Ryan Sandes: High Altitudes and Higher Ambition
Over 1,000 miles of the Himalayas at some of the highest altitudes in the world, the Great Himalayas Trail has long been viewed as the holy grail of the trail racing world. Since the 1980’s, many trail racers have tried, and failed, to even finish the trek, let alone complete it in record time. Through the end of February and much of March 2018, Ryan Sandes of South Africa and his partner Ryno Griesel, gave themselves 28 days to complete the Great Himalaya and break the world record, if they didn’t die first.
How does someone prepare for risking their life to earn a record on the world’s most difficult trail? For Sandes, it takes an entire career to date. “I started training for this when I started running, in the sense that this is the ultimate adventure, the ultimate trek,” Sandes says. “It’s certainly the hardest thing I’ve ever done by a long way. So this is really all a gradual progression of 10 years worth of ultraracing and training.”
Certainly 10 years of experience prepared Sandes for some of the things he would face, but there are dangers on the Himalayan trail that even a lifetime of experience could not prevent a hiker from encountering. “After only about three or four hours, we had to go through a pass that was super sketchy,” Sandes says. “The whole pass had iced over and there was a lot of snow. It made it a super difficult cross. We kept sliding, and it was a couple of hundred meters drop down, so we had no margin for error.”
A life-in-the-balance experience so early in the venture may have scared off the weak of heart from continuing the attempt, but Sandes and Griesel still had even more harrowing challenges ahead. “One day, at one of the higher altitudes, we were out there for a 21-hour day. Towards the end, for several days, we hardly had the opportunity to sleep at all,” said Sandes. “We just kept going with nothing but short sleeps of 45 minutes to an hour. It was a lower altitude, so it was warmer, and we were able to make up some time.”
Delirious from sleep deprivation, Sandes and Griesel completed the trail in 25 days, 3 hours and 24 minutes, shaving nearly three full days off the previous record. And though setting that world record on the Great Himalaya trail will forever be a career highlight, it won’t be the last one. “I’ve got a couple projects I’d like to do in the Rwenzori Mountains,” said Sandes. “With me being from Africa, I’m pretty passionate about that.” After all, you can only stand atop a mountain for so long, before it’s time to conquer another.