We were marching down the trail from Namche Bazaar to Lukla when the rain hit, an almost monsoonal flow bucketing out of the sky. Peter Hillary had gone on ahead with the fast packers Phoebe and Sean, completing the 21 kms in under 5 hours. The rest of us got to complete our hike in a blessed downpour while properly savouring our own nearly 10 hour trek back to Lukla.
After lunch, as we wandered up the final hill to Lukla, following a well laden mule train; the muddy track, the steaming animals and a stream of porters going in the other direction soon had our group longing for perhaps just a bit more of a wilderness experience.
That really isn’t what you do the Everest Base Camp trek for however, and a few days later in Kathmandu, we were heartened by the launch of Robin Boustead’s second edtion of The Great Himalayan Trail, a Pictorial Guide.
There are now so many great long trails in the world, from the well known and traveled 3,500 km. of the Appalachian trail in the U.S., to the over 1,000 year old Camino de Santiago’s 780 km. through Spain, to the short but challenging 180 km. of Corsica’s famed GR (Grande Randonnee) 20. For serious walkers it is often hard to know where in the world to go next.
The original adventure across the Nepali Himalayas was completed by Peter Hillary, collaborating with Chewan Tasha, Graeme Dingle and SP Chamoli to traverse the full length of the high Himalaya as recounted in his book First Across the Roof of the World.
Since then the route has been refined and options have been added. There are paths to suit people who favor the tamer cultural side of the lower altitudes, to those who want to undertake bigger challenges and cross some of the highest passes in the world. As much as it is called the GHT, there are many ways across the Himalayas, and depending on everything from snowfall, to new roads, to the occasional avalanche or landslide, you may need to pick your way with some care.
In 11 chapters, the trail pictorial starts in the East with Kanchenjunga, and of course takes in both the well know Everest and Annapurna regions. However, it is in the remote areas in between, connecting seldom traveled valleys with high passes in the East, and then in the West, where you can meander up into the the romantic Shangra-la areas of Outer Mustang and Upper Dolpo, where the names alone have a romantic dissonance to them. In some of these areas you will soon discover the GHT is actually little more than a line on a map and the path you choose may vary quite widely from those who have gone before.
It is here that the book really shines, opening up vistas and possibilities for the more intrepid trekker to get off the beaten path and explore some of the more untravelled areas on earth. It is a Nepal that existed 50 or more years ago and has been little changed since.
With both detailed maps and online resources available, it doesn’t take long to naturally start planning your own routes. If the tales of Shipton and Tillman’s explorations are ones that fill your library, this book is a worthy addition, with the added advantage it has updated information on access and permit fees.
Robin has done a masterful job of balancing a short, tight script, with inserts around local customs, myths, legends and languages, as well as the many diverse groups of people you will meet along the way. I found little challenge in digesting the full book in a long enjoyable morning.
With most of the photographs Robin’s own, the perspective is very much an in the experience moment, taken from his many treks across the entire trail distance. A yearly visitor to Nepal since 1993, it is easy to see his love of the country, the mountains and the people shine through.
Few of us will have the estimated 160 days or more to traverse the entire GHT. However, dipping in and out of the more remote areas, with the rapidly expanding road and air transport in Nepal, now makes many parts of the country more accessible than ever.
Should your interest be in going quicker, the renowned Ultra Runner Lizzy Hawker, with five Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc wins behind her, is establishing her own variation of the route suitable for solo runners or trekkers. You will probably take a bit longer than Lizzy’s remarkable current record of 35 days from one end to the other. Following her track will keep you high in the Himalayas, while still avoiding the need for ropes, partners and crampons that are necessary on a number of the high passes.
With Lizzy’s trail run currently an annual work in progress, we can look forward to a more defined and accessible trail that still resonates with those of us who want to still hug the heights from one end of Nepal to the other.
The photos in The Great Himalayan Trail lead us naturally across what is described in one caption as, “Standing on the Spine of the Planet.” With full length fold out photo pages and panoramas it is easy to put yourself in the picture and imagine yourself on a trek of your own. As each chapter starts with a map of the area, it can be placed in context and you can see the many options and routes you could plan out.
The book is very much a pictorial guide as it states, good for inspiration and for forming the nexus of your own ideas. You will need detailed maps and guides for the more remote areas, and probably still need to be comfortable with getting lost at times and making your own way. There are also a number of trekking companies that can now assist you in undertaking what can sometimes by a myriad of logistics, fees and permits in the remote areas.
As Peter Hillary encouraged us more than once on our recent In Hillary’s Footsteps, after starting with some of the classic Nepal treks, it is well worth getting out into the far reaches of Nepal for a completely different and singular experience.
At Amazon and also now available at select book stores in Kathmandu.