Sandy reviews the first six of our 12 global treks, covering Oceania, Asia and Europe.
Trekking Definition: To make a slow or arduous journey; to journey on foot, especially to hike through mountainous areas. (Free Online Dictionary)
While on our around-the-world journey to promote geography awareness, we trekked in some of the most remote places on the planet. In all, we hiked 470 miles (758 kilometers) during 60 days of trekking.
Our hikes took us from the far south of Tasmania, Australia, and Patagonia in Argentina and Chile, to the northern Arctic Circle of Lapland in Sweden. We observed diverse cultures and history while in the hill tribes of Northern Laos, in the Mustang region of Nepal, with the Maasai Mara in Kenya and in ancient city of Petra in Jordan. And, we witnessed incredible natural beauty and wildlife in areas ranging from the Julian Alps of Slovenia, to the Tian Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan to the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia to the Amazon rainforest of Brazil.
We completed several of these treks ‘self-supported’, meaning that we hiked by ourselves and carried our own gear, including food, tent, sleeping bag, stove and clothing. Several of our treks used local guides. In most cases this meant we could carry a lighter load without a tent, stove and food. There were exceptions to both of these approaches; these are noted below.
Below is a brief summary and a favorite photo from our first six treks.
1. Overland Track – Tasmania, Australia
- 7 Days
- 50 Miles (80 Kilometers)
The Overland Track is a famous ‘bush walk’ in Australia. It begins in Cradle Mountain National Park and ends 50 miles (80 kilometers) later in Lake St. Clair National Park. The terrain in this short distance ranges from mountains to rainforest to alpine plains in this World Heritage area.
We found this first trek, in March 2012, to be one of our most beautiful as we walked through this diverse environment over seven days. We were blessed with good weather and very little rain. This trek was also important in that it allowed us to ease into shape while carrying a full load in our backpacks of up to 40 pounds (18 kilograms).
2. Hill Tribes – Northern Laos
- 2 Days
- 14 Miles (23 Kilometers)
We made the decision to journey to the northern Phongsali region of Laos, in an attempt to hike in a remote area that tourists do not normally visit. Trekking here focuses on hill tribe communities, their culture and way of life high up in the mountains. Nights are spent in village home stays.
This trek was planned for 28 miles but we had to shorten it due to unexpected heavy rains in April, which made the steep trail all but impassible. We did have the opportunity to spend one night in the chief’s home in the Phunoi village of Ban Khounnounlaoung. And, when the trekking did not turn out as expected, we visited several schools in the area. Meeting and interacting with students made up for the lack of trekking.
3. Kingdom of Lo /Mustang – Nepal
- 12 Days
- 91 Miles (147 Kilometers)
This trek was the longest in both duration and miles and very challenging. The former kingdom of Lo /Mustang is a restricted trekking area, which requires a permit to visit. It was only opened to foreigners about 20 years ago and life has remained little changed there for centuries. The trek provided us with the opportunity to learn more about the Tibetan Buddhists who live here, as well as experience incredible Himalayan scenery at every turn.
Our time here was challenging in several ways. First, we witnessed a crash of our plane just two hours after we had flown on it, killing two-thirds of the people on board. We were stunned and haunted by this for the entire expedition and beyond. I got very sick on the fourth day of the trek, forcing us to rest for 24 hours while I struggled to get better. And, needless to say, the scenery took your breath away (literally). Hiking over 15 mountain passes of at least 11,811 feet (3,600 meters) kept us breathing hard throughout the entire time. This trek, probably more than any other, tested us mentally and physically, and we felt a real sense of accomplishment upon its completion at the end of May.
4. Tian Shan Mountains and Lakes – Kyrgyzstan
- 4 Days
- 35 Miles (56 Kilometers)
Tian Shan literally means ‘celestial mountains’ and is a large mountain range located in Central Asia. Within these mountains are beautiful lakes. Two of the largest lakes in Kyrgyzstan are Issyk-Kul Lake and Song-Kul Lake. These alpine lakes feature pastures used by villagers who spend the summer there with their herds.
Our journey provided a glimpse into this nomadic way of life as we trekked about 35 miles (56 kilometers) by foot. Because it was mid-June, we had to modify our hiking itinerary somewhat as there was still snow at the higher elevations. Even so, we did trek through some snow and ice, as well as on steep and rocky trails. We found the remote country of Kyrgyzstan, farther from an ocean than any other nation in the world, a fascinating place to visit.
5. Kungsleden Trail – Lapland, Sweden
- 6 Days
- 64 Miles (103 Kilometers)
The Kungsleden, or ‘The King’s Trail’, is a 275 mile (443 kilometer) hiking track in the northern part of Sweden. It passes through one of Europe’s largest remaining wilderness areas, about 100 miles inside the Arctic Circle.
To begin this trek, we traveled by train to Sweden’s Lapland region. Hiking fully supported and carrying about 40 pounds (18 kilograms) each, we set off on our second longest trek of our expedition. The environment is harsh there and we had wet and windy weather almost the entire time we hiked. When it did not rain, swarms of mosquitoes appeared. Fortunately we were prepared with DEET and head nets. What we did not count on was the stark beauty of the area and the wildlife that we saw, including reindeer and a red fox. Although the sun had stopped shining for a full 24 hours a day right before we arrived in late July, we still had continual light, with no darkness at night, which made for an interesting time sleeping in a tent!
6. Julian Alps – Slovenia
- Self-Supported using Huts
- 4 Days
- 20 Miles (33 Kilometers)
The Julian Alps are located in the eastern portion of the Alps range. Hiking trails in the Triglav National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) travel below snow-capped mountains, deep gorges and around mountain lakes.
Our second European trek took place in August, when we traveled to Slovenia. We carried our own gear and used huts to sleep in, which lightened our load somewhat. Our first day was cut short by rain (with real thunder and lightning) so we slept in a nearby hut and then doubled up the trekking the next day to get back on schedule. Staying in the huts provided us with the opportunity to meet many interesting people. And we were impressed with the beauty of the mountains, lakes and forests. We learned that the track that we were hiking on, the Via Alpina Red Trail, runs all the way to Monaco, a distance of about 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers)!
Treks seven through twelve, covering our time in Africa, the Middle East and South America, will be presented in Part 2 of this story.