No Luxuries in the Himalayas - Page 2
Race winner Upendra Sunuwar on the border between Nepal and Tibet. Photo by Richard Bull.
When we reached the village of Samagaon, Manaslu towered over us. Its distinctive twin peaks caught the morning sunlight beautifully, carving an “M” in the sky, with walls of snow and ice falling steeply away to the terraces below. Its Nepali name means “Mountain of the Spirit;” in Tibetan, Manaslu is known as Pungyen, which literally means “ornamented heap.” As the Lama from Samagaon tells in the book Tibet Diary, “In one sense the mountain is just a heap of earth, rocks and cliffs. But to us it is an ornamented heap of riches.”
On from Samagaon, the race made a side trip to Manaslu Base Camp. With glacial ice towers on one side of the trail, pine forest on the other, it was another hard uphill pull. Descending back into the valley, we reached Samdo, a Tibetan refugee village, and paid a visit to the tiny, half- century-old monastery.
Here, runners took a rest day. For some it meant a short walk up to Dharamsala—“pilgrim’s resthouse”—where we would camp and prepare for an early start up the Larkya La, our high point at 16,847 feet. For others it meant a leisurely walk up to the border point of the Rui La at 16,400 feet to peer into the wilds of Tibet, a stark landscape of glaciated summits rising under a deep blue sky.
The crossing at Larkya La was a non-racing stage to avoid overexertion at altitude, but posed an enormous challenge. The triumph of reaching the prayer flags at the top was accompanied with a beautiful view along the backbone of the Himalayas, an icy skyline of high summits falling steeply to a green valley floor below. We still had nearly 10,000 feet to descend (including 21 kilometers of racing from the last village below the glacial moraine) as we curled around the west face of Manaslu and into the village of Tilije for the finish line. For many, it was the hardest day yet.
In our day-to-day life at home, a week can pass quickly. On the trail, things feel different. In the five days it had taken us to reach Samagaon, the cold, altitude and illness had taken their toll. However, sharing the challenges of the trail helped forge strong friendships. Says participant Zeanna Haroun,of Singapore, “It doesn’t happen very often in today’s world, where we are all very individual, with different lives and paths, that we come together as a group with the same goal, the same destination.”
Richard Bull, the race director, lives in Kathmandu and is the founding editor of trailrunningnepal.org. Lizzy Hawker is five-time winner of The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc and holds the world record for 24 hours (road). (lizzyhawker.com)