Pakistan's Baltoro Glacier (Sara Bull)
Award Words : Team Wanderlust | 31 August 2019

Sara Bull: What it's like guiding the world's toughest treks

A finalist at last year’s Wanderlust World Guide Awards, Exodus Travels’ Sara Bull has led treks in some of the toughest landscapes in the world. She talks about finding her feet...

Nepal trek route (Shutterstock)

Nepal trek route (Shutterstock)

Travel is in my blood.

My mum is nomadic at heart and my sister has travelled a lot; she works overseas as a skiing and bungee-jumping instructor, as well as racing in motorcycle rallies, among other things.

But I still pinch myself when I realise this is the reality of my life. I’m not sure I will ever get to a stage where I accept that.

The power of yoga (Shutterstock)

The power of yoga (Shutterstock)

The stuff I do daily for myself keeps me going.

I work back-to-back trips, going from one country to another.

I run and cycle as much as I can to stay fit, and have a daily routine of yoga and meditation. But I think adrenaline carries me through.

When I finish and I’m flying back to re-kit; that’s when I start to feel myself come down, but then I’m on to the next thing.

Mount Kilimanjaro (Shutterstock)

Mount Kilimanjaro (Shutterstock)

Trekking is therapeutic.

If you travel too fast, you’re not getting a feel for the landscape or the country.

On the long trips, especially if you’re interacting a lot with the local people, it gives you a chance to stop, absorb and reflect.

Sara on a trek (Sara Bull)

Sara on a trek (Sara Bull)

You can’t recce the big treks.

In some places, like on glaciers, the routes change daily, so you’re never 100% sure which you’re going to take when you wake up.

I work closely with local providers and I’ll go in as head guide, but there’ll be a whole team behind me, and depending on the size of the group, I might ask a few locals I know to stick with us.

Sometimes, we’ll scout ahead, but often you rock up and get on with it.

I have a plan A, B and C in my head.

You’re always assessing risk as you go, seeing if you need to reroute.

Sometimes you may have to sit tight at the edge of a river until the water is low enough to cross because there’s no other way. It’s about making a good judgment call.

Simien Mountains, northern Ethiopia (Shutterstock)

Simien Mountains, northern Ethiopia (Shutterstock)

Some things you can’t prepare for.

On one ten-day trek in the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia, everybody got the norovirus.

But they didn’t all get it at once; one guy got it, then the next day another two – it snowballed.

If they’d all got it together, we’d have just stayed in camp and waited it out for 24 hours. But we plugged on.

I was up every night with clients, washing them and their clothes, and we literally carried people to get them through the first day of it.

At the end, though, everyone was delighted we’d carried on.

Trekking through Nordic mountains (Shutterstock)

Trekking through Nordic mountains (Shutterstock)

Don’t dwell on the bad stuff.

There’s grim things that you have to deal with wherever you go, but I don’t like to analyse it too much.

I think if you did, you just wouldn’t do the job – not in some of the places that I go to.

Pakistan's Baltoro Glacier (Sara Bull)

Pakistan's Baltoro Glacier (Sara Bull)

I leave a bit of my heart everywhere.

I’ve done some treks many times, but I’m always sad to leave.

One of the more remote ones I do is the Baltoro Glacier in Pakistan, and it blows you away.

K2 Mountain peak, Pakistan (Shutterstock)

K2 Mountain peak, Pakistan (Shutterstock)

You’re suddenly aware of how insignificant you are.

It’s not like the well-known treks, which are like highways.

Maybe in time it will be – tourism is picking up here and Pakistan is talking about offering visas on arrival.

For now, it’s still an incredible and emotional journey.

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