Ultra cyclist Omar Di Felice’s 2023 begins with a new extreme winter adventure crossing the remote Ladakh region among the Himalayan mountains and glaciers.
After returning early from Antarctica and waiting to set off again on what will be his second attempt to cross the planet’s most remote continent, he has set a new goal.
An adventure that marks the point of departure: Omar will cross one of the highest and coldest regions on Earth, Ladakh. Located in the north of India, on the border between Pakistan and China, the region is the Himalayan district that still preserves Tibetan Buddhism intact, so much so that it is also nicknamed ‘the Little Tibet of India’.
Ladakh has always been a region where living conditions, especially during the harsh and snowy winters (roads are almost completely closed and the populations of the villages migrate south as the temperatures drop well below -20°C/-30°C) are at the limits of prohibitive. Ladakh, nestled between the Himalayan glaciers, is a vast high-altitude desert whose paths often exceed 5000 metres in altitude.
The altitude, frigid temperatures and isolated conditions will be the most challenging factors: Omar will start from Manali to reach Leh, the district capital, and finish the adventure on the summit of Khardung La, at an altitude of 5359 metres, after having climbed some over-5000-metre peaks such as Shinku-La 5031 m, and other paths over 4000 metres.
The original route envisages 1200 kilometres and more than 25,000 metres of altitude difference, but it could be subject to ongoing modifications: given the region’s peculiarities and, indeed, its depopulation in winter, the roads are not maintained and the copious snowfalls that are characterising the winter of 2023, while on the one hand, are good news for water reserves, on the other could complicate and make impossible some transits, also raising the avalanche risk.
Moreover, the region, as it is located on the border with China and some sensitive areas, is strictly controlled and supervised by the Indian military authorities, so communications could often be disrupted (forms of satellite communication are prohibited in India for political and military defence reasons) or routes diverted from the original track.
During the adventure, Omar will sleep according to what he will face along the way: sometimes in villages, sometimes in monasteries, and sometimes in the tent he will bring with him.
As was the case for the Himalayan adventure in Nepal, between Mustang and Everest Base Camp, the choice fell on a bike that combines lightness and the ability to tackle dirt and icy/snowy terrain: the Wilier Triestina USMA SLR, a new front-suspended mountain bike, equipped with the Shimano XTR groupset. To complete the setup the brand-new Shimano Deore XT aluminium rim wheels, studded offroad tyres, San Marco Aspide super-comfort saddle short set of Miss Grape bike packing bags.
On those occasions when he has to sleep outdoors he will have a Ferrino “SOLO” tent and a Lightec Duvet 1400 sleeping bag.
UYN jackets, which have already been developed for adventures in Nepal, the Arctic and Antarctica, and various layers of underwear will be essential to cope with the long days and exposure to the cold and Himalayan altitudes.
For food, apart from the occasions when he will be able to stock up in the villages and monasteries he will encounter along the way, he will have a set of Real Turmat freeze-dried meals and a substantial supply of Volchem food bars and supplements.
The science project – Bike to 1.5°C
The Himalayan regions are also those where extreme conditions, combined with climate change, are making life difficult for the populations, leading to their rapid desertification.
The melting of glaciers is leading to an increasingly evident and dramatic shortage of water resources: this is why the trip will also be another stage of the ‘Bike to 1.5°C’ project, in collaboration with the Italian Climate Network launched during COP26 in Glasgow. It is precisely in Ladakh that water shortages are being addressed through the construction of so-called ‘Ice Stupas’, winter ice accumulations that should mitigate the effects of water shortages in summer.
The management of logistics and permits, which were obtained quickly and thanks to a network of contacts that made it possible to rapidly work out the route, which will pass through several checkpoints controlled by the Indian authorities, as well as the possible management of emergencies, is entrusted, as it has been for some years now, to the agency “Viaggi Avventure nel Mondo”.
The adventure will start from Manali on 22 February and it will be possible to follow the progress on the ENDU Map at the following LINK (in progress and available from 21.02) thanks to the tracking obtained with the Garmin Inreach Mini 2* devices, as well as on Omar’s Social Network channels, which will be updated compatibly with the very limited internet connectivity in the region.
At this LINK the Video Teaser presentation of the adventure