Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Great Himalaya Traverse - whew.


Still being drafted! Check back in a day or two for final version  - 8/28/2014.

I am way overdue for a post about the Great Himalaya Trail, what some have called the
'holy grail of trails' or the 'trail to rule them all'. I've already been back for almost two months and have had some fun adventures including runs and climbs in the pacific northwest, writing about those is easy...but summing up 87 days of walking across the Himalaya?

What to say? Over 1,200 miles across some of the highest mountain ranges in the world. According to wikipedia, we joined a small club of less then 40 people who have documented some sort of traverse of the Himalaya. Some went further, some shorter, many lower, but only two groups as high. In fact, we became the third team to take the highest route possible which included five extremely sketchy high altitude passes. And we became the first team to do all of this without a major support team of porters and guides. The ranges we walked across still sound ephemeral to me: Kanchenjunga, Makalu, Everest, Langtang, Manaslu, Annapurna, Dolpa and Humla. Never have I seen so many mountains, never have I dug so deep. The five technical passes were harder and more treacherous then climbing Everest, the daily grind harder then averaging 30+ miles a day running across America. Two months later, I look back and question if it really happened.





Below is a google earth rendering of crossing the two highest technical passes, each over 20,000ft and separated by a plateau. We studied this before we left, but we really didn't know what we were getting into...here are some images...




John setting up the rappel on Sherpani Col at 6,146m/20,164ft
Plateau between Sherpani and West Col. Approx 20,000ft.
We camped here the day before in a whiteout, no working stove, no water, not much oxygen, not much fun. 

Working our way up the ice fall on technical pass #3 Amphu Labsa pass at 19,000ft

Kathleen rappelling down Amphu Labsa into the Everest region.
Our rope was too short and we had some really sketchy moments getting down. 


Tashi Labsta (4th technical pass) rained rocks on us for three days.
Scary as hell but oh, so beautiful. 



The Khumbu valley above Pheriche, one of my favorite places to walk. 

Tillman pass was our last technical pass. It nearly destroyed us and I watched both Kathleen and John almost die in a fall. A blog post unto itself and something I would rather forget. A few days later we were able to shed our heavy climbing gear and move faster.


We passed through many many high mountain communities and also dropped 'down' into lower elevations, even as low as 2,000ft a few times where it was hot, humid, buggy and monkeys swung through the trees. But most of the time we were up high, well over 10,000ft.

We asked a million locals for directions, thanks!

And we scared a lot of school kids who had little (or no) experience with people like us.

John liked to lecture the kids about staying in school, Obama, and Mr. T.
They didn't understand a word he said, but everyone had fun. 

Lots of fun

We were always happy to find bridges, even when in disrepair. 


The kids were amazing, but the poverty in the far west was immense. 

But everywhere we went people smiled. 

Almost



We often camped with yak herders and traders
And when we finally got to the western border, I was happy as hell.
Also ~36lbs lighter and with a wicked farmers tan.

John arriving at Hilsa, our final village on the Tibetan Border in the far west.
Hard to believe it was over 


Walking across the 'Friendship Bridge' to Tibet. 



And there we are: lean, mean and done!

So that is a wrap folks. Please see our website www.greathimalayatraverse.org for more info and pictures. John also has a nice summary on his blog. I'm doing the best I can to re-adjust to civilian life. I've been busy keeping the pizza and beer joints busy in Seattle and trying to sit still at the computer. I'm trying to get my running legs back and also getting ready for a return to Nepal in a couple weeks (another story, another time). There are a slew of thanks to give, they are already out there on thank you pages found on www.greathimalayatraverse.org and also on www.wideopenvistas.org. The latter is a registered nonprofit in Washington State that I setup up to help kids in Nepal. We raised about $2,400 and hope to raise more - that kind of money goes a long way in Nepal.

A huge thanks to Julie who just competed in the world 24hr navigation championships in South Dakota. That might give you an idea why we called her two different times with my satellite phone. Both times we were over 18,000ft and fundamentally lost trying to get over dangerous passes. Along with the phone, I also had a satellite transponder that showed our location every 10 minutes. By studying her computer screen and additional maps Julie was able to help us find safe passage. How cool is that? I'm not sure anyone has every done something like that from half way around the world (not to mention the dead of night for her). Later, when we reached other impasses we would sometimes ask eachother if we should call 'our lifeline'. Beyond the tele-navigation, Julie was awesome at keeping my spirits up and super patient as our trip stretched out longer and longer. Thanks.



With Julie on Mount St. Helens earlier this month. 

I have to share this video Julie made when she thru-hiked the PCT.  We did some of our own dancing on the GHT...and we took videos inspired by Julie. Whether those ever see the light of day, time will tell. 



Dorjee Sherpa also fielded quite a few sat calls and helped us with our food resupply caches, remote translation, permits, visas, you name it. If you want to trek, climb, or do something off the beaten track in Nepal or Bhutan, he is your man. If he can help me get to the top of Everest, he can pretty much move the world in my book.




Robin Boustead is the architect of the Great Himalaya Trail and he led the first team to walk the high route, crossing all five technical passes.  His book was invaluable and he was always ready to give us advice. He has a beautiful website about the GHT, be careful...it will suck you in!





In 2012, Doc McKerr became the first person to thru hike the high route of the GHT unsupported. I stole this picture off his facebook profile. A member of the British army who has worked extensively with the Ghurka soliders in Nepal (maybe the toughest fighting force in the world),  Doc gave us tons of advice before we left and helped us throughout our trip with good cheer and info passed through Julie. Thanks Doc!

What the GHT will do to you...Doc McKerr

And Pasang Sherpa deserves much thanks. Pasang is a porter that I have now had the pleasure of knowing for five years. He doesn't have much money but he has a huge smile and a ton of goodwill. He also has five children and frequently faces difficulty finding work and sending them to school. We raised money through www.wideopenvistas.org in part to help him and his family. When we found out that the Nepal government was requiring all foreigners be with a Nepali guide in certain parts of the far west, we hired him to sweet talk are way through the checkpoints. It worked and we owe him a debt of thanks.

Thanks Pasang!


And big thanks to PROBAR and RUNA. We had bars and more in five different food caches spread across Nepal and at times it was our only real source of energy. Good companies, good products. I wouldn't plug them otherwise.



Last...I owe a huge thank you to John and Kathleen. Through thick and thin, we stuck with each other - sometimes holding each others lives in our hands. Other times laughing, crying, or just dreaming up all the good food we were going to eat when we got off the trail. They are two of the toughest and most thoughtful people I have ever met. They are also very good beer drinkers. Follow their adventures at www.knuckleheadadventuretours.blogspot.com



And thank you for reading this far! I hope you have some wonderful adventures of your own...safe travels. More to follow!

-Seth
One step at a time.