No one is happier than me for the recent lack of candidates in this contest . But here we are , with a strong candidate for this years Bad Altitude Info Award. The Yading Skyrun has just kicked off , marketed as the ” worlds highest ” running contest. There are nice graphics in the form of maps and elevation profiles on the official site.
And this is where the good news ends. This starts with getting to the event , choosing between the two obvious routes to Yading. One way is flying in to Shangri La , a few hundred meters lower than Lhasa , and take a long bus ride the next day. This could be seen as a good idea knowing that 2 % of soldiers flying in to Lhasa start to develop pulmonary edema , and a even larger group is incapacitated . The other option is flying in direct to Yading …which is the worlds highest airport at 4411 meters. That shouldn’t really be an option for any first comers to these altitudes , without prior acclimatization . The event organizer don’t give any input on this / in fact they literally never mention acclimatization. The plan here is at surreal distance from standard safety guidelines : a run from 4000 meters altitude to 5000 in a single day, without any required acclimatization first.
A given comparison here is the Ladakh Marathon that since seven years organize a similar run to the slightly higher Khardung La . They strongly recommend minimum five days of acclimatization in Leh at 3520 meters . The Everest Marathon , another 5000 plus run , organise the first five nights in the 2600 to 4000 meters range.
End of my 2015 tour in Kham , driving past worlds third highest airport serving Kangding @ 4280 meters . Looks like a interesting landing , with the four thousand meter long runway ending as a ramp . Think cutting of the top of a cone , and flipping it to extend the flat surface.
Kangding town is forty klicks away and seventeen hundred meters lower : flat real estate is scarce in these parts.
Landing at 4411 meters … an instant aging experience. Well , I got younger again down in Daocheng at 3750 meters. But not fast . There is a better way of doing this : a long flight to Kunming , where the airport is at 2100-ish meter, and then a connecting flight to Daocheng/Yading . Doesn’t run in the winter though.
( There are now four airports at 4000+ meters : La Paz , widely believed to be the worlds highest is the lowest one at 4061 meters. )
Up , up and away : grand day out starting from Lijiang in Yunnan at 2400 meters , taking the cable car to 4506 meters , topped by stair excercises up to 4680.
This is the highest running cable car in the world at the moment : the Meridian cable car reached 4700+ meters , but stopped operating in 2008. Second highest would be the Lina Rioja down to La Paz from El Alto @ 4061 meters.
Honorable mentions below 4000 meters :
* the Quito TeleferiQo claims to go up to 3945 meters , starting from 3117 , which checks out on Google Earth
* the Gulmarg gondola makes two different claims on their official homepage : 3747 meters ( around thirty meters lower than the the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix ) and 3979 meters . The later is clearly an exaggeration , Google Earth places it a few meters below the Quito Teleferiqo. A second level of exaggeration is often found on Indian websites , giving not the altitude of the cable car station but the top of the mountain , starting from 4200 meters.
* The Aiguille di Midi in the Mont Blanc massif at 3842 meters
* Yunnan holds another cabe car going from Kangding at 2600 meters , reaching .. have to check that with a GPS next time around.
Worlds highest …. Those two words contains a lot of power , and status . Just below our logical level rests the concept that we should look up to … whatever is higher in the field of vision. Early 19th blablaology held a lot of the same blanket admiration for Andean mythos as is accorded today to Tibetan culture , fuelled by that unworded theme : those literally closest to heaven should be infused by … higher values. The concept is in no way restricted to Western culture , the Americans that made a emergency landing in Lhasa in 1942 found themselves dealing with hostile reactions because they had placed themselves above the Dalai Lama in the Potala.
India has a number of claims on worlds highest , that complicates my love of India : worlds highest road (Khardung La , not ) highest cable car (Gulmarg , not) . One thing mostly forgotten though is the high politics of India. Mridula posted two years back a photo of probably Indias highest post office in Kibber, my reaction to that was that it might be at the same time one of the worlds highest polling stations : post offices and schools over the world is also where elections take place. In Ladakh and Spiti a third communal setting is used : the Buddhist monasteries.
Ladakh has recently completed elections in this setting. It holds not only some of the highest elections in the world , but also the smallest constituencies in the world : India defines democracy as the opportunity to participate within a days walk , which means that grumbling Indian civil servants are sent out to open polling stations above 4000 meters … in some cases to serve less than a dozen voters. Some of the grumbling comes from sharing their sleeping bag with their laptops : it was a long time ago that India got rid of the rituals of boxes , slips of paper etc that is taken for granted in less developed parts of the world .. like where I live. Elections are 100% electronic , even when it involves twenty degrees below in Ladakh , or transporting out the paraphernalia with elephants and working by candlelight in Assam.
My candidate for the worlds highest election : the polling station in Thugsey . It´s probably not 5000 as claimed , but it does ovelook the salt lake Tso Kar : definitely higher than 4553. Democracy , it has to be a higher value.
Other contenders : Anlay Phu , probably referring to what is mostly called today Hanle : should be around 4300 according to Google Earth , the observatory overlooking the plain is at 4500.
Grumblings aside, the image of the six persons finding a way to work out the elections in Thugsey is the sort of thing one wants to read about , post-Mumbai : a Kashmiri (i.e. among other things , Muslim ) policeman with a Ladakhi colleague , a Sikh teacher working in Leh , and three more Ladakhis finding common grounds : “We only cooked food that all of us could eat,” Mr. Mir recalls, “and shared everything we had, from blankets to extra woollens. It was an educative experience; everyone in our State should be made to go through it!” in the words of Abdul Hamid Mir , a soil expert from Srinagar.
When I show the picture from The Hindu and talk of the work put in I get some reactions on the the theme “they would be better off with a ..” . Apparently the people involved feel differently : elections is seen as a way of changing their life , starting with the waterpump that saves hours of work every day.
Thanks to Mridula for suggesting the theme in the first place , and Abram Pointet for input on Anlay and more.