Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Yak Attack... Breathing thin air

After a rest day in Manang the following stage saw us head to the foot of the Thorong La Pass, Thorong Phedi.

After resting in Manang and having a good walk up a nearby hill my altitude related sickness had cleared and i felt pretty good... after a few pedal strokes into the Manang to Thorong Phedi stage the lack of oxygen kicked in and my legs instantly started to burn and my breathing was hard.

The stage started through the streets of Manang heading out the older parts of the town and straight into a hike a bike upto a village higher up on the hillside... for the walking part i could still stay with the Nepalese but soon as the trail became vaguely rideable i was again treat to a lesson in hill climbing... the slopes were so steep i couldn't even imagine riding them.

The days finish lay 972m of ascent higher up the valley and the trail was amazing to ride... very flowing and it was great to spin the pedals rather than grinding them.

The skies were filled with Ravens and Vultures and the peaks bounding the trail were spectatcular.

With all the non Nepalese riders behind me on the trail and the Nepalese guys far ahead i was left alone to enjoy the the scenery and the trail.

The stage itself was pretty short at 17km but the altitude and climbing made sure i got my moneys worth finishing 2hrs 41mins later.

Thorong Phedi was busy with trekkers, everyone getting ready to up and over early the following morning across the highest pass in the world, Thorog La at 5416m above sea level.

Arriving at Phedi i could feel the altitiude again so started on a few painkillers to cure the dull headache.. later that evening i took a diamox, diamox masks the symptoms of altitude mountain sickness, as i wanted to make sure i could get over the pass as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The next days stage was the one that most riders had dreaded... 17km in length but including the 5km climb up to the Thorong La pass.

This stage started at 5am to make sure conditions were at best for crossing the pass... the 5km would be entirely unrideable due to a combination of altitude and steepness of trail.

At the start i paced myself with the last Nepalese rider, Ajay, race leader but walking isn't his strongest discipline so he was just out to minimise his losses to Kaji Sherpa, a high altiude specialist and a man that will be travelling to summit Everest for the 4th time 3 days after this race finishes... believe i'm in good company here.

As i paced Ajay up the slopes in the dark, headtorches above us highlighting how far we had to climb.. and this was only the portion of the climb we could see.

All was going well as we walked together until we reached an off camber snow covered section and as Ajay strided away i slipped and slid at every step and eventually had to slow my pace right down to try and stay on my feet.

Dawn broke and headtorches were extinguished.. the trail still stretched further and higher with no sign of the end... luckily my pace remained consistent and i felt no ill affect to the accumulating altitude. The trail turned from rock to mixed ice and rock to then snow in its entirety.

After 2hrs 16mins i reached the high point of the pass and after a photo opportunity with the signpost i swapped from big mittens to lighter gloves and donned my helmet, this may have been a little optimistic as the descent was initially snow and ice and too steep to ride... my hands in the thinner gloves quickly froze and i was forced to stop to try and drive some warmth into them but after the exertion of the climb i could hardly muster any energy and i had to sit down and had a little moment to myself as i embraced the pain of freezing hands and still a long descent to negotiate.

With the feeling coming slowly back into my hands i stumbled slowly down through the snow until i past the snowline and the rocky trail was now underneath my tyres.. after a few attempts at riding the trail it just wasn't happening.. the trail was very loose and very steep so any attempt to bring my speed under control was futile so i was forced to walk downhill.

This section seemed to stretch on forever but i was happy to be able to feel my hands again and as i reached a few small buildings on the trail the slope slackend off and i got to ride an awesome piece of singletrack.. nice and rocky with well placed rocks to aid railing corners.. this flowed into a wider smoother trail around the back of the finishing town, Muktinath, and eventually the stage finish.

Only one stage left.. 70km mainly downhill to Tatapani and a well deserved dip in some hot springs.

1 comment:

Martin Criminale said...

Holy shit... this stage over the pass sounds pretty amazing/intimidation. With all this hiking, what kind of footwear do you have on most of the time? Are you walking in your SPD shoes or did you forgo proper cycling shoes in favor of hiking boots and tow clips?