Photos: Dean Leslie - The Wandering Fever/ Red Bull Content Pool
Team Salomon international athlete and highly decorated ultra-runner Ryan Sandes called his most recent project ”the biggest adventure” of his life. And, considering the scale of the trip, one would think it would keep that status for quite a while.
For just over 25 days—25 days, 4 hours 24 minutes to be exact—Sandes and his good buddy Ryno Griesel ran, climbed and slogged their way along the Great Himalaya Trail (GHT). Their goal was to cover Andrew Porter’s roughly 1,400 km GHT Route across the Himalayas from Hilsa to Pashupatinagar in Nepal, combining the Great Himalaya Trails High Route and Lower Cultural Route.
In the end, the two South African friends covered 1,504 kms in record time, besting the old mark by roughly four days.
“This has been the biggest adventure of my life, but incredibly challenging at the same time, especially mentally to just keep going day in and day out for so long,” Sandes said at the final checkpoint. “Traversing any of The Great Himalaya Trails has always been a dream of mine. There were so many ups and downs along the route that we could never have anticipated but I’m so stoked we pushed on and made it through. Alongside my win at Western States 100 last year, this has to be one of my biggest sporting accomplishments to date!”
Taking on an adventure of this magnitude requires careful planning, of course, even if their plans did not always go as they expected or hoped. The attempt saw Sandes and Griesel traverse heavily snow-covered mountains and experience some incredibly extreme weather conditions that were unusual for this time of the year. They suffered frost-bitten fingers, serious tummy bugs, breathing difficulties and a couple of near death experiences. The pair were thrown another curveball when the route they had plotted prior to leaving for the attempt, in fact turned out to be almost 200km longer than they had previously anticipated. A constant on the route, however, was the incredibly welcoming spirit of the Nepalese people who truly embody the spirit of Namaste, and welcomed both of them into their homes.
“We were the first people to cross the Dolpa region since the start of winter, which made the going very difficult to navigate and very slow,” Griesel added. “I had to keep taking my gloves off to read the maps and managed to get terrible frost bite on my fingers, which has been painful. One of the villages on our map in that region, a spot where we had hoped to get accommodation, was completely deserted. I honestly believe that if we hadn’t come across a monk and monastery that night we would have frozen to death outside.”
Due to the unbelievably lengthy trek and rugged terrain, Sandes used three types of Salomon running footwear, two of which are customized to his foot shape and one of which was a test shoe with a special last. Sandes and Griesel also used Salomon XA Alpine shoes. “All of the running shoes are prototypes, with specific bottoms designed for long distance running,” said Patrick Leik, Salomon’s Service to Athletes Manager for Footwear. “One of them uses Salomon’s Vibe insert.”
What else does it take to complete a 25-day adventure through the Himalayas? “We had three bag drops over the course of the trip, so I had three sets of these items,” Ryan says. His gear is listed below:
- S/LAB Peak 20 bag with a waist belt
- S/LAB Shorts with custom briefs
- S Lab Sense T-shirt, Fast Wing T-shirt and a prototype Salomon T-shirt
- Long Salomon Tight
- S/LAB X Alp Jacket (waterproof)
- Salomon Down jacket (waterproof)
- Primo Warm LS Baselayer and additional Salomon base layers Bonati Pants
- A balaclava and a buff
- Lightweight Salomon gloves for running and very warm ski style Salomon gloves
“I took some mid layers but I never used them,” Sandes said. “My favorite piece of gear was the down jacket!”
“The Nepalese people were amazing!” he added. “We knocked on their doors late at night, two filthy dirty South Africans, who speak very little Nepalese, and they not only welcomed us into their homes without hesitation, but they have also gave us their beds and gone to sleep at neighbours so that we have accommodation!” says Sandes. “It has been humbling to meet these incredible people. I doubt anyone back home would have opened their homes to strangers as easily as the Nepalse citizens we met along the way have to us.”
Congratulations to Ryan and Ryno on an epic adventure and accomplishment.