We are writing you and asking that you, and your sponsors, stop saying that you are attempting to set the FKT on the Great Himalayan Trail. This type of statement displays a lack of understanding about the history of Great Himalayan Trail and the many possible route variations.


Himalayan Adventure Labs maintains the most complete database of people who have crossed the Himalayas on foot, as well as the most comprehensive collection of GPS tracks. Our database details over 95 significant traverses across the Nepal Himalaya by athletes and adventurers. Many of us have attempted modified versions of the ‘high route’ as proposed by Robin Boustead, considered the architect of the trail. The intention behind this is to follow the highest route across the Himalayas as possible.  As Robin outlined it, and Himalayan Map House published it, the route requires technical climbing to get across five high altitude passes; it is common for people to forego this climbing and take long detours around these passes but to still try to follow the rest of the route – thus following a ‘modified high route.’ Robin also outlined a much lower ‘cultural route’ that could be done for those who are more interested in the foothills.  Few adventurers these days use the lower route because there is a lot of jeep track, and they would rather be on trails and travel through the high altitude environs that are the Himalaya. It is being dropped from future publications of the Great Himalaya Trail Map Series.  What Sean Burch, Andrew Porter, and you are following reflects a modified low route.  Your elevation profile map, compared to the high route, might be like comparing the Boston Marathon to Hardrock.


Only two people in our GHT database have made big deals about setting FKTs on ‘the Great Himalayan Trail.’  Both of these people did modified low routes. Sean Burch, who holds the record(?) for jumping rope on Everest, did a modified lower route and issued a number of press releases in 2010. He also allegedly fired his porters partway through so they could not claim the record with him.  Last year, Andrew Porter visited Nepal for his first time and wanted to do a solo traverse with a lot of running; Robin Boustead advised him to do a modified low route. He did something like Sean’s route but  ‘more roads in the east’ and then claimed an FKT on a number of websites. 


There has been a marked increase over the last five years with many hard core endurance athletes and adventurers gravitating to the upper route where the true Himalaya rise out of the clouds. Justin Lichter and Shawn Forrey did a modified upper route in 57 days in 2011. Doc McKerr, in 2013, became the first person to do a solo, self-supported modified version of the upper route in 65 days. In 2014, Kathleen Egan became the first woman to do a modified upper route with all technical passes and without expeditionary support in 87 days.  Bruno Poirier, who led one of the earliest speed efforts in 1994, organized the ‘Great Himalaya Race’ last year on a modified upper route last year. Eleven athletes completed the effort in under 50 days.


The fastest crossing of a modified high route was completed last year by Lizzy Hawker, five time winner of UTMB and someone with a great deal of experience in the Himalaya. She bested her time from 2016 and finished the route in 35 days. Her route crossed 12 passes over 5,000m; your lower route appears to cross 6 of these passes (Andrew reported crossing seven).  And while Lizzy never stood on a soap box and self-proclaimed setting an FKT like Sean or Andrew, it only takes a few minutes of research to find she has the fastest time on the highest most runnable version of the Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal. 


As Lizzy wrote in an open letter – directed at FKT attempts on the GHT – it is critical  that when you say you are going to do something, that you be clear about what you are doing. And as Trail Running Nepal wrote on Peter Bakwin’s FKT proboard site – saying you are attempting to ‘set the World Record on the GHT is silly,’ reflecting the lack of clarity in the claim and the number of possible route variations that exist. 


If you insist, you are attempting to set the FKT  ‘on a modified low route of the GHT in Nepal.’ We understand this is not a clean marketing blurb, but if you do not want to mislead people this is how you and your sponsors should be headlining your attempt. Speaking of your sponsors: this is not the first time Salomon has misrepresented an FKT in the Himalaya; we hope they add some fact checkers to their marketing team. Your claim that more people have walked on the moon (n=12) than have finished the GHT is one of many exaggerations and misinformation in the marketing campaign. We also have concerns about how a can of Redbull costs almost a half a days salary for many Nepalis (that is another letter) and how you are comparing a heavily supported team effort, with Andrew’s solo effort. Should you complete more than 500k, which is the minimum threshold to be considered a ‘significant effort’ in our database, we will be happy to add you two as the 96th and 97th efforts.  We will also make note that you followed a modified low route with extensive use of roads. We will report your finish time for the route you followed; but we will not be stating that you have the ‘FKT on the Great Himalaya Trail;’ at this point in time, it is simply not possible.


We wish you the best of luck on the trails you find and the passes you encounter. We are so sorry you are sidestepping some of the best valleys and mountain ranges ahead of you. Hopefully you will come back again; hopefully you will choose a more challenging route (perhaps Lizzy Hawker’s?); and hopefully you will think twice about how you frame your fastest known time.


-Seth Wolpin (FKT of 87 days for a 5’10 half-Jewish guy on the modified high route in 2014)

-Sudeep Kandel (Himalayan Trail Aficionado. Owner, Himalayan Adventure Labs. FKT on Manaslu Circuit in 2015)


Great Himalaya Trail - image used by permission from Robin Boustead and Richard Bull
Great Himalaya Trail – image used by permission from Robin Boustead and Richard Bull. The lower route is marked with a smaller, dotted, line. It will not be on future published maps.


23 thoughts on “On Open Letter to Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel: Why you will not be breaking the FKT on the Great Himalaya Trail

    1. I agree.
      This guy actually seems completely put out by the fact anyone dare run a time on his precious trails.
      There are a million ways to do the Cape to Cairo, but that shouldn’t mean anyone can’t say anything (or try do it as fast as they can).

      Sandes and Ryno have done more for SA trail running than this chop could ever imagine!
      Power to them, and I hope they set a record just to rub his nose in it.

      1. Hi DB – Thank you for your comments. I love the idea of people running in Nepal; it has some of the best trails in the world. We spend a lot of time promoting trails in Nepal, helping people run and fast pack and even set FKTs. My first choice, and recommendation, is not to run the low route as it misses so much and I am not a fan of jeep track. It would be good for mountain biking. In working on the database and compiling information about efforts on the Nepal GHT, Andrew’s is the only recent low route traverse I can remember. But they are absolutely welcome to run his route. And (despite what it may seem) I am excited by it; what they are doing is impressive and their speed is phenomenal. The heat on the low route can be brutal and so can the elevation change. The publicity for Nepal is good. We are only asking that they are clear in how they frame their accomplishment in their title. Asking that accomplishments are clearly titled should not be a bad thing. Calling it the ‘FKT on the GHT’ is disingenuous and also unfair to the people who have done very fast traverses on the high route. They need to name their route in their title. Maybe a poor analogy, but just like ‘Grand’ is in ‘The Drakensberg Grand Traverse’ (I’m guessing detouring around on jeep track is not the same thing). Great to hear also they have done a lot for the SA trail running community. More power to them. Safe trails. -Seth.

  1. And what is it with the “follow your own trails and don’t conform, just explore” group that entices some to become the establishment who then start imposing the rules and regs as if the Olympic committee? Like hippies who criticize people in suits, whilst wearing their own very conformist uninformed tie die. Your open letter (the tool of someone who has nobody to listen to them – if they did it’s an article or a press release) is an attack on individualism and freedom of expression that is the basis for running how and where we do. Just like that protectionist rubbish with Sandes getting stripped of a win because his space blanket fell out of his pack along the way, and like Tim Noakes being attacked for taking on the nutrition establishment, this is effectively a statement that the world’s greatest trail runner isn’t part of the club yet.

    1. Thanks Joziconfidential. Honestly – we don’t know anything about Sandes and the space blanket or what happened with Tim Noakes. We care about the Himalayas and that is where our attention is focused. And we care about people being clear with their intentions and not trying to stretch the truth.

  2. I think what we must remember is that the whole culture of FKT’s is that somebody sets a challenge and opens it up for others to challenge. It doesn’t mean if you hold an FKT in a specific area or on a specific route that you own that route or area, or that you have any authority… it just means that you did something within certain boundaries and guidelines and then anybody else can go and challenge that. In this case, there seems to be a number of people (all ex-pats, and not one Nepalese person) that some how feel like they “own” the Himalayas or are the absolute authority on the GHT. You are an embarrassment to Nepal as well as he whole outdoors/sporting community. Grow the hell up.

    1. Thanks Kim. You are right on many levels. They just need to be upfront with what those boundaries are. They are not setting ‘The FKT on the GHT’, they are doing it on a modified low route. They need to say that because there are huge mountain ranges that are being skipped. Andrew has retracted his claim of having the ‘FKT on the GHT’ because he recognizes this. I’ve done the modified high route and was part of the first team to cross all of the technical passes on the high route without expeditionary support; I spend a lot of my time researching the GHT and helping others. There are many Nepalis and ex-pats who know more than I do about the Himalaya, but I am not sitting in an armchair. Sudeep is Nepali and a licensed guide and holds an FKT in Nepal. He isn’t sitting in an armchair either. Thank you for your very polite closing comment. I wish you the best.

    2. Hi Kim. You are right about the culture of FKT. What you are wrong about is – my name is next to Seth’s at the end of our open letter and you couldn’t see my name. Is it because I am an insignificant local Nepali? Or is it because my voice doesn’t count? Don’t get us wrong, we fully support fellow runners/trekkers on their attempt wherever that be. But we won’t sit idle when someone stretches facts just so it is easily marketable to big companies, and that also in our own backyard!

    1. Hi Darren – nope. It isn’t. The headline on this page is ‘These two guys are going to run all the way across the Himalayas’ – they most definitely starting with the fact that the Himalayas extend far beyond Nepal in both directions and their route avoids entire ranges in the Nepal Himalaya. I could go on and on, pointing out a bunch of inaccuracies on this page. But I won’t, I’ve said enough. It would be lovely if Redbull responded to Andrew’s requests for edits. And it would add a lot of clarity if they articulated why they chose his route (which is not a ‘recognized fkt’) to challenge versus something on the high route. These are the Himalayas after all, so why not run in them?

  3. What an embarrassment you all are to the outdoors/adventure community? To publicly attack two athletes bringing such amazing publicity to the country, you as an ex-pat have chosen to make your home… do you REALLY care about Nepal & it’s people? A Red Bull costs more than what an average Nepalese person earns in a day? Are you joking? Is that all you have? If you really cared about Nepal, you’d realize that this FKT attempt of Ryan & Ryno’s will bring income to Nepal that Himalayan Adventure Labs can only dream of generating. You & Lizzy Hawker are clearly on a witch hunt. Have you nothing better to do with your time? Petty petty semantics & clear jealousy.

    1. Hi Eric – thanks for your comments. We don’t see detouring around entire mountain ranges in Nepal as petty and semantics. We care a great deal about Nepal and work hard to give back. We are a Nepali owned company, all profits stay in Nepal. We also sponsor a girls running team in Kathmandu and do many other charitable things. We appreciate the interest in Nepal that their efforts are generating. We are only asking for transparency in what they are doing – especially with how they are titling their attempt and route, that is nothing new in the FKT world and it is fair to those who have come before them and those who will follow. Thank you and safe trails.

  4. I don’t think anyone, including HAL, is arguing that what Sandes and Griesel are doing isn’t impressive. The problem stems from the manner in which Red Bull and Salomon have hyped this effort as setting an FKT on the GHT. The headlines present misleading click bait that elevates this attempt beyond its scope. In some promotional materials, the runners do acknowledge that there are variations in routes on the GHT; this is a good first step. I see HAL as making a simple, and reasonable, request: be more transparent in the framing of this attempt and avoid hyperbolic claims about what exactly it is they are attempting to do. This lower “cultural” route relies heavily on jeep track and foregoes many of the high passes of the GHT. That said, the attempt is nothing to snub your nose at, so why inflate it into something it is not? To go one step further, it’s important to note that this is also a team attempt at a route; Andrew Porter completed his GHT run solo. True, saying you have the “FKT for a Team on the Lower Route of the GHT” isn’t as sexy and succinct as saying you have the “FKT on the GHT,” but it’s the truth. I think if the marketing for, and reporting on, this effort was done with more integrity and less hype, this would never have been an issue.

    I hope that Sandes and Griesel are having an epic adventure and that their journey inspires others to learn about and visit the Himalaya in Nepal. It would be admirable if they would also insist that their sponsors present this attempt for what it is instead of using misleading headlines as a means for promoting their own brands. It just cheapens what these men are doing.

    1. Thank you Ellen for your comments. I like what you said ‘…the attempt is nothing to snub your nose at, so why inflate it into something it is not? To go one step further, it’s important to note that this is also a team attempt at a route; Andrew Porter completed his GHT run solo.’ Cheers.

      1. People need not get so upset about this letter, it’s the truth and this needed to be highlighted. I also feel strongly about correct facts and comparing things more correctly matched.

        Thank you guys for these comments as I have been saying similar things here in SA about the attempt, as you can’t compare an unsupported solo attempt as the same thing as a team attempt.

        But I am even more thrilled to hear about all the other records that have been set on even more difficult routes. Most people who have put up these records I am sure would love the recognition and exposure of these two guys but don’t have their own personal sponsors and marketing crews. Other attempt were also probably self funded and not sponsored attempts that people only recognise well after the fact. Let’s give credit where credit is due, Ryan and Ryno are doing a phenomenal job and moving at an amazing pace, Andrew was amazing for setting his own time for the distance completely on his own (and by setting his time inspired Ryan and Ryno to break it). I think Lizzy is an absolutely inspiration and did an insane route with an amazing time.

        Stating correct facts is an absolute must, and making inaccurate grand gestures just to boost ego and self marketing is inappropriate.

        Thank you Seth for the work on the data Base and the letter. If details were stated correctly none of this would have been necessary.

  5. These comments…so much vitriol when it’s more beneficial for everyone to have clear, calm, and respectful debate. The opportunity to learn more, both ways, is being missed. Why the need for personal attacks about people you, presumably, don’t know?
    FKTs require accuracy. The information provided to the public has been somewhat refined over time, but even the most recent piece I read stated it would be a *version* of what Andrew did (who, notably, has retracted his FKT claim).
    I haven’t been to the area myself and am not an expert on the area like the people who wrote this article are. I trust their knowledge and also understand how important the details are when it comes to setting FKTs.
    I also believe it’s respectful to be clear about what one is doing and not make it sound more grand than it actually is. That isn’t necessary. What these guys are doing is big enough and I respect the effort they will be/are giving it. A lack of clarity and respect for the true GHT route is why the conversation has progressed to where it is currently.

    1. Thank you Trisha – I like what you said ‘I also believe it’s respectful to be clear about what one is doing and not make it sound more grand than it actually is. That isn’t necessary. What these guys are doing is big enough and I respect the effort they will be/are giving it’

  6. In a way I see these guys just challenging anything Andrew has done.. from the Drakensberg Grand Traverse now the Himalayas. But yes I agree wholeheartedly with Seth. A FKT must refer to an exact route. Much poetic licence is included in all the propoganda around this challenge.

  7. All FKT’s are generally simple. You have the exact route and the rules that are set out to have a recorded attempt.

    So… setup the exact route and define the rules.
    In today’s world there are ways to do these things on your solo and record the attempt as you go along.
    BUT then state explicitly:
    Must be solo attempt without any support, media crew…;
    Must be exact route which is… ;

    If I was them I would just call this “Redbull Himalaya FKT 1.0”, define the route and rules with a kick ass prize for completing it. Then it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t conform to someone else’s FKT as it will be their own.

  8. Yoh so much bitterness and negativity. Would think someone that spends so much time in the mountains wouldn’t be so vitriolic about folks dare running on his precious trails.
    It’s been pretty clear from all the media and interviews that they will follow the route set by Andrew Porter during his traverse. Hitting the same waypoints, same methods as Andrew. It’s something comparable. There’s a huge difference between the various routes so comparing a high-route climbing traverse with a mixed one, or partial high-one or pure cultural one makes no sense.
    If you want to take it one step further and do want to harp on the FKT part of the journey – if you want to set the fastest known time across the Great Himalayan Trail, even if Andrew’s attempt didn’t exist, you’d most probably take a route that requires less technical climbing but which forms part of the GHT as per your map. Sure there’s a a FKT for the highest runnable route too, as followed by Lizzy, but that would not make for an overall FKT.

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