What to Know About Hiking the Great Himalaya Trail
Megan “Hashbrown” Maxwell
The author hiking in Nepal’s Dolpa region
This past March, I flew to the other side of the world to hike Nepal’s Great Himalaya Trail (GHT). This was my second trip to the Himalaya. Back in 2015, I spent a few months in Nepal hiking in the most popular regions. This time the goal was to get as far from the tourist track as possible.
If you are thinking about hiking the Great Himalaya Trail here’s what you need to know.
High Route vs. Low Route
There are two different suggested routes for the GHT, the High Route and the Low Route (or the mountain and cultural routes, as the locals say).
As the name implies, the High Route is known for its higher elevations. Often, the trail crosses overpasses that are upwards of 18,000 feet. However, the grade of the trail is usually not so bad on the days without passes.
There are several sections of trail where technical mountaineering skills are required. Guides are mandatory in Kanchenjunga, Manaslu, and Upper Dolpa.
The Low Route connects villages of rural Nepal, and offers the opportunity to see a way of life that is far from that of the United States.
The term “low route” might lead you to think that it is in some way easier than its mountain counterpart, but that is untrue. Expect to gain or lose elevations of 3,000-5,000 feet on a daily basis. Many of the passes are over 13,000 feet, which is apparently “low” by Nepal standards.
My hiking partner and I did a combination of the two routes. For the most part, we stuck to the Low Route during the spring and the High Route during the summer.
One of the cool things about the trails of Nepal is the guest house system. If broken into shorter hikes, many regions of Nepal can be hiked without carrying any camping gear or food. With guest house accommodations, you usually get dinner, breakfast, and a hard bed to sleep in. Don’t expect a shower unless you’re in the Annapurna or Everest regions.
I would estimate that we stayed in guest houses 60% of the time and camped 40% of nights.
A stretch of trail in the lower Everest region
The amount of time this trail will take really depends on the type of hiker you are. For example, most GHT thru-hikers go with a trekking agency and have guides and porters. These groups are usually on a five-month schedule. On the opposite end of things, the fastest thru-hike was done in under a month by a runner on the Low Route.
Another factor that will determine your time frame is if you go back to the city to resupply. For example, if you’re hiking the trail in one push it will take significantly less time than if you make trips to Kathmandu or Pokhara.
My partner and I were in Nepal for four and a half months, and we were on the trail for three of those months. We treated our thru-hike as a travel experience and took our time. When we went to the city to resupply, we usually stayed for a week. While in regions with guest houses, we often stopped by three p.m.
There are two ways to handle doing resupplies in Nepal.
Option one is not to do resupplies. Aim to stay in guest houses the majority of the time then you won’t have to worry about carrying very much food. There are regularly small village shops where you can buy supplies. However, the shops don’t stock much food beyond Ramen noodles and packaged cookies.
At least one trip to the city will probably be necessary. Kathmandu and Pokhara (a smaller city west of Kathmandu) are the only places where you can get a new pair of trail runners or replace broken gear.
Option two is to bring backpacking food from home, store it at your guest house in the city, and make a few trips back to resupply. My hiking partner and I got off trail four different times to do a resupply run. Each trip involved a day-long bus ride, five or six rest days, and another day-long bus ride back to the trail.
We also organized permits during these trips back and therefore didn’t have to project permit dates for our entire thru-hike.
The author’s hiking partner doing some bouldering along the Makalu Base Camp trek
Again, this depends on the hiker and the route. Generally speaking, the High Route is going to be more expensive than the Low Route. There are regions where guides are mandatory, there are more permits to acquire and pay for, and guest house prices are higher because it’s harder to get supplies there. The Low Route does not see much tourism and has better road access. Therefore prices are not inflated.
The average cost for dinner, breakfast, and a room on the High Route is about $20, whereas it’s about $10 on the Low Route.
My trip budget averaged $1000 a month. This covered all of my expenses while on trail, bus tickets to and from the trail, a few pricey gear replacements, permit fees, our guide in Manaslu, and splurging on my every whim during rest days in the city. This did not cover my international flights or the resupply food I brought from home.
The Great Himalaya Trail might be for you if you’re looking to hike amongst the world’s tallest mountains, have a unique travel experience, and do a logistically and physically challenging trail.