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    A journey across the highest mountains on the planet

    By Marco Marini | 07 December 2021 | 1 min
    Motorcycle: BMW R 1200 GS
    Mileage: 1.200 kms
    Difficulty: easy, it can become extremely difficult in snowy conditions
    Duration: 6 days
    Time of the year: december-january
    Weather: often sunny, it can change suddenly
    Temperatures: from -10 °C to -30 °C
    Essential equipment: winter jacket and pants kit, thermal underwear, thermal socks, winter gloves, wool hat, silk under-gloves, thermal balaclava
    marco marini

    Marco Marini

    The author


    44 years old, a tester for Motociclismo magazine since 2001. I’ve tried everything in my life, from MotoGP™ to speedway. The great thing is that I love everything on two wheels. I followed several editions of the Croatia Rally as a photographer and video maker and I rode in a couple of rallies, in addition to Pikes Peak in 2008, when there was still dirt as well as asphalt. When I have some time free from being a photographer and journalist, I take the enduro, single- or twin-cylinder, and ride through the woods, looking forward to being able to return among the dunes of the Sahara, my favorite place in the world.

    Only an insane love of motorcycles and mountains can lead to a journey like this. Because Everest is not a destination, but THE destination. Flying to the Himalayas in late December to begin a unique trip from Lhasa, the main city of Tibet, a region of China, to Everest Base Camp. A touch of madness is required, of this there is no doubt. 
    But why late December? Not because we like to travel in the cold, no. We decided to go during winter simply because there is more chance of seeing the top. The warm season, between June and September, is equivalent to monsoon season. Clouds and snow at high altitude mean that the summit is constantly hooded, with very few days of clear skies around its 8,848 m peak.  
    The trip includes daily stages of about 300/400 km, also off-road, with temperatures ranging from zero to -20°C. Our overnight stays are in structures that have been closed for months, as this is not the season for tourists and mountaineers, who usually frequent the area in spring, and so they are quite literally freezing.  

     

    When the right equipment makes difference

    Dressing properly is not just advisable but essential. There are two levels to your choice of clothing and you can either wrap up well, with the aim of resisting and not freezing to death, or go a step further, equipping yourself with everything that might help you achieve thermal comfort, even in such extreme conditions. The difference is that if you travel well even at -20°C, then you can ride and enjoy the roads and views without thinking about the fact that it's cold. Because.... yes, it’s cold. And so you need a winter touring outfit in Gore-Tex, for maximum insulation against the external environment and any bad weather, goose down padding, the best for tackling the cold, the real cold, and then technical layers in an attempt to obtain optimal comfort despite the prohibitive conditions. 

    Once there, safely inside your microclimate, you discover that Tibet is wonderful even in winter, with its valleys, narrow gorges carved by ancient rivers, mountain lakes of a rare blue, and breathtakingly beautiful and imposing peaks. We travel constantly at high altitude, checking the oxygen in our blood several times a day using a device on our index finger, because you start out at 3,650 m in Lhasa and don’t descend below 4,000 m for days, with many sections over 5,000 m. When you get on the motorcycle, there is no time to gradually acclimatize, so it’s good to keep all parameters under control. 

     

    Emotions at 8000 metres

    Our destination is North Base Camp, at the foot of the Rongbuk Glacier, which you can no longer reach by motorcycle. About a year ago, the Chinese government decided to stop motor vehicles 25 km back, so the rest of the journey is made by electric bus. They are also clearing the tons of garbage left behind at the Camp by commercial expeditions to the summit. In short, the authorities have moved to preserve it, because although it is a great source of tourism, it is primarily a natural heritage. And we like it that way. You get off the bus in front of the Rongbuk Buddhist Monastery and then walk the last kilometer. 

    You have Everest in front of you and it is impressive of course, but you don’t see an 8,000 m mountain in front of you, because you are already at 5,350 m and then it climbs another 3,500 meters or so. You can't breathe, there’s a very strong wind and it's cold, cold enough to cut your lips. If you smile they’ll tear instantly. But our body is protected and can cope, and so we stay there for half an hour, some taking in the mountain view while others reflect, say a prayer, or have a cry. But it’s a liberating sort of cry. 

    Antartica

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    How to prepare for a trip 

    There’s nothing that can prepare you for what’s in store, including these few lines of advice, because the cold, the real cold, which gets inside you and never leaves, will be inescapable in any case. But if you’re ready to suffer, Everest Base Camp in the middle of winter is the extreme trip for you. 

    What should you bring? As motorcycle clothing, I had the Antartica suit and probably survived because of the outstanding thermal layers on the jacket and pants. But I did end up adding another down jacket under the jacket. What else? Winter sleeping bag, because there isn’t always heating at night and you can sleep with a thousand wool blankets, but still have subzero temperatures, headlamp, silk under-gloves for when you take off your motorcycle gloves, but can’t go without anything on your hands, then latex gloves that still provide additional insulation. A balaclava with a nice padded neck guard built in is a great idea. When you’re traveling at very low temperatures for many hours a day, it’s useful to be able to dress and undress according to the temperature, which drops a lot when the sun starts to set towards evening. 

     

    So dress in layers, but with an extra precaution – the tip is to use a jacket one size up, so you have space for the inner layers without squeezing all the layers too much. Its precisely the little air cushions between the various layers that provide the best insulation. With same layers but one size smaller you feel much colder. Ditto for the boots. A touch oversized is perfect, at most a size up from ours, because winter socks are quite thick and you might need to double up. 

    That affects sensitivity when riding, of course, but we’re not talking MotoGP™ bikes here. Here you have to cover yourself so you don’t freeze to death, so a boot that’s a bit comfortable and lets you move your toes without squeezing your foot too much is fine. There isn’t a problem with ice on the roads, provided it doesn’t snow, because the humidity is very low, the climate dry, so you can ride without worries. We had Metzeler Karoo Street tires and they turned out to be great for riding at these temperatures, providing unexpected safety and grip. There’s little to no off-roading, but again, if you want to take off-road detours, it’s a tire that means you needn’t have problems. 

     

    Essential equipment

    Adventure helmet

    Adventure helmet

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    Gore-Tex® jackets

    Gore-Tex® jackets

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    Gore-Tex® pants

    Gore-Tex® pants

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    Waterproof boots

    Waterproof boots

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    Technical shirt

    Technical tee

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    Thermal underwear pants

    Thermal underwear pants

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    Back protector

    Back protector

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    Winter gloves

    Winter gloves

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