11-17 July 2014 #715

The great Himalayan traverse

Adventure tourists give trekking in Nepal a whole new meaning by doing wilder, longer routes
Matt Miller

87 Days Later: Americans (l-r) Seth Wolpin, Kathleen Egan, and John Fiddler celebrate completing the higher route of the Great Himalyan Trail at the Tibetan border.
Treks in Nepal used to be one week to three weeks, and most itineraries still stick to that timetable. But with roads going where there used to be hiking trails, trekkers are venturing into wilder, and longer treks.

The most gruelling endurance test is the Great Himalayan Trail (GHT) which could be the backbone of future trekking in Nepal. The Trail stretches along the full range of the Nepal Himalaya from Taplejung to Humla, and even beyond into Sikkim, Bhutan and up to Kashmir.

Most trekkers would do it in sections, but there are extreme trekkers who have done the whole Nepal part of the GHT in one go. There is a higher route and a lower route of the Great Himalayan Trail, and the higher route needs climbing experience to go over five high altitude passes. Only 30 people have completed a combination of high and low routes at one go, and no one has done an exclusively high route until Americans John Fiddler, Kathleen Egan and Seth Wolpin completed it this week.

The three were brought together after Fiddler came across an Internet post about the great trek. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, physically and mentally,” said Wolpin, who in addition to climbing Mt Everest, has run right across the continental United States. “I live by adventures, but honestly, it’s tough to top this.”

The higher route of the Great Himalayan Trail

After starting out on the trail it took 41 days for the group to come across another road. “Before this I’d never hiked in the wilderness for more than a month,” said Fiddler. For Wolpin, the most memorable part of the journey was being pelted by rock falls for 24 hours while crossing Tashi Laptsa. “It was like being under shellfire for 24 hours, it was like war,” he recalled.

The group had maps from 2013, but trails listed on it had been swept away by landslides, and new trails had been made in their place. “The Himalaya is literally moving,” said Egan.

Each had their bouts with sickness, but they couldn’t stop since they were racing the monsoon. As it turned out, the monsoon was late and very weak, and it finally caught up with them when they arrived back in Kathmandu on the fourth of July.

Besides the elements, the extreme distance, altitude, and their health, at least as big an obstacle was the bureaucracy. Every checkpoint asked for their guide and group number. They travelled with neither. Officials were worried for their safety, but mostly they were looking for permits.

“There needs to be one universal permit to cross the whole GHT,” said Fiddler who recalls that in Dolpo, they weren’t allowed to proceed without a guide.

The trio completed the traverse to raise money for Wolpin’s non-profit, Wide Open Vistas which helps porters by supporting their children’s schooling.

“The Great Himalayan Trail is the most difficult in the world,” said Kathleen, “and it will grow as long as the government helps it to grow and nurtures it.”

Two years ago, a four-member group led by 21-time Everest summiteer Apa Sherpa traversed the lower GHT to raise awareness about climate change and the Himalaya. They took 100 days to complete the trek, taking time to appear at schools and giving talks along the way.

Australian trekker Robin Bousted who has tirelessly promoted the GHT is optimistic it will help lift living standards in remote Himalayan valleys. He says: “It could develop micro-tourism projects in communities too remote for major infrastructure development, creating value in regions that previously had little to offer.”

The Great Himalayan Trail

Wide Open Vistas

Map of Seth’s route

Read also:

The long march

The Great Himalayan Trail, Robin Boustead

Following the Karnali, Rabi Thapa

The Great Himalayan Trek ends

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