In the distance, I can finally see the ridge marking the border to India: the end of the Great Himalaya Trail. There is a 1,000m deep valley between us, but with over 60,000m altitude gain behind me, this final hill is actually a formality.
I take occasional shortcuts through the jungle and bamboo, but stick mainly to a road, covering 40km.
Just as it is getting dark I reach the border post in Pashupatinagar.
I have crossed the width of Nepal, west to east, and have completed the Great Himalaya Trail in a new record time of 28 days, 13 hours and 56 minutes for the 1,406km route. This beats the previous record of 49 days, 6 hours, and 8 minutes set by Sean Burch in 2010.
It marks the end of eight months of intense planning, training, and preparations. I blame the idea to attempt it on a book by Robin Boustead, The Great Himalaya Trail – A Pictorial Guide which dodges the real truth that this journey was actually an overreaction to a breakup.
Robin, Nawang, the route
Robin Boustead gave me assistance and useful advice from while planning. He then hooked me up with the Thamel based trekking company Adventure Mountain Club.
Nawang was my dedicated guide, assisting me with resupply points along the way and with issuing permits. I also received plenty of useful advice from both Nawang and the trekking company. Without them, this trip would not have been possible.
I navigated the whole route, and used no porters, preferring to carry the entire load myself. To keep weight down, I stayed in local accommodation for most nights, buying food along the way.
I followed a route similar to Burch [previous record holder] but in reverse, starting on the Tibetan border in Hilsa and finishing in Pashupatinagar. This route follows some of the high trail, some of the cultural trail, and in the far east, breaks further south to reach the border itself.
My strategy was simple: have fun and ensure that I finish.
To a hiker, it is obvious that you should spend time exploring and learning the new culture. To a trail runner (in what is essentially a race) it is less obvious. I realised though that to keep going for a month, I would have to do exactly that. Spontaneous decisions were common.
I listened to my body and took an occasional easy day where I would only hike for about six hours. It is tempting to ask how much faster I would have been with these breaks, but in truth I believe they were critical. The body and mind sometimes just need a rest.
On most days I tried to aim for that delicate balance where I would finish early enough to get plenty of rest but not go so fast that I would break myself.
The people make it
I made sure to enjoy it, taking lots of photos and concentrating on the positives. And I had some great friends back home who helped tremendously through WhatsApp chats.
One morning I was invited into a stranger’s house for tea and accepted. It turned into a 150 minute long breakfast stop. This had me wondering why I had bothered to get up at 4am to lose all the time so early into the day, but that chat will never be forgotten.
I learned about the host’s tea estate, that his family has been living in the house for generations, and I met his daughters and grandson, all living happily under one roof. And of course they had the freshest tea I have ever tasted.
To find out what else Andrew experienced at that 150 minute breakfast, as well as his highs and lows while running, read the full article in TRAIL issue 22, page 72.