Yak Attack 2017: The Sound of Silence

By Neil Cottam

For the first time in a while I was riding alone, enjoying the solitude and the simple pleasure of spinning the pedals at a natural pace. I rolled to a halt, mesmerised by the same view that had stopped me in my tracks exactly a year earlier. The low sun cast shadows across layers of barren mountain summits. Nothing stirred. Nary a parched leaf rustling on a twisted shrub nor the bellow of livestock could be heard on this windless day.


There are few places in the modern world where it's possible to hear nothing, nothing at all, the sound of silence. Nepal's sparsely populated Forbidden Kingdom - The Upper Mustang - a high altitude desert, is one of them, and it is intoxicating. I wanted to stand there forever and bathe in its glory. The electrifying, exhilarating, intoxicating sound of absolute silence.

Alas I couldn't, I had work to do. I pushed on the pedals, the gentle crunch of rubber on dirt seemed almost deafening.

I hadn't really figured The Yak Attack into my travel plans this year, but here I was once more.

Registration in Kathmandu and preparing for stage one

It is my job to act as sweeper during the race. Technically I don't fully race anymore, I meander along with whomever is suffering on each stage before spinning off towards the finish line at my own pace.

The first few days can feel a bit overwhelming, unparalleled amounts of tough climbing with minimal time for recovery make finishing the race seem almost impossible. Simple foods, basic accommodations, squat toilets, and the increasing effects of the debilitating altitude all combine to demolish aspirations.

Besi Sahar to Taal

Taal to Manang

As the stages roll on the routine becomes normal. Early morning bag drops, eat, wait, race, eat, eat some more, sleep. Adapt, grit your teeth, dig in. Almost everyone comes to race; some rise from the back with growing confidence, some adopt survival tactics, others falter. Most discover their grit.

There are no limits beyond the ones in our minds, you have to learn to override those limits, it's just your brain freaking out because it's in unfamiliar territory. Once that limit has been crested the brain puts a new one in place, a little higher than before.

Thorong-La Pass

Sweeping singletrack, loose, exposed, uncultivated, uncivilised, followed by steep and technical, then usurped again by rock and flow. Quite possibly one ofthegreat natural trails on earth. I shared it with a young lad called Freddie Sellwood. He epitomised my ethos of the race - If you’re not there to win it then do it with style, enjoy the trail, get loose, pop some wheelies. Freddie came out to ride the whole thing as a once in a lifetime experience. He rode it all with style, we even stopped for tea - at a teahouse no less.

As we entered the Upper Mustang I marvelled once again at the startling transition in geology.

Two days of purgatory on trails ankle deep with arenaceous floury dust that crept into every pore. On our way back we would holler and hoot as we raised magnificent rooster tails under wildly whizzing wheels; today we choked on it.

Ghilling to Lo Manthang

At Ghilling, a minuscule outpost of civilisation, I spent a quiet moment in deference to the heavens. Light pollution does not exist. I stood breathless, marvelling at the night sky before my ever-widening eyes. Every single star in the universe bursting from space like crystal sabres, so many and so bright that I could barely discern individual constellations, and the Milky Way - so vibrant, so complete - held me spellbound.

The next day we were catapulted in to mystical Lo Manthang. A moment captured in time, a capsule of life that no longer exists in the Western world. Life at its most simple.

Lo Manthang

It is a unique and enchanting place. It is a town dominated by a simple, yet magnificent, walled palace - the ancient seat of the Kings of Lo - which is in turn dominated by a biblical landscape of sand and rock.

In the beginning, the final stage seems like a long way away. When it finally arrives the first stage becomes a distant and blurry memory. It is a day to be savoured.

Tatopani is a glorious place, green, tropical, and fully living up to its name - Tatopani translates quite literally as "hot water" and that naturally occurring hot water is channelled into a series of pools.

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