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The Mount Everest Marathon: Part 1 — Basecamp Adventures

Pei Muntawan Arsrairas

Part I: Traveling to the Mt Everest Basecamp to Run a Marathon

This is the first post in a two-part series. In Part I, you'll read all about my journey and adventures leading up to getting to the start line to run the Tenzing-Hillary Mount Everest Marathon.  

In Part 2, coming soon, you'll find out all about my racing the marathon! Do you think I completed it? Do you expect that it was an amazing experience? Well, you'll just have to wait and see in Part 2 to find out 👀

Running a marathon is a challenge in itself. Trekking to the Mount Everest Basecamp at high altitude in Nepal to run a trail marathon added to the complexity.  I would like to share my experience, my highs and my lows, and some tips I learned from this trip in case my adventure may inspire you to sign up for this race, too 🏔

PANDEMIC POSTPONEMENT

Back in 2019, a friend and I discussed taking on the 2020 Mount Everest Marathon. I had devised a plan that I hoped would help me with the preparation by running a few marathons in prior months including the Bhutan Marathon, also a high altitude marathon, before running the Everest Marathon. 

Then, COVID came along, putting the world on hold, along with most of my trips for nearly 2.5 years.  Finally, in 2022, this marathon became a reality. By then, I had recruited almost 10 friends, or friends of friends, to come join me in the fun. It was going to be a blast.  We were excited and nervous all at the same time. There were a lot of unknowns.  Most importantly, how would our body react at high altitude?  

GETTING STARTED

The marathon is held every year on May 29th in celebration of the historical successful ascent of Mt. Everest by Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary on May 29, 1953.

I started my journey a month before all of my friends set out to meet me because I had scheduled myself to first run the Vienna Marathon and then the Prague Marathon prior to heading to Mount Everest.  I was in a panic when I started to pack my bag -- nervous about what was to come.

PACKING AND RE-PACKING AND MORE RE-PACKING

My challenge was how to pack for a 2-month trip where I would confront various climates from hot to extremely cold.   On top of that, we were restricted by the luggage weight (our bag plus our day pack) to the maximum of 15 kg.  What we had to have with us included a pair of walking sticks, a zero-degree celsius sleeping bag (I used a -20C sleeping bag), a sleeping pad, clothes, warm waterproof ski jacket, rain jacket, rain pants and the list goes on.  

When we received the suggested packing list we were amazed by how little we were suppose to bring with us.  We would trek for 2 weeks but we were advised to bring only 2 sets of clothes.  There would be some opportunities to get our clothes washed but no guarantees.  We would move teahouses (where we'd sleep) almost daily.  There wouldn't be enough time for laundry.  Of course, none of us agreed to the suggested list and we packed a lot of clothes for the trip regardless.  

The dilemma started when we were in a hotel in Kathmandu and met our guide for the first time.  We were reminded of the strict luggage weight limit, especially for flying from Kathmandu to Lukla.  We had to ditch a lot of stuff.  You should have seen us frantically repacking and reweighing our bags on the big scale that the hotel set up for us!

Most of what we brought didn’t make the cut.  We tried to be creative by wearing multiple layers and packing snacks inside clothes pockets since the airline wouldn't be weighing us, but only our baggage.  It was tough because Kathmandu was very hot, but we did it anyway.  Yet when we got to the airport, we couldn’t get through the airport security.  We must have looked ridiculous as they told us to remove the excess clothes to get through the security gate.  


To free up some baggage weight, I decided not to bring my sleeping bag and sleeping pad, and would instead rent them as we made our way to Everest Basecamp.  This meant that for the first few nights of trekking, I had only a blanket provided by the teahouses where we stayed at night.

BRRR... IT'S COLD UP HERE! 🧊🧊

When we got to Namche, the capital city of Sherpa, we had a chance to do some shopping.  A lot of us bought more clothes, jackets and hiking pants. The price was much less expensive than in the US.  The quality wasn’t so bad, too.  I rented my sleeping bag there and was grateful to be able to use my sleeping bag to keep warm when staying overnight in teahouses.  

Our Tent at Basecamp

There's no heating in the bedrooms in the teahouses.  There may be a fire in the dining room before sunset, but that's all.  It was very cold to be in the bedroom.  It was even very cold in the dining room when there was no fire.  The weather in Everest National Park could change quickly.  Several times, we had 4 seasons in the same day. 🌹🏖🍁⛄

SHORT ON CASH AND HOT WATER

When we were trekking higher and higher, we quickly learned about the law of supply and demand.  The price for everything jumped significantly.  It may not seem so much when you think in US dollars, but we were told that we wouldn’t need to use a lot of money so we didn’t bring a lot of Nepalise rupees.  We couldn't exchange money and most ATMs weren’t working since they were solar-powered -- and most of the time when we were there, we didn’t have nice sunny days. 🌞

The situation was the same with hot showers.  After a few days of trekking, I gave up taking showers. I didn’t sweat much and even if I sweat a little, it dried quickly.  It was quite cold to take showers anyway.  If the water pressure wasn’t good, I was better off wiping myself with a washcloth rather than paying for a shower service.  The cost of a hot shower starts at 350 rupees (about $4.50) to 1000 rupees (about $12.50) with a 10 minute limit.  Drinking water cost between 100 to 250 rupees.  Laundry costs by kg in Kathmandu became cost per piece the higher we went.  

Everything added up and we found ourselves short of cash.  Some places would take credit cards with a 13% surcharge.  I learned to like the hot water that the sherpa refilled in my water bottles every day.  First, it was free and second, it provided us extra warmth at night if we refiledl hot water in a Nalgene bottle and kept the bottle inside the sleeping bag at night.  The next morning, we would have some lukewarm water to brush our teeth or wash our face.  But we had to look the other way at some dirt in the water bottle -- the water is probably not filtered, but at least it was boiled so it was safe to drink.  TOILET TRICKS 🤣

Another skill that you'd need to master before making this trip is the ability to squat for a toilet and learn how to aim. 💦 A lot of people did poorly at this task.  The bathroom situation got worse and worse the higher we went.  At the Basecamp, it was down to a bucket in the ground surrounded by 3 stones that were used for foot support.  Let me tell, you even though I was taking Diamox to prevent nausea, I hated to go to the bathroom.  

Toilet Facility
Basecamp Toilet

CARBS, CARBS & MORE CARBS

My last topic to help prep anyone who is interested to do this trip is the importance of fondness for consuming carbs.  For marathons, carbs are good, but not when you get three types of starchy carbs on every plate (i.e., we got potato, spaghetti and fried rice) with little if any meat or whole veggies.  Even the toughest guy in our group shook his head after two weeks of eating the enormous amount of carbs that we were fed.  

The first thing we did when we got back to Namche was to order yak meat, or any other type of meat.  I guess the food was prepared by teahouses, so those were considered fancy food for them as their normal meal is dal bhat -- consisting of steamed rice, and a stew called dal made from lentils or other legumes.  We, however, got surprised for the dinner at the Basecamp as we were served chicken, french fries, vegetables and fruit salad.  Later, I asked our Sherpa how we we'd been able to have meat and I was told that the company in charge of trekking flew everything in by a helicopter 🚁  The night before the marathon, the food we were provided was the best of all food we got for the whole trip.

Open photo

SPECTACULAR SCENERY WITH VAST VIEWS

Now you know the lows, so let’s talk about the highs.  The mountain view (when we could see it) was unreal.  It was so beautiful that we couldn’t stop snapping several photos of each view.  We'd forget the lows we went through.  Fun fact: you can show pictures and tell people the photos are of Everest, and no one would doubt you, but in fact there were only a few places where we could see Mt. Everest throughout the trip 😉

It was thrilling to be in a small plane flying to the most dangerous airport in the world and that has a runway of 527 m (1,729 ft) × 30 m (98 ft) with an 11.7% gradient.  But I think it was the most fun (if you didn’t think about it too much 🤔) when the plane took off -- it uses gravity to get the speed up high enough to then fly right off the cliff!  It felt like being on a roller coaster that was about to come down from the top.🎢  We all cheered (for those who still could say some words) when we flew away without falling off the cliff.👏

Open photo

And the best of all were friends we met on this trip.  They were nice and shared each other's experiences.  We bonded quite a bit during these 2.5 weeks from our extraordinary experience together.  I would encourage everyone to do things outside their comfort zone to learn a lot from new experiences.  It doesn’t have to be Everest, but let’s go explore the world 🌎  And stay tuned for Part 2 to follow -- running the Everest Marathon.

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-Munatawan Pei Arsrairas