When I planned for EBC in Sep 2014, it was primarily because I wanted to see the tallest mountain. I knew it would be a tough trek and I also knew the altitude challenges that are a part of EBC hike. But I had not done any research on what other hiking trails are possible in the Himalayas through Nepal. On the way to EBC, I met many hikers who had done the Annapurna circuit and heard stories of the beautiful trail to ABC. As soon as I came back home, I planned and booked the trek to ABC for Apr 2015.
People around me had lots of questions - Why ABC so soon after EBC? Why a lower altitude trek after a really high one? Why see Annapurna range when I had already seen the Everest range? And I started to wonder myself, will ABC be really worth it? Will I experience anything new? Should I instead do the Inca trail? However, the bookings were all done and since this hike was shorter - 10 days including travel to Kathamandu and back so I decided to go ahead with it.
And I am glad that I did. ABC was a totally different experience in many ways and I believe that anyone who loves to hike should do both trails. Here are the key differences, in my opinion, between EBC and ABC
Both trails are difficult but for different reasons. The key factor that makes EBC difficult is altitude. The only way to manage same is add acclimatization days and/or to take Diamox. The trails are steep but not everyday and not whole day.
ABC, by comparison to EBC is not that high in altitude but its still high enough. However we didn't need acclimatization days for the hike. The challenge with ABC though is steep trails EVERY SINGLE DAY and for hours at a stretch. The flat portions are very short and present themselves only occasionally.
If someone were to ask me which one was more difficult - I would say ABC! Surprising isn't it? :)
The hike to EBC starts from Lukla (almost at 9000 ft.) and by 4th/5th day you have crossed the tree line after which it's just barren rocks and the majestic white beauties around you. The mountains of the Everest region are unrivalled in terms of their majesty and sheer size. When getting close to base camp, you are literally surrounded by the mountains – they tower above you and their stark beauty takes your breath away. If you want to be immersed in the mountains good part of the hike, then this is the place to be. The base camp was amazing as it offers a great view of Khumbu ice fall but you really can't see the Everest very well from EBC.
ABC hike starts at much lower altitudes of 3000 ft. or so and the trail passes through terraced rice fields, then through oak and rhododendron forests. If you’re in the Annapurna region in April (which we were), the rhododendron trees are in full bloom - red at lower altitudes and pink as you ascend. The mountains form a spectacular backdrop, as do the lush terraces, dense jungle and farming communities. At the base camp, the entire range surrounds you up close and it's a breath taking experience, quite different from what I had experienced at EBC.
EBC trail had rooms with attached bathrooms till 14000 ft. And we were able to secure twin occupancy room till the highest point (Gorakshep). The toilets were mostly western WC and were not that clean, especially the common ones. Indian toilets (or squatting toilets as some call it) were meant only for the crew and hence very dirty.
On ABC trail, the rooms with the attached toilets were possible only till Chomorong and after that we also couldn't procure twin occupancy rooms. However, the common toilets were surprisingly very clean (atleast at the lodges that we stayed in) and Indian/squatting toilets were available for guests as well. We also noticed campsites all along the route - it's fairly common to see folks staying in tents. These camp sites are attached to a lodge so that folks staying in the tents have access to kitchen etc.
In summary, if you can afford it (time, effort and money wise) then you must do both hikes. However if you can do only one, I would recommend EBC for two reasons - it's much easier on the knees and it has an aspirational ring to it!