Monday, 30 January 2012

The Altitude Review - Part 2

In this second part of the series, we begin to take a look at some of the great rides of the past; the rides of previous record holders Shinji Kazama and Istvan Juhasz. We also take a look at the more recent (and well documented) ride of Damon I'Anson on one of the heavier bikes to see the upper side of 5,700m.  All of these rides took place in the highest mountain range on earth, the Himalaya - from China, from India and from Nepal. Lets start with perhaps the greatest extreme adventure record holder of them all - Shinji Kazama.

Shinji Kazama:  The legendary Kazama-san was seen in Michael Palin’s Pole to Pole documentary series flying a motorcycle to Antarctica so that he could ride a bike to the South Pole … and indeed he did.  On top of that the Japanese adventurer has ridden a bike across the North Pole’s pack ice, the same pack ice that saw Jeremy Clarkson struggle in his 4WDs.  Where Clarkson struggled, Kazama powered on and reached the North Pole.  Kazama was an amazing rider.  He competed in 4 Dakars.  He even won the 500 cc class one year in the days when 500cc was small by Dakar standards.  The amazing Kazama then turned his extreme motorcycle habit to altitude.  He went to Everest; the South (Nepalese) side and took his bike up to 5,880 metres (19,291 feet) in 1984.  He returned to Everest, this time on the North (Chinese) side with a team of helpers in 1985 and made it to 6,005 metres (19,701 feet).  This stood as an unofficial record for many years.  In fact for a decade Kazama was not only the highest rider on the planet, he was the only person to have ridden to both poles (and still is).  Walter has nicknamed his Husaberg "Kazama-san" in honour of this "emperor" of extreme adventure motorcycling.

Before Kazama, a number of Bultaco backed rides had proved the benchmark. In 1973 five Bultaco Sherpa-T 350 bikes set a new world record when they reached 5,156 m (16,916 ft) in the nepalese Imja Khola glacier in the Cukung Valley. The expedition also hired 55 sherpas (35kgs each) to take all the material needed (aeronautical gas was needed due to the poor quality of the nepalese gas combined with the high compression engines). The story is in a book called "Himalaya Namasté" from Dimas Vega, one of the expedition members.

The 1974 Igualada-Kilimanjaro expedition: Jaume Travesset and Santi Godó rode two Bultaco Sherpa-t 250 bikes from Barcelona across Africa and to the top of Kilimanjaro's Uhuru Peak - 5,891 m (19,327 ft). They reached the summit at 5pm on October 26, 1974. The expedition took 4 months and 20.000kms through Spain, Morocco, Spanish Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Malí, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Dahomey, Nigeria, Cameroon, CAR, Zaire, Rwanda and Tanzania.

It wasn't until the mid 1990s that Kazama's feats would be challenged.  In 1995 a solo Hungarian in an all red outfit, Istvan Juhasz, rode an XL250R up the side of Gauri Shankar, a Nepalese mountain in the Himalaya, with the assistance of a trekking company and reached an impressive 6,183m (20,285 feet) where cold and fuelling limited progress.  Istvan Juhasz has a pretty strong claim to have been the first person to cross the 20,000 foot mark on 2 wheels.

The Chinese:  Kicked of the current Guinness recognition of the motorcycle altitude game by getting a 2002 ride with considerable support and backing, up the North side of Everest suitably certified and verified.  (there is a lot of verification involved with Guinness). They too crossed the 20,000 foot barrier before topping out at 6,113 metres (20,060 feet).

Damon I’Anson: Unaware of the other significant rides, British moto journalist I’Anson went to Ladakh to set a world altitude record for bikes and document it for the UK’s Bike magazine in 2007. He creditably rode his XT660R from the UK all the way to the 5,582 metre pass, Marsimik La, then with his Indian co-rider Pankaj, found a way up the scree covered hillsides until exhaustion and lack of traction took their toll and they could go no higher. They reached 5,713 metres (18,743 feet) and reckoned it was probably about as high as anyone had ever been on a bike. “I was able to ride a Yamaha XT660-R to 18,743ft, which I believe is the highest anyone has ever ridden”. It was, however, still a long way below the efforts of Shinji Kazama, not to mention the 2002 Chinese Guinness World Record that was standing at the time 400 metres higher, and Istvan Juhasz’s ride another 70 metres higher again. I'Anson's documentary article also noted the absurd discrepancies between altitudes claimed on Indian signs and reality as seen by his GPS.  He now runs tours in the Indian Himalaya.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Altitude Review - Part 1

How high can motorcycles go? Who has been where, how high and when? Over the coming week we will provide a little background to motorcycles at altitude, and the altitude record in a 3 part blog post. Let's kick off part one with some of the more well known locations for riding high!

The highest motorable road in the world … at least that’s what it claims of itself, is Khardung La, a pass on the Manali – Leh road in the Northern Indian region of Ladakh. The road has been ridden by thousands of motorcyclists over the years. The sign at the pass (see below) says 18,380 feet (5,602 metres). Now we don’t know how you precisely define “motorable”, but defining feet and metres is a much simpler game. The reality is Khardung La is actually 5,359 metres (17,582 feet) as defined by GPS surveys, satellite mapping, etc. That's 800 feet below what is claimed on the sign. So if Khardung La is only 5,359 metres, then the first thing that is apparent is that altitude claims on signs are of particularly limited value (apart from for the sake of glory photos), especially when anecdotal evidence from locals tells of how the altitudes were deliberately falsified on the signs for the sake of providing superlatives … such as the “highest motorable road” on the planet. Certainly there are other higher, just as motorable roads across the border in Tibet, such as Semo La, which is verified at 5,565m (18,258 feet). So in reality, Khardung La is neither the highest motorable road in the world, nor is it 18,380 feet above sea level. The sign at the pass is false in every sense, and deliberately so.

Also in the Indian Himalaya, Marsimik La is claimed by others (Indian local authorities) to be the location of the highest road / track in the world though it’s certainly less “motorable” than Khardung La. It’s a military road that is closed to the general public, unless you have special permission to be there. Never-the-less, Marsimik La has seen frequent 2 wheeled expeditions from numerous Indian motorcycle clubs – often on 150cc bikes! Respect !! Legendary Swedish explorer Sven Hedin crossed the pass in the early 20th century, but alas he was not on a Husaberg nor indeed on any motorcycle.

The sign atop Marsimik La (see below) claims its altitude is 18,634 feet – 5,590 metres. But if we have learned anything about Indian pass signs, it’s that they need to be treated with a very large dose of scepticism. For starters, basic conversion maths should show something incorrect with this sign. They have conjured 300 extra feet out of dodgy mathematics. 5,590 metres (if it were accurate) would translate as 18,339 feet, and not 18,634 feet. However, the 5,590 metres stated on the sign is also not accurate, and of course it’s overstated - but in this case only by a small amount. Satellite mapping and GPS data puts Marsimik La at 18,314 feet (5,582 metres), 320 feet below what is claimed on the sign.

[The sign at Marsimik La states (claims) "Marsimik La.  World's highest motorable pass. Alt 5590 mts, 18634 ft"]

Top Gear: While its definitely not motorcycling, it was watched by a large audience and is therefore a quite well known piece on vehicles at altitude. In the Bolivian special, the top gear chaps went higher and higher up the mountains on the Chilean edge of the Bolivian Altiplano in their 4WDs; eventually reaching 17,200 feet (5,243 metres). They began suffering from headaches and potentially fatal hypoxia (not enough oxygen in the blood) and had to turn back.  As extreme as they made it sound, it is worth bearing in mind that they were still on pretty well worn gravel roads that kept going higher, and their effort is a still below the hundreds of people who cross Khardung La (5,359 m) every day. Still, it made for dramatic TV.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Biggest Challenge: Altitude

At 20,500 feet or 6,250 meters the atmosphere has only 47% the oxygen as sea level. At half this altitude physiological effects of altitude can start to take a toll. It will be great fun to walk and think much less balance and muscle around the 570's!

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) can begin at as little as 9,000 feet or 3,000 meters. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, and trouble sleeping. We will choose our food carefully! We must be cautious about ascending too quickly to avoid AMS and more serious complications. Without descending AMS can quickly develop into High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). HAPE and HACE are caused by fluid leaking from capillaries into the brain or lungs. Both illnesses can cause death within a few hours. Neither training nor experience at altitude can reduce the risk of AMS, HAPE, or HACE. It is not known why some people develop these illnesses and others don't. Sometimes someone can have no problem at a high altitude then return another time and fall victim.

What we can do to avoid AMS is ascend slowly. We will watch each other for symptoms of AMS and with a worsening condition will descend immediately. Fortunately we can descend quite quickly! Hydration can speed acclimatization, some studies show a benefit of drinking more than 5 liters of water per day! Viagra might help but we have to draw the line somewhere. We will be carrying two drugs related to altitude illness. The first is Diamox which we will take daily to aid acclimatization. Diamox does not mask symptoms of AMS, has few side effects, and is the only drug proven to help the body adapt to altitude. The second is Dexamethasone, an emergency only steroid that reduces swelling in the skull (HACE) and arterial pressure and fluid loss in the lungs (HAPE).

The best remedy is to avoid altitude sickness in the first place! So we will ascend slowly and descend for a day or two if anyone shows strong symptoms of altitude sickness.

Much more information can be found here:

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Barton, the American link in our chain, has finally taken delivery of his Husaberg from the US importers.

Unlike the European model for this year that says "Husaberg" on each side ... the North American versions say "Husa" on one side and "Berg" on the other.

Fortunately for Barton ... we have lined him up some nice blue rims to replace the stock silver ones.  Everyone knows that the blue rims perform better at altitude, right?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Mid January Training

Altitude Training, Fitness Conditioning, Cold Conditioning ... its been the theme among the Andes Moto Extreme participants this week.  While Barton was ice climbing in the states, Walter had one of his ribs broken in France, when an out of control French Army skier decided to use him as a soft cuddly stopping post.  Not to be outdone, Lukas was engaged in his own form of extreme exercise back at home base in Austria.  Once Walter's prime rib heals, it looks like the team will be in fine condition for the challenges of March!

Friday, 20 January 2012

The Mission

The 2012 Mission for the Husaberg Adventure Team, and their new super duper Adventure Bergs ... the altitude record for motorcycles. March 2012, Somewhere in South America