Florian, a 31-year-old attorney from Zurich, Switzerland, likes being in the mountains. So much, that he spontaneously decided to do the full 152-day Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) in Nepal with us earlier this year. His advice for anybody contemplating to join this trek: “Don’t overthink it, just book!”.
Here’s a unique insight into life on the (Great Himalaya) Trail brought to you by Florian.
When I got back from the GHT, I went to climb some 4,000ers in Switzerland. Everything felt so small, almost like a miniature model!
You live in Switzerland, have you always been drawn to trekking in the mountains?
I always liked the mountains and started to hike and ski at an early age. I wouldn't say that I do much sport, I just like being in the mountains, I also like photography and going trekking is a great combination of these hobbies. In Switzerland, I do mostly day trips or stay in a hut one or two nights, but I haven’t done longer treks. The first serious trekking was 10 years ago, when I hiked up Kilimanjaro. Since then, I have been to Nepal, Tibet and Ecuador. Having the Alps close by is nice, but of the course the Himalayas are a totally different dimension. When I got back from the GHT, I went to climb some 4,000ers in Switzerland. Everything felt so small, almost like a miniature model!
A trip like the Great Himalaya Trail isn’t something that you’d do every year, what’s the story behind you taking up this adventure?
I only learned about the Great Himalaya Trail last October on a trip to Tibet. One of the participants and our guide had done the GHT in 2013 and talked about it. When I got back to Kathmandu, I bought some literature and maps and decided that 2016 would be the perfect opportunity for a longer trip. I had been to Nepal twice before and knew that I was going to come back to this beautiful country anyway some day. So I figured, why not do the GHT before I have seen too much of Nepal to make it a "new" experience. Also, I'm glad that we could help employ at least some people after last year's earthquake and show that it's possible to trek through Nepal despite the damage (which is quite devastating in some places, but also very concentrated).
World Expeditions has a lot of experience with this trip and the crew will go to a super-human effort to make everything work!
What were your expectations of this Himalaya trekking trip?
As I booked rather spontaneously, I didn't think about it too much beforehand. I expected to spend time among the really high Himalayan mountains of Nepal and I didn't get disappointed there. I was a bit surprised about section 7, which at times is almost tropical (hot and humid even above 2,000m).
What surprised you the most on the Great Himalaya Trail?
Since I had been to Nepal before, I had an idea of what to expect and didn't really get surprised. But what surprised most people I have talked to since getting back, is that such a long trek does not get boring, even though the days all look almost the same: Wake-up tea, breakfast, walking, lunch, walking, setting up camp, washing, afternoon tea, dinner. But the scenery offers something new on most days and even though Hilsa, on the Tibetan border, seems a long way at the beginning, you have a clear goal.
What is the most memorable moment you had on the GHT?
It's impossible to identify a single moment. Every time I think about it, a different moment comes to mind. It's such a long trip and you experience so many great things along the way... Be it a spectacular view of 8,000ers, a magnificent camping spot, a clear night with countless stars (something you really don't get to see in a densely populated country such as Switzerland). When I selected the pictures for this interview, I thought a few times: I want to see or do that again.
While I don't really miss the tent now, it was always nice to see our little yellow houses at the end of the day.
What was the group spirit like?
Luckily, we were a rather big group of "full traversers" this year. So when somebody had a bad day, there were other people in a better mood to put things into perspective. Trekking in a bigger group also helps you avoid getting tired of each other on those long link sections where it's just the full traversers. And of course there's the Nepali crew who are always cheerful, no matter what the conditions. It was also great to get new group members every couple of weeks who joined us for just one section of the Great Himalaya Trail [red. there are 7 sections on the Great Himalaya Trail in total]. I think this sort of adventure tends to attract people who can handle the occasionally adverse conditions on a trekking, so we didn't have any real dramas...
What was it like to be camping for 5 months?
Since I've only been on one (short) camping trip before the GHT, I was a bit worried about the camping. It's important to bring a thick, robust mat (more than once, we had to camp on rocks.). But you get quickly used to it and the different challenges the weather brings (frozen zippers, broken tent poles, sauna-like temperatures, etc.). I never had any problems sleeping, but you want to bring good earplugs or listen to music in the evening. Many nights were rather loud due to howling and barking dogs... On the first few sections of the trail, you are pretty much limited to the bowl of warm water you get twice a day for washing. Towards summer, it was also possible to jump into a river a couple of times. While I don't really miss the tent now, it was always nice to see our little yellow houses at the end of the day.
How tough is the Great Himalaya Trail?
I actually expected much worse! Out of the 140 days or so of hiking, maybe 10 were tough with regard to distance, terrain, etc. Another 10 were tough in terms of weather (rain, hot, cold, etc.). The rest of the time, the daily walks were not too challenging, perhaps 3 hours in the morning and another 2 after lunch. The bigger challenge is on a mental level: Dealing with the fact that you have to continue walking the next day, no matter what the weather. And accepting that there will be no hot shower and dry bed once you reach camp. We were a bit surprised that the sections at the beginning were "easier" than sections 4-7 in terms of walking time. The less challenging the terrain, the longer you walk (and we thought after section 2 that the worst was over now...). It's amazing to see how fit you get over time. First, you can't even keep up with the porters. After some sections, you often reach camp before them. And towards the end you might even be able to catch up with the kitchen crew, the fastest of the fast! So if you're reasonably fit and don't get injured on the trail, the GHT is an achievable goal. On a technical level, it certainly helps if you have some experience with climbing and abseiling, preferably also in cold conditions. This will take a lot of stress off the high pass-crossings. And be prepared for a lot of rock-hopping and balancing...
If you would do a similar trek like this again and could only choose one item to bring, what would it be?
Probably my warm sleeping bag. No matter how tough the day was, once you're all warm in your sleeping bag, everything is forgotten.
While selecting the pictures for this interview, I thought a few times: I want to see or do that again.
How would you describe the GHT in 5 words?
The experience of a lifetime!
If there was one advice that you could give to people who are considering doing this 150-day trek in the Himalayas of Nepal as well, what would it be?
Don't overthink it, just book. Theoretically, very many things could go wrong. But World Expeditions has a lot of experience with this trip in Nepal’s Himalaya and the crew will go to a super-human effort to make everything work!
Want to have the same adventure of a lifetime as Florian had? You can! The 150-day Great Himalaya Trail departs each year in February. For dates and details, why not have a look at the Himalaya trekking adventure’s page. And if you like to get more details on the Great Himalaya Trail full traverse, our adventure travel consultants are on hand to give you all the information you require. You can find them in our travel offices around the world and reach them by phone or email.
©Text & Images by Florian Wegmann