Trek to Adventure
In order to acclimatise properly to the high altitude the race is preceded by a 16 day trek from either the road head at Jiri (1905m), or from lower down at Tumlingtar (457m) and then up to the Everest region. This also allows time for high altitude training under medical supervision. The race starts at Gorak Shep (5184m) just below Everest base camp, and finishes in the sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar (3446m). Although the course is basically downhill, there are two steep uphill sections and there is likely to be snow on the upper part. The trails seem quite good to those used to mountain or fell running but there are additional hazards by way of narrow suspension bridges and yak trains.
With all this in mind, Laurie Anderson (Glenrothes) and myself decided to go for it, and sent our entry forms away at the beginning of the year (2000). Having our entries accepted and confirmed by March, it was then a case of staying fit and injury free until we fly out to Nepal at the beginning of November.
The preceding months soon passed by and then here we where, Heathrow Airport, 5th November at the check-in counter, getting ready for our flight to Kathmandu and introducing ourselves to most of the other runners, organisers and medical staff.
The total flying time out to Nepal from London is about 13 hours with a stop over/flight change at Doha (Qatar), and with the time zone being 5.5 hours ahead of UK time in Nepal, you will probably be up for over 24 hours before arriving in Kathmandu.
The Hotel Shankar (4 star) near the tourist district of Thamel is where we stayed while in Kathmandu, and what a wonderful choice. It was, originally, a palace from way back in colonial days, this majestic building was still in the same glorious grandeur as back in the eighteen hundreds.
We spent two days at the Shankar before moving out to our various starting points to start trekking up to the high Himalayas, but before that a 15km fancy dress/fun run was arranged for everyone in the groups.
The Himalayas viewpoint at Nagarkot would be the starting point with the run, all downhill on roads, but unfortunately only three of us bothered to run in fancy dress out of about seventy that entered.
Laurie Anderson as 'Nessie', with his Nessie hat/tail plus tartan trousers, Shaun Davidson (Penicuik) and myself both had 'Jimmy' wigs and tartan shorts, and needless to say, we all encountered plenty of cheering and laughter all the way down the course to the finish.
Having been divided early on into three trekking groups, Arun Birds, Early Birds and Late Birds, our own group, Arun Birds, moved out the following day with a forty minute flight down to Tumlingtar (457m) which is to the south east of Kathmandu. The other two groups would move out two days later and be bused up north to the road head at Jiri (1905m) for the start of their trek.
The three groups would all come together at Namche Bazaar (3446m) in about sixteen days and proceed as one up to the race start at Gorak Shep (5184m).
Tumlingtar itself is a small village, which sits on a plateau on the east bank of the Arun Khola. The Arun rises in Tibet and eventually flows into the Sun Kosi. At this point it is a wide blue-grey river flowing slowly between white sandy bank, composed mainly of glistening fragments of mica (a mineral substance).
The trail north passes through numerous villages full of enormous crops grown in these tropical conditions before reaching the old ferry at Satigat. The trail remains closer to the river bank before the wide span of the new Kartikeghat bridge (366m) comes into sight, about four hours from Tumlingtar. After crossing the bridge to the west bank, we crossed the Chikhuwa Khola and climbed steeply up to Nepaldanda (914) walking along banks of rich paddy fields. You can look down the mighty Arun valley and may see Makalu and Chamlang to the north.
The first two days of this trek are at altitudes lower than Kathmandu, and the climate is tropical very hot.
We quickly fell into an easy going routine. At 06.00 a mug of tea (bed tea) was thrust through the tent flaps, it took some time to get used to this strange, weak black brew. Tents were coming down before we sat down to breakfast (07.00) of cereal or porridge, eggs, toast, chapattis, or puris with butter, jam, honey and peanut butter.
We had a large mess tent with a long table and stools, the porters used to sleep in there but this was taken down before breakfast so as the porters who carry the tents, kit bags etc, could get away for that days trek.
Each day our trek would take us over high passes, but always camped for the night at a lower altitude than the maximum high that day. Our route would take us in a westerly direction at first, passing through Gote Bazaar (700m) and Slapa Phedi (1493m) before heading in a North - Westerly direction. This had an immediate effect on our rate of climb from Slapa Phedi up to Saalpa Bhanjyang (3349m) then down to Sanam (2600m).
A cooking team would set off before us each day so that by the time we reached the lunch spot (about midday) tea or hot lemon was ready and lunch followed shortly after. Everyday the cooks produced a hot meal with a variety of vegetables followed by tinned fruit or pudding. Lunch was the time to sort out sore feet, re-apply the sun cream, take candid camera type shots of unsuspecting companions and write up diaries. It was best to take a long break when the sun was at its hottest.
Our route passed through two more sherpa villages called Sorung (2600m) and Limsolar (2469m) before emerging onto a shoulder overlooking the valley of the Hongu Khola. From here, you look across the exceptionally steep valley to Bung (1600m), which is reached by descending steeply towards the river through paddy fields, and reach a high suspension bridge beside a spectacular waterfall.
The walking was pleasant if at times the hills seemed very steep. There was always something new to see, a different view, an interesting village, the daily life of the farms, the curious children, strange trees, plants and birds, and nearly always the beautiful snow-capped mountains in the distance. Each daily stage was determined by the distance that a fully - laden porter could walk, a distance that we could easily manage carrying just a day pack. Nevertheless, the trail went up and down hill with astonishing regularity, some of the trails were very narrow and steep and littered with huge boulders. Shortly after Bung (1600m) we enter the Makalu Barum Conservation Area, were all trekkers must sign in at the local police post. It is also here that you enter the Solu Khumbe region.
Still heading in a North - Westerly direction our route would take us through villages and fields to Kiraunle (2400m) with its ruined houses and poor farms. The trail rounds the hillside and climbs through ancient forests to a final steep section that leads to the narrow cleft of Surkie La (3085m). The decent down from here to the Inkhu Khola (1890m) is very steep and loose, but once down and crossing the suspension bridge to the far side a spectacular waterfall comes into view. On both sides of the river the trail is steep and exposed. From here a very steep climb up a ridge beckons, that leads onto Pangkongma La (3173m) which brings you to a tributary valley of the Dudh Kosi and with views of the snow-capped peaks to the west. In the afternoon we would reach camp at about 16.00 or 17.00. Sometimes the tents were already up but quite often the porters straggled in after us. That didn't matter as tea was already brewing. As soon as our kit bags arrived, out came the clean clothes, lines were strung between the tent poles and the camp was soon festooned with socks, shirts and underwear washed in a nearby stream. Usually we camped near a village where it was often possible to sit around boosting the local economy by drinking the expensive bottled lager.
Dinner was served at about 19.00 when it was already dark (candle lit) but cosy inside our mess tent. Camp- made soup was followed by a main course with plenty of vegetables, rice, pasta or potatoes. Dahl Baat was one of our favourite requests, which is a type of lentil (pulses) sauce that is poured over rice/pasta. Yak curry was also one to get a loud cheer from the famished. Puddings were glorious, and any event was an excuse to make an enormous steamed pudding cake (chocolate).
After dinner we got down to the serious business of the day: mind games, cabaret acts of any description which often included bringing the porters and sherpas in to do their traditional stuff.
This was a new occupation for our two Europeans, Paul Gut from Switzerland and Georg Tangener from Austria, who both quickly became addicted. The camaraderie between all the Arun Birds, which included 16 trekkers, 16 porters and 6 sherpas was immense, and everyone helped each other were possible whether mental or physical.
Shortly after leaving Pangkongma La the trail descends to Pangu (2846m) then heads north climbing up to Khari La (3081m), on a spur of the Karta Danda ridge. Once over the ridge and descending down to the Poiyan Khola, we meet up with the main trail that comes up from Jiri. That overall feeling of isolation and remoteness comes to an abrupt end once on the main trails.
Most of Nepal's commodities are moved around the regions by yak, are on porters backs, and this in turn creates a great deal of erosion and subsidence. Needless to say, these trails are very dusty and are also populated with tourist/trekkers, and are a complete shock to the system after eight days or so of trekking in a tranquil and unpopulated area that we have just emerged from.
After passing Poiyan (2976m), we cross the Chutok La into the next tributary valley and descend steeply to Surkhe (2293m) were Lukla (2866m) and its hillside landing strip towers above.
From shortly after seven in the morning till the back of midday, this landing strip is a constant buzz of activity with planes flying in from and to Kathmandu almost continuously.
After 13.00 the wind start to increase and flying ceases until the following morning. Anybody that go into the high Himalayas, for either trekking our mountaineering, without the laborious treks up from low altitudes, will have to fly in to Lukla and then acclimatise over a few days before moving up to higher regions.
From Surkhe (2293m) its only a day and a half trek up to Namche Bazaar (3446m) criss-crossing the Dudh Kosi most of the way. At one place Phakding (2652m), you cross the river to the west bank and walk through blue pine and rhododendron forest as the valley narrows to a steep sided gorge. When you cross the river again at Chumowa (2835m) there are extensive vegetable farms in the area. Once you reach Monzo (2920m) you descend down to the entrance of the Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park where you must sign in and, if you are carrying a video camera, pay the $100 film permit fee. Still following the Dudh Kosi, and shortly after Jorsale the path then climbs up to a new bridge over the river and from here it is a very steep climb to Namche Bazaar. Shortly above the bridge it is possible to get a view of Everest peeping over the Lhoste-Nupste ridge. Loathe it or love it, Namche Bazaar is the administrative centre of the Khumbu region; there are many government offices and a police station where you must sign in. There is a bank (which will change cash and travellers cheques but does not accept credit cards) and a post office (which sometimes runs out of stamps). The town used to be a trading centre where grain from the south was exchanged for salt and wool from Tibet. There is still some illegal trade and you are likely to see piratical Tibetan traders on the streets with their sheepskin suits; felt boots; pigtails and business - like knives. You may also see small groups of Tibetan refugees on their way south to Nepalese refugee camps, some try to sell their few possessions to the tourists.
Nowadays Namche thrives on the trekking and expedition trade. Equipment can be hired and old expedition food can be bought in shops as well as a variety of Tibetan and Sherpa souvenirs and trinkets. On Saturdays there is a colourful market to which hundreds of porters flock with an amazing variety of goods which are eagerly bought by the local people. Overall, it is a vibrant and colourful town, where I personally enjoyed my experiences.
Everybody will spend two nights before and after the race in Namche. As there are quite a number of lodges around the town, we decided to sleep and eat in these instead of the tents. Our lodge, The Tamaserku, was rum by a local woman, who had climbed and reached the summit of Mt Everest last May (2000), to become only the third Nepalese woman to do so and only the twenty third in the world.
Up on the hill above Namche at Chorkhung, above the police station and army base, is the National Museum. On the way you will pass the dental clinic, built jointly by the American Himalayan foundation and the Everest Marathon fund and staffed by Canadian trained Sherpas. There is a second museum and photo gallery at the conference centre at Chorkhung.
Chorkhung is the best place to start a circular walk to Khunde (3833m) and Khumjung (3790m). The Himalayan Trust (founded by Sir Edmund Hillary) runs as small hospital at Khunde. Khumjung is also famous for having the highest bakery in the world. From Khumjung you can return via the posh Everest View Hotel, where the restaurant serves good food with a fantastic panoramic view along the Bhohi Kosi valley. If the weather is clear you also get an unobstructed view of Everest.
After our short stay in Namche Bazaar (3446m) its back to business trekking up to Gorak Shep (5184m) over the route that we will race down in a few days time. Although the distance up to Gorak is 20 miles or so, we must still do this in stages as we will have to gain 1738m of altitude. It is also important for the runners to pay attention to the course landmarks to aid navigation during the race and the positions of medical/refreshment posts.
The trail now runs in a north easterly direction, following the Dudh Kosi and passing through Sarnassa (3597m) before descending steeply to the Dudh Kosi valley, then crossing the river by a long suspension bridge to Phunki Tenga (3247m). Here there is a row of water driven prayer wheels in small stone huts. It is a very step climb up to Tengboche (3867m) through a remarkable forest of blue pine, fir, black juniper, rhododendron and berberis.
In reverse, this is the most challenging part of the race course. The descent from Tengboche to Phunki Tenga is steep and loose; the ascent up to Sarnassa from Phunki Tenga is gruelling. Tengboche monastery is situated on a plateau with spectacular views North - West up the Gokyo valley and North - East to Ama Dablan (6812m). The monastery is not particularly old but is the centre of Tibetan Lamaism in the area and for the whole of Nepal. The main monastery buildings were destroyed by fire in January 1989 due to a fault in the wiring (not Brand-Rex cable) of the newly installed electricity supply.
The monastery has now been rebuilt in a more lavish style, partly due to generous donations from abroad. The abbot, Rimpache (reincarnated) Nawang Tengen Jango, used to be the abbot at Rongbuk monastery in Tibet on the north side of Everest. As monks are no longer able to go to Ronguk for training since the Chinese invasion of Tibet, Tengboche has become an important training centre. Our route now follows the Imja Khala, still heading north easterly and passing through Deboche (3757m), which has a nunnery, before descending down to the Imja Khala which is crossed by yet another rickety suspension bridge.
In Nepal, there is literally no where on can go without coming across prayer flags, mani walls/stones gompas, prayer wheels and stupas, all associated with the Buddhist religion. At Pangache (3901m) it has one of the oldest Gompas (monastery) built over 300 years ago and used to have some Yeti relics but they were stolen recently.
After crossing a small plateau we approach the confluence of two rivers, the Imja Khola goes to the right which leads to Dingboche(4260m) the left fork goes to Pheriche (4252m) along the Khumbu Khola which flows down from the Khumbu glacier. There is a trekkers medical aid post run by the Himalayan Rescue Association and staffed by western doctors who give lectures about altitude sickness. It is also the highest point that any rescue helicopter can go. Therefore it is worth remembering that anyone who succumbs to A.M.S. (acute mountain sickness) above Pheriche, must be brought down by whatever means possible, probably on a porters back to Pheriche before being flown to hospital. Many people have a headache above 3500m, lose their appetite, sleep badly and get puffy eyes and fingers; this is usual but should not be ignored. The best description of early altitude sickness is a massive hangover. Sometimes called "Mountaineers Foot"; reluctance to put one foot in front of the other, this lassitude and lack of motivation is typical and may be the only symptoms.
Heading North up to Duglha (4593m) at the foot of the Khumbu Glacier we encounter one of the most mystical experiences of the whole trek.
Slightly above Duglha on a small plateau just on the edge of the Khumbu Glacier (the Khumbu starts at the foot of Everest), there is an awesome sight that transfixes everyone. As far as the eyes can see across this small plateau there are small and large memorial stacks built with local stones, each representing a life lost on Everest.
As you sit or move within this shrine, you feel a deathly/spiritual presence within the silence that surrounds you.
In fact, since entering the high Himalyas above Namcha Bazaar, you are awed by the grandiose of the mountain towering high above you. Compared to the tropical region of Nepal, this is a very barren and inhospitable place where temperatures drop below -20/-30 C every night.
The path follows the glacier up to Lobuche (4930m) where we will spend two nights here to further assist acclimatisation. The only way the porters could secure the tents to the ground would be by loose stones collected from the edge of the glacier. With ground being rock solid with the cold/ice all available clothing not being used would be placed out under your sleeping bag to give a little more insulation. Most of us at high altitude would already be spending our nights with two to three layers of clothing on, plus laying in a thermal liner inside your sleeping bag. As was predicted at high altitude, it is very cold. Inside our doctors tent they recorded -20C and it was well below -25C outside. Though the conditions in the tent were predominantly dry, the mere exhalation of breath would leave a layer of moisture over the top of the sleeping bags, which would freeze and provide no protection against the cold. Even meal times in the mess tent would be exhilarating and also tedious, as we would be wearing three maybe four layers of clothing, plus a fleece and a down jacket on top. Our resemblance was not unlike Eddie Murphy in Nutty Professor.
By contrast the days were magnificent, clear skis and brilliant sunshine. But at altitude, with much less atmosphere to filter the suns rays, factor -20/-30 was the order of the day on any exposed skin. Still it was not unusual for the midday temperature to be around +30C.
The day before the race we moved camp up to Gorak Shep. Before leaving Lobuche all runners must have a stringent medical check. If you have not acclimatised sufficiently, or are suffering from some other ailment, or the doctors consider that you are not fit enough to complete the race there is no point in continuing to Gorak Shep. Depending on your condition, it may be possible to start your race from Lobuche. What most of us were getting excited about in reaching Gorak Shep (5184m), is the chance to go up Kala Pattar (5623m), which looks like an insignificant hill below the much higher Pumori (7145m). From the summit of Kala Pattar, you can see the south col and the huge west and south faces of Everest (8848m). The views are much better from here than from the base camp below the Khumbu ice fall, plus you get magnificent views of Lhotse (8501m) and Nuptse (7879m).
Another interesting trip (if time allows) is to the "Singing Lake". Descend to Duglha and cross the Khumbu Khola into the valley of the Chola Khola. Follow the trail on the north side of the valley up to the Tshola Tsho Lake. Under certain conditions when the lake is frozen, the wind whistles under the ice, which vibrates, thus giving rise to the name "Singing Lake".
The main difference between this event and others is not the taking part that matters, it's the getting to the start line. Anyway, most of us did get to the start. Not surprising really; who was going to give up after coming all this way and all those critics back home to answer to.
We lost three runners out of our group (Arun Birds) through a mild form of altitude sickness, one of them being our trek leader who has been here and done the race on three previous occasions. No matter how fit you are, or how many times you have been at altitude this problem is indiscriminate. The three athletes started the race lower down and all completed the course. Gorak Shep sits in a sandy basin with moraines and the Khumbu Glacier on one side with high mountains all around. It used to be the Everest Base Camp until several years ago, but this has now moved further up to the edge of the West Cum Glacier at 5357m. Two lodges are the only sign of habitation here, but as usual we spent our pre-race night in tents.
Kala Pattar was climbed by most of us the day before the race, but proved to be a tough and tiring ascent although the hill looked so insignificant beside the giants towering above it. Oxygen levels at this height are only about 55% oppose to 100% at sea level. Everest I understand has about 45% Oxygen at the summit, so it's no wonder each step up needed a supreme effort. The rewards at the top were worth all the effort with spectacular views all around with plenty of photographs taken.
Dehydration is another problem at altitude, the air is dry and one breathes even more than usual to compensate for the reduced oxygen with considerable water loss from the lungs. It is necessary to drink at least 5 to 7 litres of water a day. The down side of this of course is that when you get comfortable and cosy in you sleeping bag, nature calls. I personally would be up between 3 to 5 times each night. On the other hand, my tent mate - Laurie Anderson (Glenrothes) - very seldom got up even once.
Race Day Sunday 26th November 2000
At 5 am my sleeping bag is dusted with frost. Lying inside with my walshis (running shoes), Vaseline and strapping tape, I know there will be no more sleep tonight. Off comes the night time thermal clothes and on go the running vest, with number already pinned, more thermals, clean socks and the shoes. It's still warm in the sleeping bag and will be very cold outside. Those not already awake were woken at 6 am. All were served with a welcome cup of bed tea and a bowl of porridge, which is eaten in haste. Although you may not usually eat just before a race, it is sensible to take some food and drink because of the cold. A whistle blast indicates we have 10 more minutes before the start and should report to the starting line. There was no time to think about what lay ahead, a course that had taken us 5 DAYS to walk. It was 7 am "on your Marks…
Get set… GO".
The highest most dangerous marathon in the world was underway, and it was a pleasure to get the legs moving again, all be it at an incredible fast shuffle. The first half mile of the course was uphill, then on to the moraine for the next punishing mile. How quickly the first miles sped by. I would take my eyes from the treacherous footing long enough to glance at the spectacular amphitheatre around us, then be forced to watch the trail again. The sun struck as we crested the last of the loose moraine and descended into the long meadow leading to Lobuche, our first checkpoint and aid post. They would be eight of these check points/aid posts along the route. All manned with helpers and medical staff. With a team of eight there was never more than three miles between doctors. In the event of a serious accident or collapse they cold have been on the spot within an hour (allowing time for the next runner to alert them). Whether this time is critical remains unknown. The doctors also observed the runners as they came through each post and were ready to stop anyone about whom they were concerned.
The second leg took you along the path of a half frozen river and into a vast open valley, concentration was essential as the ground was badly rutted and exceedingly treacherous. Once past Dughla (2nd checkpoint) and down into the level Pheriche valley, the runners had lost a lot of height and could feel the benefit of having more oxygen. Many also removed the warm clothing worn on the higher sections as, once the sun was up, it became very hot.
Those moving slowly enough to enjoy the scenery could look across for the last time to Taboche and Jabu Lhaptshan towering above them. Pheriche home of the HRA (Himalayan Rescue Association) was the site of the 3rd checkpoint and marked the first 9 miles of the race. Time to stock up with fluids.
Leaving Pheriche, we crossed the first of many bridges, the likes of which have to be seen to be believed. After crossing the Khumbu Khola came a short but hard uphill section across a low ridge to get into the valley down to Tengboche. The trail was good even if it did rise and fall almost continuously and the views of Ama Dablam across the valley were magnificent.
Most of the runners found the short climb to Tengboche hard going and took it at a walking pace. It was a good spot to take a break and enjoy the view as well as Martin Rhodes's (our trek doctor) rice pudding (double helping please). To our delight the next section from checkpoint 5 was predominantly down hill, but so much so that a foot not perfectly placed would result at best in a sprain at worst in a break. This was a descent of 620m in less than 2 miles over loose rock and boulders, which were crammed into a narrow winding path. Yak trains were another hazard. These enormous hairy cattle are at least one and a half times the size of their western equivalents. To steer clear was therefore advisable, but it was almost impossible to pass without contact. Apparently yaks think nothing of pushing trekkers off the path, and with thousand feet ravines, passing on the outside was not advisable.
The long bridge at the bottom, crossing the Dudh Kosi, was certainly the place to avoid the impassable yak trains. Then came the fearsome climb up to Sarnassa (checkpoint 6), a climb of 350m in less than a mile. Nobody ran up this and a fast walk was the best anyone could manage. Dehydration was now a serious problem.
Beyond Sarnassa it was an excellent trail which contoured round to Namche Bazaar and the runners could move at a good pace once again. The 20 mile mark was just beyond the tea shop above the town in an area call Chorkhung (checkpoint 7). The distance between Gorak Shep and Namche is 20 miles, which presented a problem for those who measured to course. This meant that a loop of 6 miles and 385 yards had to be added on to make the complete marathon distance. It must have been demoralising for everyone as they pass over Namche, at Cherkhung, looking down onto the finish, knowing that we all had a further 6 miles to cover. Our stamina was severely under question and each step taken away from Namche had to be retraced.
The trail contoured above the town around a shoulder in the hillside and along the valley to the turning point at a mani wall just before Thamo (3446m), (checkpoint 8). The three return miles seemed twice as long and every step forward felt like ten. Once back above Namche the path down into town was all loose boulders and steep uneven steps. Everybody had been shown the route and told to take care, fatigue and all that.
As you wound your way down the narrow rocky path towards the finish you could hear the cheers of the crowd. Running through the town, locals and trekkers lined the streets on both sides clapping and cheering. Even the local children would run along side you clapping and cheering you on for the last 100m or so, until the red and white striped tape of the funnel that symbolised the finish came into sight.
The atmosphere was truly electric as we crossed the line, but feeling more exhausted than after a "normal" marathon, but satisfied to have finished the highest, most dangerous, slowest, most scenic marathon ever run.
It was a magnificent yet ghastly experience, "Never Again" were ones feeling at the time. But distance does give way to enchantment and the pain, the cold, the breathlessness, the enteric upsets, the dust and the non existent sanitation are soon forgotten as one remembers with delight, the fun of fellowship, the sun during the day as one ascended and descended across the contours, the starry sky at night as on emerges from the warmth of a sleeping bag and tent to attend to the clamant demands of nature. One remembers all the endeavour and striving for the joy of completing 26.2 miles of mountain track amid glorious scenery. Later that afternoon, resting in the lodge after a shower and a large portion of chips and eggs. I lay there in my sleeping bag going over the days events and thinking "When I get home I'm going to embrace three things, my wife; clean drinking water straight from the tap and the inside flush loo, but not necessarily in that order".
Beyond the humour of that comment is the truth and the reminder of the poverty. Many of the participants regard the raising of money as the raison d'etre and the justification for the whole adventure. In the end it was well worth it and the real reward was that, thanks to the generosity of many, we would be able to give something in return to those many porters, cooks and sherpas who had enabled us to run the Everest Marathon.
That night, after the race was very tranquil, so our celebrations were put on hold for 24 hours. The following night, while quaffing local chang (beer) in various lodges, we had time to reflect on the magnificent holiday we had had. In 18 days we had trekked some 150 miles from Tumlingtar to the start of the race at Gorak Shep, with a combined total ascent of about 20,000m. At 5543m on Kala Pattar, with its magnificent views of Pumori, Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse, we all probably understood the phrase "I'm sitting on top of the world." The race had actually been the icing on the cake for most of us. Two days after the marathon, we had to trek back down the Dudh Kosi valley and up to the short take-off and landing airstrip at Lukla. This was an unrestricted trek, with a healthy pace that got us down to Lukla in 7 to 8 hours that included a 90 minute lunch break at Phakding (2640m). Having to have all our kit etc, ready for 06.30 the following morning for our flight back to Kathmandu our last night under canvas was a bit of a sombre affair. Maybe we were all glad it was finally coming to an end. But we still had two nights to go in Kathmandu .The first will most probably turn out to be a wild and uproarious party, and the last night is the prize-giving reception. The following morning, watching these planes land and take-off on this very short airstrip with such efficiency and disorder, we regret not going on the rum, chang and rakshi the night before as the resulting hangover would diminish the terror of the take-off and flight back to Kathmandu in a tiny Twin otter.
Anyway, we all made it back to the Hotel Shankar and our first shower for over three weeks was very much enjoyable so was having a decent bed to lay on and sitting up normal for meals. Excursions were arranged to the Hindu temple of Pashupatinath, the Sherpa/Tibetan community at Bodnath and the ancient city of Bhatapur. Most of us were kept busy in the bazaars hunting for souvenirs, commissioning commemorative embroidered T-shirts and buying flamboyant patchwork suits.
The big prize-giving reception was held on our last night and this was attended by a great many Nepalese guests, including the minister of tourism. Cameras flashed merrily away, as each and every one of us had to go forward when our names where called to receive our certificate.
After the ceremony the party became quite lively as food and drink was industriously consumed. The reserve we had shown at the welcome reception had replaced by high spirits, but I am not allowed to reveal what happened at Rumdoodles Bar afterwards.
Back at the hotel later that night, the Arun Birds got together for one last time and sat around in private, with each one of us talking about their most impressive memory of the whole adventure. It was a very poignant experience and a brilliant way to finish the most memorable four weeks.
It sounded as if we were reluctant to leave Kathmandu and Nepal. We had been treated with such wonderful hospitality and we had been impressed by the friendliness shown everywhere in this beautiful country.
The porters also deserve a special mention, many of them carried loads of up to 50 kilos. The pace of trekking is dictated by the distance that a heavily laden porter can cover in one day, a comfortable distance for the Western trekker with his little day pack but a feat of endurance for porters whose living arrangements are much more primitive.
Early the following morning we flew out of Kathmandu arriving in the UK at 18.00 hours returning to normality. (Well as normal as it gets!).
Best wishes for your running in 2001.
Yours in sport