How I went from being a non-hiker to trekking in the Himalayan mountains in Nepal


*Originally posted on my previous personal blog (bylydiac)

This blog post is about my time trekking in Nepal on the Langtang and Annapurna Base Camp trails in the fall of 2014. Since it happened a few years ago, it is not a guide or itinerary, but rather a blog reflecting on how I accomplished something I didn’t think was feasible.

I was wrapping up a summer internship in Himachal Pradesh, India (foothill of Himalayas) when a man made a side comment joking that there was no way I could complete a multi-day trek excursion. My first reaction was to feel taken aback and defensive. It’s true that I was already having a hard time with the walking commutes in the area since every commute was a mini hike. By hard time, I was really just kind of slow and quicker at being out of breath.

Horse in Dharamsala India
a photo of the horses next door my homestay

I couldn’t help but think “what if he’s right?” I may just never be able to complete such a feat. Little did I know at the time that a couple months later, I would have completed 2 separate 10+ day treks in the Himalayan mountains in Nepal. 

Okay, so for whoever is reading this, I understand that completing a multi-day trek or the idea of it may be pretty do-able for a lot of you. But…it wasn’t for me, especially in my early twenties when I was not the fittest and also not the most confident. Back then, I certainly felt like any kind of multi-day outdoor excursion was something reserved only for those who were “fit” or highly disciplined.

Field of flowers in Himalaya Mountains
from one of my himalaya treks

Even when I was younger and I went on hikes for school trips or with family, I was always the slowest. Hiking was hard for me (and it still can be), and I just never understood why anyone would like hiking or choose to spend their free time doing it. Anytime I was on those trails and heaving myself uphill while others strolled by, I just found myself thinking “why do people like hiking?”

Now that after I’ve completed a total of 24+ days trekking in the Himalayas (2 separate trips), I now know why hiking can be an enjoyable activity and have since learned to like hiking. I also learned since that multi-day treks are not reserved just for the fittest or most experienced with the outdoors.

Asian woman at Annapurna Base Camp
made it to ABC!

Instead, trekking in Nepal can be do-able for most of us normal people, even not regular hikers! I’m not advocating for going trekking in the Himalayas if you’ve barely been on any hikes. It would still be a good idea to hike your local trail to see if it’s something you can envision yourself doing for hours and days on end. The purpose of this post is to share my experience, and to also show that you don’t need to be a spectacularly fit person to complete such a feat.

Dharamsala Foothill of Himalayas
foothill of Himalayas in HImachal Pradesh, India

Keep in mind that being able to do such a trip will require money (for lodging, guides, and porters). The price range can really vary depending on your needs. Another requirement for trekking in Nepal is to be able-bodied in the sense that you need to be able to walk up stairs for multiple hours a day. Beyond that, you’ll want to also be mindful about the altitude and elevation rise, climate, seasons…etc.

Before trekking in the Himalayas, I really didn’t enjoy hiking…

Asian woman walking on trail with foothill of Himalayas in the background
one of the many rocky dirt paths

I had hiked throughout my life here and there, and was kind of a normal thing to do on weekends in Taipei, Taiwan. I didn’t particularly enjoy hiking, but it was a thing to do with my family and hey, at least it was exercise.

When I went to India for a summer internship, there was a lot of hiking involved just in pure commute. To head to my homestay or my apartment involved going up and down rocky paths on a steep hill. To go to restaurants or save money or the more exciting neighboring town, involved a lot of walking on hilly and rocky paths.

Foothill of Himalayas in Dharamsala, India
living at the foothill of the himalayas

I was not fit (or close to it) when I first headed to India. I had just wrapped up my freshman year at college and had likely gained the freshman 15 (and more), and also did not have a regular fitness routine (mind you, I still don’t 6 years later). I remember having an especially hard time navigating my commute on a daily basis. My peers seemed to have gotten the hang of it faster, but I was evidently struggling. I had brought hiking shoes with me so at least I wasn’t rolling my ankle every step of the way.

Naddi Dharamsala India Sunset
a road that was one part of my daily commute

At the beginning of moving there, with the mix in of culture shock and adjusting to a new food, culture, daily routines, I was primarily intimidated by the hills! And rocks! And ups and downs just to get to the office. The first week was the hardest, my body was sore all over but luckily it was a feel-good sore, like I was doing something my body needed. Fast forward 8 weeks, and the daily 30 commute up and down hills was no longer a hardship for me.

Naddi Dharamsala India Sunset
a photo of the sunset from my daily commute

It was overcoming that commute that got me to believe that maybe I wanted to try to take trekking to the next level. At some point during my internship, I participated in an overnight hike known as the Triund Trek and camped out overnight there. Google and websites mark the trek as easy, but I don’t remember having the easiest time, haha. I was pretty slow, but slow and steady, and I am appreciative to this day my friends who did that hike with me.

Triund camping Dharamsala India
Triund hike camping in Dharamsala India
overnight camping at triund
Asian woman sitting on rock in Triund
made it!

At the time, I felt embarrassment and shame that I wasn’t as good at hiking or camping or doing general outdoors things. It wasn’t something I could talk about, but it was always on my mind.

“I’m so bad at hiking, I’m so bad at going up and down hills, ugh, I’m so slow”. There was no need for me to be “good” at hiking, but there was a part of me that wanted to push myself to my limits. Not only that, but on every hike I went on, I did really enjoy the views.

Asian woman in traditional indian clothes in Dharamsala
a photo of 20 year old me

It wasn’t until I got an offhand comment that I could “never do a multi-day trek” that it became fixated in my mind that I just had to do it. A couple months later, with my India visa expiring, I was on a 30 hour bus from New Delhi, India to Kathmandu, Nepal. At the time, I didn’t particularly plan to go trekking in the Himalayas. Hell, I didn’t even know it was a thing people did.

Naddi Dharamsala India
himachal pradesh, india

My introduction to trekking…and with strangers!

Himalaya mountain peak with tree in foreground
himalaya snowcapped mountain

At the hostel I stayed at in Kathmandu, I met a middle-aged Australian lady who was about to set off for a 14 day trek on the LangTang trail. I had no plans since arriving in Kathmandu, besides spending a week at a Buddhist temple. She was going solo with a porter and a guide. Looking back, I’m not sure if she had invited me or if I asked to tag along, either way, it was a spontaneous move on my part to decide to go on a 14 day trek with a complete stranger. 

Langtang trail himalaya mountains with Asian woman
the end point of the lang tang trail

Going on the trek with her also cut down the cost for both of us. I don’t remember the exact cost for this trek, but remember it being more expensive than the ABC trek but that’s because we had a porter assist with carrying our things along the way.

I knew basically nothing about Nepal at the time, and nothing about how trekking worked in the Himalayas, or actually how multi-day trekking worked in general. I just knew this was the tallest mountain range in the world and I was going to prove to myself that I could also do this activity. I was comforted that I was going trekking with someone 3 times my age, because I knew I was allowed to take my time. Having a porter was also helpful because I didn’t have to carry my own things. After renting out hiking poles, warm clothes, and a sleeping bag, we departed a few days later.

Lush and green nepal with terrace fields
somewhere closer to sea level

The LangTang & Tamang Trail ~ 14 days

Langtang trek view of mountains
from the langtang trek
Langtang national park map
map of langtang national park

I did this trek in 2014 so I am not able to regurgitate the information accurately from that time. Sadly, there was an earthquake that happened in April 2015 that predominantly affected this region and destroyed much of the infrastructure. The trail is back live now and open to visitors again. Since I do not have much information about the trail today, I found KimKim’s blogpost to be quite comprehensive.

Himalaya mountain with trees

Though I do not remember the details of the trek itself, the overall feelings I do recall 6 years later is that it was a life-changing experience. It was challenging to be trekking/walking for 6-8 hours a day for multiple days, but it was also so beautiful. I had never been in nature the same way before, especially not in the tallest mountain range in the world.

Asian woman with himalaya snowcapped mountains in the background
happy and sweaty

Now, it probably wasn’t as challenging as the kind of multi-day treks you’d do in the United States (like the Pacific Crest Trail) where you carry your own things, including camping gear and food. In the Himalayan treks, everything is laid out very clearly and conveniently. There are guesthouses along the main trails that you can stay at overnight and provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You are essentially required to hire a guide, and guides know the trails very well and help you along the way. For my first trek, I found it helpful that I didn’t have to carry my own clothes and had a bed to sleep in at night (it was very cold and you do need to bring a sleeping bag).

Selfie of Asian woman with himalaya mountains in the background
i took a lot of sunny happy selfies like this back in the day

As someone with little to no outdoor experience, it was a very new experience to spend entire days dedicated to walking and get to witness the magnificent beauty of snow/ice covered mountain ranges.

Asian woman on Langtang trekking trail
hiking poles are very helpful

The 14 day Langtang trek was such an inspiring experience that I decided to go on another multi-day trek, this time a 10 day journey to Annapurna Basecamp.

Yellow flowers in the field
loved all the different nature views on these trails

Trekking the Annapurna Basecamp (ABC) + Poon Hill Trail ~10 days

sign pointing towards the annapurna base camp
an our way to ABC
trekkers with their backpacks annapurna base camp
heading back after staying a night at the annapurna base camp
Annapurna Base Camp Map
ABC trek map

Once back in Kathmandu, I was so inspired by my first trek that I decided to do another. I can’t quite remember how long of a break I took before departing for the ABC trek, but similar to before, I joined with 2 travelers (strangers at first) I met at another hostel and we hired guides together. This time, from a woman-owned organization with women guides called 3 Sister Trekking. We hired two guides to lead a group of 3 and this time I carried my own backpack.

Asian woman with green backpack
proud to carry my own backpack

The ABC Trek was quite different from the LangTang trail when it came to the views, but the experience was very similar in that we would also trek ~6 hours a day and spend our nights at a guest house.

asian woman trekking in himalayas Annapurna base camp
happy & sweaty

We added a Poon hill trek to the ABC trek which was an extra 3 days. See below for some of the photos I took during this trip.

10 ways trekking in Nepal was a life-changing experience

Sweaty Asian woman backpacking HImalaya Trekking
happy and really sweaty in this one

1. Taught me the value of being in the present

I had never physically challenged myself like this before. I’m normally in my head a lot, and this multi-day trek helped me leave my head and be present in the mundane and challenge of walking and heaving yourself up and down stairs. I had to face myself everyday, and though I doubted my abilities, I really didn’t have a choice but to keep (and rest a lot!). I was forced to be present by focusing on my steps and literally taking it one step at a time because thinking about “what’s next” was just too much for my anxious head. Instead, focusing on the present was most enjoyable

Asian woman jumping himalaya mountains
i fail at jumping haha

2. Spending your days trekking, in nature, and offline does wonders for the soul

I was disconnected from the internet/online world during the 4 weeks I was in the mountains. Sure, there were spots I could have paid to use the wifi but I chose not to (plus saves money). This was in 2014 and though I wasn’t particularly active on social media, I was taking a gap semester from college and likely had some FOMO going on. I got to spend weeks disengaging from the “real” world, including the news, and it was refreshing to get some distance from it.

House in Himalaya mountains with prayer flags

Since we depart early in the morning, we arrive at our next destination around lunchtime. With all that free time, it also meant there was a big block of time in the afternoon to rest, socialize, or read a book. I spent many hours those afternoons either reading from my Kindle or journaling.

Journal at Annapurna Base Camp

Staring into the starry night sky with giant, towering, silent mountains stretching into space reminded me of my existence as a tiny and insignificant blip in the existence of earth and even in the present world. Getting to stand on these lands and earth that has been alive for millions of years was humbling and put all my worries and concerns in perspective; they were trivial and unimportant especially in the grand scheme of things.

View of Himalaya Mountains through a window

3. Learn about the local culture and get a glimpse into a different way of life

I tread carefully when it comes to discussing “local cultures” because it is easy to depict them as the “Other”, not only someone different from us, but often there is a judgment value attached like “oh poor them, they are so poor” or “Am I glad to not live the life they are living” or “their lifestyle is so exotic, so uncivilized”. You can see why it can be an issue to discuss “other” cultures or “local” cultures?

As one might be able to predict, it is mostly people coming from wealthier countries trekking in the Himalayas. The trekkers I came across were mostly Europeans, Americans, Australians, Canadians, and East Asians such as Japanese and Koreans. When it is wealthier individuals trekking through land where people are living with much less, there is an inherent power dynamic there. When we walk through these villages and seeing how trekkers interact with locals from the villages, it just felt…not good. I couldn’t help but compare it to seeing how museum visitors interact with museum artifacts, except that these people in villages are ALIVE. Then as you can expect, trekkers will take photos of the locals to document their way of life. I do think that though yes it is their way of life, I also think culture is performed for the western tourist as part of the “trekking in the Himalayas” experience.

Nepali women and backpackers standing next to each other
local nepali women & trekkers all on their way

Though I wasn’t personally very comfortable with the dynamics there, I still very much appreciated getting a glance into a different way of life. The truth is the learning wasn’t very deep, but we did get to see how food and tea were prepared and get invited to some of the houses we came across.

4. You get to meet other travelers from around the world

This was an experience I wasn’t particularly expecting when I first set out. I figured I would be spending most of my time with my trekking group but instead, when you arrive at the guesthouse you’re staying for the night, you meet all the other trekkers who will also be staying for the night. You end up having your meals together so inevitably, you’re meeting new people often! And likely, you see them at the next stop, unless the other direction.

Langtang final day high up view

Most of the travelers I met and could converse with were European and North American. Many of the Asian travelers came with their tour groups and it was harder to socialize with them due to the language barrier. Except, I did meet some Taiwanese people on the way!

Annapurna Base Camp

5. Going through a challenging experience with other people

It was a relief to realize that I wasn’t alone in finding this experience challenging. You meet all kinds of trekkers, some venturing on their own without guides (not advised since it can be dangerous), some where this is also a completely new physical challenge for them. On the other hand, you also meet pros and people who have been doing this for a while. Either way, there is some inherent bonding that happens when you’ve all experienced the same trails, weather and living conditions for multiple days. At the end of each day, you decompress with others and reflect on the day behind you.

Asian woman crossing a bridge trekking in nepal

6. A reminder not to compare yourself to others since you witness different people of all ages, sizes, fitness levels on the same journey

I remember when I first started trekking, I was worried what other people thought of me like, “how can this young girl be so slow?”, but you know what I realized and try to remember if I still feel self conscious today – No. One. Cares. Sure, anyone can have a passing judgment as they pass me, but no one is going to be spending their energy on me, a passerby. You know why? Because we’re all so focused on ourselves and perhaps, everyone is self conscious to an extent. Luckily, when you’re exhausting all your physical energy on climbing a mountain, I had no energy to bother thinking that way about myself or about others.

Asian woman trekking in Nepal

It was inspiring to witness people of all ages and sizes do these treks. It just goes. to show that these treks are really not just for the fit and outdoors experienced! I was surprised by how accessible trekking in the Himalayas was. It can be done by anyone who can dish out some money (ranges in the few hundreds USD depending on guides/lodging/group size etc) and are able bodied to walk/climb stairs for multiple hours a day. It’s nice to know that a world beauty like the mountains is not off limits to mountaineers and professional explorers.

Poon hill sunrise
asian woman himalaya mountains

7. Don’t let anyone tell you you cannot do something. Through patience, perseverance, and believing in yourself – you CAN do it!

This is one I am still continue to learn today, and my Himalayan treks and travels from 6 years ago continue to remind me that even if I may not feel like something is possible at first, it doesn’t mean that it is impossible. Before my travels to India and this internship, I had never considered seeing the Himalaya mountains up close were feasible or someone like me could ever go there. I now know that it’s more truthful to assume I will never summit Mount Everest instead.

himalaya mountains with sun reflection

8. It’s okay to love something, and hate it too, but want to do it anyway!

Throughout both treks, I had the most intense love/hate relationship with the act of walking. I felt a strong sense of hate (or just the feeling of “I really don’t want to do this”) anytime I saw what seemed like a never-ending series of stairs in front of me. But while going up these stairs, I was also blown away by the views and looking forward to what I would see over the next hill top. It was awe-inspiring to look around and be pleasantly surprised by how the sun hits on the icy mountain tops differently every minute.

sunrise himalaya mountains

9. Go at your own pace, and enjoy it

It really hit me when I was a couple days into the first trek that there is no need to rush through this experience. When trekking, I passed by people who were slow, people who were taking their time, and people trekking really fast (be careful about this because altitude sickness is very dangerous, I saw a helicopter come in to rescue one of the trekkers). I learned quickly that it doesn’t matter what pace you are going at – ok to an extent it matters especially if you’re in a group – but outside of that, this experience is for your SELF. I paid money and did everything I did to experience the mountains myself, so I am going to go at the pace that I can most enjoy. Whether that means going a bit quicker to have more rest time for the day, or taking your time, there is no good or bad way to trekking.

10. After trekking in the Himalayas, I love* hiking!

Asian woman trekking annapurna base camp

This was probably the least expected change to happen because I didn’t particularly love the act of trekking. However, the places my own two legs could take me and the views I got to see was inspiring. Nowadays, I find myself gravitating to going on hikes whenever possible. It helps me to know “hey, I’ve trekked in the Himalayas, I can handle this” and surely I can. Now I find walking up and down stairs to be a meditative experience. When in the Bay Area or in Taiwan, I find myself seeking out trails and going hiking as an afternoon activity to do. I continue to take my time snapping photos of the views and enjoying myself as I navigate new trails. I had learned on that Himalaya trip that I enjoy slow and steady hiking, so it’s something I plan to keep up.

Asian woman langtang trek

* = love is a strong word. I think I mean I will keep hiking and prioritizing hiking and when I make it to a spot with a beautiful view, I will feel like I love hiking but when it’s painful and it hurts, that’s when I love it a little less.

Prayer flags Himalaya Mountains

Completing almost a month in the mountains was something I felt very proud of myself for. It gave me a glimpse of what adventure travel feels like. I know it’s not the most adventurous because I’m not backcountry camping or doing all of this on my own, but rather on very commercial trails that are accessible by most people (if you have the $ means, although it’s not too bad compared to ex. The Alps!). To me, it was an adventure because 1) I was doing something I’ve never done before 2) seeing sights I’ve never seen before 3) disconnected from the outside world (no internet) and 4) meeting travelers and people from all over the world.

Himalay Mountains Poon Hill trail

The feeling of knowing the challenges you’re going to face for the day, and doing it anyway is a good feeling, and it’s something I hope to continue manifesting every single day of my life.

Himalaya Mountain close up

As for hiking in the Himalayas, I hope my post has showed you that it’s not as off limits as you might expect. I went into it not the most prepared and still had the time of my life. One thing to be mindful for though, in this day and age, is that the treks are taking a resource toll on the region. As you can imagine, bringing resources up the mountains to cater to tourists is a lot of work (lots of human and donkey labor). What goes up must also come down… I’ve heard the Everest Base Camp is especially popular and therefore more heavily polluted. So if you do set out for this trip, I highly suggest doing lots of research! Perhaps there are less popular trails that you can embark on, and with guides/groups that prioritize environmental sustainability and provide fair wage to their workers.

Asian woman Langtang Trek Himalaya Mountains

Be mindful and thoughtful…and happy trekking/hiking!

b y l y d i a c

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