Stage 9 of the Yak Attack is the peak stage – the big one, the one that makes it the Yak Attack! After forcefeeding myself porridge, I got myself situated and my bike strapped onto my back along with my backpack. I made sure my boots were tight and that I had the right amount of layers. Last year, the pass was extreme. -30F with the wind at the top! People got frostbite just from taking their gloves off.
At 5 AM, we started trudging uphill in the snow. The first 20 minutes were the hardest for me. I labored against the weight on my back and the altitude. The trail was steep to start and we were all trying to push to separate ourselves. I had a few moments of “ugh, I don’t want to do this. This is so hard.” and settled in. I knew that I just had to stay steady and that it was going to be long.
I settled in with Des hiking behind me the whole way. I got to a small teahouse designated as “high camp.” Neil was there. He had left early and gave me a few sips of tea. I was already dehydrated and unable to drink with my hands full and no way to really get into my pack without stopping and taking everything off. The warm drink was comforting for a moment, and then I continued on my way with Des on my heels. I asked him if he wanted to pass several times, but he wanted to hike with me. I was thankful to hear his footsteps behind me. One foot in front of the other.
The sun came up earlier in the course than the year before since we started an hour later. I had Yak Tracks and hiking boots this year (no Yak Tracks last year) Last year, it was treacherously icy with crazy slopes. One slip and you wouldn’t stop for awhile. I was glad I had the Yak Tracks. With all the fresh snow, things weren’t nearly as icy. You still have to be very careful where you stepped though. We passed a few small groups of hikers. I saw a girl hiking in jeans and was worried about what would happen to her. Thorong La could be dangerous without proper equipment. I wondered how she got that far! I wondered what they thought seeing 40 people passing them carrying bikes.
We came to a bridge. The snowy track got very steep and we were stuck behind a group of 5 hikers barely moving. Suddenly, the way parted. People moved up the side of the slope to make way. I was surprised to see a man slumped down with his elbows on his knees. As I got closer, I saw his face was buried in his hands. He was about 50, and he was sobbing. I felt so sad for him. I put my hand on his shoulder and told him everything was going to be alright. I realized in that moment that what I was doing was a lot harder than it appeared.
The hike got progressively harder. There were spots with thigh deep snow. I was stumbling and falling down with my bike, and having a hard time getting back up. Each step was calculated to not fall down. It was extremely cumbersome with a bike. I started catching other Yak Attackers. People were stopped on the side of the trail just standing there.
Aussie Steve was just wearing cycling shoes. He later developed a very serious case of frostbite on his big toe. He just had to have surgery to get part of it removed. Serious business (speedy recovery, Steve!). Des offered me a sip of his tea. He pulled it out of his jacket. It was sweet and spicy on my tongue – milky masala. Yumm! He went on for the last 200 yds or so on his own. I got to the top after what seemed forever. The snow was so impossible and deep!
I dumped my bike and gear at the top of the pass. The sun was out and it wasn’t windy. I promised myself I wouldn’t have a meltdown at the top like I did last year. I went into the teahouse at the top and ate some food as I was starving and it took nearly 3.5 hours of hiking to get to the top. When I came out, Neil had made it to the top along with Thor. Neil got Thor and I both some tea. It was SO good. I was smiling in the bright light at 17,769′ with epic, white, snowy mountains still towering above me at 22,000+’ I stood by the sign at the Pass. Last year, I was hypoxic, frozen, and hypoglycemic at the top. I had been crying and saying, “WHY do people come up here?” This year? I was elated and glad to share the experience with friends. I lingered at the top.
Thorong La Pass: 17,769’/5416m
Blurry on top!
You could actually see the sign last year. This year, you can barely see the tip of the sign(photo above)
If you want to race last year’s Stage 9 report (which was fun packed with drama and crying, read here)
there was so much snow we couldn’t ride under the prayer flags like we could the year before. Thor and I took off together. I told him I’d stick with him on the way down because I’d rather share the experience. We agreed to be partners on the way down. I was so glad to have him there. It was my favorite memory of the Yak Attack. We were hiking down through deep snow for hours. My brakes had NO issue (I would like to report if you followed along last year). We were laughing and telling jokes.
Of course, we were ancy to get riding again and the snow hike downhill seemed to never end. There were beautiful views everywhere. We weren’t in a hurry and were taking photos and taking some food breaks.
When we could finally ride, we had some bike issues! Thor’s derailleurs were both frozen solid. My fork has lost all its air (my own fault). We gingerly rode down to Kagbeni on the bumpy road wearing hiking boots on our clipless pedals!
When we arrived, everyone that had finished before us was waiting. I somehow crashed on the last turn in the gravel in front of everyone for good measure!! (no pain) Thor and I crossed together. We were back in civilization after days of being out in the mountains. We had descended 9000′ and were still sitting at 9000′ of elevation! We waited for hours as people came in one by one. Each person had a different expression from what they had endured. Some people looked ecstatic, some exhausted, and some even looked defeated.
Lots of gear involved with Stage 9. All this was either on me or in my pack!
I was sad that Yuki wasn’t there. It was a relief we only had one day of racing left. That night, we treated ourselves to Yak Donalds… Yak burgers! Slowest service ever, but the yak burgers were a treat!
Its very gud i m really impressed by the efforts put in