Mountain Moments

Posted: January 12, 2011 in Running, Training

For those of you that know me well, you will be aware of my love of running up mountains.  It all started about 5 years ago.  I was in Zermatt for a skiing holiday and a friend of mine suggested we ran up the ski run for a laugh.I had been used to running around the village and down the valley on the roads.  It had never occurred to me that you would be able to run UP the ski runs.  As it turned out it was surprisingly easy to do.  During the night the snow bashers come out a groom the runs.  This leaves the runs in a perfect condition and provides a pretty decent amount of traction, even with regular trainers.

From the very first run up the mountain in Zermatt I was hooked and five years later words can’t really describe quite how much I love running up the Zermatt peaks.  Try and imagine you are in the mountains, surrounded by snow covered peaks and stunning views in every direction.  The sun has not quite come up yet, but there it just enough light to soak up the view.  The whole mountain is silent with a sense of calm. The air is so cold you can feel every breath enter your lungs as you leave the warmth of the flat.

As you start the run the severity of the slope hits hard.  The only way to approach the run is one step at a time.  As you slowly start to climb the mountain the sun rises and begins to kiss the peaks.  It is truly stunning, and moments like that make me feel alive to the very core.  It typically takes me about 45 mins to emerge through the tree line and by then the sun has started to spread over the slopes.  With the sun comes a surge of new found energy, for a while at least.  The final push for the top is always a tough one.  With the top in sight I always put in one final effort in an attempt to beat my previous PB.  Something I am still managing to do, to my surprise.  I think my first run from Zermatt (1600m) to Gornegrat (3100m) took me 2hrs.  Today my current PB is 1hr 39mins and dropping.  To be honest the time is irrelevant.  The views from the top are breath taking to say the least but running up somehow magnifies the view, making it almost magical.

This Christmas I found running up stupidly easy and started to think a little outside the box.  Why stop at one mountain?

In Zermatt there are essentially three ski mountains, so I decided I would run up and down all three, in one day…


The plan was to run up to Rothorn, down to Gant and then up to Gornegrat.  From there I would head down to Furi and then up to Trockener Steg.  Strictly speaking the top of the last peak is Klein Matterhorn, but that is another 700m up and if the weather changes, causing the lift to close, the only way back down is by foot!  Not ideal to say the least.  So Trockener Steg (3100m) was my last ‘PEAK’.   The run would involve climbing 3300m and to be honest I had no idea if I would be able to get close to finishing it.  The way I figured it, I would just give it a crack and enjoy every second out on the mountain.

Below is a map of the ski area.

I set out on a perfect day; clear skies and fresh temperatures of around minus 10 DegC.  The run to Rothorn was an easy two hours and at the top I was feeling good and pretty positive about making the three peaks.  On the way down to Gant, the descent was steep and tough going on the legs.  By the time I started up to Gornegrat (2hrs 30mins into the run) my legs were starting to feel it.  I just put my head down and thought about the next few steps and soaked up the views.  I made it to Gornegrat in just over 3hrs 30mins.  By this time I had decided I would just head down to Furi and calling it a day.   An hour later I was at Furi.  My legs were shot and my mind was set of calling it a day.

This is where my stubborn nature kicked in.  I was broken and in no shape to attempt the 1100m climb to Trockener Steg.  But it was only 11.30am and it did just not feel right giving up.  So what did I decide to do?  Crack on up the mountain!  The next 1hr 30mins was tougher than any ironman run.  The slope was an icy black run full of people skiing down!  I have to admit, on a number of occasions I thought to myself ‘what the hell are you doing?’.  My sole focus became my next step, and this consumed my every thought as I slowly climbed the slope.

Finally, I reached the last section of the run which levels out to a nice steady incline.  It was soaked in the bright sunshine and I knew the run was in the bag!  Job done  🙂

It was 1pm when I reached Trockener Steg and it had taken me just under 6 hours.  I can still not really believe I managed the whole thing.  When you think about it, it seems crazy.  I think that is the key with challenges like this.  You don’t think about it, JUST DO IT!

Carli was there to meet me and that made it the trek up the three mountains worth every step.   We had an awesome lunch in the sun and trust me, food has NEVER tasted so good.

Looking back on the run, I think I could have made the final push for Klein Matterhorn (700m up).  A small part of me even considered it at the time, but only a very small part!  That will have to wait till next time, but for now ‘that’ll do’.

  1. kerry Jones says:

    Sounds wonderful Chris – I am really very envious

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