The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Patan and The Monkey Temple

Today, the calm of the Monkey Temple and historical Patan. It’s a day of noise, colour and amazing people as the ETR runners relax and soak in the beauty of this magical area.

The Monkey Temple *’Swayambhunath’  is an ancient religious architecture atop a hill in the Kathmandu Valley. The Tibetan name for the site means ‘Sublime Trees’ for the many varieties of trees found on the hill. For the Buddhist Newars, in whose mythological history and origin myth as well as day-to-day religious practice Swayambhunath occupies a central position, it is probably the most sacred among Buddhist pilgrimage sites. For Tibetans and followers of Tibetan Buddhism, it is second only to Boudha.

Patan *Lalitpur Metropolitan City is the third largest city of Nepal after Kathmandu and Pokhara and it is located in the south-central part of Kathmandu Valley which is a new metropolitan city of Nepal. Lalitpur is also known as Manigal. It is best known for its rich cultural heritage, particularly its tradition of arts and crafts. It is called city of festival and feast, fine ancient art, making of metallic and stone carving statue.

Each year I am constantly surprised and blown away by my experiences as I meet the locals in their environment, some I now have seen for several years on my trips to these magical places.

Tomorrow the runner’s leave early morning for camp 1 with a 0545 departure, the race starts the following day at 0900, Monday 11th November.

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The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Arrival in Kathmandu

Runners from all over the world arrived in Kathmandu today after a long-haul flight through the night via Istanbul.

The noise and chaos of Kathmandu assaulting the sleep deprived senses of the 2019 participants as they journeyed from the airport via bus to Hotel Shanker close to the popular area of Thamel.

Teardrop flags, the ETR finish arch and a welcome party of ETR crew and hotel staff now making the 9th edition of the Everest Trail Race all too real. Day one is a relaxed day allowing weary travellers to adjust to the time change.

Nerves, excitement, trepidation and anxiety were all present in varying degrees for the challenge ahead. Despite the ETR’s history, the 9th edition will be remembered for a new route. In the 2017 and 2018 editions of the race, it became apparent to the whole ETR team that the development of road networks from Jiri were beginning to impact on the true spirit of the ETR.

Race Director – Jordi Abad

Race Director, Jordi Abad, had looked at options to explore new trails and go back in time and create a more raw and unique experience as was found in the early editions of the ETR.

Now fully developed within the Solu Khumbu district. The 2019 ETR has four entirely new stages in rural, non-tourist areas. Stages 1-3 and stage 5 bringing a whole new experience of trails and views.

The 2019 ETR will truly be a unique experience harking back to the pioneering first edition.

 

The 4th stage remains entirely the same as in the previous editions, and the final stage will once again start in Tengboche and conclude in Lukla but using a different trail between Tengboche and Namche Bazaar.

The 9th edition will be 12 Km longer with an additional 500m of vertical gain. Importantly, the race starts at a higher elevation of 2800m, In previous editions, Jiri was at an altitude of 1800m, this increase of 1000m is a key and important change.

In summary, the 2019 edition of the ETR will be an incredible adventure for all involved. With a total distance of 170 km and a whopping 26,000 m of accumulated gain/ loss – 13,500m of positive / maximum elevation 4,104 m / minimum elevation 1,500 m.

Daily distances are as follows:

  • Stage 1 – 25km 3625m+/-
  • Stage 2 – 26km 3735m+/-
  • Stage 3 – 30km 5396 +/-
  • Stage 4 – 27.5km 4130m +/-
  • Stage 5 – 32km 4465m +/-
  • Stage 6 – 30km 4572m +/-

Daily reports and images will be reported here on this website.

It is anticipated that communication, particularly on stages 1 and 3 may very well be very sporadic, so, please be patient.

Race Website:  Global HEREUK HERE

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Breaking News! New route for the 2019 The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019

The ETR, The Elements Everest Trail Race, after 8 editions will explore new trails for the 2019 edition.

In 2017 and 2018, it became apparent to the whole ETR team that the development of road networks from Jiri were beginning to impact on the true spirit of the ETR. Some call it progress… But the road network, albeit dirt road, is slowly but surely reaching towards Lukla.

Race Director, Jordi Abad, for the past 3-years has looked at options to explore new trails and go back in time and create a more raw and unique experience as was found in the early editions of the ETR. This is not to say the more recent editions have been compromised, on the contrary, one only has to listen to the feedback form the racers. ETR gains universal acclaim from every competitor as being one of the most exhilarating and awe-inspiring journeys one can take by foot.

In 2019, the ETR may well almost appear to be a new race but rest assured, it goes back to the roots of Jordi’s initial vision and it will still offer a unique journey that covers some of the ground raced in past editions.

So, what is new?

The Everest Trail Race by The Elements is now fully developed within the Solu Khumbu district. In the previous editions the first stage was developed in the Dolakha district and it was not until the second stage that entered into the Solu Khumbu.

The ETR will return to the original inspiration to develop by the rural Khumbu, as far as possible away from the tourist circuits. The first 3 stages will meet this objective and will be developed by rural non-tourist areas. The same will happen in a part of the 5th stage.

These changes will also involve changes in a part of the rules, regarding the water supply in campsites and check points. The difficulties to acquire (buy) water or any other liquid during especially the first 3 stages, as well as, the starting at a higher elevation, make these changes necessary.

For past participants, there is a real incentive to return to the ETR with 70-75% of the race route on new and unexplored trails – 2019 will truly be a unique experience harking back to the first edition.

The 4th stage remains entirely the same as in the previous editions. A change in this sector in the current situation would compromise the safety of the runners due to orographical reasons and extremely dangerous paths.

The 2019 edition will be 12 Km longer with an additional 500m of vertical gain. Importantly, the race starts at a higher elevation of 2800m, therefore, some pre-acclimatisation in training would be advised. In previous editions, Jiri was at an altitude of 1800m, this increase of 1000m is a key and important change.

Adapting to altitude is a key element of the ETR and in 2019 approximately 40 km of the race will be runover 3,500 m altitude, of which approximately 23 km will be made between 3,800 and 4,100 m (19 km entirely in the 5th stage). This is a key difference and truly brings a more demanding Himalayan experience to the race.

Importantly, stage campsites are located below the maximum elevation reached during each day, this will facilitate recovery.

As in 2018, participants will continue to be geolocated, even taking into account the limitations of the system in the Himalayas.

In summary, the 2019 edition of the ETR will be an incredible adventure and one that will be talked about in years to come. With a total distance of 170 km and a whopping 26,000 m of accumulated gain – 13,500 m of positive / maximum elevation 4,104 m / minimum elevation 1,500 m.

Daily distances are as follows:

  • Stage 1 – 25km 3625m+/-
  • Stage 2 – 26km 3735m+/-
  • Stage 3 – 30km 5396 +/-
  • Stage 4 – 27.5km 4130m +/-
  • Stage 5 – 32km 4465m +/-
  • Stage 6 – 30km 4572m +/-

Interested in joining the most awe-inspiring multi-day race in 2019, go to the website HERE

Nepal Trek – Three High Passes in Images – Renjo La, Cho La and Kongma La to include Kala Patthar / EBC

“Coming back to Earth from the high peaks you can feel like a stranger. Bearing experiences that are beyond expression… And beyond price!”- taken from MOUNTAIN the movie

Just a few day’s have passed since I returned from Lukla, back to Kathmandu. My Nepal trek suddenly feels like a distant dream. As I have slowly worked through my images, I have found it difficult to grasp and come to terms with the journey undertaken.

I cannot find the words… I hope they will come? For now though, I have to let the images tell the story. I need to absorb the process and let my emotions come to terms with a dream fulfilled. Needless to say, this trek was beyond expectations.

What I can write, are the facts.

My plan was to undertake the Three High Passes – Renjo La (5360m), Cho La (5420m) and Kongma La (5545m) in the harder clockwise direction with the addition of a diversion to Gorak Shep to go to Kala Patthar (5545m) and Everest Base Camp (5364m). Finally, I would conclude the trip with Ama Dablam Base Camp (4800m) before returning to Namche Bazaar and onward to Lukla.

Typically, the Three High Pass trek takes 21+ days without including Kala Patthar, EBC or Ama Dablam.

I took one day from Lukla to Namche and on my return, I took another single day to return from Namche to Lukla.

I had one day in Namche for acclimation.

I completed the High Pass Trek with additions in 7-days – I am truly thankful to Sherpa Kaji for his incredible guidance and experience on the trails! Pasang Sherpa for his knowledge and continuing support with all logistics.

You can view my GPS inReach track

My itinerary was as follows:

  • Day 1 – flight to Lukla, trek to Namche.
  • Day 2 – Namche acclimate day.
  • Day 3 – Namche to Lumde
  • Day 4 – Lumde to Gokyo via Renjo La Pass
  • Day 5 – Gokyo to Dzongla via Cho La Pass
  • Day 6 – Dzongla to Gorak Shep and an out and back to Kala Patthar
  • Day 7 – Gorak Shep to EBC and and back and then onward to Lobuche
  • Day 8 – Lobuche to Pangboche via Kongma La Pass
  • Day 9 – Pangboche to Ama Dablam Base Camp and back and then onward to Namche
  • Day 10 – Namche to Lukla

Total distance covered was 173.74km

For now, a visual story – the words and detail will follow. If you would like to read about my equipment and planning, please go HERE.

If I may suggest, please listen to Violin concerto in D major: OP61: II Larghetto – by Beethoven on Spotify here or YouTube here.

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Equipment for Fastpacking in Nepal – A Guide

Having just returned from Nepal, I have once again had many questions from runners, hikers and enthusiasts on the equipment I used during the Everest Trail Race.

I would normally say, read ‘this’ post and send a link. However, over 7-years of going to Nepal and the Himalayas, I have constantly tweaked and changed equipment. In 2018 I made some significant changes. So, I have something to write about.

The Everest Trail Race is a 6-day multi-day running race. Runners aim to cover 160km over 6-stages with extremely varied terrain, huge altitude gain and descent and of course, they have altitude to deal with. They must carry all they need for the race. However, a tent is provided which they share, food is provided, and water is rationed and provided at specific checkpoints. The race is the ultimate fast packing exercise as runners obviously try to be as light as possible without compromising warmth and comfort. The race takes place in November, the prime trekking season in Nepal – days are usually sunny and warm and the nights are cold. At certain places on the route, nights can be very cold.

My equipment requirements are not too dissimilar to that of the runners as I to need to move over the trail as fast and light as possible. However, I also need to carry camera equipment. This is significant and adds KG’s instantly.

I have also learnt over the years that I do not like being cold.

In my first Nepal experience I went light (too light) and I was cold. A little extra weight with warmth and comfort is worth it, for me! But here in, this is where the challenge comes and actually, this is part of the fun of fastpacking and in particular, fastpacking in Nepal when the variables can be so great.

This is even more poignant now as I am planning to return to Nepal in a few weeks on a much longer and harder trek than the ETR and when temperatures will be considerably colder, especially at night.

One thing is for sure. You go trekking in Nepal and you will rarely change clothes and a shower/ wash will be a rarity. Accept it! Everyone will be the same so embrace this as part of the challenge. There are ways of dealing with this and I like to think of my clothing as day and night. During the day, I am wearing run clothing, and, in the evening, I am wearing more mountain specific clothing.

I am not the fastest on the trails, but I move considerably faster than nearly all the trekkers. So, I look more like a runner when trekking than a trekker. For example, trekkers will wear boots, trousers, and a shirt. I use run shoes, run tights and a run top.

It is also important to consider individual needs and individual strengths when looking at equipment and weight. For example, a 5ft woman weighing 50kg is going to have a very different set of abilities to a 6ft 85kg man. Keep this in mind!

My equipment list below is specific to me and my needs, but it does provide an excellent start point.

Disclaimer: No equipment or apparel was supplied by RAB, Osprey or Montane. They were all purchased items. The apparel by inov-8 was supplied and the Trail Talon 290 shoes were purchased by myself.

Sherpas and Porters are able to carry huge loads and weight…

PACK

I have used many packs over the years. The runners tend to use the Ultimate Direction Fastpack which is generally a great option. Other variants come from Raidlight, Salomon and so on. Typically, a capacity of 20-30L would be required.

I need to use a larger pack as I carry more, especially with the cameras.

For 2018 I used the OSPREY EXOS 38 which really was excellent. It had great comfort, flexibility and many features that made it a pleasure to use.

My other favourite packs, and to be honest, when I return in December, I will either use the Montane Ultra Tour 40 or 55 depending on my equipment needs? Both these packs are minimalist, light and very comfortable.

WARMTH WHEN SLEEPING

I have already said I like to be warm and layering is absolutely key to regulating temperature. Especially at night.

I do not take the warmest and biggest sleeping bag. The reason being I like to have flexibility. Such I have an unusually mild night, I still want to use my sleeping bag and not be too warm. However, if it’s cold – really cold – how do I get warm? Well, I have three options:

  1. Sleeping bag on its own
  2. Merino base top and bottom and sleeping bag
  3. Merino base top and bottom, down pants, down jacket and sleeping bag

I also have down socks that I would wear over merino wool socks. So, as you can see, I regulate temperature in a very controlled way. In addition, the above I can also wear gloves, a hat and a neck roll. Just wearing a hat really helps retain heat.

Layering is key!

Sleeping bag is a RAB INFINITY 500

Merino top is a RAB 120 long sleeve

Merino Bottoms are a RAB 120 pant

PHD down socks

JACKETS

I take two down jackets. One thinner than the other, again offering flexibility. This year I upgraded to a warmer down jacket, the RAB NEUTRINO PROand it was such a great choice! It was so warm, comfy and with a two-way zip it allowed flexibility of movement. It also had a great hood and high collar.

The lighter jacket was a RAB MICROLIGHTwith no hood. This offers excellent warmth in the morning and evening when on the trails. It also is excellent in my sleeping bag on colder nights. It packs small and is lightweight.

RAB SUPERFLUX HOODY is a great mid-layer that works well in the dry or wet and is excellent when the warmth of down is not required.

PANTS

I have used down pants previously but this year I used the RAB PROTON PANTS which are not down filled, a little heavier but more flexible for other uses and they are Primaloft. So, they can get wet and keep warm. Down cannot get wet!

HAT, GLOVES and ACCESSORIES

Hands and feet are so difficult to keep warm and for me, they are the areas I most struggle with. So, I have options:

RAB Merino liner glove

RAB Xenon Mitt (warm and waterproof)

RAB Windblock convertible gloves which allow me to use my camera

RAB Shadow Beanie (for day use)

RAB Beanie (for night use)

RAB neck tubes (usually have 2 or 3)

RAB hut slippers allow me to remove my run shoes and are also much warmer. I go a size bigger than needed so I can wear my down socks in them too.

DAY CLOTHING

My day hike/ run clothing is pretty conventional, and I have long been a fan of inov-8.

It is possible to wear shorts as day temperatures are usually very good, however, I prefer the flexibility of 3/4 tights as they also keep my knees warm.

I use the AT/C Merino Top, and should temperatures get high, I just roll the sleeves up. One great addition is that the sleeves have thumb holes, so, they also provide a great alternative to using gloves.

The AT/C soft-shell Pro Top is brilliant early morning or late afternoon when the warmth of a down jacket is not required. This jacket has been tweaked over the years and has some great features – high collar, good hood, two pockets and thumb loops to help keep hands warm.

Extreme Thermo Skull Hat keeps my head warm and the Extreme Thermo Mitts are excellent – much better than gloves.

Shoes are always a debatable point and very personal. I prefer to use a shoe with cushioning, a wide but not too wide toe box, adequate all-round grip and 8mm drop – the Trail Talon 290 is perfect for me and on the recent ETR were perfect every day!

TIPS

My inov-8 run apparel is for the day. As soon as I finish the day’s run or trek. I immediately get changed into my RAB Merino base layers and put on my overprints, down jacket and put on a hat. This makes sure I don’t sit in damp clothing.

The priority is then to get the day’s clothing dry. A priority if you are not carrying an alternate set of clothing.

EXTRAS

Extras add weight, but I do consider certain items to be essential.

  • SPOT Tracker for me just makes sense and is a great security blanket.
  • Mobile phone – get a Ncell sim when you land in Kathmandu. You can get a 30-day sim with 16gb of data for not much more than £10. Coverage on the trails now is pretty good!
  • POLES – I use Black Diamond Z Poles, they are light, fold and are essential on the relentless climbs and descents.
  • EARPHONES – handy at night when relaxing.
  • EAR PLUGS
  • BLINDFOLD
  • HEAD TORCH and batteries
  • WET WIPES
  • MICRO FIBRE TOWEL
  • BASIC TOILETRIES
  • PEN
  • PASSPORT
  • WATERPROOF COMPRESSION BAG

OPTIONAL EXTRAS

Based on what type of trek you are doing, where you are going and when you are going, the requirements will vary here. For example, I am returning to Nepal in December and I will need light crampons and an ice axe.

The simple thing with any extra is that it adds weight. So, always ask the question, ‘Do you really need it?’

Read about the Everest Trail Race HERE

Read about the 2017 edition of the race HERE

And now, what is next for me….

Well, Nepal captures my imagination like no other place. Last year after the ETR I returned and did the whole race on foot in the same timescale as the race itself. It was a wonderful experience.

So, this December, the plan is to fly into Lukla and then do the high passes with some serious additions visiting Base Camps and peaks:

  • Gokyo RI
  • Everest Base Camp
  • Ama Dablam Base Camp
  • Tabuche Peak
  • Thamserku Base Camp

SCHEDULE DECEMBER:

18th – Depart for LUKLA go straight to Namche

19th – Namche – Tengboche – Namche (acclimatisation)

20th – Namche – Thame – Lumde

21st – Lumde – Renjo La – Gokyo – Gokyo RI – Gokyo

22nd – Gokyo – Dragnag – Cho La – Dzongla

23rd – Dzongla – Lobuche – Gorakshep

24th – Gorakshep – EBC – Gorakshep – Lobuche

25th – Lobuche – Dingboche – Somare

26th – Somare – Ama Dablam Base Camp – Pangboche

27th – Pangboche – Tabuche Peak – Pangboche

28th – Pangboche – Namche – Monjo

29th – Monjo – Thamserku Base Camp – Monjo

30th – Monjo – Lukla

31st – Lukla – KTM

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Everest Trail Race 2018 #ETR2018

EVEREST TRAIL RACE, Nepal

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didnt do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay (Sherpa Tenzing) are the stuff of legends; real comic book heroes for this modern era. They had the RIGHT STUFF! You know what I mean, stiff upper lip and the ability to take it on the chin.

Think back, 50+ years ago clad in wool and leather boots they departed Kathmandu on what is now considered one of the most iconic journeys everon the planet. A journey that would take the duo and a British expedition step-by-step, stride-by-stride from Kathmandu to Everest Base Camp; a journey to climb the highest mountain in the world, Everest.

To follow in the footsteps of these pioneers, to follow in the footsteps of Hilary and Tenzing and retrace the ‘53’ journey is beyond running. Its a life affirming and life changing experience and one that the Everest Trail Race provides.

Kathmandu is just the most incredible place. Its a cacophony of noise, colour, people, cars and dust. Nothing can really prepare you for the assault on your senses. A dichotomy for the mind; I embrace the poverty around me and I make it look amazing with stunning photos. Am I a fake? Its a question I often ask. Do I prostitute the locals for my own gain? I think the answer is yes! But with each photograph captured I receive a smile, an acknowledgement that I have made them happy.

Departing Kathmandu, the road to Jiri is a twisting and gut-wrenching series of bends and miles. At 1905m altitude base camp 1 is warmed by the glow of yellow tents. As the sun lowers behind the surrounding mountains, anticipation of the journey ahead is high. Sherpas and porters prepare dinner and we spend a first night under canvas. Suddenly, the journey ahead feels very real.

The Everest Trail Race (ETR) follows the route of Hilary and Tenzing from Jiri all the way to Tengboche and then turns around and heads back to Lukla, thus facilitating an easy and manageable exit point to fly back to Kathmandu.

At 100-miles in distance an experienced ultra-runner may well think the race to be easy. Think again. The combination of relentless climbing, long descents, technical terrain and high altitude makes the ETR, mile-for-mile one of the toughest races of its type.

Broken down into manageable chunks, the race is divided into 6-stages with daily distances of approximately 22, 28, 30, 31, 20 and 22km. Altitude gain starts at 3000m and builds to 6000m. The ETR is a journey to widen one’s eyes and lungs. The visual splendor of the Himalayas is beyond words. The mountains, trails and people arguably provide one of the most stunning backdrops to any race on the planet. It’s easy to become stuck in the moment; the moment of relentless forward motion, then something stirs, you look up and as your jaw hits the floor, the visual splendor takes what little breath remains away; you are left gasping, breathless at the beauty.

Large eyes, dried dirt, runny noses and wide-open welcoming smiles; the Nepalese people really are the salt of the earth. Living in a harsh, demanding and remote environment they have adapted to the surroundings and have found a peace and humility that we can all learn from.

The trekking route, on which we travel, is the motorway of Nepal. We are the tourists, a constant stream of heavy goods vehicles surround us: porters, mules or yaks. Porters transport goods and services up and down this trail motorway daily, an important lifeline to the whole community. For £10 a day they will carry 30kgs on their backs covering high altitude and long distances with the ease of mountain goats. Experienced porters have been known to carry up to 120kg per day. It is beyond belief or comprehension. It is easy to look on from the outside and nod disapprovingly. However, this is normal. No roads exist here, the only method of transporting any goods along the trail are by porter, yak or mule.

Day 1 to Bhandar eases runners into the race with 3700m+/- of vertical gain and descentand approximately 21km in distance. The mind is released, and the legs and lungs try to follow. The sound of horns from local villagers announce the race is underway.

Bhandar to Jase Bhanjyang is a beast and arguably day 2 is considered one of the toughest of the race. It’s a brute! A brute of epic proportions; it leaves every runner questioning the journey ahead and the possibility of completion. Deviating from Hilary and Tenzing’s route, the ETR does not circumnavigate Pikey Peak at just over 4000m but goes over it! As one runner said, ‘It would certainly appear that day 1 really had been just a hors d’oeuvre and the race would miss the entrée and go straight into the main course, ready or not!’

Like any good meal, you can sometimes be a little over faced with the plate in front of you. Pikey Peak was such an indulgence. It was a climbing journey that made a vertical kilometer look like a small hill-rep. Front-runners can anticipate 2-hours plus of relentless climbing, the remainder of the field can spend 4, 5, 6 and maybe longer negotiating the steep slopes of these Himalayan foothills. From the summit; each step of pain is rewarded with a wonderful vista of the Himalayan range. In the distance Everest, Lohtse and Ama Dablam making this 4000m-peak dwarf with their 7000m plus splendor.

Kharikhola provides an incredible end to day-3. A monastery perched atop a mountain. I have often heard how runners have discussed and explained out of body experiences while running. Its not something one can pinpoint, like a mirage they come and go leaving one to question ones sanity. Kharikhola may well have provided such stimulus. Is that real?one may ask and as the final steps arrive and the ETR finish banner awaits.

Travel is the discovery of truth; an affirmation of the promise that human kind is far more beautiful than it is flawed. With each trip comes a new optimism that where there is despair and hardship, there are ideas and people just waiting to be energized, to be empowered, to make a difference for good.” – Dan Thompson, Following Whispers: Walking on the Rooftop of the World in Nepal’s Himalayas.

The trail changes and suddenly more trekkers, more porters, more mules and yaks populate the trail to Lukla and beyond. Dropping down and climbing up, the trail switches and twists and as you turn a bend at Kari La, the mountains hit you through the mist. They are no longer distant peaks but massive snow-covered monsters that make you realise how completely insignificant you are.

I see a woman carrying wood to her home. I stop her and ask for a photograph. Without hesitation she stops, looks me in the eye and patiently waits while I work my craft. Her face is leathered, full of lines and adorned with gold jewelry. She is beautiful. I cant even remotely pinpoint her age, but her face tells me a multitude of stories. Each line an experience. A story of laughter, a story of childhood and I am sure many stories of hardship.

Tengboche, the finish line of day-5 offers a panorama to bring a tear to the eye. Everest, Lohtse and Ama Dablam are close and the finish line of the ETR frames them beautifully like a classic painting. Relief, emotions and an outpouring of tears make the journey worthwhile. So tough the journey, many a runner needs to be reminded to turn around, look, and see what is behind them. The reaction always the same, a huge intake of air, a hand to the face and then a lowering of the head.

Hillary and Tenzing carried on from Tengboche. In the process they created a new world, a world where anything is possible. They climbed to the top and looked down and in doing so they paved the way for all of us to set new horizons, new goals and they have made us all ask the question, what if?

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.

Edmund Hillary

Passing through Sagarmatha National Park, crossing Hilary Bridge, navigating through Namche Bazaar the final calling of Lukla confirms the end of the ETR.

Nepal and the Everest Trail Race provides more than a race experience, they provide a spiritual journey that transcends running. Running may be the vehicle but the trails of Nepal provide the highway, a highway to a new experience, to something magical and to something special.

Words taken from the book RUNNING BEYOND HERE

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Nepal Trek – A Journey in the Himalayas Part One

Nepal Trek – A Journey in the Himalayas Part One

Not counting my recent trip, the one on which I am writing about, I have visited Nepal four times. Nepal changed me. It has that effect on people. It’s a magical place of noise, colour, wealth, poverty, squalor, amazing trails, amazing views and some of the most beautiful people you will ever meet.

Nepal is magical!

I first visited in 2013 followed by 2014. I missed 2015 after the earthquakes and returned in 2016 and 2017. Each time I was working on the Everest Trail Race, a multi-stage running race that covers 100-miles starting in Jiri, following in the footsteps of Hillary and Tenzing to Tengboche and then returning to Lukla on the last day. It is a stunning race, one that I look forward to each year. However, despite my best efforts, my partner Niandi, was never available to take part.

So, this year, 2017, after working on the race in November, I returned to Nepal in December to experience the trails over Christmas in my own time with Niandi and with a guide – Ngima Sherpa.

Amad Dablam, Nuptse, Lohtse and Everest – need I say more!

Practical Information

Trekking in Nepal is extremely popular and pre-2015 it was a booming business. The 2015 earthquakes impacted greatly but now in 2017, it is booming once again and a recent study confirmed that figures are ahead of pre-2015.

The key months for trekking are October, November and December and then it picks up again in March, April and May.

October and November is very busy with warm sunny days and relatively warm nights. December is considerably quieter and much colder at night, the days are still sunny and warm. Spring is the main time for attempts on Everest with the key period being around May 10th, so, as you can imagine, March and April is when all the expeditions trek into base camp and start adjusting for the altitude.

For me, November is great, December is considerably better but be prepared for the cold nights, particularly when moving beyond Tengboche and above altitudes of 4000m.

We stayed at HOTEL SHANKER here in Kathmandu, it is an oasis of quiet amongst the noise of Kathmandu. It set back off the main road and has gardens and swimming pools. It’s proximity to Thamel here is excellent. Thamel is a key area for tourists with shops, cafes, bars and so on.

Traffic in Kathmandu is crazy but Taxi’s are cheap. Airport to Hotel Shanker is around £5 and it can take 20 to 60-mins based on traffic.

What type of trek?

Nepal has many possibilities for trekking and as a kick-off I consider two options to be the most obvious:

  1. Following in the footsteps of Hillary (read here) and trekking in from Jiri, taking in the early and quiet trails to then pass Lukla and head up through Phakding, Namche Bazaar, Tengboche and then onwards to EBC (Everest Base Camp) or maybe take in the high passes to then return to Lukla and fly back to Kathmandu.

  1. Fly to Lukla from Kathmandu, miss out the early trails and then hike into Phakding, Namche Bazaar and then onwards to EBC and/ or the high passes.

The JIRI trek.

The long climb – all 2500m+ to the summit of Pikey Peak.

If you haven’t experienced Nepal and the Himalayas before, my advice is to start with the Everest Trail Race which starts in Jiri. If you so wish, you can then do what I did and follow up with a solo trek. My main reason for this is two-fold; you get to follow in the footsteps of history and more importantly, you get to experience the early and quiet trails that are very different to those beyond Lukla. Importantly, if you go via the summit of Pikey Peak, you hit over 4000m early and get one of THE most amazing vistas of the Himalayas.

Niandi at the summit, a great moment for her and me.

Once you have done the Jiri to Lukla section there is maybe no need to re do these sections. Should you return to Nepal, you can fly directly to Lukla.

The early trails are magical though!

How long does a trek take?

Let’s assume that you want to do an EBC trek from Jiri. This would normally take, with most trekking groups and/or guides 24-days. The route would take you from Jiri all the way through to EBC via Tengboche and then return to Lukla with a flight back to Kathmandu.

However, if you are reading this, chances are you are an ultra-runner and therefore you can cover distance and time quicker. To provide some perspective, on our recent trek, Niandi and myself covered Jiri to Tengboche in 6-days, most treks would take 12 to 14-days!

Pikey Peak summit, the wind was blowing a gale and it was freezing cold.

One needs to be realistic when trekking, especially in Nepal. Distance can mean very little when you have 1000’s of meters to climb and descend, so, keep a perspective. Running will be minimal, especially with a pack. Fast-packing is no problem, especially if you get the kit right and the pack weight manageable, more on that later. In December, it is fair to assume that you have 10-hours of day to trek, that is working on 0700 starts and 1700 finish time. Darkness arrives around 1730. But one must consider the altitude and if you have experience of hiking/ trekking/ running above 3000m. There are no guarantees with altitude and one must respect it. You need to adapt, particularly once one hits 4000m and beyond.

When trekking, you need to decide firstly how long do you have? This is THE most important initial question as this will dictate what you can realistically achieve. *Tip – factor in at least 1 extra day for emergency/ contingency. Also, think about travel to and from the trails. For example, starting from Jiri requires transport via vehicle from Kathmandu, this takes 7-10 hours. Flights from Lukla can be cancelled due to bad weather, so, factor a day of contingency.

Looking at Ama Dablam.

How high are you going? If you plan to go to EBC, you need to factor ‘adaptation’ days for altitude. This varies with previous experience. But if you are planning long-term to go to Nepal, it makes sense that you do some adaptation in advance. For example, you can go to Tenerife and hike to the summit of Mt. Teide at 3718m. Personally, I am regularly between 2 and 4000m working on races, early in 2017 I went above 5000m in China. But Niandi had little adaptation. For her, this came on day 2 of our trek with Pikey Peak summit at over 4000m. This worked because we were at the summit for minimal time and then descended to 3400m. It was 3 days later that we then reached 3800m and above after descending and climbing a rollercoaster of trails.

On our trip, Niandi and myself wanted a holiday but we also wanted to be aggressive on daily distances and be challenged. Our schedule was as follows:

Day 1 travel to Kathmandu.

Day 2 Kathmandu sightseeing.

Day 3 4×4 drive to Jiri

Day 4 Trek, Jiri to Bhandar

Day 5 Trek, Bhandar to Jase Bhanjyang via the summit of Pikey Peak (4100m) not the normal trek route.

Day 6 Trek, Jase Bhanjyang to Junbeisi via a different route to most trekking groups

Day 7 Trek, Junbeisi to Kharikhola

Day 8 Trek, Kharikhola to Phakding

Day 9 Trek, Phakding to Tengboche (here it is possible to hike on to EBC over 2-4 more days based on adaptation, remember, you need to return to and also adjust for altitude. Tengboche is 3800m and EBC is above 5000m)

Day 10 Trek, Tengboche to Lukla

Day 11 Flight back to Kathmandu

We had then had three days in Kathmandu. We could have used one or two of these days had we had an issue with flights from Lukla. As it was, we had no issues and used day 1 as relaxation and the other 2 days for sightseeing.

As a note, nobody that we met on the trails and in the lodges, was covering the distance that Niandi and myself were covering, they were doing half at the most! However, if you are fit, our trek is most definitely manageable and ultimately, in my opinion, more rewarding.

Guide or no guide?

Ngima Sherpa – our guide.

I knew the route and did not need a guide but I decided to take one. This proved to be a great decision on so many levels:

  1. We gave back something to the community, guides need tourists and we provided employment.
  2. This trek was a holiday for me after a year on the road, it was also Niandi’s first Nepal experience. I wanted no hassle and also be free of stress and worry – I let my guide do the worrying.
  3. Our guide, Ngima Sherpa, was a dream to be with – we now consider him a great friend.
  4. Ngima guided us without imposing, he kept to himself allowing us space, he handled all logistics, negotiations and made our trip smooth and like clockwork. He handled our lodges, passes for the National Park, our flights from Lukla and so much more.
  5. He showed us parts of the trails we would not have seen had we not been with him and more importantly, he introduced us to his friends and family on the trails. We were blessed.

Niandi with Ngima’s mother.

In summary, between Jiri and Tengboche a guide is not essential but I recommend one.

Beyond Tengboche, going to the high passes and to EBC I would strongly advise a guide – this is primarily due to the variables that altitude can bring – having an experienced professional around makes sense. For example, Ngima had medication should we need it and a tent for altitude sickness.

Equipment

Quite simple, in my opinion, if you are going trekking, carry your own kit! We saw so many people trekking with a little 3 or 5ltr packs and behind them a porter weighed down by a 20-40kg holdall. Don’t get me wrong, the porters need business but if YOU are trekking, why get someone else to carry your equipment? The only exception comes for those who are going climbing or on longer expeditions when obviously kit requirements are far greater.

Niandi and myself were self-sufficient carrying ALL we needed from the moment we left Kathmandu till the day we returned, 9-days. My pack was 7kg and Niandi’s was 5.7kg. Niandi used an Ultimate Direction 30ltr Fastpack (here) and I used a Montane Ultra Tour 55 (here).

You need to accept that you will smell, that you will wear clothes for many days and that you may, or more than likely, may not shower. For perspective, Niandi and myself managed 2 hot showers thanks to our guide, we had a shower on day 5 and on day 8.

Equipment is personal but I have dialed my apparel for Nepal over previous trips and I know it works. I basically advised Niandi on what to take and our equipment lists were almost identical. Niandi used PHD down products which were made specific for her needs (socks, trousers, jacket and sleeping bag). I am a huge PHD fan and have used their products on 3 of my previous Nepal trips, for this trip, I used RAB products. Both PHD and RAB are UK based companies. PHD here and RAB here.

Niandi’s apparel:

  • Merino wool base layer long-sleeve top x2 here
  • Merino wool base layer long tights x1here
  • 3/4 run tights x1here
  • Run shirt x1here and here
  • Medium weight down jacket here
  • *Medium weight down jacket with hood, 1 size larger (for when really cold) here
  • Down over trousers here and here
  • Down socks here
  • Down lodge/ tent slippers here
  • Merino wool liner gloves here
  • Lightweight waterproof/ windproof jacket here
  • Primaloft mitts here
  • Warm hat
  • Buff x2
  • Underwear x4
  • Merino wool socks x2
  • Nike Wildhorse 4 shoes here
  • **Down sleeping bag here and here
  • Trekking poles – Black Diamond Z-Pole (folding)
  • Dry towel
  • Wet wipes x3

Extras:

  • Compass
  • Knife
  • Head torch and batteries
  • Medical kit
  • Medication – paracetamol, Ibuprofen, Cold&Flu tablets, Imodium, lip cream and sun cream
  • Small toiletries – toothbrush, toothpaste, small shower gel, small deodorant etc.
  • Dry bags for kit
  • Sunglasses
  • Yaktrak hand warmers x8 here
  • ****2ltr bladder

NOTE: If you forget ‘any’ kit or equipment. You can purchase ‘anything’ in Thamel. There is a plethora of shops. Please note, many products are fake and super cheap. I wouldn’t take any fake item on my trek. That is just me! However, many do. There are ‘real’ stores such as The North Face, Mountain Hardwear and so on and they are all on the same road ‘THABAHL RD’ Google location here

Camera:

***Sony A9 with fixed 35mm f2.8 prime lens and 4 batteries.

Clarifications:

*We took 2 down jackets so that we could layer. I have found from experience that this is better than carrying one larger, heavier and warmer jacket. At times, it can be cold, but not too cold when one down jacket is adequate. Should temperatures drop, you can add another jacket for luxury with relatively little extra weight – 2-400g +/-.

**Sleeping bag was good for -5 but I use the layering system for sleeping. On warm nights, just the sleeping bag is adequate. A chilly night and Merino base-layers and the bag works great. If it’s cold, base-layers, down socks, down trousers and down jacket really increases the warmth for a super cozy and warm night.

This article is interesting re layering https://www.outsideonline.com/2271191/how-experts-layer-sleeping-bag

There is no such thing as a cold nights sleep, only not enough layers,he says. I layer when Im inside the bag just as much as I do while outside the bag. When youre climbing Everest, youre not naked under your down suit. The more heat you can preserve in a warm layer next to your body, the better.

***I am a photographer so was always going to take a camera. However, I didn’t want the trek to be like a photo assignment, so, I travelled light with a fixed lens – 35mm works great for portraits, landscape and general shots. I didn’t want to re-charge batteries so took 4.

****Both Niandi and myself prefer bottles to a bladder, but I have found a bladder far more practical in Nepal for many reasons. It is easy and quick to drink while moving, more often than not one is using poles and one can drink from the bladder with no issues (don’t need to remove a bottle, drink and replace), you move at a slower pace in Nepal so stopping once, re-filling the bladder causes no issues.

Tip – When talking about ‘warmth!’ This is of course subjective and you need to draw from personal experience. If you are a cold person, you will need more warmth and vice versa. From experience, being cold can be miserable, so, a little extra weight and guaranteed warmth is worth it! Niandi for example gets very cold hands through a circulation problem, we took 8 sets of Yaktrak hand warmers to ensure that we had this contingency if required – we used them all! The higher you go, the colder it will get. Also consider wind chill. On our day 2 as we summited Pikey Peak at 4100m, the wind was over 50mph and it was below -15. It was really cold, be prepared.