Taking runners to the 10,000-foot peaks of Nepal.
Written by: Wendy Wilson
This piece first appeared in the September issue of Competitor Magazine.
“I’d love to do it again,” said ultramarathon runner David Starnes of Longmont, Colo.
Starnes is talking about a 15-day journey through Nepal’s maze-like urban cities, lush Himalayan mountainscapes and remote villages, a trek he took four years ago with his then-girlfriend (and now-wife) Brooke Donato. The highlight of his adventure: a half-marathon run along the Annapurna mountain range circuit amid lush forests with views of snow-capped 20,000-plus-foot peaks.
“I’ve done other adventures similar to this, but this one is unique because it combines running with experiencing the local Nepalese culture,” Starnes said.
The Nepal Trek and Trail Run, organized by Boulder, Colo.-based Nepal Trek and Trail LLC business partners John Oliva and Amanda Daflos, has been taking clients on excursions through the country since 1995. In 2007, they incorporated an optional 13.1-mile trail run to the adventure.
“There’s an unbelievable section of trail to run on,” Oliva said of the mostly downhill, semi-technical run that drops from 9,000 feet to 6,400 feet.
The annual November excursion begins in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, where Oliva, Daflos and staff lead trekkers through a cultural tour while they acclimate to the 3,600-foot elevation.
For the first five days, group members—an intimate 12 to 15, typically—stay in a four-star hotel, meet and greet, go on tours of temples and marketplaces, and take in the sights, including the Himalayan Cataract Project’s Tilanganga Eye Center, the nonprofit recipient of a portion of the trek and trail run’s proceeds.
Other cultural highlights: visits to the Hindu Pasupatinath and Buddhist Boudhanath Temples, guided tours of the ancient city of Bhaktapur and the Kathmandu Valley, a flight to Pokhara at the base of the Annapurna mountain range, and a lakeside stay at Phewa Tal.
On day six in Nepal, after a two-hour bus ride to the trailhead, the trek begins. The week-long hike follows a path that starts and finishes in Naya Pul (3,600 feet)—but the fun part is the journey. Up to eight hours a day are spent hiking the Himalayas while the evenings are spent “luxury camping,” Oliva said.
On the first day of the hike, the group follows the Bhurungdi Khola river to Tirkhedhunga (5,200 feet), passing through bamboo forests, rice fields and the town of Birethanti. On the second day, the group ascends another 2,300 feet—including a stone staircase with more than 3,300 steps—to the hillside village of Banthanti (7,500 feet). Then the group climbs to Ghorepani (9,000 feet), the hike’s highest point, enjoying views of the Annapurna range and the shear vertical face of Dhaulagiri along the way. “The altitude is less of a problem than many people think,” Oliva reassured.
The next morning’s hike makes all that uphill quad and lung burn worthwhile, according to Starnes. The reward: watching the sun rise over the Himalayas. The remaining five days take participants through rice and millet terraces with more views of peaks and villages. The excursion ends in the village of Phedi, where a bus takes weary travelers to a welcomed hotel room in Pokhara. The group is encouraged to relax and enjoy the area’s amenities before they head back to Kathmandu.
For runners—veteran or novice—this is a trek and trail run worth considering.
Find more info about Nepal Trek and Trail Run at www.nepaltrekandtrail.com.