Lead photo by Spenser Robert
At 19,300 feet, Umling La is the world’s highest paved road and motorable mountain pass. Located in Ladakh, India, the pass requires a 1,000-mile journey from Delhi, consisting of traffic jams, washed-out roads, and, eventually, the risk of altitude sickness. For Zack Courts and Spurgeon Dunbar of Team CTXP, this ride served as a “bizarre test” for their chosen steeds: the new Triumph Speed 400 and Scrambler 400 X.
If you are familiar with the CTXP team (we previously reported on their 1,000-mile Alaskan trek on a pair of Hondas), you know their affinity for choosing the wrong tool for the job always turns into one heck of a story. Neither of the Triumph bikes are made for cross-country travel, so what better way to put them to the test than to climb to the highest road in the world?
As Courts and Dunbar leave the heat of the city, the humidity persists, leading to a rainstorm that threatens to take out the mountain roads along the way. Trying to optimize their chances for success, the pair continue in the dark but are held up in traffic jams until the wee hours of the morning. The lead-up to Umling La isn’t for the faint of heart, requiring its visitors to pass each level like a video game, tackling flooded roads and avoiding cattle. Fortunately, the scenery becomes more spectacular as the track continues higher into the mountains. Arriving in the Zanskar Valley, the two reflect on its otherworldliness. “It is a type of place that truly defies words. So severe and massive and empty, it feels like another planet.”
Eventually, passing signs that they’re higher than Everest Base Camp, the team continues into sleet and freezing rain towards the pass. Their excitement is palpable. In the end, the bikes performed wonderfully, says Courts. “They were not made for this scale of adventure, but they galloped and meandered through one of the most famous mountain ranges in the world without missing a beat.”
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