by Ben Haworth
March 22, 2010
MONDAY, 15 MARCH 2010
Yak Attack.. stages 3,4,5.. Catching up
With limited internet access for the last 3 days its not been possible to blog the race as it happened. Today we are in Manang at 3540m, a rest day to acclimatise before the next climb upto 4450m.
The last 3 days have gone like this;
Besi Sahar to Tal, 43km.
This stage started on jeep track from Besi Sahar, with 27km on jeep track then 16km carrying/climbing it didn’t look like a bad day for singlespeeding on paper. The start was fast as usual with the Nepalese guys going off the front, Aussie Phil chasing then me.
The climbs initially were short and sweet but as the stage went on the climbs lengthened and the surface became more and more dusty till eventually i couldn’t get any grip to turn the gear and back to walking.
After about 15km i glanced back to see another rider coming quickly… thinking it was maybe Andreas, a fast swedish rider, i was surprised to see it was Aussie Phil.. apparenly he had taken a wrong turn and was trying to make up lost ground.
As the jeep track seemingly went on for ever the temperature as always was pretty hot until eventually as expected the jeep track ended and the carry/ride section started… this short carry was pretty steep but ended in a water station.
After the water station it was a mix of carry and short riding sections along the side of a cliff.. passing numerous trains of horses.. some going in the same direction which caused delay until a suitable passing point was found.
The trail wound along the base of the cliff until the final carry came into sight…. it looked pretty steep but not so sustained… the carry was slow and steady until Col from Alpkit.com came into view nearing the the top taking pictures..
cresting the climb Tal came into sight.. sitting on a flat wide valley floor just a short ride and carry down to the flat then a short ride saw the end of the stage…
Surprisingly no Andreas at the finish, turns out he Swedish had been playing practical jokes and while the field chased him down Andreas was back riding with the our Rockstar the other Swede Martin, shortly after his lightening start he had found a good hiding place and let the field chase down a ghost 🙂 .
In the evening the skies opened and it rained hard but luckily before going to bed the skies were clear and it looked good again for the next days stage.
Tal to Chame, 23km.
Another lightening quick start from all but unusually quick start from Andreas who was quickly out of sight leaving all chasing as we quickly entered sections of carrying over rocks.
The crux of todays stage would be a lengthy carry through some woods just before the half way point… the carry was very very slow as i tentatively took every step bike perched on my back taking shallow breaths not knowing how long this climb would go on.
Finally the climb ended at a water station and from here on in the rest of the stage should be rideable. It wasn’t long before another push up a dusty climb started but the riding that came after was worth the effort.. the trail was nicely packed and not dusty and very fast.. reminded me of riding through an alpine forest.. getting on top of the gear on my bike on the flat felt great.
The race went through numerous villages with rock paths and steps to negotiate dodging the usual mix of animals and children.
The stage end came pretty quickly as the pace quickened on fast trails, the weather again remained consistent with rain coming a few hours after the finish but relenting before it was time to sleep.
Chame to Manang, 30km.
I think this was my best stage yet.
After the start i was mid pack and stayed up there with the fast guys until the first granny ring climb where i slipped back into my own riding rythmn. The trail wound on the edge of a landslide in places and demanded a good level of concentration… after a section through some woods i caught sight of Aussie Phil changing out his shoes after getting his riding shoes wet his feet had got cold so he decided on walking boots before the carry.
I led the carry up through the woods.. snow now present on the ground a reminder that we were gaining altitude… surprisingly as we got to the top of the carry there was no sign of Phil so i made the most of this advantage and pushed on the descent into Pisang. At the water station i just took a quick mouthful of squash and continued trying to make the most of my advantage… going through the village Col was there taking pictures and then he managed to run past me on a short push to take some other shots while i rode past a set of prayer wheels.
The trail was really singlespeed friendly and flowed very quickly so i pushed as hard as i could… when we reached a steep switched back climb i was mindful that Phil was riding up behind me where i was forced to push.. cresting the climb we were side by side and as i remounted i let Phil lead down the snow covered descent back down to the flat but the difference being the previous nights rainfall had left the trail a muddy hell and with no option to downshift i had to slowly grind across this flat watching Phil spin away.
I could really start to feel the effect of altitude with a dull headache coming on and when i could ride it was very very slow… Manang crept into sight and the last slow ride up the high street took an age.
After suffering from Altitude induced headache for the rest of the day i opted for an early night as snow fell heavily from the sky.
The nights sleep was patchy as my headache persisted, finally i succumbed to painkillers.
The weather now in Manang is sunny and clear.. going to take a tour of the village then do some bike care and attention.
(all grammatical and spelling errors can be attributed to altitude mountain sickness)
After resting in Manang and having a good walk up a nearby hill my altitude related sickness had cleared and i felt pretty good… after a few pedal strokes into the Manang to Thorong Phedi stage the lack of oxygen kicked in and my legs instantly started to burn and my breathing was hard.
The stage started through the streets of Manang heading out the older parts of the town and straight into a hike a bike upto a village higher up on the hillside… for the walking part i could still stay with the Nepalese but soon as the trail became vaguely rideable i was again treat to a lesson in hill climbing… the slopes were so steep i couldn’t even imagine riding them.
The days finish lay 972m of ascent higher up the valley and the trail was amazing to ride… very flowing and it was great to spin the pedals rather than grinding them.
The skies were filled with Ravens and Vultures and the peaks bounding the trail were spectatcular.
With all the non Nepalese riders behind me on the trail and the Nepalese guys far ahead i was left alone to enjoy the the scenery and the trail.
The stage itself was pretty short at 17km but the altitude and climbing made sure i got my moneys worth finishing 2hrs 41mins later.
Thorong Phedi was busy with trekkers, everyone getting ready to up and over early the following morning across the highest pass in the world, Thorog La at 5416m above sea level.
Arriving at Phedi i could feel the altitiude again so started on a few painkillers to cure the dull headache.. later that evening i took a diamox, diamox masks the symptoms of altitude mountain sickness, as i wanted to make sure i could get over the pass as quickly and painlessly as possible.
The next days stage was the one that most riders had dreaded… 17km in length but including the 5km climb up to the Thorong La pass.
This stage started at 5am to make sure conditions were at best for crossing the pass… the 5km would be entirely unrideable due to a combination of altitude and steepness of trail.
At the start i paced myself with the last Nepalese rider, Ajay, race leader but walking isn’t his strongest discipline so he was just out to minimise his losses to Kaji Sherpa, a high altiude specialist and a man that will be travelling to summit Everest for the 4th time 3 days after this race finishes… believe i’m in good company here.
As i paced Ajay up the slopes in the dark, headtorches above us highlighting how far we had to climb.. and this was only the portion of the climb we could see.
All was going well as we walked together until we reached an off camber snow covered section and as Ajay strided away i slipped and slid at every step and eventually had to slow my pace right down to try and stay on my feet.
Dawn broke and headtorches were extinguished.. the trail still stretched further and higher with no sign of the end… luckily my pace remained consistent and i felt no ill affect to the accumulating altitude. The trail turned from rock to mixed ice and rock to then snow in its entirety.
After 2hrs 16mins i reached the high point of the pass and after a photo opportunity with the signpost i swapped from big mittens to lighter gloves and donned my helmet, this may have been a little optimistic as the descent was initially snow and ice and too steep to ride… my hands in the thinner gloves quickly froze and i was forced to stop to try and drive some warmth into them but after the exertion of the climb i could hardly muster any energy and i had to sit down and had a little moment to myself as i embraced the pain of freezing hands and still a long descent to negotiate.
With the feeling coming slowly back into my hands i stumbled slowly down through the snow until i past the snowline and the rocky trail was now underneath my tyres.. after a few attempts at riding the trail it just wasn’t happening.. the trail was very loose and very steep so any attempt to bring my speed under control was futile so i was forced to walk downhill.
This section seemed to stretch on forever but i was happy to be able to feel my hands again and as i reached a few small buildings on the trail the slope slackend off and i got to ride an awesome piece of singletrack.. nice and rocky with well placed rocks to aid railing corners.. this flowed into a wider smoother trail around the back of the finishing town, Muktinath, and eventually the stage finish.
Only one stage left.. 70km mainly downhill to Tatapani and a well deserved dip in some hot springs.