We are writing you and asking that you, and your sponsors, stop saying that you are attempting to set the FKT on the Great Himalayan Trail. This type of statement displays a lack of understanding about the history of Great Himalayan Trail and the many possible route variations.
Himalayan Adventure Labs maintains the most complete database of people who have crossed the Himalayas on foot, as well as the most comprehensive collection of GPS tracks. Our database details over 95 significant traverses across the Nepal Himalaya by athletes and adventurers. Many of us have attempted modified versions of the ‘high route’ as proposed by Robin Boustead, considered the architect of the trail. The intention behind this is to follow the highest route across the Himalayas as possible. As Robin outlined it, and Himalayan Map House published it, the route requires technical climbing to get across five high altitude passes; it is common for people to forego this climbing and take long detours around these passes but to still try to follow the rest of the route – thus following a ‘modified high route.’ Robin also outlined a much lower ‘cultural route’ that could be done for those who are more interested in the foothills. Few adventurers these days use the lower route because there is a lot of jeep track, and they would rather be on trails and travel through the high altitude environs that are the Himalaya. It is being dropped from future publications of the Great Himalaya Trail Map Series. What Sean Burch, Andrew Porter, and you are following reflects a modified low route. Your elevation profile map, compared to the high route, might be like comparing the Boston Marathon to Hardrock.
Only two people in our GHT database have made big deals about setting FKTs on ‘the Great Himalayan Trail.’ Both of these people did modified low routes. Sean Burch, who holds the record(?) for jumping rope on Everest, did a modified lower route and issued a number of press releases in 2010. He also allegedly fired his porters partway through so they could not claim the record with him. Last year, Andrew Porter visited Nepal for his first time and wanted to do a solo traverse with a lot of running; Robin Boustead advised him to do a modified low route. He did something like Sean’s route but ‘more roads in the east’ and then claimed an FKT on a number of websites.
There has been a marked increase over the last five years with many hard core endurance athletes and adventurers gravitating to the upper route where the true Himalaya rise out of the clouds. Justin Lichter and Shawn Forrey did a modified upper route in 57 days in 2011. Doc McKerr, in 2013, became the first person to do a solo, self-supported modified version of the upper route in 65 days. In 2014, Kathleen Egan became the first woman to do a modified upper route with all technical passes and without expeditionary support in 87 days. Bruno Poirier, who led one of the earliest speed efforts in 1994, organized the ‘Great Himalaya Race’ last year on a modified upper route last year. Eleven athletes completed the effort in under 50 days.
The fastest crossing of a modified high route was completed last year by Lizzy Hawker, five time winner of UTMB and someone with a great deal of experience in the Himalaya. She bested her time from 2016 and finished the route in 35 days. Her route crossed 12 passes over 5,000m; your lower route appears to cross 6 of these passes (Andrew reported crossing seven). And while Lizzy never stood on a soap box and self-proclaimed setting an FKT like Sean or Andrew, it only takes a few minutes of research to find she has the fastest time on the highest most runnable version of the Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal.
As Lizzy wrote in an open letter – directed at FKT attempts on the GHT – it is critical that when you say you are going to do something, that you be clear about what you are doing. And as Trail Running Nepal wrote on Peter Bakwin’s FKT proboard site – saying you are attempting to ‘set the World Record on the GHT is silly,’ reflecting the lack of clarity in the claim and the number of possible route variations that exist.
If you insist, you are attempting to set the FKT ‘on a modified low route of the GHT in Nepal.’ We understand this is not a clean marketing blurb, but if you do not want to mislead people this is how you and your sponsors should be headlining your attempt. Speaking of your sponsors: this is not the first time Salomon has misrepresented an FKT in the Himalaya; we hope they add some fact checkers to their marketing team. Your claim that more people have walked on the moon (n=12) than have finished the GHT is one of many exaggerations and misinformation in the marketing campaign. We also have concerns about how a can of Redbull costs almost a half a days salary for many Nepalis (that is another letter) and how you are comparing a heavily supported team effort, with Andrew’s solo effort. Should you complete more than 500k, which is the minimum threshold to be considered a ‘significant effort’ in our database, we will be happy to add you two as the 96th and 97th efforts. We will also make note that you followed a modified low route with extensive use of roads. We will report your finish time for the route you followed; but we will not be stating that you have the ‘FKT on the Great Himalaya Trail;’ at this point in time, it is simply not possible.
We wish you the best of luck on the trails you find and the passes you encounter. We are so sorry you are sidestepping some of the best valleys and mountain ranges ahead of you. Hopefully you will come back again; hopefully you will choose a more challenging route (perhaps Lizzy Hawker’s?); and hopefully you will think twice about how you frame your fastest known time.
-Seth Wolpin (FKT of 87 days for a 5’10 half-Jewish guy on the modified high route in 2014)
-Sudeep Kandel (Himalayan Trail Aficionado. Owner, Himalayan Adventure Labs. FKT on Manaslu Circuit in 2015)