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Begins: Apr 4, 2018
Date: Sat, May 5th, 2018
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GHT Day 28
We quit the Great Himalaya Trail! Ugh. I hate quitting things. In 16 years
and 30,000 miles of hiking I've never really quit**
**In 2016 on my first day of a long South American bicycle trip I was hit
by a car and went home so I don't really count that as quitting. In early
2017 Skittles and I went to hike the Greater Patagonian Trail but we knew
we didn't have enough time to complete it all. We didn't do nearly as much
as we planned though and jumped around so I kinda count that one as a
semi-quit. But that's it. Otherwise, I've walked every step, every mile of
every trail I've ever started.
We hiked about 300 miles of the 800 mile GHT (these numbers are
underestimated by at least 10% I'd say but it's the only mileages I have
from the GPS track I created).
So what happened?* (see post entry update below!)
The short of it is that we needed 2 days of a guide to get us over Tashi
Labsta, a semi-technical 19,000' pass that on a good day would probably be
right at or slightly above our skill set and on a bad weather day would be
very dangerous for us which is easily a likely scenario. It's notoriously
difficult to get a guide lined up for this pass. Erin did a good job of
last minute (like 5 days earlier) calling a company in Kathmandu who then
through some complicated network found a guide who had done the Pass once
before. Unfortunately, it was an absolute disaster which we knew was a
50-50 chance. When we met them in Thame, they began immediately extorting
more money from us, couldn't get the right gear, wanted all the money up
front the night before, refused to take us beyond the danger zone on the
other side of the pass and ultimately got to the point where is seemed
obvious they had no intention of taking us over and there was no way we
were putting our lives in these guys hands. There were no other options. So
it totally cratered. But it's not like we couldn't have kept hiking.
There's always a way.
We started crunching numbers immediately for a lower route around and
that's where things spiraled downward for me. Instead of staying on the
High route 80 miles over Tashi Labsta pass we would have to walk 130 miles
on a Low route around. Let me explain a bit....
The GHT was developed primarily to be a high route through the Nepalese
Himalayas. That's what we were out here for. Occasionally the route goes
through a mountaineering section which we (and others before us) wouldn't
be qualified for and then you take a "Low route" around. Low route sounds
kinda nice, right? Not so! The Low route is way harder and way less
rewarding than the High route. The High route is of course insanely
beautiful. It also stays high and generally your ups and downs are
moderate, a few thousand feet at a time. As long as you can deal with the
altitude (which we were quite well) and the colder weather then the High
route is pure joy. The Low route on the other hand stays in the valleys.
It's insanely hot and humid. Leeches. Nowhere near as scenic. And massive,
incredibly steep and relentless ups and downs. 5,6,7, even 8000' ups and
downs at a time on rough, rugged, did I say steep trail? For all that
effort it's just not that rewarding. We did it for a week to go around the
Makalu technical passes and it was a good experience. We were totally in a
groove and felt great. But its not something I'd want to do for most of the
trail. The Low route is generally known as the "cultural" route which is
very true. You walk through a ton of villages and see so much amazing
culture it was really cool. But the High route dabbles in the village
culture a lot too and I just wouldn't hike a Low route through Nepal just
for the culture. There's plenty on the High route too.
So that's the High route vs Low route. Because we had to walk around Makalu
first, now Tashi Labsta which was unexpected and a lot of additional Low
route miles, around Tillman Pass after our next break and then we had
decided to walk around the Upper Dolpo in the far west (the permit is a
ridiculous $ 500 plus required guide making it probably $ 1,000 per person
for 7 days of hiking)......we now were actually doing half of our total
miles on the Low Route. That's about 400 out of 800 miles on the Low Route.
This just really seemed contrary to why I was over here.
I've actually had an amazing 30 days here. I'm not just saying this to make
everything seem rosy. I'm known to tell the truth about my feelings on a
hike and even catch some flak occasionally for being critical and saying I
just didn't like so and so hike. I feel like these days everyone has to say
how amazing everything always is to prove that whatever they decided to do
was a good decision. I always try and just be honest.
I liked it here in Nepal....
The hiking was fantastic. The culture was amazing and something I embraced
way more than I ever expected. Sleeping in the guest houses and tea houses
was fun and interacting with lots of people was interesting. Heather was
like, what's going on, you usually hate all that stuff? And she's right. I
usually do. But for some reason, I really embraced this for a month. I
really did. And then I didn't.
Everything that seemed so great I was just over it. It was no longer fun
and interesting. It was just draining. I did 30 days of it and would have
done 45 more to complete the hike. But the Tashi Labsta disaster just threw
a wrench in everything and you start thinking, wait, do I really want to do
this for 45 more days? I LOVE sleeping in my quiet tent and I couldn't
imagine staying in so many more noisy guest houses. I was tired of
interacting with so many people on a daily basis. I was really tired of
eating so much village food. I wasn't sick and I was really hungry but my
stomach just wouldn't let me eat much. And the real kick in the nuts, the
one thing that put it all over the top was that I really didn't come here
to walk 50% of my miles on the Low route. That was a choice we made based
on our mountaineering skill levels and not a function of Robin's High route
design, but that was the reality. I wasn't going to continue on and do
something I really didn't want to do just to say I finished. I mean, I
desperately wanted to. There was nothing physically wrong with me but I
just didn't want to do it. Even more than that, I thought about the US and
there was no reason I needed to go back. Heather is still dealing with some
family stuff for a while longer, there are no trails I have to hike right
now, yet I just didn't want to be here and hike these Low route miles and
stay in guest houses and not be able to eat much. So that was it. I quit. I
hated doing it but I did it. Griggs had ironically quit the day before due
to prolonged illness and while Erin has different reasons than I do, she
was pretty much on the same page as me as to being done. We both wanted out
So that's the story. It was actually nice to write all that.
Hopefully I'll post my 30 day notes and write a summary entry to help
future hikers. I think I learned enough to still be helpful. I'll head back
to the US, visit family, visit Heather and then I'll get back to doing what
I do best. I'll start walking again. It wont be as epic but I'll sleep in
my tent every night and have unlimited access to diet coke fountain drinks
and gas station hot dogs. Maybe that's all I really want in life?
*Post entry update!
So it's a week after I'm back and I'm really sick. It took me
a bit to figure it out but now it all clicks. About 7-10 days before leaving Nepal
my stomach started to "lock up" on me where I was hungry but couldn't really
eat much. Every meal i ordered I barely ate and threw away. I chalked this up
to being sick of the Nepali food, a bad eater/bad American and just wanting
McDonalds and Chipotle. I've been feeling bad about this since I left. Like I
just couldn't hack it in a 3rd world country which was definitely a possibility.
I like my American, everything open 24/7, giant sodas, giant burritos, etc.
I came home with a cold and major jet lag after 40 hours of travel. I still felt
bad and chalked it up to all that. But all that is gone now and I have the exact
same symtoms as when I was in Nepal. My stomach is cramped and locked up,
I can barely eat and have massive fatigue. I know it's bad when I can't even go
to my favorite pizza place. So it turns out that whatever bacteria or parasite I have,
I had it in Nepal and didn't even know it. Looking at things this way and I see
things a bit differently. Like, my reasons for coming home were more heavily
influenced by how bad I was feeling and I just didn't know it which makes me
feel a bit better about quitting.
Great Himalaya Trail
The Great Himalaya Trail is a network of existing treks and trails which together form one of the longest and highest walking trails in the world. Winding beneath the worlds highest peaks and visiting some of the most remote communities on earth, it passes through lush green valleys, arid high plateaus and incredible landscapes.
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