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The Transgrancanria Advanced 2017

The Transgrancanaria Advanced is a 82 kilometres run thatĀ covers 4.300 metres of positive elevation gain onĀ Gran Canaria in Spain. I spend several months preparing forĀ this event by runningĀ hundreds of kilometres up and down the westĀ coast of Sweden.Ā Zick-zackingĀ aroundĀ iceĀ blocksĀ strandedĀ at the beach became my early morning routine. But all the training paid off and I felt pretty confident about my gaol in finishing the race below twelve hours. So I hopped on a plane toĀ Germany from where I continued my journey toĀ Ā Las Palmas de Gran Canaria with some friends.

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Ice block at the beach on the west coast of Sweden.

We arrived one week beforeĀ the Transgrancanaria to give us some rest and acclimatise to the weather. The seconds day after arrival, we headed outĀ for a short run to check out some localĀ trails. And then it happened. I twisted my ankle and it swell pretty bad.Ā Starting atĀ theĀ Transgrancanaria AdvancedĀ was in doubt. Follow my friends advise, who is a physiotherapist,Ā Ā I started severalĀ sessions of icing and heating in combinationĀ with special mobilising exercises daily. The swelling went down and I tookĀ a compromise: I was going to hike the raceĀ and drop out as soon as I feel pain.

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Roque Nublo on Gran Canaria in Spain.

A few days later,Ā theĀ Transgrancanaria Advanced started in Fontanales at 7am. The atmosphere at the starting line wasĀ amazing. Nothing I had ever seen before.Ā Ā Heading off through the narrow streets, lots ofĀ people alongsideĀ cheered as I disappeared with the other runners into the dawn. Every 10 to 15 kilometres, my friendsĀ check up on me to see how my ankle is doing. Surprisingly, it went pretty well. I kept going following the course passedĀ Roque Nublo all the way to the highest point at Pico de las Nieves. From there, I could even see the neighbouring island Teneriffa with itsĀ 3,718 metres high volcano. But then it was time to drop out to giveĀ my ankle some rest. DespiteĀ all the time and effort I put into training for this race, I didĀ not make it to the finish line. That made me feel pretty sad, but there was nothing I could do about it. Now, I am rehabilitatingĀ my ankle’s mobility andĀ strength and cannot waitĀ for myĀ next upcoming race.

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Teneriffa with its 3,718 metres high volcano in the distance.Ā 

 

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Running on Mt. Etna

In October 2016, my personal running season came to a successful end. Back in Sweden,  long training sessions along the icy-cold beach at the coastline awaited me. How was I supposed to stay motivated to go for training runs before breakfast? That is when a friend asked if I want to run on Mt. Etna in December. The idea was to plan an ambitious project that keeps us pushing during the dark winter hours. After some research, we picked a route from the sea all the way to the summit; an estimated 30 kilometres distance with an elevation gain of 3,500 metres. It was the perfect challenge and we decided to give it a try. So we booked flights to Italy, made sure we were properly acclimatised, and had enough rest prior to the run.

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When checking the weather the night before the challenge, our plans started to fall apart. The temperature on the summit was going to drop down to -20Āŗ Celsius. Reaching the top was not our main objective anymore. Running above 2,500 metres was going to be extremely difficult for us. Snow and ice dominated the upper part of Mt. Etna. Back to the map, we sketched out a new route until late that night. Early next day, we started somewhere outside of Catania. The course went only uphill from there. First, we had to tackle some 500 metres of elevation gain on technical terrain.  Then, the rocky trail turned into an icy ridge. Easy trail running became strenuous climbing. It took hours to cover short distances. We faced the truth and abandoned our project midway. Instead of climbing further up, we finished at the Rifugio Giovanni Sapienza. Over a cup of coffee, we enjoyed the spectacular sunset before heading down to Catania by car. We failed but I promise to come back Mt. Enta!

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Climbing Lobouche East Peak

After climbing Island Peak, I felt very confident about summiting Lobouche East Peak. The hike from Island Peak Base Camp to Lobouche High Camp gave me some time to recover from the strenuous climb. Earlier than expected, our team arrived at camp and we started to set up the tents when the weather turned its back on us. It started to snow so that we went inside our sleeping bags and did not leave them until the middle of the following night. The weather did not change, but we agreed to give it a try. Getting to crampon point was more difficult than on Island Peak. The hike was shorter, but low visibility gave us a hard time finding the way. From there, we continued until we reached our next big objective. A 400 metres high face leading all the way to the summit. Being one of the first teams to climb Lobouche East Peak in autumn 2016, no ropes had been fixed yet. We analysed the final stretch and decided to keep to the right side due to the risk of avalanches. Pema took the lead and I followed him wheezing through the thin air. It was tough but more enjoyable than the climb on Island Peak. When we arrived at the summit, I felt extremely exhausted. All distant peaks were lulled in clouds; Everest and Lhotse remained hidden. However, experiencing the Nepalese Himalayas in perspective was totally worth the journey despite all the pain and suffering.

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The Beauty of Island Peak

In the middle of the night, I wake up to start my adventure for climbing Island Peak. My body is shivering and my head is hurting, but I knew that it will get better as soon as I start moving. I force myself to drink some tea and eat some porridge before I go off into the darkness, following the poorly lit spot of my head torch. After some hours of strenuous hiking and easy climbing, I reach the crampon point. It is time for a short break and to rope up. I am feeling strong and am motivated. As we continue our way up, the sun is rising and colours all surrounding peaks in bright red. I come to believe that I can climb the final 200 metres of steep snow and ice within less than half an hour to see the sun crossing the horizon. Soon, I start to realise that it is far fetched. Every step up the mountain takes a huge effort. Cold air is painfully filling my lungs with every breath. Two hours later, I find myself on top of Island Peak (6,189 m). Sunrise is long gone. The view is amazing though. Right in front of me, the north face of Lhotse (8,516 m) is breaking through the clouds. All pain and suffering is forgotten. A truly impressive mountainscape.

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Northern Vietnam

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Sun setting between towering limestone karsts and green fields.

After a few days in Phong Nha, I continue my journey through the rest of Vietnam. Time is running short if I want to follow up on my plan to loop the Tonkinese Alps in the northwestern part of the country. Early in the morning, I am tying my backpack down on the motorbike rack and drive as far as I possibly can; 450 kilometres of dirt roads in 11 hours of heat. Definitely the longest stretch I have been driving in one single day on my journey so far. Occasionally, I stop for a quick Vietnamese coffee and a delicious Vietnamese BĆ”nh MƬ. About 100 kilometres before Cam Thuy, I cannot resists to stop and watch the sun setting between towering limestone karsts surrounded by green fields.

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Central Vietnam

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Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City

I am about to start my motorbike adventure in Ho Chi Minh City right after sunrise. A free breakfast at the hostel causes a changes of plans though. I end up in the middle of the morning rush hour. Constantly, I need to stop to check the map. One thing is for sure, Ho Chi Minh City is huge and definitely not the right place to learn how to drive a motorbike! Finally, I leave Ho Chi Minh City and am hitting the highway to BĆ  Rį»‹a. The locals are really interested in my trip and keep approaching me while driving for a small chat. Several times, I am stopping because those conversations get too intense to keep driving. One local Vietnamese is even so kind and invites me for lunch.

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The Mekong DeltaĀ 

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Bus ride to Can Tho.

I continue my adventure and finally cross the border into Vietnam.  Apparently,  some people did not do their research and were send back to Cambodia at the immigration office, because they did not organise a visa before. On the bus ride to Can Tho, I come to realise that traffic in Vietnam is insane! Motorbikes everywhere and the bus driver is tooting the horn constantly. There seems to be one traffic rule only: busses over motor bikes! Eventually, I arrive in Can Tho at 10pm; four hours later than scheduled. Too tired to look for an accommodation myself, I join a Frenchman for a homestay after having some dinner in the street. The best decision I made this day! Continue reading