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At 4:00 a.m. this morning, Ryan Sandes, 35, and Ryno Griesel, 38, a dynamic duo from South Africa, began their Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) Fastest Known Time (FKT) attempt. Sandes, who continues to tag international podiums (3rd place, 2016 Tarawera Ultra; 1st, 2017 Western States and 2nd, 2017 Ultra Trail Capetown) and Griesel, a mountaineer and trail runner who has FKTs on the Drakensberg Grand Traverse (with Sandes) and the Nine Peaks Challenge in South Africa, no doubt have the chops, but this may be a tall order.
Essentially a patchwork of local footpaths throughout the Himalayan Mountains, the GHT was first hiked in 2009 by Robin Boustead, of Sydney, Australia over the course of 162 days. Since its establishment, the GHT has gained popularity as a trekking route.
The GHT is a 1,406K Nepalese thru-hike with roughly 70,000 meters (229,658 feet) of elevation gain and loss— one that takes hikers upwards of five months to complete. Ryan and Ryno plan to run it in less than 28 days.
The current FKT is held by fellow South African Andrew Porter, who, in 2016, ran the route in 28 days, 13 hours, and 56 minutes.
Trail Runner connected with the athletes as they hiked to their starting point at the village of Hilsa on the Western Nepal/ Tibetan border.
What made you decide to attempt the Great Himalayan Trail over other potential routes? What inspires you about this trail?
Ryno: [I’m] not sure when we decided exactly to take on this adventure. Ryan and I both love big mountains, adventure and are equally intrigued by the challenge of an FKT. The concept developed over many banters during local mountain runs as a natural progression of our previous projects like the Drakensberg Grand Traverse in 2014. We started planning actively last year. There was a gap in our calendars for March 2018 and decided to grab the opportunity as we live only once.
Ryan: The Himalayan Mountains are magical and I guess for me this is the ultimate adventure. Ryno and I have discussed doing the Great Himalaya Trail for a few years now and last year we started planning. More people have been to the moon than have completed the Great Himalaya Trail. The scenery and mountain views are awesome along the trail and I love the fact that we will get to interact with the local Nepali people. They are really amazing and so welcoming.
The Himalayan traverse is quite a step up in distance from the Drakensberg Grand Traverse FKT in 2014. What did you learn from that experience that you plan to apply to this new endeavor?
Ryan: Yes, this is [the] biggest challenge we have ever attempted. I am really excited but also a little nervous. There are so many unknowns about the challenge but I guess that is what really intrigues me about it. We have never run anywhere close to this far or at such high altitudes.
I have done a lot of running with Ryno and I think we form a good team. Ryno comes from an adventure racing background and is very strong on his feet and good with navigation. I come from more of a running background but love the adventure element to trail running. We both gel well together and form a good team.
What are the most important aspects for your mental preparation?
Vanessa, Ryan’s wife, answers this question as the men are out of cell signal.
Vanessa: Luckily both Ryan and Ryno come from an endurance sport background so they are used to just putting their heads down and getting the job done.
Ryan always says, “When it comes to mental preparation for anything it is to set mini goals.” They will enter the pain cave on many occasions I’m sure… they know how to deal with that. I think it’s just about getting through those bad patches because they will be there.
Ryan and Ryno also say that the one’s strength is the other one’s weakness and vice versa. Ryno just functions incredibly well at altitude; it doesn’t affect him. Ryan is affected by altitude, but is a phenomenal endurance athlete and isn’t as affected by heat and can go on for miles and miles, whereas Ryno isn’t a fan of heat at all. They will go through some pretty hot and humid areas in the lower lying areas.
In terms of reaching those mini goals, reaching each checkpoint will be a nice pat on the back and a tick off the goal list. That is the only way to break up something of this magnitude, break it up into smaller goals. Sometimes when Ryan is battling he even says to himself, “I just need to make it to that tree,” and then once he has reached it, picks a new spot to get to— mini goals.
Ryan and Ryno will be updating followers live throughout the traverse via social media. Stay tuned for more Q&A sessions with the team.