THREE SUMMITS EXPEDITION 2020

This time last year I was making final preparations for my Three High Passes‘ trek that included Renjo La, Cho La, Kongma La and the additions of Kala Patthar, Everest Base Camp and Ama Dablam Base Camp.

You can read about the route HERE and view photos HERE.

Having just returned from Nepal, this time visiting Mira Rai in her home village and working on Everest Trail Race (here). I was fueled to put a plan into action that I have contemplated for the last 12-months.

 MERA PEAK, ISLAND PEAK and LOBUCHE EAST 

Three 6000+ summits, in succession in a 16-20 day period.

It seems a logical progression for me, the peaks being considered entry level 6000ers that are graded as trekking peaks’ and not expedition peaks.

To clarify, I have come to higher mountains and challenges as a natural progression. I am a runner who has been fortunate to get high, work in difficult places and organically push my boundaries. Of all the things I have done, my 2018 High Passes Trek was the most rewarding and it has left me wanting more. 

Three Summits Expedition

Its not a project I will take lightly, and I have already started the necessary learning curves to hopefully make the 2020 Three Summits a success. I have three ascents of Toubkal (Morocco) under my belt, two in summer and more importantly, one in winter that will replicate many of the conditions I will encounter on Mera for example. I plan at least two trips (in winter) to Toubkal in early 2020. I have the first planned for January, the second probably in April. I also plan to climb Monte Rosa (4600m) in June and then if all plans fall together, hopefully Mont Blanc (4800m) in August.

In addition to the above I have signed up for ice climbing lessons, a winter skills weekend and a basic abseiling course. I dont want to leave anything to chance and, in the process, I want to really enjoy the learning curve.

What will the Three Summits’ entail?

The loop above shows an approximation of the route and the return leg after Lobuche may change as mentioned below. The total distance will be approximately 120-miles but it is hard to get a fixed figure on this, especially with so much vertical.

Arriving in Lukla, we would take the quiet trekking route to Thuli Kharka that includes crossing three passes: Kalo Himal 1st 4540m, Zatrwa La Pass 4620m and an unnamed pass at 4285m. Thank Tok follows, then Kothe (Namaste Lodge and Lama Lodge) may provide us with a lodge option? Thangnak leads to Khare and then base camp for Mera Peak.

Mera Peak at 6476m is the highest trekking peak in Nepal. A trek that leads though rhododendron forest trails of the Hinku Valley. Once acclimatized we will ascend to a high camp just below Mera La and prepare for an attempt on the central summit of Mera Peak (6461m).

Of all the peaks we will attempt on this expedition, Mera is not technically demanding but climbing at this altitude is physically challenging, we will also need to be attentive to snow conditions and wait for an optimal weather window. From the summit, we will have perfect views of five of the six highest mountains on earth.

From Mera Peak we will descend to Base Camp and then the following day start our trek to Island Peak.

This section of the trek is arguably the most challenging with a crossing of Amphu Labtsa Pass, at an elevation 5845m. It is a glaciated pass covered in Serac cliffs. It is the only way out of the otherwise isolated Honku valley. The base of the valley is at 5,000m and has several glacial lakes including the Panch Pokhri or Five Sacred Lakes. The Amphu Labtsa Pass involves technical mountaineering and is Alpine Graded D (difficult). The ice and rock summit is exposed and the descent to the Imja Valley that will lead to Island Peak requires abseiling following a fixed rope. Arguably, the Amphu Labtsa Pass may be more challenging than the three summits on this expedition?

Island Peak is a classic 6000+ Himalayan Peak and graded PD+/AD which will require our team to use multiple skills that includes crampons, fixed ropes and potentially crossing ladders over crevasses. The attempt for summit will take place early morning (estimated at 2am) and will require many hours in darkness on steep ground covering scree, loose rocks and switchbacks. The final ascent to the summit is steep (40-55 deg) and will require fixed rope work (Ascender and carabiner on a cow tail rope) via mixed terrain: rock, snow and ice.

At the top of the headwall the summit ridge extends a further 250m to the small peak with amazing views looking back towards Ama Dablam. Because Island Peak is close up to the vast and dramatic south side of the Lhotse/Nuptse wall, Everest will not be visible. The climb down is a reverse of the way up and will require some abseiling on the upper sections. It is a single line abseil with no top roping. The lower one gets, the easier it becomes, and we will descend to base camp.

The next section of the trek will go to Chukhung and then Lobuche via one of the threeHigh PassesKongma La.

Once at Lobuche, the final summit of Lobuche East at 6119m waits for us. Considered one of the more challenging trekking peaks in the Everest region our summit attempt will be made from high camp on the south ridge.

Once back at Lobuche, our expedition will then return to Lukla and the route/ schedule here is currently flexible based on time available. We are anticipating and attempting the whole route in a challenging 16-days; however, we will have 20-days available. This will allow us some contingency days for bad weather.

Route options for the return:

1. The most direct route will be to drop down to Dingboche, Pangboche and then take a high pass to Phortse. From here we will pass through the Khumjung Valley, Namche Bazaar and then take the main trekking route back to Lukla.

2. One other option would be to complete the High Passesand from Lobuche take Cho La Pass to Gokyo and then Renjo La Pass to Thame. From here we would go to Namche Bazaar and then follow the main trekking route to Lukla.

Summary 

The above is a challenge and one that is not taken for granted. The mountains are the boss and all I can do is plan accordingly. I have liaised with my contacts in Nepal, namely Pasang Sherpa who is a good friend. He has summited Everest twice, Ama Dablam many times and when it comes to the Himalayas, he is my Mr. Fixer. As such, he will be present on the expedition and have ultimate control of all aspects.

Our team will be small and personally selected with 4 and no more than 6 in the team. In addition, we will have Pasang and porters.

My ethos is to be self-sufficient as much as possible. I want and am happy to support the Nepali community and pay for porters. But I am not happy for me to carry 10kg and a porter carry 40kg. Therefore, I expect each member of the expedition to carry equal weight.

Altitude is a fickle beast and there are no guarantees. Fitness is not an indicator of how well one works above 4/5 and 6000m and in advance we will most definitely have group discussions on plans of how we work this in a real situation.

Our expedition will need individual plans so that we all understand what will happen when plans do not go as expected. For example, in a group of 4-6, it is not unreasonable for 1 person to have an issue on one or all of the ascents. We will need to have safety for 1 person (or more) to turnaround if required, while the others proceed to a summit.

There are little or no lodges between Lukla and Island Peak and what is available, may not be open in late November/ early December. Therefore, we will need to carry tents, cooking supplies and food for this section of the expedition.

Late November and early December will hopefully bring more stable weather, but we do run a risk of increased snowfall. It is also colder. 

We will have specific equipment needs for each of the summit attempts in addition to what we will need for day-to-day trekking:

  • High altitude boots
  • Crampons
  • Helmet
  • Harness
  • Ice Axe
  • Cow Tail
  • Ascender
  • Carabiners

Departure date from Kathmandu to Lukla will be November 23rd (tbc). With the expedition taking 16-20 days. (We need to allow for 20 because we may not be able to summit due to bad weather.) Return to Kathmandu will be scheduled for Dec 12th.

Finally 

This expedition is without doubt a challenge. It is going to push me to some new areas and in the process, I am going to learn not only new skills, but I am going to learn a great deal more about myself.

I plan to document the process in words and images. Lessons learnt, mistakes made and hopefully provide a platform for mutual learning. 

With a New Year looming, I am excited to start it with my most adventurous project yet!

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

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

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

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

IMAGE GALLERIES HERE

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

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

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The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Arrival in Kathmandu

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

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

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

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

Race Director – Jordi Abad

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Daily distances are as follows:

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

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

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

Race Website:  Global HEREUK HERE

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Everest Trail Race 2018 Bhandar to Jase Bhanjyang #ETR2018

Day 2 Everest Trail Race #ETR2018

Starting in Bhandar runners have the pleasure of running downhill along some twisting and technical trail before crossing a suspension bridge that stretches over Kinja Khola River. It’s a day when the true Nepal starts to reveal itself. The occasional glimpse of the high peaks in the distance pulling the runners along the course. 

From the river, it’s relentless climbing to Golla at just over 3000m. Here an aid station provides a little respite and some flat trails. But flat does not last long, the climbing starts again firstly to Ngaur and then onward to the highest point of the ETR; Pikey Peak at 4063m. The summit at Pikey Peak on a clear day offers an amazing Himalayan vista with the first glimpse of Everest possible in the distance.

From the peak, a tough technical descent for several kilometres winds its way down to a lodge and then a tough short climb is the sting in the tail to the arrival at Jase Bhanjyang at 3600m.

Day 2 of the Everest Trail Race is the toughest of the race: fact! It’s a brutal exercise in climbing and one that takes place at attitude stretching each and every participant to the limit. In 2017, Luis Alberto Hernando dare I say, made this stage look easy! He smashed the old course record and in the process set a new time of 3:35.

It was another strong day for Jordi Gamito. He forged ahead running close to the 2017 time of Luis Alberto Hernando. “I am much stronger than last year and feel really good,” said Jordi at the finish. Today Joan Soler, running his 4th ETR pushed for 2nd ahead of Sergio Arias.

For the women, it was much closer today with Manuela Vilaseca and Rai Purnimaya running close together, the duo now only separated by minutes on general classification. Becks Ferry was a solid 3rd and 3rd on GC.

Day 3 is brutal day that is a stark opposite to day-2, at 37.4km it has more descending (4110m) than ascending (2512m). Starting in Jase Bhanjyang runners will pass through Jumbesi, Phurteng, Salung, Taksindu and then from Jubhing the race finishes with a tough climb to the stunning monastery at Kharikhola.

Everest Trail Race 2018 Monkey Temple and Patan #ETR2018

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow the runner’s leave early morning for Jiri and camp 1, the race starts the following day at 0900, Thursday 8th November.

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Everest Trail Race 2018 #ETR2018

EVEREST TRAIL RACE, Nepal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.

Edmund Hillary

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

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

Words taken from the book RUNNING BEYOND HERE

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Nepal Trek – A Journey in the Himalayas Part One

Nepal Trek – A Journey in the Himalayas Part One

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

Nepal is magical!

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

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

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

Practical Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

What type of trek?

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

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

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

The JIRI trek.

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

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

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

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

The early trails are magical though!

How long does a trek take?

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

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

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

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

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

Looking at Ama Dablam.

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

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

Day 1 travel to Kathmandu.

Day 2 Kathmandu sightseeing.

Day 3 4×4 drive to Jiri

Day 4 Trek, Jiri to Bhandar

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

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

Day 7 Trek, Junbeisi to Kharikhola

Day 8 Trek, Kharikhola to Phakding

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

Day 10 Trek, Tengboche to Lukla

Day 11 Flight back to Kathmandu

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

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

Guide or no guide?

Ngima Sherpa – our guide.

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

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

Niandi with Ngima’s mother.

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

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

Equipment

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

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

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

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

Niandi’s apparel:

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

Extras:

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

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

Camera:

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

Clarifications:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pack on your back and the contents is your lifeline. It contains everything you need but remember you need to carry it, so, a little luxury is okay but too much and it will slow you down and tire you. Be frugal and be minimalist – it is all part of the process and the journey.

Lodges

Lodges are everywhere and there is no shortage of a place to eat and sleep. However, be careful! October and November the trails are busy, particularly from Lukla to EBC. The same applies for Spring, so, book ahead if possible. This is where a guide can step in. For our December trek, the trails are quiet and getting a room is no issue.

Lodges vary. Some are extremely basic, others are more developed. But just remember where you are and what you are doing… if you want luxury, you are in the wrong place. All lodges will provide food. The basic ones will give you no choice and probably serve Dahl Baht – rice, vegetable, lentil sauce, pickles and maybe some bread. Other lodges will have a menu with a variety of food options including chicken, apple pie and even pizza!

On Christmas Day, Niandi and I stayed in what I would consider a ‘luxury’ lodge – we had a bottle of red wine, a dinner of chicken, chips and vegetable and we followed that with chocolate pudding and a shot of rum. Days or dinners don’t get any better!

Visas, permits and so on.

On arrival in Kathmandu you need a visa, a 15-day tourist visa is 25 dollars. Go online here, download the form and fill out in advance. It saves time.

You need to purchase a KPRLM permit (Khumbu Pasang Lhama Rural Municipality) which costs approx £20. This can be purchased on the trail. Make sure you trek with your passport! After Phakding you need to purchase a Sagarmantha National Park pass, approx £30, which allows you access to the high passes and EBC. Keep this pass handy as you have several checkpoints to pass and it needs to be shown.

Money and food/ drink costs.

Carry the local currency and that way you will not have any issues or worries. Make sure you have enough cash! You will need the cash for the passes but all your lodges, food, drinks and so on will be paid in cash… Visa/ MasterCard machines are scarce! The higher you go; the more expensive things are. The reason is quite simple, products are either carried in by porter or flown in by helicopter. To clarify, a San Miguel beer will cost 500 NR in Lukla and 900 NR at Tengboche. On the trail, you will pass small shops all the time, so, getting a Coke, Mars bar, snack etc is not an issue. A bottle of water is 80-200 NR, a Coke 250-400 NR, Beer 500-1000 NR, Rum 500+ NR and dinner will cost you between 400-1500 NR depending on what you eat, how much you eat and how remote the place is.

Wi-Fi, Phone and Safety

I switched off and avoided all comms for my trip. The exception coming on Christmas Day when I posted a photo on FB and messaged my family. If you want phone connection, I suggest you purchase a Nepali SIM in Kathmandu – much of the trails now have 3G and 4G. Many of the lodges have Wi-Fi and you can pay locally for the odd connection. I had my phone with me as a back-up.

For safety, I took a SPOT GEN 3 GPS which I had turned off for the whole trip. It was nice to know though that should I need to press the emergency button, the option was there! Important beyond Tengboche, the high passes and EBC when phone signal disappears.

We also had a guide as an additional safety/ back-up.

Don’t underestimate this area, IT IS DANGEROUS. If things go wrong you will potentially die. Sounds dramatic I know but it is true.

On the trails

The trails are at times challenging. No need to clarify but you will be climbing and descending a great deal. Niandi and myself covered 108-miles and 16,200m of vertical. Trails can be wide, narrow, dry, sandy, dusty, rocky, muddy and in addition, from Kharikhola or Lukla you will have Mules, Yaks and porters to deal with. Simple rule, they have right of way and please keep ‘wall side!’ Don’t put yourself on the ‘edge’ side of the trail as a Mule or Yak may push you over. Both Niandi and myself used trail shoes, Nike Wildhorse 4 shoes – they were perfect! No blisters, really comfortable and great for walking. I carried ‘micro-spikes’ in case of ice.

Insurance

DO NOT got to Nepal without ‘extreme’ insurance cover. This MUST include evacuation by helicopter. Dogtag and BMC are good places to start.

Health and hygiene.

You can carry had sanitizer and it may make you feel better. But I have found over the years to go with the flow. Take in some germs every now and again and ultimately become more resilient. I do feel this is the way forward. Niandi and myself used nothing on the trails other than water and some soap – we had no issues. However, a stomach bug is a distinct possibility and I carried Imodium, Paracetamol, Ibuprofen and Cold & Flu tablets as a precaution.

I had 4 packets on Andrex wipes – a luxury! Each night it was wonderful to wipe down, freshen up and ‘feel’ clean even though we both knew we weren’t! Also, important for when going the loo.

I carried a Lifesytems NANO (here) First Aid kit for emergencies.

I also had a Leatherman Juice C2 here for practical purposes.

The Trek

That is the practical stuff out of the way… so The Trek.

PART TWO ‘THE TREK’ TO FOLLOW

*****

Many thanks to PHD for the continued support.

Treks Travels Nepal and my friend Phudorjee Lama Sherpa.

Our guide, Ngima Sherpa.

Everest Trail Race for the inpiration and confidence.

Everest Trail Race by The Elements Pure Coconut Water #ETR2017 – Travel to JIRI

Four 16-seater mini buses departed Kathmandu for the 8-hour drive to Jiri and camp one of the 2017 Everest Trail Race. The distance is only 200km but the roads are very slowly and often only wide enough for one vehicle. It can be a rollercoaster ride of twisting left-to-right and up and down, all with a constant soundtrack of car horns.

There is a lack of road rules, which actually makes the journey very safe as drivers are constantly expecting the unexpected.

Taking regular breaks, a prolonged 30-minute break came at two-thirds through the journey and picnic stop next to the river that flows through the impressive valley through which we travel.

Along the road, small refreshment stops appear with locals selling wares from small carts; anything from a vegetarian rice meal to crisps, chocolate and even Red Bull! As is normal in Nepal, the locals are always friendly – they beam with laughter and smiles.

Back on the bus the ride continues for 3 more hours and finally our arrival at Jiri came. The glow of yellow tents was a warm welcome as the day began to lose its light.

Arriving in camp, water and tents were allocated to the runners. These tents are home for the next 6-days as we all make our way towards Everest. Runners settled in and made final preparations as the reality hits home that tomorrow, the 2017 Everest Trail Race starts. The heat of Kathmandu soon disappeared with the arrival of darkness and t-shirts were replaced with down jackets.

Day 1 commences at 0900 Thursday 9th November.

Jiri (1850m) to Bhandar (2050m) – 21.5km 3795m+/-

The stage has two summits, one at 2400m and the high point of the day at Deurali Pass 2700m before descending to the finish at Bhandar.

 

Everest Trail Race by The Elements Pure Coconut Water #ETR2017 – Monkey Temple and Patan

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

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

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

This is Nepal – the people.

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

*content reference ©wikipedia