Heather’s profound and life changing GHT!
Heather’s profound and life changing GHT – a journey like no other!
As is so often the case, so many big, life changing adventures come from a tiny, spur of the moment decision…
Sometime back in 2012, Bek and Cal (my daughter and son) and I decided on a whim to trek to Everest Base Camp in January 2013 – it was the middle of the Nepalese Winter… To say it was very, very cold was an understatement! But as challenging as it was, it was to be the beginning of our love for Nepal and its beautiful people.
On our return we kept talking about doing a slightly longer trek… but which one?
In mid 2015 World Expeditions held an information night on the Great Himalaya Trail… Hello GHT! This was just what we’d been waiting for. We signed up, began organising our gear, visas, insurance and travel vaccines… and filled up our headspace with reading and research.
Our training involved running at the local park, climbing hills and stairs, swimming in the ocean (I even ran in an event called the World Marathon Challenge – 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents – which strengthened my legs and upped my resilience!)
Three weeks later Bek, Cal and I flew out to Kathmandu.
We spent two days in Thamel sourcing extra gear, hiring mountaineering boots for the high passes, meeting our lead guide Juddha Rai who would be taking us through most of the regions of the GHT and happily carbo-loading by eating pizza at Fire & Ice and drinking coffee at Himalayan Java… (wish I could be back there right now!)
For so many of the trekkers that I’ve read about, who’ve trekked the GHT, have done it solo or in small numbers, self supported – I am in absolute awe…
We were supported by a team of Nepali guides, climbing sherpas, porters and kitchen crew – and I know we couldn’t have done this journey without them. (Absolute legends all of them).
Finally, the day arrived…
We flew from Kathmandu to Bhadrapur, and caught a bus the next day to Taplejung along the winding roads… Cal and I were so travel sick, I remember thinking, if we can’t even handle this, how on earth are we going to be out on the trail?!
On the 3rd of March we started trekking…
It was an amazing moment – knowing we were clocking off for five months, leaving behind us the creature comforts of home, logging out from social media and setting off in our shiny, leather trekking boots, with clean backpacks, well-fitting bright clothes and hearts filled with expectation for what lay ahead…
The Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal is an amazing journey spanning the length of the country, and our itinerary was divided into 7 Stages with several link sections joining them together. We trekked 1750km from East to West along the high route (all except for one deviation to Jumla). It didn’t take us long to settle into the pattern of life on the trail. Up early, then pack up camp, set off in the morning mist, generally trekking through the calmest, most stable part of the day before the wind would bring in the clouds and the rain/snow during the afternoon.
The link sections on the high trail took us away into incredibly remote areas, where the paths were indistinct and rough, but fortunately our guides were familiar with local landmarks and villages, and we would always find a way through…
I’d love to share with you some highlights from each Stage and a corresponding piece from my journal that I carried in my backpack and wrote in on a daily basis (all except for 1 day – you’ll understand why later :))
We trekked via Ghunsa, through cardamon crops and grazing kharkas, steadily acclimatising along the way, and arrived at Kanchenjunga Base camp in strong winds and snow… visibility was low but our spirits were high – for this was our most easterly point, a significant moment on our trek. From here we would turn our faces west and go…
My Diary : “This has been a really phenomenal day. I’m exhausted, yet elated. And even though I’m pushing my limits and feeling the effects of altitude, with a headache and puffy face, I am incredibly grateful to be right here in this place right now…”
Out of the three of us, only Cal’d had mountaineering experience prior. So in the days leading up to our first technical pass – Adventure Pass, our Sherpas got us practising on fixed lines they’d set up on the rocks close to camp…
Absolutely loved the Makalu region… here we were up into the higher altitudes, in among the majestic mountains and glaciers, climbing onto moraine walls and over high passes.
Makulu peak itself was such a mesmerising, intimidating sight, with its thick, white continuous plume from its peak.
My Diary : “As the suns sets, the stars appear… it’s a clear, sparkling canopy above…
Makalu stands ghosted in the moonlight.
Sometime later a thunderstorm flickers somewhere far away. There’s no audible thunder, but the lightning illuminates Makalu’s southern face. It’s like a silent movie… and it’s the most perfect scene to fall asleep to… watching from the safety and the warmth of our sleeping bags… cocooned in our little yellow tents.
I am in awe of these incredible elements… I know my place and it’s an absolute privilege to be here…to witness this wild, beautiful, faraway world.”
Climbing over the two high Passes Sherpani Col and West Col were definitely a highlight… we traversed them in one day and it was definitely the toughest day on the trail, in steep rock and ice, in deep snow and battling wild wind. By the time we set up camp 13 hours later we were elated, but completely spent – I could barely eat, let alone think or hold a pen to write in my diary that night.
Such a beautiful Stage with Cho La high pass to traverse, the turquoise waters of Gokyo Sacred Lake and the unforgettable views from Gokyo Ri lookout and Renjo La High camp.
My Diary : “Every so often we glance across to the north east to catch the first glimpse of Everest.
At last, the majestic peak is there!
We stop in our tracks. Silent and breathless.
This – is – a – privilege… we’re seeing Everest with our own eyes.
As we climb, the south face towers higher and higher. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Lhotse, with a perfect white plume of cloud feathering away.
We can also see the Ngozumpa Glacier clearly today – with it’s pockets of ice and thick coat of grey… it’s such a massive divide from that side to this.
And just when it seems this trail has no end, and our ration of chocolate bars is becoming alarmingly low, prayer flags appear on the rocks ahead.
We ease off our backpacks and sit down…
In all honesty, this is one of those places on this planet where you could stay forever.”
Later in the Stage we climbed over Tashi Labsta high pass, encountering wild winds and rockfalls, then boulder hopped our way along the Trakarding glacier. These were some pretty big days, but these were bookended by magnificent sunrises and sunsets.
My Diary : “Did someone mention boulders? Amazing, grey, sharp edged glacial boulders?
It’s a challenge to climb over them, balance on them, step between them, see over them – and that’s just getting out of our tent.”
Day 67 – 69 of our trek we caught a bus back to Kathmandu to have a two day break, to rest, get gear repaired, stock up on supplies, before heading back out to the trail again. We spent a lot of time eating and sleeping! (And tucking into those doughnuts at the breakfast buffet.)
We returned to the trail and trekked along a link section, and now that it was Summer, the heat and humidity of the lower altitudes drenched us in sweat.
Panch Pokhari was such a serene, sacred location, beautifully draped in mist and Tilman Pass was an amazing challenge to climb in all the rock and ice.
But what was also deeply memorable from this stage was seeing the impact of the 2015 earthquake on the village of Langtang…
My Diary : “Then we step out with heavy hearts to follow the path across the vast field of destruction. It’s filled with compressed rubble and dust… We are so aware of where we are… we tread lightly and respectfully. This is sacred ground…
It is a long, silent, difficult, deeply affecting walk.
As we reached the other side, there are oncoming porters carrying their loads of freshly milled wood. We step to the side and gently greet them with “Namaste”.
It lifts our hearts just a little. It’s a small sign that rebuilding is going on. There will be life in this valley again…
May the sun shine again in the shadows of today…”
The landscape along the trail here changed dramatically. To begin, were deep ravines filled with pounding, swollen rivers from the monsoonal rains. Then open glacial valleys with wildflowers and villages and then higher shaley, lunar landscapes.
My Diary : “In this region there are so many beautiful little villages, and we’ve become familiar now with the pattern and order of things along the path. On the outskirts there are the terraced crops, next there’s the stone mani walls, a stone stupa – some older than others, some more decorated than others – then prayer wheels and prayer flags, the village centre with its houses, teahouses and tiny shops. Then it’s all in reverse on the other side. It’s a lovely glimpse of life, faith and ancient tradition along the trail…
As the path ascends more steeply, so do our expectations…
And there at last, towering above the temple in Lho appears the magnificent Manaslu Peak. Its signature shape reaching 8163 metres high in the sky… We stop and stare. It’s incredible. It’s impossible to look away!”
The high passes of Larkye La and Thorong La were challenging, but there was such a clear sense of personal passage when we reached the top and descended into the next chapter of the journey.
This Stage of the journey began in Kagbeni, an ancient village that was once in the Mustang Kingdom of Tibet. It sits in a rain shadow. So when it does rain, it must really pour upstream… for there is a wide, silt laden riverbed to cross over on the other side of town.
From there switchbacks led us up into the shaley, barren, windy landscape of this remote region, over Jungben La high pass and into one of our favourite villages along the trail, Chharka Bhot
My Diary : “Chharka Bhot is such a unique place – looking like a fortress from a movie set – with its square stone buildings sitting on a rise, and the river and rice crops and stone walls surrounding it like a moat. The houses have chopped wood on their flat roofs and tiny dark wooden windows and doors… It’s like we’ve stepped back a long, long way in time…
As the afternoon sun sinks lower, the herders and their goats appear from their grazing kharkas above and race down the hill for home… it’s happy, noisy chaos everywhere!”
From here the trail wove through ravines, into a surprisingly narrow cave, up to the windswept Chan La pass and on to the most beautiful fertile river valley with wild flowers and crops, watched over by the ancient nunnery Ribum Gompa.
This stage finished at the magnificent teal Phoksumdo scared lake. One of the most spectacular places on the entire journey, with fir trees, misty mountains and a monastery nestled on its shores.
Far West Yari Valley
Such a remote, far flung region.
The monsoonal rain finally caught us here and our boots sunk into the mud and our ponchos weren’t really a match for the heavy showers, but we persevered!
By this stage too we’d used up most of our physical reserves, and were weary and thin, but we knew we were so close to the end now… and when that day finally did arrive on the 22nd of July 2016, and we trekked into Hilsa on the border of Tibet, it was with the most incredible sense of fulfilment and joy! Our 5 month journey was complete.
My Diary : “Right now emotion is running high. I’m exhausted, but I need to capture a few thoughts in my diary :
The GHT has been a journey like no other… and we would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
We’ve laughed and cried. Reflected and dreamed, and got to know our amazing team of Nepalese guides and Sherpas so incredibly well. We’ve seen the most amazing country…
We may be many (many) kilograms lighter, wearing faded T-shirts and crumpled trousers, with our belt buckles done up as tightly as they can go, wearing broken boots, but we’re more clear eyed and happy, and at peace within ourselves than ever before.
It’s given us the chance to look at life from afar, put things in perspective, cleared our heads, taught us gratitude and given us renewed purpose. Prepared us for the rest of our lives…
I am grateful. For this has been a profound and life changing journey… and it will never, ever fade from our hearts… H xx”
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