GHT trip report

01 Nov 2016 15:58 #70111 by AndrewP
AndrewP created the topic: GHT trip report
This is the forum thread I will use for the trip report for the Great Himalaya Trail.

I have been wanting to do something big for a while now. I toyed with something in Lesotho and even considered the Appalachian Trail. I have to admit that a breakup with my girlfriend also influenced the decision.

Then (late Jan 2016) I thought of a book collecting dust in my shelves. I read the first paragraph and was sold. In truth, although the pictures are now full of sticky finger prints, I have never finished the text of the book, even though it is a pictorial guide with maybe 1000 words at most.

Thus started my planning for the Great Himalaya Trail. Google is pretty thin on the ground. Very few people have actually pulled it off and obviously trekking companies want you to use them rather than providing info for free.

Importantly, the GHT is not really a defined route. Technically it extends the length of the Himalaya's but most people refer to the Nepal section only which crosses the country east - west. There is a high route, which is probably the holy grail of hiking trails world wide. It essentially follows the highest possible route across the mountains with about 20 passes over 5000m high, and a high point of over 6000m. Five of the passes require technical ice gear and experience and one of them even needs a 50m abseil. And, there is also a cultural trail that mainly sticks to the 2000m - 4000m range and runs further south. Most people end up doing a mixture of the 2 trails simply because of untimely snow falls, bridges getting swept away or other reasons.

Whichever route you use, you pass through many villages, so the idea of a self supported GHT as done for a speed GT is silly. Why carry all your food when you can buy it along the way. For something this long you will almost certainly need resupplies as well, even if only to get a change of clothes or a new pair of shoes. And of course you need to get permits for the next stage, which either means meeting up with someone who visited Kathmandu or going to Kathmandu yourself.

This would be my first trip to Nepal. I was drawn to the appeal of the mountains, trying to run or at least power hike for days on end and of course a (to me) new culture. I have been to 5200m twice, both times doing it the slow, recommended way. The thought of trying to do things fast at altitude did concern me a bit as I simply did not know what to expect.

I encountered varying ideas about the need to use a guide, but it looked like a certainty for some stretches at least. Now, I have no issue with having a guide and agree that they can be very useful. But, if you are hoping to average 50km a day, then let's be honest, getting one who can keep up is a serious challenge.

I know several people who have been to Nepal either years ago or recently. Most of them offered advice and some even suggested trekking companies they recommended. As it turns out, I disregarded every word everyone said. I had in mind 50km a day in some very remote parts of Nepal that just cannot be compared to 10km a day in the tourist regions of Annapurna or Everest. Further, although any trekking company can get you to either ABC or EBC, only a fraction of them have even heard of, let alone know useful details for the GHT.

It is probably impossible to do a GHT by flying into Kathmandu and sorting it out from there. I would highly recommend planning properly beforehand and that includes finding and even paying the trekking company in advance.

I paid just over 4000 USD for all permits, internal flights, guide and trekking company fees and internal travel for my guide to meet me at various points for resupplies. It did not cover food or accommodation. For 2 people, the cost would be almost the same as most permits are for 2 people anyway. For larger groups or anyone doing it over a more typical 3 - 5 months, the costs obviously go up. And, if you want to pass through the upper Dolpo region, the cost is astronomical at 500 USD for the first seven days and 50 USD a day after that (I think). To the best of my knowledge, the fastest traverse of Upper Dolpo is 8 days, but I am not sure where the boundaries lie.

For some regions where you cannot travel alone, I had a "guide or porter" someway behind me looking after a "sick or slow girlfriend". They are still out there, and I hope they are okay.

In the end, I used the following resources one way or another during the planning stages:
1. Robin Boustead's book, "The Great Himalaya Trail - A Pictorial Guide"
This is where it all began. The maps were especially useful and the pictures provided great inspiration.
Of all the websites, this one just seemed the best. It is actually the one run by Robin Boustead.
3. Sean Burch's account of his record breaking traverse in 2010, which seems to have been recently removed off his website
Philippe Gatta's attempt at the high route in 2013. Balls to the wall stuff, and a real pity the cyclone stopped his attempt.
5. Wikipedia, which did not tell me anything I did not already know, but was a very useful cross reference.

In July, things were getting desperate. All recommendations for guides had fallen through and I still knew nothing about what permits I needed, how to get them or which stretches I needed a guide for.

It was during a frantic last minute search on Google that I found an entry on that had been posted only two weeks earlier. Importantly it indicated that a self guided GHT was possible. Exactly what I wanted. I fired off a request for more info to the website and was surprised to see a reply from Robin Boustead.

He was needless to say skeptical of my extremely ambitious plans, but gave me a chance. Over a few weeks, we developed a plan that he felt comfortable with in terms of safety to a solo hiker. Some areas would be avoided due to difficult or dangerous river crossings and some of the high passes require ropes and are not suitable for solo travellers. He in turn passed the plan onto the Kathmandu based trekking company Adventure Mountain Club who would deal with permits, guides and other logistics within Nepal itself. I have subsequently heard that this happened to be in person as he was in Kathmandu at the time. There was apparently much laughter at my idea.

Finally, after months of stress, I could sleep at night. Well, I knew my k.a.k was booked so I only got so much sleep, but at least I got some.

While all of that was going on, I had ordered online a map for my Garmin GPS. I highly recommend one as the contours, village names and pre marked paths or roads make it much easier to plan your route. And for something this long you simply cannot get away with downloading a GPS track. You have to know what altitude you are sleeping at, max altitude that day and where the villages are so that you know when your next tea stop is. I probably spent over 200 hours sorting out the final route. I double checked most of the route against what I could see on Google earth, and of course used paper based maps a lot as well. As it turned out, this effort played a crucial part in allowing me to navigate at speed once out there. I was also so familiar with the route as a whole, as well as multiple variations that I was able to successfully change my route on the fly several times.

The route I chose was similar to the one used by Sean Burch in that in the far eastern side of Nepal, we both moved south of the cultural trail. This allowed us to get to an actual border post and thus a start or finish on the border of Nepal rather than a vague point at a village or base camp close to the border but not on it. And, if you are crossing a country, to me at least that is important. I did a few more high passes in Dolpo than he did, but lacking a guide used more roads in the east than him.

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03 Nov 2016 03:37 #70116 by AndrewP
AndrewP replied to: GHT trip report
The best time of the year to do a GHT and the direction of travel are based on a number of considerations:
1. This is not a weekend trip. It takes long enough that you simply have to plan it around (or deliberately at the same time as) work commitments such as year end or a project go live, and social commitments such as your partner's birthday or cousins wedding.
2. Anything in Nepal has to be done with both the monsoon and winter born in mind. They affect temperatures, the amount of rain or snow both in the air and on the ground, and also aspects such as the difficulty of crossing a key river.
3. Do you want to follow the high route or the cultural route for particular regions (personally, I recommend a mixture of both to get a great overall experience). If you are taking in sections of the high route, you will need to acclimitise to a height of 5000m before or during the trip and some villages or passes are only open at certain times of the year.
4. Are you planning to do it as a continuous hike that would for most people last over 4 months or would you prefer to do multiple trips and thus attempt to do each section at the best time of year for it.
Advantages for a single trip are that you only have to get fit or to acclimitise once but this is countered by the cumulative build up of injuries, blisters or just the general loss of body mass and muscle due to an enormous physical effort on a sustained diet of rice. I.e 100% carbs with no protein for weeks on end.
5. Also take into account the style you want to do it in. You could go from lodge to lodge, or you might prefer to camp, either carrying gear yourself, or using porters. Comment. The lodges and dahl baht are cheap enough that cost should not form a consideration in this decision, other than that lodges with dahl baht are probably cheaper than trying to carry and cook your own food, especially if you build into account a higher permit cost due to slower travel, or the extra porters needed to carry everything
6. Do you want to self navigate as much as possible, or use a guide.
7. Why are you doing it, physical challenge, to see the views or to learn the culture.
8. Some permits are easy and cheap to sort out on the spot while others are expensive or might have specific date ranges. One way or another, someone has to get to Kathmandu every now and again.

By now, it is obvious that a few compromises have to be made.

In total, I used 5 resupply points, at Simikot, Jupal, Dharapani, Trisuli and Bahrabrise. I also did a detour, on foot both ways, from Kagbeni to Jomsom to visit an ATM.

It turned out that most of these resupply points were in truth a gear dump. Being my first trip to Nepal, I simply had no idea of what to expect. By not knowing simple things like how often can you collect water, I simply had to over cater.

The gear drop in Jupal was not planned, but the owner of the guest house is known personally by both Robin Boustead and the trekking company, so I felt safe leaving gear with them. Here, I got rid of a tent, sleeping bag, a pack that weights 1kg all by itself and a few other odds and ends such as excess spare batteries.

A few of the basics that applied to most if not all of the trip:
1. I carried a 22l bag. I carried a cell phone charger, toothpaste and some prayer flags the whole way, but never a spare pair of socks. Items such as an SLR camera, crampons, down jacket and paper based maps found their way in for various but not all stages.
2. On my phone, I stored photographic backups of all permits, maps, my passport and visa and other such paper work. Later on I even took photos of my diary in case that got lost or damaged. It also served as my music player and was much better for selfies than the SLR due to lack of lens. I preloaded Wikiloc, the Nepal map and all applicable tracks onto it just in case my GPS stopped working. I had 2 Nepalese SIM cards. The first one was for Nepal Telcoms which worked well in most places for sms or phone call as a way to stay in touch with my guide. The second was NCell which have internet access but in far fewer locations. For this, I bought a 30 day 1GB bundle for the equivalent of 5 USD. I tried launching the space shuttle from my phone but failed, it has limits after all.
3. I counted on finding food and accommodation in villages I passed through each day.
4. Being fat adapted, I could manage fine on one meal a day which was a crucial part of the strategy. Food tends to take an hour to prepare, so breakfast prevents an early start and lunch just stops you morning's efforts in their tracks.
Food consisted almost entirely of rice and dahl baht. Later on, I started eating biscuits because I needed some food beyond one meal a day and they could be eaten on the go. I also drank sugar that was either tea or fanta flavoured.
5. I carried an SLR with a great telephoto lens and a polarizing filter. This allowed me to take much better photos.
6. I knew the only way I would finish was if I was having fun. Hence photos, but also a lot of impromptu stops along the way. And an effort to watch and learn about the local culture. I spent a lot of time inside tea houses or kitchens after all.
7. I knew almost zero Nepalese. In the end, the translation book I bought was absolutely useless. It can tell how to say I have a sore foot, but let's be honest. With enough limping and pointing at your foot anyone can work out what your mean. But it does not give the words for either rice or water.
8. The South African flag both on my buff and the outside of my pack were great. Enough people (Nepalese included) watch cricket to recognise it and of course it is a beacon to any other South Africans out there.
9. To the shock and horror of all trekkers, guides and porters, I wore short pants and trail running shoes the whole way, including above the snow line. Nobody was offended by the short pants, they were just worried that I would get cold. Well, the answer is that if you keep walking steadily all day long, then you do not. I did have upper and lower thermals for the evenings but needed to keep them dry and sweat free.
10. I used a filter for my drinking water rather than tablets as it is instantaneous. It blocked pretty quickly though due to sediment in the streams so I had to carry the syringe for backwashing the whole way.

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03 Nov 2016 07:39 #70119 by AndrewP
AndrewP replied to: GHT trip report
I flew into Simikot on a 12 seater plane with my guide, Nawang, on 21 Sep. It is an exciting flight as they tend to be and towards the end of the flight, you can see hills rising above both sides of the plane as it winds it's way up the valley. Simikot is perched on a hillside at an altitude of about 3000m.

Nawang signed me in, and I spent the rest of the day slowly walking up the hill behind the town to reach an altitude of 3300m. I got a feel of the land and explored the town. The shops all sell the same products, and none sold gas for my stove. I would have to wait until Jupal for that.

Next day I had planned to scout out the route towards Gamgadhi, hoping to reach 4000m in the process. Rain in the morning delayed my start, which I proudly dorked by getting lost 500m later. I turned around well short of the target but had at least learned a lot about how the path systems work, where to find water and what to expect in the coming days. I crossed my first suspension bridge. I had actually seen it on Google Earth weeks before, so it was great to confirm that the Google Earth planning was worth something.

On 23 - 25 Sep, I made my way up the Humla Karnali valley to reach the starting point, Hilsa, on the Tibetan border, about 75km from Simikot.

The route is well travelled by other trekkers and local traders so is easy to follow. A recent landslide at one point caused some unnecessary excitement because I took the path through it instead of above. All part of the learning experience.

I spent nights in Yalbang and Tumkot both of which were very enjoyable experiences. In Yalbang, I stayed at a tea house come lodge. Here for the first time, I saw how the tea house serves as a meeting point for people in the village. I did not understand the gossip but understood what it was. The village has a lovely Monastry which was well worth the visit. Here, for the first time I also saw the benefits of locally produced electricity. It comes from a small hydro system about a kilometer away from the village which this means high reliability.

Tumkot is on the opposite side of the hill to the main path, so it is a very small and quiet village. As a single person, I was able to get a bed in a strangers house, but a larger group would have needed to stay elsewhere or bring camping equipment. I spent the afternoon watching the family harvest crops and carrying them back to their home. Here they stored the crops on the roof of their house, I even had a little nap up there until some children found me whilst raiding the nearby apple tree. Solitude over.

Next morning, I made my way steadily from 3000m to the next village, Yari at 3800m and from there up and over the Nara Bhanjyang Pass at 4530m. The road leading down to Hilsa was very gentle so even at a brisk walk, I was at 4000m for over an hour. I stayed in yet another strangers house as Hilsa is really tiny and pretty bleak. The Tibetan side of the ridge is dry, unvegetated and very stark compared to the rather lush Nepalese side.

On 26 September, just before 4 am, I walked across to the bridge leading to Tibet. A confused guard allowed me to touch the bridge but was not going to let me get onto it. I set off on a mission to return to Simikot in a single day. I reached the top of the pass at daybreak and then had an easy run for the next 10km or so to Yari. This set me up well for the rest of the day and I easily made it to Simikot by sunset. The route follows a good path along a valley system that contains a fast flowing, impressive river. I loved it. A few side waterfalls and landslides broke the rhythm somewhat, but added the necessary variety to make for a fun day out.

Along the way, I stopped at one particular tea house that taught me a valuable lesson. I arrived, said hello and asked for tea and some rice. Nothing. I then slowed down and pretended to ask his name, to tell him mine, where I was from and going to. He did not understand a word but the ice was broken and tea arrived a minute later. He offered biscuits, and as he had already said no to rice, I accepted. I had another cup of tea and then paid. As I was getting up he asked in English if I wanted rice. Aaargh, got to learn to slow down with these guys.

Most importantly, I had finally started!


The first suspension bridge I crossed.

Water is often feed via pipes to a drinking station. This one is fancy, many others just have a pipe

Rice and dahl baht, 24 hour power, the saying goes

On my way towards to start, still clean

Yaks and horses are used to carry goods. They can be tricky to pass

Harvesting the local crop. The chap did not know the English name and I did not recognise it

The bridge leading into Tibet from Hilsa, and thus the starting point

A truck adds some colour to a bleak landscape. I am happy to have done it the day before, but did not miss out anything by doing it in the dark the next morning

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03 Nov 2016 14:53 #70132 by AndrewP
AndrewP replied to: GHT trip report
For the next leg to Gamgadhi and beyond, I picked up a bag I had left in Simikot containing all the gear I would need for the remote parts of Dolpo.

Everything went better than I expected. Navigation is tense and the hills steep, but the views from the ridge tops make up for it. You are often in fairly dense forest, and mostly follow a reasonably busy path system. I passed through numerous villages and tried not to curse the size of the hills (2000m each). I was amazed to see that trees are still growing at close to 4000m. My GPS tracks for this stretch were not very detailed but somehow always worked. Thanks Robin.

I did better on the next tea stop, but still had to wait over an hour for the rice to be prepared. I could have learned enough Nepalese to actually ask how long it would take, but this seems against the whole ethos of the place. Relax and enjoy and stop the rushing about. This was in a delightful spot so I alternated my time washing and drying out my socks, watching the chickens and braving the smoke inside.

I spent a night in a remote village well off the main path simply because along the way I bumped into a stranger who invited me to his place for the night. We walked about 10km together at a frustrating pace. He really cracked on the pace while walking but would then suddenly stop for a 20 minute phone call. He did however find a tasty cucumber in a field we passed through that I could munch on. That was easily the worse night of the trip. I could handle the baby rats playing in the corner of the room, but when the rest of the family started running around on the rafters above my head, I moved outside to sleep on the house roof instead. It is the first time I have ever been woken up whilst sleeping on a roof top by a bunny.

The next morning I passed through Pilnam. I was probably still grumpy from the night before as I found it and the next village to be unpleasantly dirty and unhygienic. In the area, I also experienced more begging in one km than the rest of the trip combined. Which is actually still very little.

Things picked up once I got higher into the forest. I enjoyed the sounds of running water and birds in the trees and got lovely views. I overtook a family moving house and livestock (about 100 cows and goats, which takes a long time to overtake) over the pass. I would love to know why, but lack of sufficient Nepalese made it impossible to ask, let alone understand the answer.

The southern side of the pass was more open and had great views. It had significantly more tea houses, so I assume most people move in the opposite direction and can thus stop at more than one tea house as they grind up the hill.

The final few km into Gamgadhi are mean, with 2 deep valleys to cross. The suspension bridge over the final river is probably the longest one I crossed on the entire trip, but I missed out by doing it in the dark. I got into town at about 8pm and found it really difficult to find a place to sleep. For 30 minutes, I ping ponged across town from one hopeful place to another. Getting out the next morning was not actually any easier because my GPS track only really started 1km out of town.

The stretch to Jumla went easily as most of it was on a dirt road. I had hoped to visit Rara Lake, but I only had so much energy, so I skipped it. The route was much quieter in terms of local traffic than anything I had done thus far. I actually battled to find a tea house. This is probably due to a relatively new road with busses linking the towns. I met a large group of tourists heading in the opposite direction towards Rara Lake and as I signed my name into the register at the checkpost was surprised to see 3 South African's amongst the entries.

Jumla was the biggest town I had encountered thus far. Getting there in daylight helped tremendously and I found accommodation more easily this time. I enjoyed having decent although not fast internet access. I was using a Whatsapp group to update friends with pics and stories of the travels. This always generated a lot of positive and encouraging feedback, which really did help out on some days.

I was now 4 days into the GHT and it turns out these 4 days had the greatest amount of ascent/descent I would have for a continuous stretch. The hills here are really big, most of them being about 2000m gain or loss. On each day thus far, I had actually done the equivalent of 4 Drakensberg passes a day.

The heavy pack was starting to take its toll. By midday, my shoulders were in agony and I was feeling it badly on the hills. I was not getting any running in, even the downhills.

So, I split the planned 2 day stretch to Jupal into 3 days. I camped both nights just to use the equipment even though I had no fuel for my stove (you cannot fly into Simikot with gas and no gas is available there). I had planned ahead with biscuits but they were so ghastly I went hungry instead and next morning gave them to the first children I saw.

In one tea house, I also sampled a local alcoholic drink that was disgusting to someone who though he was about to drink a glass of water. This made for a pretty dreadful afternoon, especially as my mind was already in a bad space about the heavy pack.

I really loved the village of Majhgaon. I had lunch and tea there, and everyone just seemed so friendly, even though nobody understood any English.

I got rained on during the second night of camping and it was still raining when I woke up. It turned out that this would be the first of only 2 times I got rained on while moving.

The rain stopped as I hit the top of the pass. I had lovely views of mountains ahead, but there was still too much cloud ahead to identify any specific mountains. Shortly before reaching Jupal I stopped for tea, and by now it was warm enough to dry out the tent. While draping it out over a stone wall, I saw a veggie patch behind that was full of chillies. It is a long grind up the hill into Jupal and I wondered why I was doing this instead of contouring into neighbouring Dunai instead.

I had been directed to a place called Mt Putta by both Robin and the trekking company. It is a guest house run by a great chap called Tarak. I had a relaxing afternoon and morning at Tarak's place. I dried out all my gear, and made plans to stash most of it. (Ironically just before the stretch where it would be useful) I helped him fix his printer and was able to buy munchies for the next few days. The Snickers bars lasted 5 minutes, and the muesli was really great stuff. I ate it dry for breakfast while walking 2 days later on.

Great views looking east after the rains

The site for my second night out. Lovely and peaceful. The only time I actually used the prayer flags. There were my good luck charm so I keep them on me to the finish

Yaks and prayer flags on top of a pass. Boring. Yawn.

From here, I can smell the tea, somehow you can tell from a mile away if this is a tea house or not

Inside my favourite tea house of the trip. Dark, full of smoke and character.

The pack performing its most useful task, working as a stand for the camera. I enjoyed this bit of running and happily did it a few times to get a decent shot.

Still inside a forest, even above 3500m

A peaceful side valley while heading out of Jupal

Horse train

The friendly chap who invited me to his place for the night

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03 Nov 2016 17:02 #70134 by AndrewP
AndrewP replied to: GHT trip report
It was by now the 3 October and my 8th day of the trip. I decided to have a rest day. I would sleep in, have breakfast, arb about and have an early lunch with Tarak and his wife.

I did finally commit to a route. I had 3 potential routes to use to get to Kagbeni. I chose the one that would give me the most time at altitude and the greatest number of 5000m passes. It was why I was here after all.

I had a new and improved pack, that had a bit less gear than people would normally carry into the Dolpo region. The strategy was simple. If I go fast enough, I can get to a warm bed and a meal for the night. Too slow, and well, it would be a very uncomfortable night instead.

I left Jupal at about 11am, aiming to go about 25km. It turns out the tourist info boards I had based my distances on are wrong by about 20% so the hike was much longer than expected. I stopped after 21km, about 10km of the target, for the shortest day of the trip.

I spent a decent evening in Chhepka, where I saw English speaking tourists for the first time since Yalbang. They were on their final night and I happily helped lighten a few of their packs by accepting a few bars and leftovers from their dinner.

On the way, I passed a large contingent of army moving the other way. Later I would find this this would simplify my life greatly, as it meant the checkpoints were unmanned. I never met anyone who could show me on the map where the boundary between upper and lower Dolpo and I did not want to stray into upper Dolpo by mistake as it has a 500 USD permit fee.

I had not really intended to go into Ringmo itself. My permit did not allow me to go beyond it, and it is a fair detour out of the way. Yet, I made the mistake of asking locals who sent me that way despite my insistence that it would be shorter on the opposite side of the river. It would take time to learn how best to ask for directions. I was pleased with my efforts on the hill leading into town. But, if I had known it was 700m vertical I would have started out at about half the speed. It was great fun to rocket past tourists gasping for air at 3000m. I am really lucky to live in Johannesburg and to have the Drakensberg so near by. More importantly, my pack was light enough that I started running some of the flatter sections.

Yak Kharka is a really lovely meadow, and I simply could not walk past it. I stopped here for the day even though it was still midday. I spent a pleasant afternoon, mostly inside the teahouse just watching how things work or get done. I saw how yak butter tea is made and tried not only that but also a finely milled flour. It was dry and you either need a good technique or lots of saliva to get it down. I had neither. Two locals were also there and based on how well they knew how to do things, I guess they stop here often. They herded in the yak for the evening and helped with general chores in the tea house such as keeping the yak pooh fire going, or washing dishes.

Next morning I headed up towards Bagala La, my first 5000m pass. It turns out I was properly acclimitised so I powered up the final 500 vertical meters. Numala La went even more easily although by now light snow fall and mist had set in. I thus gained access to Dho Tarap. It is located in a really beautiful valley. Lots of agriculture adds greenery to the otherwise fairly bleak landscape. The valley has lots of shrines and temples, covered in prayer flags to add even more colour. The only hotel open at this time of the year was actually a tent. It was warm enough inside and I got a tasty meal and slept well. I heard that my timing was good. During the next month, most of the villages in the area, would be abandoned for the winter months.

It is only 35km to Chharka Bhot, but Robin had warned me that many of the bridges may have been washed away and that I could lose an entire day trying to cross the river. Fairly early on, the path got very feint and I even lost it a few times. It is not a popular route. The vegetation reminded me of a typical valley in Lesotho. Chan La pass itself might have been the easiest part of the day. 3 of the 5000m passes down!

Once a moved into the Chharka Khola valley, I saw why Robin had warned me. This is a very narrow gash as the river cuts right through a mountain range and as predicted, no bridge was present at all, even though 4 are marked on the map. The river was too deep to wade and too swift to swim across with all the rapids about. Fortunately, I had chosen to start that section on the same side of the river as my destination Chharka Bhot so I had no need to cross it. Except to dodge cliffs falling straight into the river and the usual landslides. I used one "skrik for niks" staircase that was magically attached to a cliff and at another point did some rather exciting traverse moves on loose slate.

Chharka Bhot was a lovely town, although it is very well hidden and at one stage I wondered if I had perhaps overshot it by mistake. Here, I found a conventional hotel which had 2 pairs of tourists in it. One pair stuck to the dinner tent the guiding company had erected, while the other joined me in the kitchen where it was warmer and more social. And dark and gloomy and smoky as they tend to be.

Next morning I set off in the dark knowing I had a huge day ahead. My gear choice meant I simply had to get to Kagbeni for the night. I managed 10km before day broke and then kept going strongly over the highest point on my route, Jungben La at 5540m. From there it should have been an easy downhill, but I misread just how steep the descent is. And missed the 2 deep valleys to cross on the way. So, the big day became a lot harder than expected. I found it rather hot and dry. During my 2000m descent into Kagbeni, I had great views of the valley and peaks (especially the Annapurna range) surrounding it. There are new roads in the area, that are not on my GPS or the paper maps so my route down was not optimal.

I reached Kagbeni just before 6pm and chose the first hotel I saw. Turned out to be a good choice, it had everything I wanted but was still cheap. Everything that is except signal for my NCell data card. I had had really good signal coming down the hill, but nothing in the valley itself. Whatsapp would have to wait.

Personally I was really pleased with my pace thus far. I had taken 12 days to get from Hilsa to Kagbeni, and still had no injuries or blisters.

During the Doh Tarap to Chharka Bhot stretch I saw a decent amount of wildlife including a large herd of antelope. They were too far away for me to identify.

Entering the Doh Tarap valley. A delightful stretch.

Bagala La, my first 5000m pass.

The tea house at Yak Karkha. Too peaceful to pass by, and a great place to spent the afternoon and night.

Puksundo Lake

Yay. Other tourists! I am not alone anymore

My room for the night in Chharka Bhot.

The photo really does not do this staircase any justice.

The tent in Doh Tarap. I was given about half those blankets so had a toasty night

The final approach into Doh Tarap.

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03 Nov 2016 17:07 #70135 by AndrewP
AndrewP replied to: GHT trip report
Heading up towards Jungben La. Amazingly this river, Chharka Khola, cuts through the mountain range twice

The village of Sante.

The Annapurna range.

Another selftimed photo, this time at 5100m.

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06 Nov 2016 14:06 #70155 by AndrewP
AndrewP replied to: GHT trip report
The Annapurna and Manaslu circuits

This is of course tourist central. I saw menus, trekking poles and even signposts. I was heading in the opposite direction to everyone else. The natural shapes of the valley systems mean I had short and steep ascents which are okay to someone already acclimitised. Most people though prefer the 100 km approach on the other side as that gives you time to gain height slowly. I found I would pass 300 people in a few minutes, then have a 10km gap before the cycle started again. Clearly people all head for the same overnight spots and they all start walking about the same time. Conclusion. You actually can skip the crowds if you can get into a gap.

Kagbeni does not have an ATM which I needed rather desperately as my rupee supply was running low. So, I had no choice next morning but to take a detour to Jomsom. The return trip is 23km, which I did on foot both ways because I wanted a clean slate for a continuous GHT hike. I left my bag in Kagbeni and took it fairly slowly. I even had a slow breakfast and some coffee before setting out proper. To be honest, the Jomsom haul was a cruel blow after such a good haul the previous day, and it was difficult for my mind to regain any psyche.

I left Kagbeni at 10:30 am with a simple plan in mind. If I reached Mukinanth before 2pm, I would go for the pass otherwise call it an easy day. Mukinanth fell by 13:30 so I manned up for the hill ahead. Needless to say, everyone else was heading the opposite direction to me and I was told on several occasions by concerned guides or porters that I should turn around now as it was impossible. That gave some incentive and I blasted up, reaching the top of Thorung La before 4pm. At one point I thought I might have been affected by altitude sickness but a 5 minute rest and some water helped. I was acclimitised after all, I just had to slow down my rate of ascent. Amazingly, the cloud cover that had been around all day opened up as I moved upwards and by the time I reached the top, I had lovely views. Note to self, Thorung La has the most false summits I have ever seen. They start at about 4700m and even though you know it is not the real summit, it still hurts to not know what your goal is.

I had tea on top in a little tea house, enjoyed the view and as it was late in the day had the place to myself.

I jogged down the other side. Shortly before dark, I found a great place in Letdar. No other tourist was there so I had a great chat with the owner as we sat around the fire in the kitchen. We listened to music off his phone and he explained that he has a greenhouse in Manang where he gets his vegetables. This was the only tomato I had on the trip and loved it.

I now had another big day ahead because Nawang had already been waiting for me in Dharapani for an entire day. I set off at 6am as usual, and for the first time in my life covered over 60km in a day where both start and finish were done in daylight. I had been told to look out for apple pie in Manang, but at 7am, that rule does not apply, so I missed out. I did though have some fresh apples as dessert to my lunch. Not much else to report because I was always just beneath or in the cloud layer. I never got wet, but never saw anything either. I reached Dharapani at about 4:30pm. I could finally change clothes, and have a shave. My PC failed to boot up, it turned out in the end that the hard drive did not survive the jeep drive. That meant I could not backup my GPS tracks or photos as intended. Not critical, but a blow all the same. I could however ditch the crampons and ice axe, which until now had not seen any action. Once again, despite internet access all day, there was none here.

Nawang also handed over a huge salami stick, some Snickers bars and half a dozen packets of rehydrate (local equivalent of course) I confess that the salami and stickers went very quickly. Partly due to hunger and partly to drop weight. The rehydrate was great and I used one a day. They blocked my filter so I needed a bit of extra cleaning.

The Manaslu loop was the muddiest portion of the trail, especially the first day heading up to Bimthang. I had a relaxing afternoon here and chatted to a US / Canadian group who were there to climb 2 peaks. One of them even knew my friend Tim. Small world. I ate too much and that meant I was really unhappy the next day.

That evening I made good use of my repair kit to sew up a few tears developing along the sides of my shoes. A combined effort with glue, climbing tape and dental floss actually worked really well and was still holding together over 200km later. The only other repairs on did all trip were to fix a few small holes in my pack.

I crossed Larke La early enough in the morning that some of the snow was still frozen and rather slippery. It was great to finally get some snow and a clear sky allowed for great views of snowy peaks all round. This would be my final 5000m pass. Most of the tourists were in down pants and boots so large I wondered if they had 2 pairs one inside the other. I had short pants and trail shoes and received many questions about whether I was warm enough. There was a chilly breeze so I concede they may have had a point. I was above the snowline for about 2 hours and enjoyed every minute.

It is a long way from there to anywhere and it took me 3 long days to reach Arughat Bazaar. Along the way, I did cross a magical line that said I had now passed half way. I obviously did not know the exact distance remaining, but I celebrated anyway.

I admit to changing my route here. I had intended to head east to Syabru Bensi. But, I had last had internet access at a place where I was sitting down in Jupal which was now a life time away. I wanted to talk to my friends back home. And, another ATM sometime soon would help.

It is actually a pity I made this change as I might otherwise have bumped into Lizzy Hawker who was busy with a solo GHT in the opposite direction. But with no decent internet access, I had no idea where she was. She went on to complete the high route in under 42 days, which is pretty impressive as she had to lug around sleeping gear and food as well.

The path down the Budhi Gandaki valley has more landslides than everywhere else put together. In fact, while I was in Simikot, a landslide in this valley killed a few people, getting onto national news. And, very late on the one afternoon I watched a small one on the other side of the valley, a mere km upstream from me.

The landslides are of course caused by the huge amount of ground water present which means there are also a lot of spectacular waterfalls in the side streams.

It is also stone step central and for the first time in the trip I picked up an injury that did itself heal that night. My lower left thigh did not appreciate this stretch.

The Manaslu circuit is a restricted area and you have to have a guide with you at all times. My delays in the Dolpo area meant that I had only 3 days to get through this stretch before the 7 day permit expired. So, instead of walking with a guide, I had a "girlfriend and porter who were following at a slower pace". This was consistent with my miniscule pack. I really hope they get out one day, as I have not heard from them for a few weeks now.

I only realised too late that this change of plans, although it allowed me to do the Manaslu loop faster, negatively impacted me in other ways. I now had a lot of gear I had planned to hand over to Nawang when he left the Manaslu loop to head back to Kathmandu. I thus arranged a new resupply point a day later. As we will see, this did not go to plan.

Happy with my time up Thorung La

A modern tourist trap high up. Yak Kharka

Step steps. 1000's of them

One of many waterfalls along the Manaslu loop

Neat paving within the villages. Practical of course to prevent mud on your doorstep when horses walk past

Information signposts. Wow. Of course they did not help me as I was exiting the map

The landslide

Another waterfall

Once you get lower down, the forests start and pretty soon you get jungle

Yes, short pants the whole way

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06 Nov 2016 15:36 #70157 by AndrewP
AndrewP replied to: GHT trip report
Arughat Bazaar to Jiri

Arughat Bazaar was great. I had internet access and could thus chat to friends back home via Whatsapp. This lifted my spirits and as I did not have a direct support crew, was my only link to sanity in this long, solo journey.

As with almost every other night thus far, the bed was rock hard. It was now warm enough that I could put the blanket under me for some padding at least.

This stage was obviously going to be very different to the route I had taken until now. I would leave the main trekking routes in the mountains and move into a more rural environment. It would be warmer at the lower altitudes, and I knew I could expect to find more shops. I would mostly replace tea with coke.

Also a choice of more time on roads vs time finding shortcuts through the rice paddies and jungle. Some of my shortcuts worked really well. Others ended up with rather dodgy scrambles to get back into the road. Or, I would end up in stinging nettles. The navigation was pretty desperate and was mentally destroying.

I also got my first river wade. It was either that or an extra 2km to get to the road again.

Nawang met me in Trisuli and took away my rather heavy SLR and down jacket. Due to a misunderstanding, he did not bring the change of shoes, so I had to continue with shoes now 800km old. And the dirty clothes. We had originally planned to meet in Barhabise, and my intent had been to replace that with this one in Trisuli. The poor chap thus spent 4 full days riding busses all over to meet me twice. He also brought along the laptop again, with a set of screwdrivers. I spent an hour hacking away but could not find anything that I could fix and reluctantly realised it would need expert eyes and equipment.

As my laptop was broken, I could not reprogram the new route on the large screen but had to do it on the tiny GPS screen instead. Trying to line up contours and town names that are inconsistent across the paper and electronic maps would take up a large part of evening for the next few days. Reprogramming the new route onto my GPS was tricky, so although I could mark a vague way to go, I had no true sense of the distance because I could only plot straight lines and not take the road or path bends into account.

Fortunately, the valleys here run mostlty west - east in a friendly way. I managed to get about 50% of this stretch to line up with the cultural route marked on the maps.

The combined effects of old shoes, the stone steps descending Manaslu loop and the occasional pounding on a tar road had led to my left knee taking strain. A lot worse than I ever let know on the whatsapp group. At one point I even wondered if this was the end of the road. I had a delicate juggle of how much can it recover each night with how far it could go each day before it started hurting again.

A highlight of this stretch was being able to buy samoosas for breakfast. Fresh, warm and for once it was great to have a bit of oil on them. They replaced coconut biscuits for a few days. I also bought a few breadrolls.

Annoyingly, for 2 nights in a row, literally as I stepped into town the lights went out. Load shedding is common here, but let's be honest, the timing was dreadful. In Singati, this affected me badly. It made it difficult to find a hotel so I stopped at the first tea house I saw. They invited me in for the night and all seemed fine. The owner though really would not give me a 2 minute break to save my GPS tracks, update my diary or look at map for the next days stretch. And then, after dinner with a straight face he said it would cost 5000 Rs. At first I thought he meant 500, but no, it was 5000. My most expensive night thus far was at a hotel with western toilets, warm shower attached to the room, air con, 2 beers and dinner, all for 2000Rs. Now, I am okay with charging tourists more than locals. It happens everywhere. But this was a bit over the top.

The following day I started out on lovely terrain with the usual forests and large rivers. Gentle roads led me through the first stretch, but that was soon replaced by a tar road. The road was initially quiet, but I then cut through some forest onto another tar road which was rather busy. It is one of the main roads linking Nepal to Kathmandu after all. I ran a fair amount of this which was a bad move for both knees. I reached Bahrabrise at a decent time, and this time the resupply went smoothly. I had new shoes, a change of clothes (short sleeve shirt again) and could have another shave.

It was also out here that I experienced possibly the most interesting moment of the trip. I was walking along merrily along a dirt road when I saw a group of about 100 people coming the other way. They were blowing horns and each of them was carrying a piece of wood, generally as large a piece as they could carry. It took a few seconds to realise what was going on and sure enough, near the front was a stretcher. This was a funeral.

The new shoes of course took a day for my body to adjust leading to the worst day out there injury wise. I was still sore that morning despite the nights recovery and rest. And, literally every step that day hurt badly. My leg muscles of course compensated for the knee and soon I had not only a sore left knee, but 2 sore knees and very painful left leg. It is amazing what the body can do. Once I had the new shoes, though my body knew the root problem had been fixed, so it just fixed itself. A few days later I found that running again helped even more.

Directions tended to be problematic. On the morning I set off for Jiri, a local helpfully pointed me in the correct direction. It was not the one on the map, but let's be honest, these guys know the hills. Except that he believes with all his heart and soul that a white man is physically incapable of travelling more than 10 km in a day. Tourists of course prove this day in and day out. So even though Jiri was only 20km by mountain path he sent me onto a ridge that had a road leading into town. The long way, 35km long. So, a 15 km detour on a 20km route with as it turned out no paths as a shortcut. Ouch, and especially with the knee as it was, I had to walk the whole way which really was always very runable. At one point, I just sat on the ground staring at my maps and GPS. They both said the same thing as the 20 locals now crowded around me. Long way round, buddy.

Typical scene on the roads following the river systems.

A great use of bamboo. And possibly a better use of the road

Typical path through the jungle. Hope it goes the right way

Rice paddies are normally more tricky as the paths are parallel and often not going where you want to go

Some life inside the town's. So many tasty treats if you care to look for them

Pity the legs are not as fresh as the new shoes. My body was being held together by a few pieces of string by now

The hills are still pretty big

Roads do not actually have to be unpleasant. I spent quality time on very quiet roads like this winding through the forests

But I still preferred the paths

Looking down at typical villages and rice paddies in the area

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06 Nov 2016 18:24 #70158 by elinda
elinda replied to: GHT trip report
Thank you - I am so enjoying your trip report Andrew - better than a best seller!:lol:

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13 Nov 2016 05:16 #70197 by AndrewP
AndrewP replied to: GHT trip report
Jiri to Tumlingtar

Welcome to the Everest region and back to the tourists. Fewer than expected, but I stayed south of Lukla which made all the difference. Once again, I had signposts, menus and trekking poles. Very few horse trains out here at least. They can be difficult to overtake.

I got into Jiri at lunchtime, so had some rice and a beer. No ATM here. Not critical but would have been appreciated. I topped up the airtime on my NCell card as the 30 day package was about to expire. Had I really been out here that long? Once I include the 5 days of acclimitisation and approach, then yes.

I stopped short of my target for the day in Shivalaya. I had a pleasant evening chatting to a few other tourists over dinner. It was here that I first heard of a 3 pass circuit, which would appeal to me in the weeks to come.

This is stone step central (again) and to boot has some of the steepest ascents and descents on the entire route. I had planned to get from Kinja to Gudel in a single big day. After all, I can do 65km in a day easily, my pack was almost empty and I was now in the final home stretch where it would be natural to push a bit harder. Er, fail. Two enormous days finally got me to Gudel. With over 7000m altitude gain and loss between them disguised in the form of half a dozen ridges. I just never moved forwards, it was always straight up or down. On steps with a sore knee.

I should apologise for the broken record theme here. It has come up a few times now. But, when your knee goes ooh and aah every step on the way, it is hard to ignore, especially if you know it can actually stop you in your tracks this close to the finish.

I did also have good access to the internet and a few chats with friends back home helped through the tougher patches.

It was beautiful though and I really enjoyed the break back into the mountains. Especially being on proper paths and not having to thread my way through rice paddies or jungle shortcuts. That said, the path is not as well travelled as I had expected. So, sometimes I did take the incorrect split and ended up at someone's doorstep by mistake. It does not use up too much time but do it a dozen times and your mental energy is drained.

Mist and rain blocked my view of Everest, but as I was 50km south of it, I was not really surprised. I did get a great view of Mera Peak though a few days later.

I saw apple orchards in the villages and passed through some peaceful forests. The shrines here tend to be more colourful, often with painted writing.

I could have eaten anything I wanted, but stuck to rice and dahl baht as it had by now proven itself.

It was here that I was finally leeched. It had to come, but I am grateful the leech was more interested in my watch than my arm.

Late in the afternoon, I passed the Tuksindo Monastery. This was one of very few monasteries I encountered that was actually occupied, and unique in that my timing was right to pass by as a prayer session was going on.

A few other trekkers were horrified that I had missed the cheese factory. In truth, I would have skipped it on a slow hike anyway.

Shortly after dark, I stopped in Numthala. It was at my favourite type of guest house, one where I am the only visitor and is run by a small family. They had a very impressive veggie patch in the back garden, and a decent amount of it ended up on my plate.

It is interesting to point out now about how sunrise and sunset changed in the month I was out there. The change in seasons meant I was losing about 3 minutes of light each day. But, as I was moving eastwards, the sunrise was always at the same time, getting light just after 5:30am. The evening got shorter though and on my first day for instance, I finished at 6pm before sunset. Now I had finished at 5:50pm and needed to turn on my headlamp.

I tried a predawn start again the next morning, but in truth did not cover enough distance to justify it. Most of the darkness time was on a steep and technical descent, which would have been tricky to do fast in daylight.

I particularly thought the Inkhu Khola Valley to be very impressive with a deep gorge, spectacular suspension bridge and tall waterfalls. The descent into it is the single steepest bit of ground I covered on the entire trail, dropping about 800m in a single km.

The grind later that afternoon into Gudel was as usual steeper and bigger than I had initially expected. My efforts for going slowly were rewarded with the best sunset I saw on the entire trip.

Next morning, I set off at 6am. I needed some sleep, and it seems to have been the correct decision. It also helped to have light about whenever I got to a split in the path.

The pass at 3300m was 300m higher than I had expected, but as the map does not even give it a name or a height, this is not surprising. It was my final pass of the GHT.

From here, I needed to drop 3000m vertical to reach my planned spot for the night, Tumlingtar. I passed a few trekking groups heading in the opposite direction to me. I passed through various vegetation belts such as pine trees, bamboo and jungle. Lower down once I got into populated regions, this all have way to rice paddies.

Towards the late afternoon, I saw my first snake of the trip. After all the jungle, forests and rice paddies, it was inevitable. Not sure what type but about 1.5m long and 3cm diameter. It did the usual thing and slithered into the grass next to the path.

A few km before Tumlingtar, I reached the lowest altitude of the trip, at just under 300m while running down a road along the banks of the Arun River. The bridge across the river may also have been the longest suspension bridge of the trip.

I got into town and settled down in the first lodge I found. That night I was the local entertainment for a group of kids who were fascinated by my GPS, my diary and in truth anything I did.

The shrines in this area are a lot more colourful

A well worn path. A really pleasure to walk on something where you can turn your brain off and stopped worrying about navigation

Round about here, you can supposedly see Mt. Everest. Um, no. Not today.

The impressive Inkhu Khola gorge

Sunset coming into Gudel

All those trees, still at 3000m. This is the final, unnamed pass

Steel gives way to bamboo


Rice. Add some dhal, and the saying goes. Dahl baht power, 24 hour power

The bridge over the Arun River. Drool

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