'The Great Himalayan Traverse'
A few weeks from now Arlene Blum, a veteran mountaineer from Berkeley, Calif. , will begin an adventure the hardiest of us just dream about -- a 2,000-mile, year-long trek across the entire length of the Himalayas.Skip to next paragraph
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Dr. Blum, who has taught and done research at Stanford University, Wellesley College, and the University of California at Berkeley in the field of environmentally hazardous chemicals, has also taken part in over 15 expeditions in her 18 years of climbing. She was the leader of the record-breaking 1978 American Women's Himalayan Expedition to Annapurna I (first women's ascent, first American ascent, first women everm to climb above 8,000 meters, or 26,400 feet).
Her recent book "Annapurna: A Woman's Place" (Sierra Club Books, $14.95) is a spellbinding account of the triumph and tragedy of that ascent. She has also climbed in Africa, Iran, Afghanistan, Peru, India, Nepal, and the Soviet Union.
After all that, a trek through the valleys and over the lower passes of the himalayas might seem just a casual stroll to Arlene Blum. But, she says in a recent interview, "I've dreamed about it, too -- for years. You see, many people have trekked though parts of the Himalayan range, but no one has walked the whole length of it."
Not her specific route, at least, in modern trekking history. The trail she has planned will lead in a great arc across several countries, vastly different terrain and cultures -- from the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhuta across Nepal. It will wind below the towering peaks of Mr. Everest (which she has climbed to 24,500 feet) and Annapurna, where she and a dozen other women spent those dramatic months of strugge; and on through more villages, valleys, and high meadows peopled with nomadic yak herders, on to the mountain deserts of Ladakh, in Kashmir.
What is particularly challenging about her route is that most treks lead gradually from south to north, up some valley route to the higher mountain passes, and back down again. But Arlene Blum's route is from east to west, against the grain of the land. That is, she'll climb out of one valley over one rugged pass, plunge down into the next valley, then tackle the next ridge leading to another mountain pass beyond. Her trail will lead from tropical jungles and rain forests below 1,000 feet in eleveation to those snowy passes above 19,000 feet, and much of her route will be far off the "beaten paths" that trekkers usually follow.
The most exciting thing about this adventure, to all men and women who are armchair mountain climber/dreamers, is that they can come, at least for part of it. Wilderness enthusiasts are invited to join Dr. Blum and her trekking partner, Hugh Swift, on five separate expeditions from 14 to 24 days in duration between next October and February, 1982 -- prime trekking months in the Himalayas.
There will be no technical climbing for visiting trekkers -- that is, no need for belaying ropes, pitons, ice axes, no climbing vertical cliffs and ice wwalls." Anyone who is really fit and in good health can join us," Dru. Blum explains. "If you can hike at a steady pace up and down hills for six or seven hours a day, with rest breaks -- the way you would on a good, hard backpacking trip -- you can handle this Himalayan terrain."
But trekkers, she points out, won't even have to carry heavy packs. The Nepal treks will be accompanied by experienced Sherpa porters under the direction of a Sirdar, or head Sherpa. Still, the visiting hikers will have to be able to challenge themselves; the better physical condition the men and women are in, the more they'll enjoy their expedition.