"The Craziest Things We Saw on the Great Himalaya Trail"
By Justin “Trauma” Lichter
Pepper and I set out into the unknown in the spring of 2011. The guidebook and maps were somewhere in the production process but had yet to hit the shelves. We researched everything we could online and in print, and struck out to Kathmandu to challenge ourselves and see if the ultralight mantra we’d been following for years would also translate into the realm of mountaineers, Sherpas, 4-season expedition tents, and just flat out huge mountains.
Upon arriving, we were immediately aware of the cultural differences and significance the language barrier would play. We decided to hire a guide for the first ten days or so to help get accustomed to the differences and the expectations of locals and tea houses. Knowing that we are not the normal client, we went through a rigorous interview process to make sure our guide was familiar with the terrain we’d be heading and would be fit and willing to hike 10+ hours per day. After a couple of days, we selected the guide, Tenzing, we thought was eager and right for the job.
Ascending Lumba Samba La (5159 meters) before the deep snow and waist deep potholing in the basin above.
The next day we traveled to the start of the Kanchenjunga base camp trek, the terminus of the GHT. We were carrying very heavy loads with ten days of food and technical gear and were moving slowly. We needed to break into form and get used to the elevation. Day 2 we began to wait for him a little bit. By Day 3 we were waiting nearly the lengths of our breaks for him to show up. By Day 4, it became glaringly obvious that his pack was not reducing in size as ours was beginning to lighten significantly from the food we were eating. We learned that his pack was heavy with stuff, and not food. He was not carrying any food and was stopping in local’s houses for them to cook him meals.
The next day we were to go over a major pass above 5100 meters. The conditions had been less than ideal, with snow coming each day and piling up in the high terrain. He insisted that he needed a local guide to help him since he admitted he didn’t know the way. We said we weren’t paying for it since we could do the navigation, even though the maps weren’t good.
We set off in the morning with a twenty-something year old that he had hired to help him. It had snowed another 6-12 inches overnight. They were slow and dawdling. Pepper and I were breaking trail and trying to keep them moving. We knew that the weather and clouds would come in by 10 AM turning the navigation and landscape into a complete white out. We climbed and circled into a high bowl overlooking nearby glaciers, and the snow just got deeper. We were post-holing waist and shoulder deep, moving less than a half mile an hour. They stayed hundreds of yard behind us so they wouldn’t have to navigate or break trail. We finally reached the pass at 10 AM as the clouds were building.
Whiteout with zero visibility shortly after arriving at the first saddle, made for some very difficult navigation.
Pepper and I scarfed down a snack and threw on some layers. By the time they arrived at the pass, we were getting chilled and needed to get moving. The local guide said in Nepali that he’d had enough and was heading back. Tenzing was scared and also wanted to head back. The conditions had turned into a complete white out. We denied and offered to take weight from his pack. After he had divvied up about 20 pounds worth of gear to Pepper and me, we pressed on, leading the way.
The double pass tricked us with the poor maps and zero visibility, and we wandered around wallowing in deep snow for a while, before figuring out the correct second pass to go over. We had hoped to reach a small village down the next valley for the night. As the day progressed, we realized we weren’t going to make it there with all of the post-holing. Tenzing was extremely anxious and wanted to get to the village. As the sun set, we were about 3 miles short of the village. Pepper and I were exhausted from breaking trail and decided to call it a day. We set up our shelter, while Tenzing set up the tent we supplied for him, and we cooked dinner.
Packing some of the guides gear into our already heavy packs laden with technical equipment.
Around 3 AM, we heard screaming from his tent. I couldn’t make out what he was saying in my dazed slumber, and I heard Pepper say something to him which made him stop screaming. I rolled over and went back to sleep. Every now and again I’d roll over and see his headlamp still illuminating his tent the rest of the night.
Pepper and I woke up a bit before dawn and ate our breakfast in our sleeping bags before starting to pack up. As we picked up the shelter, we asked Tenzing what happened last night. He said that two yetis had come and attacked him. One had unzipped his tent door and was trying to strangle him as it sat on his stomach. The other was sitting outside the tent watching. He said they wouldn’t leave all night, and they are very mischievous, so they kept messing around with him. I asked what they looked like, and he responded by saying they are black and about 2-3 feet tall, and they stand and walk on two legs. Pepper and I looked at each other amazed. That’s not how we ever think of yetis!
As we approached the town that we had set our sights on the day before, Tenzing was telling everyone the story of the yetis. I could not believe that he was so open about the story since I’d be pretty embarrassed telling a story about a fictional character attacking me, but then again if he did get attacked by yetis, I’m jealous that I didn’t get to see them.
While Tenzing was telling the story to another local, Pepper and I discussed and concluded that he was probably scared of “wild camping” and for his safety we needed to get him out of the backcountry. The next day we hiked to the end of the road so we could ship him home and continue on our way. We’d had enough of paying for a guide that we were the guide and sherpa for! And on our way we went.