Nepal trek tests teen's staying power
For five months, Peter McVeigh lived in a tent as he hiked the length of the Great Himalaya Trail and became the youngest person to do so.
Setting off on the adventure aged 19, over the 152 days McVeigh battled extremes in weather, a constantly changing landscape and a bout of altitude sickness as he traversed the longest and highest alpine walking track in the world.
"We'd ascend one day 1000 metres and then we'd drop down 2000 metres to a rhododendron forest; it was sensational," he says.
The first full traverse of Nepal’s Great Himalaya Trail was completed in July last year by Greg Baggage of Australia and Toni Wilson of England.
McVeigh started in far eastern Nepal, where he joined three other hikers and a World Expeditions guide. All of them aimed to traverse the seven stages of the Himalaya trail but McVeigh was the only one who made it. The other three were affected by altitude sickness and were evacuated. They rejoined the trek at different points.
There were other hikers embarking on individual or group journeys for shorter periods, tackling one or two of the stages. The popular trails, McVeigh says, were those in the Manaslu, Annapurna and Everest regions - at those points his group grew to about 15.
When McVeigh suffered altitude sickness he couldn't hold down food for five days.
"I couldn't touch a grain of rice and yet you tap into this inner strength you didn't know you had," he says, before adding that he had to push through the throbbing pain in his head.
McVeigh had to prepare carefully for the feat that included scaling mountains of 6200 metres and sleeping in minus-20 degree night temperatures.
"I knew physically before the trek I was capable of doing it," he says, but he suspected being on the trail for such a long time would be a mental challenge.
During the trek, which ended in western Nepal near the Tibetan border, McVeigh experienced numerous joys he now holds dear, including waking one morning to see fresh snow leopard tracks outside his tent.
"People search the whole Himalayas just to find them and there's only about 300 to 500 left," he says.
Another of those special moments was when a lama (spiritual leader) at a Buddhist temple blessed McVeigh and his guide for good weather and a safe passage through the mountains.
He also has memories of amazing food far different to regular hiking food of beef jerky and muesli bars. "I'd look forward to all my meals, not because I was ravenous, although that was also true, but more that you'd be around together as a group; you'd be with the other trekkers," he says.
Local produce from the local foothills included vegetables, potatoes, spinach, rice and was cooked in delicious high-energy dahls. "We bought goat meat for the whole group."
McVeigh chose to traverse the trail as a challenge for a gap year. "I just wanted to travel. I wanted to see and have a different experience and take myself out of my comfort zone.
"So with that in mind I had this goal and that was to do something big and adventurous."
Although he wasn't immediately sure what that would be, he began working four jobs around the clock.
"It was easy to do that," he says. "I had this motivation, this goal that I knew I'd be rewarded and that was with an amazing adventure."
By December 2011, McVeigh had chosen his journey and had two months to prepare before his departure last February.
"I wanted to go back to Nepal but I didn't know which part to see so I thought 'you know what, I'll see the whole country; I'll see the entire thing and I'll traverse it by foot'."
McVeigh already had a high level of fitness, having played soccer and loved the outdoors. He undertook cross training, such as cycling, boxing and bushwalking, to build his endurance.
The next World Expeditions full traverse of the Great Himalaya Trail is scheduled to depart in March 2013. More at worldexpeditions.com.au