extra porter whose job would be to help with children. Our group was hiking with 6 kids between the ages of 10 and 2, and this extra porter would be available to carry any one of them should the need arise.

Armed with a rented backpacking bag, the knowledge that our 6-year-old could be carried if the hike was too strenuous, and lots of expectations we set out on one of the most grueling and meaningful experiences our family has had.

Here’s Exactly What it’s Like Hiking the Poonhill Trail

Here are my journal entries for each day of our hike so you can follow along with what we did and how it felt each day.

 

Day 1 on the Poonhill Trail:

 

Took a few hours to get going as we waited for a fellow hiker to fly in on a delayed flight. We decide to split the group, sending 2/3 out so we’d be able to make it to our first tea house before nightfall.

We split into 3 jeeps. Our jeep holds 4 adults and Whit with a bench seat, front seat, and two vertical back seats. Whit and I end up in the back seats, but the 2-hour drive to the trek entrance becomes too pothole-laden for his safety. Once we switch seats I and the other adult in the back have to hold on for dear life as we start flying (sans seat belt) over the rocky road. She’s been here before and assures me this drive is the worst portion of Day 1.

We stop at small trekking compounds a couple of times along the drive for a toilet and ice cream break.

As we step out of the truck at the trail entrance I feel I overwhelmingly apprehensive. No more preparation. No turning back. We are hiking Poon Hill.

After a group picture I’m starting to actually get excited, and we begin the trek happily.

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We arrive at our lunch spot after only 30 minutes of hiking. We’re far behind schedule, so our guide pre-ordered basic meals for us. It was still a nice break and some of the best Nepali dahl I’ve had yet. Before we leave we get word that the last portion of our group has arrived at the entrance and is only an hour or so behind us. Great news!

We start the hike without another break for 2 hours. The trek doesn’t feel too bad. We hike uphill on steps carved in stone with breaks of flat dirt just often enough to recoup. We cross small waterfalls and a few mountain goats along the way.

By the time we reach our next stop I’m starting to feel tired. While the hike itself isn’t too intense, the longevity of it is starting to get to me. A while back our guide told me we were only 35% done, and that we’d definitely be arriving past nightfall.

Knowing that makes me feel worse than I actually do.

As soon as we stop at a small trekkers convenience rest area I’m suddenly freezing. My top is wet from sweat, and the heat from the day has long left as we hike in the shady jungle. As I see our porters receive cups of hot honey water it begins to rain. Luckily there’s a covered sitting area, and as we huddle together laughing, sharing snacks, and arranging hats and jackets I feel incredibly grateful that it only started to rain as we arrived at the rest stop.

10 or so minutes into waiting out the rain one member of our group starts to cheer. As we look toward the path we see one of our four missing members, and cheer him towards us. Soon the other three appear and it’s a sweet reunion. They must have worked really hard to meet us.

Now a complete group again, the rain ends and we’re soon off on our final leg of the day.

The light is fading quickly now and I find myself slipping much more often than I did when it was light. Am I stepping in cow pies? Normally that would bother me, but today I’m just focused on moving through nature.

A porter takes Whit’s hand to help him across the slick, dark rocks and Ben and I both take a well-deserved break from talking with other people and helping Whit to listen to podcasts. We didn’t bring headlamps, so I focus on the story in my podcast as I draft the light from someone ahead of me. It’s good enough.

It seems like no time at all when I hear Whit yell, “Mommy! We’re almost there!” I look up to see a series of lighted windows ahead in the darkness and think, No way. We can’t be almost done.

But we are!

We arrive at the dining hall of our mountain tea house and ordered a few meals. The menu is surprisingly big and includes macaroni and cheese, pizza, curries, soups, fries, salads, and more. It’s more expensive than I expected, though, and the cost of food is the only thing not included in our pre-paid Poon Hill trek price.

I assume it’s pretty expensive to cart food up a mountain.

The second floor of the tea house is bedrooms. Our group organizer hands us a key and, while we wait for our food to be made, we walk up squeaky stairs to our palace.

The second floor is one long halfway with rooms on either side. The rooms are made of thin plywood with two bunk-style beds. Whit excitedly points out our single window and the thin lacy curtain on a string which covers it. To be honest, I’m both underwhelmed and also impressed at our level of dedication to this trek. We are roughing it.

At least we have walls and a mattress, which automatically makes it better than camping.

Two hours of sitting by the downstairs heater next to all the Nepali porters later our food arrives. I don’t know what took so long, but my vegetable soup and our traditional fry bread was amazing. Thank heavens for good, warm, soft foods!

After our delicious, simple meal I announce that I’ll be heading up to bed. My hope was to avoid a crowd at the sink and toilet, but mine seems to be a cue to others to get ready for bed, as well. There was no cause for concern, though. We are all respectful travelers who use the sink quickly for brushing our teeth. There are three western toilets each behind closed doors which are clean enough to pee comfortably. I actually feel ready for bed.

Three ibuprofen and some scripture and prayers and it’s lights out by 8:55.”

 

Day 2 on the Poon Hill Trail:

 

Our weary bodies fell asleep among the noise of the other trekkers easily, but by 4:30 a.m. I’m wide awake. Our paper thin walls don’t mask so much as a whisper.

At 6 a.m. we get a tapping on our door and a messenger says the mountain is visible. I don’t completely know what that means, but I’m awake, anyway, so I decide to go out.

As soon I walk towards the giant windows on the hallway I lose my breath. The sun is rising on a visible Annapurna South mountain, and it’s sparkling in pinks and yellows. I join the crowd taking the best amateur photos we can.

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The view also overlooks a few other tea houses nearby, and Dharma proudly announces that he intentionally booked our stay at the tea house on the highest land so we could have the best morning view. I briefly wonder if that made our Day 1 trek longer or shorter, then decide it was worth it.

It feels like forever that we hang around looking at the mountain and waiting for breakfast. It’s only 1.5 hours, and by 9 a.m. we’ve eaten and are ready to join the trail again.

We hike for 3 more hours to reach our lunch stop.

Our large group starts to separate more than on Day 1, and we O’Briens find ourselves the lone hikers on a beautiful trail bend. I tap Whit to ask him to stop listening to his audio book, but instead of a nice reflective family moment he throws his headphones down and begins to cry. Is he at his breaking point already?

To distract Whit Ben begins talking to every hiker we pass.

“Hello! Where are you from?
“China.”
“Oh! Ni Hao!”

“Hello! Where are you from?”
“Australia.”
“Oh! G’Day, Mate!”

It gets annoying, but I’m glad he doesn’t resort to “Australia? Well throw another shrimp on the barbie!” And other such stereotypes. There’s nothing someone whose been hiking uphill for days loves more than being stereotyped and teased by an American.

Our lunch stop consists of a large patio with two long tables and a small indoor eating area. There’s a fire stove in the center of the room, so that’s where I plant. Once I have a coke in my hand I begin to feel some of my pep return. So worth 300 rupees.

Day 2 really isn’t that bad. We cover a lot in elevation, but the long uphill sections are followed by downhill slopes so there’s always an opportunity to recover once you begin to feel hopeless. I can’t believe Whit has never had to be carried.

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We cheer as we reach our village for the night. This means we’ve finished the main uphill hiking. Just one push in the morning to the peak and then it’s literally all downhill. As soon as I walk up the stairs to the tea house my legs collapse. It doesn’t feel terribly hard in the moment, but once I’m stationary I can feel the strain.

Luckily this lodge is 3 concrete floors with sturdier rooms than night 1, so I’m able to sneak a short nap comfortably enough.

Some talking around the stove heater, then it’s time for dinner. The vegetable soup isn’t as good as last night but the light, warm, liquid meal is perfect.

It’s bedtime by 7:30. Whit falls asleep on a mattress in between our twin beds before we even say scriptures and prayers, and I’m not far behind. At 1:00 a.m. I’m awakened by a man and child thumping around in the hallway. Are they hurt? Does anyone else hear them? Should I get up and help? But I’m just too tired to remember where my clothes are. I’m left me awake for a long time.

It’s good that I got a jump start on my sleep. Those 5 hours end up being enough.”

 

Day 3 of the Poon Hill Trail:

 

“At 3:30 a.m. we hear other lodges beginning to trample out of their rooms. Why are they hurrying to make the final stretch? It’s only 30-60 minutes to the peak, but sunrise won’t be until after 6:00 a.m.

I think they’re going early to stake out the best photo spots, which sounds appealing, but I value my sleep too much.

At 4:45 a.m. we’re told to start making our way downstairs. That’s no problem for us. We kept our first layer of clothing under our blankets so they’d be toasty when getting up before dawn. I put on long yoga pants under loose hiking pants, a shirt, fleece, wind jacket, and scarf. No bra as I don’t expect to open my jacket.

As our group gets together one of our group says his room was attacked by an angry bat. In the middle of the night he and 2 of his children hurried out to beg into his wife and other daughter’s room. I guess that’s what I heard this morning. I’m glad they were ok.

We walk through the village to start our uphill climb to the Poon Hill peak. We meet tons of hikers from other tea houses and we’re all cramped on the winding, uphill staircase towards the same destination. I feel like a single sardine in a can. At least the stars are incredible.

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Halfway up the natural staircase we pass toilets. I realize I’m starting to feel dizzy and queasy. By asking around I realize it might be an affect of the altitude. We’ve hiked 7,000 ft to the top of a 10k mountain, and altitude sickness is perfectly understandable at this point. My yoga pants are squeezing my calves and the combination of tight clothes and dizziness makes me feel cranky. I have a will of iron and push up the trail without complaint, anyway.

I close the gap of people and end up closely behind a hiker with a headlamp, but I can’t will the crowd to go any faster. Can she hear me panting behind her? Do I seem like a death eater? I feel like a death eater.

The sun is already starting to light up the Annapurna mountains around us before  we make it to the top. I was told this morning push was 30-60 minutes long, but I’m convinced it actually took longer.

The view of the mountains around us is incredible, and I begin to wonder if I even need to make it to the actual peak. If we came for the view then we we’ve found it along the way! But I’m no quitter and I know I won’t be satisfied with myself until I’ve gone as far as I possibly can.

There are already hundreds (thousands?) of people at the peak when we arrive. It’s been flattened a bit to allow so many people to stand in one place. There’s even a small concession stand offering hot chocolate off to one side. The first thing we do is get in line for some, and it’s literally the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted. Or maybe that’s the nausea talking.

I’m surprised at the view. Poon Hill appears to be in the center of the Annapurna Range, and we see seven of the worlds 12 tallest peaks in a arc around us. I can’t distinguish any peak from another, but seeing so many close together really is astonishing.

We missed seeing the pink and gold shimmer of the first morning sun on these mountains as we saw on our first morning, which makes me feel even happier that I rolled out of bed that day.

Getting up early and walking uphill was hard for Whit, and he’s pretty grouchy at the peak. A cup of hot chocolate helps, but I can tell we only have a limited amount of time to enjoy the view and ask him for pictures before he completely loses it.

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There are people everywhere, but it doesn’t turn out to be that hard to find a picture spot with a good view. We take a few of Ben throwing Whit in the air, which delights the crowd, and then attempt some family pictures. As the family photographer I’m rarely in photos, but I’m proud of this accomplishment and want it memorialized.

We aren’t at the peak for long when our group gets together for a picture and then decides to head back down. The reason for the early morning sprint is that this is the clearest time of day, so there’s no point staying at the peak since clouds will start to roll in soon.

We get back to the lodge and I’m suddenly feeling too hot from my extra layers. I go up to the room to change and collapse on my bed on top of my jackets. No blanket. No pillow. A few minutes later Ben comes up and sees I’ve actually fallen asleep.

We have breakfast and pack then take a group picture and head out. Today is the downhill day and I ask for an O’Brien family prayer for protection as I’ve heard this is the leg where people are prone to accidents.

The downhill doesn’t seem as bad as advertised, thankfully. I fall into a rhythm swinging my two poles, but I don’t feel that I really need them for stability.

After a while I get a headache from not drinking water and begin to feel shin splints. “See?” my experienced friends says. Yes, I’m sure I’ll be sore by tomorrow.

As the group separates and some slow I notice two young Nepali men walking near us. When I stop they stop. When I walk they walk. I eventually ask Ben if they are with us, and he confirms. Have I really not noticed these boys or the bags they’re carrying over the previous two days?

Dharma spends part of his time assigning certain porters to people. I suppose these two have been assigned to me. While I don’t feel like I need any help or things from my bag it’s nice to know people are around for quiet support. The porters have become our guardian angels. We don’t always recognize or need them, but they are always watching and aware of us.

Tea houses are much more common on the route down. As I approach each one I look for an indication from my porters that this is our lunch area but they never stop. I eventually turn a corner and hear, “You made it!” It’s my friends. I have an overwhelming feeling of love for these people. Will they think I’m weird if I just start hugging everyone?

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I’m already feeling nostalgic as we begin our final hours hiking down after lunch. While the physical hiking wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be, I’ve become close to the friends and porters I’ve hiked with and gotten used to our daily schedule. Even though it’s only been three days, I can already tell I’ll miss doing something so huge. Should we have tried doing the 10-day Annapurna Base Camp trek, instead? Should we in the future? What are the odds we’d actually come back? I just don’t know.

I’m legitimately sad when I see our four Jeeps and drivers waiting for us at the end of the trek. Once we split up into cars we’ll officially be done trekking as a group. The other families all live in Chiang Mai, so we’ll definitely see them once we head there, but we’ll never hang out every minute without the pretense of clean clothes, makeup, or even social niceties again. I’ll miss this stripped-down, necessary closeness of doing something important together. “

 

Here’s What You Need to Know Before Hiking Poon Hill

 

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I had a lot of concerns before setting out on this trek! What weather should we expect? How will we sleep? What should I bring? Am I fit enough? Will my son be ok?

Luckily we had a friend send over some useful information while we were preparing, but here are the things I wish I had known before we got started!

Treks leave from Pokhara.

Most treks through Nepal leave from the city of Pokhara. It’s easy to arrive via plane from Kathmandu. Your trekking guide can arrange for a car to take you from the airport to your hotel, or go outside of the airport and ask for a taxi.

Pokhara is known as the adventure city of Nepal. In addition to being the entrance to Poon Hill and other treks, you can also go white water rafter, zip lining, and pargliding. You really shouldn’t miss these other incredible adventures, since you’ll probably arrive in Pokhara at least one day before your trek, anyway!

We spent an afternoon paragliding in Pokhara and it was the best way to be introduced to the region. Book this 5-star paragliding tour before you arrive to make sure you optimize your time!

 

You can rent what you don’t have.

It’s easy to find anything you need for your trek once in Pokhara. The main strip housing most hotels and restaurants is also full of backpacking shops and gear rentals. You can find backpacks, clothing, shoes, poles, headlamps, sunglasses, bug spray, tents, and anything else you could think of to make your trek. If you’d prefer to rent instead of buying any piece of gear just ask around until you find a willing shop owner.

We still needed scarves, sunglasses, a backpacking bag, and poles when we started. Our trekking guide met us at our hotel and walked us to two different shops he personally knows to rent the things we wanted. He took great care of us, and we felt sure that we were walking away with a great deal and good quality gear.

 

Hire a guide.

Yes, it is possible to hike Poon Hill without a guide or porter, but it’s absolutely not recommended! In fact, we met the bereaved mother of a man who had been hiking in Nepal alone and then disappeared. Her story is not uncommon. Not only do guides do all of the technical planning for you, they also know the trail better than anyone and are the best equipped to keep you safe.

Don’t be a hero and try to hike by yourself. It’s not adventurous, it’s just stupid.

Hiking Poon Hill Trail isn’t too hard.

Poon Hill Trail follows a circular path up a 3,210-meter small mountain. Two routes are available to go up and back down the mountain. The trail mostly consists of well-placed stone steps mixed with flat(ish) ground. It’s considered a moderate hike because the repetitive climbing can wear you down, but no scrambling is involved so it’s entirely doable for adults of any fitness level and most children.

A fit adult can complete the Ghorepani/ Poon Hill Trail in just one day (it’s even the site of a yearly marathon), but the trail is designed to be completed in 3-5 days of active hiking. By spending 3-5 hours a day hiking the trail can be completed in 3 days, but tea houses and rest stops are available along the path for anyone interested in taking a particular day slower or quicker. It really is the best kids hike in Nepal, but also an amazing experience for adults!

 

You sleep in Tea Houses.

There are no 5-star accommodations on a Nepal mountain, but you also aren’t completely alone. Small villages have formed along the path which are designed to service trekkers. Some only consist of family restaurants and convenience stores selling toilet paper and soda. You’ll pass a handful of these while hiking each day, which serve as great toilet stops.

Larger villages also have tea houses, which is where you’ll sleep. These villages are the main stops for each day of hiking, and will also have small stores and some local houses or a school (because these places are managed by families who live here full-time!) 

Tea houses are similar to hostels. One floor is an open dining and entertaining center, another floor is full of small bedrooms and shared bathrooms. They are definitely not fancy, but we found the mattresses to always be good. There’s really nothing else you need after hiking all day, anyway.

 

Food is expensive.

You’ll pass donkeys carrying goods along the trail as you walk. These donkeys are responsible for most of the pre-packaged things you’ll use in the villages as well as all the materials needed to build and sustain the stores and tea houses. It’s incredible! Most tea houses operate their own gardens, too, to ease the burden on donkeys and the cost of having food transported.

Because of the effort needed to get food to the villages, food is the most expensive part of trekking. Meals cost around 500-700 rupees, which is around 2-3 times more than you’ll pay in cities around Nepal. If you’ve pre-paid for your trek be sure to come prepared with plenty of cash, as well, to cover this extra expense.

 

Cold water showers.

Tea Houses will have shared bathrooms and usually offer hot showers for an extra fee. For 100-200 rupees you can take a hot shower, but this is not always as advertised. While a hot shower would feel amazing after a hard day of trekking uphill, you could end up with only 8 seconds of hot water before the cold settles in. You can’t really blame them for that, so just be prepared. You didn’t come on a Himalayan hike to be pampered, did you?

 

Bring your own toilet paper.

Our guide, Dharma, joked with me that one slogan for Nepal was, “See you later, Alligator. Don’t forget the toilet paper!”

You won’t find toilet paper in public bathrooms. You just won’t. Not only is it impractical for a tea house or rest stop to offer consumables for free like that, as a culture Nepalese just aren’t used to it. They either us squattie potties or bum guns, both of which you’ll find along your trek.

There are, at least, plenty of toilets (and often Western!) along the trek, so you don’t need to worry about going in the bushes!

Related: 20 Things I wish I knew before our trip to Nepal 

Prepare for crowds.

The simple fact is that you are not the only person with the idea to hike in Nepal. The cat’s out of the bag on this one, so prepare for crowds along your path. This doesn’t mean that you’ll be shoulder-to-shoulder while you hike, but you are bound to see trekkers from all around the world as you go.

Poon Hill Trail is known as one of the busiest treks, as it’s the shortest and easiest as well as the beginning stretch for those attempting the trek to Annapurna Base Camp.

It’s recommended to try Annapurna Base Camp over Everest Base Camp, though, as ABC is decidedly less crowded and dirty than EBC has become. If you’re on this journey for the thrill of adventure and not name recognition, alone, you really should consider the Annapurna circuit.

 

The Best Time to Trek Nepal in Spring or Fall

October and March are considered to be the single best months to trek in Nepal. The weather isn’t too hot or cold that time of year, which means you won’t be too uncomfortable to hike. We hiked Poon Hill in October and I can personally attest to this truth! It was just hot enough for us to not need our jackets, but not so hot that we were sweaty. In Spring, however, the jungle begins to flower which would make it a prettier sight.

 

Here’s a Poon Hill packing list so you don’t overpack.

Honestly, you don’t need much when trekking. Keep in mind that porters will be carrying your backpacking bag, and, while they are quite capable to handle heavy loads, you’ll probably feel guilty if you end up with a heavier load than you actually need.

Each member of our family had the following:

 

How to Book a Poon Hill Trek

 

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Find a local tour office

Since trekking the Himalayas is the most popular activity in Nepal, big cities are full of travel agents willing and able to organize your trip. It’s easy enough to just walk down the street and find a travel agency!

In fact, if you don’t already have a trekking guide once you arrive in Pokhara the hotel, paragliding agency, or gear shop you visit will most likely have a business branch which arranges treks to Poon Hill, Annapurna Base Camp, or Everest Base Camp.

You can assume these travel agents/ tour guides are local to the area and have done any of these treks a number of times and are perfectly capable of the journey.

Related: 5 Reasons why you REALLY DO need to hire a guide in Nepal 

 

Pre-book a Nepal trek online

If you’re more interested in arranging a Nepal trekking guide before you arrive, I’d suggest hiring through a reputable source. Get Your Guide is one online resource where local guides create an account to offer their services. You can easily see what they are willing to offer, get an immediate, honest price, and, most importantly, read reviews right away.

Check out all of their Nepal treks here to get an idea of what you can expect from a trekking guide. You can choose the Poon Hill Trail we did, a 12-day trek to Annapurna Base Camp, an 11-day trek to Everest Base Camp, or shorter hikes just out of Kathmandu. There’s an option for everyone!

 

Ask your potential guide some questions before booking

Since there are so many trekking guides and individually owned tour agencies in Nepal it can be hard to figure out which is the best one for you. Here are some things to keep in mind when booking your trek guide:

  1. How long has he lived in Nepal? Where in the country is he from?
  2. Which treks has completed as a guide?
  3. How many times has he done the trek you’re interested in?
  4. What schedule does he recommend for your trek?
  5. How large is the biggest group he’s organized?
  6. How many porters does he work with or have access to?
  7. Is he from an official tour agency (even his own) or offering unofficial services?
  8. Is there anywhere you can see reviews from past trekkers?
  9. Do you feel comfortable with him?

 

 

If you’re planning a trip to the Poon Hill trek in Nepal pin this article for later!

 

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