Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race: Day 1, Maneybhanjang village up up and up the ridgeline to Sandakphu mountain

LP1020436Day 1 of our 100 mile (160 km) run through the Himalayas! Our route would take us, for the next three days, running along the ridgeline that IS the border between India and Nepal. Most of that run was along a cobblestone road – not cobblestone in the English sense, much rougher and more randomly sized stones (cobble to boulder size) pieced together into a sort of road. Tough to run on. And, basically, if you stumbled slightly to the left, you would fall into Nepal. (“Do not go to the Nepal!” race organizer Mr. C.S. Pandey warned us repeatedly. “If you go to the Nepal, I cannot help you!”)

This first day, we started in the town of Maneybhanjang (elevation 2010 m / 6600′), and had a 39k / 24 mile route that was, for the most part, a steady ascent along that “road,” with a 510 m / 1700′ descent about halfway through. That brought our total climbing for the day to 2750 m / 9000′ before we arrived at Sandakphu at 3600 m / 11,815′.

If those numbers bedazzle you…. just trust me, it was a hell of a lot of climbing. All day.

On top of that, the weather kind of sucked. In previous years, racers have had to battle heat and sunshine (sunburn) on this first leg. But not for us. The day started overcast and with a bit of drizzle. As we climbed, it got colder and wetter… culminating in a frigid downpour that hit the racers who were farthest back (which I escaped by a mere 15 minutes!).

Here are my pictorial highlights. If you want the full race report, check out my Day 1 article uploaded to SleepMonsters.

Festive race start in Rimbik village, with Indian bagpiper and drummers.

Festive race start in Maneybhanjang village, with Indian bagpiper and drummers.

Mexican/Australian racer Claudia and American Yvette hanging out with the local kids at the start line.

Mexican/Australian racer Claudia and American Yvette hanging out with the local kids at the start line.

Lots of local support - kids and adults both - at the start line, and indeed throughout the whole race. This was the 23rd year that this ultramarathon has been running, so locals totally know what it is about.

Lots of local support – kids and adults both – at the start line, and indeed throughout the whole race. This was the 23rd year that this ultramarathon has been running, so locals totally know what it is about.

Lining up for the start!

Lining up for the start!

As we waited for the gun to go off, local women tied a scarf around every racer's neck.

As we waited for the gun to go off, local women tied a scarf around every racer’s neck.

And then we were off... 400 m of flat running as we left town, and then 39 km of climbing to follow...

And then we were off… 400 m of flat running as we left town, and then 39 km of climbing to follow…

For the first little while, we were still in trees. The clouds/fog obstructed any views, so it was hard to know what the countryside was really like. (As we ascended, the views became less and less...)

For the first little while, we were still in trees. The clouds/fog obstructed any views, so it was hard to know what the countryside was really like. (As we ascended, the fog thickened and the views became less and less…)

Climbing into the fog. Cobblestones.

Climbing into the fog. Cobblestones.

The spirit of the kids was amazing. We passed through very few villages - but when we did, the kids were lined up and greeting us (in English!). I think that kids who don't have everything available at the click of a button (and who are therefore permanently bored) have a greater appreciation of, well, everything.

The spirit of the kids was amazing. We passed through very few villages – but when we did, the kids were lined up and greeting us (in English!). I think that, unlike kids who have everything available at the click of a button (and who are therefore permanently bored), these kids have a much greater appreciation of, well, everything.

Here's a glimpse of the route, the start of the downhill section. Everything to the left of the road is Nepal, to the right is India.

Here’s a glimpse of the route, the start of the downhill section. Everything to the left of the road is Nepal, to the right is India.

And  yes, a little break, running downhill (if you dare on those cobblestones) for a while...

And yes, a little break, running downhill (if you dare on those cobblestones) for a while…

...before we get back into that uphill again.

…before we get back into that uphill again.

As rough as it was for us to run/hike that long uphill on the cobblestone road, once the jeeps passed, I was actually thankful that I was on foot, and not hanging on inside one of them.

As rough as it was for us to run/hike that long uphill on the cobblestone road, once the jeeps passed, I was actually thankful that I was on foot, and not hanging on inside one of them.

Amazing how quickly you can climb, even where you are tired. I was only at that aid station way down there a few minutes ago!

Amazing how quickly you can climb, even where you are tired. I was only at that aid station way down there a few minutes ago!

Still climbing. Really foggy and cold now, very windy in some places too.

Still climbing. Really foggy and cold now, very windy in some places too.

The 28k aid station. Still another 10k to go. It was actually gratifying that even the locals agreed that it was exceptionally cold today.

The 28k aid station. Still another 10k to go. It was actually gratifying to hear that even the locals agreed that it was exceptionally cold today. COOKIES POTATOES BANANAS. (Every day).

Sorry, no more pictures after this point. It was hard, it was getting colder and darker, and I just wanted to make it to the end.

I had already figured out that the aid stations were not exactly at their advertised kilometres. I hit the 34k aid station, fully prepared for 5 km more of steep uphill trail ahead. The Spanish guy I was with at that point asked the attendant how much farther. The aid station guy exclaimed “One and a half kilometres! One and a half hours!”

Since we were supposedly 5 km from the end, I chose to believe the latter. I am definitely not into playing those head-games, where well-meaning volunteers screw with your head by giving you faulty information.

But this time, the guy’s first exclamation was right – we were just 1.5 km away! A few more switchbacks ahead, we wound our way through the finish line and into the organizers’ care: warm clothing, lots of hot soup, and shortly after, a nourishing dinner and warm beds. We slept under mountains of fleece as the wind whipped through our little huts, to rest up for tomorrow’s second stage: a 32k / 20 mile out-and-back run along the ridgeline, all of it above 3200 m / 10,500′.

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