The Everest Trail Race (ETR) finally was all systems go after an extended break due to the Coronavirus situation. Needless to say, the return was welcome, not only by ETR staff but all the runner’s, many who had postponed entries for 12 or even 24-months.
Nepal is a magical place and to be back in the magic was special.
ETR organisation had not been dormant between 2020 and 2022, the opposite. With the ever expansio of gravel roads leading toward Lukla, it was important to return ETR to more isolated and raw trails, so, in comparison to pre-2020, the 2022 race would be a new experience, particularly over stages one to four with stages five and six remaining roughly the same to 2019.
- Stage 1 : 23.08km with 1551m+/ 1012m-
- Stage 2 : 30.30km with 2365m+/ 3115m-
- Stage 3 : 28.23km with 2028m+/ 2799m-
- Stage 4 : 27.40km with 2170m+/ 1515m-
- Stage 5 : 31.80km with 2850m+/ 1650m-
- Stage 6 : 29km with 1770m+/ 2802m-
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ARRIVAL IN KATHMANDU
Travel is coordinated so all participants meet in Istanbul for an onward red-eye flight through the night to arrive in Kathmandu mid morning. During the Covid period, Kathamandu has not stood still either. There have been major improvements to the airport and what was a very painful arrival and immigration procedure is now considerably less painful if you have the relevant documents, photos and cash to pay for an entry visa.
Everyone is welcomed at the airport with a traditional garland and then it’s transfer time to the hotel which will be home for the next two days. For those who have not been to Kathmandu before, the driving is always somewhat of a shock. Organised chaos is the easiest way to explain it.
Arrival at Hotel Shanker, a calm and hidden oasis in noise and craziness of Kathmandu is welcome. Everyone is greeted and then it’s straight into initial race admin before relaxation time after long travel.
Day 1 morning is a group excursion to the Monkey Temple and Patan. The Monkey Temple for 2022 was considerably busier than other years due to timing of an important religious festival. It was rammed with people but that only added to the atmosphere.
Of course, it’s always an eye-opener to experience a place like this. No matter how many times you visit, there is always something new and of course, it’s a popular place for beggars who hope to monetise the charity of the visitors.
From the Monkey Temple to historical Patan. *Patan, also known as ‘Lalitpur’, the city of artisans, lies 5 km southeast of Kathmandu, and is home to the valley’s finest craftsmen who have preserved such ancient techniques as the repoussé and lost wax process used to produce exquisite sculptures. The city retains much of the old charm with its narrow streets, brick houses and multitude of well-preserved Hindu temples, Buddhist monasteries (vihars) and monuments. (*https://ntb.gov.np/patan).
The buildings, the winding streets, the noise and colour – always special. But for many, the people are what is interesting… So many characters full of life, history and colour.
After a morning of relaxation and sightseeing, late afternoon is taken up with pre-race admin checks, number collection, medical checks and onwards to the evenings welcome dinner and race briefing.
TRAVEL TO CAMP 1
Travel to camp 1 in Dhap is via bus and it’s a long and lengthy journey of 8 to 12-hours.
Of course regular stops break up the journey and there is an opportunity to see local colour and character on the way, one of the real benefits of travel via road in comparison to taking internal flights.
Arrival at camp 1 eventually comes. Camp is set up in advance and the glow of lights and yellow tents suddenly makes the whole experience come to life. Now, the ETR finally begins and everyone spends a first night in a tent.
A first night under the stars and by Nepal standards in November, it was a relatively mild despite the layer of frost on all the tents and on the ground.
Participants were undecided if it had been cold or not, basically this came down to how good and warm their sleeping bags were. If a runner felt cold last night, the omens are not good for how well they will sleep in the coming days.
Warm sweet tea is a great way to start a day, especially while relaxing in a sleeping bag. But despite that luxury, breakfast called and the need to add layers and absorb calories for the day ahead was an immediate priority.
The sun came and with it warmth. The glow of head torches replaced, bags were packed and racing apparel was made ready.
Rationed water, gels and bars were provided and at the stroke of 0830 the runner’s departed for Stage 1 of the 2022 Everest Trail Race.
At 23.08km with 1551m+/ 1012m- the day was expected to be completed quickly by the front-runners. Miguel Heras did not disappoint crossing the line at exactly 1100am, behind, the 2019 ETR Suman Kulung finished just a couple of minutes later with the 2018 ETR champion, Jordi Gamito, finishing 3rd off the pace.
Miguel explained how he had made a silly mistake immediately after Cp2 whilst eating at not concentrating, he missed a marker and went off course. The mistake cost him first place and many minutes… He chased, caught Suman, and still obtained victory; a great run. However, he did say, “There are 5-days to go, anything can happen!”
For the women, Silvina Perez ran a strong stage ahead of Nepali, Ang Furba Sherpa. Ester Alves from Portugal finished 3rd ahead of pre-race favourite, Caroline Turner, who summed her day up with a simple summary, “The altitude and the last climb kicked my ass!”
It was a successful day-1 with all participants completing the course before 1700hrs.
It was a cold night at 3500m. The wind and cloud adding to the chilly temperatures. For those who have raced light, today is the day that they understand the importance of layers and a warm sleeping bag. A lack of sleep with a tired body is not pleasant, even warm tea and a hot breakfast could not lighten the mood of some. After day-1, based on finish times, ETR operates two starts for stage, 0700 and 0800, thus allowing slower competitors additional time to complete the stage.
The day started with a 500m climb to the summit of Pikey Peak at 4041m. From here a twisting and technical descent to Jase Bhanjyang (3510m) and the Lamjura Pass towards Langate Peak and onward to Pungmuche and Thumptencholing. From 20.5km another climb to 24.5km, and then a tough finish with a long climb, descent and then a final short climb to the camp at Rinmo.
Everyone was unanimous, it was a seriously tough day and although we missed a peak due to landslide, it added distance, many recording between 34-36km.
The race at the front was intense and today, with so much altitude and added distance, Nepali Suman had the advantage over Miguel Hera, Jordi Gamito once again placing 3rd.
For the women, it was a similar story with Nepali, Purwha Lhamu Sherpa having the advantage over Sivina Perez.
The impact of the day will no doubt be seen in stage 3, when the runners tackle 28.23km with 2028m+/ 2799m-
Many are already discussing the drop of over 2000m from 3855m at km7.5, to 1625m at km23. A tough day!
Nothing better than starting a 30km day with a 1200m climb to just under 4000m through forest trails. The downside, depending on viewpoint and preferences, was the 2700m of descent that followed via steep, technical, challenging and rocky trails. And then just when you think it’s all over, you finish the day with 500m of vert followed by another short decent to camp. It was a tough day!
The action started early with Miguel Heras and Sumun Kulung setting a harsh pace up the first climb, they were inseparable. Event the relentless descent could not break them. It was at the last checkpoint, with approximately 5km to go, 500m of vert, that Miguel put the hammer down and opened up an 11min gap over the Nepali. Quite incredible.
Once again, Jordi Gamito, the 2018 ETR champion, seemed happy to settle for the third spot – the duo ahead are at the moment, untouchable.
Purwha Lhamu Sherpa certainly has settled in to women’s race and once again took victory. Ester Alves, equally has found her comfort on the Nepal trails and today relished the relentless downhill trails to finish second. Day 1 victor, Silvina Perez, finished third.
Mood in the camp was positive after the stage, these trails are quiet and remote. It was only in the final 5km, the climb to Kharikola, that it was possible to see homes and locals working the fields.
KhariKola has been the stage 3 camp, day 4 start for many years. However, for 2022, the ETR no longer camped at the monastery but a little lower down in an isolated spot. Temperatures were mild for the night, just dipping below zero. So, runner’s were refreshed for the start of day 4 with a good nights sleep.
Today is the day the race enters the main trekking routes as Lukla approaches and the end of the day, Phakding.
However, unlike previous years, a new route was developed to avoid the ongoing dirt road development that is impacting on this area greatly.
A tough 1000m climb kicked off the day to Karila at 3080m and then technical rocky trails to the lowest point of the day, Surke at 2300m. From here, a climb to Chaurikara (2621m) a steep descent and then a steep climb to Segma at 2742m. The ETR is now on new trails on the opposite side of the river all the way to the Phakding finish.
Once again it was the Miguel and Suman show at the front, the duo running together, again at a relentless pace. With the longest and arguably the toughest day of the race tomorrow, they crossed the line together, just a 1-second apart, no doubt saving some reserves.
Jordi Gamito finished third, quite a long way behind the leading two, his overall position is safe and he is no doubt just running a smart race now.
The women’s race was different today, with all three women running extremely close together, separated by just minutes. Today, the glory went to Ester Alves who gets better with each day, In the final km’s, Silvina Perez caught a fading Purwha Lhamu Sherpa to place second.
Stage 5, the highlight of the ETR. Today is the day the runners pass through Namche Bazaar and head up higher in the direction of the big peaks.
With much of the day above 3800m, it’s a brute, but the compensation is the magnificent backdrop of Everest, Lohtse, Nuptse and the stunning and iconic Ama Dablam.
Starting in Phakding, it’s up, up and up to Namche and then onwards to Syangboche at 3760m. From here, a descent to Kumjung and then a climb to Mong La, 3973m. Phortse and a stunning single-track trail to Pangboche with amazing views is the cream on the Himalayan cake as the route travels at 4000m. Finally a descent to Debuche, 3741m, and then the climb to the finish at Tyangboche at 3875m.
The day held no surprises with Miguel and Suman running together and at tge line it was red-line effort from the Spaniard to take the stage win. Jordi Gamito once again placing third.
Purwha Lhamu Sherpa for the women took the stage with a truly gritty performance. With one ankle heavily taped and carrying an injury, she still managed a stellar performance, the altitude no doubt being an advantage. Ester Alves finished second, exhausted, expressing, “One of the hardest things I have ever done!’ Once again, Silvina Perez placed 3rd.
The final stage back to Lukla. At 29km with 1770m+/ 2802m- it is by no means and easy day or chilled day and that was reflected in Miguel and Suman pushing hard all the way to the line finishing well under 3-hours and in course record for the stage. Miguel Heras was the 2022 ETR champion.
For the rest of the participants, the day was one of victory, the finish line providing the completion of an epic journey. The top women and a group of others, decided to enjoy the day and they all finished together.
Lukla provided an end to the 2022 ETR and the mood was high. For many, the experience had been a tough one. The altitude, climbing and descending providing a much harder and more challenging experience than other multi-day adventures.
“MDS is a walk in the park in comparison to the ETR. MDS may well be self-sufficient, but the terrain here is so much harder, add the altitude and cold nights, the challenge is considerably harder.”
Now attention turn to 2023 and the next edition of the ETR. It really is one of the ‘must-do’ races not only for the challenge but for the immersive beauty and experience that Nepal brings.
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