Many people love hiking alone. They consider it a quiet time to get out into nature and see beautiful things in solitude. It’s an understandable urge. It can be pleasant to be alone with your thoughts.
Years ago, we went on record as being against solo hikes. It’s a little controversial, and some folks will disagree with us. But we think the risks outweigh the benefits. When you go out into nature, there are many hazards. If you are with a friend, you have a buddy in an emergency to help you or get assistance. If you are hiking with someone, you have a second set of eyes and hands and someone to think through problems with. While a stroll can be a pleasant exercise in solitude, we believe a companion is a necessity for a hike.
The country of Nepal agrees with us. As of April first, hiking in Nepal’s national parks without a guide will be illegal. Tourists frequently become lost and occasionally die while hiking in the Himalayas. Regardless of how experienced a hiker you are, all tourists will need a guide.
“There were many cases where tourists have disappeared,” said the Nepal Tourism Board’s director Mani Lamichhane. He added that the high number of deaths has led people to believe Nepal is unsafe. People from Nepal can still enter the parks on their own.
The number of missing people is quite startling. In the fiscal year 2019–20, 390 tourists were reported lost or missing. The next fiscal year, the number was 54.
“In both the years, the majority of tourists who were reported lost/missing were those trekking without guides, basically solo and ‘free independent travelers,’” said Mr. Lamichhane. “Even if you look at the data from years before 2019–20, you will see the same trend.”
This ban has been in the pipeline for a long time. As early as 2009, The Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal has been saying it’s too dangerous for people unfamiliar with the country to be alone in the wild.
Nilhari Bastola, the organization’s president, said, “Every year, we see two to four cases of solo trekkers getting involved in deadly incidents. Our data shows that having a trained trekking guide goes a long way in ensuring that trekkers remain safe and avert possible dangers.”
Licensed guides know the topography, even in remote destinations. There isn’t cellphone reception there, and the weather changes quickly. When people go missing, it is incredibly difficult to perform search-and-rescue operations. The area is also prone to natural disasters, including landslides. Outsiders don’t know the early warning signs that could save their lives.
A guide starts at $17 a day. The price goes up for how hard of a hike one is traveling. This move will boost the economy as dozens of young Nepalis people have trekking-guide licenses but cannot find work. So this will be a win-win-win for the economy, hiker safety and improved image as fatalities decrease.
There are safer hikes outside the parks that don’t require guides where people can still hike alone if that’s their preferred style. From day hikes around Kathmandu to 10-day treks, people can still strike out on their lonesome. But you’ll need a guide if you want to do the hard ones.
While this move might anger some people, we think it’s fitting for safety. While hiking in Nepal is a lifelong dream for many people, you don’t know the terrain or safety risks when you are in a foreign country. It’s so easy to overestimate your hiking abilities. It’s much better to go with a new traveling companion and come home in one piece than try to go by yourself and be met with calamity.