The beginnings of Cross-Himalaya trekking

Not many people have walked the length of the Himalayas in the last few decades (and written about it). However there have been some expeditions with the goal either of traversing Nepal or going further trying to traverse the greater Himalaya range.

In 1980, one ‘inspirational’ Mr Shirahata is mentioned in the classic book “Trekking in Nepal” by Toru Nakano as having walked the length of the country from ‘east to west’ in Nepal but no further references or information has been found.

In 1982, Arlene Blum and travel and adventure writer Hugh Swift became the first westerners to complete a 4,500 km great Himalayan traverse across Bhutan, Nepal and India. Starting from the eastern border of Bhutan, Swift and Blum, climbed up and down the Himalayan range over 6,000m passes and down to river valleys at 600m, gaining and losing an average of 1,000m each day to reach Ladakh. This is documented in Blum’s book – “Breaking Trail”.

In 1983 two British brothers, Richard and Adrian Crane ran the Himalayas, from before Kanchenjunga to beyond Nanga Parbat in less than 100 days. According to the Crane’s book, “Running the Himalayas”, “…in 1980 an Indian army team set out from Arunchal Pradesh in India’s north east corner and, after one and a half to two years of travel along a high mountain route, they finished their journey just north of Leh in the Ladakh region of the Karakorams…. it progressed in ‘relay’ fashion and possibly no one member stayed with the expedition for the full course”. On their way, the Crane brothers met the British Women’s Trans-Himalaya Expedition who set off from Sikkim in January 1983 and used buses where necessary on their journey. The Cranes themselves though were however “travelling super-light. One rucksack, one sleeping bag, one set of clothes, one pair of shoes, and shared between us: map, diaries, camera, penknife, water jar and two plastic teaspoons. No guides, no porters, no shelter, no food, no water. And we would be running. Looked at logically, the idea was preposterous”.

Similarly, in 1994 the French duo of Paul-Eric Bonneau and Bruno Poirier made a crossing of the Himalayas in Nepal in 42 days (October 21 – December 1, 1994) and called their adventure “Trans-Nepal-Himalaya”. They travelled 2000 km (+ / -55 000 m) between Pashupatinagar (eastern border) and Mahakali (western border) including Everest base camp.

Then nearly a decade later in 2003, Rosie Swale-Pope ran the length of Nepal, on an early Great Himalayan Trail route with a support team, doing an estimated 1,700km in 68 days to raise money for the charity Nepal Trust.
Dr Gillian Holdsworth walked a similar route in 2007 which is documented on the British Nepal Medical Trust website. Between 2008 and 2011 Jean-Claude Latombe walked a winding trail across Nepal in two sections of 56 and 53 days. His website has a wonderful collage of images of the people and landscapes he encountered.

However it was early 2009 that truly gave birth to a Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal. Robin Boustead supported by his wife Judy Smith and friends walked the trail in stages beginning in September 2008. It took a lot of research to identify a true high-alpine route that was feasible for trekkers. Robin said: ”if someone gathered enough information on that area, it would be a great trek for everyone”. Robin was that someone and he has documented his route meticulously using GPS. The route, distances, elevations, water sources, villages and camp sites are all detailed in his Great Himalaya Trail guide book.

In 2010, another adventurer, Sean Burch completed a route across Nepal in 49 days with the help of Nepal Trust and in 2011 Shawn Forry and Justin Lichter walked an unsupported trek of 57 days across Nepal.

Tourism for development

In 2006 the Dutch development agency SNV and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu proposed to the Government of Nepal to develop an official Great Himalaya Trail from near Kangchenjunga in the east to Api-Saipal in the Far West of Nepal and to harness the trail for pro-poor development in Nepal’s remote mountain regions. The idea was well received by the tourism industry and development actors alike and in 2008, the Government of Nepal with Support of SNV, created the Great Himalaya Trail Development Programme (GHTDP), a public private initiative lead by the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation. With funding from the UK Department for International Development UKAID, the Government of Nepal is working closely with the tourism industry, NGOs and host communities to ensure that the GHT is developed into an iconic and globally significant new tourism product for Nepal and managed in line with responsible tourism best practices, generating vital jobs and income for local communities and contributing to the conservation of the country’s natural and cultural heritage.

Still, the Great Himalaya Trail is new and will evolve over the coming years through the preferences and suggestions of trekkers completing the route or sections of it. This is why it is so exciting to get on the trail now.

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