40 years of trekking before taking on the GHT!
On my 40th anniversary visit to Nepal I decided to trek the GHT at the age of 72! Since 1983 I had climbed and trekked extensively, adding a great deal to the economy. This would be a greater challenge because of a recent Total Knee Replacement. Several Orthopaedic Surgeons advised me to limit my physical activity to easy walking! After extensive physical rehabilitation and training I gradually improved my confidence. I increased my daily walks to 25-30 kms, stimulating Nepal conditions in the New Zealand Alps.
I arrived in Kathmandu late February 2023 with a flexible plan to trek from Taplejung to the far west Indian border town of Darchula via the upper and lower GHT. Weather forecasts, snow conditions and personal health would play vital roles in decision making.
Flexibility is Key to the GHT
The key is to have a general plan without getting too bogged down with a set itinerary. 3 years earlier I trekked the 3000km Te Araroa Trail in NZ alone using GPS tracking. However, the GHT, especially the lower route, is very difficult to negotiate because of endless local and unmarked trails. A little knowledge of Nepali is paramount, especially on the lower trail. A new Nepal Government law required that all foreign trekkers employ a certified guide. My first 3 guides, Pemba, Pasang and LB, had to depart because of other trekking commitments. Most of the trek was with Buddha. All 4 guides were invaluable for asking trail directions and homestays. They were also invaluable for morale.
I would not require a tent and cooking gear until Lower Dolpo. But I carried a light tent, sleeping bag, pocket rocket stove and freeze-dried food from the beginning in case of emergency. I limited the weight of my 60lt pack to about 13kgs, including medical supplies and a small power pack for recharging my I-phone.
It was difficult to control food hygiene in the remote villages. Consequently, l contracted amoebic dysentery on 3 separate occasions.
High or Low, the GHT is Tough
I found the lower route as challenging as the upper GHT. The Daily 20-30km trek usually consisted of lung busting altitude ups and downs of 1000-1500mts. The routine was usually 7.30am breakfast of Vegetable omelette with Chapati and Chia, mid-day Dhal Bhatt and evening Dhal Bhatt at 7.30pm! The mix of rice, lentil, vegetables and meat of Dhal Bhatt was readily available throughout Nepal.
From Taplejung, I reached Lukla in a thunderstorm after trekking the final 5 hours along a muddy trail, sidestepping countless Pack Mules. My plan to cross the Tashi Labsta pass on the upper GHT ended because of the poor weather prediction and impassable snow.
One of the important aspects of the GHT is to be flexible. So, I began the next phase of the challenge from Jiri to Barhabise with a renown guide from Jiri, LB. At Barhabise I arranged with my Trekking Agent, Himal from Nepal Independent Trekking, to provide another guide, Pasang. The Tillman Pass was also impassable so we continued along the Gosainkunda trail over the Lauribina pass to Syabrubesi. Pasang and I trekked for 30kms in difficult snow and ice conditions. At the small villages I always looked for a quite Home Stay where the owner was not overwhelmed with clients.
From Syabrubesi, I was again on the upper GHT. The Ruby Valley trek with the spectacular Ganesh Himal provided remote magical landscape and Homestay hospitality surprisingly close to Kathmandu. The trek between Somdang and Tipling over the Pansan Pass proved to be a tough winter wonderland in deep snow.
Pasang and I arrived at Machhakhola for the impressive Manaslu Circuit. Again, I contracted amoebic dysentery and was sidelined for 3 days. Himal provided me with another guide, Buddha, from the small Solo-Kumbu village of Bung. I recovered after a course of antibiotics and Tatopani.
It’s OK to Miss the Bits You’ve Done Before
11 years earlier I had trekked most of the Manaslu Circuit as part of my 2012 Manaslu climbing Expedition where an avalanche resulted in loss of life. I also lost a close friend to the mountain in 2006. So, this trek was tinged with sadness. Even so, the trek was unforgettable with stunning views of the Manaslu Massif and the snow bound challenge of Larkye Pass. The villages of Samagoan and Samdo provided rich Tibetan culture unsurpassed anywhere in Nepal.
I decided not to continue on the Annapurna circuit because of overcrowding and having trekked there 3 times in the past. Buddha and I continued the next phase from Besheshar to Beni on the lower GHT. This section included Homestays at friendly Gurung villages in unique cultural mountain settings with overwhelming hospitality and local cuisine.
Again, I contracted food poisoning and recovered in Pokhara where we were able to buy supplies. Apart from the famous Poon Hill Circuit, I met surprisingly few Foreigners. Buddha and I trekked from Beni to Guibang where bad weather forced us to abandon the trek over the Jang la Pass to Dunai. So, we continued through the remote Swiss like Dhorphatan Hunting Reserve to Musikot.
The GHT Isn’t Over
From Musikot we hired a jeep and headed N-E back to the Lower GHT village of Juphal. The trek from Juphal to Jumla was a diverse mixture of stunning forests, stark mountain passes and remote villages of Chhetris and Buddhists. I was again struck down with a serious case of food poisoning at Jumla. I tried to trek over Danphe lekh pass to Rara lake twice but my condition deteriorated. Devastated, with the reality that I would not reach my goal of Darchula, I staggered back to Jumla to end an incredible odyssey of 1500kms.
I came away with an unforgettable 10 weeks of a rich mixture of diverse cultures, 40 mountain passes and haunting mountain scenery. My interactions with local villagers was a highlight. Few people spoke English though the children often asked me inquisitive questions. Thank you to the people of Nepal for the memorable experiences.
Ian Hibbert, June 2023