2011 Great Himalaya Trail

Pepper and I set off to hike from the easternmost 8000 meter peak, Kanchenjunga, to the westernmost 8000 meter peak, Nanga Parbat. We hiked through Nepal and then Pepper had to leave to go back to work and I continued on through India. This was an amazing trip and probably the most challenging trip yet.

Here’s the link to an article I wrote about the trip:

http://www.atlasomega.com/2011/10/crossing-the-himalayas/


View Himalaya Trip in a larger map

Some journal and blog posts from the trip:

6/25/11: I finished hiking through India, to the Pakistan border a few days ago. I got to the town of Kargil, right near the India/Pakistan border. The border is also known as the Line of Control since it is an always changing point of contention. The areas near the border are heavily militarized with the Indian army and just a couple ridges away from K2 and Nanga Parbat (the westernmost 8000 meter peak) and the Siachen Glacier coming off of K2 is the highest battleground in the world, at over 6000 meters. In fact, many more soldiers have died from altitude and exposure than from the fighting.

After 2 days of bone jarring bus rides to get to an airport, a plane ride back to Delhi, a taxi ride to the Taj Mahal and back to Delhi to catch my flight at midnight, 23 hours of plane travel, 1 hour of train travel, and an hour and a half bus ride; I am writing this from the comforts and luxuries of a house with a refrigerator, tv, computer, sink, shower, and toaster oven. It is amazing and I am ready to join the ranks of the competitive eating circuit.

Here’s a few stats on the trip:
Nepal- Distance- over 1700km, Days- 47 hiking days (plus about 10 logistics/resupply days because of constant work and government strikes and dealing with getting permits), # of Permits- 13 or so, Cost – over $1500
India- Distance- about 800+km, Days- 19 hiking days, Permits- 0, Cost- $0…I tried to get permits to a couple of areas but I wasn’t even allowed to get them. I guess they didn’t want my money.
It is going to take me a while to process this trip. The last few weeks in India and the trip as a whole have been rewarding. I am not sure yet what I have gained from the experiences but I am definitely leaving with a sense of accomplishment and fleas. This was the hardest hike physically and mentally that I have done yet. Averaging about 25 miles per day and routinely doing 6000-7000+ feet of elevation gain were hard, but your body gets used to that. The hardest thing was “getting no satisfaction”. For 3 months I have been dreaming about certain foods only to never get them and not get anything satisfactory in town. When hiking in the U.S. or a lot of other countries every 4 or 5 days you get to a town and can satisfy that craving. I did have one of the better meals of the entire trip the last week or so of hiking. No it wasn’t the gummy pizzas that I found in one of the stores. I was walking by a shepherd’s stone hut a little after dark and he invited me to be his guest. He went and milked the goats and his brother cooked up a mean curry and fresh rotis (an Indian bread sort of like naan or pita) on the fire. In case you are interested fresh goat milk is lumpy and sour and more like a unhomogenized plain yogurt. In the morning I milked some goats myself and had some classic Indian salt tea (black tea, fresh milk, and salt). As always I prefer sweet over salty, but no complaints it is always good to try something new. And it was definitely better than the food selection that I saw a teenager eating in Nepal. I saw him chow down on a nice, dry cow pie he had picked up off the trail.
The last couple of weeks through India have been scenic and interesting. The flowers have been out in full force with fields of red, purple, yellow, and blue filling the meadows. The peaks and passes have been shrouded in snow and clouds as the winter snows have yet to melt and the pre-monsoonal moisture has moved in. The clouds, wind, impending doom, and some sort of weather came in every day. Every high pass I went over was a bit of an adventure, with the last 4 high passes of around 5000 meters and above turning into a soupy mix of white with no visibility and horrible maps. I am glad to finish before the full on monsoons hit which are forecasted for some time in the next week and the leaches come out to play.
The leaches would have sucked me dry since I have lost enough weight to throw me back to a weight I haven’t seen since middle school. I think I hit about 147 pounds. Definitely not ideal for a 6 foot tall person. I started looking a bit like ET with the sunken chest and you probably could have seen my heart glowing through my skin. I am excited to be home and move on to finishing my next projects, a book that I hope will be out sometime this summer, and a nice big salad topped off with some Phish Food.
Finally to all the doubters and times we heard “it’s not possible” from people in Nepal and India, “Yes it is! We just did it!”

6/13/11: Besides for that I had a slight change of plans on my last paved roadwalk and realized India is a different animal than Nepal. Roads are fairly commonplace compared to Nepal and some of them are sealed and have buses running on them. Needless to say after getting nearly killed for the umpteenth time (driver’s are absolutely crazy here) I have decided the purism is for the trails in the country and to utilize the bus service when the paved road is on my route. The paved road walking was the most dangerous thing I have done on the whole hike. The roads are windier and narrower than in Norway and the driver’s are more agro than NYC cab drivers. Enough of that. Spend my time on the trails and in the backcountry. The mountains have been awesome the last few days with a bunch of high passes, crappy weather, nice people, and beautiful country. No complaints at all. More to come and some good stories when I finish and get back to town in 6 or 7 days. Just to whet your appetite…….I am now a master goat milker and I have fleas worse than Yoni has ever had!

6/10/11: Dreaming of a bic lighter. One broken Nepali lighter and one Indian lighter that’s not working. Looks like uncooked noodles twice a day for the next three days.

Sent via Iridium Satellite phone

5/31/11: I am in Delhi getting organized and creating my home base for the India section. It is pretty crazy here. Street vendors galore, autorickshaws, a cacaphony of car horns, and definitely a step up of madness from Kathmandu. Needless to say it is a little overwhelming, especially right now after coming from our most remote section on the entire hike. However, there is at least some resemblance of traffic laws that people actually follow!

Yesterday I tracked down the India map sales office on the road map (since they only sell maps in a national office) and walked there, only to find out that it moved 20 years ago. Classic. I did pass 3 McDonald’s, a Pizza Hut, KFC, Domino’s Pizza, and a bunch of ice cream places on the way. So the walk wasn’t too bad, besides for being over 100 degrees. I was full the entire time. I was a bit disappointed with my McDonald’s meal though. I had been craving a hamburger or at least the 2 pickles they put on the hamburger. And I figured at least I would know the minimal quality I would be receiving and get a decent bun (since that was impossible to get in Nepal). The entire McDonald’s menu was chicken. No beef in Indian McDonald’s. The fountain drink looked so good too, but I wasn’t willing to risk the contaminated water going into it and no McFlurry’s, just regular soft serve ice cream. So all in all quite a disappointing stop. The Domino’s stop was a little better with a paneer cheese pizza 🙂
Anyway, off to find the real map office and hopefully find a fuel cannister somewhere in this city of billions of people so I can get back to hiking either later today or tomorrow.

5/28/11: Here goes…… It is always a whirlwind when we get back to town on this trip and this seems even more so. We finished the Nepal section of the hike! We have hiked about 1300-1500 miles now. We got to a border town, called Simikot, which we had been told by many that it had the border check post for people entering Tibet and China and that we wouldn’t be able to go any closer to the border. There also happened to be a small airport there, “when the planes actually fly out of there”. Anyway we finished up and got lucky that a plane actually came the next day and we were able to return to Kathmandu. So here we are again in the hustle and bustle of a big city., trying to get some food and re-up the calorie intake. I am definitely the lean and lanky look right now. I posted some pictures last night and have already received some comments on that so I must be pretty skinny.

The last 14 days unbelievable and also amazingly difficult. Probably one of the most difficult sections of hiking I have ever done. We left town with 10 days of food and heavy packs since we were headed into a really remote region. We went over 10 passes over 5000 meters in those 10 days. Needless to say, lots of gain and loss again. The mountains are awesome though and views and remote villages have been incredible. We hit a bunch more snow than expected and in a couple of places when the snow was rotten it took us hours to travel a few hundred yards. Pretty frustrating when you have climbed 4000 vertical feet and are almost within a hands reach of the pass but you just can’t physically move any faster to get there. The temperatures stayed cool and we even got some snow a bunch of days.
Things quickly changed after we went over the last 5000 meter pass and dropped to 1700 meters elevation. My watch read 95 degrees and it was boiling with humidity. Pretty hard to adapt to in a day, but we pushed through it with the end in sight. We resupplied at a small town and loaded up with 3 days of Cheese Balls and biscuits. Pretty slim pickings to say the least. Definitely majorly calorie deficient. We were dreaming about different foods, Ben and Jerry’s, pizza, and all you can eat sushi constantly the last 5 days.
We are glad to be back in Kathmandu eating. We are headed to a breakfast buffet as soon as I am done with this e-mail 🙂 Yesterday We went to eat pizza and I got ice cream after the meal and ate that on the walk back to the internet place and we passed another ice cream shop as I was finishing up so I figured I should just get another one since I was out. I was hoping it would be free refills 🙂 Anyway, all is good. I am headed to India in a few hours to continue the hike and Pepper has to return home to start work with Outward Bound for the summer. I’ll keep you all posted on how India goes. 2/3 of the way through the traverse now!
Hope everybody is doing well!

Story from the field- I did have a little “There’s Something About Mary” mishap 2 days before we finished. I was walking across a rickety old suspension bridge with wood planks and right behind this lady from town crossing the bridge. I looked up really fast to see what was ahead and the wood plank broke. I fell through the bridge with one leg and the plank came up from the other side and slammed me in the face. I guess it was a good thing I was wearing tactical sunglasses and the lenses were ballistic, but somehow the skin under my eyebrow and over my eyelid got wedged in between the lens and the frame and I couldn’t get it out. “How did the beans get over the frank?” sort of thing. I put my hands up to try to get my sunglasses off and blood was pouring out. A couple of towns people came over and helped me to a bench and got me some cotton and I signaled to find me a mirror. With the help of the mirror I managed to get my skin free and then clean up the blood. A nice little gash, probably would have had stitches at home, but here I just got the bleeding under control threw some duct tape on the cotton and got back in the ring. I felt like it was straight out of Rocky and definitely look like I got punched in the face. Pretty funny actually. All of the locals in different places kept looking and trying to ask me what happened too. Walking makes everything better so I just kept on hiking. That’s all for now!

5/13/11: Well here goes, it has been a while so there is a lot to write about but I’ll try to keep it short.

We have been hiking hard the past 12 days since our last major resupply. We have done about 1000 miles in Nepal and are now at our last resupply in Nepal, with about 14 days of hiking left here. A few stats/thoughts for the last 12 days:
1) We have been doing about 30-45 map kilometers daily, which at our map’s scale is actually 20-30% more distance on the ground. So we have been hitting our stride and doing around 30 miles daily with about 1500 meters of elevation gain on average. In the past 12 days we have gained over 70,000 feet of elevation. It sort of feels like we are hiking into space, minus the huge descents we are doing too. How high is space anyway? Some days we just go up all day. It is like being on the Stairmaster for 10 hours or more. 2) We have been passing a lot of tea houses on some of the more popular treks and have been using those to boost our calorie intake. One day I ate 8 eggs, fried rice, and rice pudding at tea houses, and always add huge lumping spoon fulls of sugar to the tea. They can’t believe how much we can eat because before we order they say “are you sure? that is a lot of food.” Other times we will order and only get random things from what we have ordered, half of what we have ordered, or just what they want to make show up. It gets pretty frustrating when you have the hiker hunger and things get lost in translation and you end up with a really unsatisfying meal. We have taken one from the pages of In-N-Out Burger and dream about our Double Doubles. On the menu they call an omelette a double omelette if it has two eggs. So our typical staple is the double double with cheese (which happens to be yak cheese-if you close your eyes and try really hard you can make it taste like Swiss Cheese) and fried potatoes. Not quite the In-N-Out Double Double with cheese and fries but it’ll keep us dreaming.
3) Even if a Nepali doesn’t know any English they seem to always know the words “not possible”. I don’t know how many times we have heard those words. From the police at the permit checkpoints saying that it is not possible that we walked from such and such a village that day to the cooks saying it is not possible that we eat all of that food. Seems like we could be good motivational speakers in Nepal, if only we could actually talk Nepali or communicate with most people.
4) We walked passed a town which was about to have a 3 day festival starting the next day. I asked what happens at the festival. They said tug of war and horse races. I don’t think they got the joke but, I asked is it a 3 day session of tug of war. That would be pretty tiring, especially for me since I have lost all upper body muscles and have resumed the t-rex hiker look.
5) A quick little story. One day we were hiking down low and had just hit the river valley and started our 2000 meter climb. About 600 meters into the climb we went through a village. Pepper kept walking and I stopped at a faucet to wet my head and get some water. It was about 95 degrees and humid. A girl around 18 came over to me and invited me to the shade at her house. I declined saying that I had to keep up with my friend. She insisted so I didn’t want to be rude and turn her down. I walked past one house and to her house. She poured me some milk from her water buffalo that was sitting in the shade under her house. The milk had been sitting out in a container in 95 degree temperatures but didn’t taste rotten, but it definitely had a lot of floaties and tasted smoky. The last thing I wanted in 95 degree heat was milk, but I couldn’t turn it down. I drank it up and thanked her and that I had to go. Before I turned the corner out of view I looked back and waved and she was blowing me kisses. Hmmm, strange.
6) Finally, with the events of recent, which apparently are big enough that even locals in remote mountain villages have told us about when we tell them we are American, we have changed plans and won’t be going to Pakistan. I don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out it probably isn’t safe there right now for a gringo. Although if I picked up a little headwrap I might be able to fit in, but Pepper’s only hope would be the beard and a burkah, but that would be a weird combination for a woman.
I think that is all for now. Just enjoying my time now trying to fatten up in town and use the internet before a really remote 14 day stretch. Gotta run and go find pizza and ice cream. It has been way to long. Definitely am missing the Ben and Jerry’s 🙂

4/25/11: Things are going well here. We are back in Kathmandu again, our logistics headquarters. We are sorting out our permits to leave here and hike the rest of the country without returning back here. Yeah, it has been good to get a little lower in elevation. I was feeling a bit under the weather through the Everest area since we ascended pretty quickly to 5300 meters. On returning to Kathmandu my pulse was again at 46. I am hoping to see how low I can get it!

Not too much news this time since I feel like I just wrote a bunch. The last section was really pretty. We stayed over 4500 meters for a while and went over a bunch of passes over 5400 meters and went to Everest base camp. Off hand I think that is around 18,000 feet.
The weather is improving a bit since it hasn’t snowed more than a dusting this last stretch and some days the clouds actually wait until 1PM to move in. So that is nice. We got views of Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, and a lot of classic peaks from some of the passes. The view of Everest from Renjo La was stunning.
I think that is all for now. I will try to get some pictures from the last stretch up for you all to see.
Hope everybody is doing well.
A few funny things from the last stretch:
1) I saw a Buddhist monk with an iPad
2) Pepper thought he was hearing pikas, but it was just his pack squeaking
3) We are now staying right next to Baskin Robbins but have unbelievably managed not to go there yet. Somehow we have hit up 3 other places for ice cream in the mean time. I think I am going to have to head there right now on my way back to the hotel though………….

4/14/11: Everything is going well over here. The mountains are big and elevation changes are drastic. I think at least 10,000 feet of elevation gain or loss has been normal every day. The scenery is amazing. The mountains are huge and river valleys are steep and rugged. These are the biggest mountains in the world!

We have hiked about 200 miles or so and are averaging 15-20 miles per day, so definitely off of our pace, but we are starting to feel good. We descended to a lower elevation the other day and my pulse was 46. So we are definitely getting used to the high altitudes.
It has been really interesting because we have been within 1 days walk of the Tibet border. So many of those small communities get there supplies from Tibet and are basically Tibetan villages. Seeing the cultural changes between the lower communities on up has been very interesting also.
We hired a guide for the first stretch to make sure that we knew what we were getting into. Everybody says the weather is really abnormal. The weather is supposed to be really good this time of year, but it definitely hasn’t been. By 11am everyday it is either raining or snowing depending on what elevation we are at. At high elevations the clouds start billowing in around 9:30 and build from there. Two separate nights we had about a foot of snowfall. And we have had whiteout conditions on two high passes that we went over. Not too bad, but one of the passes was a double pass (which was really over 3 saddles, so it was a triple pass but the map details lackedone of the ridges) so we dropped a little early. We postholed down for about 20 minutes before we both looked at each other because it wasn’t feeling right. We went back up and got back on track. We have been postholing waist deep at all passes over 14,000 feet so we have decided to alter the route for this stretch a little to bypass a few really high passes and hopefully minimize our postholing. At times our progress has been trying and incredibly slow breaking trail through rotten snow. We should be in the Everest region in a couple of days!
The guide has been slowing us down also so we are dropping him now since we feel comfortable out there alone. The guide was tagging along and didn’t know the way any way. He was just following us and couldn’t read a topo map. He was scared of camping since we were in remote regions and tried to get us to stay in teahouses more often. One night we set up camp and at 3 in the morning we heard a yell from his tent. We both rolled over and didn’t know what was going on. I wentback to sleep and things quieted down. In the morning we asked him what was going on. He said in broken English that a yeti had attacked him. One had unzipped his tet and came in and was choking him and the other was standing outside the tent. He said they were little black yetis about a foot tall. I asked if they were dogs. He said definitely not dogs. We couldn’t stop laughing. He said every 5 minutes they kept coming back and trying to unzip his tent door. He was really animated when describing the events. It almost made me believe it 🙂 Sure…….whatever you say. Just like you had said that you had done this hike before and have had no clue where to go the entire time 🙂
One last thing, it is pretty interesting for us to be going ultralight and as light as we can here. Just like in Europe and other places we are getting looks on our pack size. Many of these expeditions to climb peaks or go to basecamp have as many as 30 porters carrying the groups gear. Here we are, self supported with ultralight equipment at over 19,000 feet and no issues.

3/28/11: We are still in Kathmandu but we are headed out to eastern Nepal tomorrow morning. We will first catch a domestic plane, should be a sketchy little plane that will probably bring back memories of flying in Ethiopia, and then a local bus. Then we will start walking up to Kanchenjunga base camp.
It has been a bit crazy here getting things organized, getting permits, and getting as much local information as possible about our route, places and supplies available. In addition Pepper has had a tough few days. First he missed his flight because he thought it was at 1PM but it was actually at 1AM and then one day the Nepali food got the best of him. He was looking grim one day, but now he is fully recovered now and we are ready to roll. Nepal 1, Pepper 0.
We also did get invited into someones home for dinner one night which was really cool. We had some fresh home cooked Dal Bhat!
I am excited to get out there walking finally and out of the hustle and bustle of the city and the smog. We’ll keep you all posted!