Great Himalaya Trail – High Route

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Great Himalaya Trail – High Route
Nepal, India, Tibet

Without a doubt, Nepal’s Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) presents the opportunity of a lifetime.

One of the longest and highest footpaths on earth, and likely the most dramatic, it traverses the entirety of Nepal from east to west with views of the worlds highest mountain peaks before continuing on over the border.

The Great Himalaya Trail has two recommended routes, the High Route and the Low Route. Locals often refer to them as the mountain route and cultural route.

Despite not actually ascending any one mountain, it is said that completing the full trail over the course of 150 days is more challenging and rewarding than any individual peak.

The main appeal of the High Route is, of course, the incredible scenery with snow-capped mountains regularly dominating the horizon. The trade off is passes that are upwards of 5,500 metres. Some sections are barren and remote, and you may not cross paths with anyone for hours on end.

The High Route also takes you through some awesome sections of trail, like Makalu Base Camp, the Everest region, the Annapurna Circuit and Dolpa.

Nepal’s High Route starts north of the Kanchenjunga Base Camp and ends in Hilsa at Nepal’s Tibetan border in the Western district of Humla, going via some of the most remote villages on earth where life remains as it was centuries back.

Proper trekking gear and mountaineering equipment are needed and a local mountain guide follows travellers in areas of the highest altitudes.

For those who don’t have extensive mountaineering experience but would still like to see the best of the Himalayas, it is possible to also take the less challenging Great Himalaya Trail Low Route.

Highlights
  • One of the world’s toughest long-distance trails that remains high on hardcore mountaineers bucket lists.
  • See some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet, ranging from forests and local villages to snow, ice and glaciers.
  • Completing the entire trail takes you through various cultures as you cross borders.
Walk Map
About the route
  • Travel

Your starting point will decide what area you need to travel to, however those opting to walk the full trail will start on Nepal’s eastern border with India.

Trekkers will almost always fly into Kathmandu and then from there, either drive or fly to the subsection they have chosen. Flight and drive times will vary but there are daily domestic and international flights to Kathmandu from around the world.

  • Length

The length of the entire Great Himalaya Trail is estimated to be 1,700 kilometres with the complete trail taking on average 150 days to complete.

Each section of the trail is a different length, and for those who don’t wish to take on the full trail it is possible to do subsections.

  • Grade and difficulty of the walk

The entire trail is incredibly demanding and many hikers (even experienced ones) will opt to do one or two sections at a time.

Some sections are focussed on trekking whilst others are far more technical – so bear this in mind when designing their itinerary.

The trail is one of the (if not THE) highest footpaths in the world and the sustained altitude is a huge factor in the difficulty, which may be an issue for some. Don’t attempt this trail if you haven’t done other high-altitude trails and/or climbs.

  • Experience

It is recommended that those attempting the trail have experience in trekking/hiking long distances and are comfortable with being at, and staying at, altitude and changing weather conditions.

Outside of summer months there will be snow and ice on virtually all parts of the route. Even if you’re not taking to the GHT in winter, you should have some mountaineering experience.

Should travelers choose to take on the Himalayan Trail self-guided, it should not be their first expedition in doing so.

  • Permits

A permit is required to trek in Nepal and these can be obtained from the immigration office.

If you are trekking with a company or guides then they will most likely be able to assist you in getting the necessary permit.

The High Route requires various permits. Almost every region has it’s own national park or conservation area permit and they typically cost up to £25 per person.

Expect to spend around £200 on permits for the High Route. For most of these regions you can buy the permit at the park entrance.

  • Guided or self guided

There are a few sections of the High Route where guides are mandatory.

These sections are Kanchenjunga, Manaslu, and Upper Dolpa. Guides are also required for the three technical passes that connect the Makalu and Everest regions.

A Sherpa guide

In some areas there are sporadic checks to ensure these rules are being adhered to.

The technical passes are dangerous and it would be a bad idea to go guide-less if you’re inexperienced.

Hikers have been known to hire a guide to meet them at the check posts, then part ways once they have entered the restricted areas.

These sections are far from Kathmandu and you must pay for the guide’s transportation and a few days of services to get through the check posts.

This practice has seen trekking agencies get black listed and lose their license over the years as it does not promote sustainable and responsible tourism.

Whichever section you’re opting for, we recommend getting the guidebook for the Great Himalaya Trail by Robin Boustead to aid with planning and preparation.

best time to walk

The peak trekking season in Nepal is October and November as temperatures are mild and weather is fairly stable. However, due to the length of the Great Himalaya Trail it will have to be walked over many months.

We would recommend starting in September and ending in late November. These months guarantee you three things – some good and some bad: warm weather with clear skies, shorter days, and a large number of hikers.

March and April are the shoulder season with long days and nature in bloom, but it can get hazy in lowlands, impacting on views over the valleys.

Because much of this route goes through jungles, the heat and humidity can be unbearable at times. Even in late-March, the weather can be hot on the Low Route.

The Low Route can be hiked through most of the year, but should be avoided in summer for this reason.

May, June, July and August are the monsoon season in Nepal so trekkers are advised to stay away during this period.

The High Route and Low Route are more like guidelines than official routes. There are hundreds of paths throughout the Himalaya.

As the maps state, “Every trail is the trail.”

Itineraries will vary depending on what section you choose to travel and the trail duration can differ from vastly from group to group – depending on size and ability.

The ten key sections of the trail are as follows and each can be completed as a single trek or rolled into the full route.

Stage 1:
Kanchenjunga

Stage 2:
Makalu Barun

Stage 3:
Rolwaling and Everest

Stage 4:
Langtang and Helambu

Stage 5:
Manaslu and Ganesh

Stage 6:
Annapurna and Mustang

Mustang District overlooking Everest

Stage 7:
Dolpa

Stage 8:
Rara and Jumla

Stage 9:
Humla

Stage 10:
The Far West

Due to the trail being so lengthy there is no one single itinerary to fit everyone and individuals will need to personalise their expedition to suit them.

It is possible to do a combination of the two routes as they pass through the same 10 stages.

For example, people may choose to head along the Low Route during spring and the High Route during summer to keep temperatures at a manageable level.

Switching between the routes will also allow you to avoid sections where guides are mandatory or if you hear reports of snow in certain regions where routes might be blocked or slow-moving.

Accommodation

There are a large number of teahouses situated along the trail and this is what most travelers choose as their accommodation.

They consist of a small basic lodging and provide the appropriate amenities, however, they have the possibility to be crowded and may not be the most hygienic option in peak season.

The most flexible form of accommodation is camping and provides unrestricted access to trails and the ability to stay in the more remote scenic areas.

However, campers will need to be completely self-sufficient. It is advised that if this is your first major trekking experience you opt to make use of the teahouses as camping can prove difficult at times.

Expect to pay about £15 to stay at a guest house on the High Route. This includes breakfast and dinner.

If there is a road close by, the price per night will be slightly lower. Porters, yaks and mules must carry supplies in, hence the slightly surprising costs.

What to do

There is no doubt that during the hike you will get your fill of unforgettable experiences. However, there is even more up for offer if you want to tag a few extra days in Nepal onto the beginning of your trip.

Chitwan National Park is said to be a must see location and is home to over 500 species of bird as well as crocodiles, bears and tigers.

Should you want to swap out walking for something a bit more fast paced, then mountain biking in Kathmandu Valley may be something for you, with one of the most challenging mountain biking paths being found in Shivapuri National Park.

Sightseeing in the capital is also something to consider. Hiring a guide and spending a few days strolling through Kathmandu can be highly rewarding, each turn revealing a new temple or shrine with the whole city resembling a sort of living museum.

A guide will know the best spots and offer local knowledge, should you want to know more about the history of the country before setting off on your journey on the Great Himalaya Trail.

Kathmandu’s Thamel tourist district can be busy and an assault on the senses but the streets are lively and lined with shops full of brightly coloured clothing, jewellery, paper lanterns, thangka paintings, carvings, bronze statues, books and more.

Try the local cuisine or give it a go with a Nepalese cooking class.

Further along the route, Pokhara also serves as a base for keen trekkers from all over the world who want to start or end their incredible adventure around Annapurnas.

Pokhara is a charming city where you could easily while away the days at the end of your trek on Annapurna Circuit.

Located on the banks of Lake Phewa, the city is surrounded by impressive mountains and peaks, and offers markets, pagodas, cafés and restaurants offering delicious Nepalese food.

Take an evening to walk around the lake and watch the sunset, or head to the World Peace Pagoda, which offers incredible views of the Annapurna range and other nearby mountains.

If you’re looking to end your trip with a final dose of adventure, the adventure capital of Nepal lives up to its name. Pokhara offers paragliding, bungee jumping and even zip-lining.

Paragliding is by far the most popular of these options and allows you to fly over the lake with spectacular views of the Himalayas.

Published: February 18, 2020 Modified: February 18, 2020

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At a glance
Skills RequiredClimbing, Hiking, Mountaineering, Walking
Difficulty 4/5 - 5/5
Starts at Kangchenjunga
Finishes at Humla, Nepal
Length of route 1700 Km
Average time to complete 150 - Days
Possible to complete sub-sectionsYes
Highest point 6146 metres
Permit requiredYes
Equipment neededPoles if preferred, Professional mountaineering gear, Specialist climbing gear, Trekking gear, walking boots
Countries visited Nepal, India, Tibet

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