The Annapurna Circuit is a classic long distance hike set in the heart of the Himalayas. The start and finish points vary, as does the amount of time taken to hike it, but the key to successfully completing the circuit is time.
The high pass of Thorong La demands a healthy respect for acclimatisation and the best way to do this is to climb slowly and incorporate acclimatisation days.
Successful acclimatisation days involve side hikes where you climb high and sleep low. The Ice Lake is a great side hike to help with acclimatisation and may also be the highlight of any Annapurna Circuit trek.
The Ice Lake in Manang valley is one of the best side hikes of the Annapurna Circuit. In this guide I provide a detailed trail description, trail stats and information on where to stay after completing the Ice Lake trek.
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The Best Annapurna Circuit Side Hike – Ice Lake, Manang
The Ice Lake or Kicho Tal, is a high alpine lake in the Manang valley of Nepal. The lake is situated at 4620m (15157ft) and due to it’s high elevation is often frozen. The Ice Lake is accessed by trekking from Manang or Braga villages. The trek typically takes 7 – 10 hours.
Ensure you have the correct gear for your Annapurna Circuit adventure by checking out this packing list. I put this packing list together after solo hiking the Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Sanctuary.
This is a guide to hiking Ice Lake from Braga. At 3400m, Braga is a small village just below the more commercial town of Manang. This village is much quieter than Manang and provides the perfect location to embark on the well marked trail to Ice Lake.
If staying in Manang, the simplest way to hike to Ice Lake, is to walk down to Braga and begin the hike from there.
I describe what you can expect on this beautiful but demanding hike.
From Manang many hikers opt to take the 2 day hike to Tilcho Lake. However, if you have only 1 day to spare, Ice Lake Manang is the perfect option.
- Starting elevation: 3400m
- Finish elevation: 4620m
- Elevation gain: 1220m
- Distance: 17km
- Time: 7-10 hours
Ice Lake Trail Description
This hike will take all day so it’s important to get an early start. Nick and I hike quite quickly so we left at 8:30am and got back to the lodge at 3:30pm.
We spent over an hour at the lake and took time taking photos as we went.
We spoke to other hikers who left at 7am and returned at 4pm, so be prepared for a full day. The trail tops out at 4600m, so it’s important to listen to your body and be prepared to turn back if you are feeling any symptoms of altitude sickness.
From Braga, begin the hike by walking towards the monastery. This fabulous site, is in itself, worthy of some exploration and offers fine views from the top. Track down the key holder to gain access to the inner temple for which there is an entrance costs of 100r.
As you walk towards the monastery and village you will see the blue and white flags denoting a side hike on the Annapurna Circuit. The Ice Lake is also signposted.
After passing through the village the ascent begins as the trail traverses across the hillside in an easterly direction. As the trail ascends, the views back up the Manang valley get more and more impressive.
Once you reach a flatter section with rock seats designed for porters to rest their bags, the trail takes a left turn. It is signposted Ice Lake. Straight on takes you on the high trail back towards Ngawal.
At this point the trail gets steeper as you zigzag your way up the dirt track. At around 3800m the trail flattens into a pasture with a gompa to the right. Enjoy this all too brief flat section before the trail swings around to the left and once again begins to zigzag up the hill.
Soon you will reach some prayer flags where the view of the Annapurnas to the south and east becomes even more impressive. This is roughly the half way point.
The trail continues its switchback ascent, before it starts to traverse around the side of the hill and up to the teahouse. The teahouse, at 4200m offers food and water if required. From the teahouse the trail crosses another plateau with old ruined herders huts. In this section keep your eye out for Himalayan blue sheep with their impressively huge horns.
Spoiler alert – Himalayan blue sheep are not blue!
After the flat pasture there is a steep section, which with the thin air, really begins to test the lungs. The trail then bares around to the left to traverse the hill. From here on the trail climbs gradually in a series of long switchbacks to bring you up to the first lake. This is lower ice lake. Walk to the left of the lake and follow along the trail to the next lake, which is upper ice lake or Kicho Tal.
At this lake there is a small shelter to protect from the wind and a small stupa. You’re almost finished! For the best views, continue on following the trail around to the left until you reach the far end of the lake. Now, at 4600m you can sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labour. A beautiful lake (which may or may not be frozen) with the incredible backdrop of Annapurna III, Gangapurna and Kangsar Kang.
The descent is fairly straightforward as you simply retrace your steps. As you return to lower ice lake, take some time to walk around the top side of the lake. If the weather is calm you may get some reflections of the mountains in the lake.
If you are staying in Manang there is a short-cut that zig zags down the ridge from lower ice lake. In good weather this is clear to see.
We took 3.5 hours to reach the far end of upper ice lake and then 2.5 hours to walk down. My phone tracker stated 17km in total. The trail on maps.me suggests the route is 12km in total, but I don’t think it identifies all the zigzagging along the way.
On the Annapurna Circuit in general we found maps.me to underestimate the distances slightly.
Another incredible side trek from the Annapurna Circuit is the Dhaulagiri Icefall Trek. Take a look at this post for more information!
Where to stay
In Braga there are four options to rest your weary legs. We stayed at Hotel Buddha which has basic rooms, some with private toilets attached. The food here is amazing (splash out on a yak burger!) and the dinning room has a stove to keep you warm in the cold evenings. The village has a small shop and two bakeries.
What to take
- Sturdy walking boots: The trail is well established and mostly a dirt path, however it is rocky in parts. I’ve had Han Wag boots for a couple of years now and have been impressed with how comfortable they are.
- Hiking Permits: If you enter or exit Braga from/to Manang you will pass through a permit office where you need to register your permits.
- Warm layers: Once you reach the lake at 4600m you’ll want a puffy to keep you warm.
- Water bottle with a filter: This will allow you to safely refill at ice lake. I use a Water To Go bottle.
- GPS or map: This trail is marked on maps.me app.
- Food and drink: There is a teahouse en route but depending on the time of year, it may or may not be open. Ask the guys at your guesthouse before you set off.
- Sunscreen and hat: Get a high factor for extra protection at high altitudes. This sunscreen is also free of nasty chemicals.
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance!
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All distances and elevations used in this post were recorded on my iphone .
Have you hiked the Annapurna Circuit? Did you choose to do the Ice Lake side hike? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!
In October 2019 on a visit to Pakistan I completed two stunning hikes which you can read more about below:
- Hiking to Rakaposhi Base Camp in the Karakorams
- Hiking to Fairy Meadows and Nanga Parbat View Point in the Himalayas
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