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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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:
- We gave back something to the community, guides need tourists and we provided employment.
- 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.
- Our guide, Ngima Sherpa, was a dream to be with – we now consider him a great friend.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
***Sony A9 with fixed 35mm f2.8 prime lens and 4 batteries.
*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 night’s sleep, only not enough layers,” he says. “I layer when I’m inside the bag just as much as I do while outside the bag. When you’re climbing Everest, you’re 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 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.
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 also had a Leatherman Juice C2 here for practical purposes.
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.
Episode 148 of Talk Ultra is a Kilian Jornet Special
Kilian Jornet was pretty much was missing from the mountain, ultra and trail calendar for the past 18-months and rightly so. He had set targets on the final summit of his Summits of my Life project – Everest. A failed attempt in a previous year and then Nepal earthquakes had put things on hold. No bad thing. Kilian learned, progressed and then finally summited Everest twice in one week which blew the minds of the whole world.
Of course, anything so amazing has questions raised over it and rightly so. Just recently an article appeared and Kilian responded. Read HERE.
The Interview 01:0810
This interview with Kilian is in-depth and discusses the whole #SOML project and we talk about Kilian’s approach and ethos in regard to his adventures.
The interview is not about trying to prove what Kilian has achieved! This is about providing a voice and hopefully in that process, many aspects will be made clear.
More will come to light in regard to Everest and ultimately one has to assume the Everest film will answer all of those questions. The film will be released in 2018.
Post Everest, Kilian started running again and won a super-fast Sierre Zinal, he won Hardrock 100 with a dislocated shoulder, placed 2nd behind Francois at UTMB and won Glen Coe Skyline. In the winter, he has had operations on his shoulders and now is in recovery and waiting to get back into the SkiMo season.
This show is co-hosted by Karl ‘Speedgoat’ Meltzer and we provide a review of the 2017 Mountain, Ultra, Trail and Skyrunning year.
You can read the article here.
As a year comes to a close, I always like to look back and consider the highlights of the year, not only personal highlights but global highlights of the running world.
It is a daunting task at times.
The running year is now so full that it can be difficult to remember what happened just weeks ago, never mind months ago. So, with this in mind, please consider that this article is my thoughts and not a definitive highlight of 2017.
Having said that, I am going to make some huge mistakes and I am going to miss some key people, races and performances.
I welcome you, the reader, reminding me of what they are – please, just be nice!
So, let us look at 2017.
I was considering going through chronologically and in all honesty, it may have been the better solution to the task at hand, however, I have just gone on impulse!
Western States was won by Ryan Sandes and I have to say, it was a sweet victory for the South African who over the years I have considered a great friend. Ryan was my first ever interview on Talk Ultra podcast and I love his story. The non-runner who became a runner who eventually won Western States. It’s a dream story. While on the subject of Western, we also need to mention the ladies champ, Cat Bradley. While all the top contenders faded, Cat ran a sound and solid race to take the biggest win of her life. It was no one-off, something she has proven recently by setting a FKT in the Grand Canyon – Rim – to – Rim – to – Rim fastest known time in 7:52:20
Francois D’Haene is the best 100-mile mountain runner in the world – end of the story. The dude has been nailing it for years and when Rob Krar won 3 100’s in one year, so did Francois. The Frenchman has consistently dominated the distance and when the trail has vertical, he is almost unbeatable. In 2017, he elevated himself to a new level firstly beating the ‘unbeatable’ Kilian Jornet at UTMB and then setting (obliterating) the FKT for the John Muir Trail. He also ripped MIUT (Madeira Island Ultra Trail) apart, and the previous CR set by Zach Miller. Without doubt, Francois is the male ultra-runner of the year in my eyes. We just need to see him at Hardrock 100 now!
Andrea Huser blows my mind constantly. She is the most impressive and consistent runner in the ultra-world and I often ask the question, if she raced less, would she win more? She has a string of top results but often has missed the big win. But when you race as much as she does, you can’t help but just nod in respect.
Caroline Chaverot was unbeatable in 2016 and 2017 started with some issues, issues that she has battled with throughout 2017. Despite this, she won Hardrock 100. It was a great victory and not one without controversy… she left her bleeding pacer on the trail for others to help. Just recently she rounded out her year with a win at Saint E Lyon in France – the classic November night race.
Ida Nilsson and Tim Freriks kicked off their seasons with victory at Transvulcania. Ida’s win was to be expected, but Tim’s win was a revelation. The ‘cowboy’ then went on to set a FKT in the Grand Canyon. Ida continued her great running throughout 2017 and then the duo turned up at San Francisco 50 and both won again – they topped and tailed the year and we can expect big things in 2018!
Jim Walmsley and the PR machine in many ways signified a new era in the sport of ultra-running and not all for the better in my opinion. The hype around the 2017 Western States before the race pretty much had Jim with his buckle, the Cougar and a new CR. The reality was very different. Jim then went to UTMB and showed signs of learning the craft. He watched Francois and Kilian and paced his day. It eventually went wrong but he rallied and closed out strong. A definitive moment for Jim and I was well aware that this would be a turning point for his 100-mile future. He then confirmed he would run on Reunion Island at Raid de la Reunion! While I can admire the decision, for me, it was always going to be a questionable decision in regard to his ‘professional’ development. But I am being judgmental and I hope not in a negative way. I ‘get’ that Jim wanted to run on the island but the step-up from UTMB was huge and despite leading the race, he eventually dropped around the 100km mark. It has been a huge learning year for the fast man and I still hold true that up to 100km, the guy is pretty much un-matched. I am looking forward to seeing him nail 100-miles in 2018 (maybe 2019) and when he does, watch out, it will almost certainly be super-fast and mind blowing.
Kilian Jornet pretty much was missing from the mountain, ultra and trail calendar for the past 18-months and rightly so. He had set targets on the final summit of his Summits of my Life – Everest. A failed attempt in previous year and then Nepal earthquakes had put things on hold. No bad thing. Kilian learned, progressed and then finally summited Everest twice in one week which blew the minds of the whole world. Of course, anything so amazing has questions raised over it and rightly so. Just recently an article appeared and Kilian responded. Read HERE. More will come to light in regard to Everest and ultimately one has to assume the Everest film will answer all questions. Post Everest, Kilian started running again and won a super-fast Sierre Zinal, he won Hardrock 100 with a dislocated shoulder, placed 2nd behind Francois at UTMB and won Glen Coe Skyline. In the winter, he has had operations on his shoulders and now is in recovery and waiting to get back into the SkiMo season. Kilian has nothing to prove in my eyes. What does 2018 hold? Who knows really, ultimately, Kilian is at the top of his game and he will go where his heart takes him… expect a Zegama appearance, a Hardrock appearance, maybe the Bob Graham will be on the cards and maybe he will be back in Scotland for Glen Coe. Who knows? Whatever the path, he will inspire.
Camille Herron won Comrades, wow, it is the holy grail of road ultra-running. She then followed with a DNF at Western States and Leadville and I, and others, was left wondering what had happened. Oh, my word has she put the record straight. In recent weeks Camille has set a 100-mile world record 12:42:39, a 100km USA track record 7:36:39 at Desert Solstice and then went on to run for 12-hours and set a 12hr All-Surface World Record 92.708 miles. She is the new Ann Trason and arguably, she will be in for a shout as ultra-runner of the year.
Courtney Dewaulter can push Camille close. This lady won Run Rabbit Run (again) this time losing her vision in the final 10km. She then went on to win Moab 200 (actually 238-miles) outright and then recently ran 250.079km / 155.391 miles in 24-hours setting an American record. Wow!
Nuria Picas came out of the wilderness of 2016 and quite rightly, finally won UTMB. Nuria was unstoppable for many years but the big loop around Chamonix had eluded her, I firmly believe she can consider her career complete with this win!
The UK’s Dan Lawson flew around the Gobi Desert to win with a new CR at the 400km Ultra Gobi. Dan is the UK’s hottest prospect at the long game, particularly when you consider past runs on the Grand Union Canal and 2nd at the iconic Spartathlon.
Marco De Gasperi pioneered the way for Skyrunning on Monte Rosa in the early 90’s and has had incredible journey as one of the most respected mountain runners in the world. Finally, in 2017, Marco became the Skyrunner World Series (SWS) champion after an incredible season of consistent running and podium places – a true inspiration.
Maite Maiora moved up several notches in 2017 and was a dominant force on the Skyrunning circuit with a string of victories and podium places. 2017 was her year in the sky! But let us not forget Ragna Debats, she had an amazing full season and triumphed over multiple distances in addition to a great run at the IAU World Trail Champs. Also, Sheila Aviles came of age… a name to watch in future years! For the guys, keep an eye on Jan Maragarit.
UTMB had arguably the greatest male line-up of elite runners ever and it turned out to be great show down and we saw the confirmation that US runners are getting UTMB. Tim Tollefson was again flying the flag with a 3rd place. It is only a matter of time until we see an American win the big dance around France, Italy and Switzerland – will it be 2018? It could well be if Francois d’Haene and Kilian Jornet don’t run.
Hillary Allen has represented the USA in Europe for a couple of years now and once again she was doing so in 2017. However, it all fell apart, before my eyes, at Tromso SkyRace in Norway. She fell many meters, bounced on the rocks below and came away with some serious injuries. Thankfully, the recovery process has gone well and I wish Hillary well for 2018.
Ruth Croft has been in the mix for some time and I think it is fair to say that her victory at ‘Templiers’ in France recently has elevated to the New Zealander to a new level for the coming year… what does 2018 hold for this lady?
2017 most certainly has been a FKT year – Iker Karrera, Darcy Piceu, Francois d’Haene, Tim Freriks, Cat Bradley, Alicia Vargo, Rickey Gates and so many more have all taken the Fastest Known Time discipline to new heights but I wonder if ‘Stringbean’s’ FKT on the Appalachian Trail is the one that should have had more press and coverage? He soloed the AT quicker than Karl Meltzer and Scott Jurek and without help, but, relatively slipped under most radars. Read here.
Jeff Browning crushed the 100-mile distance in 2016 and did so again in 2017, he is a great ambassador for the sport.
Luis Alberto Hernando is for me, arguably one of the most talented runners in the world. But he is a quiet guy who in many ways, keeps himself to himself. He races hard and crushes the competition. In 2017, he once again became IAU World Trail Champion on a course that he, and many others said, didn’t suit him. The guy is pure class!
The UK’s Damian Hall came to running late in life (not that he is old) but he has slowly and surely chipped his way through the ultra-ranks and this year just missed the top-10 at UTMB – an incredible result.
Tom Evans broke on the scene by placing 3rd at MDS Morocco and in the process set a new benchmark for UK based runners to aim for. He followed this up with some other solid results in 2017 and I, like many others, wonder what 2018 holds in store.
Rickey Gates ran across America. Nuff said! Read here.
Ueli Steck, the Swiss Machine, died on the mountains and left the mountain world devastated by his passing. Here.
Alex Honold free soloed El Cap in arguably one of the most awe-inspiring and risky climbs in the history of the sport. It is quite literally, off the scale and beyond comprehension. I know it’s not running but it is without doubt worth a mention! Here.
The infamous Barkley once again served up another serving of spine tingling history with John Kelly finishing and Canada’s Gary Robbins left wiped out on the floor in tears. You can’t make stories like this up.
Gary Cantrell (Lazarus Lake of Barkley fame) organised a race that went through his garden, The Big Backyard Ultra. Every 60-minutes, runners set off on a loop. During the night, the loop changed. The principal was simple, you keep going till one man or woman is left Standing. Well, Guiiiaume Calmettes was that man in 2017 running 245.835 pipping Harvey Lewis.
Rachid Elmorabity once again won Marathon des Sables in Morocco proving that he is the greatest multi-day desert runner in the world at the moment. Elisabet Barnes, 2015 MDS champion once again returned to the sand pit after missing victory in 2016 and was unstoppable with a dominant and impressive force of sand running.
MDS Peru followed on the 32-year traditions of its Moroccan big brother with the first edition in Peru’s Ica Desert. This was the first time any event was allowed permission to take place in this amazing National Park. It was great first event with Morocco’s Rachid Elmorabity and France’s Nathalie Mauclair taking the top honours.
Michael Wardian did what he always does, run and run and run throughout 2017. But he kicked off the year with a world record running 7-marathons on 7-continents in 7-days. The guy just continues to impress.
Best shoes of 2017? Well, this is well and truly a can of worms and I can only answer from a personal perspective. The Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 here blew my socks off and is now my favourite day-to-day trail running shoe. For when it gets technical, gnarly, muddy and I need an aggressive shoe, the VJ Sport iRock2 here has set a new benchmark for me in regard to grip.
Best clothing? inov-8 have continued to impress me with not only excellent run shoes but appeared to match. They now have a really specific line of products (including packs) that make them an excellent one-stop shop for anything that you would need for a messy and muddy 5km fell run to the tough and challenging 100+ mile UTMB.
Best moment of 2017? That is a serious toughie but maybe Ryan Sandes finally taking that WSER top slot. I know how much he wanted it and he didn’t have an easy journey obtaining it. Huge respect! But hey, I have been inspired by so many in 2017.
On a personal note to conclude:
For me, I started travelling in January and I stopped in December. Yes, I have been on the road for 12-months and I consider myself to be truly blessed for the opportunities I have had to follow my dreams and make a living from it. I never take it for granted! While I could go into the details of each trip, I won’t. Every race is documented in words and images on this website and my social channels and you can find out about them should you so wish.
Don’t forget Talk Ultra Podcast which has documented this sport HERE
BUT, and this is a huge BUT. My passion, and my work calendar comes at a price. I have a son, a family and an amazing partner, Niandi. They have all been neglected in 2017 with my travel and race coverage. It’s a dilemma and one that keeps me awake. I struggle for answers but I want to say THANK YOU for the support to all those people who mean the world to me, you know who you are.
When Kilian Jornet doubled up on Everest in one week, the world looked on in wonder. Everest was the culmination of his ‘Summits of My Life Project’ and while he had some serious challenges on the Matterhorn, Denali, Aconcagua and so on, Everest was a whole new ball game.
In 2016 he didn’t summit due to bad weather and then in 2017 he seized the opportunity after a troublesome first ascent, he went again just days later.
I never questioned Kilian’s ascents.
I know the man, have spent time with him and he is 100% integrity. I have no question. So, am I impartial? I guess no.
I received an email in August from Dan Howitt who sent out documents to the media (pdf here) and he raised questions over Kilian’s Everest attempts. I discussed this doc with Kilian, looked at the evidence and while some valid points were made, I had no doubts over what Kilian had achieved.
Now, on everst1953.co.uk an article has appeared HERE. This article is as it says at the top, “Submitted article by a person who wishes to be anonymous”
UPDATE December 15th – The above article has been removed from everest1953 after the web owner/ website moderator received threatening emails. This is completely unacceptable and is not in the spirit of any sport. It is important to allow free speech and allow people a voice. If that voice is correct or wrong is for us as individuals to decide. This article provided an opinion and below, Kilian has responded.
What is interesting, is that any journalist should ask questions. So I asked a question on the ‘anonymous’ journalist… to clarify the everest1953 site owner and I assume moderator, Colin Wallace, introduces the article, ‘Kilian Jornet Everest Speed Climbs’ in the ‘News’ as below:
I think it is good that questions are asked and raised over any record, FKT, or whatever it may be. But I also think that responses are required to provide perspective.
Like I said previously, I am a little biased, I have no question on Kilian’s claims. I emailed him, and in response he has provided the following (below) which will also be released via his agents, Lymbus.
In addition, Kilian has agreed to a full and in-depth interview this coming Friday December 15th and we will discuss the claims, Everest and all the details. This will be released on Talk Ultra podcast the same day.
KILIAN JORNET has responded accordingly with a PDF document
I was using Suunto Ambit Peak, to be sure that it recorded a maximum of hours (in altitude – cold, batteries last much less- some using garmin couls only recorded 4h! ) I was using mode GPS OK – It takes between 80-100h normally, so the gps it may records every 10’’:
1st Ascent: Everest Base Camp -Summit 26h31’ – ABC 36h
http://www.movescount.com/moves/move159990476 It is recorded all the uphill to summit and downhill to 8300m where battery die. Is a track for all the way. In the profile of altitude around 8600m you can see it is a straight 200m jump in altitude, maybe pressure decrease from day to night, and then continue climbing up 300 more meters.
2nd Ascent: ABC-Summit 17h – ABC -28h
http://www.movescount.com/moves/move159990614 I don’t know why it only recorded the downhill, but you can see from point 8750m and all the part in the downhill where I get lost in the N face and back to normal route. I did change watch from recording activity to navigation ( you can see where I get lost in the night so I use that mode to find way back safe) maybe that has something to do with the stop recording ascent and only the downhill.
Photos and film have non been public to have exclusive material for a coming film. Seb Montaz was filming with a drone from North col, so reaching an altitude of 7300m. I had a GoPro and filmed some parts during the day, and both sunsets (1st ascent before 2nd steep at 8600 and 2nd ascent at the beginning of summit pyramid at 8750). On the 1st summit I have filmed on the top (possible to see the flags just behind me on the dark. In 2nd summit I did not film on top, I was more concerned on safety and go down fast as weather was really bad, but I took 2 pictures of my watch so you can see where with the camera gps.
Here just some *screen shots from 2nd ascent between 8700m and 8790 at sunset and a bit higher at beginning of the night. All the GoPro shots are gps and time positioned so we can see the exact place they were shoot ( summit and all the other positions and hours).
*images withheld but available in due course (they have been retained to be exclusive for the film).
1st ascent: On the way up I pass the Russian (7 summit club), Indian (Transcend), British and polish climber expedition going to or installing Camp 3, they prepare for sleeping and I continue up after a 10’ pause in a rock. On the summit I saw lights both on north side and south side coming up, north were higher. On the way down I pass some expeditions (Indian I think were the 1st ones) on the beginning of summit pyramid (after 3rd steep-8750) at around 1:30 – 2AM. It was some fresh snow there in the pyramid and to the summit so they saw my fresh snow tracks all the way to summit. Then I cross most part of the people (Russians, Polish, British…) were climbing 2nd steep when I was going down. In the climb I opened track on some snow so they could follow my tracks to the summit, as it was not strong wind this day. Sherpas from Indian expedition rapport at Base Camp sawing my fresh tracks to the summit, as I was alone to climb the night and they were the 1st to go up, in the final pyramid they could see my only tracks to the top.
2nd ascent: Going up I cross a climber ******** (name withheld but available) and the Japanese expedition going down before camp 3 (8.350). Around 2nd steep at the afternoon I cross ******* and *********expedition going down (they film me). The last ones I cross was the Russian expedition just some meters higher (between 2nd and 3rd step). During the night it was strong wind and some snow fall, not any lights both on north or south on higher parts. On the way down I did not pass anybody since it was bad weather and much snow on the mountain and all expeditions was down to ABC.
I decided timings strategy based on my 15/06 training up to 8400m: http://www.movescount.com/ moves/move159296004 Going up from ABC (6300) to 8400 in 6h. And thinking on being on the summit around 3 PM (to use the warmest part of the day on the upper part, and since I wanted to try to minimize to meet lot of people on the higher part and the steeps ). On 1st attempt I was stomach sick so I slowed down a lot after 7800m, and became much late in the top, I was not planning night but since I feel good on not having edema and was not cold I never thought I was risking my life. On the 2nd attempt I was climbing better but fresh snow and bad weather (forecast was not accurate and became bad weather) and also I was more tired from previous days, it ended with summiting just after sunset.
Sat phone / fixed ropes and style:
I didn’t want to carry sat phone or radio, It was a choice of style for me. Climbing alone and with not any link to the base camp or “home” to be the sole on taking decisions up there, it was a matter of style.
For the fixed ropes, I don’t say I did an Alpine style climb since it is ropes in the route, but I choose to don’t use them to progress or safety. I was climbing without any harness or carabiner, I did climb the 1st and 2nd ladder on the sides, I took the 3rd one since the only creak to climb this part is behind (need to remove) the ladder. The 3rd step I climbed some meters to the left on a snow and ice slope, and go down the normal gully.
If it is a lack of images or communication from the expedition it was a matter of choice of style. I could had organized a big expedition, with sherpas on the route to have some assistance (safety and food, clothes) and some cameras with O2 waiting on some points and summit to have nice images. I could had a sat phone call from summit to “announce”. But the major goal of the expedition was far from that. It was for me to see if I was able to climb Everest with no external support (camps, porters, deposits, communication in the mountain…) and by myself (one push, no jumaring…) And to be able to climb as we do in close ranges (Alps, Colorado) in Himalayas, so low
budget (our expenses were 15.000e x person, all included) and doing activity in short time there and doing different ascents during this period. I had not problem to admit when I don’t summit, in Cho Oyu a 2 weeks before I just say I climb to the summit plateau, with no visibility I can not confirm if I actually reach the higher point or I just stand by some sides, In Everest is pretty easy to know if you reach the summit since is a small place at the end of the ridge.
********** names withheld but available
Catch up with Talk Ultra Podcast HERE on Dec 15th and listen to Kilian in his own words.
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Day 6 #ETR2017
On paper, today’s stage of the Everest Trail Race was mostly downhill with 3183m of descent in comparison to 2105m of ascent over the 29.5km course. Don’t be fooled though, it’s a tough day.
Leaving Tengboche the race retraces stage-5 to Phakding via a diversion at Sensa to the amazing Kumjung Valley where the runners have an incredible backdrop of Everest, Lohtse and Ama Dablam. Finally, they arrive at Namche Bazaar and re-trace stage 5 and then branch left to climb to Lukla and the finish of the 2017 ETR.
Suman Kulung had it all to fight for today, he lay 2nd behind Luis Alberto Hernando 6-minutes and 53-seconds back. It was tough ask to take this amount of time out of one of the best trail runners in the world, Luis Alberto Hernando. But as we had seen on previous day’s, the Nepali runner can fly when going down-hill! After CP1 he had gained a lead of 4-minutes and Luis Alberto was chasing hard. At Namche Bazaar, the Spaniard lost some time after a wrong turn and tried to chase hard but the writing was on the wall and Luis Alberto knew it. He eventually eased off knowing that Suman had earned a well fought 2017 ETR victory, he placed 4th on the stage. Jordi Gamito moved up from his usual 4th on stage and placed 2nd and as per usual, Sondre Amdahl placed 3rd.
Chhechee Sherpa in reality already had the 2017 ETR sewn up on the start of the final stage, her lead of 12-minutes and 22-seconds was almost impossible to claw back on a stage with so much downhill running, something the Nepali loves! It went like clockwork, she forged away at the front and not only took the stage victory but extended her overall winning time. Ester Alves chased hard all day in the hope of a miracle and once again she placed 2nd ahead of Elisabet Barnes who placed 3rd.
Suman Kulung and Chhechee Sherpa are crowned the 2017 ETR champions but all credit goes to each and every finisher. At 100-miles, this race may not be the longest but it is surely one of the toughest! The combination of tough technical terrain, relentless climbing and descending and of course altitude, all combine to make the ETR a race to do!
- Suman Kulung 2:47:59
- Jordi Gamito 3:19:48
- Sondre Amdahl 3:29:19
- Luis Alberto Hernando 3:31:17
- Chhechee Sherpa 3:50:26
- Ester Alves 4:25:57
- Elisabet Barnes 4:46:31
- Suman Kulung 18:35:54
- Luis Alberto Hernando 19:12:49
- Sondre Amdahl 20:47:31
- Chhechee Sherpa 24:58:46
- Ester Alves 27:37:19
- Elisabet Barnes 28:09:45
Day 5 #ETR2017
Many say that the 16km route from Phakding to Tengboche is one of the most beautiful trails in the world. The view of the Himalayan peaks is beyond mind blowing. Especially when you arrive at the monastery and Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam await. It’s quite the picture postcard and the perfect finish line for the ETR.
However, to take in this spectacle a journey of 20km and 2124m of positive incline waits. It doesn’t sound too much does it? However, many runners crossed the line saying, ‘that was a seriously tough day!’
Departing Phakding (2700m), Namche Bazar (3600m) is the first port of call then Kumjung and Cp2 and Phungi Tenga (3300m) before the tough and steep ascent to Tengboche at 3900m.
Today was all about Luis Alberto Hernando and Suman Kulung. On past days, it was expected that Luis Alberto would have an advantage with the uphill tough finish. This proved to be true!
Luis Alberto won days 1 and 2, Suman days 3 and 4 and now the Spaniard takes day 5 and an invaluable 1-minute 57-seconds to extend his overall lead by 6-minutes 23-seconds. He is going to need all that time on the last day which will suit the Nepali runner as much of it is downhill! It is going to be an epic battle to the finish line.
As in previous days, Sondre Amdahl and Jordi Gamito were once again consistent placing 3rd and 4th.
For the ladies, it was expected that maybe Ester Alves would steal some time back today on Nepali, Chhechee Sherpa. It was not to be. As the days have progressed, Chhechee has got stronger and despite not climbing to expectation on day 2, today she pushed on the final climb to finish ahead of Ester by 6-minutes 53-seconds. The Nepali runner now has an overall lead of 12-minutes 22-seconds and it will take a disastrous last day for her not to be the 2017 ETR champion.
Ester had a solid day but had no extra energy to fight Chhechee and Elisabet Barnes safe in 3rd took a more relaxed approach to the penultimate day safe in the knowledge that 2nd was unattainable this late in the race and secure that the 4th lady could not catch her.
The finish line at Tengboche is arguably one of THE most amazing finishing lines of any race and this was reflected in some of the emotions shown as runners crossed the line today.
Tomorrow is the final day of the ETR 2017 and the runners run back to Lukla via Namche Bazaar.
- Luis Alberto Hernando 2:33:47
- Suman Kulung 2:35:44
- Sondre Amdahl 3:00:34
- Chhechee Sherpa 3:50:26
- Ester Alves 3:57:19
- Elisabet Barnes 4:08:42
Day 4 #ETR2014
Kharikola to Phakding is very much a transition stage. The first 3-days have been quiet with the occasional glimpse of life but now the runners are on the motorway of Nepal. Porters are transporting all manner of goods from food and drink to 8’x4’ sheets of wood and even fridges! In and amongst this frenetic relay of goods are mule and yak trains and a plethora of tourists moving up and down the trails.
The diversity is incredible. Children play, parents work and the runners navigate a way through this section to finish at what many consider to be the gateway to Everest, Phakding.
Leaving the sleepy monastery of Kharikola, 29.5 km’s awaited the runners and after a short and twisting technical descent, a vertical kilometre of elevation to CP1 (Kari La) provided a great way to start the day and brush off the cobwebs. The descent to Surke (Cp2) is a 17km ankle twisting and knee swelling series of switchbacks of technical trail. But there is no rest, more climbing, more technical trails and finally the wire bridge at Monjo offers the ETR finish line.
It may come as no surprise that Suman Kulung and Luis Alberto Hernando dictated the pace from the start and arrived at Cp1 in less than 1-hour, Suman with a slender lead over the Spaniard. It was a ridiculous time considering the technicality and elevation of the course. Sondre Amdahl was holding his ground but the writing was already on the wall. The Nepali runner was pushing hard and making Luis Alberto chase hard to retain his overall lead. It was a brave effort by both runners. At the line, Suman took the victory in 3:15:23 a 3+ min margin making the final 2-days of the 2017 ETR very exciting with it all to fight for between the Nepali and the Spaniard. Luis Alberto finished in 3:18:52 and still holds the number 1 slot on GC but it is close, really close! Sondre finished 3rd in 3:42:34 and Jordi Gamito 4th in 3:51:14
Chhechee Sherpa is one seriously impressive lady! She has a look of focus and determination that is softened by a smile. After a slow start in the 2017 ETR, this Nepali lady has been a force to reckon with. Once again, she was first to CP1 with a strong lead over Ester Alves who was chasing hard and then Elisabet Barnes who was further back. As the day unfolded though, Chhechee slowed. Firstly, Elisabet caught Ester and then the duo closed on Chhechee. For once, the first 3 ladies were separated by minutes and it remained that way all the way to the line. The Nepali crossed the line first in 4:45:04 and just 34-seconds later Ester crossed with Elisabet just 22-seconds later – that is a close and hard-fought race! The overall GC remains with Chhechee 1st, Ester 2nd and Elisabet 3rd – this is unlikely to change over the following 2-days.
Tomorrow, stage-5 is a short day of just 20km’s and 2124m of vertical gain. It culminates at the monastery at Tengboche with Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam providing arguably the most impressive finish line of any race!
- Suman Kulung 3:15:23
- Luis Alberto Hernando 3:18:52
- Sondre Amdahl 3:42:34
- Chhechee Sherpa 4:45:04
- Ester Alves 4:45:38
- Elisabet Barnes 4:46:00
Day 3 #ETR2017
After yesterday relentless uphill struggle today, day-3 of the Everest Trail Race was all downhill, well, sort of. Starting in Jase Bhanjyang runners passed through Jumbesi, Phurteng, Salung, Taksindu and then from Jubhing the race finishes with a tough climb to the stunning monastery at Kharikola. At 37.4km in length the total descent is a quad busting 4110m in contrast to 2512m of ascent.
Many thought today would be an easier day, however, for those in the know… although descending may be a little kinder on the lungs, descending 4000m+ on tired legs is no easy task. Especially when the terrain has added technicality and steepness.
Suman Kulung and Luis Alberto Hernando led from the front once again and the stage looked all set for an epic battle. Suman a super-fast descender, has Luis Alberto worried before the start. He knew it was going to be tough. Over the early miles they ran together but eventually the Nepali runner broke the elastic and the Spaniard was left pursuing. Although a gap opened, Luis Alberto did an incredible job of holding Suman and then with a tough and relentless final climb, he closed to reduce his losses and still retain the lead. Suman crossed in 3:47:27 and Luis Alberto 3:55:58.
In third place, Sondre Amdahl and Jordi Gamito run together, Sondre using Jordi’s descending ability as a guide to help him down the trails. On the final climb, they stayed together and crossed the line 1-second apart, Sondre remaining 3rd overall.
Chhechee Sherpa, like her male counterpart has an incredible reputation for running downhill. She put this to great use on day 2 basically opening a gap from the moment the race day started all the way to the line. Despite Ester Alves’ incredible mountain experience, she couldn’t match the Nepali runner, Ester crossed the line in 6:03:36, an incredible 36-minutes slower than Chhechee who crossed in 5:27:27.
Elisabet Barnes is not known for her downhill ability and today it tested her to the max, so much so, it opened the doorway for Rebecca Ferry to take 3rd on the stage in 6:28:19 and Elisabet crossing in 6:40:35. However, Rebecca did start in the 0700 wave when she was listed to start in the 0800 wave, therefore, Elisabet was unaware of Rebecca’s position when running. Elisabet still retained her 3rd overall position and now Chhechee has the overall lead just ahead of Ester by 4-minutes 45-seconds
The trails and route for the ETR from Kharikola to Tyangboche and back to Lukla are now on the main trekking routes and in addition to this it is the main transport route for all supplies. Porters, mules and yaks are like cars on a motorway as they move up and down the trail carrying loads that are often beyond comprehension. It’s amazing to see life unfold and I for one feel very privileged for the opportunity to see it and record it in images and memories.
- Suman Kulung 3:47:27
- Luis Alberto Hernando 3:55:58
- Jordi Gamito/ Sondre Amdahl 4:20:39
- Chhechee Sherpa 5:27:27
- Ester Alves 6:03:36
- Rebecca Ferry 6:28:19
- Elisabet Barnes 6:40:35
I will attempt to upload image gallery asap