How long does it usually take?
We did it in 87 days including the hike in from Taplejung to Kanchunjunga. We followed Doc McKerr’s itinerary for the last 30 days. None of it was easy. Based loosely on other trips by people who have done modified upper routes (skipping technical passes) 60-70 days would be a good clip. Be sure to add plenty of time on each side as it is easy to be held up by snow and also trying to fly out of Simikot. The maximum tourist visa you can get in Nepal is 90 days.
Do you know where I would be able to gather more information on the availability of supplies through the more remote sections of the trail. I would be most interest in where the longest sections of trail are where we would have to rely solely on our own supplies for food and fuel.
The sections you really need to worry about are the technical passes. Unless you are a very large party, you should be able to adequately scrounge food (albeit low quality) food along the way. Overall, this is not an easy question to answer. Basically you can do the whole trail without resupply. Doc McKerr did this, and we almost did it. The problem is that your access to high quality nutrition is limited so you will most likely steadily lose weight and become malnourished. Before we started out, John asked me what our nutrition strategy was and I replied, ‘calculated starvation’ based on what I had learned of others. We gained maybe 5-10kg before we left, anticipating we would lose it (we lost close to 15kg each during the trek). You are burning a large amount of calories every day. Most villages you pass through will have a small shop but the only foods available will usually be dried ramon noodles and cheap Chinese biscuits and chocolate wafer bars. We ate a lot of this (often eating the ramon dried). We could have done more with buying eggs along the way, tsampa, potatoes, lentils and rice to fortify the ramon but we were reluctant to cook because of time and fuel concerns and the desire to have a large hot meal of dhal bhat at every opportunity. We also did everything we could to stay in homes and lodges where we could get Dhal Bhat (and we would pay well for this). When we were closer, or on, popular trekking routes we gorged as much as we could and also tried to stock up on tuna fish and peanut butter which were often available. The only place where no food was available was on the high technical passes. We had four food caches in expedition barrels brought in near the high passes. These contained high quality/calorie dehydrated dinners as well as epi gas and gear replacements. We could have spent more money and had more food delivered along the way but we didn’t like that approach. (also note it is difficult to buy high quality dehydrated dinners in Kathmandu- I brough $1,000 worth in Seattle and brought them to Nepal for the trek). In theory you could stock up on ramon noodles and get across these passes but the dehydrated dinners, chocolate, and protein bars definitely gave us a boost. We always carried a couple canisters of epi gas – this can usually be found on the popular trekking routes but sometimes there are shortages. It’s good to realize you may need to cook on campfires as well (so don’t rely on a jetboil like setup).
I have a multi-fuel stove but as you have said, fuel will be in short supply and even the quailty of the petrol of which it can run will be poor. What is the approximate time withour any source of local food which crossing the technical passes? I assume that there were also long periods here where you had to melt snow as your only source of water?
If your stove can also attach to epi gas (isobutane, commonly called ‘epi’ in Nepal) AND all types of liquid then you should be good. In theory you can get kerosene in some villages but we had very little luck with this, nor did we need to look much as we were able to stretch out our epi when needed. In general, outside of the technical passes, we were able to choose when we wanted to camp and we did this because a) staying in a village would have meant stopping earlier than we wanted, b) we wanted the solitude. But quite often we had to balance this with knowing we would be eating dried noodles and using some epi gas. Because calories were important – we would often try to stay in lodges along the way. When there were no lodges we would usually find the local entrepreneur (often the store owner) and negotiate dinner and a place to sleep at night. At first I worried we would be taking their own food supply or displacing people from a bedroom. I think this is a valid concern, especially if more people start hitting the trail or you are in a larger group, but in practice we paid them well, walked away with a full belly, and everyone was the happier. We never melted snow for water. We were able to find rivulets and streams just before crossing the high technical passes. The one catch was when we got stuck camping on the glacier between Sherpani Col and the West Col. We ran out of water and we couldn’t get the stove to work at that altitude (it was an old MSR that only worked with liquid fuel and the pump gasket didn’t work in the cold). It was not a fun night.
Should I do the high passes?
If you have experience at alpine climbing and all the gear – then consider it carefully. Otherwise consider detouring and doing a modified high route. You might get away with soloing one technical pass but all five would be bordering on suicidal.
The more Nepali skills and GPS skills you have the easier life will be. Buy your maps through Robin and Himalaya Map House
Should I hike solo?
No. Not if you can help it. There are too many things that can go wrong. There are also some sections that require a guide and a minimum group size.
More questions? – send them our way!