I spent most of the winter of 2014/15 planning on doing a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. I upgraded to a lightweight down sleeping bag, I made a countdown to my start date calendar, and I downloaded the Halfmile app. I was looking forward to the hike, sure, but I wasn’t experiencing the same anticipation I had when planning my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I wasn’t obsessively reading blogs and books, and I didn’t stay up late at night fantasizing about the long months on trail. My heart wasn’t in it.
Instead I found myself Googling various international destinations. I love exploring the U.S., but I also wanted to get out of my own country for a while. I need to spend a few months a year hiking to stay happy though. I had always wanted to trek in Nepal, but it seemed like a far off goal. Even amongst my hardcore, long-distance hiker friends I did not know anyone who had been to the Himalayas.
I started researching Nepal in the maybe-someday-I’ll-make-it-there manner that I use for my late-night travel blog readings. The more I looked into it though, the more it seemed like a viable travel option. A few months in Nepal would be about the same cost as a PCT thru-hike. Peak season is autumn, so I would have a few extra months to work and save. I silently pondered my decision for several weeks before ripping down my calendar and announcing to my loved ones that I was going to trek amongst the worlds largest mountains.
Going to the Himalayas instead of the PCT was the right decision for me at the time. It was scarier and crazier for sure, but it also brought me great happiness. And who knows, I may still do the PCT someday.
Without further ado, here are 10 Reasons to Hike in Nepal:
- Culture. Getting out of your comfort zone and being a long-distance hiker in the U.S. means walking for 8-10 hours a day, pooping in cat-holes, and sleeping in close proximity to dudes called “Scooby” or “Tequila Jon”. Getting out of your comfort zone in Nepal means eating dal bhat (a popular meal) everyday, learning and respecting local customs, and negotiating through the chaos of a country that is lacking in regulations. I love the beauty of hiking in America, but it’s not really a cultural experience (no, rural Georgia does not count as a cultural experience). Nepal combined my love of hiking with my desire to see a new part of the world.
- Shorter hiking days. American hikers tend to hike all day everyday and fall into their sleeping bags exhausted from crushing three mountains in a day. Nepal trekking culture is much more laid back. You might leave your guest house between 8-10 am, hike for an hour before stopping for tea, hike a bit more before taking an hour long lunch break, then maybe put in another 2-3 hours before stopping for the night. You rarely trek for more than 4-6 hours a day. This is for two reasons: 1) You can’t increase in too much elevation per day because of the risk of altitude sickness and 2) Most people in Nepal are travelers on vacation and not hardcore hikers. They want to enjoy their trip, not push themselves ridiculously hard everyday. I had plenty of time to read books and socialize.
- High altitude. Hiking at a high elevation in extra challenging. It’s physically more difficult, but as I mentioned above it’s a good excuse to hike shorter days. There is something therapeutic to me about having to make a point to take care of myself in order to well acclimate, such as drinking enough fluids and trying to eat enough when my body is trying to say it isn’t hungry. Getting up to 18,000 feet was new to me as well. For the last hour or so of increasing in elevation, I could only take several steps at a time before stopping to catch my breath. Reaching the top of the pass felt more rewarding.
- Friendly locals. This could also go along with my point about experiencing a new culture, but I think the friendly locals made my trip special. People in Nepal were always smiling and seemed genuinely happy. Everyone was very helpful too. When I first arrived in Kathmandu, I got lost wandering around the city. I asked a girl for directions only to find out I was far from where I wanted to be. She went out of her way to flag down a taxi for me and tell the driver where I was headed. I experienced kindness on that level regularly. Pro tip: learn how to play the Nepalese card game Dumbal and that’s a sure way to make friends with locals.
- The tea house experience. The major trails in Nepal operate on a tea house system. I passed through multiple villages a day that all had tea houses where trekkers could stop for tea, lunch, or spend the night. Usually I could stay for free as long as I ate dinner and breakfast at the guest house. When I got to higher elevations sometimes I couldn’t get free rooms, but it was still usually less than $3. Rooms at tea houses are basic, it’s typically a small room with two twin beds and a toilet down the hall. The rooms are not heated, but there’s always a wood-burning stove in the dining room. Tea houses are the place to make friends with fellow trekkers and guides.
- Customizable treks. Before you start your trek, buy a map in Kathmandu for $4-6. There are always side trails with other things to see. When I did the 3 Passes, some trekkers decided not to finish and followed easier, shorter trails back to Lukla. There are trails all over Nepal, so if you have more than a month you can trek in multiple regions. It wasn’t just one continuous trail. You have options.
- International friends. I absolutely loved meeting people from all over the world and hearing about the countries they were from and the wonderful places they had been. It’s inspiring to talk to people who have traveled so far, and to learn about more places where I can go. I also loved making friends with locals and getting a more accurate insight into Nepal. Just like with the American trail experience, the people you meet are what makes your hike great.
- Guides and porters. I didn’t personally hire a guide or porter, but the people who did were happy campers. It’s nice getting expert guidance in the region you are hiking in or having someone else carry your pack. I did make friends with a few guides, and got some great advice from them. If you have money for it, it’s worth hiring a guide or porter.
- Low prices. Pretty much the only thing you will spend money on is food, room charges, and the occasional beer. Prices tend to vary from $15-25 a day.
- The most beautiful scenery and biggest mountains in the world. Obviously I have not been hiking everywhere in the world as I’m only 26, but I have spent years hiking all over the U.S. I can attest that Nepal is the most beautiful place I have ever hiked. The gorgeous scenery in my photos? Those are not just viewpoints. It’s what you see all day everyday. Upon my return to America, a hiker buddy of mine asked me, “Do the mountains actually seem bigger than what you see out West?” Yes, they do! They are some of the biggest mountains in the world and they look it.