Introducing Wilderness Prime: a superb introduction to the Great Himalaya Trail

Edita was in Africa last week, so last weekend I had a day to myself. What better way to spend it than pulling up YouTube on the Smart TV and spending the evening watching porn… Mountain porn, that is – and I found an absolute gem.

There is a YouTube channel called Wilderness Prime, run by a British chap called Dave Brophy which at the time of writing has just 326 subscribers, but deserves to have far more.

Over the course of five months last year, Dave walked the entire length of the Great Himalaya Trail through Nepal. He documented the whole thing on video and is in the process of releasing it on his YouTube channel in a series of daily vlogs.

The Great Himalaya Trail at Lhonak near Kangchenjunga
The Great Himalaya Trail at Lhonak near Kangchenjunga

On Saturday night, while some of you were out getting shit-faced, I sat down with a pot of coffee and some scones, put my feet up, and watched the first 35 days of Dave’s trek from Kangchenjunga to Makalu Base Camp in a single sitting. It’s the best night in I’ve had on my own since [unsafe content removed].

If you didn’t know already, the Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) is a theoretical long-distance footpath running the length of the Himalayas from Namche Barwa in the far east to Nanga Parbat in the far west. The reason it’s theoretical is because the concept of a trail extending along the full spine of the Himalayas is still just an idea. The only part that’s been documented so far is the section running the length of Nepal, but that’s still pretty epic.

The idea of travelling the length of the Himalayas had existed for a few years before an Australian trekking guide and tour operator called Robin Boustead decided to formalise the concept and formulate a route. He first completed the Nepal section in two separate treks from 2008-9 after five years of research into possible linked trails. The full route only became possible in 2002, after disputed sections of the border between Nepal and China were finally agreed and the border areas on the Nepal side therefore became open for tourism.

Robin’s intention had always been to discover and open up parts of the trail through Bhutan, India and Pakistan. I’m not sure how far he has got with this; some parts, especially in the India/Pakistan section, may prove tricky. However, his guidebook for the Nepal section, published by Trailblazer, is currently undergoing a major update that will be available in April.

Although I would love to trek the Great Himalaya Trail one day, logistical and life challenges mean that it remains a distant dream for me, but watching the Wilderness Prime channel has certainly rekindled an interest, particularly as it’s a couple of years since I was last in Nepal.

Here’s the trailer:

Watch on YouTube

The trailer gives a good sense of the high quality photography (aided by the spectacular scenery). It only hints at the style, though. Dave’s videos are in the form of a daily diary ranging from three minutes to ten minutes in length. He starts and ends each one with a piece to camera, outlining his walk for the day and summarising how it went once he reaches camp. Key incidents are recorded in between.

The section I watched covered the first month of the trail from the north side of Kangchenjunga in the far west, right into the heart of the mountains at Makalu. Dave is an engaging character whose natural inclination appears to be the stereotypical British stiff upper lip. As the ups and downs of the journey proceed, however, his emotions are revealed: joy at the mountain view from a remote amphitheatre, relief at reaching a teahouse or delight at finding an unused shepherd’s hut, trepidation at the prospect of an unmarked trail and anguish when it disappears. And more often exhaustion as he lies in the tent recording his daily diary.

These emotions are quite genuine, and there is no playing to the camera. One of the things I like about him is that – intrepid as his journey is – there is no macho posturing, trying to big up his achievements and make them sound tougher or more dangerous than they are. This is refreshing.

An example of this is the following episode, when he becomes trapped in a remote valley and is forced to take a helicopter to the next section of trail in order to make a rendezvous. He doesn’t become preoccupied with whether or not he’s cheated. There is no boring self analysis or tedious excuses to camera, trying to justify his actions to the viewer. He’s simply someone on a great adventure, and this is the most sensible course to enable things to continue smoothly. I can certainly relate to this, having been tempted by a support vehicle myself, an episode that features prominently in one of my books.

Watch on YouTube

There is some great photography and production values are high. The sound quality is excellent and Dave’s soliloquies to camera are clear and crisp. The soundtrack balances well with the action without becoming obtrusive. He stops from time to time to film himself passing along the trail. He evidently uses a tripod and there is no visible camera shake This is in stark contrast to some of the shit videos I publish on my own YouTube channel, that (somewhat surprisingly) are watched and enjoyed by thousands of people. I often have to delete whole sections which are rendered inaudible against the roar of the Himalayan wind, and you can get dizzy watching as I swing the camera around like a drunk at a party.

At the moment, the Wilderness Prime channel is just getting started and is an undiscovered gem, but I really hope it takes off. The channel deserves to gain a wide audience of both armchair adventurers and those planning treks of their own. Each daily video has currently only received a few hundred views – compare it with this horrow show of a flick that I produced that is now sitting pretty on 1.2 million views, so many that I had to turn off the commenting feature due to the relentless torrent of fuckwittery that was appearing daily beneath it. If there is any justice in the world then Wilderness Prime will far exceed this one day.

Take, for example, the following clip, which illustrates one of the other things that make this channel so absorbing.

Watch on YouTube

It’s not just the style and production quality that are exceptional, but the story. I’ve watched about a quarter of it up to Makalu, but already it has a gentle beginning on the more civilised Kangchenjunga base camps trek (which I trekked myself a couple of years ago), an exciting middle section across some remote passes (in the above clip) where the outcome is uncertain and events build to a climax, and a more relaxing, happier ending when he meets up with his ‘hiking buddy’ Mathilde and they pass through some of the most beautiful scenery of the trip. Even though it ended abruptly when I reached the last video that Dave had uploaded, I was left with a tantalising yearning for what’s next.

There is also humour, not all of which is intentional. I can relate to some this. Often you do a piece to camera and only realise the following day that you’ve been talking a load of old cobblers. Sometimes you don’t realise till you’ve got home and are editing the footage.

The arrival at Makalu Base Camp, which I did myself in 2010 during an expedition to Baruntse, is pretty spectacular. The giant black south face of Makalu towers over everything else. It’s so much higher and bereft of snow compared with every surrounding mountain that it’s unmistakeable. Dave and Mathilde did this section in mist, and were only offered occasional glimpses of mountains. They weren’t really sure which mountain it was. This results in some moments of pantomime in the following clip.

‘We’re not really sure which one of these mountains is Makalu,’ Dave’s voice says as the camera pans across, that’s right, Makalu.

He ends the video by doing a 2-minute monologue to camera as Makalu emerges from cloud, and I found myself screaming at the telly: ‘Behind you’. Well I didn’t really, but I would have done had I been at a London theatre watching Jack and the Beanstalk.

Watch on YouTube

I’ve only scratched the surface so far. The videos are a treasure trove for any armchair adventurers who enjoy the more spiritual side of mountains (as opposed to the adrenaline-fuelled action movies favoured by outdoor clothing brands and foul-tasting fizzy drink manufacturers). This is certainly my preference as I nibble on my hot scones with coffee, and I can’t wait to watch the remaining 100 or so episodes.

But Wilderness Prime will also be immensely useful to anyone thinking of following in Dave’s footsteps and trekking the whole thing. I’ve not got as far as reading Robin Boustead’s guidebook yet, so I can’t offer a review. Dave certainly made use of it, but the Wilderness Prime website will also be an invaluable supplementary resource for trip planners. Not only has Dave listed his daily itineraries, but also GPS files and daily route maps. He used for route navigation, which I can say from experience is by far the most useful smartphone app for worldwide remote mountain areas where more comprehensive maps are not available.

Anyway, I’ve raved enough. Take your shoes and socks off and dip into the Great Himalaya Trail.

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2 thoughts on “Introducing Wilderness Prime: a superb introduction to the Great Himalaya Trail

  • March 4, 2020 at 8:58 pm

    First complete Himalayan traverse was in 1981 by Chewang Tashi, Graeme Dingle and Peter Hillary. It took them 10 months!

  • March 4, 2020 at 9:52 pm

    My money’s on Nain Singh getting there first 😉

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