First of all this was the hardest run Ive ever done on my own and hands down the hardest 50 miles Ive EVER RUN EVER! The Himalayas are an amazingly beautiful place. During my trek the Himalayas tried to kill me… multiple times… below is a story of never giving up and doing the impossible….. ENJOY
As some of you know I went to Nepal for the Everest Ultra Marathon back in March. It’s famed as the world’s highest ultra. well since it didn’t happen and had fairly poor organization I will dub the Highest Ultra in the world to Le Ultra.
I guess I am a little peeved by the fact that the day before I left of Nepal the race got canceled. Supposedly due to them not having enough money for the race. I can tell you right now. the cost of the race would have been pennies on the dollar. I begged the RD to let me run the course. I don’t need a shirt, a finishers medal or anything else… hell I dont even need aid… just have a damn race. That didnt happen. I was pissed because the whole reason for the trip to Nepal was to run the race.
I decided to smile and try to focus on what else I was doing there, hiking around the Everest region. I would get to see Everest first hand.
I will talk about my trek and getting HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema) in another post.
This post is about the run I did at the culmination of my 22 day trek.
On the way up to base camp I talked with my Sherpa guide and porter about running from basecamp back to Lukla…aka the Everest Ultra course. Out porter had come in 5th place at the Everest Marathon 2 years prior to our trek. He was stronger than a yak and extremely fit.
He said he would run the Route with me. though I know he did not want to but I am sure he wanted to make me happy. WHAT A GUY!
After being struck down by the altitude 8 days into the trek I turned my focus onto a different run. A run that the Sherpas had said was impossible to finish in only one day!
Some people take the bus ride from hell to the everest region from Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. Its a 7-10 hour bus ride along winding mountainous roads. half the time you are staring off the side of a cliff just inches away. Its very nerve racking. There are alot of accidents/deaths all the time.
They jam pack the buses and some people even cling to the sides and the roof od the buses with their goats or animals in hand. Its the way of life bringing your goods into town.
On one of the bus rides in Nepal I had someone put their baby in my lap. I don’t know what to do with babies. So I just help it ackwardly away from my body and everyone laughed. the funny looking white guy holding the baby.
Its all about the experience.. I just try to go with it and smile!
So from Kathmandu you take a bus to Jiri. Then from Jiri you have a 50 ish mile trek up and over mountains to Lukla. The altitudes range between 3,000ft to 11,000 ft above sea level. Its a good way to start the trek getting used to the up and down on your legs befoe you hit the high altitudes. The elevation CHANGE is between 45,000ft and 55,000 ft.
This typically takes 5-7 days of all day trekking to reach Lukla.
the other way to get to to Lukla is to fly there. I flew in to Lulka and then ran out to Jiri and bused it back.
Let me tell you that Lukla is the scaries “airport” you will EVER fly into! why? because you come over the top of a mountain and start diving then the airport is on the side of a mountain with a couple thousand foot drop below you. no room for error. there have been NUMEROUS plane crashes here over the years. At least 1 per year.
Its scary.. well not so much for me. They use the same planes we skydive out of. the Twin Otter. As you approach Lukla by plane you see a small black strip in front of you. as you get closer it gets larger and larger. it looks like youre about to slam into this black run way and just at the last minute the pilot pulls up and you land safely.
Situated at 9,000 ish feet, Lukla is considered the gate way to the Everest region. 99% of all Everest treks start and or end here.
As you exit the plane you look to your left with a valley that winds out of site up into the mountains. You look up and there are GINORMOUS mountains above and around you!
I will save alot of the description of Lukla for my post about my trek. which will take multiple post as I kept a diary and will up date this soon on that. Its taken a while so far and I am sorry on the delay!
Google “lukla airport” youll see what I am talking about!
So skipping my entire trek and summarizing it as this “The most beautifully painful trip I have ever taken. It was love hate the entire time”
We finished our last day of trekking as we trekked from Namche Bazaar after a heavy night of drinking for my 25th birthday…. at 11,700 ft! The trek from Namche Bazaar to Lukla is no easy trek. you have a good 6,000 ft or more loss and another 4,000 or so gain. On the out skirts of Lukla you enter through a gate that says Happy trekking or something to that nature.
It was a very welcome site after 22 days!
This is not really the way I had planned or would want to taper for a 50 mile run. That is 22 days with non stop trekking. What does that entail… minimum of 6,000 feet of elevation change per day with 5-12 hours of trekking at altitudes varying between 11,000 and 19,000 ft above sea level!
The plan was to wake up at 3 am and start running. That would give me a solid 17 hours or so before it got dark. I figured that no 50 mile run could take that long.
Ok first things first… how did I know it was 50 miles or 80km? well according to a guide book written in nepali, an owner of a tea house hotel in the village of Gokyo said it was 79km. To get the elevation change we then added and subtracted the elevation of each of the villages along the trek and then added 25%. I still think the elevation and distance were conservative.
why? well for this reason… on a map it would show the difference in elevation from point a to point b was 2,000 ft up. well when i began to run it there would be a huge 1,000 ft down hill followed by multiple ups and downs. It was only showing the net gain or loss. I think maybe 4 miles total were flat! absolutely insane!
I couldnt sleep at all during the night. I awoke at 2:30 am… I went to street level in our 3 story tea house in Lukla. It was a giant double wooden door that had a heavy barricade to keep intruders out. I moved the barricade and opened the door. It creaked open as you would imagine an old giant wooden door would. This was the only audible sound. I would use the word irie but that is just not right. A SCARY bone chilling fog blanketed the rocky dirt walk ways. the airport 15 from our door step, alive with life some 8 hours before lay dead in front of me. I could barely make out 10 feet in front of me in the think fog. I stepped out a bit further. I was getting wet.. very wet… RAIN. SHIT I thought. Everything is against me at this point. I thought this was mother natures way of telling me to wait until tomorrow to do it. I had 3 or 4 days allotted to do this. But if it was easy then it wouldnt be impossible and that wouldnt be me!
I went back up stairs to my room with the internal battle to go or not go. Unlike most people who had this question plague them I always decide to go for it. Why… because if I don’t I will always regret it. so I live witout regrets.
I grab my pack and take it with me. The majority of my gear I gave to Rachel, my english trekking partner who was returning to Kathmandu in the morning viz plane from Lukla. This meant I only had a 20-25 pound pack on my back. I had the essentials… Sleeping bag, heavy down jacket, warm weather gear, wet weather gear, food, and water.
I would never in my life run with this much gear as its too heavy on your back. But after 22 days of trekking I was strong!
I took off out the door and started to run along next to the outter barbed wire fence of the airport. Again in the cold rain burdened by a fog so thick I couldnt really see where I was going. I saw nothing and heard nothing. Small bits of light drowned out into the fog from random buildings. I was in 3rd world nation and a 3rd world village. It was as silent as death. I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t feel safe. I felt vulnerable.
things got worst. A mangy dog here and there would scamper across my path as my head light searched endlessly for the path. One thing I had really forgotten to do was check the path out of town. I had been in such a rush and I just figured that the path would be self evident that I never really knew exactly how to leave.
I knew I had to go in a certain direction..ish. so I followed the path that way. I had been briefed by Geoff, another one of my trekking mates. That crazy Kiwi (new Zealander)… Love him!
He had told me about the hard parts and where I could go fast.
The thing about Nepal is this a 3rd world country there are no signs or blazes on trees to tell you where to go. You have to ask people who dont speak English. A lot of times there are multiple paths that lead to where you’re going. Its confusing and exponentially worst in the dark,fog, and rain!
From Lukla the trail drops straight down. I followed the current path I was on as it got smaller and smaller. It eventually became a river bed. I saw trash, old weather beaten clothes, and signs that people had been living here. As it was silent and I was clanking around I got the feeling of someone watching me. Feeling worried I tried to stay cool under the gun. I followed the river bed down and down. Boom it hit a huge over flowing river. I tried to parallel the river knowing that the map had indicated a bridge somewhere. I must not be far I thought. I walked for 2 minutes where lights back lit hundreds if not thousands of prayer flags that flickered in the gentle rain. A buddhist temple of some sort it was at the edge of the river. I walked up closer to see a path leading to a gate. The gate was attached to a wall that surrounded whatever I was near. The gate had barbed wire atop it. I was thinking to myself I shouldnt be here. 45 mins had passed as I wondered what to do.
I could hack back up the river bed and go back to my room. I could shower and give it another try the next day. I have giving up and I wouldnt here.
I jumped into the river and started to swim across the frigid mountain water. It was like being awoken with a pale of ice cod water being thrown on you.
I got across the 20 foot river stream, which was overflowing because of all the rain, with no problem… though it was sketchy. once on the other side I saw no signs of life or anything close to a path. SHITTTTTTTT! I was cursing in english, spanish, Swahili and nepali! I had to go back across.
I went back across and decided to back track up the river bed. I got 3/4 of the way back up the 1,500 climb and the saw where I had gone wrong. the path had split and I hadnt noticed.
I said screw a shower and screw sleep because I was back on track granted I had lost over an hour and expended alot of energy.
It still was no where near sunrise. I had to pack enough food to eat between now and about 7 am when the tea houses would be serving breakfast. my food for the trek was expired coke and snickers bars with the occasional hot food. stopping for hot food meant more time. When I got hot food I could get a quick tibetan bread, rara noodles( a very bad and outdated ramen noodle), hot tea, boiled potatoes( hands down best potatoes I’ve ever had anywhere in the world!), Pancake, and eggs (god knows how old).
I descended back down towards the river when the path met a HUGE metal bridge. Most of the bridges were sketchy at best. It was like they were building a bridge and then decided screw it lets just wing it.
This one was one of the few well put together bridges.
I crossed it and headed forwards. This desolate stretch of the trail had few houses and or signs of life, yet the trail was well worn. I ran down the trail with my head lap leading the way. as I got out away from the river the rain and fog slowly ebbed away. It was a constant up and down more rolling hills. nothing was flat. Then I crossed one of the most epic bridges I had ever crossed in my life. It was a swing bridge and in the dark I couldnt see the other side. Looking over the edge my light faded into the darkness with no bottom in site. I could hear heavy water, which I assumed was a water fall.
on the far side of the bridge started a climb. it was about a 3,000 foot climb. I passed houses, tea houses, and stupas (Buddhist prayer statues). When running down the trail you pass right through the center of villages. Everything is on the main path… that is how htey get business. There are not back streets. Just the one path. At this time in the mornign everything is boarded up.
just as it was starting to get light I came to a split in the trail. At the split was a sign. It pointed to the way I was going. It said Lukla straight ahead.
ARE YOU SERIOUS! I had gone the wrong way? no way! I pulled out my map to check where I was. The other direction I had come from was pointing to a school. I forget the name of it but that was the way I wanted to go… Where I just came from up this 3,000 ft climb! ughh
At this point I thought man youre 4 hours into the run and its day light you might as well go back to Lukla and then plan better for tomorrow.
I started running down the mountain… granted we werent at the top we were still on a mountain… ITS THE FREAKIN HIMALAYAS! nothing is flat. ughhhhh
As I ran down I started seeing porters, people carrying things as a job up to basecamp. God bless these porters..These guys, for pennies on the dollar, carry over 100 pounds on their heads up and down these mountains. usually with sandals on. Many of them die because they freeze to death, get altitude sickness, or fall to their deaths. Its very sad. It takes these guys about 2-3 weeks to hike about 12 hours a day up to base camp with their heavy loads.. if they make it.
I asked one of the porters the following question,” Lukla? KariKhola?” Each of these are places. lukla where I had come from and KariKhola being the next big village i was going too. I pointed in front of me and behind me. The man gestured I was going the right way. I thanked him in Nepali and bid him “namaste”. I started seeing more and more porters coming up the mountain. They all looked suprised to see me running. This was the norm. They think I am crazy. some people ask… “ARE YOU OK? WHY ARE YOU RUNNING? WHAT ARE YOU RUNNING FROM?” they think you are running from danger haha. I reply … for fun and yes I am ok.
I double checked with a couple ofother porters and they all were concurrent that I was gonig towards KariKhola. I then came to a trail that split off to the right slightly. I asked the porters which way and they pointed ahead and motioned that it was a big climb. Saw this was where I had gone the wrong way. I had not seen the split in the trail before and turned the wrong way.
I put my head up and decided to head onwards toward JIRI, my final destination. I climbed up what I think was the hardest climb of the whole route. Not the longest by far but by far the steepest! It was the climb from the village of Surke (2200 m, 7,200 ft) to Kari La pass (3,100m, 10,200 ft). It was a beautiful climb with views across a valley. Winding along the side of a cliff with a drop off ever changing from 300 feet to 1,500 ft. A wrong step and youre dead. NOTE THESE PORTERS ARE CARRYING 100+ POUND LOADS ON THESE PRECARIOUS TRAILS IN SANDALS IN THE MUD.
Along the climb I stopped once to refill my camelback bladder from well. I dropped iodine in it of course. After 20+ days of drinking iodine water I had gotten used to it, though I loathed it.
I stopped to grab a couple of snickers bars to hold me over for the next couple of hours.
Then came the down hill. I had looked at the map prior to my run and had tried to conservatively guesstimate my times at certain points if I were to finish before nightfall.
I was 4 hours behind schedule from getting lost twice. Never the less I told myself I like the challenge and to push on and not worry about it.
With Prayer flags signifying the top of the pass and the start of the down hill I was ready to give my legs a rest from the up. a nice 3,000+ ft climb. Thats not to mention the other 2 climbs I had done already with detours I had taken.I guess I just really wanted to take the scenic route.
Now came the 2nd longest down hill of the run. Kari La Pass down through KariKhola and down more to Jubhing(the 2nd lowest point on the trail). This goes from 10,200 ft all the way down to 5,000 ft. a 5,000 foot down hill. Let me tell you this too. nothing was entirely downhill.
The down hills had more uphill than most races I’ve run!
I started to do what I do best and thats fly down hill. But wait… the trail was so rock laden and strewn with loose rocks that it made it almost impossible to bomb down. only managing a 8 min mile at best down hill was a huge blow to me. normally I can run 4-5 min miles with ease downhill.
I remember asking myself with the downhill would end. It took over 2 hours to get from the top to the bottom of Jubhing. In the video you can see me at the bottom of that down hill at the bridge.
On the down hill there were massive piles of donkey crap. It had warmed up alot so the flies were feasting on this every 2 feet. I ran down hill avoiding donkey turds and taking in the scenery. Every step forward would stir up flies on a fresh pile of crap and they would fly into me. UGHH DISGUSTING FEELING. But nothing to do other than keep pushing forward.
First of all the last 3 weeks had me in ice cold conditions with a couple of blankets of snow at 15,000+ ft. It had been cold. now in these lower altitudes it was reaching 25 to 30 degrees C or rather 70-85 F.
This next section of the trail was hot and completely exposed I was completely not acclimatized to the heat.
This section was from the bridge below Jubhing to Nunthala and up further to Taksindu La Pass.
from about 5,000 ft upwards to over 11,000 ft. a 6,000 ft climb!
On the map it says steep ascent. If the map says that then you know its no joke.
I knew it owuld be one of the longest single climbs I had ever done. I grabbed a fresh coke (though it was WAY past expiration) and pounded it down. I knew the sugar and caffeine would help me push a tad bit harder up the climb.
I had crossed the bridge with an inqusitive older nepali man who walked with a walking stick.
We had started talking at the base of the bridge as a heard (or gaggle i dont know what its called) of Donkeys slowly crossed the bridge. They sped up for nothing not even the farmer behind them shouting in nepali.
With what little english and the non existant nepali i spoke the man and I talked about where I was coming from and where I was going. He was extremely interested. I told him I was coming from LUKLA and gonig to Jiri…. TODAY. The expression on his face didnt seem to get it. then I said “Marathon runner”. I could see the thought process as a suprised look came to his face. He was amazed. He said I was like a Sherpa. I trek like nepali.
I laughed and thanked the man then asked him where he was going as we crossed the bridge.
I bid the man a fare well namaste and proceeded into the climb. A very steep climb though a forrest at first. I looked over my shoulder a couple of times and the man was only 20 feet behind me with his walking stick. I was amazed at no matter how hard I went he was still there. The man was clearly in his 60s and by looking at the mans face you could tell he was a hard working man. Built like an ox. Short but stong.
Finally we broke out of the forest to completely exposed trail. this was some of the least rocky bit of the trail. The incline had gone from straight up to a gradual climb. alot of it was runnable. So using my new friend as motivation to push harder I started to run alot of this area. After about an hour of total climbing I had reached Nunthala. It was a larger village with a couple of tea houses and small family shops. These shops are literally the living room of someones hut or house.
I purified more water and stopped for tea and a quick hot meal. I asked the owner how long until the top of Taksindu La. She told me 2 hours slowly slowly.
I hoped to reach it in an hour or less. I ahd found out at this point that people told me times to get to things it was based on slow trekkers and those not running…. I made it up to the top for a gorgeous view in less than an hour. I think the entire climb too about 2 hours and 30 mins or so.
The views had changed from snow top peaks to more of a drier climate of the small yet brutal mountains that lay at the start of the himalayas.
now the descent to Junbesi, which was not really a descent at all. I took off down from the top of taksindu la. I knew I hadnt even reached Junbesi and it had been about 9 hours. Junbesi marked that I was over half way there. I knew I needed to pick it up.
There were some really fun trails here. There was a main trail that was awful. sooooooo many rocks, roots and just crap on it. Then there were trails criss crossing he mail trail that were single track carved out by porters. I flew down these until they ran out an dI was stuck with the main trail.
Passing more bhuddist prayer wheels (which I passed many along the trail), I encountered a canadian couple. I stopped to talk to them as I only saw about 15 people from start to finish who were non nepali. This run was slightly off the beaten path.
I asked them how far it was to Jiri from here. they told me 3 days trek. I laughed to myself and said how long until Junbesi. they told me it was another 6 hours to there. I asked them then what the trail was like from where we were to junbesi. Because according to the map it was all down hill to junbesi from Taksindu La. They said I had more down hill and then I had to ascend the ridge across the valley we were in. That was a good 2,000 ft climb.
“JESUS!” I THOUGHT. This trail just wont let up. hands down the most unforgiving thing I have ever encountered… like ex girlfriend time 100 unforgiving!
I followed their directions and then began the steep up hill cursing the whole time feeling like I needed to eat more. Damn… low on calories. I knew food was never far away on the trek as people wanted to make some $ of the occasional trekker stopping by.
After a couple of breaks and slowly making my way up to the top of this climb, I found a place to eat. It was the everest point view tea house or something like that. on a clear day u could see everest. Everest was hiding in the clouds today. I stopped and ordered bread with jam, rara noodles, and a huge chunk of yak cheese. Just in time too my hands were shaking and my stomach was emptier than my bank account.
Yak cheese is awesome its harder cheese and made into giant wheels. they cut you off usually 200g of it. Its a big hunk and really gives ya some of that much needed fat.
technically a YAK is a male and NAK is a female. but everyone calls in YAK cheese. I always asked for NAK cheese. because no one wants to milk a YAK instead of a NAK… that would taste funky!
So excited to have my water bottle filled and have some hot noodles, I accidentally spilled my bottle of iodine pills in the rara noodles. F&*(!!!!!!!! no I couldnt eat them. I didnt want to get iodine poisoning. And I didnt want to sit around and waste time.
I left the noodles alone and devoured the rest. The man who had brought me the food asked why I didnt eat the noodles. I showed him and then he said not to worry he would feed it to his cow, becuase he said it would eat anything. We both laughed and then I took off down the trail.
The trail was now a path carved into the side of a hill with few trees and few rocks. The scenery was constantly changing.
Here it was small rolling up and downs along the ridge. Not fun but not a huge up or down so I was content.
I came across a non nepali with his guide meandering down the trail. I stopped for a moment to talk to them and ask directions to junbesi. The mans name was Roger I believe.. I could be way off.. if ou are that guy I am sorry.
He was an aussie bloke who was accompanied by an 18 year old Nepali. He asked where I was coming from and where I was going. I told him I had come from Lukla this morning and…. right then his Nepali guide interrupted,” Thats impossible you are lying you did not come from Lukla this morning” Its jsut not possible. I was slightly angered that the man didnt believe me and had interrupted me. I said yes I did I have been running and I want to make it to Jiri tonight. The guide had had enough of my crazy talk and just tossed me off. The man then told me that Junbesi would be about an hour or less for me running. He then told me he had trekked from Jiri to Lukla on the start of this trip. He said that I needed to stop in Junbesi as it was almost 3 pm and there are no places to stay between Junbesi and Kinja which was the next biggest village.
he told me doing the pass later in the day was very dangerous and it was extremely cold and I could die. Knowing nothing about the pass other than where it was on the map I decided to take it easy and make junbesi my destination.
I thought if I finish in junbesi I can get a meal in me stay over night wake up early and just cruise to Jiri as Ill be really close.
I kept thinking if only I hadnt gotten lost. but then I though screw that, if I hadnt pushed onwards even with the odds stacked against me then I wouldnt be where I am now.
I thanked the man and the guide, though the guide had that fake smile on his face.
I pressed onwards down the trail. It started to drop down a tad bit. I passed some small children playing and asked them which way to Junbesi. they pointed forward. I ran for another 15 mins until one of the kids came up behind me yelling. I stopped dead in my tracks. He grabbed me by the hand and said “JUNBESI” and pointed back the way I came.
THANK GOD! Almost got really lost again. Not having signs or people telling you where to go is hard. The small Nepali, of maybe 7 or 8 years of age, lead me to the fork I had missed. Then he ran back down the path in a sprint towards his friends where they laughed and ran away. What would you do with out kids?
I powered down this last hill when suddenly that urge hit me.. hit me hard! ahhhh no bathroom in site. I had to go #2 and bad. oh snap! clinching my cheeks together I darted off the trail up into the woods 30 feet or so. I almost didnt make it. right before I didn my business I remembered the cardinal rule of using the woods as your toilet. Never go up hill… Itll chase you back down.. GROSS I know. sorry to all you squeamish
The deed was done and I was back on the trail blazing along until I caught site of some houses
through the trees. A huge relief. I was tired but not dead. Alive but not full of energy. it was 3:30 pm aprox. My watch said over 12 hours and 45 mins since I had left Lukla. I didnt not stop my watch for anything…. including breaks, food, and getting lost.
It was continuous just like me going forward.
I had not made it to Jiri but I made it this far. I was proud. I am guessing I did about 30-40 miles with god knows how much up and down. probably close to 35,000 feet of elevation change. It was alot.
I spun the prayer wheels in Junbesi. I found a decent place to stay for the night and had me a dinner before dinner. I had a well deserved Everest beer.
Post run thoughts and description of the entire run
Check me out mid run and how I feel here
STAY TUNED TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS THAT NIGHT AND IF I MAKE IT TO JIRI THE NEXT DAY…….