Doc’s solo GHT retold!
GHT – a Solo Trekkers Guide
“Make every step count. No matter how hard it gets…”
Use All of Your Senses
Over the years I’ve spent around 2 years in Nepal and around 9 months in the hills. Speaking conversational Nepali has definitely opened up doors (metaphorical and physical) that I never knew could be opened. In all this time 99.9% of people I have met have been warm, welcoming and incredibly helpful. That said you should always watch out for those 0.1%, especially when you are on your own.
Whenever people say they have trekked “here and there” and try and align their experiences with your solo adventure, with all the will in the world it’s not possible. The vulnerability you have as a solo trekker is far greater, from the weather, environment, animals and people, let alone dealing with your inner voice.
All of your senses notice everything with every step. Who looks at you, how they look at you, their body language, how clouds form, how the wind changes, the smells and sound of human activity well before you see it etc. Not least how you react and feel on your first day without speaking or seeing anyone, the first storm you experience before you reach your destination, the frustrations when kit starts to fail even though you tested it time and time again, then there is of course that feeling when you get lost and start blaming yourself and doubting if you able to keep going safely…..and the list goes on. The feelings run deep when your alone….harness them to become stronger, more flexible and more alert and you’ll get through those tough times. You also appreciate what a dry set of clothes, fresh socks, warm food and drink and a good night sleep can do for the sole……on your own the small things that keep your spirits high matter.
There’s now many blogs and books with great information but summary of a “few top tips”:
- Pack light: double up on as many things as possible and if you can afford light equipment even better.
- Be safe: get insurance that matches your itinerary….you’ll be grateful if you need it. Use trackers so people can see where you and communicate weather changes, injury etc. Have someone in country tracking you so they can coordinate any rescue. Use local SIM cards too as the mobile network is growing.
- Technology: it’s great for safety but over reliance for navigation and daily communication to the outside world in my opinion is dangerous. I only ever use map and compass to navigate and locate myself. It allows you to see the wider area, no batteries needed and never breaks (maybe the compass if you’re unlucky). Too much communication to the outside world can take your mind away from where you are and means you miss out on things…especially when things get tough.
- Plan for the worst: when the sun is out and there’s no wind, everything is “easy”. When the cloud and wind comes from now where, leaving you in 10m visibility in a place far from ideal as you realise the rain is turning to snow and a storm is rolling up the valley. Be prepared and therefore never get caught out. Embrace it and the opportunity to develop your skills in the hostile environment….you can’t think of every eventuality but you can reduce the list of possible outcomes and plan accordingly.
- Always, always be polite: no matter how tired, cold, wet and angry you are always maintain a smile and manners. Nepalis are a curious bunch and often even after hours of walking with you and constant questioning you want to tell them a few choice words. Always maintain the moral high ground, they are just being friendly in their own way and the hills have their own way of ruling themselves….you’d never want to get caught up in a dispute. It’s their country after all!
- Survival Nepali: learn the basic sentences to help you get to places, get a roof over your head, get fed and watered. It’s useful and highly appreciated. If all else fails practice your smile…it’s international after all.
- Permits: solo trekking is a pain for permits. I was lucky and got clearance for the whole thing based on my previous job and some project work I was doing along the way. But for subsequent trips I’ve just gone through and agency with my plan and asked them to arrange….buying two permits where required to due to local national park regulations. Always take your passport with you!!!!
- Visa: keep updated with changes. Getting more than the 90 days on arrival was a pain ie “come back on day 89 and we will arrange it”. If you need more then link with your embassy in Nepal or the Nepali embassy in your own country.
- Time: I feel this is irrelevant, some want speed, some want relaxation. I tried to find a balance but sometimes went more for speed, occasionally at the loss of absorbing culture and atmospheres along the way. You’ll typically only get once chance at this, make it count.
- Listen to your body: by the time you get in the GHT you’ve probably done a few things. Listen to your body and take the necessary actions without adding risk to yourself and others.
- Don’t be hard on yourself: as previously mentioned, things break, go wrong and you will get lost. It is part of the process. Make the most of the little eventualities, they never last and will soon be forgotten so long as you all yourself to make mistakes. Learn from them and keep walking.
- Video diary: not just a great way to document your days but also a great way to watch in yourself any changes only others may notice eg slurring of speech, significant weight loss in the face, extreme tiredness etc.
- You might be solo but it’s doesn’t always mean solo: listen and take advice from those around you and assess risks against your experience and your ability to get out of trouble if things really go wrong. Help could be a long way away.
Even six years on, there is not a day that passes that I don’t in some way think about my time on the GHT. It might be a split second or longer, but the memories live far longer than the trip itself.
Make every step count. No matter how hard it gets, remember that so long as you’re moving forward you’ll always get there in the end.
Enjoy, notice everything and get ready for an experience that will change you in way you never expected.