Exodus Olly Townsend and our Lhasa To Kathmandu Ride
I’m standing precariously balanced on the roof of our ‘team’ bus. It’s early in the morning and the low cloud which has recently been enveloping our campsite is slowly burning off as the sun starts to poke above the surrounding peaks. The roof rack on the bus is mild steel and is damp from the cloud and I’m wearing carbon-fibre soled cycling shoes. If you ever get asked, I wouldn’t recommend standing on the roof of a bus, with a wet roof rack and carbon soled shoes. It wasn’t exactly grippy up there!
There’s obviously a good reason for being up on the roof instead of on the ground next to my group, who are all trying to juggle a hot cup of tea in one hand and a camera in the other. We’re waiting for the majestic summit of Chomolungma, Mother Goddess of the Earth in Tibetan (or Mt Everest to you and me) to appear just at the end of the valley that we’re camped in. I’m trying to capture that elusive image of Everest at sunrise, but taken from a different angle to the that captured by the small group of tourists stood a little way below me.
When questioned about why he wanted so desperately to climb to the 8848m high summit of Mt Everest, George Mallory famously replied “Because it’s there”. I guess the same question could have been put to my group – why do want to ride a whole 4km between Jarongbuk and Everest Base Camp? The answer would have been pretty similar too – because we can! Because we’re riding 1000kms from Lhasa to Kathmandu and it seemed rude not to drop in on Everest on route, would have been an equally valid response.
So a short time after I’m clambering precariously around on the roof of the support vehicle, we set off for the 4 kms ride to EBC as it’s known. If you were to ride 4kms at sea level on a smooth paved road, a top professional cyclist would cover this distance in less than 6 minutes and a ‘Joe Public’ cyclist would only take 20 minutes or so. We, on the other hand took nearly 2 hours!
To be fair, the lack of oxygen when you’re riding at 5200m is quite impressive. Just walking around is pretty tough, let alone trying to pedal your bike up the pretty rocky and undulating trail. The main reason for making such slow progress though isn’t the lack of oxygen or the rocky trail. It’s down to the breathtaking view at the head of the valley.
I’ve been a keen travel photographer, mountain bike aficionado and lover of all the world’s lumpy bits for as long as I can remember and the sight of Everest, bathed in early morning light, with a stream of jet stream powered spin drift blowing off the summit made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Luckily I’d acclimatised well and so was able to overtake my group, rocket up the trail, stop, get my breathing rate back down to somewhere approaching normal and shoot of a bunch of images as the group rolled sedately passed on their way to EBC.
During the course of the 8km ride to and from Base Camp, plus the time spent just sitting at EBC soaking up the sun and the mind blowing view, I shot something like 500 images and an hour’s worth of digital video, which says a lot about how mind blowing the scenery is!
If you want to be in the high mountains, with the highest mountain in the world dominating your view, in fact dominating every one of your senses, then this is the route for you. I’ve never ridden somewhere so breathtaking and the image of Everest lit up by early morning sunshine will be indelibly burnt onto the inside of my eyelids for ever.
Olly has made a short film that captures some of the highlights of this incredible trip and will hopefully give you some inspiration in where to book next year! To watch it click here….