Saturday, 8 March 2014

Yak Attack 2014 Stage 7

Thorong Phedi to Kagbeni - over Thorong La pass!
25km, 1,036m ascending, but a net descent
Thorong La pass: 5,416m/17,769ft
Kagbeni: 2,915m/9,560ft

Here's yesterday's finish at Thorong Phedi 14,750 feet. Mountains around sort of defy scale after a while. 

I hiked after to accomplish my main mission. Yaks 100m away!  Pictures needed!

He wanted to go off the trail to pass me. Instead I went off trail so it could go by. 

Little buddy.  I watched them eat. To say there's not much vegetation is an understatement. I looked at where they were nibbling, and the "grass" was millimetres high. The nights are cold, let alone the days. God these things are tough. 

Perfect!  Mission accomplished. 

Luggage was picked up at 3am; we slept in our gear for today. My porter is a rock star and was early and started hustling right away. 

I was given a few pieces of advice ahead - dress your legs quite warm as you can unzip tops easier for heat, hold your own pace, and enjoy the views, pace for 3h and don't focus on the false summits. In retrospect I didn't think they were false summits, it was clear to me when we we weren't going up anymore. After ichiban style breakfast with tea we were off.  We were supposed to start at 4am but breakfast was late so it was 4:30. I wasn't in the mood for faffing around. I had a hunch my body was going to work and I wanted to get down to business. -13C start.  After yesterday's fairly unhampered breathing I had some confidence, the temps had some people rattled, and I'd already seen that most people don't ride snow like us. Today was Canada Day in Nepal as far as I was concerned. 

More for record and reference than narrative, here's my gear that I was very happy with. Feet: 45nrth Wolvhammers plus the Yak Trax that are like mini crampons. Little warm, but very glad err'd on warmth. They walk well. Legs: Ibex merino knickers, calf height merino socks, Breck Epic wool socks, thin merino long underwear, Pearl Izumi winter tights, Gore Alp X shells. Carried MontBell down pants for emergency. Top: 2 merino t's, Columbia omni heat base layer and thicker over sweater, MontBell down jacket, Gore Alp X shell was great esp with hood. Bottle on bib straps under down, and it also slept with me to not freeze.  Took one chug and one gel on ascent. Columbia omni heat hat. Gore wind proof neck warmer stayed on for half climb. Gore lobster gloves. Carried but not used: heat packs, goggles, balaclava, shells for gloves. Unfortunately GPS too but Kate said I could have her file.  Jeff's CamelBak carrier was a beauty design but mine cracked day prior. I think a modified one is the way to go with improved materials/strength. 

Here's the start. We clearly eased into the climbing.  For us it was pitch black. Watching the trail of head lights was cool. 

The hiking surface was relatively easy - well packed despite new snow, not too much ice, a bridge to crawl through, but really just walking. 

I felt surprisingly good. Started approximately 10th. Ended up passing a few who pulled off to breathe. Rob told me in advance don't think about the countless false summits, think about a 3h climb. I decided I wasn't going to ever stop, just keep moving, even if that meant a modest pace. Like Crazy Larry said, just sing "ain't nobody gonna break my stride, ain't nobody gonna slow me down". 

Walked a lot behind Peter Butt for first hour, and a few in front I couldn't see. The rises were harder than the gradual parts, and it was pitch black. Eventually the lead stopped, I asked Peter what was up, and he said guy was taking a break. I post holed through the side and kept going. It was Ajay and Yuki ahead. Call that the 1:15 mark. After moving a bit, I asked Yuki if he wanted to go through, and he said no. It dawned on me I was having a solid hike. Small steps on inclines, long on flats, exactly like my weighted backpack workouts on the treadmill. Those were perfect.  My co workers who saw me doing them said they looked hard, and they were. Max breathing for 2h at times yielded a comically slow pace. Accelerating was impossible, you'd just hold and people would drop or pull over. 

As it turns out, I was 4th to top after 3 Nepalis. Bam!  Expecting any better would be illogical, in my world that's killing it.  I guess if first world doesn't work out I could be a porter climbing mountains in the dark. Ajay went straight through. I took off gloves to remove bike from bag, and a Nepali porter took photos.  We summited just a few minutes after sunrise as the long shadows show. 

Climb for me was 2h17m and tea house was closed. Cory was back from our group and went through after Ajay right away. Yuki and Peter went. I didn't think I was dawdling but was last to start down. My fingers really froze in like 60 seconds. Had to be below minus 20C as I had body heat furnace going and they still froze that fast. 

First part was rideable, but hard with frozen hands. I pulled off Yak Trax but in retrospect too early. It steepened right up and was so hard for next hour.  Steep ice main track you could but slide, or post hole on side. Passed Peter and Yuki, traded spots with Ajay a few times till he cracked me. They said there's way more snow this year, it was a tiring effort. Eventually got to some road, then coasted to town. We're now at 2,800m and relaxing. 

I finished 5th. I didn't see Kate all day but she was 7th, came in just a few minutes after I sat down. We felt good. I feel accomplished. I enjoyed the hike and descent. I'll never sympathize with an organizer that cancels a race for inclement conditions again!  Also I've never been done an epic stage at 8:45am!  One Nepali froze fingers bad and another froze toes. Partly they try to go light, partly their gear wardrobes aren't on first world budgets. God these guys are tough. The one with frozen toes is the one who smashed his face on day one and concussed. He's Nepali military. Guy has no quit in him. For them this is glory they have little access to in life, the upside vs downside is very asymmetric and it shows in how much heart they put into it. I haven't discussed with him directly, but the guys who have done this before/have businesses here locally say Ajay was a street orphan and this is how he made it - none of his hundred pounds contain an ounce of quit. 

Knock on wood - the Calgary contingent is only a day a way from surviving this epic throw down!  8,000m peak dwarfing us. 

Net downhill profile, that must be easy right?  Not quite.  That 5km hike up "hill" was hard.  Breathing is hard.  Thinking is hard.  Staying warm is hard. 

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