Surviving Nepal On a Bike

Oct 31, 2014 at 8:29
Oct 31, 2014
by Graeme Duane  
 
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I had a sinking feeling that if we tried to sleep under this tree; we’d never get up in the morning. Certainly a grave thought, but one that signalled the flip from a bike expedition in Nepal to an unexpected fight for survival in the Himalayas most lethal autumn snowstorm in living memory.

We’d started the Annapurna circuit by bike three days previously, in crusty Besisahar. After a lost bike had set us back a few hours at the airport, we’d managed to climb 5.1 vertical kilometers over the course of 93 kms, and found ourselves approaching Manang - gateway to the high Annapurna passes, or “La’s” as they’re locally known. But as it turned out, that was the easy part...

Nepal 2014

Our party was 3 strong. Cuan Cronje, a tough-nut, ex rock-climber, adventurer and Nepal veteran. Dean Burscough, the wiry accountant with a deceptively youthful energy and a Cape Epic under his belt, and myself, a documentary cinematographer and director on leave. We were fit, we’d done our altitude training and the ride was going well. We were unsupported - no porters and no guides. We entered the Manang valley at 3600m above sea level - feeling strong and blasting the single-track reward of pushing up to Ngawal village. The track was firm and dusty, the weather was perfect October - the odd tree starting to turn and the air crisp at this altitude. The scenery was totally breath-taking. The only snow was on the high peaks above 6000m - Annapurna III and IV loomed above us.

Nepal 2014

Just before Ngawal we took a tea stop at Upper Pisang, prayer flags ripping in the wind, with plenty of tourists milling around the Gompa. Among them, only revealed in photos, was Matt Adams, a big Canadian on a lone mission on the trail. Our paths would cross in a big way. We had no idea how this trip would change in the coming days.

Nepal 2014

Unlike the masses that plod up towards Thorung La pass at 5400m, we decided, in true vigilante fashion, to tackle a lesser used pass - Mesokanto La, which lies a few miles North West, around Tilicho lake, one of the highest tarns on earth. It was looking good for us, no snow up at 5500m, and we were feeling strong. It was Monday, and we left Manang for Tilicho Base camp, a rough stone “tea house” at 4700m above sea level. The pass to Tilicho is treacherous. Not just for need of drama, but the last 2/3rds of the way involves traversing steep scree slopes left by glacial deposits - a 45-degree wall of loose rock and dust with a one-foot bevel on which to walk, or ride. We could ride most of it, but steep switchbacks involved tiptoeing along rock ledges that plunged 200m into the river valley below. Speed was key, it carried the bike forward when the back wheel washed into the edge of the narrow trail, and kept things on the straight and narrow. After 3 hours of riding, we passed a metal sign that said “Landslide Area”. A little late and a somewhat obvious statement, but this little sign was to serve as a pivotal point in both our trip, and our lives.

Nepal 2014

As we ripped down the last piece of track to the low building of Tilicho base camp, I remember looking up, and noticing that Kangsar Kang, the imposing, black, angry-looking peak, was shrouded in a dense white mist. It was snowing above us, the first blemish in our stunning conditions. Cuan, Dean and myself secured the last room at base camp. We were among 80 odd others, but the only cyclists. We drew strange looks both on the incoming trail and in base camp. It was 2pm, and we were ready for the next day - our “big one” where we’d summit to the lake and cross Mesokanto, dropping 3000m down to Jomson in one hit. We needed perfect weather, but as it turned out, we weren’t going to get it.

Nepal 2014

By 5pm Monday it was snowing at base camp. Nothing dramatic, just snow - innocent and moody in the dimming evening light. Throughout the night it continued - building in volume and intensity, and by midnight we knew our attempt on the pass was under threat. Since we had no guide, and no backup, we needed unobstructed views of the landscape and trail above us. This was not the well-trodden highway of Thorung La, it was a path, worn a little thin by far fewer feet.

Nepal 2014

Tuesday morning brought a shock. Half a meter of snow shrouded base camp, and it was dumping from the sky. Nowhere at any point on our trip up the Annapurna’s did we see any warning for bad weather. We’d stopped at every ACAP checkpoint, met many policemen and rangers on the way - no information. By 9am visibility had dropped to 40/50 meters and we were stuck - all 80 of us, and it was cold. A teahouse is a basic stone barrack with uninsulated rooms and a communal kitchen/eating area. At this altitude there are no trees, so there is little to burn for warmth. Food is prepared on fires fuelled by burning Yak shit, and there isn’t that much Yak shit around either. But the teahouse did afford protection - we were by no means fully exposed. We had cold weather gear and down sleeping bags, and we spent most of the day wrapped in everything we had. We considered leaving right then and there - back to Manang, but it’s a good thing we didn’t. Over at Thorung Pedi, the base camp for the Thorung La pass, a group of hikers were coaxed out of the teahouse by their host, in return for money. He was to guide them back down in return for 1000 Rupees each. As we lay in our bags on Tuesday morning, they had lost the trail, became disorientated; hypothermia had set in and some were already dead by midday.

Nepal 2014

While this disaster played out a few miles east, we knew we’d be in base camp for days. It would be madness to leave the teahouse. By 3pm the snow was a meter thick, and the local Nepalese couldn’t believe their eyes. Because of the loose glacial substrate, the steep scree and the fact that the snow was all new - fluffy and soft, Tilicho becomes avalanche central - the weight of snow pushing itself and the rock beneath down into the valleys. A group of European hikers attempted to leave, but 200 meters from base camp they were halted by a small avalanche that sent them running back to level ground. Weirdly, this hiccup probably saved their lives. One backpack was lost but later recovered. They would have probably ended up like the Thorung hikers did that morning. The fact that we were considering following them made it even more of a shock.

We now began to accept that our plan of crossing Mesokanto La was history, and our whole trip schedule was now under threat. I had business in the United Kingdom, and I had to make a Saturday flight. It was Tuesday and here we were, stuck at 4500m in what would be one of Nepal’s worst mountain disasters ever. We were even more unsettled by the fact that we’d come here as warm season cyclists, not hardcore, all-weather hikers. Unsupported, with 8kg packs and cycling shoes was hardly the way to tackle a Himalayan blizzard, but were getting antsy. Base camp was a disaster zone. There were too many people, food was running short and the pit-toilet had frozen. But the local Nepalese were content to have folk buying food and drink - after all, October is high season in the Annapurna’s - warm weather brings 5300 hikers through Manang in this month alone. By nightfall the snow was half way up to the roof, and we had to constantly dig our way out of our room. This must where the phrase “cabin fever” was coined.

Nepal 2014

That night I slept very little, trying to work out what would happen if the storm didn’t clear soon. We weren’t stupid enough to tackle the blizzard, so we resigned ourselves to wait for the storm to clear before we made a break back to Manang. We decided that we’d attempt an escape somehow, but because we had bikes to carry, we needed a few people to break trail for us - hiking through waist deep snow is heavy going. With our Saturday flight looming, Wednesday morning broke. During the night I’d spotted stars between the mist, so I knew what the day would bring.

Nepal 2014

It was a bolt-clear morning. A meter and a half of snow smothered base camp and the high bowl in which it lay. We were surrounded by high slopes on all sides, save for the snow-laden river, which now charged into the valley below. It was a waiting game. The hardcore hikers all sat watching the trailhead for the first “bull” to break out. Everyone was jittery, all of us wanted to go. Adrian, the monarch of the Base camp dining room tried first, but turned back after going just 100 meters - the previous day’s avalanche stopping him - chest deep snow.

At 10am the Canadian, Matt Adam, and a mixed group of young American hikers set off down the Marsyangdi river. The Nepalese had told us that there was a trail along the low river to a bridge that lead up to Kanshar - a teahouse halfway back to Manang. As these young guns started to break through the snow, we got ourselves ready. We had no real waterproofs, gaiters or boots. I had light South African hiking trousers and synthetic long underwear. A cycling shirt, light windproof jacket, a good down jacket and 2 pairs of socks. But the biggest chink in our cold weather assault were cycling shoes. I had 5/10 flats, but both Cuan and Dean had cleats. Talk about punching above your weight.

We wrapped our socked feet in plastic bags, cable-tying and taping in various different ways. We’d be walking the whole day with our feet deep in snow, and the sun would start to shift and melt the blanket that surrounded us. And herein lay a problem.

We were afraid to tackle the high contour of the Tilicho trail. It was unstable enough without snow. If your foot slipped off the dry trail you’d just slide till you hit the riverbed. In some places you’d just fall - straight down. With snow hiding the exact route, and threatening to slump as the sun got to work, this route was a terrifying prospect. The Nepalese had told us to head for that first metal warning sign - “Landslide Area” and then to head down the river… Which would lead to the Kanshar bridge. South Africans see little snow, but this seemed logical to us - the lower you are the less snow should fall, and of course the suffocating effect of high altitude becomes less and less the lower you are. You get more breath and you can move faster.

By the time we were ready it was 10am on Wednesday. The advance that had headed down the river had turned back at the top of a cliff, but they hadn’t given up. They’d changed direction - up the side of a steep ridge. On their original path they’d reached the edge of a treacherous waterfall that plunged half underground, half into a deep, icy slot. So we adjusted our track to meet their position on the ridge. This meant that we had to break our own trail anyway, which wasn’t our plan. Heading up a 20% incline at 4500m, in a meter and a half of fresh snow is bloody hard work. With a bicycle on your shoulders it’s much, much worse.

Nepal 2014

But it was great to get out of Base camp so we were happy. We’d been panting with the stress of high altitude for days now on the bikes, so it was normal. I’d bought a special hat online - a peak with a wrap-around hood, and we had good South African sunglasses and sunscreen - two things that turned out to be crucial. Despite the puffing and panting, and either carrying or hurling the bikes forward before ploughing away more snow, we honestly believed that the trail would get easier and easier as we descended. How wrong we were.

We were still unaware of the deaths to the east, and as we hiked more were struggling exposure on Thorung La. It took us about an hour and a half to reach the Americans on the ridge. By then we were crawling up the scree, and they helped us with the bikes so we didn’t slip into the stream below. We found the initial part of the original trail, but if we stepped carefully we could move slowly towards the critical signpost that we were looking for.

Nepal 2014

The one thing that we didn’t appreciate on the way in was how many ridges and turns there are on this trail. Riding in on a bike, you’re whipping around them at speed, but walking out it’s a very different story. After struggling around the second of these, the American party began to get cold feet. It had taken 3 and a half hours to walk about 1.5kms. Most of the guys wanted to bail, but Matt Adams had forged ahead. After shouting across a snowy void, with phrases like “Don’t mess with the big mountains” and “I don’t want to lose any toes”… Even, “Your unborn child needs a father” to Matt, who is expecting his first. Maybe they were right, but in our understated South African terms this was just unnecessary drama. In the end, all of the Americans turned back - except big Matt, who agreed to continue, because we said we’d go with him. Maybe that was a critical point, who knows? If either of us had chickened out, the other would probably have backed down too.

We’d drive each foot down into the snow, seeking to compact a solid foundation for our full weight. A slip here would end badly, but in the end we found moving forward possible. If we stopped to rest, our soaked legs and feet would begin to get very cold, very quickly, and soon enough it was clear that to maintain feeling in our feet, we had to keep moving. After another half an hour we rounded the third ridge and there it was - a thin black sign with yellow writing, “Landslide Area”, surround by a wall of white. There was a feeling of joy having reached this point, because a fairly clear way down to the river could be seen. We’d rounded the awful cliff and waterfall, and all we had to do was find the path. But we couldn’t. The show was too thick. Some of the snow had already slumped off the scree, and what remained was damp gravel, which was a lot firmer than the dry ground from two days before. We found that if we ferried across the slope we could make good distance down river, dropping in altitude and even able to push the bikes for a while. That’s when the helicopters started flying overhead. The rescue of stranded, lost and dead hikers had started, but no one had any idea that we were fighting our way down the valley, way off any commercial hiking route.

Matt had gone ahead, because our progress with the bikes was slow. We saw him reach the river, and disappear over a small knoll next to a bend. When we got the river itself we were mortified. What we thought would be shallow snow and a clear trail turned out to be the opposite. The snow was still feet deep, and had formed large moguls over the riverine rocks that littered the valley. The going was incredibly tough. There were stands of low trees through which we had to duck and crawl. We began to seriously worry, but having dropped down into the valley, there was no turning back now. We had to push forward. It was around 3:30pm on Wednesday.

Each bend in the river brought a new ridge to cross, some shrouded in dense undergrowth that we would plunge into beneath the snow. It was like torture. With a pack and a bike we were heavy, and snow collected around the hubs and spokes, and stuck to the tyres - stopping rotation. We’d removed the pedals to streamline the form, but still, it was backbreaking work. At one point we passed a huge cave, and after 12 odd mountain goats emerged and fled, we considered sleeping there for the on-coming night. But it was still too early, and we still thought we could make the bridge by nightfall.

At 4:45pm we were faced with a river crossing. From a hundred meters off we could see that there was no other way down. Sheer cliff on the left, broad flat bank on the other side. As we made our way down to the river’s edge we heard a yell from above. Matt had headed uphill, trying to change tack to reach the high path, but all he was faced with was a wall of slumping snow and scree. It was getting dark now and he was visibly rattled, probably as a result of wandering around alone for the last hour. He headed down to join us, but we didn’t wait for him. I stepped into the river first. In our mission forward, we didn’t consider the crossing point very wisely. Because of the snow, and the sunny day, the melt had begun in earnest, so the river was charging. It was also freezing and as soon as my left shoe submerged, I knew that this late in the day, with no shelter in immediate sight, falling in would mean that I wouldn’t see sunrise.

Nepal 2014

A bike can be a handy stabilizer, and I picked my way across to the final channel. This was tough, but I managed to cross. Wedging myself between two rocks, up to my crotch, I waited to help Dean across this last, worst channel. He made it, but Cuan almost went in. We were so exhausted from the crossing that we struggled to scale the snow on the bank. But we were 30 meters from the river when Matt entered the water. He almost went in too, losing his hiking pole in a panicked balancing act. He was white as a sheet when he caught up to us; he also realized the gravity of putting a foot wrong in that river.

As we reached the opposite slope, darkness was setting in. It was a terrible feeling. Our bike trip was officially on hold. The battle to survive had begun. We’d eaten two boiled eggs each that morning, but we had little food. A bag of nuts and 3 energy bars. But it was warmth that we really needed. The sun had set and that blue/grey dusk had taken over the valley. Matt moved ahead, moving snow for us, and he came across a Pine tree with low branches. The branches had stopped the high volume of snow from settling beneath, and we felt that we could shift the foot that lay around the trunk. Looking at the chosen spot, I wasn’t convinced. We’d stopped moving, and the sunshine had gone. When it snows it has to be above zero, but with a clear sky, the temperature plunged. We began to get really cold.

To our relief, and in another critical event, Matt produced a lighter and a paperback novel from his pack. We quickly collected wood and proceeded to dry as much kindling as we could by burning page after page. Eventually we had a small fire. By adding wood, we’d dry it and it would light. After an hour we had a good fire going. We were back in the tree line in this valley, so there was wood to burn, albeit wet. We spent the next 2/3 hours drying soaked trousers and shoes, and eating peanuts. Our mood lifted a little, but none of us moved to bed down. There was still snow everywhere and we had no tent or groundsheet, so we’d get wet in the bags on the ground. As we sat and mulled this over, a torchlight emerged from the darkness upstream.

Nepal 2014

It was a Nepalese porter whose client had been rescued by helicopter from Base camp. He too was on his way down, trying to get to the next teahouse at Kanshar. He warmed himself at the fire, and asked why we were sleeping in this particular spot. He said that the bridge was only an hours walk away, and that the tea house was not much further, on a better trail on the opposite bank. It was uncanny how often the advice of the local Nepalese always failed us on this trip. Any words of wisdom seemed to revolve around impressing a client, or was an attempt to get us to spend more money in a local teahouse. We were skeptical, but even if the bridge was two hours off, it was still worth a try. We convinced Matt to stick with the porter, since he didn’t have a bike, and could get ahead and get help if necessary. He agreed, but among ourselves, we were undecided. Part of us wanted to stay and sleep at the fire; part of us knew we had to keep moving. It was 8:30pm, and that’s when we’d agreed on the opening statement of this piece. “If we sleep here, we’re all going to die”. There was little doubt in my mind. Greeting the sub-zero dawn in a wet sleeping bag is a one-way ticket and we knew it.

So we started walking again. Being the gadget guru, Cuan had a great head torch, so he led the way. By now the porter had left with Matt, so we had a trail to follow, and we figured that his local knowledge would steer us down a more direct route. Dean and I taped torches to our cycling helmets and off we went. But the local knowledge was no advantage. The trail twisted, doubled back and headed through dense thickets of thorns, some nearly impossible to penetrate with a bicycle. It was quite clear that the porter had no better idea of where to go than we did.

We’d walked for another 2 hours before a half moon rose. This helped immensely, because it enabled us to see the valley and get a vague idea of the topography. If we kept walking, our feet were fine, warmed by the motion, and our core temperatures were maintained by the physical work that bodies and lungs were doing. I could have walked until dawn, but we came across a narrow patch of dry, snowless earth along the base of a high cliff. it was still exposed, but it was fairly dry. There was a light breeze blowing down the valley, but this wasn’t the worst scenario, so we decide to try and sleep for a few hours. I was nervous, because my trousers and thermal underwear were soaked, and I had no others, nor did I have dry socks. Getting into that bag could have gone horribly wrong, but since it was only 5/6hours till dawn I was willing to try. If hypothermia got hold of me, at least it wouldn’t have me for too long, and the sky was clear, so the sun may save us.

That night was freezing. The little breeze slowly sucked the warmth out of me. I had 4 layers and a down jacket on, 2 woolen hats, but nothing on my legs. I wrapped a pair of cycling shorts around my feet, but that made little difference. I lay there staring out at the moonlit landscape - like a huge open freezer as I got colder and colder. 2 hours later my feet were killing me. I could just maintain the temperature of my upper body by doing light sit-ups, but I was losing heat through my legs. I was soon shivering. I was worried and I began to realize that we hadn’t been in contact with our wives - Tessa, Noleen and Lucy, for days now. The plan was to check in when we crossed the pass, but that was two days ago. Now I worried that my family was worried, but we had no idea that this snowstorm had hit the international news. By that stage 24 people were missing, and bodies were being found around Thorung La and Thorung Pedi - the sister base camp of our own the east. The deaths were going out on the news and our families were understandably in a state of panic. Even without this knowledge, lying exposed in the Himalayas not knowing what’s going to happen next, and thinking of your wife and family back home is a terrible feeling. You feel so far away, and you realize that you’re in a situation like you’ve seen in the movies, but that this is real, and that’s not a comforting thought.

But lying there and leaving your immediate future to chance is pointless. I had laid down an emergency reflective blanket to seal me from the freezing ground, but I then wrapped this around my bag from the waist down, tucking it tightly underneath. This made a massive difference, and I even managed to doze for about an hour until the cold woke me. It was bitter, later read at -5 C. But the sky was getting light, and I knew the sun was coming. I knew that we’d beaten the cold that night, even if it meant one more hour of chattering. That was a good feeling, like we had another chance - another day’s grace.

Nepal 2014

Getting going that morning was a struggle. My trousers and socks had frozen into rigid planks, and our shoes were solid ice - the laces stiff like daggers. I tried hitting everything against the rock face, but it didn’t help. I was literally caught with my pants down, and without shoes, and the sun chose the opposite bank, so we’d be in shadow for another few hours. Cuan dressed first, and took my clothing to soak in the freezing river. Using a snowmelt river to thaw frozen garments so that you can get dressed seems crazy, but it worked. I dressed, but I was unbelievably cold. We set off, charging for the sunlight that flooded the riverbank around the corner.

When we hit the sunlight I soon warmed. Hurling the bike across snowdrifts, it soon occurred to us that this was no ordinary snowfall. We moved down the valley quickly that morning, but the snow didn’t thin, it was still feet deep. The strange thing about walking through all this snow is dehydration. South Africans are no polar adventurers, but we soon realized that you can die of thirst quickly in snow. It doesn’t melt fast, and it fuels clear streams into muddy torrents. It was difficult to find drinking water. We could stop and filter, but we were against the clock. It was Thursday morning. The day after tomorrow we were due to fly out of Kathmandu - a 6-hour drive from Besisahar… which lay over 100kms away. And we were still stuck in this cursed little valley, and we still hadn’t found the dreaded bridge.

Nepal 2014

Rescue helicopters continued to shuttle overhead, and as we stumbled onwards, we didn’t know that hikers were also fighting for their lives up at Tilicho. We hadn’t eaten more than a handful of peanuts for over 24 hours, but the sun was out and we were moving. We kept warm, and so we just ploughed on. We were still following Matt and the porter’s footprints, and I came to know that huge print of Matt’s Hitec boots so well I can still see it in my mind. We came across a fire where they’d slept - their own prediction of the “hour away” bridge not bearing fruit. Matt had left us a note etched in the snow “Matt - 8:30”, with an arrow, and a few yards later we looked up and saw the suspension bridge about a mile down the valley. It was a massive relief, the scenery became awesome again, we started to joke, and we forged on.

But that bridge seemed to move as we moved. Matt’s huge prints were shallow on the snow. They’d moved in the early morning, and the cold night had provided an icy crust that supported his weight. Not so for us a few hours later. We tiptoed over his boot-prints, but we plunged into the cursed snow like bison. It was heartbreaking. Eventually we made it up the bank, and to the bridge, but when we looked up we knew our day was far from done. For some reason the Nepalese don’t seem concerned about elevation. They don’t see it as a hindrance, and Kanshar was high above, perched on a ridge a kilometer above us, with a sloppy, melting blanket of snow waiting to welcome us upwards. By now we were spent. The same shallow footprints gave way to deep plunges, and this was the only part of the trip where all photography and humor ceased.

We eventually reached the teahouse at Kanshar where we’d stopped three days before, with a huge feeling of relief. We were back in the mix, plugged back into life and out of that wild valley that had held us for 36 hours. We ate - soup and homemade pizza. drank a coke and plenty of water. We made it over the last few kilometers to Manang, dropping the bike seats and push biking down the melting snow. We managed to find Matt, so happy that he’d made it OK, we ate and slept. Over the course of that evening, the extent of the disaster was revealed. We’d been fighting our own private battle in the valley, sealed off from the mayhem around us. 39 hikers were dead or missing. The Nepalese bring their yaks into the villages in winter, and a herd 100 strong at Yak Karka had been wiped out by an avalanche. We bumped into Max and Daniel, two hikers who were stuck at Thorung Pedi, and Max had terrible snow blindness. Walking into all this was dizzying and we began to realize that the array of critical decisions that we’d made over the last 3 days had been key to our survival.

Nepal 2014

On Friday morning we were still exhausted. Our feet were numb; we had lost skin to the snow. Our backs were aching but we had made it back to Manang. After saying our goodbyes to Matt Adams, we headed back down towards our starting point by trusty bicycle. This was the only way out since Manang airport was closed. It was like leaving a war zone. Hikers trudged in lines over the slushy Pisang flats. The survival exercise was over, and the ride had begun again! Soon we were flying down the passes past Dharapani and Tal, pumping the bikes over rocks and boosting airs over root drops.

Despite the context, this day’s riding was the single most memorable day that I’ve ever spent on a bike. We rode 93kms in one hit. We dropped 5.1 vertical kilometers – literally balling down the down the side of the Himalaya range. The bike suspension was working overtime, but it was just awesome. A real ride with a vivid purpose, not some over-priced stage race. We rode late into the night, and arrived in back in Besisahar around 9:30pm, totally shattered.

As we bounced around the back of the jeep on our midnight commute to Pokhara, it suddenly occurred to us that we’d never considered leaving our bikes behind. We just hauled them forward as part of our being. That makes me happy, because we came to the Annapurna to ride, and in the end we got away with a lot more than many of the hikers that died up on the mountains. It’s a guilty feeling, and I haven’t quite processed it yet. Don’t get me wrong, riding the Annapurna isn’t easy, but getting away with our lives and then reaching Besisahar, 93kms away in one day must rate as one of the biggest achievements of our lives.

Flying back out of Nepal now, there’s the usual blame game going on. Why were hikers not warned of oncoming weather? Has the Annapurna become the Disneyland of Nepalese mountaineering? Does it attract an unqualified crowd of hikers? Nepal is wild, it’s “warm” and it’s friendly. Money is money and this county is poor - it’s the third world and they take what they can get. But paying $65 to access this trail gets you no back up, no safety, no information. That may have to change. Not one lodge had weather info; ACAP had no way of knowing where each hiker is at any given time. In short they don’t know who’s on the trail, but to me that’s part of the appeal. The Annapurna is so accessible, but it’s so wild… And that’s a rare thing these days. A snowstorm in October caught many “summer” hikers out, and many made the mistake of taking advice, where perhaps they should have relied on their own instinct.

As far as our experience goes. Our mission failed. We didn’t cross the high pass. But we had the best riding of our lives on either side of a detour into authentic human survival. This was our first trip together, but we knuckled down and got through it. It says much about how how my 2 friends approached the problems that we faced. Even with numerous mistakes, we never gave up or lost focus. A series of critical events floated us through a nightmare, and our private struggle in the snowy Marsyangdi valley went by largely unknown. To a select few in Manang we were known as the “crazy bikers”, and on Saturday we bumped into two Slovakians who shared Tilicho base camp with us. They were almost in tears. They’d heard that one of us was killed in an avalanche during our escape, so they were relieved to see us together, and well.

Nepal 2014
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187 Comments

  • + 324
 This is is what I want to read! Not "How to Get a Roost Shot"! Amazing!
  • - 15
flag Monkeyass (Nov 2, 2014 at 10:37) (Below Threshold)
 can someone write an abstract for those with ADD?
  • + 18
 @Monkeyass - There's no TL;DR for this one. It's too gnarly for that.
  • + 5
 This is pinkbike, not reddit. stahp it @joefromthesoo
  • + 1
 Exactly!
  • - 15
flag MasterSlater (Nov 3, 2014 at 13:37) (Below Threshold)
 Yes, let's read more about arrogant, ill-prepared "adventurers" who "beat the odds".

Don't celebrate stupidity people... it only breeds more.
  • + 4
 Beats watching a video of how to take a photo of somebody just before they fall off. They should be better prepared, no doubt about it, but the read is still a darn sight more interesting than some of this shit that gets promoted.
  • + 8
 Sounds like they did all the research and prep required for a "typical" journey in those parts in that time of year. The storm was a "freak" event, even to the Nepalese. If the locals are shocked by it, how can you judge some guys on vacation for being caught off guard? Sounds like they had what they needed, but not much more, and survived with it.
  • + 110
 Can't believe these guys didn't ditch the bikes. Maybe at the time they kept thinking it wasn't as bad as it really was but for fucks sake, you can buy another bike.
  • + 218
 never leave a comrade behind
  • + 48
 I was thinking the same thing, also found it odd they were still worried about making their flight to get back in time for work. I guess in this situation it wouldn't exactly be clear precisely when you make the transition from a ride where things haven't quite gone as planned, to full-blown survival mode where you're thinking "f*ck the bike, f*ck the flight I just want to live."
  • + 33
 Also, at the end of it all I bet they're glad they kept hauling the bikes through the snow for that epic 93km downhill out of there!
  • + 15
 what about a fat bike!
  • - 3
 There was a Russian bloke who planned to take his beloved Fixie to the top of Everest. As far as I remember He stood on top but the bike didn't make it to the summit but it did get to Camp 2 above Khumbu Ice Fall.
  • + 31
 Part of surviving is maintaining hope. If they abandoned their bikes and stopped thinking about their flight home they would have curled up and died. Never give up! Riveting narration by the author...
  • + 15
 I love my bike, but **** me if it's not an icicle on side of the trail at Annapurna. Some Nepalese kid would find himself a helluva present after the snow melt.
  • - 8
flag WAKIdesigns (Nov 2, 2014 at 8:36) (Below Threshold)
 Thinkbike - you just can't know that because you haven't experienced such situation yourself. Hearing such cliches won't help you when sht happens - it's the unique you, and no one knows who he really is, how will he react when it goes really bad. You can read how to react, but will you apply it, in severe cold, with clouded mind and fear? You don't know Wink
  • + 19
 Waki, perhaps I DO know...and I am sharing a perspective from my own experience. You assume too much in your comment. I prefer to call it sage advice rather than cliche, but to each his own.
  • - 12
flag WAKIdesigns (Nov 2, 2014 at 9:05) (Below Threshold)
 I put equality mark in between your comment and mine by calling it speculation.
  • + 8
 @WAKIdesigns
Careful, you don't know what think bike has and hasn't seen. I've been in a few situations where Mother Nature has turned bitter. Everybody has a different mentality, but I found that, exactly as think bike said, it is the trivial stuff that weighs on your mind and drives you forward. It has only ever been after the fact that I've had the time to reflect on the life threatening nature of encounters with flash floods, unseasonal storms, pace killing injuries and more.
  • + 6
 Hindsight is 20/20: they all thought that the snow was only at altitude and did not extend down into the valley. They saw two groups leave before they did and probably thought that they made it out just fine, until learning the truth after their trip. IMO the more surprising things are not having a lighter, and doing that hike in cleats. I bet that 93km descent on the last day was surreal though. Amazing story, guys- thank you for sharing.
  • + 2
 Maybe adventure biking isnt for everyone then. They went on an adventure with their bikes. Adventures are not particularly predictable which im sure they are aware of. They judged as best they could. Nearly died a few times but didnt where others did. And they finished off their ride in time to catch a plane home to work. Epic. Did people die? yes. Does that mean they should leave their bikes behind? no.
  • - 9
flag WAKIdesigns (Nov 3, 2014 at 2:00) (Below Threshold)
 With all due respect, as soon as I read this story, I started wondering how long will it take until people will speculate so much that the PB Bear Grylls' will come out of their caves. There should be a Fox News style, moral high-horse Pinkbike Poll: should they have ditched the bikes? or let's make it highschool style: write a 400 word essay in which you take one of the perspectives. I always got E for those as I refused to choose the given position and made a third or fourth scenario. What if mountain exploded and bike they left behind flew away with the blast wave and killed someone in Karachi?
  • - 9
flag WAKIdesigns (Nov 3, 2014 at 2:11) (Below Threshold)
 5th November Fox News Poll: Should they have ditched bikes? - no the mountain could explode and the bike parts could fly away for hundreds of miles
6th November: breaking News - a white, catholic middle upper class journalist of Daily Mournal beheaded by a bicycle part in Karachi.
7th November Fox News poll: should we bomb Karachi?
  • + 2
 Sounds like their bikes ended up getting them back to civilization days before they would have... arguably saving themselves and their wondering families back home MUCH suffering.
  • + 51
 Judging by your photos you gentlemen survived 36 hours of avalanche russian roulette. I'm glad you're still here to talk about it.

One other thing bothers me though, like a lot. Was it really a lucky coincidence that Matt Adams happened to have a lighter? I mean, is that to imply that you guys didn't, at altitude, in October, in Nepal?

Regardless, it's a hell of a story. I'd love to do a ride like that, minus the massive snowstorm.
  • + 3
 Agreed, that it asinine! When I go out on 5 hour rides I carry two. Can't imagine there not.
  • + 2
 Adventures would not be possible if everything happened as planned.
  • + 7
 Too bad too many call stories with happy ending "adventures" and same people condemn "failures" where often the difference is as thin as luck.
  • + 2
 True @WAKIdesigns, an adventure with dead people is just not as heroic Wink
  • + 6
 I said it in a wrong way: In popular opinion, an extreme survival story with a happy ending is called "adventure" , a story with too many dead bodies is called "irresponsibility" while difference is as thin as luck and no one of the judges has any idea what actually occured.

So is this story here. If those three guys went there and nothing happened people would be writing things like "spirituality", "I have to go there" and other bladi bla, if all of them were dead: people would write tons of super emotional stuff like: "irresponsible idiots". In each situation they'd have same equipment and preparation. Hence I encourage everyone to not get over excited because your mind plays tricks on you - expose it to ANY opinionating Media like TV or bigger News portals and your mind will get fkd, and those people in the story will lose all dignity.
  • + 3
 And I thought almost running into moose on a bike was an adventure.....
  • + 1
 Just seems insane to me to go anywhere in any high mountain range in october without ANY bad weather gear. Shit can go really REALLY wrong here in Snowdonia, and you're never more than a few miles from people, never mind Nepal!!!
  • + 1
 stories like this just solidify the fact that if it aint your time, it aint your time.
  • + 0
 Sam264 - when you climb Everest from south (Hillary route) above camp 2, you begin early to clear wind sheltered Lhotse South Face before sun hits you because it gets so hot that you could almost walk up in a T-shirt, which means you'd have to take off your enormous super thick dun-overall and carry it somehow while you have to hold on to the rope as the slope is 45degree sheer ice. That is at 6500+ meters. Nepal lies quite south. There are countless pictures of people at south col or north col just under
8000m just in thin thermal underwear.

It lies way south and at super high altitude therefore changes in temperature conditions get extreme. Comparing Nepal to Scotland and most parts of Alps is just far fetched. Just is insinuating that you can be prepared for anything. It's a delusion and known tendency of a man that he wants to control everything. The reality is: learning from your own mistakes is the true lesson. Get own experience by making small steps of your own and be ready to make mistakes.

Another example frommy own experience: I had all the clothing to go to a 2300m peak in Poland on a very difficult hiking route, one that would make many people accustomed to via Ferrata sht themselves. It was July and There was a chance of light rainfall and so it came. Slight drizzle and then the wind picked up aaand then the clouds came. I was soaking wet and had no chance to move as the rock became super slippery. I had to wait 3h getting super cold until it cleared a bit and rocks started drying a bit. Same story on Madeira: going from parking lot at 1800 on 2,5h hike to 2050m. T-shirt, waterproof Jacket in case. Two days later we came to same place for sunset. It was beatiful sun at 1600m and cloud and sht loads of wind at 1800. We were freezing. If clouds would go down on our hike, we'd be freaking hypothermic.
  • + 0
 The best example is the military: a soldier with tiniest war-field experience is worth more than professor in officer school that read every book or a bloke who trains more than his mates. Books and training camp can give you an idea, a good idea, but it is the reality that teaches you stuff. Everyone in evety army in the world knows that. Everyone of us knows that, whatever you do, you can read and learn a ton on cornering or braking, hear countless afvices by the best inthe world, you may create perfect image in your head, whete everything willmake sense - it will all become messy as soon as you are faced with a corner when on bike. Then through course of months and years you will actualy get, piece by piece, what they talk about. The linking factor is: Feel.
  • + 1
 They're entirely comparable in that the weather can be completely unpredictable in the smaller mountain ranges, clearly this can be greatly magnified in the himalayas, and to travel there, in the middle of nowhere miles from rescue without any sort of bad weather kit is just a stupid idea. I haven't read any books on hiking or whatever, I just do it, as you say. It's basic stuff, be prepared, weather forecasts are nearly always wrong (or at least they've very rarely 100% correct)
  • + 0
 With all due respect, weather in Europe is very predictable, and changes are quite mild like difference in temperature between night and day. We are simply unable to anticipate what goes on in Nepal, and hell, they were from South Africa. Only people that have been there on various occasions can. Everything depends on a point of reference. I am not defending them, but I am far from judging them and telling what they should or should not have done. I Come from many situations where I was judged in the mountains by heavily equipped folk which put all in mask of being responsible while they sport nothing more but sophisticated snobism.
  • + 1
 As someone wrote here in a smart way a list of stuff that you"should" take, which clearly points out that you can't bike with it. But if you really want to bike in Nepal, then you have to take chances by gearing yourself lightly. So basicaly their only mistake was going for a bike trip to Nepal, which if they haven't done, we would nit read about it and we would not have chance to sit on our high horse and talk crap. If they had died, we wouldn't read about it either, so you are basicaly projecting your prejudgments how should a man behave in the mountains, you convert others to behave like you believe or you were told to.
  • + 1
 The voice of reason from @WAKI, who would've thought Wink True words...
  • + 1
 I still disagree. It is unpredictable, so prepare for all situations.
  • + 0
 &infinitetrails - it reminds me a lot of News Stories whenever some group of poor blokes turn into blocks of ice on a slope of one of fampus mountains in Himalaya. There is always moralistic high-horse discussion and they call experts who, if you try to notice, are often carefuly chosen, always big egos with big mouths with some experience but never best guys. They discuss details and try to get down to "what has really happened" and "who is responsible", what results in nothing else but further traumatization of people connected to the dead and stripping dignity of the very folks. So to put yourself into a role of a survivor you've just been to hell on earth, you barely survived, maybe lost fingers, best friends with whom you shared the most winderful monents of your life and now you are faced with a trial where some News bimbo or prick will analyze every move of yours they know about, and assume thousand more things and determine whether you did right or wrong. Then thousands of blood and sensation thirsty aholes and btchs will put the most ridiculous, irrational and hurtful comments on internet and will do everything to make you feel like the worst man on the planet. Fck knowledge and fck morality!
  • + 1
 I was on the other side of Thorong La in spring, my equipment super sophisticated, all Gore fany pants, the most awesome hiking boots and a lighter but still wouldn't have been prepared for a temperature drop of 20 degrees or more.
You can never be prepared for all situations, or you can't hike or bike anymore.
Do i need floaties when the next Noah's flood comes? Smile
  • + 0
 There is a famous tragic story in Polish mountains. It's winter 1985, cell phones don't yet exist, a bloke goes for a hike to a pass at 2100m from one mountain refuge to another. In the summer the trip takes 4-6 hours. He is equipped with absolutely everything: crampons, warm clothing, tent, thick sleeping bag, cooking gear, food, head lamp etc. A super harsh storm comes, the route from the pass to the refuge involves going down 45deg couloir, maybe 500 vertcial meters and then going through relatively wide slightly sloping area with frozen lakes, maybe 3-4km. He is found dead next afternoon, due to hypothermia after it stopped snowing sitting on a rock with backpack on his back, 300m from the refuge. Same winter two guys Kukuczka and Czok spend night in the death zone on open slope after successfuly summiting Dhaulaghiri only in overalls - no tent, no sleeping bag, no food... they survived - interesting aye? Big Grin
  • + 1
 Waki I hope you'd agree that climbing 8000m peaks in overalls is still a bad idea. The fact is, you can only do so much, which your examples are testament to. When I'm out I like to stack the deck in my favour though, and I work hard to strike a balance between preparedness and the ability to move quickly. My point, which seems to have keyed this whole discussion off is that in this situation I would have sure as shit been carrying a lighter. Actually, I suspect I'd have waited it out, but that's only my armchair speculation. Just because you can never be fully prepared doesn't mean you should just say screw it and hope for the best. Understand the risks, prepare as best you can and then accept what risk still remains.
  • + 0
 I think climbing a 8000m peak is as goid idea as any other. What I was trying to say was that A-having equipment does not solve all of the problems, mental and physical factors are damn important and B - there is a staggering difference between a tourist and a professional. As we say in Poland: sausage ain't for dogs
  • + 40
 While I'm glad everyone in this party made it to safety, I have serious issues with the aggrandizement of poor decision making. Freak snow storms happen, and honestly we're not always prepared for everything. However, the fact that these guys left shelter and food because they were afraid to miss a flight makes wonder. This thinking led to them not being in a place where "no one had any idea that we were fighting our way down the valley, way off any commercial hiking route" when rescue was an option. Reading this story makes me wonder if a bad situation was made only worse because priorities were a little mixed up.

If they'd been caught out in the open and were struggling towards shelter, or if their need to get out of the mountains was something more pressing than catching a flight because " I had business in the United Kingdom" I could probably see this story in a different light, but to me this story seems to try and make a really dumb decision into the "adventure of a lifetime". Which in the end results in even more people disrespecting the awesome power that are the high mountains. While beautiful, these places kill, and they easily do it in milder conditions.

And don't think I'm just commentating from the couch. A few years ago, in an attempt to photograph the sunrise over the Teton Range I too got caught in a freak snow storm at midnight and had to pack up and hike out. I generally don't tell people this story because when I think on it the majority of the danger I was in came about from me not respecting those potential dangers. Like I said, I'm glad everyone made it out alive, but I've got serious issues with the publication and spreading of this kind of event as an "adventure story."
  • + 6
 You are so right.
  • + 6
 I agree with Marlfox87. Just poor planning, and lots of REALLY stupid decisions. However...perhaps their only defense is that they were probably messed up from the altitude. I hiked the same route that they biked, and myself, and everyone else at the Thorung La base camp, were all messed from the altitude in some way or another. You just become really stupid in thin air. Also, the longer you take to hike up to altitude, the better. Biking the trail would speed up the trip, and make the effects of the altitude worse. These guys got really lucky.
  • + 1
 I totally agree, there is so much wrong with how these guys tackled these mountains its just not funny. No shelter, no sat phone, no spare thermals, sleeping right at the base of that cliff when the ground was so unstable, no extra food, possibly no lighter and no proper snow gear. Surely a decent pare of pants could fit into the pack somewhere. Anyway im glad they made it out alive, even if i was more good luck than good management.
  • + 14
 Wow, some people will find a problem anywhere.

All of a sudden we're a bunch of morons with no respect for nature, who don't deserve a voice? For the record, we have the utmost respect for what exists around us. We were not messed up by the altitude at all, we'd trained and done our acclimatisation properly. We were travelling light, but we were not grossly unequipped. We had a great time, before and after our "detour".

My approach to our situation has always been one of honesty, and we tried to solve the problems that we faced with simple practicality. Maybe we didn't follow the mountain code (whatever that may be) but we got through what was, as you guys say, a dangerous situation. I'm really thankful for that, and I hope this story is an interesting read. I'm not looking for your sanction or approval.

The next thing, some idiot will want to regulate the Annapurna trek, which will be a disaster because it's one of the few places where you can go and just get lost on this planet - on your own terms... Not under some set of rules that someone miles away implements because they think they know what's good for everyone.
  • + 1
 Hahaha it's already happening, the "idiot" is the Government of Nepal who's thinking about implementing rules that only people with a guide can do the circuit (and the guides will need to get a license and some kind of training). From my experience a guide can be something extremely useful, the path less trodden is so much nicer (and the trails less ridden as well Wink )
Still, people are only equipped for the situation they expect, even the best and most experienced guide can get lost in a freak storm…

PS. Some people really need a mandatory guide… Even after a catastrophe like this and if they know the weather could be changing the just don't give a F*** directionkathmandu.com/information/tourists-throng-annapurna-region-despite-nilofar-warning
  • + 1
 I salute your honesty, your athleticism, drive and quest for adventure. It truly is an amazing story. My only issue is that it seems a bit like... "I locked myself in a cage with a tiger and survived!" Yes, incredible, but why did you leave the base camp? Anyway, thank you for sharing. It truly is an incredible story.
  • + 2
 I'm glad you're not seeking my sanction or approval, but I was never asking for it. I'm glad you're alive, and like I tried to imply in my original comment but probably failed: we have all been there. We've all been in that situation where we get caught with our pants down and things get really bad, really fast. That doesn't make you an idiot, and I'm sorry if I implied that. I read your story, and having had similar experiences in the high mountains I felt that I could appreciate the bleakness of your situation. What really makes me cringe here is the slew of comments reading "Epic..." "now that's a real adventure", etc, etc... which is not the perspective anyone who may at some point be in those mountains should have. You know as well as I... mountains kill. They do it fast and without mercy. Where I live we lose a half dozen skiers, hikers, etc to freak storms, avalanches, and what not every year. I'm sure in South Africa you lose a fair amount of tourists every year who aren't aware of things that to you are "common sense". For example when you wrote "we had good South African sunglasses and sunscreen - two things that turned out to be crucial" it reads like this was something you had just discovered, and maybe you already knew this but sunscreen is an essential item when at high altitude in snow. For me and my culture, that's just common sense.
  • + 2
 We're not looking for fault in your story, and I apologize for those who have answered rashly. Whatever criticism I wrote, I wrote because it appears to me as obvious, and your account seems to treat it lightly. So obviously I feel a need to raise a voice of warning, and I am speaking to prevent anyone from getting the wrong idea about this situation. It's probably a cultural thing with us mountain folks, and maybe the cultural divide between me and you is enough that I didn't fully understand how you were meaning to tell things. You yourself wrote of this cultural divide when you said, "Maybe they were right, but in our understated South African terms this was just unnecessary drama". For me in my culture you don't consider what a more experienced traveler tells you as 'unnecessary drama', and maybe you didn't either. Unfortunately that isn't what comes across in the text. The text reads as if it were written by someone who is inexperienced and arrogant, and in my culture to tell the story the way you did is an indication of someone who you do not want to be traveling with in the mountains.
  • + 2
 I'm fully ready to admit that I don't know the whole story, which is why I held off on calling you and your friends "idiots", but I can only draw from what you tell and how you tell it. Honestly, I'm just glad that you're alive, albeit you left safety with nothing but peanuts for food, (at least that is all that's mentioned) and by doing so put yourself in a life and death situation in order to catch a plane(once again, this is all that is mentioned). To us in the mountain community these choices appear to us about as dumb as trying to cross the Kalahari without water. Please understand that although the choice was dumb, it doesn't mean that you are. We all make these kinds of mistakes. The end result that you are alive and that no unborn babies are going without father, is what is paramount. I hope your next venture into the mountains goes better and that next time something like this does happen you will have a better experience.

I'm also sure that you're tired of reading all of these negative comments, and are probably ready to just be done with this whole affair. But, if you want to share more about your experience I would love to hear it. I'm sure there is lots I could learn, and I would do my best to not pass judgement. Best of luck with everything.
  • + 1
 Also as a side note.. next time you end up in sub-freezing temperatures with wet clothes. A really great trick is to hang them out overnight. When the water inside them freezes you can beat the frozen water out of them and they will be dry. Very cold, but dry.If you leave them bunched up they'll freeze into a useless ball. This is something I picked up from a Scandinavian roommate I had. Not sure if this is similar to what you did with the creek, but that is what came to my mind. Thought you might enjoy that.
  • + 1
 I wish you the best Dude.
  • + 1
 You too.
  • + 1
 Absolutely right @Marlfox87
  • + 24
 Probably the best article I've ever read on Pinkbike. A phenomenal story of great courage and perseverance.

Though, I had two thoughts:

1, I'm pretty sure I would ditch the bike and be unconcerned about my flight home when it came to a life and death situation.
2. Unfortunately, mountain bikes are not always the best way to travel in the high mountains. They could have travelled much quicker and been able to carry far more of the gear they really needed if they were on foot.
  • + 17
 Travel much quicker on foot? I was thinking the same thing, but the 93 KM ride in one day made up for carrying the bikes out.
  • + 3
 Crazy. Never been there but by the looks of the first couple of photos, a snowstorm didn't exactly look impossible, seems a little bit gutsy. I think I would have considered ditching the bikes much earlier by the sounds of it too. But easy to say now, I'd be pretty pissed if I left my expensive bike behind and ending up getting out with relative ease. It was a bit weird they didn't have at least one lighter between the three of them, oops. Good thing there was a Canadian nearby, haha. Impressive that you made it, well done, epic mission, thanks for the story. What doesn't kill you, usually makes you smarter.
  • + 2
 Except for bears - bears will kill you.
  • + 3
 Even a scary encounter with a bear will make you wiser, usually. If getting chased by a grizzly, remember to run across the slope to outmaneuver it. You will never win running uphill or downhill. Or run downhill, then cut hard and sidehill, it shouldn't be able to turn as quick as you. If getting chased by a passed off Momma grizzly with cubs, good luck, you'll need it. A co-worker got off once by picking up a stick and batting the griz on the nose. 19 guys with shovels and polaskis stood by and didn't go to help, they were terrified.
  • + 14
 I have to admit that while we weren't exactly in board-shorts, we were under-equipped for this trip. And we did apply a fair amount of ignorance too... and we were very lucky at numerous times through this "escape". I'm totally willing to concede this. Bear in mind that I live on the beach in South Africa. I didn't see snow till I was 16 years old - all 2 inches of it, so we're not exactly high mountain experts.

I did have 5/10s and flats, the other guys had cleats, which was a mistake... And everyone asks why we didn't ditch the bikes. Remember that we had no idea of the onset of the storm, how severe it was and we honestly believed that we'd walk out of the snow on that first day. It seems that everyone on the planet knew this storm was coming, except those on the Annapurna. No warnings, no info, nothing. Some people were hiking in flip flops. So we wanted to ride, but we had to walk for almost 3 days before we could. That's why we didn't ditch the bikes.

Then there's the timeline. A very stupid and shallow reason to put ourselves in danger - to catch a flight. I'm embarrassed. But then again, we were going crazy sitting stuck in that teahouse....

We did many things wrong, there'll be many things we do differently when we go back in 2015. On either side of our "detour", what a ride!
  • + 7
 As someone else mentioned, fair of you all to be brutally honest with yourselves. You've probably learned from that. And perhaps others will learn from that too. Again - glad all of you made it out alive and will all limbs intact
  • + 1
 Good luck, maybe I see you there.
  • + 3
 Hey at least you're honest about the ordeal and your mistakes, that's the key to learning. Gotta admit my first reaction to the story was "what a bunch of lucky jackasses", but then again I have to remember that I grew up around mountains. I don't think a flatlander (no offense) could ever truly understand just how quickly things can go to shit in an alpine environment, and there's really no way to learn about it or get a feel for it without actually going to some mountains, or hiring a guide and learning from their instinct and prudence. But at the same time, you coulda read some packing lists for similar mountaineering trips to see what gear the guides recommend... and considering you're new to those mountains you bring EVERYTHING on the list, f*ck the weight and cost.

That said, the advice I always give people is to go experience that stuff under more controlled conditions first. People always want to climb the big, tough routes, and it's especially bad when you've laid out thousands on a vacation to go achieve an objective in a finite window of time.... judgement can really suffer under those conditions. There's no shame at all in cutting your teeth on something easier, or with more reliable weather, or closer to civilization. I've been turned back from a summit or ski route more than once, and as much as it sucks when you've paid for the flight out there and prepared so much for it, the most important lesson to learn is that the mountain will still be there when you're ready to go at it again. If Annapurna is something you really want to do, and you don't want to hire a guide, you might want to take a trip or two to places where the stakes aren't as high to get a feel for things. Like I said, Annapurna will still be there when you're ready.

Anyway, good luck in 2015 and beyond, wherever you end up going. Read some mountaineering books, and remember what you learned. Glad you made it out okay!
  • + 16
 By far the best article I've ever read on Pinkbike. I'm not sure why but it makes me want to go to Nepal and do something similar (without the nearly dying bit)
  • + 14
 A Nepal veteran… Really? your clothing and kit is a joke, your alive because it was your lucky day not because of decisions made! props for taking the adventure on, this is real biking, and like you said 'not an overpriced stage race' … that was a quality line :-) but please watch a few more Bear Grills videos before your next attempt, them maybe you'd have stayed in the cave, killed a couple of goats, pulled out your fire stick and cooked up a sweet goat curry, then use their skins to make a nice cosy bed :-) anyway it was an awesome read, thanks for posting, and I'm happy your all alive. My thoughts go out to those who passed away
  • + 9
 It was the one thing that bugged me when I first read it a few days back. To only have cleated cycling shoes seemed madness to me. I would have certainly at the very least converted to flats and then made sure I had at least sufficient waterproof and warm clothing respectful of the environment. Having been caught in a blizzard here (and yes we do have snow and mountains here in SA to answer the one poster earlier) I have an inkling of what can happen...I cant believe these guys weren't expecting or prepared for this. All that said ..big Kahunas to do what they did and we are all thankful they are back and safe and can tell the story
  • + 17
 Finally, somebody who actually needed a fat bike.
  • + 2
 that wouldn't have helped anyway.... lol
  • + 11
 An amazing adventure with true heroes and tests of courage and friendship, along with honourable determination to keep the bikes, which paid off on that last 90km ride down!. Would make a good movie don't you think?
Total respect Bro's
  • + 10
 @Graeme Duane: I wasn't there so it's really difficult to say "I'd have done this or that", but definitely relieved to hear that your group made it back home safely. Your physical preparation probably represents 200% of the success factor.
But one thing is sure - when I first heard of the news, of how popular this area is with the "ordinary tourists" I knew there was something wrong with the way these "adventures" are being portrayed and sold. That kind of altitude - and mountains in general - can be lethal and unforgiving.
Here in Switzerland the news received plenty of coverage BTW, because a group of swiss hikers survived the ordeal. They had tents, a modicum of experience AND respect for the mountains that IMHO comes from living in the Alps. Big contrast to e.g. the israeli hikers who were up there expecting something "easy but exciting, the adventure of a lifetime" (probably not the exact words). At 4k altitude? In a remote corner of the planet?
To put this in perspective: on lake Como a middle age couple was killed in a small snow-slide just above picture perfect Bellagio. WTF. Are.You.Kidding.Me? Someone dying whilst taking a walk in a postcard? Yes. A lesser hill when compared to the Annapurna turned lethal overnight.

So there we have it. Biking in Nepal? My mental image was: mountain shoe(s) (you need spares), plenty of merino woolies, etc, Tons of down coverage. Plus usual bike spares, bla, bla. Call me old school boy scout. So from my standpoint a definite no-go. Just too much hassle and kit to carry around. I'll stick to my un-adventurous surroundings...Liguria, Dolomites, the italian, swiss and french alpine region, thank you (and probably still risk being killed anyway).
  • + 0
 I think it all boils down to point of reference. Alps and S.A. They simply had no clue what they were doing while you have it in your blood. Also your point that you prefer to ride what you have, come on. You are one lucky basterd haha Big Grin No point to condemn anyone. There were a few bike trips to Nepal described here on PB where equipment of participants seen on photographs was raising my eye brows, like mavic clipless shoes of Dan Milner and thin cycling "Enduro" jackets of others provided by sponsors. But Well, Im not judging anyone, mountains are also full of twats taking crampons to 2500 peaks in the summer, with goretex stamp on every piece of clothing including back pack.
  • + 12
 How is it possible that none of these people had any clue that the weather was coming in? Not a single person there had a two-way satellite communicator? They paid thousands of dollars to get there, but couldn't fork out three hundred for something they can sell on eBay as soon as they get home?

I've never been to Nepal, but I've done some pretty brutal solo hikes across 14er land in Colorado, in winter. Snowshoes, 45lb ruck, etc.

It can snow at 12,000ft+ in Colorado during any month of the year. I imagine this is not a meteorological phenomenon, nor is it remotely unique to this "high" altitude location. At a couple thousand feet higher, I imagine the odds are even better/worse.

8kg packs? In Nepal, when the seasons are about to change? That's asking for trouble. There are many cases where "Light is Right", but in this case, it's either ignorant or intentionally negligent. I probably wouldn't overnight in the Front Range in September with that, let alone October in Nepal.
  • + 3
 Weather in the Himalayas is famously unpredictable, shit can get hairy within a few hours.
  • + 13
 Several guides, mountain folks died during the storm. To say the tourists weren't paying enough respect to the mountains is only a tiny fraction of a bigger problem… Plus autumn and spring are high season for the area and a storm like this didn't happen for ages. How exactly do you prepare for all the worst cases that might happen on the way? It's easy to blame people afterwards…
  • + 0
 I'm not going to call them idiots, they seem like they know what they are doing so it's more of a calculated risk - it could happened but unlikely. Most of us have probably taking some ourselves. Going in to your home mountains, the weather seems stable and sudden enough you find your self in weather you not prepared yourself for. Difference is that this is a whole other level of trouble.
  • + 2
 It was a freak storm- not something that happens every year.
  • + 0
 It's one thing to die in an avalanche. It's another thing to be under dressed, or not have basic gear, in a highly volatile climate.

I've gone bikepacking and hiking in what I'll call "blizzard zones"; at the very least I'd have a pair of GTX shoes, gaiters, heavy wool socks, GTX/eVent jacket and pants, waffle top, silk bottom. I can survive quite a bit in that, and that's about 8lbs of gear.
  • + 4
 It's called a freak storm, nobody expected it at this time of year. If that storm would have gotten you in the wrong spot, you'd be dead in no time with all your fancy gear… No cover, no fire and wet clothing and you're dead in no time. Not saying you don't need proper equipment, but it only raises your chance of not freezing to death by a few percent.
  • + 1
 @infinitetrails - you surely have heard of some of our compatriots getting in trouble during summer hikes in upper Ticino or Valais (not to talk about the idiots who insists on camping on the shores of the Maggia when they hear thunderstorms approaching...heh)
It's the old boy scout motto - be prepared. When sh*t happens that high up in impervious mountains you *will* want to have a crapload of extra stuff around, just in case. "Freak" stuff is only such because we can't model it well enough and because it ruins our expensive holidays (unfortunately). Ciao from down south
  • + 3
 Yes, mountain biking in Nepal is risky, actually people take risks any time they get on a bike, or in a car for that matter. Riding bikes in Nepal may not be for everybody, but for many the reward is and will continue to be worth the risks. Secondly, when making trip preparations, it is normal and, in my opinion logical to prepare for normal range of conditions for time of year, etc. It sounds to me these guys were well prepared for normal. It would not have been feasible for them to have prepared for the worst storm in years, that is just one of the risks that they and many others necessarily took. Third, in hindsight perhaps they didn't make all the right decisions, but under those circumstances not many people (nobody?) makes all the right decisions. They did make a lot of good decisions and its great if we can sit in our comfy arm chairs next to the wood stove and learn from their experiences. Thanks guys for sharing!
  • + 1
 One really smart Polish climber said once when asked about death of two climbers on Broad Peak - no one should ever judge such extreme situations if he wasn't there, or at least if he wasn't in an according situation. The bill of wrong decisions is always written by history and therefore it is useless.
  • + 1
 Good point @infinitetrails and conceded on that.
  • + 3
 How can anybody be calling these guys "prepared"? Get a god damned satellite phone! I lack the words to describe how dumb it is to not carry one when you go hiking in Nepal. Damn near every Nepalese tour guide website states that they send a satellite phone out with every group. How could no-one have known where you were? Just borrow one from the 80 other people at the tea-hut and tell someone, anyone, where you are going.

All my experience is in the Australian outback so I'm not even going to start on the weather, but UncleGroOve's comments seem sensible.
  • + 0
 @LeDuke, Nepal is a 3rd world country. It's not like CO, where we have hourly updates from the NOAA forecasted with a supercomputer in Boulder using data feeds from satellites, radar, and weather stations all over the state. They probably have some spotters with barometers and binoculars that communicate with radios or sat phones. Plus, we're also talking high elevation here. Just like 14k in CO is less predictable than 8k, I'm sure 20k is less predictable than 14k.
  • + 2
 You're kind of making my point for me.

These guys are at 14,000-15,000ft (No, they were not at 20k, or anywhere close to that. That's the "death zone"). These guys were all on bikes that cost several thousand dollars, have international business meetings to attend, and flew halfway around the world to ride their bikes. You can buy a GPS communicator for $300 that links to your smart phone. It weighs 6oz. Less than half a pound. It provides to-the-minute weather forecasts for your location, anywhere in the world, independent of non-existent cell phone coverage...much like good portions of the interior of CO.

Now, maybe it's just my background (US Army Ranger) but I don't think it's ridiculous to be oh-so-inconvenienced to stop every couple of hours, break out the ol' GPS communicator, and ask, "Hey, am I going to die out here today?". I'd be willing to bet that over half of the people out there had a) no map b) no compass c) no form of REAL GPS and d) no actual land navigation skills. A trail can disappear; how will you know where you are if and when that happens? Contrary to what Americans would like to believe, your smart phone doesn't pick up any form of signal on 90% of the land on the planet.
  • + 1
 @LeDuke, it doesn't matter what kind of devices you have. The issue is not getting the information out, it's having the information at all. I highly doubt you can get "to-the-minute" weather forecasts for Nepal high country, but if you can, how accurate do you think they are in an area with no radar coverage, very limited satellite coverage, and 15 weather stations in the entire country? They just don't have the infrastructure for predicting weather patterns like we have here in the US or that our military deploys with it's forces.
  • + 0
 Bang on dthomp
  • + 1
 @dthomp325 Professional "weather forecasts for Nepal high country" are available from either Meteotest or everestweather.com. Both websites are optimised for downloading through a satellite link (which I assume is the "GPS communicator" @LeDuke is talking about). www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/climbing/mountaineering/everest-2012/Take-a-Number.html describes how these are the services everybody consults before going for the summit of Everest and how accurate they are.
  • + 2
 @dthomp and @w-e-w there are the custom weather forecasts that LeDuke and blehed talk about. Now perhaps both of you eschew those services for your reasons. However, it seems you might be ignorant of these new services which are marketed more towards mountaineers but still have relevance to all mountain travellers in Nepal. The weather accuracy isn't the greatest at the micro level but for a big Indian Ocean incoming front they'd be a lot more accurate than having zero information.

For Noram, there are private Noram services too which can send messages via Sat Phone or communication device if you're on a trip somewhere where wx information is useful - I've used them for ski touring for example.

The services are pay-as-you-go. A sat phone rental is ~ 60./ week. Not really that much especially split among a group for wx information or other essentials; for example like telling people not to worry about you because you're holed up in Thorong Pass for a week weather-bound in an unexpected storm event/
  • + 1
 Noted.. And in fact no professional forecasting required.. Any friend back home with some experience looking at radar/sat could have given warnimg. But, I did't have a sat phone or SPOT or any communication when I was there with bikes myself (mustang side) a couple of years ago. Nor do I bring a sat phone with me on surf trips to check tsunami warnings 3 times a day before every surf sesh when I'm off the grid. I don't pack carry-on parachutes when I fly either. I guess my point is that there is a whole lot of "d'uh, you should have" arrogance in response to this article. This was nepal's deadliest mountain/trekking disaster.. ever... This storm evacuated hundreds of thousands and took lives all the way up the coast. This was an extreme and rare event by every definition. These are not people that were attempting to summit K2.. They were biking a well established route during peak seasonal conditions and in my opinion, they we're fit enough, smart enough, and prepared enough. In hindsight, they could have made some different decisions, but I'm guessing they see that as well as anyone.
  • + 2
 w-e-w. Understood and thanks for the civil discussion. When in remote areas where self-extrication will take a long time I usually try to get some form of contact. If only because a pre-arranged time of completion/exit isn't achieved then I can tell people at home not to dispatch SAR or that they not worry, Having said that I have no knowledge of the terrain/area in this story which is why accounts from you and say infinite-trails provides more context - and that context is appreciated
  • + 9
 From the looks of it, it was a fantastically stupid thing to do, to set off in those conditions with bikes. This is an excellent example of not taking things seriously enough.
  • + 7
 Agreed. Glad they survived. You can't take the alpine environment for granted. You need avalanche/mountain knowledge and at least awareness of what can happen in the alps. That's how our mountains kill people here in Nz.
I can't believe they didn't ditch their bikes or at least burnt the rubber and any plastic when they had that fire though.
How about a PB article on what to do when the shiz hits the fan above the snowline? Here in Nz a summer scree camping mission could turn into a survival story with the help of a powerful out of season southerly storm.
  • + 5
 Of course it's great they survived, but we don't generally applaud idiots who manage to avoid demise. Any mountain rescuer will tell you that setting off in the face of obviously dangerous conditions and completely unprepared is not just stupid but very arrogant and naive. I can't believe it's being touted as a triumph on here, I am actually quite appalled. These guys are just like the people who get rescued from Ben Nevis wearing flip-flops.
  • + 4
 Just FYI. The author (Graeme) just PM'd me like a coward to have a go. Apparently I shouldn't make the assumption that someone is an idiot just because they did something idiotic. Not sure how that works but go figure.
  • + 3
 @redrook Really? Obviously he's not secure enough in his position to keep it above board. I completely agree with you, I found this story unbelievable, but not as unbelievable as the lack of criticism for their stupidity. My first thoughts were that they were underprepared and totally cavalier. They acted as if they were just out in the Cotswolds!
  • + 2
 "We had no real waterproofs, gaiters or boots. I had light South African hiking trousers and synthetic long underwear. A cycling shirt, light windproof jacket, a good down jacket and 2 pairs of socks."

This alone shows that they had no idea what they were doing. I would take about that on a hike in the UK. But days in the wilderness??? Indefensible.
  • + 2
 "no real waterproofs" and "2 pairs of socks". Just so basic I can't facepalm hard enough.
  • - 2
 Jeez, redrook. The idea is that you read this article for pleasure. It's not meant torment you. I gather that I'm the obvious focus of your latent anger, and how does messaging you to explain my situation make me a coward? "Having a go"? Come on.

You guys need to get your bikes out and go for a ride, rather than stew over this article.
  • + 4
 I'm not sure how remarking on your incompetence and unpreparedness constitutes "latent anger". We are reacting the way anyone should react when they hear of someone treating nature with such a lack of respect that they don't even pack waterproofs in Nepal.
  • + 3
 Who's angry? You're the one private messaging people, telling them not to make assumptions despite the fact that they have been presented with the evidence. I facepalm when I see a fail, not because I'm angry. I'm not angry, I completely fail to comprehend your unpreparedness and, as @rbeach said, lack of respect for nature.
  • + 3
 A cursory glance thru the comments shows you're not the only guys charging the author with a lack of respect for nature. If I tried to go up Everest in a t-shirt and then wrote about how I nearly died I would be a laughing stock, and the target of a lot of criticism. Quite rightly too!
  • - 2
 Oh we had waterproofs breach, just not the fancy Goretex stuff that we should have had. I felt that redrooks post was ill-informed and insulting. Maybe I should just let it go.

Lets turn this constructive... When we go back in 2015, what should we pack to be prepared? Bearing in mind that we have to climb 5 vertical kms over 240:

Down jacket x 1
Wool thermals x 2
Goretex top & trousers x 1
Good down sleeping bag
Lightweight waterproof bivvy
Waterproof socks x 1
Woolen socks x 2
Gaitors
Flat pedal with hiking boots
Sunhat with neck protection
Thermal beanie
Light windproof jacket
Long sleeve cycling top
Cycling shorts
Padded liner
Lighter & paper/starter fluid
2 x emrgency blankets
Head-torch & sp batts
GPS with preloaded routes & base map, sp batts
Waterproof cycling gloves
Dark glasses
???
  • + 4
 I'm going to assume your last comment is rhetorical, since if it was genuine and you're seeking advice on a Nepal trip from PB comments, you really do have problems. So since it's intended as smart-arsed rhetoric, I will tell you to take the criticism, learn from your mistakes, and stop being defensive. Also, yes an article is to be read for pleasure, but not passively. If you read something and have no opinion afterwards, then you have no brain. And these comment sections are intended for exactly that, comments.
  • + 4
 He's trolling as a defence mechanism @rbeach, and I don't feed trolls. What needed to be said has been said.
  • - 2
 OK, I officially give up.

But if anyone does want to add to/change this list, please feel free.
  • + 3
 "I'm going to assume your last comment is rhetorical, since if it was genuine and you're seeking advice on a Nepal trip from PB comments, you really do have problems" - I really can't argue with this.
  • - 3
 Maybe you're right.
  • - 2
 Hey Graeme, suggest you ignore redrook and rbeach, they are just upset because they have to try and pass soggy hills off as mountains on the little miserable Island they come from. They seem to have conveniently forgotten a few facts, like;
- this was an unseasonal storm that rose out of a cyclone (Hudhud) and was the worst seen in a decade. Yes you could have been better prepared but you did go in, and plan for, Oct weather.
- reports put the total deaths around 43. That is not an indication that the mountain is covered in idiots, but rather how severe and unseasonal the storm was.
- international assistance was required with the rescue efforts
- the Nepalese government has admitted that they were not adequately prepared and has committed to improvements for future

All in I think you were extremely lucky, especially considering your lack of experience, but I am glad that you are planning to go back to complete your trip - hopefully a little wiser.
  • + 4
 I see Graeme has created another account. Either that or this is genuinely @Kakeochi's first comment, which I find doubtful since we're way at the bottom of the comments on a article which is no longer on the front page.

@Kakeochi , packing actual waterproofs is something everyone should do. And your first sentence is mere insult, with no basis, and renders your entire argument null as far as anyone with a half a brain is concerned.
  • + 3
 For sure a duplicate account, either that or he got a friend to set one up for the sake of an internet argument. I guess if he's been PM'ing people then he would be that petty.
  • - 2
 WTF are you guys on about?
  • + 8
 Please stay in the refuge, there was enough wood to burn, for instance the signpost etc. Makes it much easier for the SAR. And best way to stay alive. Now the SAR had to look for people all over the valleys. Spend the time packing up your nike properly, so when you get evacuated you can bring ot along with you, if lucky. If not, who cares. But props for surviving a night, its hell.
  • + 9
 Best Pinkbike article ever!
(And reaffirms my opinion about riding in 5-10 flat shoes, not silly clipless shoes that are worthless off the bike.)
  • - 2
 Usually the entire route is rideable.
  • + 1
 Yeah, but they should've been prepared for it to not be rideable. I mean, it's Nepal, not just the end of the street. Incredible that they didn't even pack footwear to hike in.
  • + 10
 This kind of thing is on a whole new level of mountain biking I've never ever experienced. Truly amazing stuff.
  • + 8
 Do people really go to the MOUNTAINS ... ANYWHERE ... IN THE FALL without walking shoes (just cleats) and no warm socks???


Good article though ... yeesh
  • + 6
 Great story, you guys are tough mothers! I must admit I was shaking my head the while time I was reading though. You guys were foolishly unprepared for venturing into any mountains in October. Always expect and plan for the worst.
  • + 1
 "foolishly unprepared" - could not agree more. Such disrespect for nature.
  • + 5
 Props to the author for being honest. Yeah, some poor decisions were made. But I appreciate the writer having the balls to just say what happened, bad choices included. Reading this made me think a little harder about what I bring on my rides, maybe this post will save my life. PS If you're freezing in your sleeping bag cuddle with someone, it's ok if it's another guy.
  • + 5
 This one of the many reasons why PB rocks! Great article and depth on a major epic. I've wanted to make that circuit on a bike for a long time now. Nice work keeping it together guys.
  • + 7
 Amazing story, what a great read. Well done to all.
Dear pinkbike: MORE OF THIS!
  • + 5
 Even if they did (or didn't) ***k up, had (or did not have) the right kit etc etc........ it's a proper adventure and they did well to survive. A quality read !!
  • + 3
 Fascinating read, you guys were seriously lucky though. As @UncleGroove says, it is way too easy to take for granted a busy trail and weather will always do what the f@ck it wants! I remember being stuck on the summit of snowdon in zero visibility, ice and snow and freezing my cleats off, questioning my own judgment...people can all too easily come a cropper walking or riding in a postcard if conditions take a turn for the worse
  • + 3
 Echo the questions and concerns about the lack of your own independent weather obs ability. And the fixation on the rigid timeline constraints of needing to be back by a certain day. Listen to the Swiss who have a pretty ggod idea of how mountain weather can anally rape you at any time. Well told and well done for coming back with limbs intact and alive
  • + 5
 What a read! That ride down to Besisahar must have been awesome. To call home and all be safe after that journey, priceless. Thoughts for all the lost souls.
  • + 3
 Fantastic story - well written. Frankly it sounds like Lady Luck trumped Mother Nature that trip! As others have posted though - no fire source? No SPOT? No sat comm radio? No Extra boots? This could have easily been Christopher McCandless times three.
  • + 3
 Excellent read, really enjoyed that! Yes there are issues with the guys preparations etc.. And luck was on their side but they seemed to handle themselves well and provided a great story to read out of it. Nobody would probably care if they were mountain experts head to toe in gortex and endless supplies!! Lol Anyway happy your safe and condolences to those families who lost loved ones.
  • + 2
 I got caught in some pretty major rain this morning. The trail became muddy and I was due home for a Sunday roast. Did I take shelter. Did I flip. Forged on. Made it back to the car and got a coffee from the burger van. I often wonder if I'd sheltered under that tree for awhile would I have made lunch. Guess we'll never know. Spirit of adventure, kudos brothers
  • + 2
 This is the single best piece I've read on this site, job well done! I'm glad you all survived, and are able to share this story with us. I love how leaving the bikes was never even considered, this really shows what biking really means to us all. The bike is just an extension of our body, we can't leave it behind!
  • + 2
 not that this compares in any way shape or form-i was living in salt lake city at the time, '94 maybe. thought i'd have a little afternoon spin at mill creek river trail system, end of oct. took a wrong turn somewhere...wasn't prepared for an overnight in the wasatch by any stretch of the imagination-light clothing, no lighter, no lights(torch, as you say). oh, and no map. only thing working in my favor was moonlight. anyway, found my way back to the trailhead/parking lot/car/civilization sometime around 10:30. by then temps were in the mid 30's. it's amazing how quickly shit can wrong...glad you guys made it out. one hell of a read. thoughts for all who didn't.
  • + 2
 I'm sat by a pool in Pokora after completing a week with Sacred rides around Kathmandu and the mustang Valley. I definitely think people are perhaps not giving these mountains the respect they deserve, particularly when getting upward of 4 thousand metres. Big up to Madil at Sacred rides for an amazing experience.
  • + 2
 Thank you for writing and sharing the story. Interesting to read about the local guides and their lack of knowledge. I climbed Killamanjaro this year and the weather was perfect so didn't have to rely on the guides in an emergency. They seemed pretty well trained though.

btw, Killamanjaro looks like it would be a perfect mountain for someone to bike down. On the way down I kept wishing I had a bike with me Smile
  • + 2
 I'm happy to hear you guys made it out alive. Seems like quite the nightmare, if you ask me. Your story is a stunning read and your pictures are a testament that you mostly thought you would make it. Thinking of the poor souls that didn't make it. Welcome back to civilisation.
  • + 2
 I still can't get over the fact that they only brought cleat shoes to the Himalaya. I'm super glad they are okay. I've done over 500km of hiking in the Himalaya and I'm constantly surprised at how unprepared people are when hiking/biking there. This mountain range shapes the weather for the entire planet. The mountains and valleys are twice the size of anything else in the world. I encourage people to go to Nepal and experience the amazing culture and meet some of the happiest people your ever likely to meet, the mountains there are unbelievable and epic. But please respect these mountains, plan for the worst and hope for the best.
  • + 1
 While it is an amazing story to read, I am sure the guys went through hell to survive the onslaught of mother nature. I had gone on a recce trip to the Tilicho and Thorong Pass exactly two weeks before the tragedy. I wanted to see if we could include Tilicho in our next series of adventure MTB race (www.yakru.com). I had concluded that it is too dangerous to do the MTB race involving Tilicho. The Tilicho Trail is hard enough to walk and you guys did it on MTN Bike. Hats Off to you!!
Read my account of Tilicho-Thorong Pass Recce trip at the end of Sept 2014 at www.tripcaptcha.com/Home/TrailDetail?result=Day%209%20and%2010%20-%20Tilicho%20lake,384
  • + 1
 @yakru, great account. Did you ever go over Mesokanto? Would love to come over and do the race!
  • + 1
 Great read and great adventure. glad you made it down ok. the second to last paragraph says it all as many people are unaware of the lack of information and government resources and thus do not make it back after traveling to Nepal. When i hiked the langtang I kept wondering what it would be like to blast down the mountain on a DH rig... www.aubreysacco.com
  • + 1
 Great write up. I crossed the Tilicho Pass on a bike on 2004, in October. We also had snow, but not so much and we were able to cross the pass, even if it took us 12 hours of pushing the bikes through the snow and some porters got snowblind. The biggest difference to you guys were the porters with the camp and warm clothes.
I'm happy you are ok.

www.pinkbike.com/photo/11603787

www.pinkbike.com/photo/11603788
  • + 1
 I had a similar experience bikepacking in Tilicho base camp area. Except I got rejected trying to cross Mesokanto la pass and had to retreat back to base camp to recover. That tea house boss makes one hell of a chocolate pancake.
drunkcyclist.com/2013/11/26/oh-places
  • + 1
 Wow! i did the Langtang trail this summer, the hardest thing ive ever done and that was on foot in good weather. Some of the most scary moments of my life!, i have an idea of what you must have gone through (just!) amazing story and glad you got out alive
  • + 1
 Gripping read. Yes, some mistakes made but these were freak conditions and local information and organisation was lacking. Glad to hear a happy ending, luck always plays a part. Condolences to the families and friends who lost loved ones.
  • + 1
 I think the decision not to ditch the bikes was the right one. The bikes probably provided some form of comfort and/or psychological secerity. Ditching them would have most liklely provked even more panic. Amazing story of survival!
  • + 1
 Amazing story, they made some crucial decisions, and were helped by a big dose of luck, but that's just the way it goes sometimes.
As for not ditching the bikes etc, I guess they didn't know just how much of a freak event the snowstorm was, and when you're under pressure and tired out in the open your mind can do funny things, but the end result was that they all made it out of there and were able to ride the 93kms on the way back.

Wonder if they've any plans of a return trip??
  • + 2
 I got off a 7 day trek there as the rain started and in the morning the pass we had crossed was under a meter of snow .We got lucky .Never under estimate the power of the mountains .Especially the Himalayas .
  • + 2
 Now that is a MNT Bike Adventure Holy Crap loss of Skin , freezing almost to Death Wow stories to tell pictures to show it all glad you guys made it back
  • + 2
 Guys, you are an amazing example of human resilience when the going gets tough! I want to buy you guys a pint! The best thing I have read on here! What a story!
  • + 2
 wow, great read and i kinda felt the vibe, holding onto their bikes says a lot about these guys, we can all learn from reading this... 10/10 pinkbike!
  • + 4
 Thanks for the great read!
  • + 4
 brilliant read truly epic journey
  • + 1
 agreed
  • + 1
 Amazing story. Must of been hard to not abandon your bikes. Sounds like you had good judgement through it all which clearly saved your lives. A good read, both motivational and educational.
  • + 1
 I would have ditched the bikes and concentrated on saving my life. Im certain they appreciate life much more than your average individual. Mountains must be respected and one should be prepared for the worse.
  • + 3
 Dang so sick. Great to have those "remember that time" moments
  • + 2
 Incredible story, glad that you're ok and thoughts to those who weren't. More of this please PB.
  • + 1
 great article! teaches a lot about respecting nature or else, be dealt with consequences of various levels. glad that the story ended good for your group.
  • - 1
 Wow, today I went riding with a few buddies, and my chain broke twice on me, I ended up riding back with a 22 gear up front at 26 on the back, over a couple miles and about 1k elevation, pushing the bike up. Took us longer than we thought and got colder as the sun went down. Part of me was upset the ride didn't turn out as planned, but doesn't hold a candle to what these guys went through.
  • + 1
 I did the Annapurna trek on foot in 2007, one day I would like to go back and do it on a bike. Great article, glad everyone survived.
  • + 1
 That is an EPIC story! Thanks for sharing! I'm also really glad you didn't have a major mechanical....I think that would have put a damper on the whole thing haha.
  • + 1
 Amazing story of survival! The honestly of the writting is truly inspiring. I am glad you guys made it for another ride. Thanks for sharing it.
  • + 1
 Glad you all made it out alive. That'll be one heck of a conversation starter later!
  • + 3
 wanna do it again?
  • + 1
 I think skis would be alot more useful... I started drooling just looking at all tha powder or maybe even a snowbike
  • + 2
 Should have made snow shoes with the wheels.
  • + 2
 wow that was fantastic read... glad to see you guys made it out ok!
  • - 2
 I got half way through before I could read no longer... Stupidity, while moderately entertaining, is not to be confused with heroism, or adventure, or courage, or perseverance. These men had no business being in those mountains, plain and simple. They are lucky they survived, but they by no means deserved to.
  • + 3
 They did not deserve to survive? Are you f*cking insane? Does this mean all Tsunami victims deserved to die? It was a known Tsunami area and nobody was prepared…
  • + 1
 Amazing! epic journey And amazing you had the energy to take photos despite everything being against you! Top job Lads Wink
  • + 1
 very well written and balanced writing, amazing story, hats off to those guys for surviving and sharing the story so well
  • + 1
 hahaha, lots of funny comments here...
  • + 2
 what is snow??
  • + 1
 Holy crap. What a read. Good to see it worked out for you guys.
  • + 2
 fat bike next time
  • + 1
 Absolutely epic. great read that's what I like to see!
  • + 1
 South African ingenuity and survival instinct at it's best.
  • + 1
 Wow! Just Wow! Amazing tale of survival.
  • + 2
 Actually epic.
  • + 1
 Never underestimate a South Africans tenacity
  • + 1
 What was the wheelsize of their bikes?Smile I really need to know
  • - 1
 why did they even bring the bikes?

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