A rough guide to running and hiking the Kathmandu Valley Rim Trail (KVRT)

Introduction  |  I: Mudkhu to  Jhule  | II: Jhule to Sanga  | III: Sanga to Persey Ridge  | IV: Persey Ridge to Hattiban Resort  |  V: Hattiban Resort to Bimdunga Chia Pasal  | VI: Bimdunga Chia Pasal to Mudkhu

Introduction

If you are looking to hike or run on the Kathmandu Valley Rim Trail – I hope you will use some of my notes below.   There is so much fabulous trail up there! Note that the distance and elevation measures are only estimates (from Topofusion) and should be taken with a huge grain of Himalayan salt, they probably overestimate – especially the gain but it definitely is not a walk in the park! I highly encourage you to read the notes below on GPS and navigation if you are attempting the entire trail or any part that is less traveled. I’ve broken the KVRT into 6 segments:

What it looks like

 

KVRT-GE

Kathmandu Valley Rim Trail – Version 1

Interactive Map of Kathmandu Valley Rim Trail

 

An Only Known Time (OKT)

It’s easy to set an OKT when you design the route! But my real goal was to enjoy the valley rim, try it in one push, and hopefully inspire others to get up there and better my time or just have a good time themselves! In late November, 2015, I was fortunate to do a continuous push around the Kathmandu Valley on foot – finishing in just under 50 hours. It was a project I had been thinking about for a little over two years and I spent a good part of October and November researching the route. And overall I think it went really well. I had a lot of help along the way (see thanks section below) and feedback from others who are interested in hiking and running on the rim.  After my run, Hannan Lewsley wrote a nice article in the Nepali Times: “Just running around: Two days, 172km and one American university professor” And it was also nice of Richard Bull at Trail Running Nepal to do a little write-up.  More thanks can be found further below.

This post is part trip report and  hopefully part guide for those that need a little escape from the craziness of Kathmandu.  Below are photos from my continuous push and also some technical notes on gear, navigation, thanks and the like. I’ve created separate pages for each section, with maps, notes, additional photos and thoughts. Feel free to jump straight to those segments but please remember to read the notes and caveats further below on this main page. I would appreciate any feedback sent my way. Have fun and safe trails,

Seth.

 

 

Back story

I used to make my students visiting from the University of Washington climb all 5 floors to the rooftop of the Hotel Marshyandi. We would toil up the marble stairs, footsteps echoing up and down until we at last reached the top. Only in Kathmandu there is almost never one rooftop, so we would find the narrow ladder and climb to the very top where vertigo would momentarily sieze me and threaten to pitch me off the edge. I wanted them to see the distant mountains that circled the city, the gnarled ridges and gentle saddles. On the rooftop, the wind and the views would leave the students momentarily at loss for words as they realized that Kathmandu was much more than the narrow alleyways of Thamel, the street touts, souveneer shops and the glimpses of heart wrenching poverty. But we never ventured into those nearby hills and mountain ridges; like most visitors we were compelled to travel to far-off places, believing the only way to get close to the Himalaya was to distance ourselves from the city.

It took several more years, and several more trips to Nepal, before I finally started exploring the Kathmandu Valley Rim. I was at a loss for a starting point, finally finding that in the main entrance to Shiva Puri National Park to the north. Up I would go and quickly admire how fast I could get above the city, the chaos swiftly receeding until it was just me, troops of monkeys and the occasional wood gatherer. I rarely saw anyone else and couldn’t understand how the seething city below didn’t send more refugees up onto the trails. Over time I learned secret entrances into the park and rarely used trails that I could run down, feet kicking up leaves and spirits soaring. In 2013 I helped mark trails and did basic logistics for the first Kathmandu Ultra organized by www.trailrunningnepal.org But my explorations were mostly focused on this northern part of the city. It was close to home and the other parts of the rim seemed too far away; the approach trails a mystery to me. Over the past two years, as I’ve explored other long runs in Nepal and the world, the idea of running around the valley rim in a continuous push has slowly formed. I knew that doing something like this would compel me to ‘finally get out there’ and explore the other parts of the rim and I’m happy to report I finally accomplished this goal.

The purpose of this trip report is different from many of my other reports. I hope to encourage other people, whether they are runners or hikers, to get up on the valley rim. Rather than focus on my personal experience, I try here to relay some notes that will be useful to people who want to escape Kathmandu for a day or two (or even more) without going on some far flung trek. There is plenty to explore and it is only a stones throw away!

What is the Kathmandu Valley Rim Trail

First off,  I’m going to go out on a limb and say it is what is detailed here. Maybe we can call this version 0.1 There is no official trail that circles the whole city. When I asked local people who I knew were interested in the topic, everyone seemed to have a different opinion of what ridges and peaks should be included in a circumnavigation. I needed a starting point. I bought a ‘Biking the Kathmandu Valley’ map from Himalaya Map House – my favorite cartographers. Unfortunately the scale was too big and there were too many options. My friend Stephen Keeling, a long time resident of the valley, had mountain biked his version of the valley rim several times and also attempted a run once. He lent me some GPS tracks and I used these as the basis for several scouting trips, sometimes hiking, sometimes running. If anyone is the architect of the valley rim trail, it is Stephen as he gave me the blueprints I needed. I am also indebted to Richard Bull of www.trailrunningnepal.org who has organized many runs around Kathmandu and routinely posts GPS tracks. Over October and November 2015, I explored these trails trying to familiarize myself with the geography an dsearching for alternate routes.. Two of these scouting trips were with Naomi Press, we had an amazing time hiking and camping high above the city and encourage others to follow what we did – you can find notes on our campsites below as well as pictures.

In late November I finally had a complete set of GPS tracks that I felt did a good job of following ridges and hitting prominent peaks, while also avoiding roads. It measured in at close to 160 kilometers, the most I was interested in trying to cover in a continuous push, especially given over twelve thousand meters of elevation gain. Nothing to sneeze at. On November 26th, I started from Mudkhu, a small road intersection that was reasonably close to my house. Over the course of the next 50 hours, I ran and walked in a clockwise fashion around the valley and had an amazing time. I saw the sun rise twice, chatted with monkeys, climbed a million stairs, worried about wild boars and leopards (not really that much of a threat but your mind does funny things) and had my spirits bolstered by friends who joined me along the way. And in the end, everything worked and I finished strong with a smile on my face. Now this wasn’t my first rodeo and I have a lot of fast friends in the endurance running world. Fifty hours is not a fast time for 160 kilometers, even if you factor in the elevation gain. But my goal was not to do it fast, my goal was just to finish, be safe, and have a smile on my face at the end. I would love to see others tackle this and beat this time. I would also love to see others simply use my notes and go for an awesome hike in these overlooked mountains. Trust me, you don’t need to fly to Lukla or bus to Pokhara to see the Himalaya tower over you – that front row seat is closer than you think. Below I share a few notes from my continuous push, but mostly I share notes, pictures, and tracks from my combined explorations with the hope that others use them as they see fit. Just do me a favor, and send me your notes so I can improve everything on this page! And have fun!

Notes on GPS and navigation

I am often teased and sometimes criticized for relying too much on GPS for navigation. Yes, it takes some of the adventure out of things but it is also a huge safety and convenience factor. I also carried a map and compass in case my electronic tools died and I needed to drop back down into the city. Paper maps simply are not detailed enough for turn by turn navigation and there are very few signs. I recommend installing good app on your phone (if not a dedicated GPS unit) that allows you to load tracks and show your location on top of the track. Much like Hansel and Gretel. I used Backcountry Navigator on an android, loaded all my tracks into this, and also downloaded and cached map tiles from Open Cycle Map. Worked like a charm and even let me figure out where to go in the dark! All tracks, including some approach trails not shown in the embedded maps, can be found here.

Below is an interactive map with my satellite transponder tracks from my attempt at running the KVRT. If you choose to open it in a new window  (also done by clicking on the wikiloc logo in the upper right) you can change the underlying map layers (OpenCycle includes contour lines) Because the track was recorded at arbitrary 10 minute increments – it grossly underestimates the distance and elevation change, but it provides a quick and easy overview. If you would like to see the points hosted on Delorme’s website you can find them here  by filtering the date range to the last two days of November, 2015. And the maps and gps files found on the different pages for each segment will include more detailed GPS tracks.

 

But GPS measurements, especially related to distance and elevation gain, include a ton of error. The best measurement is done with an old fashioned measuring wheel – something I don’t have the patience for. All of this is a way of saying to take everything here with a grain of salt. Someday I will ‘smooth’ the tracks to reduce this measurement error. I have manually removed some obvious noise in the tracks, and deleted some track points where I went off in the wrong direction. Many of the tracks are hybrids, created from recordings from different people and different devices (see thanks). These offer much better detail  for navigation and distance/elevation estimates than the track with the 10 minute increments from my sat transponder. I edited tracks primarily in Garmin Basecamp but also used Topofusion to exam distances and elevation gains, for visualization and also Google Earth pro.

Gear

I used an ultraspire fastpack to carry my stuff. For warmth I brought a puffy jacket (Feathered Friends) and puffy pants (Montbell) mostly out of worry of falling in the middle of the night, becoming immobile, and having no real insulation. It gets cold up on the ridges at night! I never wore these. I brought two smartphones, both with all GPS stuff loaded and plenty of phone credit. I also brought a battery pack with 20,000 milliamp hours, Delorme Sat Transponder. Other critical pieces of gear: Petzl Nao Headlamp, Fenix handheld 160 lumen flashlight, Black Diamond Carbon Fiber trekking poles, OR Helium II shell, Mountain Hardwear wind shell, Brooks Cascadia shoes which were almost totally blown out. I threw them away after the run.

Thanks

Big thanks to Stephen Keeling for providing the initial GPS tracks that I used during my scouting trips, and also for joining me for a section of the run and for bringing his friend Sergi. I owe thanks to Posan, Sudeep Kandel, and Richard Bull for additional GPS tracks. Mara Larsen, Maneesh, and Mark Brightwell (great trip report on Manaslu by Mark!) joined me at Hattiban Resort and Mark stuck with me for over 12 hours until the very end. Thanks also to Dorjee Sherpa from Himalaya Windhorse Adventures for serving as an emergency backstop, Pawan from Himalaya Map House, Michelle Landry for exploring Nagarjan with me, and Naomi Press for scouting over a third of the trail with me.

 

Introduction  |  I: Mudkhu to  Jhule  | II: Jhule to Sanga  | III: Sanga to Persey Ridge  | IV: Persey Ridge to Hattiban Resort  |  V: Hattiban Resort to Bimdunga Chia Pasal  | VI: Bimdunga Chia Pasal to Mudkhu

12 Responses to “A rough guide to running and hiking the Kathmandu Valley Rim Trail (KVRT)

  • Hey Seth–this is amazing. Great write-up and guidance. You have me checking my air miles rewards charts. Congrats!

    • Thanks Scotty! Looking forward to seeing you at Orcas or post Orcas in February! And hope to see you someday up on the KVRT. I remember(ed) our conversations about writing trail guides. Would be fun to do that for real sometime. This was a rough pass. Maybe another time I can go back and take real notes. Cheers!

  • Seth, your exploits, fortitude, unbelievable stamina and commitment dazzle those of us that watch on. You are much missed and thought of frequently here in KTM.

    • Thanks James – missing you guys and I hope all is well in KTM! Please say hi to Judy, Tikki, and Ewan for me. Hope your writing and voice work is going well!

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