FREEDOM in a Pandemic

Another summit in Norway with Abelone.

In recent weeks, as restrictions on travel, social distancing and borders open, it has somehow felt that living in the times of a Pandemic is a little like toeing the line at Big’s Backyard Ultra. Instead of running loops around a yard, we wake up each morning for another loop of 24-hours not knowing where the finish line is and when it will come.

Covid-19 for us runners is a very unique ultramarathon.

In all honesty, I do believe that ultra-runners are somehow better adapted for the challenges that a Pandemic brings. Mental fortitude and resilience have come to the fore and when restrictions were really tough, runners rallied with running at home. Virtual suddenly became the next big thing. It filled a gap and brought people together from all over the world in a mutual coming together to enjoy a love of sport and community.

The impact on work has been huge for all and the consequences of this will continue on for months and years on personal levels and business. It’s a sad time.

But early on, I accepted that 2020 would be a wipe out. Being somewhat of an OCD character, this took a little time to adjust too. My year of work was planned out. The schedule was timetabled and suddenly, it was gone… What was full, soon became empty. I have felt my moods swing with positivity and at times I have wanted to put my head in my hands.

But quarantine and social distancing, in all honesty, was no big deal for me. I actually feel that I have social distanced most of my life and sport has only reaffirmed that.

Yes, I enjoy the company of friends. Yes, I enjoy a trail run with company. Yes, I enjoy a beer and a meal with others and yes, I have missed my family.

The summit os Slogen, Norway in July with Abelone.

But I am good alone, in isolation and finding my own footing. Time on the trail has always allowed me to switch off, think, contemplate, plan, work out problems, come up with solutions and form ideas.

When running with others, I am often asked, ‘Are you ok? You are quiet!’

‘I am perfect; I am just out of the office and soaking up the time,’ often my reply. 

In recent months, or should I say for the whole of 2020 so far, I have immersed myself in a new life in Norway with my girlfriend, Abelone.

Little did we both know in February after being at The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica that we would spend 24/7 for the coming months together. I laughed early on saying, ‘Well, this is one way to find out if this relationship will work!’

It has been the best thing to come from a Pandemic.

FREEDOM is something I always had being self-employed but the freedom to do ‘my’ adventures was dictated by travel and a hectic work schedule. Freedom often only really came in the middle of the year when I would block off some time in Summer and then December, which I would treat as sacred and my opportunity to explore and adventure.

2020 has seen my diary flipped with little or no work and constant adventure. 

Here is Scandinavia, we were very lucky with Covid (exception coming from Sweden who handled things differently,) particularly in Norway, cases were low, death rates were low and although social distancing was required, our freedom was not impacted. In all honesty, many locals confirmed that the trails in Norway had never had so many people on them in March, April and May. No doubt helped by some amazing weather. 

Scandinavians love the outdoor life and Covid only emphasized the need for space, outdoor adventure and exercise. A wonderful mental and physical prescription that all doctors should prescribe. 

I am used to travelling when I like, eating in restaurants, meeting friends when I want, and I am used to being surrounded by people at a race. Some would say I was free.

But was I?

August is here and I am now looking back at social interactions in 2020 since March and lockdown.

  • I have seen no family.
  • I have seen 4 friends in Norway.
  • I have run on the trails with Abelone and one other person who we had to social distance with.
  • I have interacted with 3 members of Abelone’s family.

And that is it…

So, my freedom was and is still certainly impacted upon and I relish the opportunity to hug a friend, travel back to the UK and see my Mum and my son and equally embrace them like never before.

But no work has allowed me a freedom of time, not financial, to do what I want.

Adventure is on the doorstep for us all.

Now, here in Norway we have a pretty big doorstep. At a third larger than the UK, getting around Norway can take a while but with just 5.5 million people in contrast to 66 million, finding space and social distancing is no problem. Hardanger, Stranda, Romsdal, and Jotunheimen have all been on our list and even 1,2 or 3-day adventures from home have become regular.

Just yesterday, we ran 15km from home, wild camped in an isolated location and then ran 15km home.

I have always been a lone wolf with adventure. At best, I have shared an experience with just one or two others. I like my pace, my schedule and my itinerary and am somewhat inflexible, yes stubborn with changes and I do like to plan. I can see Abelone roll her eyes now…!

Photo ©JanNyka

The escape of outdoor life has always provided me with an energy. I even got that with my work, often hiking out for hours on a trail to sit and wait, alone, for runners to come. 

So, what am I saying?

The Pandemic is rubbish, for sure. Is it going away? I hope so, as soon as possible, but as I said at the beginning, currently we are all running loops at Big’s Backyard Ultra and nobody knows how many loops are to go and when the finishing will come. 

One thing we do have, albeit at varying levels depending on where one lives in the world, is freedom to explore from home. So, embrace what you have and do not think or focus on what you do not have or what you cannot do.

It’s no surprise that FKT’s have never been more popular. 

Many have said, ‘I cannot wait for life to return to normal!’ I agree to a certain extent, normal would be good… But then again, was normal good?

Will life ever be ‘normal’ again, or, are we looking at a new normal?

I don’t have answers.

But I will keep running the loops and enjoy the newfound freedom I have for now.

*****

Have you found freedom in 2020? I would love to know.

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inov-8 TERRAULTRA G270 Review

I first got a hold of the original TERRAULTRA 2-years ago, the G260. It was a groundbreaking shoe for inov-8 not only introducing a zero-drop shoe to the brands line-up but also paving the way for Graphene technology.

A great deal has happened in the past 2-years with Graphene appearing in more and more inov-8 shoes but interestingly no other zero drop shoes have been added to the line-up.

The TERRAULTRA G260 was warmly welcomed, particularly by any trail runner using Altra who now had a zero-drop alternative now available with a brand who really know how to make off-road shoes from a long history in the fells of the UK.

Now, the G260 has been updated and we welcome the TERRAULTRA G270.

On first glance, it could look like the same shoe. That green colour is somewhat distinctive! However, one does not need to look longer to see some immediate significant changes.

The upper, the lacing, the outsole and the cushioning all sort of look the same but they are not.

In the words on inov-8:

  • Graphene outsole has 4mm deep cleats all now armed with dispersion channels and rubber dimples to give better grip on wet and dry trails. Cleats are repositioned in key areas and flex grooves fine-tuned for agile sticky traction that lasts longer.
  • Cushioning is a new POWERFLOW MAX that has been increased by 3mm for a plush ride, improved cushioning and double the durability. A BOOMERANG insole apparently will increase energy return by 20 and 40% respectively over the previous model.
  • The upper has ADAPTERFIT which adjusts to the foot and the use of stronger materials will add to durability and protection.

The Shoe

With a fit scale of 5, this is as wide as you can go in an inov-8 shoe, So, toe splay and room at the front end comes no better.

Cushioning is 12mm front and rear providing a zero drop. Using POWERFLOW MAX.

The footbed is 6mm and the lug depth of the outsole is 4mm made of Graphene grip.

It G270 has the necessary points to attach a trail gaiter.

At 270g (UK8) the new TERRAULTRA is 10g heavier than the previous version.

Sizing is true to size BUT take into consideration the wider toe box, maybe (?) a half-size smaller would be better. I always use EU44/ UK9.5 and these were ideal for me.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The G270 is light and it’s clear to see some of the immediate improvements over the previous version. The lacing is flatter, the tongue is different, the upper is different, the toe box protection is increased, and the shoes have the flagship Graphene outsole that looks very different.

Zero drop is NOT for everyone, so, what makes the G270 great for some also make the G270 potentially unusable for others. This is not a negative comment, it’s just a heads-up to say, that if you have not used zero drop before, don’t be tempted to get the G270 and start racking miles up… You will almost certainly get sore Achilles, calf and potentially get injured. Like barefoot running, zero drop running needs to be learnt and the body needs to adapt. Typically, 6-months would be a good transition period. However, some zero-drop running (initially short periods) is great for improving run form, so, the G270 could be a nice new weapon in your shoe line-up?

If zero drop is your thing, then you will already have a big smile on your face.

Following on from the G260, the G270 has a wide toe box that echoes what brands like Altra have been doing for years. Toe splay is king and the G270 has loads of room for that. I had issues with the G260 in that I always felt I had too much room, the room at the front was made worse by the upper and lacing system not holding my foot how I wanted to compensate for the additional width, space and foot movement.

Slipping the G270 on I was initially worried, the space in the toe box was as much if not a little more than the previous version. However, as soon as I adjusted and tightened the laces, I immediately noticed significant changes. The tongue was a much better fit. The lacing was great improved, and I could really adjust the tension from top to bottom. The ADAPTERFIT pulled in holding my foot. Walking around immediately felt 100% better than the G260. My foot was being held reassuringly.

The upper is far more breathable that the G260.

The cushioning and bounce were notable and the outsole at this stage left me with many questions.

IN USE

The G260 was a little lifeless and felt flat. The G270 immediately felt different with a couple of miles on the road before hitting the trails. So, this was already a great improvement.

With META-FLEX at the front, the propulsive phase felt really good no doubt added to with the insole that inov-8 say increases energy return by 40%. I definitely felt some bounce, but 40% more?

The cushioning was noticeable, particularly over the G260 as was the zero drop. I use zero drop shoes occasionally, but always prefer 4/5mm for faster and more technical running and if going long, 8mm works perfect for me. So, considering the G270 is designed for long-distance running, zero drop would be a challenge for me.

The wide toe box still feels mega wide (too wide for me) BUT the lacing and ADAPTERFIT allowed me to compensate for the room at the front by tightening appropriately. However, I did fine once or twice I over-tightened the laces only having to stop and loosen them a little.

The transition from road to gravel trail was seamless and comfortable. The TERRAULTRA is an out and out ultra-shoe designed for trails that are more groomed, say Western States in the USA or UTMB in Europe. So hard packed single-track felt really good in the G270, equally rocky and stoney ground felt good.

Running up hill surprised me. The META-FLEX allowed for great flexibility and propulsion, but it was the outsole that really gripped. A massive improvement over the G260.

I have to say, I have not always been a fan with the addition of Graphene. At times, I felt it compromised the sticky outsoles and made them less grippy, albeit providing longer life. But on many occasions, for me particularly, grip is king and if it is compromised, I am not happy.

Here, in the G270 there was noticeable difference, and this was coming from just 4mm lugs.

The test of course would really come when I threw in some mud and wet rock.

Gladly, mud (loads of it) rocks, tree routes, climbs, descents, wooden planks, forests and yes, a little fire trail all make up my daily and local runs. So, throwing the G270 in the thick of things was easy to do. And yes, I was being unfair as I actively searched out and aimed for steep rocks with water on them and I aimed for every puddle and sloppy mud I could.

I was impressed.

At times, I would think to myself, almost wanting the G270 outsole to fail;

‘This will get them… wait for the slip!’

But the slip never came, especially on dry and wet rock. On a 3-hour run, as the minutes clicked by, I started to relax more and more and eventually stopped worrying and asking;

‘Will the G270 grip here?’

They did, at all times provide me with the grip I required.

Surprisingly, in really sloppy mud, I did not slip or move as I had expected. Partially due to the fact that I did apply the brakes a little and respect the conditions.

Technical trail is where the G270 shows some flaws. The wider toe box lacks precision, allows one’s toes to move and therefore I felt that there was just ‘too much’ shoe to navigate between rocks, roots, stones and a plethora of other obstacles. But of course, I am being unfair! The G270 is designed for less technical trails, long hours and all-day comfort – that they do really well!

The shoes are responsive and do work well when running fast. However, the wide toe box, zero drop and cushioning do make them feel a little like a saloon car… Plenty of room, comfy seats, and can get the miles done. But I craved a more performance car at times with more precision, tighter handling and a little more fire and daring, especially when coming of road, fire trails or single-track.

The cushioning was plush and considering it is only 12mm, it felt like more. Especially noticeable extra comfort over the 9mm G260 which also was a little hard and lifeless. One thing to note, I found on tree routes and some stones, I could feel them in the bottom of my foot, so protection from obstacles is minimal. The toe box though has a good bumper and that worked really well.

The heel box was noticeably secure on the flat and going uphill, I had little to no slippage.

SUMMARY

Damian Hall just ran 260-miles on the Pennine Way in the G270 and set a new FKT, so, that gives some indication of the intended use of this shoe. Having said that, the Pennine Way is not all single-track and wonderful cruising trail, so, the shoe can handle the rough stuff too.

I was impressed by how versatile the 4mm Graphene outsole worked. There has been some significant improvement over the G260 and in the Graphene outsole in general.

The upper, lacing and tongue now really hold the foot and that for me is essential, especially with such a wide toe box. The toe box is one of the key selling points of this shoe. It allows toe splay, plenty of room and flexibility for a foot to swell wider with accumulated miles.

The cushioning increased from 9mm (G260) to 12mm for the G270 is noticeable. More importantly, the G270 now has life, the G260 felt a little dead.

CONCLUSION

The G270 is a marked improvement over the G260, so, if you liked the previous model you are going to love the latest incarnation.

Zero drop and a wide toe box will be exactly what some people are looking for and they will have a big smile on their face. For me, and this of course is very personal, I can’t run in zero for hours and hours and I feel that the toe box is a little roomier than it needs to be.

So, imagine a Trail Talon 290 made like a TERRAULTRA G270 – slightly narrower toe box (4 fit) 8mm drop; 11mm and 19mm cushioning and this Graphene outsole – that would be a winning shoe IMO. (inov-8 take note)

The G270 is a winning shoe and all packaged perfectly for ultra-distance runner who needs grip, cushioning and comfort for the long-haul out on the trails. It would even make a great road shoe if required.

For multi-day adventures, such as Marathon des Sables, just like the Trail Talon, the G270 would be really excellent.

Get the TERRAULTRA G270 at inov-8 HERE

If technical trail and mud is your thing, this is not the best shoe for that, however, it can handle it remarkably well, so, if you only wanted one trail shoe (with zero drop) to do all, the G270 would be ideal. By contrast, if you wanted a one-stop trail shoe with 8mm drop, I recommend the Trail Talon 290.

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Exploring Norway – HARDANGER

Norway has long been a desirable location for the mountain enthusiast. One only need to add the word ‘Norway’ to a Google search engine, and you will be rewarded with photos that make the jaw drop. 

At roughly 33% bigger than the UK and 1/3rd the size of USA, one begins to understand the scale of this Scandinavian country and its 5.3 million inhabitants.  

Just think about it, Norway is 33% bigger than the UK, but the UK has 66.6 million inhabitants…

Needless to say, outside of Oslo (681,000 pop), Bergen (271,000 pop) and other key locations such as Trondheim and Stavanger, open space and amazing landscape is available for all to explore.

In a series of articles and posts, we intend to introduce you to the magic of Norway. 

Norway is the longest country in Europe and therefore, travelling anywhere is not a quick process. It has 60.000 miles of coastline, towering mountains and dramatic fjords. Remarkably it has 2-300 peaks over 2000m+, Galdhøpiggen the highest at 2469m closely followed by Glittertind at 2464m. There are over 1000 peaks over 1650m, so, if you love mountains, Norway should be at the top of the ‘to-do’ list! 

We are starting our articles with HARDANGER which is easily accessible from Oslo or Bergen and although based in the south of Norway, it does not lack any of the drama or mind-blowing views that northern Norway offers in abundance. 

The list will grow as we progress through Norway, but expect posts on: 

  • Stavanger
  • Loen
  • Jotunheimen
  • Senja
  • Tromso
  • Lofoten Islands
  • Romsdal
  • Lyngen
  • Svalbard

And more…

HARDANGER

The fjord (Hardangerfjord) resort of Kinsarvik will be used as an initial start point for adventures in the Hardanger area, by car, it is 2hrs 30min from Bergen and 5hrs from Oslo.

Located in the west of Norway, Hardanger is a traditional district with a great deal to offer in both summer and winter. For the purposes of this initial introduction, we are looking at a 4-5-day trip in June.

June provides a wonderful opportunity as the area transitions from winter to summer, if lucky, much of winter can remain and therefore you can gain the best of both worlds. It’s worth pointing out now, that winter conditions in Norway are harsh and you need to be prepared both physically, mentally and have the correct equipment to explore safely in this area. If any of the above have a question mark, look to travel and explore in July/ August when snow conditions will have disappeared.

Areas to explore:

  • Dronningstien aka The Queens Trail
  • Trolltunga
  • Folgefonna Glacier via Buerbreen
  • The waterfall route via Husedalen Valley
  • Climb Oksen

Other opportunities:

  • Kayak in one of the longest fjords in the world.
  • Via ferrata to Trolltunga.
  • Ice climb on the Folgefonna Glacier.

PRACTICALITIES

Norway is not a cheap place and therefore one needs to look at budget when exploring any area of the country. Flights, depending on the time of year will vary in price and car hire can be expensive. However, in many scenarios, a hire car allows one freedom to explore. Train services and public transport is good. We recommend a car to explore Hardanger.

Camping is part of the outdoor life and there is nowhere better than Norway to sleep outside. Norway allows for wild camping, however, be careful, some areas, particularly Trolltunga have a camping exclusion zone. 

For the purposes of this mini trip, we used an official campsite and wild camped. Below I provide a map to show an overview of the routes and areas we explored.

Our itinerary was as follows:

  • Day 1 – Travel and overnight stop.
  • Day 2 – Dronningstien aka The Queen Trail
  • Day 3 – AM: Trolltunga – PM: Buerbreen Glacier
  • Day 4 – Waterfall route via Husedalen Valley
  • Day 5 – Oksen and travel home.

All of the above trails are not long and are all achievable in one day or less.  

  • The Queen Trail is a longer route (20km) with mixed terrain on a point-to-point route.
  • Trolltunga is exposed and with snow (time of year dependent) – a more extreme challenge, particularly if one has limited snow experience.
  • Buerbreen Glacier is a short route but has plenty of vertical and technical terrain, expect fixed ropes, some snow and water crossing.
  • Husedalen Valley, the waterfall route is a great out and back with stunning views and at times, some testing terrain. Your feet will get wet!
  • Oksen is a straight up climb (1000m+) with some exposure, challenging terrain and the potential for snow/ glacier travel depending on the time of the year. It’s an out and back route.

Day 1 base was Kinsarvik. There is an official campsite, Kinsarvik Camping AS (here) which has cabins, space for motorhomes and tents. You are recommended to book any camping, especially in high season. Alternatively, you could wild camp close to Kinsarvik.

There is a Spar supermarket opposite the fjord, and this sells everything, including camping supplies. So, this is a great opportunity to stock up on any anything that you may require.

Our day 2 and day 3 base was an official campsite in Odda, called Odda Camping (here). This area due to its proximity to Trolltunga has potentially less options for wild camping, however, some options exist in Buer close by. It was a perfect location with a fjord as a backdrop, showers (20 Nok charge) and toilet facilities. At 250 krona per night (£20) it was a great option. Odda has a developed town with plenty of facilities, so, should you need anything, it will be available in the town.

Day 4 we wild camped below Oksen. There is nothing close by, so, be prepared with food etc.

Day 5 we wild camped on the way back to Oslo.

THE ROUTES 

Dronningstien aka The Queens Trail

 The trail is a point-to-point route between Kinsarvik and Lofthus. We recommend parking opposite the ESSO Petrol Station next to the fjord, parking is free.

The actual trail starts at Røte which is 4km up a road from route 13, very close to the ESSO petrol station. However, we recommend doing this on foot. Location is shown on the map below.

For the first 4km you will have no marking and then at Røte you will see blue a ‘D’ or blue spots. This is the route to follow. 

The official route is 16km and is estimated to take 8-9 hours and is described as ‘long and demanding!’ For perspective, we did the route with an additional 4km, we had a great deal of snow and we constantly stopped for photos. Yes, we did run, and we completed in 4hrs 50min. We did not push the pace or go fast.

Recommendations are for July to September but in June you have the chance of snow, 2020 had a great deal of snow, far more than normal. For us, this was a real plus!

The early km’s are all climbing and uninspiring but there are some wonderful views. Once the ‘D’ starts, the route becomes trail and you continue to climb eventually breaking out of the tree line. The immediate views over Hardangerfjord are quite amazing and breath tanking. It did not take long to realise why this was a favourite route of HM Queen Sonja, hence, The Queen’s Trail name.

Once high, the terrain has some undulations, but it is mostly flat with all the climbing coming in the early km’s. You will see from the run route below that we had snow for all the high sections and some snow on the descent to Lofthus. We had amazing weather, blue skies and plenty of heat. You really need to be careful of snow bridges, snow holes and potential danger and hazards. Best practice is to follow existing footsteps and pay attention to markers. Some ‘D’ or blue markers will be missing because of the snow but navigation is not a problem.

At all points, the Hardangerfjord is to your right and the views are stunning. On occasion you are brought to the edge of the plateau. Take time to stop, look over and soak up how incredible the vistas are.

You will find breathtaking views of the Sørfjord, Odda, the Folgefonna Glacier, Hardanger Bridge and Eidfjord. You can also see all the way over to Kvanndal and Utne, and along the fjord to Kinsarvik. 

Water is available at several points via streams, waterfalls or melting snow. Take the opportunity to replenish bottles. 

Before the highpoint of the route, there is a little climbing with some fixed rope, it’s nothing too scary or dramatic. Just use caution.

The high point is a square pile of stones (cairn) at 1107m which has a box on so that you can sign the book inside to confirm you were there.

From here, it is mostly descending all the way back to Lofthus. You will eventually switch from blue ‘D’ or dots to red ‘T.’ The descent is steep, winding, may have snow and includes the ‘Monk Steps.’ Open expansive trail eventually becomes tree covered.

Keep descending down. You will pass through a car park for those who wish to climb up from Lofthus. Keep descending and you will pass the famous orchards of this area, you will finally join the main road next to the fjord. The route is done!

A public bus back to Kinsarvik leaves from opposite Hotel Ullensvang. Please check on timings, but our information was 1551, 1810 and 2100hrs. There is a cafe/ shop called Kompaen that serves food and drinks should you need to replenish after a hard day on the trails before heading back. Make sure you taste some local apple juice or cider.

At Kinsarvik, we had a picnic by the fjord and then headed to Odda and Odda Camping. This would allow us an early start the following day for Trolltunga.

Trolltunga

The Trolltunga (Trolls Tongue) is an iconic route in Norway. Formed about 10,000 years ago by glacier erosion it is considered one of the most spectacular cliffs in Norway. From the side, it quite literally looks like a tongue balancing 700m above the Ringedalsvatnet lake.

Considered as a ‘demanding’ route, the out-and-back can be estimated to take 8-12 hours and the typical season is June to September. Outside of this timing one must have a guide. This year, 2020, Norway has had a great deal of snow and unusually, this year’s route was pretty much 90% snow and we had strict instructions to adhere to the marked route.

Despite conditions, we found the route very runnable and the snow was perfect. We did the out-and-back in 4-hours, just under 5-hours with all the photo stops. And trust me, photo stops are compulsory!

For most, particularly with snow, this is a challenging route, mainly due to the 20km+ distance, elevation gain and at times, demanding terrain.

It is a very, very popular route and therefore is often extremely busy. However, Coronavirus greatly has impacted on tourists and visitors in 2020 and the normal busy trails were quiet.

There are three car parks with limited space, 30 cars at P3, 180 at P2 and 220 at P1, book in advance (here) and if possible stay at car park 3 (Mågelitopp.) This is closest to the trail head and costs 600 Nok (£50). Car park 2 is 500 Nok. Car parks open 0600 hrs. There are also shuttle buses from Odda/ Tyssedal to Skjeggedal and then Skjeggedal to Mågelitopp with a cost of appx 450 Nok. You may think these costs pricey, however, the money is used by the local community to cover the impact of tourism in the area.

Importantly, this is a high mountain route with highly changeable conditions. Go prepared with extra warm layers, gloves, hat, waterproofs, food and water. You can replenish water en-route from streams and waterfalls.

It is possible to start from Skjeggedal which adds 4.3km up and down to the route hiking (or you can get the shuttle) but we decided to miss this as we were adding the Glacier route to our afternoon.

Start early, if running, you have the potential to arrive at Trolltunga first and have great opportunities for photos. It has been known at busy periods to wait over an hour to get on the tongue for the ‘iconic’ photo. We actually started at 0800 and caught all the hikers ahead of us. We actually had at least 40-minutes at the tongue for photos and picnic before the next people arrived.

Skjeggedal to Mågelitopp is a steep tough climb and well-marked. From Mågelitopp, the start of the Trolltunga route is just below the car park, the route is clearly marked and relatively flat. It’s marshy to start with interspersed rocks. We had snow in these early sections, so, we were well aware that the whole route would be snow bound.

The first few km’s are arguably the toughest with 800m of vertical.

After the initial hard work, the trail rolls along, the snow conditions making our trip perfect. At all times, the views to your right are stunning with mountain vistas and the stunning Ringedalsvatnet lake.

For safety, there is a mountain outpost and two emergency huts/ shelters should you have a problem.

There is a twin waterfall, Tyssestrengene and Tyssehylen Lake to pass before arriving at Trolltunga.

The approach to Trolltunga is perfectly safe and not technical for an experienced outdoor person. However, if new to hiking and extreme environments, take a little time, move slowly and make sure of foot and hand holds. Hopefully, you may not have to wait for an opportunity to walk out on the tongue for your photo moment.

The return route is a reverse of the outward route.

Without snow, the route would be very different and in a personal opinion, less beautiful and dramatic. The snow added a real extra element to the journey, so, I would recommend attempting Trolltunga as early in June as possible.

Once back at the P3 car park we returned to our campsite for a relaxing lunch. 

Buerbreen Glacier

The reason we chose P3 for Trolltunga was to allow us to do the out-and-back route to the Buerbreen Glacier which is a short drive from Odda. 

The route is less than 6km and has appx 450m of vertical gain, but the route has a great mix of some technical terrain, fixed rope, water crossings and snow if you are lucky.

Leaving Odda, you head to Buer and continue up the road to eventually arrive at a car park. Cost is 150 Nok.

A gravel road starts the route from a farm. There is a plethora of animals around to entertain.

Entering the forest, the trail winds upwards continually with very little flat trail. Expect wet feet and the need to use ropes to ascend rock sections. If conditions are wet, take care.

Keep looking back as the views are wonderful, countered by the dominant glacier ahead. The route up does have some challenges with fixed ropes.

Eventually the trail stops with the glacier ahead. Do not be tempted to veer off the route and explore on the glacier. Needless to say, this requires a different skill level, specialist equipment and knowledge of the glacier and its conditions.

 The panorama and views at the glacier are magical.

You return via the way you came.

At under 6km, it’s a great addition to the more adventurous morning at Trolltunga. Don’t underestimate this little hike. It’s a wonderful trail and the views are magical. 

We returned to Odda Campsite for a relaxing evening.

Husedalen Valley

This route was not on our original plan; however, we were advised by locals that Husedalen Valley in June is incredible due to the melting snow and the succession of waterfalls.

Leaving Kinsarvik head up Husavegen Road and continue until you arrive at a parking area on the left. 

The route is 12km +/- out and back with 630m+. The initial km’s are gravel road, first waterfall is called Tveitafossen. 

The gravel road forks, take the right trail. You climb steeply next to a pipeline before entering forest trail.

The second waterfall is already visible, Nyastølfossen.

The views are incredible and the noise of the waterfall impressive. The trail rises steeply at times with some demanding trail. Nyastølfossen is hidden, peeping through the trees and then suddenly you get full views. Take time to stop, watch and take photos.

The third waterfall, Nykkjesøyfossen is located in a beautiful meadow. This is a popular wild camping spot with incredible views, so, keep this in mind. There is a small hut and also a public toilet here. The trail is easy to lose here but keep close to the water edge (on your right) and follow climbing and scrambling over the rocks. Eventually you will see the trail rise up.

The trail goes up again through trees and heads towards the 4th and final waterfall, Søtefossen. At times it’s easy to lose the route but in all honesty, you cannot get lost, just head for the waterfall. Eventually you can go no further as the 4th raging torrent forces you to sit down and watch its beauty.

You return via the same route.

 This route is often listed as demanding, as always, this depends on experience and fitness. Estimated to take 5-6 hours we did the route in 3h 25m with continuous photo stops.

On returning to the car, we returned to the fjord at Kinsarvik for a lunch break and then we travelled over to Oksen to wild camp.

Oksen

 The drive to Oksen takes you over the impressive Hardanger Bridge (toll payable 150 Nok) which is the longest suspension bridge in Norway at 1380m long.

Please note, once you have left Kinsarvik (or any other town for that matter) you will not pass any shops or supplies on the route to Oksen. It’s a narrow out-and-back road that passes close to the fjord and remote houses. Eventually you will drive up heading to ‘Tjoflot’ – continue along the winding road and eventually you will come to a dead end where parking is available. A fee is payable for parking.

Our suggestion is to arrive late afternoon or early evening and wild camp close to the car park or, start the climb of Oksen and after approximately 1-mile you will find a plateau with two huts, here is a good place to camp.

With either of the above options, you can start the climb of Oksen early the following morning ahead of other people arriving. We decided to camp near the car park as we wanted to do the whole climb in one go.

This route is very different to the previous day’s expeditions. It feels much more remote, exposed and has many similarities to a classic VK (vertical kilometer) route. You will climb just over 1000m+ in less than 5km to reach the summit.

 We had dry weather but cloud and strong winds. Like the rest of the Hardanger area, once above a certain height, we had snow all the way to the summit making the journey extra special.

The early climbing is through forest as the trail winds up. Once you reach the plateau where the two huts are, the trail is now open and wide. The route is well marked but be careful in snow sections, at times it’s better to deviate on to firm/ harder ground.

The whole route is steep and especially so between 400-600m+ and after 800M+ with the route flattening out towards the summit.

At all times the views are incredible and arguably the views of Hardangerfjord, Sørfjorden, Granvinsfjorden, Eidfjorden and Samlafjorden are the best in the region.

The summit is marked with a stone cairn signifying the altitude of 1241m.

Take time to explore the summit and look at the different views. There is a stunning vista of the suspension bridge too.

At the summit you have options to extend your route. This was our original plan; however, snow and weather conditions were very unpredictable, and we decided (correctly) not to take risks and continue.

Had we had crampons and ice axe; we most certainly would have continued to Ingebjørgfjellet (passing Oksatjorni) which is signposted from the summit (5.4km away). The route is not marked, so, you need map and compass or a GPS. I use the ‘Footpath’ app on my iPhone which works excellently. Maps.me and ViewRanger are others to consider.

The return to the car is via the way you came, unfortunately, due to road access and a lack of public transport there is no other option. As an alternative, it is possible to climb Oksen from Hamre, however, you need to use a different road to access this area. The route up goes via Seljesete and Seljenuten.

The route is considered demanding with a time allowance of 7-hours. As mentioned previously, with good fitness and mountain experience it is perfectly feasible to do the route in under 3-hours even with plenty of photos.

We concluded our trip with a detour travelling back to Oslo. The weather was perfect, and we were not eager to return home when another night camping was possible. We called at Vøringfossen (here) which is an impressive waterfall towering 182m high.

We then continued to Ringericke and climbed up the Mørkonga gully to then camp high next to a lake for a final night.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Never underestimate the mountains and the environment in which you are exploring. June in particular is the start of the hiking season and as such, snow can be a factor on all of the above routes. This adds an additional potential for injury and problems. Particularly as the snow is melting and this can create snow holes, snow bridges and crevices. Do not take any risks and follow established routes and existing footprints.

Make sure you call in the Tourist Office in Kinsarvik and discuss your route options and take advice on current conditions and dangers.

It may be 30deg next to the fjord and glorious sunshine, but at the summit, it can be below zero, blowing a gale and torrential rain. You must take personal responsibility and be prepared for all conditions. At a minimum please take:

  • Suitable pack
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Warm insulated layer
  • Warm trousers
  • Waterproof jacket/ pants
  • Food for the duration of the hike and some contingency
  • 1,5 ltrs of water (which can be replenished on all the routes via streams/ waterfalls)
  • Take water purification tablets as a just in case and consider a water purifier such as MSR TrailShot (here)
  • Map/ Compass
  • Charged mobile phone with a suitable App such as ‘Footpath’ (here)
  • Cash/ Card
  • Garmin InReach or similar

Plan your routes, be realistic on timings and always start early. One of the huge advantages of outdoor activity in Norway is daylight. In June, it is light at 0300 and goes dark after 2200 hrs.

CONCLUSION

Hardanger is a paradise.

Quite simply, if you do the route options above, not only will you see some of the most amazing views ever, you will be rewarded with wonderful challenging days that will provide you with a lifetime of memories.

Weather, as always, is key. We chose our weather window and traveled to the area knowing that we would be rewarded with great conditions.

Of course, if you are making a special trip to the area, you will need to take the weather you are given. Although it is great to have a plan, be prepared for that plan to change based on weather conditions and personal safety. We were desperate to travel to Ingebjørgfjellet after Oksen summit but made a sensible call and retreated.  

The mountains and trails are going nowhere, always remember this!

The routes provided are achievable for all with enough allocated time based on individual experience and fitness.

Due to Covid-19, we experienced considerably quieter trails. On many occasions we were completely alone. Having spoken with locals and others, this is not normal! So, be prepared for more people when you venture to this area, especially Trolltunga.

For us, camping enhances the experience and brings you closer to the nature and environment. However, this is campervan heaven, and should you need a hotel, many are available.

Needless to say, we have picked highlights of the area and there is more to explore, but that will be another article!

This area would be fantastic for a Fastpacking trip, read here about equipment.

Also, here is a guide for Fastpacking in Nepal.

PERSONAL NOTE

I am fortunate to have travelled the world, experienced mountains, summits and trails in iconic locations. Norway may not have any peaks/ summits that can compete with the Alps, Pyrenees or the Himalayas, but what it does have is the most incredible views.

I can honestly say, our mini trip to Hardanger is one of the most rewarding ever! 

Special thanks to Abelone Lyng who was my partner in crime. Abe is the ‘muse’ in all the photos, the girl with a big smile and yes, these trails would have been a little less magic without her to enjoy the journey. She was also the inspiration for the trip and it is thanks to her we visited these amazing places.

View the complete IMAGE GALLERY HERE

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Getting High In Norway – Borgersen and Lyng achieve Everest and Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Covid-19, lockdown, social distancing and so on has resulted in so many crazy and inventive ideas. Virtual running and racing have never been so popular as it has provided an opportunity to daily focus on a larger goal that one can undertake with others.

Race directors, runners, shops, stores, magazines and so on have created opportunities.

In Norway, Runners World NO have a series of events, ‘Trail Challenge,’ ‘100 Minutter,’ 5 Sommernattsløpet 5k,’ ‘Soomer Maraton,’ and ’Til Himmels Race.’ The latter translates, ‘To the Skies’ or ‘Sky is the Limit!’

Fueled by the challenge of gaining as much vertical meters as possible in one month, Elisabeth Borgersen and Abelone Lyng, both decided to set themselves a challenge within a challenge. How many meters could they gain in just one day! 

Initial plans were to use a ski slope and gain permission/ access to use the chairlift down, therefore concentrating on vertical meters without the impact of running down. However, due to Covid-19 this was not possible. 

“If we were going to do it, then we would have to run down too,” Lyng said in advance of the challenge. With a little research, they found a ski slope, pretty much void of snow, the ‘Wyllerløpa’ part of the ‘Wyller Express’ series of slopes. 

 

‘The Wyllerstua’ has a car park and we have immediate access to the slope,’ said Lyng. ‘We plan to set up our own aid station and then we can go up and down as many times as we wish.’

 

On the map below, Lyng and Borgersen would use the route marked 11. With 300m vertical gain for each ascent, the distance would be approximately 1.3km up and 1.3km down.

 May 21st had been set aside by Runners World as ‘the day’ to see who could gain the most vertical meters.

‘At 8848m, Everest is a logical and mind-blowing target to aim for, so, that is the dream goal. However, for me, I think Mont Blanc at 4810m or Mount Kilimanjaro at 5895m is more realistic,’ Lyng explained. ‘Elisabeth on the other hand has the potential to climb to the top of the world, albeit virtually!’

THE DAY

It was an early start to the day with the duo waking at 0300 and meeting at the Wyllerstua at 0400. Gladly, the day was already starting and the need for a head-torch was not required. One of the advantages of being in Norway.

At 0430 they were off, starting steady, the plan was to spend as much time together as possible, each pushing the other.

 Calculations allowed for 2000m every 4 hours and therefore, a projected Tim for 9000m+ could be estimated at 18-hours.

It’s easy to get pre-occupied by the vertical gain and the lofty, albeit virtual, summit of Everest at 8848m. But what goes up, must come down, and the impact and stress of descending a 300m slope would almost certainly have a far greater physical impact than the vertical meters.

 The early hours passed and soon they were taking the first of many breaks. Nothing too lengthy. Just an opportunity to consume calories, hydrate and then push on.

3300m+ was accumulated with relative ease in well under 8-hours and the challenge was starting to fall into place. Borgersen looked solid, powering up the climb but maybe more impressively, still running down the 300m/ 1.3km slope with what appeared to be relative ease.

Lyng was holding the pace but openly admitted, ‘Everything is fine, it just hurts everywhere in my body, but thats part of the game.’

 The height of Mont Blanc was achieved, and that milestone was rewarded with a smile. The duo continued to motivate each other, almost metronomic in the ascent but Borgersen always looking more at ease on the descent.

With 10-hours elapsed, Borgersen was resolute that today was the day to achieve Everest. She was hurting but it was easier to push on. The thought of coming back and trying again was too daunting. No stranger to long-distances and vertical gain, Borgersen has pedigree, she has completed TDS and the 90km Mont-Blanc placing 6thin both. She also placed 8th at MIUT.

For Lyng, she was in new territory, far exceeding any previous vertical gain for one day. A lover of the mountains, Lyng’s recent successes have come with multi-day racing, placing 4th at The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica and winning, The Ice Ultra.

‘I was getting very tired and I was well aware that the ability to continue on for many more hours would result in injury. I therefore set the target of Mount Kilimanjaro at 5895m. But I also had a desire for 6000m.’

Lyng achieved Mount Kilimanjaro in 12 hours and then the 6000m mark in 12-hours 37-minutes with a total distance of 54km. Her day was done.

Borgersen once again arrived at the car park. It was close to 6pm. But there was no hesitation, just a brief chat and then an about turn to once again head upwards.

‘I have some work left to do, but if all goes well, I think I can be finished before 10pm.’

The evening passed and gladly, Borgersen’s husband arrived with pizza offering a welcome break, refuel and then the final push. Darkness was slowly starting to arrive as the goal was achieved after 77km’s.

‘I love to challenge myself to see what I am actually capable of. Going up and down the same 300m slope close to 18-hours (17h 40m) was for sure a big challenge. But to finally reach Everest, 8880m to be exact, I am pretty darn proud of that!’

2020 will be remembered by us all as an Annus horribilis due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Amidst the gloom, the isolation, quarantine, the changes of routine, the loss of work, the disruption to life and the horrendous death toll, it is possible to still find reward and growth. It may come in the strangest of ways, one just needs to be creative.

 

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inov-8 TRAILROC 280 Shoe Review

Fans of inov-8 shoes may well be a little surprised by the new incarnation of the Trailroc 280.

It’s a bold shoe and dare I say, on first look, one may even mistake it for a Hoka One One shoe. The blue and yellow and color fade has that classic Hoka look and the cushioning really stands out.

I had to make sure that I definitely had an inov-8 shoe in my hand.

Die-hard inov-8 fans may well immediately dislike the new Trailroc – it’s a departure for the brand. But one should not be too hasty. 

For those who like minimal, low drop, and aggressive outsoles, inov-8 still have a plethora of shoes to choose from. So, the new Trailroc 280 should be embraced as something new to try.

First Impressions

I like the look, bold color fade work well. The cushioning is the stand out and is built up and reinforced section around the rear. Heel box is well padded and has firm hold of the foot. The tongue is attached to the inside of the show with elastic on either side, I am a fan! The tongue is really padded, very plush. The upper is very breathable and there are reinforced overlays on the outside (left and right) to provide some structure to the upper and hold the foot.

Lacing is pretty standard and there are additional eyelets should you wish to lock-lace or similar. Toe box has reinforcement for protection, but I expected this to be more substantial for a shoe designed for rocky terrain. The toe box is on the narrow side so if you are a fan of the Trail Talon (here), for example, you may not like the Trailroc? Sizing is touch and go. I always use a UK9.5 in inov-8 and the Trailroc is definitely a little smaller than my other inov’s. It is marginal and I have had no problem using them… worth noting that they may feel smaller as the toe box is a little narrower, however, I always go for a thumb nail of space, and in these I am at ¾!

Outsole is the new Graphene and the grip is classic trail grip – not too aggressive. Graphene is slowly making its way to most inov shoes now and apparently it increases longevity by some 50% without a comprise on the grip characteristics.

The Shoe

Sliding the shoes on for the first time, several factors stood out.

  • I could feel the cushioning immediately.
  • The padded tongue is really plush.
  • The toe box felt on the narrow side.

Lacing the shoes up, the hold on my foot felt ‘so so!’ I have to say, and this comment comes now after weeks and weeks of using the Trailroc, I feel the upper lacks some rigidity to hold the foot. I have been using inov for years and something in the upper here is lacking for me. It’s particularly noticeable when the terrain is not flat, for example, when running off camber or when on rocks – my foot is moving inside the shoe! This is not because of lacing. I tried many lace configurations and I just couldn’t get the firm hold I like to make me feel reassured. It left me perplexed.

The toe box is on the narrower side. I need to clarify here that I love the Trail Talon and Parkclaw (here) but easily transition to ‘precision’ fit shoes, for example a Mudclaw (here). When running on muddy and technical terrain, I like my feet to be held firm and have confidence in the shoe. When running trail and longer miles I am happy for my toes to splay, providing the lacing holds my foot. The Trailroc left me feeling 50/50. There is nothing particularly unpleasant, but equally there was nothing sparkling going on.

I guess the main feature of the shoe is the added cushioning and that really is noticeable. It has a real bounce to it and comfort levels are high. So, those who are looking for a more cushioned trail shoe, this version of the Trailroc 280 will appeal. It’s a shoe that transitions from road to trail easily and that is a real plus for many.

The outsole does its job and works well. These are not shoes for muddy terrain. They are classic trail / rock shoes and the outsole works well on the latter both in the wet and the dry.

In Use

The cushioning of the Trailroc 280 is the selling factor along with the Graphene outsole. It is all packaged together in a great looking shoe. On road, the cushioning is apparent providing a plush feel and a definite bounce, so, for those who are looking for more comfort on longer runs will be happy. On trail, the cushioning is apparent, however, I did have less feel for the ground and ‘height’ from the ground was more noticeable in comparison to other inov-8 shoes.

When the trail became more challenging, as mentioned above, this is when I had issues. I just never felt my foot was held secure… It almost feels as the shoes are too big, but they are not! I really over tightened my laces and that did add to a more secure feel, but the level of tightness was not sustainable for longer runs – it just added to much pressure.

The outsole works on trail and rock well providing adequate grip when needed when conditions are wet or dry. It’s not an aggressive outsole, so, in mud you will slip and slide around.

There is a Meta-Flex in the outsole and so the propulsive phase feels dynamic but less dynamic than some other inov-8 shoes.

Drop is 2 arrows, so, 8mm. Makes sense for a shoe like this, I really feel this shoe is designed for an ultra-trail runner going longer distances. Cushioning is 20mm rear and 12mm at the front.

inov-8 very often make shoes for a very specific purpose and with this Trailroc 280 I feel that it is a shoe trying to do many things and as such does no one thing brilliantly, but if you are looking for an ‘all-purpose’ shoe that transitions from to road to trail, this may be for you!

Conclusion

The Trailroc 280 is not a bad shoe. Equally it is not a great shoe. This is the first time in a while I have not glowed about an inov-8 shoe. I have tried and tried to like this shoe and don’t get me wrong, if I had no other shoe to wear, I’d be happy in the 280. However, I have lots of options on footwear and the 280 has nothing that stands out that makes me want to grab it and go run. It’s cushioned, has 8mm drop, has a great outsole but has some failings for me.

Foothold and toe box are the two factors that leave a question mark. The toe box I can live with, it causes me no problems, it is just not ideal. The foothold though really is an issue and I hate the feel of my foot not being secure.

inov-8 website HERE 

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TRAINING FOR… UTMR with Damian Hall

Damian Hall ran his first half marathon race in 2011. In his own words, “It was  a life-changing race.” Just 1-year later he ran his first marathon and first ultra-marathon. Dedicated to the art of running, Damian became a student of the sport and through his journalism work, he gleamed as much information as possible. He became his own test subject.

In a very short period of time, he completed the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc on four occasions progressing each year to finally place 5th. He has run Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert,the Ice Ultra in Arctic Sweden,The Coastal Challenge in Costa and has excelled at multi-discipline and long distance races in the UK such as The Spine, The Dragons Back and the UK Trail Championships.

His love for the sport has also seen him test himself on multiple challenges and FKT’s such as running ‘The Rounds’ such as Bob Graham, the South West Coast Path and most recently the Cape Wrath Trail with Beth Pascall.

A lover of a good mug of tea and a Tunnock biscuit, Damian, the husband and father of two children, has a popular voice on the UK ultra-run scene.

Leaving his beloved UTMB alone in 2019, Damian will challenge himself in September with the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa.

Training for…, a series of new articles brought to you by the multi-stage and ultra-running specialist store, myRaceKit, http://www.myracekit.com

We are very fortunate to have myRaceKit sponsoring several articles on ‘Training for…’ in this scenario, the UTMR, the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa, an epic trail race designed by no less than Lizzy Hawker, who in herself is an absolutely stunning multi-day ultra-runner. Lizzy came up with this beast of a race, or should I say beasts of races because now there is more than one, there is the big one which is a 170 km with 11,300 meters of vertical, there is a four-stagerace which is basically the big one broken down into four days and then there are the Ultra Three Passes which is 100 km with 6420 meters of vertical gain, big statistics. I wondered, what enticed Damian to tackle the UTMR instead of UTMB in 2019?

“I thought if I’m not doing UTMB, I’ll do the race with the closest name,” Damian says with a hint of mischief. “No. I think number one, I love running a hundred miles, I think it’s a really special race distance, I also love running a hundred miles in a lumpy place because it’s just that bit more ‘hurty,’ but I think the number one appeal really for me is Lizzy Hawker actually, I’ve never met her and she’s a huge inspiration to me. When Iwas just getting into the sport, she was winning UTMB every year, and I love her outlook on the sport, I’m sure she probably wouldn’t call it a sport, it’s probably more than that to her and probably to me as well, but I’ve read her book, I love that and she’s just super inspiring. I still have that UTMB obsession to shake off, I did four UTMBs in a row and I’m looking forward to a year without one just to freshen things up and see what that feels like and UTMR, it’s not too far away either, is a similar time of year but in a way it sounds very similar and yet very different. Obviously, the crowds will be a lot smaller, the field’s a lot smaller. It sounds like a tougher course, there’s more climb. From the pictures I’ve seen, it’s possibly more spectacular. I’ve had three good friends do it including Nicky Spinks. They’ve all absolutely raved about it. There’s a whole load of reasons to be attracted to the race. I’m really excited.”

Put like that, it’s self-explanatory why Damian will venture to new ground. After all, the Matterhorn as a backdrop to stunning trails is an easy sell. It’s arguably the most iconic mountain in the world, maybe even more so than Everest. After all, Everest did not make it on to Toblerone packaging!

Damian came to this sport later in life, and in doing so, has inspired a great deal of people to relook at their own running and what they can achieve. I’ve always said, age is just a number, it doesn’t actually really mean anything. Not only are you proving that but there’s countless other people proving that. In 2014, Damian placed fourth in the Spine and second in the Cotswold Way, which was then just about over 100 miles. The following year, I raced at the Dragon’s Back, he placed 29th at UTMB. Then the following year, you came to The Coastal challenging Costa Rica where you placed fifth in a super stacked front field. Second at the Highland Fling which was a UK trail championship, a great result. You moved up from 29th to 19th at UTMB, then 19th to 12th and then 12th to 5th! Actually, 2018 was a great year for you because you won the Ice Ultra, you were sixth at Madeira and you were first at Ultimate Trails and second at Mozart 100.

“Yes, I think I’ve realized that UTMB and similar are the races I like.  Long climbs and some technical aspects and fun. I suppose fun, long technical descents. I’ll be honest, I like a hiking race. I like a long climb that’s so long, you can’t really run it. I like the change in rhythm that that brings. I am not full-time but am dedicated. My progression has been gradual, and I am happy. UTMR in a way is perfect because it’s some of the similar format big mountains, similar distance that kind of thing but it feels quite fresh and that’s a new course.”

Running well for any race usually requires very specific preparation and ideally on opportunity to go and run on some of the race route.

“I’m still undecided whether I’ll be able to go on recce or not. Traditionally, I haven’t really recced races because I’m in the sport for the adventure really. Obviously, I love the athletic, the competitive element of it too. I love the adventure element where you’re not really sure what the course looks like and you’re not sure what’s of the next horizon, the next mountain, the next valley.”

A family man who works, how does Damian plan his training? How does he fit in training? What does his research look like when going into a race? So many questions come to mind! It’s very easy with the Ultra Monte Rosa course I guess, look at a map and it’s a nice big circular loop and you suddenly start to see really key statistics like Zermatt and Saas-Fee and then you start to look at everything else and then suddenly you realise there’s lots of 4,000 meter mountains in this area. It’s going to be quite a hard race. How does Damian start to approach the training process for a race like this?

“I guess the distances is a key statistic and you’d hope people would know the distance before they sign up but then it’s also how much vert as the Americans call it, how much ascent is in the race overall. What I learned from my first UTMBis actually the descending is going to hurt than the climbing. It’s always important to know roughly what that figure is and that’s going to dictate probably the latter block of my training.”

You need to be strong for a race like a long distance ultra, particularly when in the mountains, I wondered on Damian’s approach to strength and conditioning?

“I do additional strength work making sure my legs are strong enough for that. I suppose how technical is the course is something that people think about a lot and quite rightly. UTMB for example has got a couple of short technical sections, I suppose, but mostly it’s good terrain, good hard trails. I must admit I haven’t looked in detail yet at UTMR about how technical it is compared to UTMB.I have heard more technical. Strength is key and another thing I’ve done over the time is I’ve worked with Shane Benzie who’s a movement specialist on having good technique for descending, especially for the technical terrain. I still don’t always get it right. I’ve just seen some of my photos from my recent race and they’re a bit disappointing. My technique was out of step. As you get tired sometimes, old habits slip in.”

I am sure that Damian’s training is more than just going for a run, but what about speed?

“There’s volume of course, ultra-runners need volume and miles. But I’ll be going to the track as well because last year for the first time, I started doing track work. I hate it but know it’s effective. I’m 43, I’m trying to squeeze every… I guess people would call it marginal gains, but I make sure I’m as fast as can be as well legs being as strong as can be and so on. I will be going to the track.”

Vertical climbing is a key element to a race like UTMR, as well as the descending as Damian has mentioned. Breaking training down into blocks, ‘periodization’ is important, I asked Damian how he approaches these elements.

“A good plan is all about periodizing, for now, I am in a good spell of getting fast. Vertical training will come a bit later nearer the race, which thankfully is in the summer when it’s a bit more pleasant getting to mountainous places. Also, what’s changed for me over the couple of years also is that I really look forward to runningraces. Now, I think I’m more sensible in picking three or four key ones for a year. Actually, I really enjoy the training. I love training for the sake of training, which is a nice feeling, a nice place to be, I suppose.”

Adding races in to training can be difficult, especially if one of those ‘other’ races can be as important as another ‘A’ race. For example, Damian hopes to run Western States which is close to UTMR and the courses are very different.

“Yeah, at the moment, I’ve still got this outside hope or outside wish of doing Western States in late June. Obviously, some of the Western States training would benefit UTMR, but some of it would be quite different. I don’t know if I’ll be doing it yet. In a way, I can’t plan too much of that, but I know that July and August will be all about UTMR for me. That probably means a big amount of days and trying to get a lot mountain running.”

Equipment for Western States is pretty straightforward. You need a pair of running shoes, shorts, and a top, and a hydration vest, whereas UTMR is going to be something that is completely different. Variables in terrain, extremes of hot and cold, mandatory kit, poles, etcetera. I asked Damian what are some of the specifics in a mountain race in terms of equipment that he needs, must have, and then the optional extras that he takes?

“There is something special about doing a mountain race where you have a pack, where you’re feeling self-reliant, where you know you can be okay for 6, 8, 10, 12 hours with everything in your pack, maybe even 24 hours if you get off-course. I do like that. That’s mostly why I got into the sport really is to have those mini mountain ventures. I do love agonizing over what kit to take and checking the weight of everything and checking the weather and all that aspect in the few weeks beforehand. I love all that, the anticipation.”

So, what equipment does Damian take?

“I’ll take two if not three waterproof jackets because probably the last weather forecast, the day before the race, will probably determine which one I take. With UTMB, I learned in the past that the weather can do anything and you’re not really sure. You need to be prepared for bad weather in high mountains. Any jacket should have taped seams and of course one needs appropriate trousers to go with the jacket.”

 

“I’ll probably, depending on the time of year, take a Protec-Shell which is probably a winter jacket. I wouldn’t expect to use that, but you never know, the weather really might come in and you don’t want to be caught out. I don’t expect to race in that, but I’ll take that out with me just in case.”

 

“Base layers, I use merino wool because that just gives you a little bit of extra warmth. For the last two years at UTMB I’ve worn merino gloves. I’m pretty sure they’ll be on mandatory kit list. If the weather is rough, I might be taking two, I might be taking a pair of mitts to go over the top of the gloves. I imagine there’ll be some mid layer. Again, that’s a tricky one. Sometimes if you go the lightest possible then you might get caught out. Again, I’ll probably go two different options maybe a merino one and maybe a PrimaLoft. I’ll probably take a light pair of tights as well if it’s on the mandatory kit.”

 

“Headlamp and spare batteries are essential, I really like the Petzl NAO+ which you can program in an app. You can decide exactly how many hours you want it to last for. It’s really bright. It’s been dependable so far. Poles, I like the Black Diamond Z Pole.”

Poles have become increasingly popular in ultra-races, particularly in mountain races. Certainly, in America, you wouldn’t see anybody using poles. I think that’s primarily because the terrain out there is probably more runnable. I’m not saying that they don’t have plenty of vert. For example, Hard Rock has got plenty of vert. Hard Rock is a good example because now if you look at the elite field in Hard Rock, they’re pretty much all using poles. Poles have become almost the ‘go to’ in races like UTMB and all these other mountain races but a lot of people think that they can just pick up a pair of poles the day before a race and use them. There is absolutely a real skill to using poles. Damian has used poles on many occasions, I wondered about his thought process?

Read about using poles HERE

“Poles still causing some debate definitely in some British circles where I think they still get called cheat sticks. About whether they’re really useful or not, in the last couple years I’ve seen definitely even people like Jim Mann and Nicky Spinks, Jasmin Paris and so on use them. Personally, I think they help me with long climbs. I can’t prove they do really unless I suppose I did a huge climb without them and then a huge climb with them to compare. I suppose I’ve never actually done that. Some of it may be psychological. You might feel you’re climbing better with them, but I really believe in this sport the mental side is so important. If you think you’re climbing well, then chances are it will help, positive mindsetis key and think. I really feel they helped with climbing. It’s not just spreading the load of the muscles. It keeps you more upright as well which can aid your breathing. It also means your muscles, especially your quads, get less stress because there’s always a temptation to bend. Practice in training is essential, especially on your long runs. Also, press-ups are excellent to tone the required muscles.”

 

“Also, the better your arms are moving your legs tend to follow your arms. If your arms are keeping a decent cadence your legs are hopefully not being too lazy and keeping a decent smaller cadence. A bigger cadence but a smaller gap, smaller stride. That’s what I found. I also try hard to tuck them away for any flats or downhills because I think they seem to slow me up. I think that’s a cadence thing where if you’re holding poles your arms move less and therefore your legs can move less. Poles also aid travelling down hill,  sometimes I’ve been so wrecked that my quads have needed the extra help on the downhill.”

Safety is a key element in mountain races, the need for minimum calories, minimum liquid, a mobile phone and so on. I wondered if Damian had witnessed key changes?

“When I started out in the sport, I think I’d usually go with a bladder, that seemed to make more sense but the last few years I’ve been using soft flasks. I think it’s easier to see how much water you’ve got and to monitor how much you’re drinking. For example, at Station A, you might just fill them both up and try and drink them both by the time you get to the next one. I think if I need to carry one and a half, I’d probably just take three soft flasks. One might stay in the back of my pack depending on how hot it is. If it’s getting hot I’ll maybe bring that into play, but what I’ve learned as well as sometimes you have a third one that’s full of water and you use that for tipping over your head if it’s really hot rather than drinking because it can be more important to bring the body temperature down, definitely what I learned at Costa Rica! In regard to nutrition, it goes in waves and it constantly changes, I usually go with one gel and some nuts to be honest because nuts are high calorie per weight. If you are in trouble or you found someone else is in trouble, the sugar from a gel is going to help them quicker. Emergency food is very personal. In addition to a phone, often a space blanket or even a form of bivvy bag is required along with a whistle and compass. It all makes sense. Now I even would consider a GPS like a Garmin inReach as a really useful safety addition.”

Most mandatory kit lists include whistle and compass, that’s pretty normal. Some sort of elastic bandage or strapping is also useful should you have a bad ankle or a knee that you can strap it up is useful. Also, your own cup just makes sense.

“Yes, definitely, it is kind of horrifying especially in road running. I’m not trying to beat up on road running necessarily but when you see a city half marathon or marathon. Then you just see the debris left behind afterwards of water bottles. I don’t know how practical it is to turn that to road races and stuff but obviously, this is the way forward. We’re all in the last year or two become really aware of plastic wastage and yes it’s horrifying some of the stuff we’ve seen in the oceans.”

Finally, I asked Damian for a top-tip to get ready for UTMR.

“There are a few things. An obvious thing is a bit more strength work which obviously has other benefits and should help prevent injury and stuff. I must credit Ian Sharman who used to coach me, his signature session is probably the weight vest hike which I’ve become a fan of, and a weight vest is only probably only about £30 or £40 online, maybe eight to 10 kilograms and you wear for half an hour at a time, one or two miles, ideally a little bit of hill involved. Not running and just hiking you definitely don’t run downhill because that’s a hell of a lot of weight to go through your knees. If you just get in the habit of doing a short walk, often for people it’s a dog walk maybe, that can grow a bit of strength quite safely.Ultimately if you live somewhere flat it’s probably a good idea if you can sometimes get away to somewhere lumpier and do some specific training. Personally, I live near Bath in the bottom of the Cotswold’s, I go to the Brecon Beacons quite regularly, which is a three-hour round trip for me. The longest climb there still is just only 400 meters, that’s not even half of what it will be in the Alps, but one can do repeats.”

One thing is for sure, in any running adventure, if you want to progress and perform, you need to be specific. Damian has applied these principles and year-on-year, as he has learnt and has progressed. It’s not just the ‘running’ part but the planning, the equipment, the strength, core, nutrition and importantly the mind. To achieve one must address all those aspects to perform.

Training for…A series of new articles brought to you by the multi-stage and ultra-running specialist store myRaceKit, http://www.myracekits.com.

MANDATORY EQUIPMENT for UTMR

Mobile Phone HERE

Head Torch and batteriesHERE

Bottles x2 or bladder (1.5ltr)  HEREor HERE

Emergency food (400 cal)HERE

Bivvy bagHERE

Whistle

Elastic bandageHERE

Drinking cupHERE

Waterproof jacket w/ hoodHERE

Waterproof trousers HERE

3/4 or full run tightsHERE

Warm hatHERE

GlovesHERE

GPS tracker (provided)

Identity papers– Passport is required in a waterproof bag

Rear lightHERE

Thermal warm layerHERE

Run packHERE

PolesHERE

Dry BagHERE

LINKS:

myRaceKit – HERE

UTMR – HERE

Damian Hall – HERE

 

Listen to the ‘Training for…’ article on Talk Ultra Podcast HERE

Join Ian Corless in London with Lizzy Hawker ‪@lizzihawker in June for a special @myRaceKit ‬#Tailsfromthetrails couple of days!

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Jasmin Paris breaks The Spine

Jasmin Paris has long been regarded as the Queen of British mountain running! Her record on the Bob Graham Round and other rounds, her victories in skyrunning and her down to earth, no nonsense approach have endeared her to all fans of the sport. 

Yesterday, she won The Spine, a 268-mile run billed as the UK’s toughest race race, in 83 hours, 12 minutes and 23 seconds. It was a record breaking performance that not only provided victory in the female race, but an outright victory. Even more stunning was her time… It obliterated the existing female record of 109 hours 54 minutes and more notably, the men’s record of 95 hours 17 minutes set by Eoin Keith.

The gap between male and female competitors in ultra running has always been closer – the longer the race, the better women perform. Ann Trason proved this many years ago and more recently, Rory Bosio placed in the top-10 at UTMB. However, Jasmin’s victory here at The Spine is  turning heads and rightly so.

To provide perspective, she has just appeared on the UK’s BBC Breakfast Show!

Starting on Sunday January 13th at 8am from Edale, Jasmin soon set her stall out running with past winners Eoin Keith and Eugeni Rosello. The trio pulled away, opened a gap and those in the know, me included, wondered could Jasmin pull something special off.

At Hawks, Eugeni and Jasmin forged away from Eoin. It’s not unusual for the lead to change in such a long race as sleep requirements vary and therefore one can expect many variables. At Alston, Eugeni slept as fatigue and sleep deprivation took its toll. Jasmin saw this as an opportunity and pushed on.

At Greenhead, Jasmin had a lead of close to 2 hours. But one sleep and a charging Eugeni could change all that… No! Jasmin seemed unstoppable and took little rest. It was soon becoming clear that Jasmin was not only in a race to win outright but set an overall course record.

Strong winds, cold and rain were relentless but conditions in comparison to past editions were good – there was no snow to slow the pace.

A recent mother, news came out that in addition to obliterating the race at a ridiculous speed, she was actually expressing milk when she took a break! And talking of breaks, over the duration of the 268 mile journey, this amazing inov-8 athlete slept less than 8 hours.

At the finish, Jasmin’s story had become world news. Social media was illuminated with her story and mainstream media was suddenly interested in our niche sport of ultra running.

This victory makes us start to ask a question about records and in future, should races just have one classification and one course record? Jasmin and others before her, have proven that women can compete and more importantly, beat the best-of-the-best. 

It’s a stunning era for the sport and Jasmin is a true ambassador and role model to take the ultra running torch into a new era.

Many congratulations Jasmin!

Update:

Eugeni Rosello looked set for 2nd place but had to withdraw just 6km from the finish. The mountain safety team escorted him off the hill – such a sad end for a valiant battle. This opened the door for Eoin Keith who was 1st male and 2nd overall.

 

INOV-8 UNVEIL WORLD’S FIRST-EVER GRAPHENE FASTPACKING/ HIKING BOOTS – ROCLITE 345 GTX

Rare that I post a press release from any brand but I actually received these boots a week ago from inov-8 so that I could use them on my Nepal trek – info HERE

I was told, ‘You are going to be the first person to use them, so, please keep it quiet until we do an official release in 2019’

Well, inov-8 have moved things forward and today have released the shoe! So this post is just a heads-up on the new ROCLITE 345 GTX with Graphene.

I will be able to provide a full and in-depth review when I return from Nepal in January.

Press Release:

The world’s first-ever hiking boots to utilise graphene – the strongest material on the planet – have been unveiled by British brand inov-8.

Building on the international success of their pioneering use of graphene in trail running and fitness shoes last summer, the brand is now bringing the revolutionary technology to a market recently starved of innovation.

Just one atom thick and 200 times stronger than steel, wonder-material graphene has been infused into the rubber of inov-8’s new ROCLITE hiking boots, with the outsoles scientifically proven to be 50% stronger, 50% more elastic and 50% harder wearing.

Collaborating with graphene experts at The University of Manchester, inov-8 is the first brand in the world to use the Nobel Prize winning material in sports shoes and now hiking footwear.

Michael Price, inov-8 product and marketing director, said: “Working with the National Graphene Institute at The University of Manchester, we’ve been able to develop rubber outsoles that deliver the world’s toughest grip.

“The hiking and outdoor footwear market has been stagnant for many years and crying out for innovation. We’ve brought a fresh approach and new ideas, launching lightweight, fast-feel products with graphene that will allow hikers, fast-packers and outdoor adventurers to get more miles out of their boots and grip to all terrains, no matter how gnarly.”

There are two ROCLITE boots with graphene-enhanced rubber grip (G-GRIP) – the ROCLITE 335 and the ROCLITE 345 GTX. The former offers increased warmth on cold days with PrimaLoft insulation in the upper of the shoe, while the latter has waterproof GORE-TEX protection for hiking adventures in wet conditions. The ROCLITE 335 weighs just 335g and the ROCLITE 345 GTX weighs just 345g. Both are available to buy now.

Commenting on the continued collaboration with The University of Manchester, inov-8 CEO Ian Bailey said: “Last summer saw a powerhouse forged in Northern England take the world of sports footwear by storm. That same powerhouse is now going to do likewise in the hiking and outdoors industry.

“We won numerous awards across the world for our revolutionary use of graphene in trail running and fitness shoes, and I’m 100% confident we can do the same in hiking and outdoors.

“Mark my words, graphene is the future, and we’re not stopping at just rubber outsoles. This is a four-year innovation project which will see us incorporate graphene into 50% of our range and give us the potential to halve the weight of shoes without compromising on performance or durability.”

Graphene is produced from graphite, which was first mined in the Lake District fells of Northern England more than 450 years ago. inov-8 too was forged in the same fells, albeit much more recently in 2003. The brand now trades in 68 countries worldwide.

The scientists who first isolated graphene from graphite were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010. Building on their revolutionary work, a team of over 300 staff at The University of Manchester has pioneered projects into graphene-enhanced prototypes, from sports cars and medical devices to aeroplanes and of course now sports and hiking footwear.

Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan, Reader in Nanomaterials at The University of Manchester, said: “Using graphene we have developed outsole rubbers that are scientifically tested to be 50% stronger, 50% more elastic and 50% harder wearing.

“But this is just the start. Graphene is a such a versatile material and its potential really is limitless.”

The new ROCLITE boots with G-GRIP are available to buy from www.inov-8.com/g-grip and will soon be in-store via the brand’s retail partners worldwide.

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Three Passes Trek 2018: Ultimate Trek in the Everest Region

Nepal, the magic of Nepal! It truly is a remarkable place and if you are a trekker, fastpacker, runner or mountaineer, it is arguably THE best place in the world. Nepal changes people, it really does. I experienced the change on my first visit 7-years ago and I have been going back ever since. It’s not just the trails, the Himalayas or the stunning vistas; It is so much more! It’s the combination of all those elements for sure, but it is the Nepali people that often lure me back. They truly are the salt of the earth.

I have just returned from once again working on the ‘ETR’ – Everest Trail Race. It’s a 6-day running journey of 160km’s that starts at Jiri and traces a route that Hillary and Tenzing took when they first made their way to summit Everest. It’s a magical race and the structured format is a wonderful way to experience Nepal for the first time.

Home for 2-days and I was already missing the trails, views and the people, however, a stinking cold I picked up on the journey home was keeping me from sleeping. In the middle of the night, I laid a Nepal map on the floor and started to plan a journey that would take in the ‘Three High Passes’ on a circular route from Lukla.

It was as I stared at the map, I began to realise the options open and the possibility to do out and backs and add some serious additions to what is, an already very popular trek.

The high passes are:

  • Renjo La 5338m
  • Cho La 5380m
  • Kongma La 5535m

Now of course, before undertaking any route like this you have to ask yourself some really sound questions and gain an understanding of trekking or running at altitude – you don’t just do it. You have to ease yourself in and acclimate to the demands.

For me, I am not overly worried at being circa 5500m. My job regularly takes me to high altitudes, for example this year alone I have been over 5000m in China, been at 4000m in Turkey, been at the summit of Mt. Teide in Tenerife, been at the summit of Monte Rosa and of course, just recently I have done Everest Trail Race. So, I am pretty well prepared to go to 5500m or higher. The big question is usually, can one stay there? 

See the map below:

My route would follow the very clearly defined high pass trek, clockwise, finishing with the higher Kongma La at 5535m. For example, this is usually done in 16-18 days and often 21-days are recommended to allow for any issues or problems. 

My idea, once again (I did a trek last December) was to avoid the noise and the frenzy of Christmas and travel to Nepal for an adventure.

Rough plan was to leave the UK for Dubai Dec 13th, arrive in Kathmandu on the 16th. Start my trek on the 18th and finish on the 30th. Return to Kathmandu on the 31st and then have some RnR time before returning to the UK.

That allowed me 13-days.

However, I know from experience that I can move considerably faster and cover more ground than a normal trek, so, it got me looking – what could I add?

The plan is to add ‘out and backs’ to my route that would add some spice and challenge:

  • Gokyo RI
  • Kala Pattar?
  • Everest Base Camp
  • Ama Dablam Base Camp
  • Taboche
  • Thamersku Base Camp

I am well connected with the guide / Sherpa community in Kathmandu and so I asked Pasang Sherpa and Lhakpa Rangdu (both who have summited Everest multiple times, Lkakpa, 11 times!) Was my schedule feasible? Pasang knows me well and he immediately said yes! He confirmed that I usually cover double what most trekkers do in a day, also, mt time on the ETR confirms this. So, the plan was turned into a reality.

Initially I was going to go alone, but December in Nepal is very cold and relatively quiet. Pasang did not insist, but highly recommended a fast Sherpa to join me. I didn’t need much persuading and I agreed. I was adamant though – no porter, we carry our own equipment for the duration moving fast and light.

Another factor to consider was the crossing of glaciers. I had already made the decision to carry mini-spikes and a light ice axe.

THE PLAN:

13th Dec leave UK

17th KTM 

18th Depart for Lukla (early flight I guess) and then we hike to Namche.

19th Lumde

20th RENJO PASS to Gokyo to include Gokyo RI

21st CHO LA PASS to Dzongla

22nd Gorak Shep w/ Kala Pattar?

 

23rd EBC and back to Lobuche

 

24th KONGMA LA PASS to Somare

25th Ama Dablam BC and back to Pangboche

26th Tabuche Peak and back to Pangboche

27th Monjo

28th Thamersku BC

29th Lukla

30th Spare day

31st Back to KTM 

1st KTM 

2nd Onward travel

It is very easy to look at a fastpack like this and lose perspective. Daily distances mean very little when climbing and descending at altitude and particularly in this environment – it is going to be very cold too, especially at night.

Pasang Sherpa – the main man and my Mr Fixer.

EQUIPMENT:

I recently wrote an article on equipment for fastpacking in Nepal, HERE. While much of what is in this article is correct, I am making some changes for December. First and foremost I am replacing my SPOT with a Garmin inReach MINI. I asked friends was the difference worth it and I have to say I am currently blown away with the device. User friendly, small, great battery life and perfect sync with the EARTHMATE App on iPhone. The map below is what I imported into the inReach as a ‘just in case’ scenario is needed.

However, the primary use for the inReach will be safety. It has a SOS button and that in a remote environment can be the difference between life and death. Also, I can send and receive messages – not essential but really great for letting the important people in my life know that I am ok. The other function will also allow anyone to follow me by using this link HERE – I must stress, I am going for no FKT’s, not looking to set records or do anything out of the ordinary, however, you may like to see where I am? I haven’t decided yet if I will turn the inReach on each morning and off each evening or leave it permanently on. The battery will last 20-days on 30-min tracking.

I am going to use the Montane Ultra Tour 40 backpack. It is light, super comfy and will allow me to carry all I need.

I have purchased a pair of RAB Endurance Down Gloves which are maybe overkill, but, I have had friends at EBC and in that area in December and it has been -25, so, I don’t want  cold hands!

I am using the inov-8 ROCLITE 325 Gore-Tex fastpack boot.

I normally do not take waterproof clothing but I have decided to take the inov-8 AT/C Race Pant (170g) and AT/C Stormshell Jacket (175g).

Ice Axe – I am taking the amazingly super-light CAMP Corsa which is just 200g

YakTrax XTR cramp ons

The rest of my equipment will be as follows:

Day:

  • inov-8 3/4 tights.
  • inov-8 AT/C Merino Top
  • inov-8 AT/C soft-shell Pro Top
  • Plus inov-8 ROCLITE 325 Gore-Tex, inov-8 AT/C Race Pant (170g) and AT/C Stormshell Jacket

Night:

  • RAB INFINITY 500 sleeping bag
  • RAB NEUTRINO PRO Jacket
  • RAB MICROLIGHT Jacket
  • RAB SUPERFLUX HOODY
  • RAB 120 long sleeve base layer
  • RAB 120 pant
  • PHD down socks
  • RAB PROTON PANTS
  • RAB gloves, hat and neck rolls

Extras:

  • Basic toiletries
  • Headtorch and spare batteries
  • Earphones
  • Phone
  • Pen
  • Passport
  • Black Diamond Z Poles
  • Waterproof bags

Camera:

  • Sony A7RIII with 35mm f2.8 prime lens and 4 batteries/ 2 spare SD cards.

*****

Departure form the UK is Dec 13th and you can follow my tracker HERE

I will do iPhone posts during the trek, mainly on Facebook and Instagram Story. All the good images will come post the trek when I can download and edit.

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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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