Fresh of breaking the Great Himalaya Trail Record with Ryno Griesel, Ryan Sandes shares the life changing experience
On Sunday, 25 March at approximately 3.47 am local time, while most of us slept, Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel were breaking a world record. Some 9, 214km from South Africa, they reached the border of Nepal, marking the end of their 25 day, 4 hours and 24-minute FKT attempt of the Great Himalaya Trail. A record breaking attempt that saw them smashing Andrew Porter’s 2016 record of the same route by three days.
The 25-day journey saw them covering 1504km on foot, battling sub-zero temperatures, frost bite, exhaustion, extreme altitude, a run in with some local drunks and starvation.
Instead of jumping around and celebrating, Ryan and Ryno enjoyed a quiet moment knowing that they’d achieved a goal which had been a dream for so long.
it was just this quiet fulfillment and peace of mind and knowing that we’d actually achieved our goal which had been a dream for so long
Fresh off his world record attempt at the Great Himalaya Trail, we caught up with Ryan Sandes.
On flying into Simikot and hiking 75km to the start line in Hilsa, a small Nepalese village along the Tibetan boarder.
“We caught [a] smaller internal flight. You’re flying in a plane, literally in between mountains. You just suddenly realise how big the scale of the mountains is in the Himalayas. It’s definitely daunting and puts everything into perspective pretty quickly.
…It was just hiking so it wasn’t too tough. We hiked in with the film crew and it was an epic few days. It was quite extreme, and a couple of things went wrong. You realise if it’s so hard to hike, what is it going to be like to run through these conditions. In a way we got a sense of reality very early on. Its pretty daunting when you realise you haven’t even started running yet. It’s kind of cool to suss out the conditions before we started.
…Just before we got to the start when we were hiking in, we had come down the path into Hilsa. There was a massive ice shelf we had to scale over and it was sketchy and suddenly we realised this is all real now, we’re properly in the Himalayas. It was probably like half a day before the start when everything suddenly became very real.”
On the Food They Ate
“There was nothing too bad. We ate a lot of rice. One time we ate noodles that were super spicy that really wrecked our stomachs for a day or two, so I guess that was the worse thing. We stayed away from meat and stuff like that. The best thing [was] in the Anaconda Region [which is very] touristy. I remember eating a chocolate croissant and that was pretty life changing at the time.”
On the Scariest moments, close calls and the people of Nepal
“There were a couple of times we downplayed things. In the Dolpa region things were pretty extreme. When we got chased that night by the drunk guys that was quite scary. They definitely weren’t there to play and quite serious about things and actually tried to ambush us. We had to run for our lives for a couple of kilometres to get out of there and got a police escort after to get back up the mountain path.
The only real time [we thought of sending out an SOS call] was with the drunk guys, but luckily [we] managed to run back down onto the road. The film crew had just left us a few hours before and they managed to come to our rescue. That was the closest we came to pushing the SOS button.
It’s mind blowing how everyone invited us into their home with open arms and let us sleep there if we didn’t have accommodation and made us food without any expectations.
That was the only incident and it was really strange. Lucky it was towards the end because after that we definitely felt a bit more skittish and [were] looking around. Before that the people were absolutely incredible and amazing. It’s actually quite emotional and mind blowing how everyone invited us into their home with open arms and let us sleep there if we didn’t have accommodation and made us food without any expectations.
In general, the people in Nepal are absolutely phenomenal and I think we can learn a lot from that just how friendly and welcoming they are”.
On the worst moment and pushing through it
“With 6 to 7 days days to go, for about 2 days I was just mentally really homesick and had a bit of a stomach bug. I didn’t want to be there. For me that was the worst moment. [It was] just after then [that] Ryno got sick and was battling to breathe and was feeling dizzy and didn’t know if he would be able to make it through. That was both tough physically and mentally.
Shift your mindset. Your mind is so powerful. If you keep it positive, then physically you stay in good spirits as well
You have to think about why you’re there and [that] it’s not forever. It’s a short-term situation and I chose to be there. Take in the natural beauty and remember why you came. It’s a once in a lifetime adventure. It’s not like you’re doing this for the rest of your life so break it down to little bite size chunks which makes it more mentally achievable and shift your mindset. Your mind is so powerful. If you keep it positive, then physically you stay in good spirits as well”.
On the best moment
“A highlight for me was in the Anaconda Region which I just really loved. It’s just really spectacular and beautiful. Also, the interaction with some of the local people in the early stages was really mind-blowing just how welcoming and friendly they were.
And then obviously the finish line. It wasn’t a huge amount of jumping around and excitement from Ryno and I, it was just this quiet fulfillment and peace of mind and knowing that we’d actually achieved our goal which had been a dream for so long”.
What they didn’t expect
“We didn’t expect [the Dolpa Region] to be so remote and exposed. There were just no villages for 60, 70km at a time and when there were villages they were really small and remote. Sometimes they only had two families in them. That was unexpected. And the amount of snow and ice they had on the route, because Nepal had a really late winter. In Annapurna at one or two of the tea houses they made pizza and coffee [which we] really welcomed at that time and was unexpected.”
Why they chose March
“It’s one of the better window periods. There are two window periods you can go in – March or October /November. Other times it’s winter or you get the summer monsoons. You need to go when the weather is more stable”
How the Great Himalaya Trail FKT Attempt changed him
“It’s a life changing experience and pretty crazy and cool thing to do. I think for me this has been my ultimate adventure. It’s not like I want to do too many crazy things like this. There’s a lot of smaller projects I want to do but this for me was the ultimate adventure and really fulfilling and rewarding to tick off something as big as this.”
What he wants his son Max to take from this
“I’m not saying he has to go and be a crazy trail runner, just to live your passions and live your dream and not be scared to follow your heart. Whether it’s the norm or completely outside the norm, just do what you’re passionate about. That would be the most important thing for me, for him to take out. Make sure everything you do in life you’re passionate about and you enjoy”
live your passions and live your dream and do not be scared to follow your heart
“Physically I don’t feel too bad from a running point of view. But I know because of the junk and stuff I ate my stomach and system is really run down and I’m tired like sleepy tired and mentally a bit tired. So now its just to get as much as rest as possible and take it as easy as possible for next month or two”.
For more details and videos of the Great Himalaya Trail FKT Attempt, visit Redbull or follow Ryan on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @RyanSandes
Some answers have been condensed for clarity
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Images courtesy Red Bull Content Pool with permission
Zissy is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to make things, do things and wear things.