The great Himalayan trial

A Filipina and Nepali have set out to trek right across Nepal to challenge notions of what Asian women can do

Marinel de Jesus (left), with Mingmar Dolma Sherpa trekked the Tsum Valley last December ahead of the GHT. All photos courtesy of: MARINEL DE JESUS

When Marinel de Jesus was growing up in her first-gen Filipino family in the United States, parents wanted her to become a doctor or a lawyer because it meant financial stability and respect.

She chose law, and went on to be a successful public prosecutor in Washington DC. She had it all: a career, a house, and proud parents.

“It was the American dream,” recalled de Jesus, now 47. “But something felt missing.”  

Seven years ago, de Jesus decided that a seemingly perfect life that made her parents proud was not what she truly wanted. This epiphany came during a hike in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 

Marinel De Jesus
Marinel De Jesus.

For Mingmar Dolma Sherpa, following her passion was easier since some of her relatives are mountain guides.     

It was on Pikey Peak in Solukhumbu, looking out to a sweeping panorama from Annapurna to Kangchenjunga that she saw her future in the profession. 

Now 25, Sherpa has a trekking guide licence, but her challenge has not been in climbing up and down mountains so much as overcoming the male hierarchy in her line of work. She says, “Female guides really have to struggle to get jobs during the trekking season.” 

Marinel and Mingmar met ahead of the GHT to trek the Tsum Valley, and they hit it off. They shared not just a love for nature, but a desire to prove themselves as women. Which is when they decided to walk the Great Himalayan Trail (GHT) which is not just a distance of 1,700km but requires constant ascending and descending steep mountain paths.  

GHT map
Map: The Great Himalayan Trail (www.greathimalayatrail.com)

The two women started their trek from Kangchenjunga Base Camp last month, and were immediately hit by blizzards. Suffering long-Covid, Marinel had difficulty on steeper sections. 

They decided to do the Makalu section later, and are now backtracking from Rolwaling to Everest Base Camp.

This is just the beginning of the GHT. The two will now continue through Langtang, Ganesh Himal, Annapurna, Dolpo, Mugu, ending up in Simkot of Humla in May.

They are doing a hydrid route  that combines high passes with lower valleys and hope to complete it in 140 days.

“It is rare for clients to ask us about doing the Great Himalayan Trail, and it is even rarer to find people who actually complete it,” says Santosh Adhikari at Nepal Trekking Company, who himself has never done the GHT. 

Marinel de Jesus calls herself the ‘Brown Gal Trekker’, and her transition from lawyer to full-time trekker has not been an easy one – especially since after overcoming one challenge she keeps giving herself an even more difficult one. 

She admitted in a Facebook post after the Kangchenjunga section that the cold and difficulty was tougher than she anticipated. 

“Being a lawyer is a high stress job,” de Jesus told us before setting off last month. “But despite the physical strain, trekking in the Himalaya puts your mind at ease.”

For Mingmar, this is a chance to prove herself and her endurance, and highlight the role and status of female Nepali mountain guides who are rarely recognised in a male-dominated industry. 

Mingmar Sherpa
Mingmar Sherpa

She says: “Nepali women have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously and to prove our worth.”

As a US public prosecutor, de Jesus was tired of the competitive nature of the job, arguing all the time on matters of child protection and human rights law. Hiking was a way to de-stress. She felt nurtured and healed by the natural world.

“I resigned from my job as a lawyer and went on a 5-day trek at Kings Canyon National Park in California. If I regretted quitting, I would know that very week but I came back happy,” de Jesus recalls.

Marinel now owns a travel company called Equity Global Treks, that aims to make tourism responsible and socially just so locals have a say in the way the industry is run. 

Marinel De Jesus and Mingmar Sherpa
Marinel De Jesus and Mingmar Sherpa at Rolwaling Valley last week.

“At 13, it was my parent’s decision to leave the Philippines. I had to leave my home and friends,”  she says. “Today, I have given up my lucrative career and left home. But it is my decision, and mine alone.”

On Day 18 of 140 on Tuesday, de Jesus described her trekking experience so far as “raw, rugged, and real”. She added, “This is the longest I will be with mountains and nature. What else can I ask for?”  

To support the GHT Women Leaders Campaign, go to the website.

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