Patrouille Des Glaciers Race Report
I have been interested in doing this race since 2011 from when I was in an ancient hotel in Arolla which had loads of cool historical photos about the race. The idea of doing a large chunk of the haute route in one go seemed very appealing. Ski mountaineering racing equipment is the most efficient way to travel up and over snowy mountains. Once you get used to it, the skinny skis can also be really fun to ski. (Not as good as snowboards / fat skis but not as bad as you might think.)
I managed to recruit 2 local trønder-australians for team mates and along with my Australian roots (none) we entered under the name Team Australia. After we eventually got a confirmed entry the training began. Lots of local races, some not so local and Richard went for the odd jog!
The team consisted of:
Luke “the boot destroyer” Campbell
Richard “I dont need to train” Wood
Alastair “my arse hurts” Brunton
We arrived at Zermatt the day before the race and checked into our hotel and went to get our equipment checked. This went without problems – the swiss army were ultra efficient and it was surprisingly quiet at the kit check. We got chatting to some local guides and soldiers finding out that Team Australia had legendary status. Aussies.. skiing and rando racing! WTF!
Luke got his carbon pieces from Pierre Gignoux on the morning before the race and managed to rebuild his boots at the last minute. This was after previously rebuilding his scarpa f1 race carbon boots after breaking them also.
As we were due to start at 2315 we spent some time trying to sleep and last minute ski and skin waxing.
Difficult questions were asked like, How much fluid should I take? What gloves should I take? Which windproof? Do I change socks after running section? What am I doing? I asked a Major about feeding stations and he totally lied to me saying that there were none. Later in the day at the race briefing there was a slide in the presentation named ‘Feeding Stations’. Here is a photo of me looking at the Major thinking.. “You are speakin shit pal.”
We started at 2315 from Zermatt with our running shoes on and ran for an hour to stafel where we changed to skis and ski boots. We left the running shoes behind as they were going to be recycled. Richard’s shoes were full of holes and we weren’t sure how well they would recycle!
The skins were insanely fast after the pure flouro baking that we had done earlier that day. We skinned up through the darkness, first to Schonbell where we put the rope on and up to the summit of tete blanche where my hands got super cold! Doh remember warm gloves for next time.
Skiing downhill roped up was exciting. After trying it in Saas Fee a couple of days before, we thought we had it nailed. That was until Richard crashed whilst we were skiing at a good pace downhill. He was at the back and systematically took out Luke and subsequently me which consisted of an extremely viscious yank which just missed my balls and resulted in me breaking the toe piece on a binding meaning that it would no longer lock!
I only needed the lock function to ski uphill and since it was downhill all the way to Arolla I decided to try and fix it there.
The descent to Arolla was great fun, lots of nice dry glacier powder for the first section to Col de Bertol then we got to take the rope off! Down towards Arolla it got quite technical with a fair amount of rocks sharking out from under the powder. Then we hit the Arolla pistes and it was exciting to hammer it down the skare. (norwegian for refrozen snow)
We got to Arolla and I borrowed an army issue pen knife to fix my binding, and refuelled on hot tea and snacks. We all then crashed a little after the excitement of the previous 5 hours and the prospect of skinning up another 1200 or so up to the col de riedematten. Richard felt a little bad here and suggested we just skin up instead.
I felt really good going up here though and pushed a little but when I got to the beginning of the boot pack I felt terrible and forced down a filthy energy bar. I almost puked but kept it down.
Whilst climbing up the boot pack the sun came out and hit the face of Pigne d’Arolla which was an amazing sight and one I will remember for some time.
After the exciting down skidding on fixed ropes we reached the notorious lac des dix traverse. Here you can either skin round the lake or skate round it with your skins off. Its a 10km section so you can either lose or gain a lot of time in this section.. We lost time. Richard quickly realised that skating was better and committed to this. Luke and I kept switching between skins on and skins off which lost us loads of time. The problem with the skating is that it is on an uneven skin track and knackering! I think we lost about 20mins here.
Choppers started whizzing around all over the place. From army choppers to smaller media crews.
Another feeding point at la balma saw some more hot sweet tea, water and food. Next was the ascent up to rosablanche.. Luke and I both began to feel pretty terrible here and pushing up to the summit was really one of the hardest things I have done.
When we got to the top to the rosablanche couloir we were met by Rob, Max and Hanne and they applied us with coke, chocolate and large helpings of support to carry on. We chatted to them for 5 minutes or so which was really cool.
The descent to the final climb was nice powder with a lot of straighlining potential which made for a good time. I employed Richard to tow me up the final short climb to le chaux which helped a lot. A wee final boot pack and the climbing was over!
A fun descent on Verbier pistes was relaxing followed by mud and rock skiing down into town. No major scratches but definitely a few. But hey.. they are making new pairs of skis everyday!
The run to the finish line seemed to take forever and my skis were bashing off my helmet constantly. I think I will make a hook for ski attachment as I think this will make it better.
Woohoo! It was over; we did it in a time of 12 hours 12 minutes which was a little longer than we hoped to do but still satisfied nonetheless! We were 11th in our class which was not bad for some kangaroo loving southerners. Results are here
After the race I really enjoyed relaxing, having the odd beer and the odd snus. We tried going on a local tour in the ferret valley on the Saturday but were fogged out and grassed out. Video evidence of grass skiing is below :-)
Rob was a little sad to not be able to get some more good skiing and as we sat in the fog waiting for the weather to clear he made a break for freedom into the unknown. We didnt think we would see him again but luckily he turned round and joined us again.
Max and Richard left to continue their trip to Chamonix and ski Mt Blanc!
Some dude has put together a headcam video of what it was like to take part in the PDG this year. Have a watch if you are keen to see what it was like.
The big race in Italy is called Mezzalama in which large sections of the race take place at over 4000m. This will make acclimatisation a big part of the preparation and it looks more gnarly than PDG. Hopefully Team Australia will make their mark there also!