Recipe for a great Himalayan high
~ Season liberally with humour, hunger, and stir several times a day with curried lentils, momos* and tea.
~ Place on middle shelf of fridge, surrounded by dramatic views of four of the five highest mountain peaks in the world.
~ Rapidly remove 80% of the oxygen from fridge until runners’ lungs are gasping and wheezing.
~ Refrigerate on slow for five days under the military precision of efficient Indian race director and his energetic team. Keep at 3600m for the first two days, before gradually returning them to lower climes over the remaining three days.
~ After 100 miles – or when golden brown – remove from fridge and coat generously with colourful celebration and congratulation.
~ Garnish each runner with mementos and memorabilia, and return them home to allow their full experience of the Himalayan 100 Stage Race to fully soak in.
(*momo: a type of Tibetan, Ladakhi and Nepali dumpling made with a simple flour and water dough)
Where: West Bengal, northeast India, on the border of Nepal
When: usually at the end of October
Altitude: between 2 000m and 3 600m (50% of the race is spent around 3 600m)
Temps to expect: min -2 deg C, max 34 deg C
Weather to expect: as with any big mountains, conditions can vary from clear and sunny, to thick mist, to rain or even hail. (We had idyllic conditions, with clear views of the mountain range every day!)
Types of running surface: variations of concrete road, dirt track, extremely large and rough stone cobbles, small sections of single track, tarred road
Route: clearly and reliably marked, no risk of getting lost
Checkpoints: well-manned and well-supplied checkpoints every several km
Number of competitors: varies from year to year between 40 and 68 (limited number because of accommodation limitations)
Accommodation: fully provided throughout, and of varying degrees of comfort (eg. no running water on nights 1 and 2 due to location at altitude, so hot water provided in buckets)
Meals: plentiful and tasty, catering for various dietary preferences
Degree of technical difficulty: route is not particularly technical
Most challenging aspect of the event: altitude
Quality of event organisation and logistics: excellent
Entry fee: ₤1 700 (2018 price – roughly R30 600 at current exchange rate)
Brief overview of the five stages
The race began with a 90min bus trip from the small town of Mirik to Maneybhanjang, where the race starts. After a Tibetan blessing to wish us a safe journey, we were off – UP what felt like a never-ending zigzagging concrete road, up up and UP a squillion metres more. After 10km, the legs enjoyed an 8km respite of gentle downhill, through beautiful shady forests of age-old rhododendrons (not in bloom in autumn, sadly), before being hit by the next onslaught – 18km of relentless winding ascent, this time a mixture of concrete surface, dirt track and horrendous cobbles). That climb went on and on, and with a masochistic twist, became steeper and sharper in the final four km, until I was practically crawling on my knees with the gradient. By that point even the concrete surface had long given up trying to stay intact, and the roadway was pitted with rocks, loose gravel, potholes and deeply eroded ruts. Whoever has had many of the world’s religions believing hell is downwards, has cunningly misled us – that day I concluded the journey to hell is most definitely UPward! And with every 10m of ascent achieved, it felt like there was 10 litres less oxygen to be had, and that I was sucking it through a tightly squeezed straw. Nothing was much fun… until the sheer joy of reaching that finish line – surprisingly, in 2nd place overall for the stage!
We all woke up before dawn to watch the first rays of sunlight hitting the grand landscape that faced us – dominated by the magnificent Kanchenjunga directly in front of us, and Everest, Lhotse and Makalu further to the east. I’m not sure there’s another race startline in the world that can boast views of four of the five highest peaks in the world!
The stage was an undulating out and back route within the starkly scenic Sandakphu National Park. Starting at 3 623m, the course never dropped lower than 3 261m, so my sea level lungs complained bitterly.
Another punishing day, this stage threw everything at us – 25km of undulation at an average of 3500m, followed by 12km of brutal descent, down to the river in the valley floor below the rambling hill village of Srikhola. The legs then had to face 5km of flattish road to reach the colourful hillside town of Rimbik. The welcoming hospitality of wonderful Rimbik with its Nepalese lodges is always a hit in this race – it’s a mini oasis!
Stage 4 was short and sweet, with lungs and legs a tad happier for the slightly lower altitude. Starting at 1900m in Rimbik, the route was simple: a 533m drop over 5km of sharply winding tarred road makes sure there’s not a smidgeon of bounce to face the 6km of flat road that follows, before the final 7km of winding ascent (thankfully in shade the whole way) back up to 1900m.
With an uphill start at 1900m and a constant 10km climb to 2532m, my lungs had a lot to whinge about. They didn’t get much respite for the next 9km, until finally the route began gently dropping as we wound our way along a dappled shady road to get us, finally, back to where the race started five days ago, Maneybhanjang (2012m). We were 100 miles the richer for our journey, with heads and hearts filled with memories of Indian hospitality, incredible variations in scenery, visions of yaks, wild horses (and yes, even a red panda in the wild), prayer flags, monastaries and stupas… and that wonderfully welcoming finish line!
Keen to know more about the Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race? Find all the details on www.himalayan.com