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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Running Beyond Book Here

Episode 165 – Great Himalayan Trail Special #GHT with Rayn Sandes, Dean Leslie and Ryno Griesel

Episode 165 of Talk Ultra is a Great Himalayan Trail Special to link with the release of ‘Lessons From The Edge’ film. We chat with Ryan Sandes, Ryno Griesel and Wandering Fever film maker, Dean Leslie.
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Read about Ian’s Christmas Nepal Trek HERE
The route, plan and the equipment he will use.
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NEWS
Lessons from the Edge is the new film by Dean Leslie of Wandering Fever that tells the story of Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel’s epic journey on the Great Himalayan Trail. Read a review of the movie HERE.
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00:30:31 Interview with Ryan Sandes
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01:01:40 Interview with DEAN LESLIE
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01:51:36 Interview with RYNO GRIESEL
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02:41:20 CLOSE
02:44:16
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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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