Ultra-trail runner Philippe Gatta is about to embark on a gruelling, 40-day, record-breaking traverse across the Nepali Himalayas, following the high route of the Great Himalaya Trail (GHT). The 45 year-old Frenchman will run east for 1,700km and climb 90,000m in elevation gain.
While ultra-trail runners have completed the lower GHT, no one has ever completed the entire high route of the GHT in one go because of the narrow weather window between the end of the monsoon in September and cold winds starting in November. The route typically takes trekkers 20 weeks, undertaken over several seasons, and demands technical climbing and glacier experience, as well as endurance running fitness.
Paths are hard to follow in the eastern forest section, where Gatta will have to navigate off-trail. A renowned endurance runner went missing for three days there, and another fell twice, breaking an arm each time before being rescued. In Dolpa, he faces 330km so remote that he'll have to be self sufficient for seven days.
Gatta is counting on his combined experience as a veteran ultra-trail runner and mountaineer. Aged 17, before the term 'trail Running' had even been coined, he was running to climbing sites around his home town of Nice and in the Alps. His passion for climbing progressed to mountaineering. At the age of 20 he summited Mont Blanc, and went on to conquer the Seven Summits.
This year he's averaged 400km running a month, won the 171km Winter Spine Challenge in the UK, and most recently completed the 161km Ultra Trail Mount Fuji in under 30 hours. Between 2011 and 2012 he summited the third highest peak in the world, raced 250km across the Atacama desert, ranked sixth in The Sahara Race, third in the Gobi March and made a fast ascent to the 7,010m summit of Khan Tengri.
“I was running just 10 or 20km distances for years before I tried longer runs.” says Gatta, aware that an injury in the Himalayas could end his adventure. “Your muscles can grow quickly but you need a slow, progressive approach in training for the tendons and ligaments to strengthen.
“Running a marathon is no longer as exclusive as it was fifteen years ago, so new runners are ambitious to run further, but you see some finishing an ultra-trail race and they are wrecked, they can't even walk. For me, running has to be enjoyable. I'm always listening to my body and responding to what it needs, even if that means ignoring my training plan.”
He'll be joined for sections of the GHT by his running partner and wife, Anna, who raced with him in the Atacama. “It's great to be able to share the experience with someone.” The couple met on a cliff while Anna was visiting France for a climbing holiday from her native Sweden.
“It's not a race,” insists Gatta who plans to pace himself so he can enjoy the people and scenery along the way, “But time is limited by the weather window.” Three mountain passes, each around 6,000m, near the end of the route will become impassable if the duo arrive late.
Berghaus have tailored a lightweight backpack, clothing and sleeping bag for Gatta, and forgoing a tent and stove, he'll be carrying less than 10kg.
Gatta exclusively revealed to Redbull.com/adventure he is hoping to climb a 7,000m peak in the Khumbu region during the trip, but admits this will depend on the weather at the summit, and his physical state at the time.
The trip starts from Simikot on September 26th with online updates at his website.