Pavlína Adam on hiking the Great Himalaya Trail

Pavlína Adam

Pavlína Adam, a biologist and adventurer, recently became the first Czech woman to complete the Great Himalaya Trail, one of the world’s most difficult treks, stretching 1,700 kilometres across the Himalayas, with an approximately 240,000 metres of elevation gain. Pavlína and her US friend Sarah Kruger covered the trek in just 101 days, during the monsoon season, becoming the first female-only team to complete the challenge.

When I met with Pavlína during her brief stay in Prague in between other adventures, I first asked her how she and her friend got the idea to set on the trail:

Pavlína Adam  (right) with Sarah Kruger at the very end of the GHT on the border with China | Photo: Archive of Pavlína Adam

“We met in 2021 when we hiked the Pacific Crest Trail across the United States — 4,300 kilometres from the Mexican border to Canada. When we met the following spring, we were thinking what trail we could hike next.

“There are other trails in the United States, such as the Continental Divide Trail, but we thought: Do we really want to hike from Mexican border to Canada? We did that last year, so let’s find somewhere else to go.

“And then I remembered that I was in Nepal two years ago and I saw a map of the Himalayas and there was a map of this hike that looked pretty crazy. It is in really high mountains and you have to cross 20 passes that are 5,000 meters tall.

“And I thought: Who could possibly do this? And then I thought: Actually, maybe we could! So, instead of returning to the US, we decided to go to Nepal!”

Great Himalaya Trail Map | Photo: Great Himalaya Trail

There are only around 100 people who completed the trail and just a handful of women and you were the first Czech woman to complete the track…

Photo: Archive of Pavlína Adam

“That’s right. Actually, it might already be around 105 people by now. That was a big problem, in fact, because we desperately needed some information about the hike, but we couldn’t find them anywhere.

“It was also unusual to hike in a female-only group, because it’s not that common in Nepal. In fact, women’s rights in Nepal are really limited, and women are really poor.

“To see two girls hiking in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of mountains, with no men and no guide, that was something quite different.”

When you say different, do you mean in a positive sense?

Local women | Photo: Archive of Pavlína Adam

“Yes, only positive. It was a nice experience, because the local women really wanted to talk to us and they were really open. So, it was different than if you hike in a mixed group with men.”

How did you prepare in terms of physical training?

“Actually there are some parts that are really well known, like the Everest region or the Anapurnas, where most people go, but the problem is in between these regions. Usually, there is some high pass or some technical part, and we desperately needed information about those sections.

Pavlína Adam and Sarah Kruger in the Everest base camp | Photo: Archive of Pavlína Adam

“So we called this guy called Robin, who described the whole trail, to ask him for some information, but he didn’t really want to share too much with us. The only thing he told us was: In Nepal, everything keeps changing continuously, so you will have to improvise all the time.

“So we thought: OK, if we have to improvise, it doesn’t really matter if we prepare for the first week or the first month, we will simply improvise from the very beginning. And that’s what we did.”

So, how much do you carry on your back when you are covering a trail that measures 1700 kilometres? What do you take and where do you get your supplies of food, for example?

Photo: Archive of Pavlína Adam

“This is exactly the information we wanted at the beginning, but we didn’t get it. But actually, it turned out to be pretty easy, because there are people living in the mountains, as high as 4,500 meters.

“So we knew we would always meet someone in two, three or four days, and they could prepare us a meal or sell us some basic food like rice, eggs, and potatoes. So it was actually much easier than we expected.

“We usually carried between six to eight kilos on our backs, depending on the section we hiked. We started in the winter, so we needed warmer clothes, as well as some climbing equipment, because we crossed several 6000 meter passes.

Sarah Kruger | Photo: Archive of Pavlína Adam

“We contacted an agency in Kathmandu and left our climbing equipment with them, including ropes, harnesses, and other things you need for crossing the glacier.

“So someone brought it to a pre-arranged meeting point and after we crossed all the passes, there was someone else to pick up the stuff.”

How did you prepare physically? I mean did you have to train in advance to be able to endure the whole trail?

Sarah Kruger | Photo: Archive of Pavlína Adam

“I think we were in a pretty good shape after the Pacific Crest Trail that we did the previous year. But I would also say that in such high mountains, what matters more than the physical shape is the mental state.

“I would also say that in such high mountains, what matters more than the physical shape is the mental state.”

“You know that you have to keep going every day. You have to wake up and get up out of the tent even if it’s raining and you are cold and you don’t really want to go anywhere.

“But you don’t have enough food, because you usually just carry small amounts of food, so you simply have to go on, even if you feel like quitting sometimes…”

So what was the thing that kept you going?

Sarah Kruger and Pavlína Adam | Photo: Archive of Pavlína Adam

“Once there is a beautiful day, it gives you so much energy that you just want to keep going. But there were also days (and it was most of them actually, because it was the monsoon season), when it was raining all the time and when it was really tough.

“Actually we wanted to quit three days before the end of the trail because we were so desperate and socially deprived. We desperately needed to talk to someone, be with someone, eat normal food and sleep in a bed.

“So, we almost didn’t finish it but somehow we managed in the end.”

This is exactly what I wanted to ask you, whether there was any point on the journey when you thought about giving up. You say that actually happened three days before the end?

Photo: Archive of Pavlína Adam

“Actually we had been talking about it for two weeks before this point. We were thinking: does it really matter if we finish it? Who cares? But if you spend three and a half months on a trail, you cannot really quit three days before the end, can you?

“Looking at it now, I totally understand it. We really wanted to get back to our normal lives, and it was really hard to stay on the trail. But then my friend Sarah injured her ankle and it was an impulse for us to finish the track.”

Apart from sort of keeping your spirits up, what were the biggest challenges that you faced along the way?

“We expected the most challenging part would be the weather or the altitude or the difficult terrain, because you don’t really have any trails there, you just have to climb somewhere in the middle of the mountains.

Pavlína Adam looking down on the jungle in the valley | Photo: Archive of Pavlína Adam

“But actually it was something totally different. We didn’t know that the trail also leads through the jungle. Sometimes you just have to go down from the mountains and descend to the jungle below.

“And there are leeches in the jungle, many of them, and when you walk, they suck your blood and make you bleed for several days. It doesn’t hurt, but it is really disgusting.

“There were leeches in the jungle, many of them, and that was the biggest problem for me. It was in fact the only time when I cried on the trail.”

“So that was the biggest problem for me and it was in fact the only time when I cried on the trail. Sarah didn’t mind the leeches, but she is scared of spiders and there were huge spiders there, so she also had some meltdowns.”

So would you say it was better that you didn't know about this in advance?

“Totally. I would be much more scared. But it wasn’t that bad, in the end. As long as you walk fast, you can do it. You just can’t stop walking!”

Why did you walk the trail during the monsoon season? Is that the best season to cover the trail?

Monsoon clouds | Photo: Archive of Pavlína Adam

“That’s a good question. Actually we didn’t know. We didn’t have any idea. When we decided to hike the trail, we only had a month and half to prepare. We didn’t really know what it means hiking in the monsoon season.

“And since no one did it before, we didn't have the information. So we thought: let's just try it and we’ll see how it goes. We can always give up. So there was no special reason. We were just late, so we didn’t have a choice.”

So how many rainy days have you actually encountered? How many days of those 101 did it rain?

“Simple answer: all of them. Sometimes, it was just a couple of drops, but it rained every single day.”

You have just returned from another expedition, this time to South America. What were you doing there?

Photo: Archive of Pavlína Adam

“Despite the fact that the hike in Nepal was in a high attitude — we spent half of the time above 5000 meters — we wanted to go even higher, because we kept seeing the Everest and all of the 8000 meter peaks.

“So we have decided to go to South America to climb the volcanoes. We were in Ecuador, we were in Chile, Bolivia and Peru, and we just climbed mountains there.”

And what are your plans for the future?

“In ten days I am leaving to Pakistan with the Expedition Club and we are planning to climb the Broad Peak.”

And is climbing still just a hobby of yours, or have you turned it into a profession?

“I would say it is something in between, because when I came back I realized I needed a rest. So I would say climbing is no longer just a hobby, because I have to train and I have to work hard every single day. So I would say it's kind of half hobby, half work.”

Pavlína Adam with Sarah Kruger at the foot of the border bridge at the end of the Great Himalaya Trail | Photo: Archive of Pavlína Adam