Great Himalaya Trail, Nepal

Photograph by Alex Treadway, National Geographic
Photograph by Alex Treadway, National Geographic

Best For: Epic adventure seekers

Distance: The Nepal section covers over a thousand miles in the high Himalaya, broken down into ten relatively easier-to-manage sections. The trail can be completed in four to six months if all goes according to plan and the weather complies, and it’s been speed hiked in under 50 days.

Though the concept of the Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) is new, the footpaths are not. Truly the GHT is not a trail at all but a vision that connects the highest route across the Himalaya—through India, Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan—on existing trekking trails and ancient trade and pilgrimage paths. While it is still a concept in other countries, in Nepal the GHT has been turned into a reality: a thousand-mile adventure walk that takes in many of Nepal’s 8,000-meter peaks—including Everest—that was first completed by a team taking 162 days in 2009. The grand plan of the trail is to promote responsible tourism here in the midst of political instability in Nepal and ever-increasing masses of tourists looking to trek to and climb the world’s highest peaks.

Along the way, the trail takes in the trips of several lifetimes. There are the famed peaks, but they’re the backdrop—the true challenge is ascending and (worse on the knees) descending the high passes, including the imposing trio of Sherpani Pass (20,128 feet), West Col (20,154 feet), and Amphu Laptsa Pass (19,193 feet) between Everest and Makalu.

And beyond the mountains, there’s the chance to see wildlife such as the endangered snow leopard, herds of blue sheep, and yaks in the peaks, and takins and red pandas in the forest. There are guest huts, monasteries, and teahouses. There are Sherpa people who have lived here for centuries and Western mountaineers looking to make a name on alpine routes. The dream of the trail (which will stretch over nearly 3,000 miles from Pakistan to Bhutan when completed) is coming true. It is representative of a new globalism that puts people on the same long path even in one of the most extreme natural places on the planet.

When to Go: Weather is always iffy in the high Himalaya. April and October are best bet months. Trekkers need to work around the summer monsoon season.

Shortcut: Any one of the ten sections of the trail makes for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. The Annapurna and Mustang Trek, in the shadow of 8,000-meter giants Dhaulagiri (26,798 feet) and Annapurna (26,545 feet), is one of the most popular in Nepal—for good reason—and takes about three weeks.

Insider Tip: If the trail sounds too intimidating, but you still want to traverse Nepal and the Himalaya, try the Green Route, a parallel, lower version of the GHT that avoids the highest passes, which can require technical skills and be closed by weather. It’s possible to move back and forth between the lower and upper trails as a contingency plan.