The Himalaya is a range of mountains separating the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau. It is the highest mountain range in the world, including ten of the fourteen 8,000m peaks and over fifty mountains exceeding 7,200m. It lies along a 2,400km arc from Nanga Parbat in the west to Namcha Barwa in the east – spread across Nepal, India, Bhutan, Tibet and Pakistan.

People have been living in these mountains for thousands of years. Trade and migration have led to an intricate network of routes and trails. But for a long time these mountains and their communities were isolated from the rest of the world as Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet kept their borders shut. There is an important caveat to our modern explorations – there is no recreational, waymarked route across the Himalaya – instead we piece together a network of ancient local trails. We are there because we want to be, the local people are on the trails because they need to use them. Think about it. It is humbling.

It’s likely the first foreigners to penetrate into the Himalaya were Jesuit missionaries in the early seventeenth century. A succession of missionaries, botanists, geographers and traders then followed. Exploration increased from the 1850s, soon followed by expeditions to find and identify mountaineering routes on big mountains. The modern concept of trekking came later with Bill Tilman’s 1949 visit to Helambu, Langtang, Kali Gandaki and Everest regions.

Many explorations probably remain unknown but modern east-west traverses along the Himalaya have been recorded from the 1980s onwards. In 1980 Harish Kohli led an Indian Army team from Kanchenjunga to the Karakorum. This was followed by Peter Hillary in 1981 with Graeme Dingle and SP Chamoli. Hugh Swift and Arlene Blum completed a nine-month traverse from Bhutan to Ladakh in 1981-82. In 1983 the British brothers Richard and Adrian Crane ran from Kanchenjunga to Nanga Parbat in less than 100 days. In 1990 Sorrell Wilby and Chris Ciantar traversed from Kashmir to Arunchal Pradesh. The French runners Bruno Poirier and Paul-Eric Bonneau ran 2100km from Pashupatinagar to Mahakali in 1994. The list goes on …. However, all of these early expeditions were restricted from the border regions requiring frequent detours to the hills to the south of the Great Himalaya Range.

In 2002 Nepal de-militarised its border regions with Tibet and its himals (high mountain ranges) were finally opened to permit based trekking. The concept of a route through the remotest peaks of the Himalaya could now be realised. This gave birth to the Great Himalaya Trail as surveyed, plotted and described by Robin Boustead and his team.

The Great Himalaya Trail Development Programme was launched in 2011 by the Dutch development agency SNV, partnered with DFID, the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN), the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), and the local Village Development Committees in remote areas along the route. “Its aim: harnessing tourism to improve livelihoods, create employment and bring sustainable development opportunities to remote communities through the creation of an iconic and globally significant new tourism product for Nepal.” This resulted in a strong branding that defined the full-length “Great Himalaya Trail” based on an upper, more technical route, and a lower cultural route. From 2013 the programme entered a second phase with Samarth Nepal Market Development Project as its partner. The history of the Great Himalaya Trail is well documented and explained on the website of the Great Himalaya Trail (Nepal) Alliance.

Many of the recent crossings have been logged on a website managed by Seth Wolpin. And in 2017 the Great Himal Race coordinated by Bruno Porier used a mixture of “High” and “Cultural” routes between Kanchenjunga Base Camp and Hilsa. The number of projects related to the Great Himalaya Trail is increasing  – covering a wide variety of routes and styles.

However, there is no one trail upon which to claim a Fastest Known Time.

Read Lizzy’s thoughts on this here …