#ConquerAsOne Entry: Graeme Duane


Michael Finch |

Graeme and his riding buddies – Image Supplied

This is an entry to the Absa Cape Epic #ConquerAsOne competition, submitted and written by Graeme Duane.

Cuan, Dean and I had climbed 5.1 vertical kilometers over 93kms. We were at 4500meters above sea level. Next stop was 5500m – over the Himalayas, but we would never make it that far.

By 4pm it was snowing heavily, and Tuesday morning we had to dig out of the hut. Visibility was around 45m and we were stuck… Stuck in over a meter of snow with bicycles. Going anywhere would be suicide. We weren’t prepared for the conditions anyway, so staying put in that stone hut was the best thing we did.

By nightfall 25 trekkers were dead. All of them tried to hike back down the mountain, but we hadn’t heard this news… We left the next morning, but the going was incredibly slow.

At 4:45pm we had to cross a freezing, flooding river. We were still a distance from the nearest village, and by then it was clear that we’d spend a night out here – at full exposure at 4000m… So falling in there would be fatal. We’d stopped talking to each other at that stage. The ride just wasn’t fun ride anymore.

The crossing was life and death. We helped each other through the torrent. Cuan almost fell in. We were so exhausted that we struggled to scale the snow on the bank.

Then a terrible feeling settled on us. Almost dark. No food. Wet… And it was cold. Our friendship was being tested. Dean wanted to sleep under the tree and I wanted to keep moving, the temperature plunged, so we compromised.

A lighter and a paperback novel got a fire started. With the scrawny brush, we fed small fire. We warmed up, but we had no tent, no groundsheet, no full waterproofs. At 8:30pm that night we agreed on one thing: “If we sleep here, we’re all going to die”. There was little doubt in my mind. Greeting the sub-zero dawn in a wet sleeping bag was no option.

We thrashed through the dark. Throwing the bikes forward, wading through snow. If we kept walking, we stayed warm. We hiked for hours, then we came across a narrow patch of dry, snowless earth along the base of a cliff, so we decided to try and sleep for a few hours.

Image Supplied

That night was freezing. The breeze sucked the warmth out of us. I had four layers and a down jacket on, two woolen hats, but nothing on my legs. I wrapped a pair of cycling shorts around my feet, but that made little difference.

Nepal’s worst trekking disaster

The storm had ended 24 hours ago. CNN had reported this as Nepal’s worst trekking disaster in history, and our wives were distraught. The Trekking Association site had three different lists: Dead. Missing. Rescued. We were part of the “missing”. Imagine the reaction.

The temperature dropped to -5 C. But the sky was getting light. I knew that we’d beaten the cold. That was a good feeling, like we had another chance – another day’s grace.

Image Supplied

Our clothes were frozen stiff, but when we hit the sunlight we soon warmed. Eventually we saw Kanshar village high above the river, but by then we were spent. By this stage 39 people had died. Rescue helicopters passed high overhead.

We climbed through the snow to the village. Collapsed in a tea-house and ate like horses.

After fighting that hard to survive, Graeme would like to take on the Absa Cape Epic with one of his riding mates in 2o19.

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