In September 2013, Philippe and Anna Gatta embarked on a hugely ambitious adventure – to run the high route of the Great Himalaya Trail. Philippe aimed to cover the full 1,700km route in just 40 days, while Anna planned to run 670km of the trail with her husband and provide essential logistical support for the rest of his run. Philippe’s objective had never been achieved before and, in the end, he was unable to complete it in 2013. However, he and Anna did have a major adventure across the roof of the world.
The Great Himalaya Trail extends for 1,700km and includes over 88km of vertical gain. The route includes many passes at an altitude higher than 5,000m and two that are at 6,200m, and it navigates through some of the highest mountains in the world, including Everest, Makalu and Kangchenjunga. Philippe Gatta planned to run the route in under six weeks, completing the equivalent of 40 marathons in 40 days (10 Ultra-Trails Du Mont Blanc or seven Marathons Des Sables). The reality of his adventure was somewhat different, but no less remarkable.
Looking back at their experiences a few weeks later, the Gattas reflected on their time on the trail and some of the expected, and unexpected, challenges that they faced. Simply staying alive proved to be a key objective for Philippe Gatta during two solo sections, when wolves, food and kit eating rats, unreliable maps, extreme weather and illness all combined to make his situation very dangerous.
However, it was the devastating Cyclone Phailin that finally prevented Philippe and Anna from maintaining their progress along the original route, dumping up to two metres of snow on the high passes and making them impassable. At the time that the cyclone hit, Philippe was still ahead of his schedule and confident of completing the route in under 40 days.
With their original objective now unachievable, the Gattas refused to retreat, but changed their plans, missing out the impossible section and instead flying to Lukla, from where they would head west along the route as far as the snow would allow. Philippe would also attempt to climb Island Peak at speed. In fact, they completed in eight days what would normally take 24, in difficult conditions and deep snow. Philippe Gatta successfully climbed Island Peak (6,189m), and then together, he and Anna crossed three passes – Cho La (5,330m), Renjo La (5,340m) and Tashi Labsta (5,755m) – all in in four days, probably a record. It was certainly a phenomenal achievement, given that Philippe had already run over 1,000km (with 55km of ascent) during the previous 30 days.
After 34 days of intense physical and psychological challenges, Philippe and Anna Gatta were able to look back at what, despite the difficulties, had been an exhilarating and life affirming adventure.
Philippe Gatta comments:
“A cyclone, avalanches, landslides, rock falls, mud, snow, furious rivers, storms, wild animals, illness, exhaustion, fear, pain… we probably had it all during those 1,200km of the Great Himalaya Trail and yet we are already excited about leaving soon for our next adventure. Why? Simply because all of these challenges are part of the game and are not as important as the huge emotions and feelings that we lived for 34 days. The intensity of what we experienced individually and as a team is just amazing. I wish everyone could experience that at least once in their lifetime.”
Anna Gatta comments:
“During the Great Himalaya Trail, I experienced the inner strength that you only can bring out when in extreme situations. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you simply have to. Several times, Philippe and I had to run very fast during the last hours of the day just to avoid being stuck out there for a very cold night.
“During those hours, running in the dark, I noticed that the whole body and mind changed. My vision and feet precision got better. I didn’t slip or fall once even in the muddy downhill descents, while during day time that happened all the time. I felt like an animal, basic. It was all about finding the next place to eat and sleep.”
Berghaus worked closely with the Gattas to develop a range of ultra light, ultra functional kit for their time in the Himalaya. Together, Philippe and Anna played a key role in the creation of the VapourLight Hyper collection, which includes the world’s lightest waterproof smock and insulated mid-layer jacket.
“The kit was perfect – we made the right choices. My week in Dolpa put all of it to the roughest test. For example, the Hyper Smock is very waterproof and works amazingly well. Together, Anna and I used it during a 10 hours day with heavy snow and rain for over eight hours. I have nothing to say, other than that it really works.”
The Ultimate Trail lived up to its name, every step of the way. Philippe and Anna Gatta demonstrated phenomenal determination, physical fitness and appetite for adventure, and returned from the Himalaya with an amazing and inspirational story to tell. If anything epitomises the Berghaus message of ‘Live for Adventure’, this does.
Philippe and Anna Gatta’s adventure on the Great Himalaya Trail was sponsored by Berghaus. To read the full expedition diary, visit the community section of the Berghaus website.