“A game of believing in yourself, of getting up when you fall, of covering one more mile before you collapse.”
The Hell Ultra is the 480 km long run on the high mountain roads from Manali to Leh in the lap of Himalayas. The challenge is to cover one of the toughest and highest highway’s entire distance on foot. He crossed five mountain passes in a mere 120 hours.
Pulkit Jain (26) is an Assistant Executive Engineer (Electrical) at Offshore Engineering Services, 11 High, ONGC-Mumbai. He participated in the Hell Ultra marathon this year from 17th June to 22nd June and finished it in an awe-inspiring 114 hours, 10 mins 02 secs. There are only three finishers in total four editions conducted so far including two Indian finishers this time.
National Highway - 3 runs via Manali, Himachal Pradesh to Leh in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, spanning 480 km (300 miles) through some of the world’s highest mountain passes. Uncertain weather, high altitude, extreme cold (even in summer) and no civilization for miles make it a treacherous track to cross at any given time. Though most of the road is asphalted, yet conditions on the route can change quickly and can be harsh. Snow / Rain, glacier melt, water crossings, landslides, sections of broken dirt trails all add to its difficulty and never-ending traffic jams; frequent road closures make it more complicated.
Five Mountain Passes:
The Manali-Leh highway, with an average elevation of more than 4000 m (13000 ft.), traverses five mountain passes reaching highest elevation at Tanglang La (5328 m or 17480 ft.). It starts from Manali valley (2050 m) and steadily climbs to Rohtang Pass (3979 m @ 51km). Then a steady descent leads to Lahul and Spiti valleys. The landscape changes immediately from here as the region lies in rain-shadow. The greenery of southern side disappears here, and mountain slopes become brown and arid. Keylong and Jispa are major rest camps here.
The next pass Baralach La (4902 m @ 190 km) leads to high altitude plateau region where Sarchu is the campsite at the state border of HP and J&K. Nakee La (4930 m @ 258 km) and Lachung La (5053 m @ 277 km) are next two passes, and Pang is the rest camp after that. Then there lie high altitude plains (Morey Plains at 4758 m). The last and highest pass is Tanglang La at 364 km, after which it is all downhill to finish line at Shanti Stupa in the city of Leh (3500 m). The total elevation gain of the complete route is 9350 m.
Covering the entire 480 km at such high altitudes where oxygen levels dip to 50% and in extreme weather conditions where temperatures dip to -10 degrees, running is the ultimate endurance test of human body. Terrains are as spectacular as they are difficult. It’s a whole different experience in open wilderness invoking survival instincts at times. Accomplishing all this in just five days does require serious training as well as planning.
Detailed strategy proved essential w.r.t. running pace, food, hydration and sleep. A slow but steady pace of 5-6 kmph was useful - though frustrating at times yet reserving energy all times. Mostly it was liquid diet throughout and dal-chawal once a day was the meal with sleep of only 11 hours in total five days. The support crew was excellent with two volunteers, one car and a driver.
Knocking kilometers one by one gave relief but knowing hundreds of more to go made anxious anytime. The last few kilometers were refreshing with warm sun overhead and finish line in sight. What a journey it has been! A true adventure of not just hundreds of kilometers but of thousands of memories to cherish and stories to tell.
Mr. Pulkit Jain is bachelors in Electronics and Electrical Engineering from IIT Guwahati and passionate long distance runner. Previously he had finished three ultra-marathons and a few full marathons:
|1. Run The Rann, Feb-17
161 km, Ultra Trail Running
Kutch, Gujarat, India
|Trail Race in isolated salt desert of Rann of Kutch; ITRA certified; GPS based
Navigation Race. Elevation Gain: +998m
|Timing: 36 Hrs 09 Mins
Rank: #6 out of 25.
|2. Khardungla Challenge, Sept-18
72 km, World’s Highest Ultra Marathon
Ladakh, J&K, India
|One of the toughest endurance races due to high altitude,
steep incline & cold weather. Max. Altitude: 5370 m
Min Temp.: -100C
|Timing: 10 Hrs 31 Mins
Rank: #24 out of 115 finishers.
|3. The Border Ultra, Dec-18
161 km, Ultra Road Running
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
|Road Running amid Thar desert from city of Jaisalmer to
Longewala border post.
|Timing: 25 Hrs 25 Mins
Rank: #4 out of 22.
|Full Marathons (42.2 km) - Total 07 Nos.
Personal Best: 04 Hrs 05 Mins at Tata Mumbai Marathon, Jan-18