It all seemed so simple when I read about it. A leisurely walk up to Everest Base Camp and then turn round and run back down.
|A man points at a very large mountain|
What in fact took place was a journey where 68 runners would actually climb more than the
The journey to the start line didn't really begin until we finally arrived in Lukla a day late due to weather. This is where we split into three separate groups of about 22 runners. Each group had their own marshals, porters, cooks, sherpas and Yaks and all of us started our two day walk to Namche Bazar. The first day had a lot of climbing up and down but not too much total altitude gain but the second day with it's long ascent into Namche left everyone with their first taste of how the altitude was going to effect them. The symptoms ranged from simple breathlessness to nausea, dizziness and headaches but nothing too serious.
|The view over Namche Bazar|
For me the effects didn't really show up until I went to sleep. Just after I dozed off I would relax and stop breathing! Consequently I would wake up gasping for air a few seconds later. This would soon become the pattern for my trip, night after night, every time I nodded off I would wake gasping for air. It would improve slightly if we spent a second night at the same altitude but then we'd push on up the mountain and it would start all over again. Jo showed less symptoms but little did we know it would be her that would later develop full scale acute mountain sickness.
Our days followed a regular pattern. We would be woken at 6:30 by one of our porters offering us a hot towel to freshen up with, soon after we would be offered tea or coffee in our tent but by 7am we would be expected to be packed up with our bags outside the tent ready for them to be loaded onto yaks for the journey to our next location. The tents were normally set up near a lodge of some sort where we would be served breakfast before we'd head off to a set rendezvous point for lunch.
The night times were absolutely freezing and anything which wasn't in our sleeping bags would be frozen solid by the morning. Consequently I shared my sleeping bag with my water bottle, my clothes for the following day, wet wipes, toilet roll, camera, iPod and on a couple of nights my shoes as well.
|Freezing cold inside and outside the tent|
The strange thing was that the sun would normally come up during breakfast and the temperature would soar causing us to all shed layers as quickly as we could until we were down to shorts and t-shirts. In the sunshine it would reach +28°C but in the shade it would never get above -5°C which as we trekked in and out of valleys would see some rapid costume changes.
After we left Namche Bazar I got my first realisation that all was not as I was expecting when we walked for three days up and down valleys that were nowhere near our race route and nowhere near Everest Base Camp. Once we'd topped our headaches up and my sleep deprivation continued they then turned us round and marched us back for two days to within an hour of Namche Bazar.
Finally though after 12 days we ended up at a place called Sanasa which was on the race route and we could at last get a feel of what the race was going to be like... and what a shock it was.
The first horror was the sheer amount of 'UP' in what I had pictured as a downhill marathon, secondly was the terrain which at best was rocky and at worst was like clambering through a boulder field. There was one section of about three miles at the 17 mile marker which was potentially an enjoyably runnable part except for the sheer drop to the left which on tired legs could so easily end in disaster.
We continued our journey pushing on up past 15,000ft and onto 16,000ft where we reached a place called Lobuche which is notoriously cold, miserable and unpleasant. Just as we arrived there an Australian tourist had decided he'd had enough and ordered a helicopter evacuation. Unfortunately he wasn't the lightest trekker we'd seen and at that altitude the helicopter struggled to take of. The pilot decided to leave the co-pilot behind and have another go. He managed to get a few inches off the ground so decided to go for it. As he skimmed the rocky terrain aiming for a gap where the mountain dropped away he clipped a large stone with his skids. It span him round and tipped him into the ground. The blades shattered sending some bits into our camping area and the helicopter settled on it's side.......very broken.
Whilst all this excitement was going on and I was photographing the carnage, Jo's head had started to pound and the symptoms of acute mountain sickness had taken hold.
We were at Lobuche for two days and this would be the scene of the dreaded medical which had to be passed before any of us would be allowed to make the final ascent to Gorak Shep at over 17,000ft and the location of the 1952 Swiss Base Camp which would be our start point.
Thankfully the diamox had done it's job with Jo and in fact, all the runners who had made it to Lobuche after a sixteen day trek were allowed to go on up to Gorak Shep. No sooner had we arrived when a helicopter was ordered to fly two runners out who had decided it was just too much for them.
We settled into one of the rooms at a lodge and got our race kit ready for the following morning and then went to bed early anticipating another broken nights sleep for most of us.
And so it was that at 6:15am on the 2nd December 66 runners plus 25 local Nepali runners gathered in the freezing cold by a start line which had been drawn in the dust on a frozen lake. Each and every one of us were run down, tired and feeling the effects of the altitude. We shouted out our race numbers one by one to make sure we were all there and then at 6:30am the words 3-2-1-GO duly sent us on our way.
|The start line|
|Getting ready for the start|
The next 8 hrs consisted of staggering from one checkpoint to the next whilst trying to not fall over. The lack of oxygen getting to our lungs and muscles made it a very very tough day without the added problem of me falling over at ten miles. I have no idea what happened but one minute I was running along and the next I was flat on my back having gone over on my ankle. There wasn't too much pain in my ankle but I couldn't stand up because my head was spinning so much. It took about ten minutes before I could carry on with my run back to Namche.
Just as I got going again I met up with Jo and we ran together until about 17 miles. She was feeling strong and my ankle was beginning to hurt so she pushed on. 17 to 20 miles was ok but that brought us to within sight of the finish line before we were sent on a six mile out and back route called the Thamo loop.
|The running surface|
Jo was there waiting along with a doctor who strapped my ankle and that was it. We stood slightly dazed with our medals on as we cheered in other runners before finally heading for the first shower in over two weeks.
The camaraderie amongst the whole group was great but we were especially close within the yellow team and it was brilliant to see us all make it across the line.
|Flying out of Lukla Airport - one of the world's scraiest landing strips.|
Having crossed the line and received our medals it was easy to forget we still had to retrace our two day walk back to Lukla before flying to Kathmandu and eventually to Manchester via Abu Dhabi.
When we reached Lukla it was questionable if the weather would be clear enough for us to fly. We got to the airport at 6am and just waited, and waited, and waited. There we were, sitting at the most dangerous airport in the world, looking at the clouds swirling around the mountains, all thinking 'go on, let's have a go at taking off, we're sure it'll be ok'!
Finally about four hours later a hooter sounded, somebody screamed Agni 1 and Agni 2 and within five minutes we were sat at the end of the runway, the engines went to full power and we were on our way home.
A pause in the mayhem of Kathmandu to have an awards lunch and evening meal and then a bus ride back to the airport, a flight to Abu Dhabi, and finally 25 days after leaving Sandbach we arrived home.
It will take us a while to appreciate the whole trip but I know Jo doesn't want to see a mountain or a sleeping bag for a while.