Everything starts somewhere. Lhonak (4785m), the yak grazing grounds below Kanchenjunga Base Camp. My GHT journey started here, up in the damp and heavy clouds, although in fact it was simply a continuation of what began five years earlier in 2011. Monsoon stayed late. My feet stayed sodden. I reached the Khumbu before I dried out and the clouds lifted. I reached Langtang before the mountains appeared.
Basic necessities. Steaming just cooked millet ready for tongba. I slept under a roof when I could. Eating and sleeping enough became necessary in order to keep going day after day. I didn't always get enough of either. I had some cold, roofless nights. But more important than food and shelter was sitting by the fire sharing broken conversation. It was these connections with people I met that made the journey real.
Communication. This satellite tracker was my bridge between the known and the unknown - transmitting my location, and permitting an exchange of messages that conveyed the support of those I needed it from. I was alone for extended periods of time, but unlike 5 years earlier in 2011, I was never totally isolated. The tracker sat in my rucksack pocket against my chest. I missed the familiar sound of an incoming message when I returned to Kathmandu.
One caveat - the Great Himalaya Trail is not a recreational trail. It is a vague concept that in reality is a network of local paths. I was here because I wanted to be. The locals are on the trails because they need to use them. Think about it. It is humbling.
Jungle. In 2011 I was lost in this jungle forest - somewhere around the corner and a long way to the right of this photo. I realise now I'd never been on the main trail, just a series of small woodcutting and animal trails. At one point falling 6 to 8 metres at a time in old growth forest where suddenly there was nothing beneath my feet, I lost my permits, phone, maps, tracker, money, camera, diary. I was three nights without any means of communication and totally reliant on my own resources to resolve the situation. Had I been unable to move no-one would ever have found me.
It is perhaps understandable that this time I was apprehensive of this section, scared of repeating history. Post-monsoon the trail was again overgrown, but at least I was always on the main trail. I tied the delorme (satellite tracker) around my neck just in case. My eyes were still sore after the snow blindness. I was completely alone, just leeches for company. I wore my rain pants but they attacked my snow cuts and bruises. Pulling leeches off open wounds is not great. It is hard to hate an entire species but I came close that day.
High above the west side of the Arun, in the Makalu Barun. This was fairly remote hill country. This lovely 22 year old woman took me in for the night, fed me, gave me raksi (moonshine) and a mat on her floor. She swung her baby on her back as she went about her work.
This was near to my lowest point of 452m on the banks of the Arun. The paddy fields were a vibrant green in contrast to later landscapes. My feet were still permanently wet, water was taking the easy option and streams were flowing along the trails. Kind people fed me bananas and tea and daal. I was already always hungry.
Along the entire journey a lot of people gave to me from the little that they had. I appreciated and was humbled by the hospitality, the kindness and the willingness to welcome a stranger.
Goats need to eat too. I descended into Jalbire in the middle of the day, dripping with sweat, starving and hoping for chana and alu. Still Dashain and bandh too all I could get was noodle soup in a small teashop. I drank two litres of water while I was waiting and looked at the men sitting with their beer wishing I too could take respite from the day's heat. But I had hours to go before I could call it a day. No-one was telling me to go on, but I did. For days and days I pushed onwards as though it mattered. Curious.
Looking back after crossing the 5140m Kangja La. Given the conditions this was easily the toughest pass of the journey. l had less than one hour after taking this photo to find my way off the snow covered moraine. It was hard to see any cairns.
I had met some young boys in Tarkegaon the night before. They were porter guides for a small group. They were delighted when they realised that I had passed through their village of Chyamtang some days earlier. They were both horrified and admiring when they realised my intention to cross the pass alone. They told me, "but at 40 you should be sitting by the fireside with your feet up". I think they were secretly happy that I dashed their expectations.
The village of Langtang once stood here. It was destroyed by a huge avalanche landslide triggered by the 25th April 2015 earthquake. Friends died here.
It was a beautiful morning when I descended into the Langtang valley. It made reflection on our insignificance in the face of the power of nature all the more acute.
A powerful sense of place. Looking back towards Mustang on the ascent to the 5550m Jungben La. This was already one month into my journey.
Space. There was a lot of space. I thought I'd have a lot of time to think too. But I was actually quite busy.
Lying on my back for twenty minutes before I reached the village of Saldang in Dolpo. A rare pause. It felt wonderful. It wasn’t until this moment that I realised how little I stopped. Most days I was moving from first light until a couple of hours after darkness fell. This became my normal.
In Dolpo I was told, "but women travel by horse". In this wide open landscape a family travels to the next village on horseback. Distances are big. The climate is harsh. The environment is unforgiving. Crossing a 5000m pass with a baby is normal.
Hunger. This was on the far side of the 5414m Yala La. As soon as I found running water under the ice covered rocks I stopped and made 1.5 packets of noodle soup. I was hungry. The previous afternoon I hadn't been able to find the trail to the pass. In fact there was no trail to find. Running out of time before darkness I had tried to find shelter from the relentless wind in a dip on some rocky moraine at about 4800m. Already in my sleeping bag at 17:30 dinner had been one tsampa biscuit. Breakfast the same. I got cold enough that I reached the pass itself, despite the effort that required, before I could remove my thick bought-from-an-old-local-guy-in-Kagbeni-just-in-case duvet jacket.
It was about here that I realised the enormity of this journey. Late in the afternoon, high above the river valley I had just descended, between two wild bivys separated by a 5000m pass. The nearest person would normally be a three day journey in either direction. The sense of distance and solitude was almost overwhelming.
I was totally alone. I saw no-one from day break on the first day until night fall on the third. The villages of Pho and Mala were separated by three 5000m passes, two river descents, two major river crossings and a lot of up and down. The trail was sometimes good, sometimes sketchy and sometimes non existent. Most people traveling this way would take 7 to 8 days with horses to carry supplies.
How much is enough? This rucksack was my world for 42 days, together with what I found along the way. Here it lies on a trail on the banks of the mighty Karnali in Humla.
The final descent to the Tibetan border from the 4560m Nara La. The Tibetan plateau lies ahead. The sky is a deep blue. It is windy. I'd like to think the snow covered peak in the far distance is Kailash.