The start of the journey
On Sunday we shall all be heading to Kathmandu for the start of our amazing adventure in Nepal, running the world’s highest marathon. Some people have already left home, while Cathy, Lynne and Martin have already got their trekking boots on in the Annapurna region. The rest of us are frantically packing or sprinting round the shops for those essentials that we forgot last weekend.
There were no flights to or from Lukla for 6 days last week and up to 3,500 trekkers were stranded in the mountains. I bet the helicopter companies turned a handy profit from the panic and impatience of the Westerners! But the backlog has now been cleared and the long range weather forecast is good.
There are 9 runners from New Zealand this year. No doubt they will be performing a haka before the start of the race!
The start of the trek – 20 November
I’m sitting here in the sunshine in Namche Bazaar with the sound of yak bells and Sherpas whistling along the main street. It’s a hard life. The journey has taken us from Kathmandu to Namche in the last 5 days.
Kathmandu seemed busier than ever, the pace of life increasing fast. The Everest Marathon participants enjoyed the Swayambhunath Monkey Temple, Durbar Square and Thamel on the first day, amazed by the colour, variety and cultural diversity of this amazing sprawling city at the foot of the Himalayas
The following day the fun run from the temple at the summit of Nagarjun above Kathamandu, was a spectacle of the funny, obscure and the colourful, with people dressing up as a hospital patient, horse, leopard, tiger, yogi, Viking, pirates and many exotic costumes. The bus journey up was as memorable as the run downhill and it proved tougher than people imagined on the rough track. The surprise of seeing a tiger chasing a yogi at the finish encaptured the moment.
Our departure from Kathmandu was delayed a day by bad weather in Lukla so everyone was very pleased to finally get the early morning flight (after 2 mornings up at 4am!). At last on trek the mountains opened up on our first day trekking from Lukla to Phakding where the numerous tea houses, lodges and shops sold their produce and hospitality. The fields are full of ripening crops, potatoes, cabbage, leeks, beans, corn, pak choy and lettuce. The trail was busy, people escaping from the mountains after 5 days stuck in and around Lukla after bad weather and snow. The trails of dzopkios (cross between a yak and cow) carrying the bags, a few horses, dogs and small children with big smiles made the trail all the more interesting, leaving behind the busy city sounds: a different type of traffic here. We reached the first night’s lodge by crossing a large metal swing bridge at the same time as a dzopkio train and decided wisely to let them pass. A porter carrying 5 lengths of wood 5 metres long (weighing 100 kilos) then passed with amazing care over the 200m long bridge before settling down gratefully at the other side. We were shown to small basic rooms followed by dinner, lovely vegetable soup followed by chicken stew and rice with veg and lots of helpings. Dessert of fruit cocktail was excellent topping up on our vitamin count.
The trek to Namche Bazaar is always a tough day. I departed early to catch Diana in time to direct everyone in Namche. Ram our sirdar and I ran the first part to the Sagamartha National Park Office and then I departed over the gorge onto the steep hill climb of 600m to Namche. The trail had dried out and the dzopkios moved past slowly until they saw some mules which roused their tempers, causing a mini stampede. All hell broke loose as people dived off the track and the herders temporarily lost control. The diversity of people on pilgrimage, excursion or simply taking in the scenery was amazing: Japanese, Russians, Brits, Kiwis, Nepalese and Tibetans. It was market day in Namche with hordes of people bartering and selling their produce on large tarpaulins, everything you can imagine, socks, shoes, veg, meat, batteries, plastic bottles and rocks. Everyone arrived safely and bedded into our lodges, Tamserku, Khumbu and Sherpaland. Tomorrow it’s a reconnaissance of the Thamo loop, the last 6 hilly miles of the race.
The Thamo loop – 21 November
The international competitors in the Everest Marathon ran around the Thamo Loop from Namche Bazaar today in glorious sunshine. Spirits were high after two nights in Namche and views of Tamserku and Ama Dablam greeted us as we stopped at the heli pad to take in the view of the village perched high on the mountainside.
The athletes from 19 countries covered the loop to Thamo school and the mani wall, the turnaround point, within a few hours, many walking to avoid adverse reactions to the high altitude.
The more experienced athletes ran on and enjoyed the beautiful forests with drooping lichens, gentians and juniper along route. Kwangde dominates the scene on the western side of the valley making a breathtaking setting to the loop. Yak trains commonly use this route and some beautiful white yaks seemed to want to join in with the runners. Only 11 days to the race!
Machermo, Gokyo Ri and beyond
After several days trekking up to Machermo at 4,440 metres the Everest Marathon group settled in to camp expecting the coldest nights yet. However, after -11C in Kumjung and ice on the tents we were pleasantly surprised to get some mild nights and most people seemed to sleep well.
The scenery really opens out after the Mong La (3,975m) where we enjoyed fantastic views of Ama Dablam and Tamserku. The steep climb after lunch at Phortse Tenga to Dole made people realize the altitude effect but everyone pulled together and some singing with the sherpas went down well. The freezing forest was lovely, with icicles hanging from slippery rocks on open cliff faces. A night in Dole followed by the short trek to Machermo allowed everyone a reasonable day of recovery. I pressed on the next day to climb Gokyo Ri with Bhim and Dr Christine supported ably by our Sherpa (who incidentally had climbed Everest 9 times), just a stroll in the park. The magnificent views which lay before us on the summit are memories of a lifetime. We returned before dark to Machermo and briefed the teams of what lay ahead.
Peter leading the red group and Cathy leading the yellow group commenced their day to Gokyo Ri in glorious sunshine at 7am, as Bhim and I departed for the long descent to Namche to rejoin Diana for the Nepali race registration. I’m sure another fine day was had by all.
Everest Marathon 2011 Race Summary Report
After 3 weeks trekking in the Khumbu region of Nepal the Everest Marathon group finally made it to Gorak Shep 5200 metres high in the Nepal Himalaya, the start of the Everest Marathon. The marathon started at 0630am on 2 December with 23 Nepalis and 63 overseas competitors. The unusually warm weather at the start made the race a bit more pleasant this year, only -4C, tempting some people to start in shorts and t-shirts.
The amazing Nepalis sprinted across the flat dusty start line to the first rocky moraine, a steep climb of 50metres which immediately plunged most of us into oxygen debt. It was absurd how far the Nepalis ran away from the overseas contingent, the first 3 miles to Lobuche being covered in little under 26 minutes on this amazingly rough terrain. The sun made a brief appearance near Pheriche and then really warmed up at Pangboche before the climb to Tengboche. I was really feeling the altitude as I had picked up a cold the day before the race and I knew many competitors were suffering the same effects of a dry chesty cough and blocked nose.
As the race drew out the temperature picked up to the mid 20’s by Tengboche where I was caught by a few Nepali running spectators on the phone, and a few of the overseas competitors. The rice pudding and tea at the aid station was excellent and the help encouraged us on.
The climb to Sarnassa was tough after the long descent over the Dudh Koshi Nadi river. There was now no sign of any Nepali runners but greetings at the next aid station were wonderful. The deceptive undulating path to Chhorkung above Namche Bazaar, the 20 mile mark, spurred people on but the last 6 miles of the hilly Thamo loop was tough.
The eventual winner was Ram Kumar Raj Bhandari in a time of 3 hours 47 minutes, a new record. The first lady was Chhechee Sherpa in a time of 5 hours 6 minutes. The overseas runners endeavoured to the finish with Bruce Hall the first home in 5 hours 47 minutes and Francis Fox the first foreign lady home in 6 hours 7 minutes. Well done to all competitors and finishers.