The Yak Attack Fatbike Challenge for Nepal

Dec 19, 2015 at 21:00
Dec 19, 2015
by Matt Rousu  
 
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What an incredible race, an amazing country and a challenge like no other. The 2015 Yak Attack (6-14th November) was an eight stage mountain bike race that took us as high as 5416m (17770ft) above sea level. We climbed over 12000m (40000ft) over 400km of rough terrain ranging from amazing singletrack, pot holed jeep tracks, village walking trails, skinny landslide cliff-sides, snow, ice and alpine goat trails.

Hiking up the pass.
Hiking up to 5416m in the Nepal Himalaya

The reason I decided to race on a Fatbike is simple; it's different. I needed to do something a little different to try and raise awareness for the plight of the Nepali people at this time. The massive earthquake which devastated many lives in April of 2015 is still causing heartache for millions of people. I set out to try and help a small group of dedicated mountain bikers in Nepal who will be building Seven Schools in Seven Weeks this December. Their story is incredible, not only did they help rescue people during the earthquake, they committed themselves to a long term project to try and truly help Nepal get back on its feet. They started their own charity called Nepal Cyclists Ride to Rescue (NCRR) and are calling for people to help raise the necessary funds to undertake such a huge project. I figured racing one of the hardest races on the planet on a Fatbike might be able to inspire some people to realise the challenges that people undertake just to make a small difference. It's small groups like NCCR who truly make a difference and you can still help.

Last minute packing in Kathmandu
Last minute organising in Kathmandu

Ready to rumble in Kathmandu
Ready to rumble in Kathmandu

Stage 1, 7 November - Shivapuri (Kathmandu) to Nuwakot, 47km:

Elevation Gain: 955m
Elevation Loss: 1601m

We began the day with a 10km group ride through the streets of Kathmandu up to the lush jungle of Shivapuri National Park, it was a cruisy ride until we got close to the mountains, then it became a small taste of things to come. When the locals say it's just a little climb, they mean you'll be in the lowest gear and sweating by the end of it. Luckily it wasn't part of the race so we could just climb at our own leisurely pace. Blessings and a small ceremony were given to wish us good luck during the race and before we knew it the 2015 Yak Attack was underway.

Receiving a blessing at the start line.
Receiving a blessing at the beginning of the race.

The Start Line
The Start Line

Group photo at the Start
The group, blessed and ready to begin 8 days of Himalayan stage racing.

It began with a loose climb on steep jeep track before heading into the jungle to enjoy many km of dense singletrack, river crossings and muddy puddles before opening up into a massive valley. A long 15km descent followed to the bottom of the valley, steep singletrack, tiny villages, goats and chickens. We rode from 1800m down to the valley floor before a long bumpy jeep track wound its way towards the final climb of the day. 5km of steep, loose terrain and the midday sun heat greeted us as we snaked our way up to the small ridge line village of Nuwakot. I ended up taking off my gloves and glasses to avoid overheating and the bike had become covered in fine dust, the drivetrain creaking away on the final push of the day. Three hours and 43 minutes later and stage one was done. I was feeling good, the legs were still strong and I had no concerns for the day. A great start to the race. The leaders on the stage were Yak Attack veterans, Yuki Ikeda, Peter Butt, Aayman Tamang and Ajay Pandit Chhetri. In Nuwakot we stayed at a beautiful little hotel with spectacular views down the valley, the hotel itself had suffered some earthquake damage so some of us spent the night in comfortable tents.

The windy route from the top of the mountain. Super fun descending but brutal climbing.
The windy route from the top of the mountain. Super fun descending but brutal climbing.

Stage 1 climbing up a typical jeep track climb with Laxmi
Climbing up a typical jeep track climb with Laxmi

Laxmi fixing a puncture about half way through stage 1 the media circus was always close by.
Laxmi fixing a puncture about half way through stage one, the media was always close by.

The steep climb up to the finish of Stage 1 was brutal hot and dusty. This shot from the jeep really shows how steep a normal climb in Nepal is.
The steep climb up to the finish of stage one was brutal, hot and dusty. This shot from the jeep really shows how steep a 'normal' climb in Nepal is.

Myself crossing the line on Stage 1. A local boy ran the last 30m with me so we Hi-fived across the finish line.
Myself crossing the line on stage one. A local boy ran the last 30m with me so we Hi-fived across the finish line.

Sunset on Day 1
Sunset on day one.

Stage 2, 8 November - Trisuli to Gorkha, 10km group ride, 80km stage:

Elevation Gain: 2601m
Elevation Loss: 2211m

Once again we started the day with a 10km group ride to the start line, we descended down the other side of the ridge to the town of Trisuli so any altitude gained on the final climb of stage one was lost before we even started racing stage two. Today was set to be one of the longest days for everyone, 80km of tough terrain with some massive climbs.

A misty morning start to Stage 2 was really nice.
A cool misty morning was a nice way to start stage two

We started climbing as soon as we left the start line, 11km of a gradual gradient followed by a quick descent before climbing back up to 1400m, it was good to get a huge chunk of climbing done in the first 25km but the stage was far from over. A massive descent followed down into yet another wide valley. The top of the descent was rocky and steep and quite suddenly around one corner the trail had turned into 200m of massive river rocks, I had gathered a fair bit of momentum coming into these rocks and all of a sudden had not many options. I ended up turning a tad too sharp into a boulder and sailed off the bike onto the rocks, for a brief moment as I was in the air all I could think was "No, don't injure yourself on stage two, the rest of the race will be a nightmare!" A quick check over and I had a few scrapes and a bruised thigh, so luckily I was all good and took the rest of the descent a bit easier.10km later and we were in the valley, 20km of bumpy jeep track and river crossings took us to the next water station at 55km. It's hard to put across how bumpy the 'flat' jeep tracks were, the best way to put it in perspective is to say that you couldn't even get your water bottle out of the cage on these roads without stopping completely, so there was no real rest or relaxing riding on these first two stages. We also passed through a lot of small villages that were near the epicentre of the earthquake, one village was almost completely deserted and another had many buildings completely levelled. It was an eerie part of the trail.

Eartquake damage during stage 2.
Earthquake damage was obvious in every village during stage two, we rode right through the epicentre of the massive April disaster.

Earthquake devastation during Stage 2. This small town was pretty much deserted.
This small town was practically deserted, some of the villages had a really quiet and eerie feeling to them.

Around the 50km mark I caught up to Tan (who is from Mt Beauty, the same town as me in Australia) who had just suffered her 4th flat tyre for the day. I stopped to help her fix it as I could see her absolute frustration in losing the time, we took off together and in no time at all I couldn't even see her up the trail ahead. We wound down to the drink station at 55km before the long, hot and dusty climb of the day. 10km of loose, steep and weary legged climbing took us up to another beautiful ridge line which we weaved in and out of villages and valleys to the final water station at 65km. There was a cut-off time to reach this water station within 7 and a half hours, so I was a little nervous about any small delays throughout the stage.

Stage 2 the 2nd water station after about 50km was a welcome sight
Coming into the water station at 50km was nice to refill after the long and hot valley ride.

On the long climb up to the water station I went to change up a gear, but the chain had dried out so much after 60km of mud and dust that it snapped, in my frantic hurry to try and fix it I'd forgotten where I'd put my quick link. Turns out it was in the only place I didn't search my camelback, luckily Elias and Fredrik from Sweden were not too far behind me and offered one of their spare 10speed quick links which actually worked on my 11 speed chain. It was super loose and would come apart without any pressure at all so I had to ride the rest of the stage without putting too much power down. I applied a bunch of lubricant and set off again in search of the water station, I was greatly relieved to climb just a couple more kilometres to get there with about an hour to spare, the small village was littered with happy kids and people who were just fascinated with the Fat tyres on my bike.

Stage 2 at the 65km cut off water station. We had to be there in 7 and a half hours happily I arrived an hour early.
Stage two at the 65km cut off water station. I celebrated with these happy kids who were just fascinated with the Fat bike.

Actually throughout the entire race the local people would all comment as I rode past; "haha, motorcycle tyres," many people just stopped what they were doing and just laughed at the small westerner with gigantic tyres, it constantly brought a smile to my face and hopefully they'll remember the moments as fondly as I do.

Stage 2 climbing up from the river in the hot sun.
Climbing up in the hot sun

The last 15km felt like it took forever and most of it was on fast and semi smooth jeep track, albeit the traffic was much heavier, with trucks and buses galore. It took me close to two hours to ride to the finish line from the last water station, I briefly glimpsed Tan up the trail who had suffered her 5th flat for the day, I yelled out but she didn't hear me so we rode the last 10km in our own heads. 8 hours and 53 minutes in the saddle to get to the finish line, just a tad over four hours behind Ajay who took the stage by over 10 minutes to Yuki, Narayan, Peter and Aayman. It was nice to finish the stage before the sunset to cruise into the big town of Gorkha, which was also the staging town for the immediate earthquake relief efforts. A super long day, but I knew I had to keep a steady pace to conserve as much energy as I could, after all it was only stage two and I had of six days of racing to go!

During the first 2 stages I took off my gloves and glasses on the long climbs to try and stay a bit cooler.
During the first two stages I took off my gloves and glasses on the long climbs to try and stay a bit cooler.

Stage 3, 9 November - Gorkha to Besi Sahar, 40km Time Trial + 20km group ride:

Elevation Gain: 708m
Elevation Loss: 1117m

Stage three was unique, we set off in one minute intervals from the start line in reverse order of our overall standing in the race. As I was sitting pretty in 24th overall I set off as the 6th rider. There was a huge crowd of local women all dressed in red at the start line to offer us blessings and cheer us as we hurtled down the 7km descent into yet another valley. It was a really cool way to start the day, the descent woke us all up quickly too. I was super happy to overtake 5 of the 6 riders in front of me by staying off the brakes and having a really good fun ride down the mountainside. It was also an amazing feeling to actually be 2nd on the road for the days stage for a short while, haha.

The beginning of Stage 3 was amazing. The local women all came out to bless us and send us down the trail.
The beginning of stage three was amazing. The local women all came out to bless us and send us down the trail.

It didn't last too long though as we found our way onto 15km of smooth bitumen (the only sealed road for the entire race), I actually felt like I was apart of a road tour race as the Nepali boys all climbed past me like I was standing still. Ajay and Pete came flying past on one particular steep pinch which was amazing to see. It was kind of funny because the smooth road was the Fatbikes worst enemy, every pedal stroke I put down I could just feel the 4 inch wide tyres drag along, begging for some actual dirt to grip into. So although it was nice and not bumpy, it was probably one of my least favourite parts of the entire race.

Stage 3 started with a km jeep track descent I was absolutely loving it.
Stage 3 started with a 7km jeep track descent, I was absolutely loving it.

As soon as we rode back onto some actual dirt, I was bouncing around but was much happier to not actually feel the drag. We raced through small villages, lots of farmland and a number of small streams. Many of the top racers caught up to me and flew by, but I managed to ride with a few people towards the end of the stage. Tyler and I rode the last 5km together, he started three minutes behind me. I tried to get on his back wheel for a finish line sprint, but left my run too late. It was a really great format for the day as many people finished in small groups and were able to ride together for the 20km road ride to the small town of Besi Sahar. My time for the day was 2 hours and 27 minutes, it then took almost two hours to ride up to Besi Sahar.

The Fatbike loved the descents. Stage 3 Time Trial
The Fat bike was great on the descents throughout the whole race.

We rolled through town, which seemed like a typical Nepal mountain town before turning into our accommodation for the night; The Himalayan Gateway Resort. Complete with swimming pool, water fountain and lush green grass to walk on, it was kind of surreal place, but a welcome one after three days of racing. Lunch was served and I found I had really little appetite, I had only half a plate of dahl baht and rice before heading back to the room to rest. My head was really hot and my body was quite cool and I began to feel quite a bit nauseous, I thought I had sunstroke from riding most of the day on a hot road. I lay down with a cold towel over my eyes to try and rest it out.

Ajay and Peter racing hard on Stage 3 Time trial
Ajay followed closely by Peter

After a couple of hours I was really nauseous and decided to vomit and see if that might help me feel better. After getting rid of breakfast and lunch and the litres of water I'd consumed during the day I actually did feel a bit better but I just couldn't eat anything. Everything I tried felt like coming straight back up. After another short nap and a few trips to the toilet, Leighann went to hunt down Angela (one of the trip doctors and partner to Pete) to try and pinpoint what might actually be wrong with me. After a short examination, she decided that I'd picked up some kind of stomach bug or travellers diarrhoea, maybe E.coli or Giardia. I basically asked her to give me anything to help me get through the monstrous stage four. She prescribed me two types of antibiotics to try and eliminate what was in there, a fever reduction tablet (I was running 2 degrees celsius hot), an anti nausea tablet to help try and stomach some food and a probiotic to help get some healthiness back into my gut.

The typical landscape for the first 3 days of racing.
The typical landscape for the first three days of racing.

I was hopeful, but still struggling to eat. I stayed in bed for the briefing and dinner and Leighann cleaned my bike and made sure it was ready for stage four. I managed to eat a bowl of cornflakes for dinner only to vomit it back up a couple of hours later. After a rough night I was feeling a little better but without any food or water in my system I was super tired...

The Rivers started to become less murky the further we travelled into the hills away from Kathmandu
The rivers started to become less murky the further we travelled into the hills away from Kathmandu

Stage 4, 10 November - Besi Sahar to Chame, 72km:

Elevation Gain: 2922m
Elevation Loss: 1026m

The big day. Researching the race at home, I knew this was going to be the hardest stage of the race. Starting at an elevation of 790m and climbing up to 2750m is never going to be an easy day in the saddle. As the water stations were spread out fairly evenly at 20km, 42km and 54km I had small goals to aim for throughout the day and just tried to focus on those instead of having close to zero food or nutrition in my system. We took off quite early and almost immediately the loose and steep climbing began. The first 10km weren't so bad, a few steep pinches but I felt like I was on a good pace. Mithras and Morris rode away from me at around that point and that's when I knew I had started to tire. I knew if I couldn't keep up with their pace that it was going to be a challenge to make the cut off point at 54km in under 7.5 hours. The steep climbs were rideable but I just didn't have the energy to push up them, so I walked a fair chunk of the loose, steep stuff trying not to stop and to just keep moving forward. In my mind I kept repeating to myself, "You've got this, it's just another day in the saddle" over and over trying to stay positive.

The morning of Stage 4 after being up half the night vomiting and not being able to stomach anything. It was going to be a tough day...
The morning of stage four after being up half the night vomiting and not being able to stomach anything. It was going to be a tough day...

At the 20km water station after close to three hours, Leighann, Angela and Saya were waiting for us to see how we were travelling. I was riding with Tetsuo (who had also been vomiting during the night) and the sweeper Neil. Elias had made the tough decision to stop riding around 15km into the stage, he had also been suffering with a stomach bug since stage two. We were out the back. I was tired and needed a toilet. Neil (who has raced The Yak Attack three times) calmly mentioned to us that at our current pace we were not going to make 54km in 7.5 hours and that it might be a good idea to save our energy for the next few stages. In the back of my mind I knew this was probably the case, but I had dismissed the possibility of giving up, I'd put way too much effort into this event. The hours spent training in the winter back home, organising the fundraiser and trying to inspire people to get out there and challenge themselves. The thought of letting all the people down who had donated or supported me kept coming to the front of my mind. To have Neil say out loud that we weren't going to make it was too much.

Aayman dodging some local traffic on a steep climb on Stage 4
Aayman dodging some local traffic on a steep climb on stage four.

I sat in the dirt, took off my helmet and just lost it. Tears came streaming down my face and I was just shattered to think that it was all over. I looked at Leighann and she was struggling to keep it together, but she did. Neil also avoided looking at me as I battled with the fact that my Yak Attack might be over. After a few moments, those same thoughts that kept me pedalling up those first 20km came back into my head; "You can do this, just get up and ride, you can't give up now, look how far you've come." I took another trip to the toilet and tried to pull it together, briefly I thought to myself; "Stop crying, you are wasting energy by doing that." I came back out, put my helmet on, tried to swallow some food and was determined to try and get to the next water station at the 43km point. Neil shook my hand and yelled out "Good decision man, keep at it." Pedalling out of the small village I had new found energy to not give in. There was a steep, long and zig zag climb up to the ridge line and I felt strong, I could see the river below where I had just ridden up from, Neil and Tetsuo were along way back which gave me confidence that I was again riding strong enough.

The valleys became narrower and the mountains steeper Stage 4 was a beautiful stage to ride.
The valleys became narrower and the mountains steeper. Stage four was a beautiful stage to ride.

Looking up at the climb ahead
Looking up at the climb ahead

The next 12km were tough, the terrain wasn't difficult and I felt like I should be making good progress but the kilometres just weren't getting ticked off fast enough. I had to stop two more times to go to the toilet (or bush) and my stool was just like water. I was super dehydrated and was running low on toilet paper, all in all I just wasn't moving fast enough. Neil had caught up to me as Tetsuo had also decided to stop riding. I got to about the 32km point at another small town and it was just before 1pm (almost five hours in) and I was at 1600m in altitude. I made a quick calculation and realised I had to ride potentially the hardest climb of the race at about 10km/hr. I'd ridden 32km in five hours, thats about 6.5km/hr for the stage so far. I'd pretty much accepted that I wasn't going to make the cut off point at 54km, I'd battled my demons and decided to fight another day. I could have ridden another 2.5 hours but I'm positive it would have done more harm than good, physically I was done, mentally I was devastated but still determined to get up the next day and enjoy riding my bike with these amazing athletes and this great crew in the Himalaya. It's a passion that many might not understand, to push ourselves and find our absolute limits. Every event we do the limit gets set a little higher and to not try and reach that limit is like not living. Sometimes we can rise above that limit and sometimes you get taken down, it's the only way to feel truly alive. The highs and lows of epic adventure racing...

Yuki leads this train up the steep climb after suffering a cracked rib just moments earlier.
Yuki leads this train up the steep climb, after suffering a cracked rib just moments earlier.

Even Yak Attack veterans found the going tough on Stage 4 s steep climbs. Tan and Tyler opting to walk this steep pitch.
Even Yak Attack veterans found the going tough on stage 4's steep climbs. Tan and Tyler opting to walk this steep pitch.

I spent the next four hours in the passenger seat of a jeep, driving the remainder of stage 4 with Tetsuo and Elias. We managed to catch up to Fredrik at the last water station and it was getting on dark, Neil rode with him to the finish line. We arrived in the super small mountain town of Chame, everyone gathered in the dining hall to share stories from the day. After resting in the jeep, drinking electrolytes and taking a few more tablets I was able to stomach a bit of food during dinner. It would be the last day in the valley's before heading up into the high Himalayan ranges.

The point that I rode to on Stage 4 before calling it a day. I was just riding too slowly to make the cut off. Next year I plan to shake my fist in defiance at this spot...
The point that I rode to on stage four before calling it a day. I was just riding too slowly to make the cut off.


Stage 5, 11 November - Chame to Manang, 30km:

Elevation Gain: 1041m
Elevation Loss: 223m

I awoke feeling not too bad and managed to eat a bowl of porridge, it took me about an hour but at least it stayed down. Another short ride to the start of stage five which was a beautiful pine forest descent before heading up the one and only big climb of the day. As we started with the small descent I was riding mid field and had a bit of false hope thinking I was riding strong, but then we hit the climb and all the people behind me started coming past me. It was a struggle to try and keep up with the others as we went up the climb, but I wouldn't be left behind again. It was a short but tough climb as we had cracked the 3000m height and the air was just that little bit thinner, I reached the top in contact with Mithras, Morris and Bart and a few riders were still behind me so I was feeling confident mentally.

The start of Stage 5.
The start of stage five.

Stage 5 saw us ride up through the last of the pine forests and enter the true Himalayan mountains.
Stage five saw us ride up through the last of the pine forests and enter the true Himalayan mountains.

The remainder of the stage was beautiful 'updulating' (Nepali undulating) jeep track through a wide valley, as we rode around each corner the trees became thinner and the mountains loomed larger. It was hard not to stop and take photographs of the massive peaks and milky blue rivers, just incredible scenery.

The rivers are truly amazing up at this height pure ice melt.
The rivers are truly amazing up at this height, pure ice melt.

Amazing little alpine villages and Monasteries on the way up the valley.
Amazing little alpine villages and Monasteries on the way up the valley.

There was one more short climb up into the village of Manang and knowing that we had rest day for acclimatisation ahead, I gave it everything. It was a great feeling to get to the finish line and have the other competitors there to cheer and welcome me back to the race. I finished in a time of 3 hours and 18 minutes.

The landscape also began to open up and the trees only clung to steep hillsides.
The landscape also began to open up and the trees only clung to steep hillsides.

Finishing Stage 5 in the small village of Manang at 3500m altitude.
Finishing stage five in the small village of Manang at 3500m altitude.


Manang Rest Day, 12 November:

It was great to have a rest day to acclimatise to the high altitude, we each had a blood oxygen saturation and blood pressure test to see how our bodies were adapting above 3500m. I was right on the oxygen limit with a reading of 81. Normal levels at sea level are 95-100%, levels below 80% are considered low so I was just above the limit of being unsafe to go any higher. A big group of us went out for a short hike on the opposite side of the valley to a ridge line at 3800m to try and acclimatise better and also to keep ourselves active. It was an incredible view up top with amazing views to the 7455m high Gangapurna, its glacier slowly devouring the valley below us and forming a vibrant blue lake at its base. Most of us started to feel a lot better and enjoyed the German bakeries and relaxation.

The Yak Attack Fatbike Challenge For Nepal
Some of the crew decided to ride up the knife ridge trail. Narayan, Ajay, Yuki and Sonam

The Yak Attack Fatbike Challenge For Nepal
Yuki and Saya taking some epic photographs.

The Yak Attack Fatbike Challenge For Nepal
Leighann and I at the summit, it was super nice to have a day together. Relaxing and hiking in the himalaya!

The Yak Attack Fatbike Challenge For Nepal
The view down to Manang which almost blends in to the surrounding mountains.

Stage 6, 13 November - Manang to Thorong Phedi, 16km:

Elevation Gain: 1264m
Elevation Loss: 309m

The hardest race start ever! We began with a loose, steep climb at 3500m, literally half the field (including me) did not make it 500m before getting off to walk the remainder of the first climb, it was brutal. A perfect introduction to racing at altitude. As we crept higher up the valley the trail narrowed and the field spread out. It was only a 16km stage but the low level of oxygen really took its toll.

Stage 6 saw us truly enter the high altitude zone. Riding from 3500m up to 4500m in a short 16km stage.
Stage six saw us truly enter the high altitude zone. Riding from 3500m up to 4500m in a short 16km stage.

There was a small pinch climb that would be easy at sea level, but here the legs would start screaming and the lungs just couldn't get enough oxygen in. It was a real test, and one I'd been looking forward to since the start of the race. Every little incline became harder, pedaling on the flat had turned into recovery and the terrain continually became more challenging. Loose rock, off camber super skinny trail with make it or fall 500m sections. Signs warning of 'Landslide Danger, Step Carefully' became frequent, all I could think was, "How do you step carefully with a freaking fat bike?" It was a real adventure and I loved every minute of it, even the times when I was resting my head on the handlebars trying to get some more air in, it was awesome.

A few really narrow sections on the trail made for hard work on the Fatbike.
A few really narrow sections on the trail made for hard work on the Fat bike.

Hiking traffic
Hiking traffic

As we rode higher up the valley the trees disappeared completely and the landscape turned into a moonscape with snow capped peaks all around us, the river far below mirrored the colour of the clear blue sky. There was moments of pure joy as we actually had over 300m of intermittent descending throughout the day, I can say it was some of the best singletrack I've ever ridden, pure flow, amazing soil and a backdrop of breathless beauty.

Tan and Neil loving the single track.
Tan and Neil loving the epic singletrack

After descending down one side of the valley to the river far below we climbed back up the other side of the valley and wound our way slowly but surely up to the small tea house of Thorong Phedi (4540m), nestled only 5km from the top of Throrong Pass, the finish line was just as brutal as the start, but with stairs thrown in.

The awesome single track up to Throng Phedi at 4500m
The awesome singletrack up to Thorong Phedi at 4500m

Pure Himalayan Singltrack. Some of the most memorable and enjoyable trail I ve ever ridden.
Pure Himalayan Singletrack. Some of the most memorable and enjoyable trail I've ever ridden.

I'd had a fairly good day of riding and my appetite had come back. Two massive plates of fried rice down in the belly and feeling good, all in all it was a great day. My finish time was two hours and 58 minutes. The remainder of the afternoon was spent connecting the bike to the back of my backpack to prepare for the hike-a-bike up to 5416m on stage seven.

The bike at 4500m Throng Phedi the trail we raced up in the background.
The bike at 4500m Throng Phedi, the trail we raced up in the background.

The bike at the finish line of Stage 6. Tharong Phedi at 4500m is probably the hardest finish line sprint on the planet.
The bike at the finish line of stage six. Thorong Phedi at 4500m is probably the hardest finish line sprint on the planet.

An epic sunset to close out the day on Stage 6.
An epic sunset to close out the day

Stage 7, 14 November - Thorong Phedi to Thorong La to Kagbeni, 25km:

Elevation Gain: 956m
Elevation Loss: 2575m

This stage is what sets Yak Attack apart from every other race on the planet. We had to be up and packed by 3am to allow the porters enough time to hike up and over the pass to Muktinath (about 11km), breakfast was at 3:30am and the race started at 4:30am. We started so early to try and avoid the notorious high winds which pummel the pass during the day. It wasn't your typical race start either, everyone setting out on foot with headlamps and warm thermal gear to keep warm at -15 degrees celsius. Half the field had connected their bikes to a backpack to keep their hands free, the other half choosing to shoulder their bikes up the 5km climb to the summit. I'd chosen the backpack option as I was paranoid of getting cold hands, plus I'd figured it would be much more comfortable. Riding up wasn't even an option, it was so steep for the first 1.5km it was hard just to walk up.

We began Stage 7 in the dark at 4 30am to try and avoid the high winds up at the 5416m Tharong La.
We began stage seven in the dark.

A lone star guides us to the top
A lone star guides us to the top

It was slow going, any time I tried to pick up the pace, the altitude would just knock the breath out of me. So it was key to try and find a steady rhythm, but it was a race so it was difficult to take it too easy. As we gradually climbed higher, the darkness subsided into the valley below and the promise of sunrise was touching the high peaks around us. It was cold too, my camelbak hose had actually frozen solid but luckily I had an insulated water bottle I could drink from. After 4km, the sun had just peaked over the horizon and for a short while it was quite nice, then the wind started...

Hiking in the darkness
Hiking in the predawn light.

The last 1km of the hike was just brutal, wind blowing ice crystals into my face and nearly knocking me over with its strong gusts. I had to turn the front wheel into the wind to lessen the impact on the fat tyres, it was a true adventure, hiking my bike in the dark up to 5416m (17770ft) just to spend a few brief moments with Leighann (who hiked up the pass faster than 10 or so riders) on the summit to pretty much get out of there and away from the wind as fast as possible. Haha! It took me about three and a half hours to get to the top, but we still had 20km to ride.

An icy climb up to the Pass early in the morning.
An icy climb up to the Pass early in the morning.

Hike a fatback up to the top not easy going but a true adventure.
Hike a fatbike up to the top, not easy going but a true adventure.

The bike atop the pass at 5416m the highest Fatbike pic on the planet Maybe..
The bike atop the pass at 5416m, the highest Fatbike pic on the planet??? Maybe..

Standing up the top was blisteringly cold as the wind blowing from behind me was just brutal Only a few minutes were spent there before heading down the other side on 2 wheels.
Standing up the top was blisteringly cold as the wind blowing from behind me was just brutal!

I disconnected the bike from the pack, took a few quick photographs, put my helmet on and pointed the bike down the other side... I saw a few tyre tracks in the snow going straight along this crazy looking ridge line and figured that must be the way down. So I pedalled into the wind, head down not really seeing any trail but blindly following. Turns out it was the wrong way, but I didn't realise it for about 15 minutes, the ridge line didn't start descending at all, in fact it seemed to be getting a little higher than the pass. My hands were frozen so I hiked down the right hand side of the ridge to try and get out of the wind, that's when I saw the trail. Some 500m away on the other side of the valley, a beautiful sunlit snow ribbon of a trail winding its way gently down the mountain, and here I was huddling in the shadows being pummelled by the anabatic wind on a steep rocky mountainside. I had no choice but to slide down the loose rocky slope using my bike to stop me, every time I'd lift the bike up I'd start a mini avalanche of rock and slide down the steep slope before planting the bike back on the ground. It was hectic, but looking back it was quite an adventure, haha. After about 30 minutes I'd reached the actual trail, all I could think of was to lose altitude quickly so I could start to function normally again. Descending 2500m sounds fun, but up at 5000m it's tough work, and the trail wasn't a walk in the park either. Loose rocks, snow that looked like ice and ice that looked like stone, it was really unpredictable, the surprise ice sliding towards cliffsides being the worst part. I crashed a few times, being overconfident on the fatbike on the steep snow slopes, after one particular crash, Mitras and Morris caught up with me and we had a small vent about how crazy the day had been so far. We rode together and caught up with Guy and Tan before getting to a particularly icy section which turned out to be both easier and safer to walk. Gradually the five of us made it down to the jeep track, which was basically like riding down a dry rocky river bed at 4800m, the fat bike loved it, Guy would later comment how fast I rode down the trail from there. By the time I'd reached the bottom of the steep jeep road section, I could no longer see any riders behind me, so I was happy to be riding/racing the stage better than any stage yet.

Once over the top of the pass the riding was a mixture of loose rock snow and ice.
Once over the top of the pass the riding was a mixture of loose rock, snow and ice.

I stopped briefly to take a couple of layers off and swap gloves, the road ahead was smooth and fast and I was flying along losing altitude rapidly, it was great. Then I rounded a corner and was confronted with a locked wooden gate, I stopped and looked around for any other trails and found none, I looked at the ground for tyre tracks and found none. I slowly realised I'd taken a wrong turn, I replayed some information in my head to try and figure out where I'd gone wrong. It dawned on me that I was on the wrong side of the valley, I looked across at the village on the other side of the valley which was actually a little higher than me and figured that was the small town of Muktinath, the 11km water station. I briefly considered jumping the fence and trying to navigate my way across the deep river laden valley, but I really didn't want to get lost. I turned the bike back up the hill and began climbing again, after about 5 minutes of riding I was super tired and actually quite warm, still in long pants and base layer thermals. I took a long drink of water and some food before stepping off to walk back up.

Super fun but still really steep and really technical in some places on the descent.
Super fun, but still really steep and really technical in some places on the descent.

10 minutes later Mithras and Morris came riding down the same trail, I stopped them and gave them the bad news, Morris reconfirmed with his GPS and we were about 2km off track, we agreed to hike back up and ride the rest of the stage together. It was pretty crap to be walking back up after having such a great day racing and riding, but it didn't really dampen my spirits too much, we hiked for probably 45 minutes and really smashed out the last 15km of the day in not much time at all. We'd all just completed an absolutely epic day and rode into Kagbeni before midday!

The landscape on the other side of the pass was really different not a tree in sight true alpine desert.
The landscape on the other side of the pass was really different, not a tree in sight, true alpine desert.

A big group of us went to the famous Yakdonalds for lunch, Leighann and I had a celebratory plate of vegetarian Momos! It was a great day and everyone had a story to tell, many people actually made the same mistake Mitras, Morris and I made. Paul Cooper actually jumped the wooden fence which had barred my way and navigated his way to the finish line on his own trail, haha. Narayan got a flat tyre on the final descent and continued to race his way down the mountainside to 3rd on the day, absolutely destroying his carbon rim! Roan Tamang set a new course record with a blistering time of 2 hours 55 minutes, some 20 minutes faster than 2nd place! To put his race in perspective, probably 20 of the 29 riders would have still been walking up the pass in the dark when he crossed the finish line, in fact he probably reached the finish line before the sun rose. Amazing effort. Mithras, Morris and I rode across the line as the last riders of the day with a time of 7 hours 11 minutes.

The Yak Attack Fatbike Challenge For Nepal
Riding down the moonscape, the 8167m Dhaulagiri in the left of frame about to come into full view!

Stage 8, 15 November - Kagbeni to Tatopani, 58km:

Elevation Gain: 326m
Elevation Loss: 1824m

Stage 8 was mostly downhill and a really nice valley greeted us. Scary massive birds though
Stage eight was mostly downhill and a really nice valley greeted us. Scary massive birds though

The sun peaking its way over the Himalayan giants.
The sun peeking its way over the Himalayan giants.

It was a really great way to finish the Yak Attack, with a huge descent into the town of Tatopani, which literally means Hot Water. Everyone was looking forward to a cold drink in the famous hot springs there. The stage began with 30km of undulating jeep trail, the mountains coming in and out of view as we crossed the massive Kali Gandaki River, most notable was the 8167m peak of Dhaulagiri. I felt like I was riding really well, keeping a similar pace to Tyler, Tan and Guy, they'd catch me on the climbs and I'd catch them on the descents. Stage eight was in my favour as we finished with 25km of pure downhill jeep track, the fat bike just loved it and I found myself passing rider after rider and before I knew it the stage was done, I was super happy to finish the stage closer to the front of the field than the back for once, haha..

Dhaulagiri one of the tallest mountains in the world stands tall above this desert monastery.
Dhaulagiri, one of the tallest mountains in the world stands tall above this desert monastery.

The river runs low now but in monsoon covers the whole valley.
The river runs low now, but in monsoon covers the whole valley.

Gradually everyone made their way to the finish line to be greeted happily by the other racers, there was no competition or comparisons in this race, we were all there to survive and enjoy a true adventure of pushing ourselves to the limit. It was the best race I've ever done, physically challenging and mentally tough. The backdrop in the Nepal Himalaya could not have been better, the trails were amazing and it was really rewarding to get to the end of each stage.

The Yak Attack Fatbike Challenge For Nepal
The finish line, complete with ribbon!

The Yak Attack Fatbike Challenge For Nepal
Congratulating my hometown mate Tan, who was only 20 minutes behind the winner, Laxmi at this year's Yak Attack

The champion Ajay had a spin on my Fatbike after the group ride on the last day the smile says it all Congrats Ajay
The champion Ajay had a spin on my Fatbike after the group ride on the last day, the smile says it all, Congrats Ajay.

After the stage we all ventured down to the famous natural hot springs, they are nestled in the heart of the world's deepest valley alongside the beautiful milky blue waters of the Kali Gandaki river. The water was a toasty 60 Degrees Celsius so we had too keep cool with a few drinks thanks to the crew from Yeti Travels, possibly not the most ideal recovery after an eight stage mountain bike race, but six hours of soaking away, telling tales from the race and many shouts of "I'll be back next year" seemed like the perfect conclusion to one of the best races on the planet.

The Podium. Jay 1st Pete 2nd Narayan 3rd Aayaman 4th and Yuki 5th
The Podium. Ajay 1st, Pete 2nd, Narayan 3rd, Aayaman 4th and Yuki 5th. Legends!!

The Yak Attack Fatbike Challenge For Nepal
The only time I got to ride with the champion (his 5th Yak Attack victory) was on the group ride after the race, haha.

The Yak Attack Fatbike Challenge For Nepal
Time for a well earned drink!

The Yak Attack Fatbike Challenge For Nepal
Six hours of soaking in the Hot Springs after eight days of racing. A perfect conclusion to the race.

Now the race is over, the hard work is about to begin. The team at NCRR are about to begin building seven schools in seven weeks, only a short distance away from where we rode through in stage two. They still need your help as the government is yet to lend any aid to the many people in need, this report just came in from the team in Nepal:

"Seven months on winter is ready to hit hard in Nepal with an ongoing gas, fuel and medicine crisis. It seems the earthquake and its destruction has been forgotten. The NCRR Team is sticking firm with our plans to go ahead and re build the seven schools. Civil works has already commenced on site despite the challenges of having no petrol."

If you have enjoyed reading about my journey and my Fatbike challenge, please consider donating at my fundraising website here.

You can follow NCRR's story and still contribute here.

Loving it but I couldn t wait f or the sun to rise to warm up my hands. It was a chilly -10degrees celsius.
Get out there and challenge yourself!


MENTIONS: @mrousu / @TheYakAttack

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45 Comments

  • + 76
 A vegan, an atheist and a fatbiker walk into a bar...I only know because they told everyone within 2 minutes
  • + 6
 ahaha that's a good one
  • + 3
 What I don't get is that it wasn't a fatbike challenge, looks like he was one of the few people to use that style of bike. He could've said " Nepals Yak Attack Challenge on Fatbike." He didn't mention anything about being vegan or atheist so I guess he's good in the regard.
  • + 1
 yup... DId not read all the captions, but the title could have been: "Tourist rides a Fatbike on Yak Attack race. He was the only one riding one. Oh, and he did not win"
  • + 8
 I was the only one racing on a Fat bike. It was the challenge I set for myself and as it was the first time anyone had raced the Yak Attack on a Fatbike I figured it would help raise more awareness for the people of Nepal. Haha, not a vegan or an atheist though. Haha
  • + 2
 He's just a weapon- that rides a fatbike.
  • + 3
 No Lagr.................he didnt go there to race, or win. You can only dream of the adventure he just lived. Congratulations on helping a great cause and having the guts to live that experience. Cheers
  • + 2
 Thanks lalodh. Couldn't have said it better myself.
  • - 1
 Dont get me wrong, Im all for having fun on the bike.. I get the challenge of the event, not to mention the epicness of the scenery + biking.... Fantastic pictures, and I'm sure you had tons of fun and the adventure you lived... that said... It's not about the bike though, it has never been.. How can you raise more awareness (with a Fatbike)? Most People of Nepal would just say that its a weird looking (mountain) bike. It's just trendy, different, but trendy. The other day I caught up with a guy taking a break along a DH track, he was climbing the track on a Fatbike, He stared at me, with the attitude of "Yeah, I'm riding a fatbike,. Aren't you gonna say anything, ask me anything?"..I just passed by with a nod..
  • + 20
 this blog was so good it should have been a Movie, incredible photography, riding with a blood oxygen saturation of 81%, the highest Fatbike pic on the planet 5416m (17769 feet) impressive, thanks for sharing, much appreciated
  • + 8
 Best write up I've seen on here in a very long time! Looks like such a great challenge. Photography is ace too, simply stunning.
  • + 6
 Nice that you took time to take the nice pics. I've lost track of how times I've been to amazingly beautiful places and never took pics, been kicking myself for it ever since.
  • + 8
 Forgot to mention there will be a video following in the following days. Thanks
  • + 3
 I've trekked this but doing it on a bike looks way more fun! I did wonder if I should go back one day with my bike, definitely inspiring me to do it! Sounds like you had Giardia too which isn't fun at all. Well done on the race and loved the story!
  • + 3
 I hiked that trail! Took me 19 days to complete the Annapurna circuit. Plenty of time to acclimatise to the altitude, and yet it felt brutal. I can't imagine how hard it must be in just six days and a hike-a-bike up Thorung-La pass. Much respect!!!
  • + 6
 Great article.
  • + 2
 What a great story! Is that a route that would be bikeable outside of that race as bikepacking? How was your experience flying with a fat bike?
  • + 1
 The bike just squeezed into a standard Evic bag so flying was fine with that. I told the airline before I departed and there was no extra charge. Bike packing is definitely possible, even hauling all your sleeping gear. It would be super tough going up at the higher altitudes but would be an amazing experience to ride like that and really enjoy it. I passed one bike packer on the trail on the way up to Tharong Phedi, he had the bike loaded up and had a pack also, riding a salsa I think.
  • + 1
 I did bike up the Khardung La in Ladakh on my Salsa Fargo, but it seems like the Tharong La is a notch or two harder even.
Would there be lodges and dhabas along the way, or do you have to carry a tent and cooking gear?
  • + 1
 There are lodges and tea houses every 5 or so Km on that route. All of the trail up to Manang is vehicle access, so only 40 odd km is single track above that. It's amazing above Manang but would be awesome to go further into Mustang after going over the pass I believe.
  • + 1
 With so many lodges and tea houses, I suppose you really wouldn't need any camping and cooking gear. On the Indian side there's way less infrastructure, so you have to be fully self-sufficient. I really should start to investigate the Nepal Himalayas. The main issue has been my travel time is only July-August, and am not sure how much of Nepal is out of the monsoon reach.

I heard of a few mountain bikers doing the Annapurna circuit. Would you say that it would be doable on a rigid bike with 700x50 tires?
  • + 1
 Hmm, yeah it's tough with the monsoon season. I've only been to Nepal during Sep-Dec and the weather is really stable then. Couldn't tell you what it's like outside that time. The Yak Attack basically follows the Annapurna circuit, it's definitely possible on a rigid for sure, a little less comfortable on the arms (lots of 10km+ descents) but at a more relaxed pace it would be fine. Personally I really want to look at cycling either the Everest region where there is no vehicle access and better trail but still a heap of places to stay. Dolpo and Mustang areas would probably be more 'out there' and remote so camping gear might be essential. The adventure riding there is just endless, it looks close on a map but everything is just bigger and harder to get too. I hope you can get there velowalla, it's an amazing place to ride!!!
  • + 1
 It does look like the Dolpo and Mustang regions are out of reach of the monsoon, but from what I gather, they both have hefty permit fees. In India, the entire Ladakh region is a dry desert. I haven't ridden the trails there but they seem pretty hard core for a bike. Let me know if you find out anything of interest about the Everest trails. The other thing that seems nice about Nepal is that it looks like you can rent good mountain bikes in the main cities. I wouldn't mind doing away with the hassle and stress of lugging my bike on the plane.
  • + 4
 Absolutely inspirational!
  • + 2
 More than a fatty, why on earth would you do a huge stage race on flat pedals. Props I guess
  • + 2
 Haha. Yeah the flats were an interesting choice, definitely helped with the hike a bike though. Cheers
  • + 1
 Idk if I'm seeing things but it looks like in a few of those photos that the pedals this guy ran on his bike are platform pedals??
  • + 3
 But what I should have said first was that this was a great post and enjoy reading such adventures!!
  • + 3
 Fatbike + iPhone 6 GPS challenge at once. Strong dude.
  • + 3
 Added on to my bucket list, check!
  • + 4
 dope !
  • + 2
 Thank you for sharing that amazing experience, you write well also. I have to do something like that once in my life!
  • + 1
 We were with my mate two days ahead of Yak attack at Tatopani but we found that in Ghorepani Big Grin . Amazing place to ride bike.
  • + 4
 Great job mate!
  • + 3
 Great write up Matt, really enjoyed it. see you next year Wink
  • + 1
 Cheers Neil!! Can't wait mate...
  • + 2
 Really enjoyed that, thanks! Smile
  • + 2
 That was one awesome trip there!
  • + 3
 Pictures
  • + 2
 Amazing story and writeup. Thanks for sharing!
  • + 2
 Wow that is one incredible ride! Well done and thanks for sharing!
  • + 2
 Great story and pitctures
  • + 3
 Great piece.
  • + 0
 My conclusions . Amazing landscape, Great race, ok trails and fatbike rules at fireroad
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