What is the Great Himalaya Trail? Lizzy Hawker provided some thoughts & history:
The Great Himalaya Trail was originally proposed to be the highest feasible route along the length of the various himals that combine to form the full range of the Himalaya dividing India and China (crossing Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan).
The Nepal-Tibet border roughly follows the line of the highest part of the Himalayan mountain range. Early efforts (pre 2002) to make east-west crossings of the Himalaya / Nepal were restricted from the Nepal-Tibet border regions requiring frequent detours away from the himals (the Himalaya range) and into the pahir (mid-hills) which lie to the south of the Great Himalaya Range itself. In 2002 Nepal demilitarised its border regions with Tibet and its himals were finally opened to permit based trekking. The concept of a route linking the remote mountain regions of Nepal could now be realised. Jamie McGuinness plotted a route and wrote the initial report for the Nepal Government. From this came the development of the Great Himalaya Trail as surveyed and described by Robin Boustead and his team. The GHT as currently understood was thus described only from 2009. The Nepal section crossed all the himal of Nepal from Kanchenjunga in the east to Hilsa on the border with Tibet in the west - the idea being to take the highest possible route along the Great Himalaya Range. This is the pink line on the GHT Route Planner map - the High Route. To this Robin added a lower Cultural Trail across the mid-hills of Nepal, this is/was the (now discontinued) green line on the map. The most recent edition of the map (see bottom of the page) doesn’t include the Cultural Trail given the amount of road / jeep track that has developed over the last decade. For reference here are links to an older edition of the GHT Route Planner map (East and West ) which does include the second green line, the Cultural Trail.
To date close to 100 people have completed a crossing of Nepal or made a significant effort on the Great Himalaya Trail (one variation or another). See here a database maintained by Seth Wolpin. In 2017 alone there were at least 19 complete crossings of Nepal (on foot and continuous without a diversion to collect permits etc). The majority of these were between Kanchenjunga Base Camp and Hilsa on a variation of the High Route of the Great Himalaya Trail.
Here is more information from http://www.greathimalayatrail.com/
"The Great Himalaya Trail is more than a line on a map: it is a way to enjoy the beauty of the Himalaya while helping the people who live there. You can trek, run or bike the trail, take the high route and challenge yourself with some mountaineering, or try the lower route and travel from village to village. Spend 5 days or 5 months on your GHT: whatever takes your fancy. This website is designed to help you design your own Great Himalaya Trail experience and learn more about the Himalaya – the GHT is there to be experienced whichever way best suits you!"
TrailRunningNepal added some perspective:
There are so many route options, and people have different ideas about what constitutes a trail crossing the "Great Himalaya" range, at least in the bounds of Nepal.
Any thoughts from other posters?
The Great Himalaya Trail "high route" has tended to finish are the north basecamp of Kanchenjunga - as far to the top west corner as you can go. South basecamp would not be to dissimilar as you're staring at an 8000m peak there too i.e. the Great Himalaya Range.
There is a whole bunch of discussion too about "network of trails", "high route / lower route", "runnable" (without crampons or axe). All have valid arguments.
And thus is you are going to make a FKT attempt of the GHT (in Nepal) then the selected route should have a name and be published, just to be clear what the person is undertaking, and which specifically difficulties they decided to include and exclude from the menu of choices available, and nice if the reasons are stated too, as that is helpful for others.
If you are going to hit the highest parts of Dolpo, where you won't see any habitation for 3 to 5 days (and many villages are too poor to even raise a simple meal for you), then that is a very different undertaking (navigation, preparation, mental strength, load carried) to the (lovely) route slightly south.
Want to cross the Tashi Lapsta? Beware of rockfall, crevasses and difficult, maze-like navigation, be prepared to carry crampons, and take 24 hours to get to the next shelter. Or head south of there on the old Everest base Camp trail - longer, but populated, low altitude etc etc.
And finally, if you do a FKT, don't call it a world record. That would be silly.
In addition to any FKTs listed here, Lizzy Hawker took a logical mix of the high route and cultural route - staying as high (north) as possible while avoiding glaciated passes that require technical gear - in approx 35 days in 2017, after her 42 day effort in 2016. As she discusses on a page laying out her route, Hawker is specifically not claiming an FKT. She posted something of a photo journal of her 2016 effort here, and a write up here of the 2017 trip.
Given that the GHT isn't an actual set route (at least not yet), we echo the comments of TrailRunningNepal above - you need to be clear about what you actually did if you want your "FKT" to be recognized! Given the variability within options for the High Route or Cultural Trail it's really important to state start, finish points and to name the 5000m passes crossed. For now we are providing for High and Cultural Route variations, though it seems like interest in the Cultural Route is waning due to development (roads).
A brief mention has been made in a few places that I have revoked my claim to an FKT on the GHT. This is a formal declaration of such, as well as the reasons behind this. I hope that future attempts at a crossing of Nepal will take some of these lessons to heart.
The heart of the matter is that the GHT (at the time of my crossing at least) consisted of both a high and a low route, and in practise some ground in-between. The high route is in remote mountain areas, where you have to carry several days of supplies and camping equipment to pass through the region. There are 5 technical passes that need mountaineering equipment such as ropes to pass safely. The low route passes as a lower altitude, in theory through rice paddies and jungle, but in modern Nepal this section has become a network of dirt or tar roads.
In 2010, Sean Burch made a crossing of Nepal and claimed a World record for his attempt. I was lucky enough to see his write-up of the trip. Giving benefit of doubt in his favour, he did roughly: 280km or so for the stretch through the Manaslu and Annapurna Circuits through to Charkka Bhot and a little beyond and 160km of High Route between Gamgadhi and Hilsa. He took in a few sections of Low Route as well – 100km between Jiri and the Manaslu circuit and 150km from Juphal to Gamgadhi. So, in his estimated 1700km he did about 440km of high route and 250km of low route. The remaining ground was used up crossing space between the routes, or south of it completely (in the eastern side of Nepal)
In 2016, I made an attempt of a similar line to him. I “improved” on it by including 3 extra 5000m passes (Bagala La, Numala La and Chan La). I also included additional low route between Jiri and (a bit before) Tumlingtar. I thus did over 500km of high route and about 350km of low route, in my 1400km. It seemed fair at the time to claim a record - I not only went faster but did it in better “style” (getting in more of the actual trail), and going solo instead of expedition style with a team of porters.
I had wanted to do more high ground. In light of my inexperience of the area, the definite dangers of trying to cross glaciated terrain on the 5 technical passes, a possible danger in trying to cross flooded rivers with no bridges so soon after the monsoon, and a lack of imagination on my part whilst looking at the map, I missed out on large parts of the high route. At that time that I started out, I was not aware of anybody having completed a completely solo GHT.
While I was out there, I became aware of Lizzy Hawkers attempt. She took a much higher line to me and was also solo. I mentioned her briefly in my detailed writeup, but not in the short summary. In fairness to her, I now realise this was a mistake. I apologise as she took the better line.
[For the sake of completeness, Ryan and Ryno skipped about 40km of high route and a 4000m pass between Simikot and Gamgadhi and also took the same line as Burch through the Dolpo region. They thus did about 400km of high route in a total distance of 1500km.]
I then took a break from running, carried on with my life and largely forgot about the GHT. I knew that Ryan and Ryno wanted to attempt it and meet with each of them over a few months to discuss. I first became aware of concerns being raised about the validity of Ryan and Ryno’s claim to beat the FKT on the GHT in March 2018, once they had already started out.
The issues raised had a direct implication to my claims. I understand them fully and thus quietly withdrew my claims and started the process of ensuring that the websites proclaiming my record were reworded. I intentionally withheld a formal announcement as it would have detracted from the attempt currently underway. Now that the attempt is over, it is correct for me to set the record straight.
This is a dramatic change of heart, so let me explain what has changed in the interim.
In 2017, Lizzy Hawker returned for a second solo crossing of Nepal. She took what is likely to be the highest route thus far that excludes the technical passes. It is thus the highest route that can be done solo, and without mountaineering equipment such as ropes, harness and helmets. Thus, the highest line that can be done fast by a trail runner.
Further, also in 2017, a race was held during which 11 competitors completed the GHT taking various high lines in a 45 day stage race. They all started at Kangchenjunga base camp and included significant portions of the high route, including some of the technical passes.
It is thus very apparent that it is possible to do significantly more high ground that I did, at speed either solo or as part of a small team with minimal support.
Interestingly, in late 2017, a second edition of the GHT maps was released. A significant point to make is that the low route has now been removed from the maps. This is mostly because the low route as a concept no longer exists. The trail has been replaced by a set of roads. This is not a reason to fly halfway around the world. You go to Nepal to be in the mountains.
Now, looking at the numbers again: Only a third of my trip [500km out of 1400km] was on what is now recognised as the GHT. The numbers speak for themselves. I could not start out today, follow the same route and then claim to have completed the GHT.
I WILL THUS WITHDRAW MY CLAIM TO HAVING COMPLETED A GHT.
Now, this is not a universal belief and I understand that everybody is free to make their own choice. But, to me an FKT can only be about SOMETHING. To me, a random set of dots on a map is not a basis for an FKT. I strongly believe an FKT needs a definite line to be followed or a specific goal. So, now that I have no longer run the GHT, and have “merely” crossed Nepal, I am going to withdraw my claim to an FKT as well. After all, the real prize is the high route. And as such, Lizzy Hawker with her journey in 2017 is the true queen.
With this in mind, my adjusted claim this thus as follows: I completed a crossing of Nepal that included 7 5000m passes and parts of the high route. I spent a lot of time in the lower regions, more of which was on road than I would have liked. I had fun every day, and it shows in the photos. I have may very pleasant memories of the adventure. As such, I only gained and will lose nothing by denouncing the claim.