Dream trek — The Great Himalaya Trail

The rugged Dolpo region of the Great Himalaya Trail.

The rugged Dolpo region of the Great Himalaya Trail. Photo by Jamie McGuinness

Fastest known time attempts continue to be all the rage this summer, most recently with filmmaker J.B. Benna establishing a new unsupported record of the 170-mile Tahoe Rim Trail in 58 hours and 43 minutes. On the other side of the world, French runner and climber Phillippe Gatta is attempting to establish an FKT on a route that would be perhaps the greatest dream adventure  (with generous helping of nightmares) for any mountain trekking enthusiast — The Great Himalaya Trail.

The Great Himalaya Trail is a network of existing treks and trails across Nepal that together form the longest and highest trekking trail in the world. The Great Himalaya Trail is 1,700 kilometers long with more than 88,000 meters of vertical gain. The route passes through jungle, forests, deserts, high alpine plains, rugged and rocky ridges, technical passes, and glacier traverses at altitudes ranging from 880 meters to a staggering 6,200 meters. Temperatures range from 35 degrees Celsius to a chilling 25 degrees below zero. The route isn’t well maintained and is often littered with landslides and other obstacles, and several passes qualify as technical climbing. Gatta aims to complete the route in forty days.

Phillippe and Anna Gatta in Nepal.

Phillippe and Anna Gatta in Nepal.

Although supported by his wife, Anna Gatta, who will also join him on several sections of the trail, the remoteness of the region requires Phillippe to be largely self-sufficient. For one particularly remote section he is likely to travel seven or eight days without meeting anyone. To add even more to the challenge, on the 30th day Philippe is planning to complete a speed ascent and descent of Baruntse (7,129 meters).
The trek began on September 5, and Gatta has been sending nightly updates with a satellite phone that his wife is posting on a Facebook page:

Day One: “Day started ok, good trail but very hot and humid. The 2,000m climb to the first pass was tough. Also hard in last forest, GPS unstable, map crap, many small trails, got lost, saw a fox. I found an abandoned village, sleeping out there. Tomorrow 5km to Melcham then 40km to Gamgadi.

Day Two: “Last night has been interesting – all kind of insects, spider and bigger animals? Then rain. I moved 4 times and didn’t sleep at all. I started at night, got lost, did 7km in 2h30. Rest of day ok but bad trail, super hot and very long, finished at night. Did 95km +6500 m in 2 days and not fully acclimatized so I may add 1 extra day in Dolpo. Lodge in Gamgadhi tonight has more bugs than forest! I long to the mountains.”

Day Three: “Great day, beautiful valley to Silanchora but long, 52km. It’s raining now, bivy under rock. I feel good, will try first 5,000m pass tomorrow if weather is ok.”

Day Four: “Yesterday was hell. Wolf at camp [prophetic below!]. Rain-snow all day, all wet, can’t charge [no sun= no solar]. Mud slides, no trail, river crossing, fell 5 times, 14 hours for 25km. Will go slow today, don’t know what to do if keep raining. I am okay.

The gorge below Pho village, Upper Dolpo, which Phillppe passed through on day six.

The gorge below Pho village, Upper Dolpo, which Phillppe passed through on day six.

Day Five: “Scary first 5km then the rest was ok. Some snow but no rain, and warmth dried out the route. 10cm snow on the Yala pass though. I am now in a nice valley, saw 2 white wolves, beautiful. Found a cave below Nyingma Gyanzen La, nice shelter and view. Food and altitude okay.”

Day 6: “Bad start today, snow and dangerous climb of Nyingma Gyanzen La. Got lost and took forever to Pho. People surprised to see someone, and alone. I looked so tired they offer tea (but no food available). First people I saw in 4 days. Sun came, wonderful gorge. Tonight an exposed bivy, hope no rain. Dolpo is tough.

Day 7 (From crew): “Philippe camped in Khoma, a small village and I bet he was glad to reach there. Now he is running real trails with the occasional village and so less stress, less chance of getting lost. The section between Mugu and Dolpo (days 4-6) is feared by everyone, but he made it and perhaps in record time too.”

Day 8: “Last night was cold & windy, couldn’t cook, but a great sky full of stars. Good day today, 50km. Bought Chinese biscuits from a Tibetan, they are heavy as a brick but lot calories. Got a massive dinner too with dried food. Tomorrow I should cross the Mola Pass, Chharka village and bivy at Niwas pass at 5000m, a long day! Then I hope Muktinath day after but 50km will be tough.”

Phillippe and Anna are focusing this run to raise money for an orphanage in Sauraha, Chitwan. They are sponsored by Berghaus. To track the run, visit Phillippe’s Facebook page, or check out his SPOT track at this link.