This was without doubt gonna be the most challenging undertaking I had ever done and perhaps will ever do! so I needed to prepare myself physically and mentally for this journey. Extensive trainings in both Switzerland and Scotland did the job and have proved to been very useful as gear and navigation tests. A few weeks before the actual start the Australian girl bailed out and Milena, a polish girl, took her place. On september 5th we all met in Kathmandu for the first time. Milena, who arrived earlier in Nepal, had bought all the climbing gear for us in KTM. After arranging our permits we left KTM for Taplejung, a village in the east of Nepal where our adventure would start. actually, the official starting point of the GHT is Kachenjunga BC, 60 km northeast of Taplejung. On our way to the base camp Charlie was the first one to show signs of altitude sickness at around 4200m so we went back down to 4000m and spent the night there. The next day we hiked up to 4780m where Milena got a terrible headache and decided not to go up to the basecamp at 5143m with us. Charlie and I left at 4:30 next morning towards Kachenjunga BC while Milena went back down to Gunsha at 3500m where we would meet up again after a long day´s hike. This is also the place where we said goodbye to our guide ( this is one of those areas where a guide is obligatory but not realy useful as the path is obvious! ) Our next guide would be a climbing guide who´d take us over the 3 technical passes. We were going to meet him at Makalu BC in another 10 days...at least according to our schedule. So untill then it was just the 3 of us against nature! Next morning we left for a long hard day. After crossing a 4700m pass, many- sometimes dangerous- river crossings ( because of the heavy rain the rivers were wild ) , scrambling over fallen rocks due to landslides and hiking in the dark through difficult terrain we stumbled upon a shelter and decided to call it a day. At this point it was just Charlie and myself as Milena prefered to take things a bit slower and camp along the way. Humidity and torrential rain are the perfect combination for leeches. We must have had about a hundred of them spread all over our bodies feasting on our blood that day, some of them where humongous!
Altough short, it took us 3 hours to cover the remaining 5,5 km to the village of Olanchung Gola where we would wait for Milena which took longer than expected. Due to very bad internet connection we were not able to track Milena who was carrying the satellite phone. two days later she arrived. Apparently she´d fell into one of the rivers causing her stuff to be completely wet so we waited another day to get her stuff ´¨dry´´. Because of it´s proximity to the border people take their yaks up to there to trade with Tibetans so the shops here are stocked with cheap chinese goods. One of these items were chinese army biscuits. Although pretty heavy they were quite filling and soon became our favorite snack. Next pass was Lumba Sumba, 5160m. We spent the night at pass camp, just before the pass where we got a nice treat. Local yak herders had put up a huge tent and had a fire going. They invited us for Tibetan butter tea and yak cheese. When we woke up the whole valley was covered in snow.
The hike over the pass seemed endless with a long descent back into the forest afterwards. I found this jungle part to be the hardest part of the GHT. Especially in terms of navigation. Everyone gets lost here somewhere, somehow. We did as well a couple of times but luckily not for too long.
Arriving at Hongon we were heading north following the high route towards Makalu BC. that night was probably the worst night of all! Heavy rainfall made us turn back the next morning. Every single thing got wet and we were already hiking in wet clothes for some days. We would not survive another 3 or 4 days in the cold in wet clothes and having to sleep in a wet sleeping bag so we went back and took the lower route on which we would pass through villages and had the chance to let our stuff dry. At this point we were already a week behind schedule. We followed the Makalu BC trek and for the first time since we started we saw tourists along the path. Arriving at the BC we finaly had our first day without rain and it would stay pretty much clear for the rest of the GHT.
Our guide gave us a quick mountaineering course and the next morning we headed for what is probably the highlight of the entire GHT : The 3 technical passes, Sherpani col at 6146m, west col at 6143m and Amphu labsta at 5848m. We skipped Swiss camp and went straight to sherpani col base camp at 5688m. Charlie´s body didn´t think that was a good idea! he got a terrible headache and threw up several times. He took some medicine and tried to get some sleep. Next morning he felt better so we continued over the passes. I was surprised I never had any serious issues with altitude sickness myself since we had no proper acclimatisation. We were very lucky with the weather, as we heard several people had to turn back or needed to be rescued by helicopter because of extremely bad weather at these passes this season. These passes are actually the gateway into the Everest region. The hike over the passes was incredible but the nights were terrible for me. I´m a very light sleeper so I would just be awake most of the nights because of the freezing cold. 2 days later we arrived in Dingboche where we took a rest day. From here Charlie took a slightly different route to Namche bazaar because he had no interest in Gokyo lake. Milena and myself realy wanted to include Gokyo. This lovely lake was probably my favorite part of the trip.
3 days later we all met again in Thame. There have been some disagreements about our current pace so we would discuss in Thame how we would go on from there. Since I´m the only one with a tight timeframe I thought we were going too slow so I decided to continue at my own pace. Charlie still wanted to do 1 more technical pass, so was Milena but at a slower pace so we each ended up going our own way from here.
I left that morning taking the lower route towards Kathmandu where I wanted to change to my smaller backpack and into my running gear but the next day I got a message from Mac trek saying that Milena had an accident and she´s not with us anymore. She fell off a 200m cliff. I was shocked! We could not get in touch with Charlie because there was no signal in the high mountains.
When he got the news he came to KTM right away.
We spent 5 days in the capital arranging stuff.
The plan was to continue together untill Gorkha and see from there. We were doing long days covering 45km a day.
In Gorkha we had the best applepie ever! it was huge...a full meal on its own actually. Here we also decided to split up, Charlie going slow through Annapurna and myself starting to run like crazy. I had about 20 days left to finish the remaining part. I could not afford to loose much more time if I still wanted to make it on time. At one point I had to turn back from a mountain pass because of bad weather and backtrack for 2 days. I then continued through the lower mountains for a bit and back up to Rara lake, Nepal´s largest lake. I had not any means of navigations on me so I just had to rely on my instinct and the help of the locals. Which turned out not too bad actually. 5 days later I arrived in Darchula, the other end of the Great Himalaya Trail! the last part I forced it a bit and kept going for 30 hours. It was a very emotional moment for sure. Hard to describe how I felt at that moment...and the following days!
One last important thing I want to add to this for those interested in the GHT: Come prepared and don´t underestimate it!!!
-1600 km in 70 days with more than 100.000m of altitude gain through different environments: from jungle over high passes and into the ( in Nepalese terms ) lower mountains.
Highest point 6164m lowest point around 800m.
-Being a vegetarian I had no problems at all in the higher regions but once on the lower route most of the dishes contained chicken.
-There was always at least 1 person who spoke enough english in the remote villages.
-Kachenjunga was probably the cheapest and Everest the most expensive area.
-Nepal is a very safe country. People have been very friendly and helpful everywhere.
-Dal bhat, the national dish of Nepal. Some are very tasty ones, some very plain and tasteless I´d say...
But you´ll have one nearly every day. :-)