The first to dance along the GHT!
In 2011, I was fortunate to join a successful Everest expedition. During my climb I realized that I like hiking and running a lot more than climbing. The following year, I ran unsupported across the USA and sometime around then I stumbled across Lizzy Hawker’s trip report from her first attempt on the GHT, her ‘Himalayan Sky Dance’. I wanted to try to run it like her, though maybe not so fast! It sounded a lot more fun than running on a highway shoulder in Nebraska.
I picked up a copy of Robin Boustead’s guide book and also the GHT map planner and soon the GHT was occupying all of my dreams. It turned out that two of my friends from Seattle (John Fiddler and his wife Kathleen) were also dreaming about it – both were experienced endurance runners but John was very pragmatic and more of a climber. He wanted to do all of the technical passes and it was pretty clear that you can’t run with a bunch of climbing gear on your back. Even though my feelings had turned a bit on climbing – I liked the idea of completing the high route as well and figured that once we got through all five, jettisoning the gear and running might be an option.
All of the technical passes were hard and deadly.
To help with the logistics, we worked with my friend Dorjee Sherpa who had helped organize some earlier treks in Nepal and my 2011 Everest climb. We knew that we needed help with permits and the occasional backstopping/coordination from Nepal. We paid him a flat fee of $3,000 ($1,000 each) to provide up to a 100 hours of logistical backstopping/support for three months. In retrospect, this was a sweat heart deal and a great approach. He used this time to help get our permits, to arrange transport to the start, to find guides and people to bring resupplies to us. Any costs he incurred he passed on to us without mark up. We also left him about a $1000 USD to hold in a reserve fund to cover costs for things like this. For example, he used that money when we needed to pay for visa extensions and the plane tickets back from Simikot. I think in the end, we each spent about $2500 which is pretty amazing when you consider a 3 month expedition.We took a jeep to the start in Taplejung and that was a terrible two day ride.
Our packs were heavy starting out and the first 12 days or so really is a break in period that you just need to suffer through. I’ve through-hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Pyrenees, and had some other experiences under my belt but this was an entirely different experience. I think we walked west for 40 days before hitting our first road – we did have some porters bring in a barrel with dehydrated dinners before we got to Makalu. We figured we would need to a lot of calories when we were crossing the passes. Otherwise we subsisted largely on ‘Ra Ra’ dried noodles and the occasional Dah Baht. John and I each lost about 15kg during the trek, our strategy was ‘calculated starvation’. I think there were three other times we had people bring gear and high energy food to us on the trail in barrels – and after the high passes we sent all the climbing gear back with some porters. I wish we hadn’t done this because I would have rather our entire trip be truly self-supported.
All of the technical passes were hard and deadly. I don’t recommend them unless you have already done a good amount of high altitude mountaineering. And it’s good to realize that there is no help on these passes – it is not like popular mountains where there are lots of other climbers around. And there is a tremendous amount of rockfall. Navigation was difficult as we only had GPS way points that were 4 hours apart and there are a lot of vague animal trails – a compass was frequently our best tool. Times are different now and GPS tracks much more available.
When we finished the high passes we were behind schedule, our visas were expiring, plane tickets were looming, and the monsoons were coming. We had a 30 day itinerary that Doc McKerr had followed in 2013 which went through lower Dolpo so we knew it was possible if we could match his pace. Granted, this is the pace of a special forces soldier. We did it though – every day was a struggle. Every day on the GHT brought something scary, something unexpected, and something beautiful. The three of us saw each other at our best and our worse. Sometimes now, years later, when I am hanging out with John and Kathleen in Seattle the GHT comes up and we invariable start laughing and say ‘I can’t believe we did that’.
If you want to read more about our crossing, a trip report is posted on my personal blog: http://stumblingslowlyforward.com/2014/08/making-tracks-the-great-himalaya-trail/Over the last five years, I’ve worked with Himalayan Adventure Labs (www.himalayanadventurelabs.com) which I co-founded with Sudeep Kandel. We organize high altitude fastpacks for people who want to travel in the Himalaya quick and light. It’s worked well and we’ve co-led a lot of groups around Annnapurna and other routes and backstopped adventurers on their own creations.
We also co-lead a non-profit focused on helping keep kids in school in Nepal: www.wideopenvistas.org.For those considering the GHT – we strongly recommend first getting some experience in Nepal, the GHT is not the same as the AT, PCT, CDT or other long trails. It is a different beast entirely – but definitely something worth pursuing.
Last, we host the ‘GHT Database‘ on our site and do our best to document who has crossed, coordinating reports with Robin Boustead. When thru-hikers email me a finishing picture — with dirty hair, wild eyes, and a big smile on their face…I smile too.
Himalayan Adventure Labs
Specializing in quick, light, and self-supported fast packs
Kathmandu Phone: 986-007-8318
Seattle Phone: 206-618-8449
Co-founders: Sudeep Kandel and Seth Wolpin
We donate 10% of all proceeds to helping kids in Nepal