Over the past few months a number of adventure racing enthusiasts have come together to explore the idea of establishing a representative body for the sport of adventure racing in Ireland.
We have all enjoyed the sport for years and we all believe that the sport needs a formal structure for it to develop and grow over the coming years. A working group was formed and after much work over the past three months they are now are now ready to launch Adventure Racing Ireland (ARI).
ARI will aim to bring the adventure racing community throughout the island of Ireland to work collectively to develop the sport.
It aims to develop and promote standards and good practice for the sport, will work to expand and develop a calendar of AR races, will provide training opportunities for members and support the setup of adventure racing clubs.
The vision, mission and objectives of the new association are all set out in a draft constitution, and you are invited to read this on the new website www.adventureracing.ie
Mission and Objectives of Adventure Racing Ireland
Mission of ARI:
ARI will develop the sport of Adventure Racing in Ireland through the operation of a membership-based organisation, which coordinates and supports adventure racing activities for participants and event
Objectives of ARI:
Develop and operate a membership-based organisation to lead and manage the sport of adventure racing
Develop and implement best practice for the sport of adventure racing
Develop partnerships and collaborations to support the development of adventure racing
Develop and facilitate the provision of suitable insurances for members and affiliated events and activities
Develop coaching and training opportunities for participants within the sport
Support event organisers with their event logistics, standards, land access, recognitions by relevant bodies and any way necessary to progress the continued development of the sport
Support the development of adventure racing clubs and teams
Promote the sport of adventure racing in Ireland
Promote environmental good practice within the sport of adventure racing
Use the sport to responsibly promote Ireland as a unique adventure tourist destination
ARI now invite you to attend this meeting on the 18th of October by registering on the eventbrite link below:
If you are interested in putting yourself forward for any position on the Executive Committee or can assist in any other way, ARI would be most grateful if you would get in touch before the 18th by emailing them at email@example.com
I really like this representation of the river catchment basins throughout Ireland & the UK.
Obviously there is an underlying message, if nature needs this amount of space to drain our land effectively, where are houses supposed to go? (that’s rhetorical) We know from the slightest heavy rain storm that we no longer have the natural water attenuation in our land as flooding is more and more evident – this is because of our built environment.
From an adventuring point of view the question is: is it possible to walk the length or breadth of Ireland cross country without getting your feet wet?
I’m thinking initially something diagonal from Derry / Antrim to Kerry /Cork could be the way to do it but then you are dealing with the midland bogs too.
Reading my Irish Mountain Log which just arrived and its great to see we now have an official list of the Arderins which are the Irish version of projects like the Scottish Munros where hills are defined by a set of agreed criteria.
The Arderins is a list of 406 mountains that are 500m or greater in height with a prominence of at least 30m.
One of the chief goals was to redistribute the foot load of our hills from the ‘main’ hiking areas of Wicklow, Mournes and Reeks which are very much over used and encouraging a more proportional approach to hill walking challenges.
It will be 5 years since the team last raced together at ITERA 2016.
5 years since Mike’s serious injury, yet we still finished the race.
5 years since we belly laughed, cried and stormed around the West of Ireland
5 years older. Bigger kids, travel, jobs changes, responsibilities. Life!!
We can’t wait!!
The event will be a 5 day nonstop adventure race for mixed sex teams of 4. Including running / trekking, mountain biking and kayaking. The event will run from the 14th – 21st August 2021.
We have designed a race format and course that will allow all the teams to finish (although to be fair that did thwart us in 2019). The race will be achievable yet challenging to all levels. We are not planning to design the hardest adventure race ever, in fact quite the opposite; we want it to be fun, interesting and an accessible event. Every night we will provide access to warm and dry shelter.
An amazing journey through Scotland!
2 sets of maps of fully marked up Ordnance Survey maps for each team
Logistics to move your kit and bikes around the course – historically these events have had around 10 stages with a mixture of paddling, MTBing and trekking.
Sportident electronic timing
Live Tracking along with a portal with Leaderboard, photos, news items and videos so friends can see how you are getting on.
Post event buffet
Event base for you to sort your kit out, register and be part of event briefing
Event photos for you to share post event (you won’t need to pay for these).
A fair and competitive event, we will be adopting the ARWS rules and will have a race referee on the event.
So you’ve had a busy year adventure racing and its winter. What do you do now? Feet up in front of the fire and rest?
There’s an old adage “Winter miles = Summer smiles” and its very true. Training and racing is a year on year activity. It’s not about starting in Spring and racing for the summer and relaxing in the cold of winter.
It is a multi-year round process of training cycles and possible multiple peaks for races through the season.
There may also be time in the winter to try more indoor activities that will complement your outdoor training and there is some great advice in the attached article from the Quest Adventure Series –
There are also big adventure running races (Art O’Neill Challenge, SPine Race) and other events (Causeway Coast, North Coast Trailquest) through winter that are more in the spirit of multiday racing for you to participate in or support if you are seeking your next inspirational challenge.
With my own 2020 calendar starting to take shape I’d love to hear what you have planned for winter 2019.
After the last time, I promised myself I would train for my next event, I even picked a goal event (Ecotrail 80km) and a follow up to complete while fit (Quest Killarney) to have as a carrot to train for.
Itera is a 5 day non stop expedition adventure race for mixed sex teams of four. The race format involves navigating over an unmarked wilderness course whilst running/trekking, mountain biking and kayaking. The race is held in a different part of the British Isles every 2-3 years and in 2019 Scotland was the host country
I raced Itera in 2016 with TriHarder AR when it was held in Ireland. The weather was brutal that year and it was a real war of attrition but our team had a truly memorable race and finished after 144 hours in 13th place. Sadly my TriHarder teammates were busy with other projects this year and it was looking like a return to Itera would be unlikely for me. That was until June when I received an email from Stefan inviting me to join the Swedish team 24HR Adventure Meals. Since last November, I had changed my training to focus more on endurance and I was happy that I had enough done so I didn’t have to think twice about accepting. It’s exciting to join a new team. It’s hard to know how you’ll all get on when you’re tired and cranky and things are not going well but we all had the same objectives and goals and I’m a pretty easy person to get along with!!!
Before I knew it, August had arrived and I found myself on the boat to Scotland. I stayed with my aunt in Edinburgh for a couple of days before driving to Inverness where I met up with the rest of my team. Stefan and Mikael had both raced together before and we were joined by Brian with whom I raced the Beast adventure race in 2017.
Image: Open Adventure Facebook
Inverness was a hive of activity as all the teams prepared for the challenge ahead. There’s a lot of gear to be organised – food and clothes have to be divided up for each stage and packed away in the correct bag, all the maps need to be laminated, bags have to be labelled and put on lorries, bikes have to be packed up and the kit that gets lost at the airport has to be replaced. Several teams had bike boxes that got lost in transit and Stefan unfortunately lost his paddle and the paddle bag that his Mum made for the team. It was in his bike box and it’s likely that when customs examined his stuff they forgot to replace the paddle bag. Luckily for us Stefan was able to get the loan of a paddle from one of the British racers.
It’s always exciting when the course is finally revealed and the maps are given out. This happened on the Saturday and it was clear that we were going to have to race hard from the start in order to make the cut offs.
Dunrobin Castle has been home to the Earls and Dukes of Sunderland since the early 1300’s. It was used as a hospital during WWI and WWII and has also been used as a boarding school before reverting back to a family home.
The castle resembles a French chateau and with its towering conical spires, it rises above the North Sea like an illustration from a fairytale. It was the ideal backdrop for us to begin our adventure and at 8:30 am on Monday, August 12th, 38 teams containing racers from 12 different countries, gathered in front of this majestic building. With a blast from a shotgun we were sent on our way.
It was an uneventful run which brought us along a forest path down to the coast. Stefan was the only one carrying a backpack with our tracker. The rest of the bags were with the boats, ready for the next stage. When we got to the boats we grabbed the next two boats in line, which unfortunately didn’t have clips for all the back rests, and got ourselves ready for the next stage, a 20km paddle. We put on our wet gear, placed our rucksacks into waterproof bags to keep them dry in the boat, and got our food and water ready to go. Then we carried the boats down to the water.
Stage 1: 20km paddle
There were some rapids to be negotiated as we headed down the coast, past Dornoch, to reach the Glenmorangie Distillery at Tain.
Stefan and I coming through the rapids. Video: Mikael
Conditions were perfect with a rising tide which made for an enjoyable paddle. The only time in the race that paddling was enjoyable!! I was in the front of the boat with Stefan and Brian was in front of Mikael and we soon roped the two boats together to keep the speed even. We were in the company of 3 or 4 teams as we progressed down the coast, among whom were the South African team Blood, Sweat and Beers who I knew from racing Expedition India in 2017. It’s always nice to have teams around you as it keeps you focused on racing. We kept a good line to the distillery and it was nice to jump out of the boats, dib into our first control and have another stage done. There was no alcohol for the racers as we pulled off our wet gear and got our bikes ready to go but Glenmorangie Distillery very kindly provided all the racers with miniature bottles at the end.
Stage 2: 110km Bike
Across the North of Scotland, from the East Coast to the West Coast this bike took us through the Morangie, Diebidale and Arnat Forests to Strath Oykel and then onto Ledmore in Assynt. There were 4 controls on this section and the first one was a bit tricky as it was off the main trail on a Bronze Age hill fort. Towards dusk, we were getting bitten by midges and when we stopped to take out spray hordes of them descended on us. I’ve never experienced anything like it. They get into your ears and up your nose and they’re just a constant, incessant irritation. As fast as I was wiping them off my arms, they were being replaced by dozens more. I sprayed so much insect repellent on my face that for hours afterwards I could taste it in my mouth. The only consolation was that it kept us moving forwards.
This was quite a long stage. A lot of it was unrideable and we had to push, pull and carry our bikes through bogs, bracken and gorse over rotten boardwalks and through ditches. Hike-a-bike at it’s finest! Brian and Stefan were super strong on the bits we could ride and Mikael and I were often on the receiving end of a tow. We finished the bike at a small village hall near Ledmore. We took our bikes apart, packed them back into the boxes and loaded them onto the lorries. Then we got back into our wet gear, grabbed some kayaks and set off on the next stage – a monster paddle made even longer because the forecast wind meant we’d have to stay closer to the shore adding about 2 hours to the original route.
Stage 3: 55km paddle plus ascent of Suilven
I can’t remember the start of this stage too well. It must have been about 9 or 10pm when we left transition and I don’t think the first bit was too bad. I was in the kayak with Stefan and we were paddling pretty well. There might have been another team with us. It’s all a bit hazy. There was an option to climb the Suilven mountain which we had decided to do as there was a 4hr penalty for not doing it and it’s always good to get a break from paddling. Suilven is one of the most distinctive mountains in Scotland. It forms a steep-sided ridge some 2 km in length and lies in a remote area in the west of Sutherland, rising almost vertically from a wilderness landscape of moorland, bogs, and lochans.
It was dark when we reached the point where we were to leave our kayaks but there were loads of other teams there before us and you could see the lights twinkling up the slopes of the mountain. The ground was wet and marshy and it was raining but it was nice to be out of the boats and trekking.
We met lots of teams coming down as we were going up including my South African friends from Team Adventure Life. They were flying it. It’s funny how you recognise voices in the dark! As we got above halfway the ascent became more difficult and it was getting much colder. The last bit seemed to take ages. When we got to the top it took us a few minutes to find the control. The wind was howling and it was pitch black. The darkness and the wind was disorientating and care was needed as there was a vertical cliff on one side.
Now it was time to get down the mountain out of the freezing wind. I always prefer to go up rather than to come down and although I had brought my trekking poles in my backpack, I didn’t use them because I needed to keep my hands free to grab onto heather and rocks. I had to stop to change the batteries in my headlight but apart from that we made steady progress on the way down. We met a couple of teams who were on their way up but mostly all the lights had disappeared and Suilven was shrouded in darkness, although the dawn was now breaking
The next 22 hours were grim. Kayaks were designed for the water not to be dragged up mountains, through rocky riverbeds and valleys and along roads. These things are super heavy especially with all the wet bags and seats in them and although we had trolleys, these can only be used on tarmac roads, which were few and far between. It was physical and mental torture and all the time the clock was ticking and we were having to re-evaluate our race plans. First off we were going to miss the canyoning section which was disappointing as it looked fun and we got an 8 hour penalty.
Finally we made it to the sea where we met the water safety officer. We were all secretly hoping the kayak had been cancelled so it was with profound disappointment that I listened to the water safety officer tell us that we had at least another 5 hours paddling ahead of us and the best route would be to stay near the coast instead of taking a direct line. Queue flashbacks from Itera 2016 when we paddled the Atlantic for 12 hours in a 4ft swell and gale force winds. This was only a slight improvement. We normally paddle a kilometre in 10 minutes. It was now taking us an hour. Paddle, paddle, paddle. Wave comes, pushes you back. Paddle, paddle, paddle. Go nowhere. Moving down the coast inch by inch. It’s depressing stuff. After a few hours we were met by another race official on a boat who told us that there was no more teams being allowed onto the water. We were aiming for the lighthouse which was maybe a couple of kilometres away and instead of carrying on we decided to detour to a nearby island. My understanding of it was that even if we made it to the next checkpoint we wouldn’t be allowed back on the water to finish the kayak.
When we got to the island we dragged the boats up the shore and up onto the cliff edge
There was a couple of other teams who followed us onto the island. I think in the end there were 4 teams. We all did a full gear change as we were all soaking wet and freezing. Then it was into the sol bags to warm up while we decided what to do.
Brian used the emergency mobile phone we have to carry to phone the organisers who told us that we needed to make our way to the camp site in Ullapool where we would be picked up by bus. This meant hauling the kayaks cross country, then getting back on the water for a short kayak to the other side where we would reach the campsite. Thankfully once we got back on the water, we were now in a sheltered bay and were able to progress much faster.
We had to wait for about an hour for the bus. The boys got into their sol bags and tried to sleep but the wind was howling and I was too cold so I went and sat in a utility room which was quite warm because the sun was coming in through the window. After a while a lady from another team came down and told us that there were loads of other teams in the cafe so we went there and had tea and cake. When the bus came it was a 56 seater coach and full of people. We were confused. Who were all these people? The smell when we got on the bus told us they were all adventure racers! Some had been pulled off the paddle further in front of us and some lucky sods weren’t allowed on the sea at all.
The bus brought us to the transition in Ardessie. I think it was like a farmyard barn. We didn’t delay too long there as we needed to be out on the trek in order to make the cut off for the rafting. Even if we had wanted to rest, sleeping was forbidden in transition so we would have had to put up the tents and it wasn’t worth it
It’s late Tuesday evening when we set off into the Fisherfield Forest. It’s nicknamed The Great Wilderness as the area is entirely devoid of any permanent settlements and it contains the remotest Munros in all of Scotland. The terrain consists of steep heathery hillsides, scree, boulderfields, narrow ridges, broad grass slopes, some easy scrambling and some of the worst sections of bog you can imagine! We have decided to just get the two mandatory control points, the first of which is the trig point at the summit of An Teallach at 1,062m. We made good time on the way up but I found the descending hard. My quads were in bits from the descent of Suilven. We were passed by the lead team Columbia somewhere in the valley. They were towing Caroline which means there was a rope between her and one of the guys to help her move faster. It’s similiar to the bike in that it keeps the team speed more even. Brian thought this would be a good idea for us to try as I was falling behind at times. It sure made me go faster – it’s much easier to keep your balance and you have a lot more motivation. We got some funny looks from some of the other teams though!
The last third of the trek was a bit of a death march. Brian started to have trouble with his feet and we nearly lost him on a descent when he stopped to fix his socks and the rest of us went out of sight. I got kind of cranky when he stopped for ages a second time because we all have blisters on our feet and we just need to get this trek done. I feel like I’m getting a fever and bronchitis so I take some anti-inflammatories. The last 10k of this trek was character building! I knew we’d make it back to transition at some stage, I just wasn’t sure what day it was going to be!!
When we got to transition in the village hall in Kinlochewe, we were told stage 5 and 6 had been cancelled so our long bike was now an even longer bike. At this transition we were required to set up our tents and stay for at least 20 minutes in them so Brian and Mikael put up the tents while getting savaged by midges and Stefan went to buy burgers from the nearby restaurant. The atmosphere in the team was a bit chilly but thankfully we had decided to sleep for 90 minutes in this transition and I was confident when we’ve all had a bit of sleep, we would all be buddies again! As soon as I close my eyes I’m asleep but I only managed to stay in the tent for 27 minutes before I started to feel claustrophobic. There weren’t too many teams in the hall so I built a little shelter out of our bike boxes and slept there instead.
Stage 7: 140km+ Bike
Stefan had his timer set to wake us up and we were soon getting organised to set out on the bikes for the village of Applecross. It’s late Wednesday morning and we’re in good spirits even though it’s raining.
We cycle up the road a few hundred metres and then realise that Brian has no helmet on. Helmets are mandatory equipment. We turn around and peg it back to transition but unfortunately the lorry that has our gear on it has left. One of the volunteers rings the lorry driver and gets him to stop and then drives Brian out to meet him in his car while Stefan, Mikael and I sit in transition and wait.
When Brian arrived back we set off looking to make back the lost time.
Luckily the bike is one of our strongest disciplines and we soon caught up with and passed a number of teams. This was, without question, my favourite part of the race. Often in adventure races, there are stages where one or more of the team is just not feeling it but on this stage we were all on fire. We had passed a heap of teams by the time we reached the section of single track which travels along the coast. The single track was super fun in the dark especially if you’re an adrenaline junkie. I fell off a few times. A couple of times into the ferns, into the river once when I was walking across with my bike and got swept away by the current and the last time when I hit a rock in a stream and somersaulted over my handlebars. I landed on a rock, face first and ended up with a golf ball sized swelling under my eye but luckily nothing more serious. We were passed by Sweco around this time but they didn’t gap us too much and Mikael even had time to make a movie
I was cold because of the rain and my swim in the river and that made me want to cycle as fast as possible once we got off the single track. The route book says we went up the biggest road climb in Scotland, Bealach na Ba, but I don’t remember it if we did.
We had to take a manadatory route to the beautiful Eilean Donan castle where we picked up a control point on the height barrier in the car park
We didn’t get that view unfortunately. It was dark and wet and after we had all dibbed the control, we motored back to our next transition, Morvich Outdoor Centre, passing Sweco on the way. (It’s the little victories that matter!!)
Stage 8: Trek
I remember there was some discussion in the transition about whether we were classified as unranked or short course and whether we should do this trek but in the end we decided whatever would be, would be and at half eleven on Wednesday evening we set off on the route up the Glen Croe and Upper Glen Affric. We figured it would be better to sleep out on the trek if we needed to as we wouldn’t have been able to sleep in transition unless we put the tents up and tent space outside transition was at a premium.
There was about a 10km walk through the valley before we reached the mountains and Stefan and I were setting a good pace in front. We didn’t realise, but Mikael was having serious trouble with the sleepmonsters and trying to keep his eyes open. Eventually when he could go no further he alerted us and we stopped for a power nap. We got the sol bags and lay down by the side of the trail under some overhanging rocks. We didn’t stay for long though. As soon as we stopped the midges started to bite and even though Mikael was falling asleep on the walk, he couldn’t sleep with the midges. We set off again and then we stopped again and tried with the Bothy bag but the midges were vicious and it was futile. We decided to keep going and maybe we would find a hut to shelter in.
Mikael was swaying all over the place and I was getting a bit concerned that he was going to fall over and injure himself so I grabbed a hold of his arm and made him walk alongside me. This was good as it kept him upright and also walking at a good speed. He was still sleepwalking though and after a while he was hardly capable of putting one foot in front of the other. The rain was becoming more persistent when like an oasis in a desert, we turned a corner and there was a building just off the path in front of us. The house was locked but to our joy there was a small shed beside it whose door was unlocked and there was just enough space in there for the 4 of us to sit down. By now the rain was coming in downpours and we’d have been in real trouble if we hadn’t found shelter because it would have been difficult to stop Mikael from becoming hypothermic. We settled down in the comfort of our cramped hut, for a well deserved nap. There were rocks digging into my back but I didn’t care, I wasn’t wasting precious minutes trying to get more comfortable. I’m not sure how long we were in the hut for but I have vague recollections of several other teams trying to open the door and Stefan telling them very politely that this hut is already occupied!
When we got going again, everyone was rejuvenated and ready to tackle the mountains. And tackle them we did. Climbing up and down 5 mountains before dawnbreak. The descent off the last mountain was a bit gnarly with a mandatory route along steep ridges but the scenery was breathtaking.
The sun was shining when we reach the next transition area so we were able to sit outside on logs and eat some hot food before changing into our wet gear and heading out with the kayaks. Team Columbia were already in transition before us and while we were there, Sweco arrived. It’s fun to watch the top teams. We had until 8pm on Thursday evening to get to Glen Garry to complete the rafting section so we didn’t dawdle too much and after a customary hike a kayak we were back on the water.
It was nice and calm and we made good progress but when we got to the rafting section we were disappointed to learn that the water had been released from the dam and consequently the rafting was cancelled. We would now be walking for 90 minutes instead. When we got back in the boats we had to use the Caledonian Canal which meant that at the four canal locks, we had to haul the boats out of the water and carry them for a couple of hundred metres before putting them back in. It was dark and hard to keep our eyes open and everybody was in bad form. We changed around in the boats so Stefan and Mikael were paddling together and towing the boat with myself and Brian. I really needed to sleep and it was so hard to keep my eyes open and I definitely was asleep on the entry into the last lock. I was so happy to finish this stage and enter the transition in Fort Augustus
Last stage and tempers are frayed. There was a Swedish standoff about our route choice and Ireland had to intervene to maintain the peace. We decided to take the option of staying on tarmac roads and taking an 8 hour penalty instead of doing the original route which might have been slow with a lot of hike a bike. The first bit was quite hilly. At least one of the inclines looked like it was used in the recent Women’s Tour of Scotland as there were names written all over the road. I felt fine climbing up the hills but on the descent it was hard to keep my eyes open and eventually we stopped and took a 15 minute power nap in a pine forest. It wasn’t super comfortable but at least we got some shelter from the wind.
The last part of the bike was along Loch Ness
Then we came into Inverness and at around 7:40am on Friday morning crossed the line to finish. Job done.
Massive thanks to James, Tom, all at OpenAdventure and especially to all the wonderful volunteers who made the race such a success.
Thanks also to my teammates and our team sponsors
Stefan the super nav, my paddling partner who gave me loads of help on the first bike
MIkael who I shadowed on every trek because he takes the best lines
Brian the turbo machine who towed Mikael and I whenever needed
My story begins the day after Expedition Africa when my teammate Damon asks if I’m interested in doing Expedition India. Hmmm I shrug, India. When I think of India, I think of the slums, congested roads, pollution. What would make me want to do an adventure race there, I ask myself?
But the seed is planted and over the summer an onslaught of images on social media show that India is a treasure trove of majestic landscapes. Still I’m not convinced. My sister Claire is visiting from Australia in September and I have The Beast in Donegal in August and I’m still tired after Exp Africa. And then on the 28th June I’m on facebook and a post pops up looking for two team members to join Team Adventure Life. Oooh, there’s a conflict raging in my mind for well, maybe a minute and then I’m tapping out a message of interest with a short resume and before I can catch my breath to question my audacity, I’m signed up and on my way to India. The team is assembled from all around the world. Jay in New Zealand, Mike in Switzerland, Zane from South Africa and me from Ireland and Kirsten our media guru. Communications consist of one skype video call and a lot of whatsapp messages. I’m happy though that we all seem to be on the same page as regards our ambitions and race outlook and as the race approaches I get more and more excited until finally my bike is in it’s box and all the bags are packed and I’m on my way to the airport for an early morning flight to India via Istanbul.
Monday, September 11th.
Delhi and Agra
Heidi and Stephan, the race organisers, promised that Expedition India would be an adventure from the moment we arrived in Delhi and this certainly proved to be no exaggeration. My flight landed at 04:30. Jay, Mike and I had arranged to join a bus tour to the Taj Mahal at 06:30. Zane would unfortunately be arriving too late so he was going to have to look after himself for the day. Terence, Adventure Life’s CEO and the event photographer, was deported a couple of days before we arrived because his visa was not in order so queuing up at the immigration desks, I was a bit anxious that I had the right forms printed out. I joined the wrong queue first of all. It’s a bit confusing and there’s nobody to give you direction and then when I was in the right queue, it was only by chance that I realised I had to fill out another form before I reached the desk. The line was moving really slowly and it took at least an hour before I was through. I couldn’t get the wifi to work, I had my bike box and two bags and I wasn’t too sure how I was going to find anybody so it was a great relief when I walked through the arrivals door and heard Jay calling my name. He had arrived an hour earlier and was waiting for me with Jose, one of the volunteers. There was some panic that we were going to miss the bus to the Taj Mahal that was collecting us at the Centaur hotel so with no time for niceties, we were quickly bundled onto the shuttle bus with our bikes and away we went.
The first thing I noticed in Delhi was how warm and muggy it was. Monsoon season was here but the rain was in short supply and the humidity made the air heavy and oppressive. The next was the traffic and the endless cacophony of car horns. Over eight million cars – more than in India’s three other major cities combined – jostle for space on Delhi’s roads. Impatient drivers use all available lane space and instead of slowing down when turning or approaching another vehicle, drivers blast their horns to warn others of their presence. They also honk violently at motorbikes, scooters, pedestrians, children, dogs, cows and anyone else unfortunate enough to be slower than them. The noise pollution is overwhelming!
Jay and I met Mike, who had arrived a day earlier, in the foyer of the Centaur hotel and also Murray from team BSB rangers and having left our bikes and bags in a safe corner of the hotel we were soon on the bus with mostly race volunteers to the Taj Mahal. The bus journey to Agra took about 3 hours. It didn’t seem that long. I think I must have slept ! The Taj Mahal is magnificent. So perfectly symmetrical and intricately carved, it’s hard to comprehend that it ‘only’ took 22 years to finish. As with most things in India though, the beauty and grandeur of the Taj Mahal contrasts sharply with the lack of sanitation outside the palace, the fetid smell that hangs in the air in places and the multitude of beggars and cripples who line the streets of Agra. We also visited the Agra fort and a workshop to see how the precious stones are carved followed by lunch and the bus ride back to Delhi. To avoid the infamous Delhi Belly we only drank bottled water.
The Taj Mahal
Photo: Terence Vrugtman
Outside Agra Fort
When we arrived back at the Centaur hotel, we caught up with Zane and Team Adventure Life was finally complete!! Tomorrow we were flying 650 km to Srinagar so we had to put stickers on our bike boxes and sort out our flights. Jay was on an early morning flight with the rest of the team a bit later and when we left for our own hotel it still wasn’t entirely clear what was happening to the bike boxes ….
Tuesday, September 12th.
Srinagar, Dal Lake
We woke a couple of hours before we were due at the airport. Jay was gone. Then we got a message that 3 of our bikes were still at the Centaur hotel and needed to be at the airport. Following a speedy breakfast with a very nice cup of tea and an even speedier checkout, we grabbed a taxi from outside the hotel, strapped Mike’s bike box to the top and did the customary negotiations for the fee. When we got to the Centaur hotel our bikes and Murray’s were the last ones there so we loaded them on top of two taxis and drove the short distance to the airport. There was lots of confusion at the check in desk because all the bikes had to be weighed and the excess charges paid for and then the bikes had to be taken to the oversize luggage. By the time all this was done our flight was nearly ready to leave and it was a mad rush through security where I lost Mike and Zane because I had to go through the women’s section and I didn’t have my boarding pass so the guard made me go back out and get it from my bag which was waiting to go through the scanner which was the other side of a barrier and it took me ages. So when I was done I couldn’t see Mike or Zane and I just sprinted to the plane but I got there before them because I was in my seat when they got on the plane looking for me! After an hour or so we arrived in Srinagar airport. It’s a military airport with lots of soldiers and guns and photography is strictly prohibited. We had to fill in more forms, load the bike boxes onto a big lorry and then clamber onto the buses which would take us to Dal Lake. During colonial times the English were not allowed to buy land so they bought boats to holiday in and these house boats would be where we would sleep for the night.
Our house boat
House boats with the Shikara boats in the foreground
We were taken across the lake to our house boat that we were sharing with the French team, Vaucluse Aventures Evasions, in thelocal Shikara boats. Very cool
After some tea and eggs and another boat trip around the lake to see the lotus flowers we had to get ready for the official opening ceremony which was a very prestigious event with the Minister of Tourism for the area and the CEO of J&K Bank in attendance. There was also a performance by some local Kashmiri musicians which was a big hit with the teams
We woke early (5 a.m) as we had arranged for one of the Shikara boats to take us via the water canals to the local vegetable market. It was a bit of a drag getting up so early but well worth the trouble. We bought tea and spices and chocolate from the very entertaining and persistent salesmen who would pitch up in their boats next to us.
Then it was back to the houseboat for breakfast of eggs and toast and a trip back across the lake for the short uphill hike to the Shankaracharya Temple. The temple is at a height of 300m and overlooks the city of Srinagar. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and parts of it date from 200BC. To enter the top temple, we had to remove our shoes and then we were given a blessing from the temple priest. No photography was allowed.
The start of the prologue was in the large parking lot down the hill from the temple. Teams gathered here in front of the starting arch with some enthusiastic soldiers who were very keen to be seen posing nonchalantly with their guns in the photographs. After the countdown we ran downhill over trails and rocks and in our case through someone’s house for about 2km until we reached the edge of the lake where we could collect our Shikara boat. Each boat had a local child in front carrying our flag and the owners of the boat also came along for the ride. We had a map and two checkpoints to collect.
Padding the Shikara boat
Photo: Terence Vrugtman
The paddles were large and wooden with a heart shaped blade and the main issue we had was trying to keep the boat straight. Thankfully we didn’t have too far to go and we finished in a fairly respectable 9th position.
After devouring our lunch boxes, we returned to the houseboats and got ready for the 3 hour bus trip to Sonamarg.
Sonamarg, meaning “Meadow of Gold” is a sixty mile long valley and deep rock gorge, home to open grassy meadow land and village dotted slopes.
View from the Snowland Hotel, Sonamarg
Photo: Zane Schmahl
In its vicinity lies the great Himalayan glaciers of Kashmir Valley, Kolhoi Glacier and Machoi Glacier with some peaks over 5000m. The town itself is at an altitude of 2800m and is abandoned in winter due to heavy snowfall and avalanches. When we arrived we were treated to Kashmir tea on the lawn and then we decided to walk into the town to buy some supplies for the hike in the morning. On our way we saw some locals playing cricket so the lads decided to ask if they could join in. We were warmly welcomed and it was just such a cool thing to do. I would have liked to play but alas my hand eye co-ordination is dismal so I had to content myself taking photos!
The cricket field
Thursday, September 14th
Leg 2: Hike to glacier ~ 29km
Another early morning start for Leg 2 of the race. The teams who finished highest ranked in Leg 1 and 2 would start the rafting paddle first. The air was noticeably thinner in Sonamarg especially on the short uphill hike to the start.
At the start of the hike
Photo: Terence Vrugtman
We set off at a controlled pace. There was so much to see and the landscape was truly breathtaking. We passed villages, herders with their large flocks of sheep and ponies, which were being used to transport goods from one end of the valley to the other and military personnel doing their drills.
Photo: Kirsten Roberts
Photo: Terence Vrugtman
On one river crossing I slipped on a wet rock and gashed my knee and ankle and earned the dubious distinction of being the first to end up on the floor. It was a really enjoyable hike but quite long. The lead teams passed us on their way back from the cp and they all said the same thing. ‘It’s longer than you think’. The distance didn’t bother us too much though
as we weren’t racing it and the terrain was constantly changing so we never got bored.
Photo: Kirsten Roberts
Photo: Craig Giese
And there was also a really fun downhill section in the woods which we skidded down on our backsides!
Photo: Zane Schmahl
Photo: Zane Schmahl
We were the last team to reach the CP @ ~ 3500m and when we got there we sat and had samosas that we’d bought in Sonamarg. I think Jay was fairly ok on the hike to the CP but on the way back he got bad altitude sickness. We had to drop the pace completely and Jay puked his guts up about three times. One of the dogs that was herding sheep had an early supper as he was passing!
As well as puking violently, Jay had a headache, very little energy and was unsteady on his feet so progress down the mountain was slow. He did improve slightly as we descended but he was still feeling pretty rough and the finish line couldn’t come soon enough for all of us and the two volunteers who had caught up to us.
At the finish of the glacier hike
Photo: Craig Giese
Friday, September 15th
We left Sonamarg at 4a.m on the long drive (~10hrs) to Leh. We set off in a convoy of buses from the hotel. We would be travelling over some interesting mountain passes such as Zojila which was the scene of the highest ever tank battle during the 1947 Indo Pakistani war.
We were sharing a bus with the Kashmiri team from Srinagar and Umar was keen to fill us in on the locality and its history. We passed through Dras which is the second coldest permanently habituated area in the world, after Siberia. On 19th January 1995 a temperature of minus 65 deg Celsius was recorded there.
The journey didn’t seem that long. There were lots of pee breaks and a visit to the Alchi Temple Complex. This is a Buddhist monastery complex built in the 10th and 11th century. We had lunch here sampling different traditional cuisines some of which were quite strange to my Western palate!
Not too far from Leh we had to abandon the buses and walk for a while as the road over a river crossing had been damaged in a landslide and it was touch and go as to whether the buses would be able to get up the steep incline or not. Thankfully they did!
It was late afternoon when we arrived in Leh and Team Adventure Life were soon installed in The Wang Residence. Having eaten lots of spicy Indian food for the last number of days, we were all craving something a little more familiar so we decided to walk into town for pizza.
Mike and Zane had beer but Jay was still feeling the after effects of the altitude sickness and I don’t drink beer so we decided to go with a chocolate milkshake. Big mistake!!!
Saturday, September 16th
Kardung La pass
We had an early morning briefing and ceremony at the Dragon Hotel so we got up and had breakfast (toast, eggs, porridge) at The Wang Residence. Everyone seemed fine. Jay ate as normal and then we all walked down to the briefing. We were waiting outside the hall when Jay suddenly didn’t feel so good ….
Jay not feeling so good – right about now!
Photo: Terence Vrugtman
We went in for the briefing but Jay was feeling really nauseous and he spent most of the time outside. Was this more altitude sickness or something else? We hadn’t incriminated the milkshakes at this stage because I was feeling fine.
We were due to meet back at the Dragon hotel for a bus trip up to the Khardungla pass. At 5,359m it is claimed to be the world’s highest motorable pass and spending an hour or two up there would be an important part of our acclimatisation process. Unfortunately for Jay he was in no condition to go anywhere especially not to an extreme environment at high altitude. He was stuck in his bed at The Wang Residence. He was trying to stay hydrated by drinking electrolytes and water but he was vomiting so much that it was literally coming straight back up again. I was concerned about him when we left because he looked terrible. His skin was a grey colour and he was so miserable. We had to wait for about half an hour before the buses left and I nearly went back to check on him but I didn’t.
While we were waiting on the buses, Simon, one of the media guys, came on and said there was space in one of the Isuzu jeeps for 3 people. Naturally Team Adventure Life jumped at this opportunity and that was how we found ourselves travelling up to Khardung La pass in our own jeep. It made for a much more comfortable journey and our Indian drivers were very entertaining. The road up is narrow and steep so although it’s not that far (39km) it takes a couple of hours to drive.
The road to Khardung La
Photo: Zane Schmahl
At the top:
Photo: Kirsten Roberts
When we got to the top we wrapped up warmly and headed out for some photos and some jumping jacks to elevate the heart rate.
Photo: Kirsten Roberts
We were supposed to stay up here for a couple of hours but after 45 min the race doctor said we must go back down as a number of people were getting symptoms of altitude sickness. Because the air is ‘thinner’ at high altitudes, your body cannot get as much oxygen as it needs so the only cure for altitude sickness is a drop in elevation.
When we returned to the hotel we were surprised to find Jay missing from his room. The door was locked but Mike climbed in the bathroom window and Jay definitely wasn’t there! We were due to start marking up the maps so initially we thought maybe Jay was feeling better and that he had headed down to start the map marking on his own. But when we returned to the Dragon Hotel Jay wasn’t there and neither were the maps. Eventually we found Heidi who told us that Jay had been taken to Leh hospital!!! Apparently Jay felt so bad about an hour after we left on the buses that he managed to stumble down the road to the Dragon hotel where he presented himself to reception, demanding a doctor. He was nearly collapsing at this stage and Heidi and Shaukat took him immediately to the hospital. Unfortunately when he got into the hospital there was a mixup in communications and he ended up in the surgery ward which is where I think Jay saw the blood and teeth on the floor!
Jay in hospital with Heidi
If Jay’s engineering career ever goes bust, I’m sure he’ll always find work as an actor because that is such a fake smile!!! I left Mike and Zane at the Dragon hotel marking up the maps which they had located back at the hotel and Shaukat took me to the hospital to see Jay. When I got there he was on his third half litre drip bag and his mood was alternating between hysteria and manic depression. He was convinced he was after contracting every infectious disease going from Hepatitis to Zika virus and that an air embolism was currently tracking towards his heart to block a coronary artery. This had me way out of my comfort zone. I do not do sympathy and compassion but thankfully I do have a medical background so I was able to offer some reassurance of some sort. The last drip was half way through and Jay decided he needed to defecate. In an ordinary world this is not a problem but this is India and the bathroom is a hole in the ground with no toilet paper. And Jay had diarrhoea. There was a moment when it looked like I would have to sacrifice my buff but Jay selflessly decided to use his underpants as toilet paper instead!
When we finally got back to our hotel, Mike and Zane had been busy marking up the maps and packing up our gear for the departure to the camp out in the morning
Packing up the bike boxes with pizza for fuel!
Sunday, September 17th
Camp out Nubra valley
Jay was feeling much better this morning so it was with much lighter hearts that we loaded the bike boxes into the lorries and our bags into buses for the 5 hour journey to Nubra valley. We stopped for the many customary pee breaks and at the top of the pass to allow for some more acclimatisation.
View across the pass
Photo: Zane Schmahl
Hambotingla Pass near Kargil (4024m)
The team was in good spirits and even took part in a good natured snowball fight. When we arrived at the campsite we saw to our delight that Rimo Expeditions had done a fantastic job with dozens of bright orange tents for us to call our home. After we had had something to eat Mike was the only one who felt like travelling down to the river to investigate the rafts. Jay was tired from yesterday’s ordeals, I had tummy trouble and Zane worryingly was starting to develop a chest infection.
The camp at nightfall:
Photo: Terence Vrugtman
Monday, September 18th
Leg 3: 75k rafting
Leg 4: 42k bike
Monday morning dawned bright and clear. Jay was good. Mike was good. My tummy was a bit dodgy and I still had mild diarrhoea but I was good. Zane was not good. His chest infection was worse and he was coughing like someone with the plague. We put on wetsuits ( I also had a base layer and my cag jacket on) and made our way down to the start. All the teams lined up beside the flags and Stephan got us to stand for a moment and just take in our surroundings before the race started with a 75k paddle down the Shyok river. When it was our time to go, we ran down the short hill, hobbled over the rocks until we reached our boat, turned the boat onto the water and jumped on.
Photo: Kirsten Roberts
Photo: Kirsten Roberts
The first 30k was super fun. The water was flowing quickly and there was loads of rapids to keep us entertained. Zane was managing the paddling and we were flying along. After about 3 hours though Zane started to feel chilled and lethargic and we decided it would be better if he rested in the boat while the other three paddled. This was working fine until we reached a large rapid going under a suspension bridge where all the media were stationed and Zane had to jump into action to keep the boat steady. Soon after this the water flow slowed considerably and it was harder to pick the right channel. With Zane resting in the front of the boat, we were soon relegated to last position but it was a small price to pay as our main consideration was to keep Zane in the race for as long as possible. This was actually one of my favourite boat legs in an adventure race. It was such an amazing place to be, nestled among the mountains with the sun beating down on us and the raft was super comfortable. A far cry from our torturous kayak across the atlantic in gale force winds and 4ft swell during Itera!!
The Shyok River winding it’s way through the Nubra valley:
Photo: Terence Vrugtman
Photo: Kirsten Roberts
When we reached the end of the kayak, there was a small group of race organisers to greet us and direct us towards the bike transition. Zane was still feeling rotten and it took us a while to get our bikes organised. Our bikes were cool. They all had prayer flags that we had bought in Leh on the handlebars.
As we were leaving to start out on the bike leg, the lead team Skylotec came flying in on their bikes. They told us it was an easy leg and it had taken them maybe an hour and a half.
We had to cycle about 500m across rocks and up a slight hill before we reached the tarmac road. Zane was wrecked after this and needed to stop for several minutes to recover. A portent of what was to come! Even the slightest climb sent his heart rate rocketing. The only way we were going to progress was if Jay towed him. I believe this was the first time that Zane has ever been towed in a race!!
Even though he was being towed Zane was still finding the bike tough and at one stage we had pulled over off the road because Zane was despairing that he wouldn’t be able to finish when Terence and Kirsten passed us in the media jeep. Zane was hoping he could get a lift back to transition with them but Terence was having none of it. The media are invisible! We were going to have to tough it out ourselves! They did agree however to alert the medical staff so they could be on standby.
Zane in trouble on the bike leg
Photo: Kirsten Roberts
We eventually got to the first bike CP and the turnaround point while it was still daylight. Zane was just about managing on the tow but we were travelling at a very sedate pace.
Collecting the bike cp
Photo: Zane Schmahl
We collected the second CP with no more problems and then it was a straight ride back to transition. When we arrived back Zane was not in a good place and was taken immediately to the ambulance. The doctor said he had a chest infection and gave him antibiotics and painkillers and a banana which he promptly puked straight back up.
Zane in the ambulance
Photo: Terence Vrugtman
On the bike back, Zane was adamant that he was in no fit state to continue the race and we had decided, as a team, that he should pull out and Mike, Jay and I would continue as soon as we had transitioned with the next leg which was the 53k trek. However, when we reached transition there was a lot of media and race personnel who were pushing for us to sleep until morning so that Zane could recover and go with us. We eventually agreed to do this. It’s hard to say definitively if this was the right call or the wrong call but it’s what happened. We slept until 4 a.m. in two tents which had been vacated by the media.
Tuesday, September 19th
Leg 5: 53k trek
Leg 6: 120k bike
When we woke Zane seemed to have improved slightly and was happy to accompany us on the trek so we set off with two volunteers who were coming with us to collect the CP. It was another beautiful morning and the hike, from what I can remember, was really enjoyable. Once we had collected the CP at the river intersection the volunteers left us and we climbed higher out of the valley. Zane was finding the uphill parts difficult and consequently our pace was relatively slow. Our route was following the Shyok river back along the valley which we had rafted yesterday.
Jay on the hike back along the Shyok river valley
Photo: Zane Schmahl
We tried to stay as low as we could but in some cases this wasn’t possible and Zane needed to rest for several minutes in places. Once the sun had risen fully there was very little shelter to be had and the intense UV rays, added to the altitude (we were climbing to over 4000m) made this quite a difficult section.
The sun beats down on us:
Photo: Zane Schmahl
My favourite part of this hike was a section where we had to criss-cross through the river to avoid climbing high in the mountains followed by a tough scramble across the cliff face. The glacier water was so cool and refreshing.
The last three or maybe four hours was a real struggle for Zane. He needed to stop frequently for long rests to recharge himself. And he looked sick. He had the same grey tinge to his skin that Jay had before he went to hospital. When we were discussing the race at the finish, Zane said that getting through this leg was the toughest thing he’s had to do in a race.
Our route was taking us around a cliff face and we seemed to have been looking at the same cliff for hours and hours without it getting any nearer. We continued to plod on tenaciously and eventually rounded the cliff and made our way by road for the last 15km to transition. We were coming into a little village when Stephan drew up in front of us in his Isuzu. He asked us how we were, gave a dismissive shrug of his shoulders and told us to get in the back of the bakkie (South African word for pick up truck). In spite of the fact that Zane was like a dead man walking, we didn’t want to be short coursed but our attempts to convey this to Stephan met with only one response. “Get in the back of the bakkie”.
Stephan said that we needed to leave a.s.a.p on the bike leg if we were going to have enough time to get to basecamp and he had already picked up a few other teams at this point and that it was simply 15 km on tarmac roads so there was no challenge to it! Driving back to transition was somewhat of an anti-climax but it turned out to be quite a long way so we ended up being quite thankful of the lift!
It was late in the evening when we reached TA and the dusk was beginning to settle but there was no time to dilly dally as the organisers were waiting for us so they could move our bike boxes to the next transition. We quickly made up some dehydrated meals, filled our water bottles and reassembled our bikes for the next leg. Zane helped with the bikes which made us a bit quicker and then we said our goodbyes and Mike, Jay and I rode out on the next leg while Zane got some much needed rest and recovery.
Wednesday, September 20th
Leg 6: 120k bike cntd
Leg 7: Trek to homestay ~ 7hrs
Leg 8: Trek to basecamp
When we left transition, we were shortly followed by the Isuzu jeeps of the race organisers. Some of them were heading to the next transition and Stephan was following us to collect the two bike controls after we had passed through. Once we were certain we were on the right road the bike was pretty straight forward. I think both CPs were on bridges and the second one was before the last military post before you enter Pakistan. It was 20 km from Pakistan and 40 km from the second highest mountain in the world, K2. After taking our CP photograph we crossed over the bridge. The soldiers must have been asleep or just not bothered and we began the last 90 km on mostly tarred roads.
There were no big hills to climb, just lots of little undulations and plenty of lekker downhills. It was a long ride though and after about 3 a.m, I started to get really sleepy. I was drafting off Mike’s back wheel and Jay was keeping an eye on me behind and we were tipping along at a good old pace but it was really hard to keep my eyes open. I also had some kind of heartburn or indigestion and my throat was sore but as long as I kept sipping water it didn’t get any worse. We stopped for a ten minute nap around 4 a.m but it didn’t do much to revive me.
Transition was at an eco village and the last km up the narrow roads was really hard for me. Kristen and Zane and some of the organisers were there to meet us when we got off the bikes. My eyes had completely glassed over and I was finding it difficult to focus so there was no arguments from me when I was instructed to leave my bike with Zane and head off for a shower and some sleep.
We had a lovely shower in Kirstens room and slept for a couple of hours and we also got breakfast (scrambled eggs and toast). Stephan was keen for us to start on the next trek immediately so that we would have enough time to summit. He was following the other teams on the tracker and had a good idea of how long it would take us. We reckoned about 7 or 8 hours to get up to the homestay @ about 4000m which was our intermediate goal and then another 8 – 10 to get to base camp @ 5000m and then 12 – 14 to summit @ 5600m and descend.
First things first, we needed to get to the homestay. We set off just after midday from transition. The sun was beating down and it was super warm but Stephan said we would get a good bit of shade from the cliff face on the trek. The first part of this leg was a camel safari so we walked to the top of the road and waited for a few minutes before our camels arrived. The Bactrian camels are native to central Asia. They have two humps to store food and water and they’re not very friendly. They’re mostly domesticated and the ones that we were to ride on had nose rings and a put upon expression. Safe to say they were not in love with life. They had to lie down for us to get on and off and their knees and hocks were badly scuffed from lying on the rocks. I didn’t mind being on them but the boys found it a bit more uncomfortable especially with our loaded backpacks.
Mike making friends with his camel
2 km up into the canyon we were deposited from the camels and left to our own devices. We were quite high up and the air was thin. The canyon was fantastic with a large river flowing vigorously through the middle of it and high cliffs to either side. Such a fantastic place for a hike.
I can’t remember when we first noticed that Mike wasn’t feeling well. We were all short of breath and my throat was still sore but Mike seemed to be suffering a lot more. We thought maybe he’d picked up Zane’s chest infection. He was only able to move very slowly and he needed to stop several times on the way up for 10 minute naps. I was setting the pace and trying to keep it nice and steady by counting in my head.
We stopped for a breather before we crossed over the river about 4 km from the homestay. Mike was sitting on the ground, Jay was facing uphill and I was facing downhill so I saw the Indian lady as she came around the corner but the others didn’t. She gave a cheery hello to us and Jay nearly jumped 2 foot up in the air with the fright. It was very funny. She wanted us to follow her but she was booting along at a good clip and after a minute or so I had to tell her that we were happier on our own going at a more pedestrian pace!!
As we neared more habitual areas, there was a well built wall fencing off some farmland and we passed some villagers who were grinding wheat. They were very friendly and we exchanged lots of “Juley” meaning Hello in Ladakhi. It was about half six when we first made out the yellow brickwork of the homestay. Mike was suffering a lot by now and the last climb seemed to last forever so it was a pleasure to see the Expedition India flag and be greeted by the volunteers as we climbed up the stone steps, took off our shoes at the front door, laid down our heavy rucksacks and trekking poles and entered the warm, hospitable environment of the homestay. Heidi had asked us to bring some toys for the little boy who lived here and as we handed over the colouring pens and books and the toy car his little face lit up like it was christmas!
Photo: Terence Vrugtman
The medic was waiting for us to check our blood oxygen saturation with a pulse oximeter. The human body requires and regulates a very precise and specific balance of oxygen in the blood and measuring the oxygen saturation is a quick and effective way to diagnose how well you are coping with altitude. At sea level normal levels are between 95 – 100%. Levels below 80% may compromise organs such as the brain and heart and action needs to be taken as continued low levels may lead to respiratory or cardiac arrest. Mike’s oxygen saturation was 70% so he was immediately given supplemental oxygen and told that his race was over. He stayed on the oxygen for 20 minutes and he looked a lot brighter when he was done. Stephan told Jay and I that we should have turned back when Mike started feeling sick. That made us feel a bit guilty but we honestly didn’t think he had altitude sickness and by the time he got really bad, it was quicker to continue to the homestay than to attempt the descent.
My oxygen saturation was 85% and Jay’s was 89% so Stephan said we were allowed to continue to the basecamp as long as we agreed that if either of us felt nauseous on the way up we were to turn around. The Swedish team Skylotec had already needed a helicopter evacuation from the mountain and Stephan was not too keen on having to do another. If we got a slight headache we could counteract that by drinking more but the only cure for nausea, which is a sure sign of mountain sickness, is to drop elevation.
Before we tackled the journey to basecamp we filled up on some delicious homemade noodle soup with plenty of tea and water. We also decided to sleep for a couple of hours to try and ensure that we were as rested as possible. While we were sleeping, Mike was being towed back down the mountain by Stephan to where the bus was waiting to take him back to Leh.
When we woke just before 11pm we both felt good and excited about the task ahead. We said goodbye to our hosts and headed out into the cool night air. The stars were twinkling overhead but the moon was nowhere to be seen so we were reliant on our headtorches for visibility. And I had packed the one that had no batteries into my rucksack at the last bike transition. Fortunately Jay had a spare one that I was able to use.
We hiked up over lots of farmland before meeting a branching river which divided the valley. Jay was leading. He has much longer legs than me so I had to keep reminding him to slow down the pace. We crossed the river several times trying to find the best path. Not easy in the dark. As we got higher and higher it was more difficult to keep on the right path. And we were climbing all the time.
We must have had about four and a half hours done and we were at 4500m when I noticed Jay was becoming slightly disorientated and he started complaining about feeling dizzy. I wanted to stop, pitch the tent and wait until dawn when I thought it would be easier to see where we were going. Jay didn’t seem too enamoured with this idea and as we were on a rocky outcrop we continued onwards. Less than ten minutes later Jay felt nauseous and we made the call to turn back. It was an easy enough decision at the time. Jay had been really sick with mountain sickness on the prologue and he didn’t want to reach a stage where he was feeling terrible and couldn’t get off the mountain. My throat was still sore and I didn’t feel anyway nauseous but I don’t navigate and I did not want to be responsible for Jay feeling sick and being stuck on the mountain.
It took us an hour and a half to descend. We managed to find a much better path than on the way up so it was slightly easier. Jay was still quite disorientated so I was trying to choose the route as well as I could with his help. When we reached the village we had a bit of trouble finding the right path to the homestay but we got there in the end. We had to wake up our host by knocking on the window. Thankfully he was a light sleeper and even in the early hours of the morning having been woken from his slumbers, he still managed to be friendly and welcoming. Jay was feeling bad and he had developed a headache so I woke one of the volunteers who gave him oxygen. He started to improve after an hour or so and we were able to settle down for some sleep.
Thursday, September 21st
Trek to basecamp cntd ~ 5.5hrs
Bus to Leh over Kardung La pass
We slept until 10 a.m, when we were roused by Stephan who was ready to take us to the buses. While we were sleeping another team, Addicted to Adventure, had had to turn back before they reached basecamp and they were waiting to go too. They had had an eventful time with one of their team members needing CPR for nearly an hour before she was able to descend.
We said another goodbye to our hosts and hiked about 4 km down the valley. It was a lot easier going down than up but Stephan moves at a really fast pace and I empathised for how Mike must have felt the previous night! The last bit was a steep climb up to the buses and it really taxed both my legs and lungs.
It was a sorry group of adventure racers who loaded onto the bus for the 5 hour journey back to Leh! As the bus climbed out of the valley we saw 5 antelopes in the distance. They were perched on a sheer rock face and as if to emphasize the limitations of the human body to us, they were moving at ease up and down the vertical cliff!
The route back included the Khardung La pass which was good for Jay who missed out on going there when he was in hospital but not so good for all those with altitude sickness as we would be heading back up above 5000m. Not helped by the fact that when we were nearly at the top the bus had to stop for road repairs for about twenty minutes. I noticed the altitude was making my face tingle and my tummy didn’t feel so good so I was happy when we reached the tar roads and could descend quickly.
The bus stopped in the middle of Leh and we all got out. We hoisted our backpacks onto our backs and walked the short distance to collect the final CP. From here we turned the corner and ran the short distance to the finishing chute on the main street. There was loads of supporters and cheering as we ran under the arch to complete our journey. Kirsten was one of the first people we saw and she told us that Mike and Zane were on their way with their race bibs for an Adventure Life reunion …..
Photo: Kirsten Roberts
Photo: Kirsten Roberts
Photo: Kirsten Roberts
Team Adventure Life reunited
Photo: Kirsten Roberts
Photo: Kirsten Roberts
I love adventure racing. I get to meet the most amazing people and do the most amazing things. It’s such an awesome experience and I go away from every race with a new (and improved) outlook on life.
Some people live their whole life and never see even a fraction of the places that I have seen. Visiting places like India makes me realise what a privileged life I lead and how lucky I am to be fit and healthy and in a position to do the things I do.
To my Adventure Life teammates, thanks so much for letting me be a part of your team. I had so much fun with you guys. You all helped to make my Expedition India an unforgettable experience!