Tips for Surviving the World’s Toughest Trail
Like many great ideas, the Great Himalaya Trail was born over beers in a bar. Robin Boustead and Jamie Mcguiness dreamed of a trail connecting the existing tracks, making it possible to cross the Himalayas from east to west. Many said it was impossible. But as the GHT has proven to its creators and many of those who’ve walked it alike, nothing is impossible until you’ve tried. They set out without maps to find routes, to break trails, and to create what has become the Great Himalaya Trail as it is known today.
Unlike other long distance trails, there is no set route to the GHT: it is a network of tracks established by local communities. Some of them are well-maintained tracks used by traders and local people, some resemble small wildlife tracks, and some sections are rarely used with barely any visible tracks at all. What your own GHT will be depends on your own expectations, experience, skill and what circumstances dictate. The entire trail spans almost 5000km from Bhutan to Pakistan. We limited ourselves to one country and walked the length of Nepal by combination of the high and low routes. This is not a trail to be taken lightly. I took a fall on one of the passes that if it wasn’t for my pack, would have killed me.
When it comes to long distance trails, there is no harder challenge out there. Each trail contains its own set of peculiarities, though none contain challenges as dangerous, extreme and numerous as the GHT. Walkers aiming to complete the Great Himalaya trail will face unique obstacles such as extreme altitude and technical climbing sections; which combined with an entirely different culture, language barriers, immense snowfall, humidity and rain in summer or drought and bitter cold in winter make for a brutal stage. And yet it is unresistable at the same time: nothing compares to the power of the world’s highest mountains, to the endless vistas at the top of each pass, to the borderless hospitality of the people who inhibit this inhospitable place.
PJ and I learned about the GHT on our very first day on Te Araroa. Almost as a matter of faith we ran into Stuart Bilby, who had just finished his thru-hike of Nepal weeks earlier. He told us about his adventures on the trail: on the infamous snowstorms occurring on the high route and the long way out to lower ground just to turn to higher ground again once the snow had cleared. I was sold to the idea just from those 15 minutes talking to him. Of course, I had many other things on my mind after that brief encounter. The challenges we faced before reaching Bluff during the next few months made it fade from my attention. Though I never forgot about it: I always remembered Stuart and his stories, and I always dreamed that maybe one day I would try this trail as well.
When the time came to plan a new project Marylene, PJ and I decided to team up once again. We discussed other trails, though none of them seemed challenging enough after New Zealand. None of them brought up that wave of enthusiasm and deep dedication needed to finish a long distance hike. I remembered Stuart and Nepal. After a few Skype sessions I had the other two convinced too. Seeing the Himalayas had been a long dream for all of us, and now it was time to make that dream come true. None of us had ever been to that part of the world before. None of us had ever been to extreme altitude. None of us had good mountaineering experience, or was a particularly skilled climber. On top of that, we decided to attempt the crossing in winter, something that had only been done once. But the views at that time of year were simply better. Truly, it was a mad plan.
We prepared for 1,5 years, spent 5 months in Nepal and walked for 4. We made it from Taplejung to Simikot. I still find it hard to believe, but we did. The way I see it, there are four reasons why we succeeded. For one: we were not just a good team, we were a great team. Second, we did not make a day-to-day itinerary, but we were flexible. You can not put the Himalayas on a schedule. You have to play on the same side as the mountains, and when circumstances are not right there must be room for adjustment in the plan. Third, we were lucky. The mountains smiled on us and whenever we needed it, we had good weather. We never got blocked out because of snow. And last, we may not have come fully aware of what we were walking into but we came well prepared. We brought the right gear and we had the right mindset. Many times in life I’ve heard that I’m a stubborn ass. Yet this time, that proved to be an essential quality for making it to the end.
The GHT is a fantastic experience and something that will change you for life. For more information, visit:
1. SEASON September – January/February Started in Kanchenjunga in the end of September, we still hit the last of monsoon season. A lot of rain during the first three weeks on the Milky Danda and in Makalu. Everest was very busy as we hit it in the middle of peak season (mid-October), so at times… Continue reading Great Himalaya Trail Planning & Logistics
We concluded the Great Himalaya Trail in 3 rounds, with two returns to Kathmandu to reshuffle gear and fix permits. The items listed below were never with us all together: depending on the technicality and altitude of the section ahead, some items were stored in our duffels in Kathmandu. Our base weight largely depended on… Continue reading Great Himalaya Trail Gear List