A few years ago a man called Robin Boustead had a vision: to create a trail spanning the length of the entire Himalaya, from Bhutan in the east right through to Afghanistan in the west. Though there are some obvious practical and security issues with this, a route is roughly in place from Bhutan to Pakistan. The Great Himalaya Trail is out there and has challenged quite a few experienced hikers and mountaineers during its lifespan. Brave and bold as we like to be we decided to put it on the agenda, though not without a sound portion of shaky knees just from the thought of it.
Almost as a matter of faith PJ and I met a Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) veteran on our very first day on Te Araroa. He told us about the infamous snowstorms on the high route, closing it for weeks on end, on the long way to the low route just to turn to higher ground again once the snow had cleared. I was sold to the idea just from those 15 minutes talking to him. Of course, I had many other things on my mind after that brief encounter. The challenges we faced before reaching Bluff during the next few months made it fade from my attention.
During that time span we actually planned to aim for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) together with Patrick and Marylène. There was something fascinating about that trail too. We started looking into it last summer, still hoping to meet each other on the way. The more we looked into it, the more it rubbed us the wrong way. The crowds that rolled in after the movie Wild certainly didn’t appeal. Was it going to be enough of a challenge to walk on a trail designed for horses after all the slugging and scrambling in New Zealand? The wide Bibbulmun track in Australia hadn’t challenged us nearly enough. Would we miss getting our hands and feet dirty? I recalled Mike talking about wet shoes and how that never happened to him in the States. Maybe we should look more into the Continental Divide Trail? Or what about the Great Divide Trail in Canada?
There are many great hikes to pick from and many I’d be interested in doing. I am sure that if we had gone for the PCT, we would have had a great time too. But if I have to dedicate more than a year of of my life – including 6 months of walking time – to a project, I want to be in it for 110%. There’s no point in walking a trail merely for the sake of it, because it will probably fun. There must be a passion to tackle the challenges, a curiosity for the place, a nervousness about whether or not I’ll be able to pull it off, even a fear of getting into the unknown. PJ and Marylene agreed. Patrick did too but had his own greater challenge behind his plans.
I remembered the man in New Zealand more and more vividly. I became certain that if we wanted to create a bigger challenge for ourselves, we needed to aim for the Himalaya. So I brought the idea to the table. It took a lot of talking and discussing the feasibility of the project before we agreed. Halfway through last summer the three of us abandoned the PCT and focused our attention on Nepal. Besides of Bhutan (which we couldn’t afford), Nepal was the country that instantly rose into the spotlight. Already being a major hiking destination it also hosts 8 of the world’s mountains rising above 8000 meters. The administrative challenges in Nepal seem more manageable than those in India. Pakistan seemed rather daunting. And well… who wouldn’t be lured by the prospect of walking by Kanchenjunga, Everest, Lhotse and Annapurna all in one go?
For 8 months now we’ve been trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. I don’t think we will ever be entirely ready for it, but as ready as we can be. Some things we will just have to figure out while we are there. Many things will not go according to plan. So just as we did with New Zealand, we are not making a day-to-day plan, but rather an estimation of how we will progress both on the high and the low route. We expect to use both routes depending on the weather and the technicality of the terrain. If we really want to get across some of the high passes we’ll need to hire a guide. But it is what it is and it will be what it will be. You cannot schedule a hike like that. You can only prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
This summer in Norway will be one of training, both physically and mentally. I highly underestimated the mental part before leaving for New Zealand and I do not intend to make that same mistake again. We’ve been reading through blogs of people previously hiking the route and the accounts are clear: we need to be in shape, we need to be strong. As for the physical part there will also be more than merely walking up and down the mountainsides of the fjord. Endurance, strength, conditioning, balance: all of these need to be addressed. So there will have to be some discipline and some sacrifice. I will quit drinking by August.
If we pull it off we’ll walk from the world’s easternmost 8000 peak, Kanchenjunga, through to the border with Pakistan. On the high route we can reach a maximum altitude of 6200 meters. There are five technical passes requiring at least crampons and ice axes, possibly alpine skills. When there is a need for ropes or rappel anchors the guide comes in. We need to prepare for everything from -30º to +30º. How to get that all in one pack and keep the weight as low as possible is one of the big question marks in the planning process. The altitude in combination with cold temperatures (we are walking in winter) will bring exhaustion and makes me want to play on the safe side, yet the argument for moving light and fast to skip as much time on exposed higher ground as possible is compelling.
Eat – work – train – read – sleep repeat. We have four more months to get it together.