Orkney-based athlete William Sichel experienced an unexpectedly dramatic end to his attempt at scaling the world's highest ultra marathon - ‘The High’ - held in Ladakh, Kashmir. Despite completing 172 miles of the race and arriving at the final cut-off point, William was strongly advised by medics to stop and not to continue up the final 18,000 foot climb and down to the finish just 35 miles away.
The event followed a route through the Nubra Valley in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India and the Morey Plains. Competitors were faced with the task of covering 333km at an average altitude of 14,500 feet with temperatures ranging between -10°C and 40ºC.
Sichel, who described the whole trip, including the 14 days of acclimatisation activities, as an 'epic adventure' to an amazing part of the world, said he was disappointed and surprised at the manner in which the challenge came to an end: “I was absolutely stunned to be honest as I thought I had been coping well with the demands of the race and was heading for a solid finish.”
“Right from the start the young medics were over-excited about my age – I was 10 years older than any other competitor – and they were regularly getting out the stethoscope and listening to my heart and chest. I comfortably passed the 111 km race finish after the first 18,000 foot climb up Kardhung-La, I then had a two hour break and continued on to Wari-La, the second peak just under 18,000 feet.”
When he approached the final cut-off, however, Sichel was advised against finishing the race: “The medics had warned me that they wanted to check me over at Rumpse and they didn't want me to leave before they had finished with me. Only at that point did they tell me that they were concerned about my irregular heart beat and advised against continuing.”
During the race itself, as expected, extreme weather conditions were faced with wintry cold and snow on the three summits and a burning, dry heat on the lower slopes. In the end three runners completed the 111 km, one completed the 222 km and four the 333 km race won by Aberdeen's Sean Maley, the youngest competitor at 28 years old.