Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Trail tests. The Trail provides.

     How does one summarize hiking over 1200 miles in 87 days? Through every type of mountain terrain imaginable. Trails, roads, bushwhacks, rock climbs, glaciers, rappelling, river beds, glacial moraines, grassy fields, stone staircases, farmers fields, and village streets. Over 30 named passes, some as high as 20,000 feet with glaciers and sometimes waist deep snow. Through lowlands where the heat was stifling and monkeys would scamper through the trees. The variety was endless. So where the challenges. Some challenges were the same each day. Waking up at 4am. Packing up the tent while it was soaking wet from rain or dew. Walking between 10 and 15 hours (usually 12) a day with a full pack until your feet ached like they had broken bones in them. Trying to find food since we were burning 5000+ calories a day but only able to consume a fraction of that. Trying to not get lost as we followed either a maze of trails or sometimes no trail at all. Dealing with a language barrier as we were trying to find food or get directions. Suffering from the gastrointestinal distress that is inevitable when you spend so many days in Nepal in often quite dirty conditions. The trails in Nepal are covered in horse, yak, and goat poop and the flies especially in the west were very thick at times. Dealing with the bureaucracy of Nepal was a headache. Over 20 different permits were needed as we crossed the country. In some provinces (Makalu, Dolpo, and Humla) the police would not let you pass unless you had a Nepali guide with you. 6 year old Nepali children could walk the trail but experienced mountaineers like us needed a guide to show us the way. Some challenges were unique to the area we were in. 5 of the passes we crossed were technical involving ropes and harnesses where we had to rock climb, rappel, or both. They all ended up being more difficult than we expected. Each pass had a different set of problems of finding the correct route, trying to figure out where to set up rappel anchors, and how to avoid crevasses and rock fall. Both Kathleen and John took serious falls on separate passes that could have led to serious injury or death. Snowfields had to be crossed that led us to post hole into the snow as the snow was warmed by the sun. Seth even fell through a snow bridge into waist deep ice water at one point. Some rivers did not have bridges so we had to figure out how to cross them by rock hopping, using logs, or by just wading through fast moving waist deep water. Security was also a concern. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world so we had to watch our equipment that no one took an easy opportunity to help themselves to something. We camped next to a kitchen tent one night that was robbed at gunpoint and the equivalent of $600 was taken. Little did the robbers know that even more than that was in our tent. We also had one evening where drunken villagers decided to form a mob and chase us away from their village with sticks and rocks at 10 o'clock at night. The trail tested us every day. Sometimes multiple times in a day.

Despite the challenges, the trail provided for us, often when we needed it the most. The people of Nepal were very generous and would help us out of the blue. The Nepali loved to self appoint themselves as our guides and lead us along the trail. Sometimes they would accompany us for 2 houses until we could see where the trail went. Sometimes they would lead us for 2 days. We were taken down many shortcuts that went through peoples yards and fields that we would never have been able to find on our own. In some remote villages we were invited into peoples homes and fed dahl baht. Some where surprised when we paid them money in return. We were also invited to sleep in churches, schools, prayer rooms, and there were times we slept in abandoned buildings. Those tended to be the nights when it poured rain. The nights we camped tended to be clear (with only a few exceptions). For the most part on the trip we had good weather. The monsoon season begins in June and we knew we would be hiking until the beginning of July. There were days where we would get to a lodge at the end of the day or at a lunch spot under shelter and then it would start to pour rain. The day after we arrived in Simikot at the end of the trail it started to rain all day and night for days. This caused us to be stuck there for 5 days waiting for our flight but at least we were not hiking through it.

Throughout all the highs and lows I was fortunate to be accompanied with Kathleen and Seth. You can't go through an experience like this with the associated stress and exhaustion without tempers becoming short at times. However, at least from my perspective, I felt that we could snap at each other or disagree about something but at the end of the day I was still traveling with good friends who I wanted to share a beer with. I would not hesitate to do another adventure with this team again. They picked me up when I needed it and gave me a kick in the ass (usually the case) when I needed that, too.

As far as we know there were 8 people (including us) that did the Great Himalaya Trail this year. Remy Levin and his friend David Vanneste we met in Ghunsa at the start of the trail. Remy has many mutual friends in Washington but we never actually met him until we were in Nepal. Stuart Bilby was a Kiwi who was doing the trail the opposite direction and was by himself for most of the trip. We met him while at Last Resort dealing with a supply drop.  He was able to tell that we weren't on a “normal” trek from the large pile of gear and food we had. We also met Carmelina Maione who just fnished the trail with another guy by the name of Ray Mustey.  They were on a guided expedition through World Expeditions and were the only other group we met that had done all of the high passes also. Carmelina will be the first Canadian woman to complete the high trail. Their trip was 150+ days which is hardcore just by itself. There may have been a couple of other people that we didn't meet but it is a very small group that attempts this trail each year. This trail is still in its infancy. The concept of “The Great Himalaya Trail” was just started in 2009 by Robin Boustead but I expect that as more people hear about it and the challenge involved it will become more popular. This will be a good thing for the poor villages along the path providing a much needed source of income. We had a lot of help as we researched the trail from some people who had done the trail before us, especially Doc McKerr (the first solo trekker of the trail) and Robin Boustead (the trails inventor). A huge thanks to them. If you are looking for the hardest hike of your life then this trail is for you. Just make sure you fatten up some before you start it as you will have lost it all by the end of the trail. Happy hiking!

To see a collection of photos taken from our trip see our teams Facebook page: Great Himalaya Traverse.