Annapurna Circuit 24 HR Fundraiser

The Annapurna Circuit is one of the Nepal’s most popular trekking routes as it travels 220 km around the Annapurna mountain Massif. Last December I set out un supported to ride this loop in under 24 hours as a fundraiser to help establish a new cycling training centre in Nepal.  Not being properly acclimatized it kicked my ass going over the 5416 M Thorong La pass as I crawled into Beni 23 hours and 57 minutes later. 2.5 k USD was raised. This was used to help open the NCRR training centre in Kathmandu along with help and support from Mountain Bike World Wide.  

This year the goal was was to raise 6 500 USD to keep the Nepal training centre open for another year, outfit it with some much needed equipment, and to further train some of the Nepalese riders into coaches.   Having learnt some tough lessons the year before I was keen to get some redemption on the circuit and made sure I would be better acclimatized this time around.  It probably takes 3-4 weeks at high altitude to fully prepare for a ride going over 5400 meters.  I would have 17 days, between a trip around the Manaslu Circuit, racing the Yak Attack and a week training camp in the Mustang, traversing over Tilicho lake to Manang with my buddy Roan.

The trip over to Tilicho lake from Tukuche turned into a proper adventure as Roan and I wold run out of daylight as we crossed two passes over 5200 M.  The 2nd one topped out at 5370 and left us trying to find our way down a steep goat trail descent in the dark.  It was an adrenaline booster as we eventually dropped down to Tilicho lake and found a shack to stay in at 5000 M for the night.  It was a rough night as we had headaches and slept lightly, waking up many times throughout the night.  The next day we were both tired as we first went searching for my Giro helmet that was blown off my head the night before as I unclipped it at the shack.  We found it 90 vertical meters down along the shores of Tilicho lake, a bit battered but still useable. Once on the bikes we hit some sweet trails down the valley to Manang for a day off.  This trip was a bit more then we were planning for so we opted to take an extra day off at Manang.  It was working out though as it allowed us to stay at altitude until the day of the Annapurna 24 HR ride, in which I would descend down from the mountains, rest for 12 hours in Besisahar and then turn around and start the ride at 10:50 pm on November 20th.

It was rad having support this year as Ajay, Okesh, Rajan and Gauravman were in Besisahar to help the preparations as well as support and film some coverage on the Manang side of the journey.  This first half of the ride is done in the dark to insure Throng La pass is hit in the heat of the mid day sun.  It is an amazing ride as the rough road twists its way up a tight river gully slowly climbing out of the tropics and into a high mountain hanging valley.    There are a number of creek crossings which are critical as wet feet down low will soon turn into frozen ice blocks up high as the temperature generally dips below freezing around the village of Chame at 2700 M.  This year I had stashed food at different locations around the circuit during the Yak Attack, and had also left a set of Shimano MW5 waterproof biking shoes in Chame to insure I’d have dry and proper footwear for the upper portions of the ride over the pass.  

The ride was going great until the last 10 km before Chame as my feet were soaked from an earlier mishap in a creek and were now slowly freezing into ice blocks.  Reaching Chame at 4:30 am it was straight to the New Tibet hotel to change shoes, and prep for the cold morning up in Manang.  G-man followed me in to film the change over and we accidentally made quite the racket waking up some trekkers.  The first trekker to come out of there room was an Austrian friend I had met a few days before at Tilicho lake.  She thought it was pretty amusing and was soon being interviewed by G-man, which incidentally woke up another trekker. This guy was pissed, fair enough, but it was good pay back for all the mornings the trekkers had woken us up at 3am in the teahouses as they set out at silly hours to try and get over the high mountain passes in the freezing dark.  

After Chame the road keeps climbing up to Pisang at 3100 M where it opens up into a wide valley with dramatic views of the Annapurna range.  It was a chilly part of the ride as the sun had yet to come up and the deep freeze of the night was still lingering and there were a few icy patches on the road.  I had to keep reminding myself that once the sun was up the body would start reversing the freezing cycle it was currently in as it was getting rather frosty.    G-man and Ajay who were following along filming via motorbike were probably alot colder but they toughed it out as they supported the ride all the way to where the dirt road ends in Manang. The sun finally reached us in Manang where I took a longer break to get ready for the toughest part of the journey, a stunning 21 km stretch of trail pitching up from 3500M to to 5416 M over Thorong La Pass.  First things first was to unload a giant dump that had been plaguing my ride for the last hour that I didn’t wan to deal with in the freezing night.  Next up was breakfast at the Alpine home teahouse, and reorganizing gear before hitting the trail again. 

The climb out of Manang was great but as the trail pitched over 4000 M the body de-energized and went into a limp mode.  One of Nepals top racers and good buddy Roan was waiting at Yhak Kharka to traverse over the pass with me.  Meeting up with him uplifted the ride and soon we were in Throng Phedi camp, the base of the 6 km, 900 M vertical ascent over one of the World’s highest commonly used passes.  Here I hit the bench hard and was ready to pass out.  The owners of the teahouse were great, giving us a huge plate of potatoes and some tea to get us over the pass. They thought it was amusing I was trying this ride again after seeing me in such a rough state last year at there teahouse.  

It was a bit longer break in Phedi but soon we were back on trail, hike a biking over the pass.  During the Yak Attack race we made it over the pass 1-2, in around an hour 25 minutes, but this day it took us 3 hours.  After 30 minutes of struggling I put the country music on to distract the mind as I creeped towards the summit of the pass.  It was painfully slow and pretty rough on the mind but we kept inching towards the top.  Roan was doing better then I, as I was going snails pace, but thankfully feeling alot better than the year before in which I had a pounding headache and could’t stand up straight.  Apparently the acclimatization was paying off, but still the body was struggling with the 4600 Meter vertical gain in 12 hours.  I guess there is a reason the doctors recommend not ascending anymore then 500 meters a day at high altitude. I’ll be keen to try another training regime in the future to improve this performance over the pass as there is no way it should take twice as long as it does at race pace.  What would be really interesting would be to have a doctor come along on the trip and take some tests every 500 vertical meters to see what’s happening inside the body as it’s something that is still a mystery to me.

Cresting Throng La pass ended one of the roughest stretches of bike riding/pushing all year.  We snapped a couple mandatory photos then hit the epic single track descent down a trekking trail with loads of line options to Muktinath (3700M).  It was rad as my Kona Hei Hei was finally back up to speed eating up the descent although the steep sections were a bit sketchy as my bike packing bags made it hard to get behind the seat.  Towards the bottom a Nepali trekking guide stopped us and asked if I was the Canadian bike rider. He then told us that our American buddy was waiting 45 minute further down the trail.  I was thinking wholly shit, where is Patrick waiting, he was suppose to be in Muktinath but if he’s 45 minutes further down then he must be in Jomsom.  5 minutes later we came upon Patrick who was waiting to capture the last part of the journey with his photography skills.  He’s been capturing our Kona Adventure team projects for the last couple years and has a cool website at  .It was great to see him again as he had fallen ill a week earlier when Roan and I were taking off over to Tilicho lake.  

Muktinath is a sacred village for both Hindus and Buddhists as it sits perched high up in the himalayas and has a very sacred temple and shrines.   People travel from all over the World to be blessed under the 108 fountains in the temple and its two ponds.  We stopped in the village to reload on food and water before hitting a random 10 km stretch of pavement descending into the Mustang valley below.  Road construction is very patchy in Nepal and soon we were back on some rough single track, edging around a tight cliff edge before dropping to the valley floor below at 2800 M.  Here we hit a stiff headwind as we straight lined it towards Tukuche, another food cache at the High Plains Inn, and then onwards to the edge of the hanging valley at Kalopani. Our goal was to hit the insanely tough 47 km descent to our finish line in Beni before dark.  Unfortunately we ran out of daylight at the top of the descent and thus relied on our lighting systems for the last 2.5 hours of the ride.

For the past 5 years they’ve been working on this road but it seems to be getting worse and just busier with traffic every year.  It’s actually one of the truly amazing roads of this World as the rough surface, often covered in running water, snakes it’s way around some very precarious clif bands, descending through the deepest gorge in the World with a 8000 meter + mountain flanking either side.  It was nice having Roan and Patrick for this part of the ride as we kept each other in check and made sure nobody got knocked off any cliff sides while trying to get around the late night traffic.  It was the ideal testing conditions for our full suspensions as it took us over an hour to descend 1500 vertical meters to Tatopani via some very dusty, wet, and rocky road conditions.

 Rolling into the Tourist village of Tatopani we were ready to call it a day, but the finish of our ride was another 22 km down the gorge in the regions headquarter of Beni, a bustling dusty and dirty Himalayan town.  Rolling through Tatopani we came around a corner to a finish line celebration that Usha and her friends had set up to congratulate us on our trip.  They wrapped prayer shawls around us, tied prayer flags to our bikes, gave us flowers, put tikas on our foreheads and blessed us on our trip.   After a few pictures we managed to pry ourselves away from the first comfortable condition we had been in for days and continue our dark and bumpy ride into Beni.  Rolling into the Beni bus park was as anti climatic as could be.  I pushed the stop time on the gps to record the Strava time of 21 hours and 26 minutes from Besisahar, pretty much exactly 2.5 hours faster then the year before.  After a couple finish line shots we rolled over to the Yak hotel to celebrate with Dhal bhats and settle in for the night.  Having left pretty much everything in Besisahar except for some warm clothes, I rolled to a local shop to buy underwear, sandals and a toothbrush so I could have few comforts for the night.  

As like the year before, it was a big relief to be done the ride as the body was battling between being tired but was uplifted by a good adrenaline rush.  Checking the GoFundMe link to see that $7000 USD had been raised for the NCRR Training Centre throughout the ride was awesome to see.  It’s unbelievable the great support this project has received and I am very grateful for all my friends, family and sponsors that helped make it such a success. Kona Bikes made a big donation to the project and has always stood behind me.  7mesh supplied some great riding clothes for the project, Blackburn design outfitted my bike with Bike packing bags and our team sponsors, Shimano, WTB, ClifBar, MRP, Giro, Julbo, Jakroo and Squirt lube all make this all possible. This ride also signifies the end of another successful race year as the body is over due for some proper rest.  Some time will be taken trekking around the Himalayas to let the season soak in and then the planning will start on what is to come for 2019!

Interesting Facts on the Annapurna 24:

Route: Annapurna Circuit:  Besisahar Bus Park(800m) Chame(2700m)-Manang(3500m)-ThorongLa Pass(5416m)-Muktinath(3700m)-Jomsom(2700m)-Tatopani(1100m)-Beni Bus Park (800m)

Distance: 220 km

Bike: Kona Hei Hei with Shimano XTR drivetrain, brakes, pedals and hubs, WTB Ci24 carbon rims, Ranger 2.25 tires and Silverado saddle. 110mm MRP Ribbon Fork, Blackburn Design bike packing bags. Squirt lube on the chain and sealant in the tires.

Clothes: 7Mesh Guardian and Oro jackets, Outflow Primaloft Hoddy, Recon shorts, Compound shirt, Jakroo bibs and jersey, USWE Vertical 4 action pack.

Shoes and Helmet:  Shimano MW5 Waterproof shoes and XC9 racing shoes.  Giro Synthe Helmet

Elevation gain: A lot, likely 7000 Meters +.  Strava quit working mid ride.

Time: 21:26:45

Funds Raised for NCRR Training Centre: 5622 pounds = 7210 USD = 9545 CAD

Fuel for the ride: Clif Bars, Clifblocks, Corn bread, bowl of oatmeal, hemp seeds, moong dall, energy balls.

Lowest temperature: -8 celsius

Night riding: 9.5 hours

Calories burned: estimated at 11 000-13 000
Jersey Winners…
Most accurate time: Derek Melvin: 21:47

Kona Bikes for highest donation: $ 1000 Pound.

Over and out!




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