Best Moments of 2023

Mountain time, travel, friends, loved ones, and appreciation. My best moments of 2023 don’t look much different than any other year. That’s the way I like it. The one notable exception this year was my solo trip to the Himalaya which, shockingly, was my first time traveling alone in more than twenty years. With that came one big life lesson that, even at 55 years old, reminded me there’s still so much to learn. More on that below.

My favorite image from 2023, the sum of so many things

Running Nepal’s Three Passes

In May, Kim and I headed for Nepal to spend a month running in the Khumbu Valley, home to Everest. Our goal was to run the Three Passes trek in one day, a second try after attempting it in 2018 and getting shut down due to sickness. 

In the age of AI, we made this photo with the camera cradled in a pile of yak dung we carefully sculpted into a tripod

This year wasn’t much different. Again, we got sick. Really sick. COVID was doing its thing in the lodges and it hit us hard while living at 4700 meters. But, we got healthy and found the motivation to still do the Three Passes push.  

Kim during our 3 Passes run

Our experience running the route is something neither of us will ever forget. It went well, but certainly not as planned. The biggest takeaway of all was not that we prepared better, were smarter, more committed, more experienced, yada yada yada, it was that this was perhaps the single best gauge as to Kim’s recovery from a year of cancer treatment. 2018 was the year before she was diagnosed, and 2023 was three years out from treatment. No result is better than this. 

My version of the story is at Trail Running Nepal’s Three Passes and for Kim’s, visit UltraSignup: Relax. And Maybe.

Crossing Kongma La at 5600 meters
All alone on the Pigne de la Lè

Summer Running in the Alps

Our summer goals were, big surprise, very trail running focused. First, we wanted to further develop our popular Chamonix Trail Running Guide and add some runs from nearby Courmayeur. Next up was to build a new trail running guide to the Valais, our absolute favorite area to run in the Alps. While jumping between Chamonix and the Valais, we also did commercial work for Swiss tourism offices looking to build trail running in their regions and for various brands.

Not much running on the Oberaarhorn

Several late nights spent high in the mountains watching the sunset and running down in the dark are what stand out from our running work. Good photos require good light and good light requires either getting up very, very early, or starting late and staying out later. We opted for the latter (as a change of pace) and enjoyed many nights having the Alps all to ourselves. 

Staying out and up late
Setting up camp

MSR / Cascade Designs Shoot

We’ve done more than a lot of photoshoots in the last 20+ years, but not so many with four friends modeling. This trip was all about the energy people create while spending several nights camping in some frigid August weather. Chaos and fun levels were high even if we couldn’t feel our toes, and the results were pure gold. And, I was happy to do my part by teaching everyone how to milk mountain cows straight into our morning coffee.

Okay everyone, laugh just right.
Practicing selfies

Solo Trip to Nepal

Come fall, I found myself with a month wide open. Janine was busy with her work and Kim had headed back to the Sierra. At first, I shrugged off a sudden urge to go back to Nepal. It seemed like a bit much and admittedly a little intimidating to be alone. But then, why not? I bought a ticket and headed right back to the Khumbu Valley.

After a few awkward days getting to know myself again, I hit my stride and had another beautiful experience. This was my first time being 100% self-sufficient going up the valley. With just 12kg on my back, I was flexible to do as I pleased.

Each time I pass this spot I stare at the water as it flows over that rock

Once again, I settled in at Chukhung, the ideal basecamp for running and climbing easy peaks. There, I hooked up with a few friends from Chamonix, ran into old friends, and made plenty of new ones. So, I wasn’t really alone. Best of all, the lodge’s owners have become good friends over the years and make me feel at home. They took me berry picking, let me teach them how to make quesadillas, and threw a party for me when I left. This is why I made my eleventh trip to the Himalaya.

Running above Chukhung

The biggest challenge was the weather as the summer monsoon didn’t want to end. This only became a problem when I tried to fly back to Kathmandu, and it became a real problem for a whole lot of people. I sat in Lukla for four days with an increasing number of fellow “we need to get the hell out of here” people. Even the helicopters weren’t flying.

On my third morning, and with my flight back to Switzerland the next day, I woke up with the best chance yet to go. The forecast was for clear, early morning skies and I had a ticket on the first flight. But then, stepping outside, I realized no one was going anywhere that day. Standing beneath an awning dripping with the never ending drizzle, one thought and one thought only went through my mind, “What the f*ck am I going to do?”

Another send off from my friends Jangmu, Pasang and Lopsang at Chukhung’s Khangri Lodge

For anyone that’s ever been stuck in Lukla, they know that escape is priority number one. My options were limited since my flight back to Switzerland was scheduled for the next day, and spending another tortuous morning waiting and wondering if the skies would suddenly open was not something I felt I could endure. 

Then, thanks to a conversation-turned-life-lesson with a Buddhist monk earlier that trip, it hit me. Fuck it. The monk used different words but ultimately this was the same idea. Fuck my flight and fuck waiting around.

I would take matters into my own hands and run down from Lukla to the nearest road. I was self contained, free and flexible, and had never seen what was below Lukla. 

I only had to detach from the idea of “having” to make my flight. With that decision came peace. I hate the word “adventure,” but I felt like I was setting out on one. Stress turned to excitement.

A few hours later I arrived at the road’s end where, soaking wet and covered in mud, I climbed into a jeep with way too many other people and started a 17-hour bumpy journey to Kathmandu. 

It’s funny how with all I did in 2023, what I will remember most was that precise moment when I made that decision: to let go of something I thought I had to have and to embrace something entirely unknown. 

By Dan Patitucci

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