In December 2011, I came up with a challenge – ‘The Zermatt 5 peak challenge‘
The idea was simple. Run up all five of the ski mountains in Zermatt in a single day. This is not an organised event. Just one crazy guys idea of an awesome day pushing as hard as you can until you reach your limits.
I first attempted this back in the Christmas of 2011. At the time I don’t think I really thought I would ever complete the challenge. I just wanted to see how far I would get…. That day, I made it to the top of the 4th peak before my legs gave in. The 5th peak was the big one, Klein Matterhorn. At 3885m, there was no way I was even going to get close. Still, it was a great day out and I remember being chuffed to bits to have made it that far.
Move things forward a few years, to Christmas 2014. I made a more ‘serious’ attempt at ‘The Zermatt 5 peak challenge’.
It was the perfect day. Sunny skies, -10 to -15 DegC and not a drop of wind on the mountain. This time, I attempted the route back to front. Ascending the biggest peak, Klein Matterhorn (3885m) first. I took loads of pictures and ‘checked in’ on FB at the top of every peak.
After a uphill running time of 7hr 08mins, I was 532m away from making it to the top of the final peak. The sun was setting on the mountain and I had 25mins before the lifts shut for the day. The very fastest time I have ever run this section on fresh legs was 30mins. There was simply not enough time left to make it to the top. I have got to honest. A very big part of me was quite… OK, very happy to sit down and finish the day with a coke in the sun. It had been a awesome day & I knew I had it in me to make it up those last 532m. It was just not meant to be that day.
A few months on, in mid April, I found myself back in the ‘Big Z’ with my bro and a couple of mates for a boys ski weekend. I had no intention to even run up the a single mountain that weekend. But had packed my running kit, just incase…..
On the first ski run of the first day I managed to pull something in my back. Same old story. TOO excited, and I had gone too fast, too hard, too soon :(
The next day, skiing was really quite painful. BUT… as it turned out, it seemed OK to run :)
So what do you do if you are Chris, on a ski weekend in Zermatt, but can not ski???
Another ATTEMPT on ‘THE ZERMATT 5 PEAK CHALLENGE’ of course.
This time round was a very different running experience. The last two attempts had both been at Christmas with temperatures around -10 to -15 DegC.
Running in April is a completely different ball game. It was a toasty 1 to 2 DegC when I set off. I did question my decision to run in shorts and T-shirt, but as it turns out I think I made the right call.
Again, it was another perfect day. Blue skies and not a drop of wind. The snow was firm and crisp. Great for running on and I quickly made up to the top of the first peak, back down and onto the climb to the second peak, The Klein Matterhorn. This is were I made a really stupid mistake. I was feeling great, really great and I started to push. Not hard at first, but the closer I got to the the top, the harder I pushed. This would have been absolutely fine if this was the end of my run. But I was not even at the half way point yet. Stupid, I know.
I then followed this up by another stupid mistake. On the long descent back down, I ate far too much food. By the time I had started the ascent of the third peak I could feel my stomach starting to shut down. I knew from previous stomach shutting down experiences that I needed to stop eating and allow my stomach to recover. Not ideal if you are trying to run up your third mountain of the day.
I had been running uphill for over 4hrs at that point and this was when things started to get tough. Really tough. There were a lot of hands on knees moments, when stopping seemed a certainty. I kept telling myself over and over again, “Just make it to the top of this peak, then you’re done”.
So I made it to the top of the third peak after what seemed like a VERY long time. The crisp snow had turned to heavy slush and I have to say I felt like I was melting along with the snow. I guess I could have stopped. The thing was, it had only just turned midday. I figured I might as well keep moving and enjoy the view on the go. I honestly did not think I would make it much further.
There was quite a bit of walking involved in the ascent of that forth peak, but I could slowly feel my stomach coming back online :) Suddenly I was back in the game. Well sort off. I had one more peak to go and over 2hr 30mins to make it to the top before the lifts closed for the day. This may sound like plenty of time, and it is, ON FRESH LEGS. But after 6hrs of running up inclines ranging from 10-20% I honestly had no idea how long it would take. To make things just that little bit harder, the snow was now one seriously heavy going slush pit, making it very difficult to make headway, especially on the steep incline sections.
As back up, my bro had left my skis and boots at the top. Worst case I could ski back down if I missed the cut off.
So….. I started the final ascent.
Now this final section of mountain is one serious heat trap. It is south facing and I could feel the rays reflecting of the snow and burning through me. I was quite worried about this, but there was little I could do about it. (As it turned out I had every right to be worried. I actually managed to burn the inside of my bottom lip! This resulted in some seriously painful blisters all the way along the INSIDE of my bottom lip!!! Note to anyone running up snow capped mountains in the spring. Keep your mouth SHUT!!)
Quite randomly (I think I had just fallen over or something), I tried picking up the slush and clenching it tightly in hands. This actually worked amazingly well and made me realise quite how much I was overheating. I managed to pick the pace up quite a bit and quickly found myself on the final 532m stretch where I had abandoned the challenge last time.
Crossing this point was huge. It was then, in that moment, I KNEW…… I had this.
Those last 532m was like an extended finishing cute. I was on a massive high. I could hardly feel my body, it was numb with excitement. I found myself wanting to shout at the top of my voice, smash my fists on my chest, jump up a down… I don’t know what. It sounds stupid I know, but this was huge to me.
Over four years ago I had come up with what I thought to be an almost impossible challenge. AND at the time, for me it was. It is amazing how time and a little hard work can change the goal posts.
The final magic numbers where
5 peaks – 4700m ascent
Uphill Running time – 7hrs 30mins
I made it to the top at exactly the same time Nick (my bro), Jonny and Alex came to the top on the chair lift. It was very cool to be greeted by those boys. Perfect way to finish it all off.
What is next?? Loads of ideas!! BUT…… for now ‘THAT’LL DO’.