Many probably can’t remember what they were doing on April 25, 2015. For most, it was just another day. Daria Danilina remembers it well. She was perched atop the bamboo terrace of a home in the Makalu village in the northeast corner of Nepal’s Himalayan region. And she barely felt a shake. Soon after, she received a call on her satellite phone from her parents pleading for her to come home because a 7.8 magnitude earthquake had just ravaged the country.
Moscow born and raised, Danilina left her home country to attend the Cass Business School at the City University of London. Upon graduation she went to work for HSBC for a year and then “serendipitously” found a role in sales and operations to help build out Dropbox’s Dublin office.
On the outside, it appears she had a budding career at a very young age. But on the inside, she was restless with the existential quarter-life crisis many millennial 20-somethings are accustomed to. She needed to do something. Many quit their jobs, backpack in Southeast Asia or South America, go back to school, or become ski bums. Danilina did a little bit of everything, sans becoming a ski bum.
Wanting a professional change, she applied and was accepted to London Business School’s full-time MBA program. “I wanted to see the other side of business, expand my network, and take time to think about what is it I want to do and get ready for the next 30 years and not just the next five,” Danilina says.
“When you’re a Type A person, you’re a very high achiever and sometimes you do things before you think about what it is you actually want to do. And a lot of people are pursuing something not because that’s what they really want, but because that’s what everyone else around them wants.”
FULFILLING A ‘QUARTER-LIFE-CRISIS-PRE-MBA DREAM’
So Danilina, who says she rarely took time off or holidays in her first few couple years of adult work, decided it was time to take some time to fulfill her “quarter-life-crisis-pre-MBA dream” and reflect on life while trekking the Great Himalayan Trail.
But this was hardly a week or two on a smooth wooded trail. First, the Great Himalayan Trail isn’t really a completed pathway. Unlike infamous American trails—like the Pacific Crest or Appalachian—the Great Himalayan Trail is still in its infancy and is barely more than a hodgepodge of established trails that zig-zags across the entire Great Himalayan Range. Next, it’s just under 2,800 miles long, or almost exactly the distance to drive from Los Angeles to New York City, most of it roller coastering from near sea level to higher than 11,000 feet.
Danilina planned to spend three months solo thru-hiking the Nepal section—something very few have done.
“It was wanting to spend more time in a very different environment,” Danilina, a Jon Krakauer disciple, says. “It was the physical challenge, it was the fact that I absolutely adore mountains. And going out there for what was supposed to be three months, confronting myself and being alone and confronting those fears head on and enjoying not being in a city for a long period of time.”
ENDURING THE BUS RIDE FROM HELL
Quite possibly the toughest challenge for Danilina was convincing her parents to stand by while their only child—a 23-year-old—traveled to Nepal to solo trek for three months. But Danilina is not any 23-year-old. She’s completed two marathons and the Everest Base Camp Trek. According to her blog, she’s been obsessed with the idea of Everest for a while and has nerded-out on mountaineering books for years. To her, the Great Himalayan Trail was a natural extension beyond her previous physical limits.
After “a very lengthy debate and a long negotiation process” with her parents, Danilina quit her job at Dropbox, flew to Kathmandu, and was on a 20-hour bus ride, which she describes as, “probably as close as it gets to Hell,” to the start of the trek. “There are buses in India and once they retire them, they send them to Nepal,” Danilina claims. “The bus was overcrowded, there were too many people, someone behind me was throwing up, and the guy in front of me kept closing the window.”
Despite little to no sleep for 20 hours, Danilina accepted the reality of her new world for the next three months and began her trek on April 17—a few days after she left her comfy Dublin office. The first thing she experienced was loneliness and fear. “It’s one of the very few untouched spaces where people still live the way they used to maybe 100 years ago,” she says of the area when she arrived. “You have to be brave and you have to trust people. I didn’t have a reason to be scared, but I guess it’s easy to get scared in those situations.”