Ryno Griesel (front) & Ryan Sandes

These two guys are going to run all the way across the Himalayas

© Kevin Sawyer / Salomon

1400km on foot in 28 days or less… Ryan Sandes and expedition running partner, Ryno Griesel are set to tackle the Great Himalaya Trail. Find out here what they’re really getting themselves into.

Ryno Griesel was on the successful Drakensberg Grand Traverse record attempt and has seconded Ryan Sandes on various big international races over the past few years. Although not a professional athlete, Ryno is a consummate mountaineer, having climbed various mountains in Africa, Europe and Nepal. He’s won various South African trail races and raced the Adventure Racing World circuit since 2006 (Team Cyanosis) with various top-5 finishes. He also finished second at the 2010 Rogaine (pair - 24 hour navigation runs, with Nicholas Mulder) World Champs in New Zealand.

The jury is out as to who’s idea an attempt on the Great Himalaya Trail was, but one thing is certain, the two were always going to team up. We caught up with Ryno a few days before their departure:

Firstly, to someone who has no idea, give us a brief background as to what you two are attempting?

The Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) of Nepal is not a single trail but rather a combination of various trails in either the upper (GHT High Route) or middle (GHT Cultural route) districts of Nepal stretching from the west to the east (or vice versa) end of the country. We will traverse the estimated 1400km route (with 70 000m of elevation gain and loss over the Himalayan Mountain range) combining the High GHT and Cultural GHT to challenge the current recognised FKT (Fastest Known Time) of 28 days, 13 hours and 56 minutes, as set by fellow South African, Andrew Porter in October 2016. We will self-navigate in an attempt to find the best possible route to link up the 12 required checkpoints as set by Andrew:

  • (CP1) Start in the village of Hilsa on the Western Nepal/ Tibetan border and cross the following points (villages and passes)
  • CP2: Simikot at roughly 77km
  • CP3: Gamgadhi at roughly 150km
  • CP4: Jumla at roughly 193km
  • CP5: Juphal (280km) or Dunai at roughly 290km
  • CP6: Chharka Bhot at roughly 380km
  • CP7: Kagbeni at roughly 444km
  • CP8: Thorang La Pass at roughly 463km
  • CP9: Larkye La Pass at roughly 561km
  • CP10: Jiri at roughly 928km
  • CP11: Tumlingtar at roughly 1075km
  • (CP12): Finishing on the Eastern Nepal/ Indian border at Pashupatinagar

Over time a handful of people have completed the concept GHT of Nepal with a hiking approach, with Robin Boustead, being the authority in documenting the various route options of the Nepal GHT.

A small handful of people have taken on the GHT with a speed/ record mind-set with stand-out records:

  • Sean Burch (UK) -2010 – 49 days, 6hr, 8min (2000km – East to West, combination of High and Cultural GHT).
  • Lizzy Hawker (UK)– 2016 – 42days, 2017 35-days (approx 1600km East to West, mostly the High GHT route, without technical climbing requirements).
  • Andrew Porter (RSA) – 2016 – 28 days, 13hr, 56min (1406km, West to East, combination of High and Cultural GHT).

It is clear that one cannot claim a single FKT with the above attempts varying so much. Therefore we are challenging Andrew Porter’s FKT as set in October 2016. To be regarded as a fair challenge, we must start and finish at the points set by him, traverse West to East and visit the ten checkpoints in between, as set by Andrew.

Similar to Andrew we will:

  • Self-navigate the entire way
  • Not use porters/muleing to carry any loads
  • Stay in lodges and other local accommodation to keep the weight down
  • Buy food locally as we travel
  • Use a local Trekking company to meet up along the way to exchange kit and assist with issuing of permits
Ryno in the Cederberg
Ryno in the Cederberg

So, running the equivalent of Cape Town to Jozi, at altitude in dangerous mountain conditions while self-navigating…Who’s crazy idea was this? Yours or Ryan’s?

I’m not too sure when and how 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 (Fastest Known Time). 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. Ryan is generally known for his out-of-the-box ideas, so I will blame him!

Since your DGT record together you and Ryan have spend a fair amount of time together on races and other projects, how important is the team-mate understanding between the two of you for success in an attempt on something as extreme as this?

I would say it is the absolute platform for possible success in any project of this scale and associated variables and unknowns. We simply can not plan and prepare for everything and we will rely on the foundation of our friendship built from previous epics together to make decisions and adapt on the go. We know each other very well and each brings different strengths to the team. Firstly we have similar goals, and that is to live life to the full. We both have a passion and healthy respect for big mountains and each other. We are, however, very different as well. Ryan is a world-class athlete and I cannot come close to his physical abilities. He is also a master strategist and brilliant with pacing. He is further the nicest (read chilled-out) guy you will ever meet and super supportive during our adventures. I hopefully bring some accounting, navigation and multi-day adventure racing to the team.

All smiles
All smiles

You are chief-in-charge of logistics, planning and, perhaps most importantly, navigation, how has the planning gone?

The planning has been quite intense and having spent over 300 hours on the maps alone has taken significant time in the built up. Sourcing the right light-weight equipment apart from running kit like power sources, water purification equipment etc that will be sufficient in the remote areas but light enough to carry required extended research. We will not be entirely self-sufficient and will meet up with our Nepalese logistics partners: Himalaya Trails about five times to change kit and receive permits for the national parks we will traverse. We planned these ‘drops’ in a lot of detail to be as efficient as possible. The planning has gone extremely well with the help of so many international partners and dream-givers, too many to mention. We feel that we are well prepared and looking forward to starting running now!

How important is ethics in an FKT attempt?

Ethics in FKT’s – as in life – is everything. Ryan and I will always respect the rules of an FKT, the setter there-of and the mountains that we are privileged to traverse. It is cool to have a record to benchmark our progress against, but it will never be all about the FKT. For us, it is about experiencing an epic adventure together whilst respecting nature, others and each other.

You work full time, how have you managed to train for this?

Ha – I have definitely trained sleep deprivation and adjusting to variables in advance. Juggling work, family, planning and physical preparation is a time challenge for all of us. I do feel that we do not prepare for these challenges purely in the 12 months leading up to it. Many years of climbing in the mountains and endurance sport will form a good base physically and mentally. I feel good training wise and looking forward to the run!

What do you think will be the single biggest challenge (altitude, perhaps?)

Navigation in adverse weather while moving at high altitudes. Further to stay healthy and injury free.

Stay tuned for updates on their progress.