Running for a Cause: How Trail Running Connects With Nepal Through the Himalayan Trust’s Summit Challenge

The Himalayan Trust Summit Challenge offers a chance for runners to build local community, run hills, and support communities in Nepal.

By on March 27, 2024 | Comments

[Editor’s Note: Casey Hemmingway of the Himalayan Trust, a nonprofit based in New Zealand, wrote this Community Voices article.]

In the footprints of giants, we find our path. For many in the New Zealand outdoor community, the country’s reowned mountaineer and philanthropist Sir Edmund Hillary’s monumental legacy is not just in the peaks he scaled but in the lives he uplifted.

As summer fades into autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, March is a prime time for runners to get out in the hills, so it’s no surprise that it’s also the time of the Himalayan Trust’s Summit Challenge. This month-long challenge encourages runners to gather as much elevation as possible while fundraising for the New Zealand-based Himalayan Trust, which was started by Hillary in 1961.

The event has become a fixture in the country’s trail running community, with runners in different locations, from the mountainous Southern Alps to the Canterbury plains and the cityscapes of Auckland, adding their own creative twist to the challenge.

And while the Summit Challenge offers motivation to push personal limits, it’s also a chance to make a difference in a country that has had close ties with New Zealand for a long time.

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay - above the South Col of Mount Everest - 1953 expedition

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbing high above the South Col of Mount Everest on the 1953 expedition. Photo: Himalayan Trust

The Essence of Trail Running and Ultrarunning

The essence of trail running and ultrarunning goes beyond the physical challenge; it’s a mental and spiritual journey.

This resonates deeply with the work of the Himalayan Trust in Nepal, which is involved in education, healthcare, and environmental programs there. Runners and the communities supported by the trust showcase resilience, determination, and a profound sense of community. It’s about pushing limits, overcoming obstacles, and achieving what we once thought impossible — like when Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed Everest in 1953.

After the successful Everest expedition, Hillary asked a Sherpa in Nepal how he could help. The reply, “Our children have eyes but they are blind and cannot see. We would like you to open their eyes by building a school in our village.” Hillary started by building a school in Khumjung, a village in northeast Nepal, and continued his work with additional schools, hospitals, and health clinics around the Solukhumbu region, in the foothills of Mount Everest.

Today, the trust continues the legacy, led by Hillary’s son, Peter Hillary, as Chairman, and his grandson, Alexander Hillary, as General Manager. The Summit Challenge educates New Zealanders about the link between the countries and continues the longstanding support.

The Summit Challenge: Impact Through Endurance

The Summit Challenge, running annually from March 1 to March 31, invites the global trail running community to rally for a common cause: supporting the people of Nepal. Participants set their sights on elevation goals that not only challenge their physical and mental endurance but also reflect their commitment to making a difference, by setting a fundraising goal as well.

The challenge offers a range of elevation goals to suit various levels of ambition and ability, including climbing the elevation to Lukla Airport in the Mount Everest region at 2,845 metres (9,334 feet), Everest Base Camp at 5,364 metres (17,589 feet), or Mount Everest at 8,850 metres (29,032 feet).

And because New Zealand trail runners are known for loving their mountains and going uphill, there’s also a Triple Crown challenge, climbing the combined elevations of the Nepalese mountains Everest, Lhotse, and Nuptse, totaling 25,226 metres (82,763 feet).

Himalayan Trust - 2024 Summit Challenge

Screenshot from the Summit Challenge website.

When New Zealand Ran for Nepal: The Mount Iron Mega Challenge

In the heart of the town of Wanaka, New Zealand, on the country’s South Island, an event was set that epitomized the spirit of endurance and community: the 2024 Mount Iron Mega Challenge. Orchestrated by the Kinisi Running store’s Ian Evans and his wife Jane, this 24-hour event on March 9 and 10 was a collective mission to make a difference, a statement of solidarity with Nepal from the trails of New Zealand.

The course was simple: a five-kilometer (3.1 miles) roundtrip from the Kinisi Running doorstep to the summit of Mount Iron and back. Each lap of this local backyard hill has 240 metres (787 feet) of elevation gain. It’s a hill trail runners in Wanaka know well: a go-to after- or pre-work jaunt, a walk to catch up with friends, a place for hill intervals, or the quick run when there’s no time for anything else. It’s the community’s hill.

Ian Evans - 2024 Mount Iron Mega Challenge - high-fives - feature

Being a three-mile course, there was always another high-five around the next corner during the 2024 Mount Iron Mega Challenge. Ian Evans (white shirt), who owns the Kinisi Running store in Wanaka, New Zealand, high-fives another participant. Photo: Deanna Gerlach

Over 70 people stepped up, turning the mountain into a mosaic of determination and unity. Together, they summited more than 300 times in 24 hours, with Blair Cooper ticking off 25 summits and iRunFar’s own Eszter Horanyi getting to the top 21 times, donning fairy wings, lights, and a tutu for the nighttime laps.

Eszter Horanyi - Micaela - 2024 Mount Iron Mega Challenge - climbing uphill

iRunFar’s Eszter Horanyi (right) and Micaela during the 2024 Mount Iron Mega Challenge. Photo: Deanna Gerlach

At the end of the day, it’s all about community and the final six hours saw an endless stream of people of all ages traveling the route from Kinisi Running to the summit.

The 2024 Mount Iron Mega Challenge was more than an event, it was a testament to the power of community. In Wanaka, for those 24 hours, runners weren’t just chasing the next summit, they were bridging continents, connecting New Zealand’s peaks with the aspirations of Nepal’s next generation.

Gavin Lang’s Mountain Miles: Beyond Running

Gavin Lang, a seasoned mountaineer, insists he’s no runner. Yet, watching him ascend and descend mountains with remarkable swiftness, you might beg to differ. His participation in the Summit Challenge blurs the lines between trail running and mountaineering, as often happens in New Zealand’s Southern Alps on its countless 2,000- and 3,000-metre peaks.

Himalayan Trust - 2024 Mount Iron Mega Challenge - Gavin Lang

Mountaineer and Himalayan Trust Summit Challenge ambassador, Gavin Lang. Photo: Deanna Gerlach

In 2022, Gavin took on the challenge with a unique partner: his daughter Violet. Their approach? Leading weekly group hikes up a local hill, a practice that quickly turned into a community event, rallying around the cause. This father-daughter duo didn’t just climb, they inspired a collective effort in their backyard.

The real impact of their endeavour became clear later that year when they visited the Solukhumbu region of Nepal. There, they met children benefiting from the challenge’s funds — kids the same age as Gavin’s daughter. This visit wasn’t just about seeing the change; it was about understanding the deeper connection forged through shared challenges and triumphs, regardless of the distance.

Himalayan Trust - Gavin Lang daughter Violet - Yung Jee Lhamu Sherpa - Nepal

Gavin Lang’s daughter, Violet (left), and Yung Jee Lhamu Sherpa playing in Nepal. Photo: Gavin Lang

Gavin’s story, from the trails of New Zealand to the hills of Nepal, underscores a simple truth: whether you run, hike, or climb, it’s the steps you take for others that truly ascend beyond the physical peaks.

A Run Toward a Better Tomorrow

This year’s challenge has been a remarkable success, with over 500 participants throughout New Zealand and Australia signing up and collectively climbing more than 1.3 million vertical metres (nearly 4 million feet). Their combined efforts have already raised over $77,000 NZD, contributing significantly to the Himalayan Trust’s mission in Nepal.

The platform encourages engagement via personal and team fundraising profiles, Strava integration for activity tracking, and leaderboards to encourage competition. It’s a powerful demonstration of how individual efforts can amalgamate into a significant impact, transforming personal achievements into collective progress for the remote communities of the Himalayas supported by the Himalayan Trust. Participating in the Summit Challenge is not just about reaching new heights physically; it’s about lifting others with every step and every metre ascended.

Kinisi Running - 2024 Mount Iron Mega Challenge - group photo

At the end of the day, it’s all about community. Here, some participants of the 2024 Mount Iron Mega Challenge gather in front of Wanaka, New Zealand’s Kinisi Running store. Photo: Deanna Gerlach

As runners, we often seek challenges that test our limits and expand our horizons. Participating in the Summit Challenge offers an opportunity to do just that while contributing to a cause far beyond the finish line.

Though March is nearly over, it’s never too late to support the Himalayan Trust through a donation. Your contribution goes directly toward our education, healthcare, and environmental programs in Nepal, making a real difference.

Call for Comments

  • Have you ever participated in a fundraising challenge with your running?
  • Have you participated in the Himalayan Trust’s Summit Challenge one year?
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