Pierra Menta Days 3 and 4
Day 3 was warmer with a number of south facing descents and some nasty forest skiing. The day started with a steep icy skin up a ski slope. I sneaked up at the far right away from the bulk of the icy patches. Rob decided to go up the middle which lead to some slippy moments for him. In terms of form I started feeling bad for the first five minutes then started feeling good again. Rob went the opposite way so we dropped the pace a little bit. My skiing was going well through some icy forested mogul sections, then we started picking off teams on the way up the second ascent.
Second descent was some filthy breakable crust and involved the first nasty skiing of the holiday. 3rd up was a warm slog but we continued to pick off some teams. Third descent was sweet powder descent, spectacular views; the italians cut the corner and went off course big time but we got better pow! Nobody overtook us on this descent which was rare!
Final ascent was filthy long in the baking heat of a south face. We plowed through our water reserves and gel on the way up here. Crowd was fantastic. Mogul descent was challenging, I completely lost control at one point and decided instead of falling over I would attempt to regain control. This took the best part of 5-10 seconds which felt like an eternity. Beddow was like “nice recovery!”
It was not clear which way to go at the bottom of this descent and Beddow started getting irate with the marshalls. Was pretty funny.
There was a really hard sting in the tail which consisted of quite a long flat slightly climbing skin followed by some steep forest moguls followed by an xc skating section.
The long flat section really pushed me to the limit but dug very very deep to get through this. Then we skiied too low and had an extra long skate ski to the finish. Beddow is not known for his skate skiing skills so I enjoyed the moment whilst he waddled up.
We made it well within the cutoff with another relatively well executed day! Pierra Menta was within our grasp!
Day 4, they decided to have a slightly longer day than usual. The weather was fantastic as usual. We had to take a pointless extra warm layer as usual. Unusually for us but usual for the last day we had to take our via ferrata equipment.
The start was a long ascent on thin, slightly icy skin tracks, I got into some tussles with some people and ended up expending a lot of extra energy. Beddow was on better form than me and I was playing keep up. I set my mind to following Mr Yogi Tea.
Then I asked if Rob wanted to ski behind me, for some reason I much prefer being in front rather than behind. No, not in that way. Prefer to lead and set the pace and spend my time thinking about route choice etc rather than following Robs longer gait.
Short descent in ok snow, then a another longish ascent up to the top of breakable crust hell descent. This was my lowest moment, at least by boots were still in one piece after the car incident! So my thighs just went crazy on this descent and the pain was so much each turn that I had to openly scream out in discomfort; a real low roaring noise. Beddow had minimal difficulty on this descent we skied past a guy who had snapped his ski. I thought that bit weird. Beddow was waiting for me lower down, I decide to have a rest. “Come on!!”, he shouts. “Fuck off!”, I angrily retort. Tempers are frayed in Team Brunton / Beddow; luckily that is the worst it gets and we forget the heated exchange like 30 seconds later :-)
Before a baking hot long ascent pre grand mont traverse I mention to Beddow whether there is much scope for me getting a tow. He replies, “No, im fucked man.” My mind wanders on the ascent to work colleagues past and present sitting at their desks at this exact moment. I look out to the view and think how cool it is to be in this place.
Onto the grand mont traverse, a bootpack to start followed by a via ferrata section. As we clip in and wait in a queue to get moving, a chopper hovers nearby filling the air with a crisp “bap bap bap bap”. You can taste the excitement in the air. We have likely completed the race, all that we need to do is sit back and enjoy the rest of the course. Its in the bag.
Side note: I had asked about the Grand mont traverse the day before at dinner and asked how technical it was. The response was some wanky french guys was like “oh have you not been in the mountains before? Im a hero I’ve been over the traverse many times. Its quite extreme.” It actually is not that bad at which just a few exposed sections. We didnt wear crampons.
The crowd at the top of the Grand Mont is fantastic. Beddow mentions to me, “I clipped my boot with the via ferrats krab. Its not closing properly.” I respond, “Oh shit, shall we try and fix it?”. “Nah I reckon it will be OK.”
Nice powder long descent down but oddly I am in front, way in front. This never happens. I stop to wait for Rob and when he eventually arrives he is skiing defensively. “Brunton, my boot is making skiing pretty hard.”. “OK mate, just take it easy and get down, thats the priority.”
Final ascent in Pierra menta 2016 is a boot pack! A rocky slippy one at that, maybe the hardest bootpack of the race! They dont give it to you easy on this race.
Final descent, its looking good for completing this race!
Half way down the descent, im waiting for Rob, hes not that far behind me. An entranced Rob shouts, “Brunton! I’m a passenger, I’m a fucking passenger!” he then proceeds to ski through a ditch and the loose boot means that he is thrown forward. Too far forward. I hear a snapping sound. “Shit man have you broke ur boot?”. “No ive broke my Ski!”
He then proceeds to try and ski exhausted with 1.5 skis. This does not go well. Shit Pierra Menta could be up in flames. Luckily a team that had missed a time cut off on day 2 due to a binding malfunction came to our rescue! One guys ski didnt fit but the others was pretty much a perfect fit. Man it loked like we had a hope of making this afterall.
We survival skied back to the finish. Beddow’s boot was still open and in walk mode which made it very hard to ski in control. I think that in retrospect we should have used 5 minutes at the summit of grand mont to come up with a Magyver solution for forcing the boot into ski mode with a voile strap or something along these lines.
After all the drama at the end crossing the finish line was a little bit of an anti climax. We were a little bit annoyed that at the last minute it has almost all gone very badly.
However, looking back at it we had made it. What seems unlikely at the beginning of the competition we had made reality. It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and I think it really showed me how to work well in a team when the going gets tough.
On a side note, Fischer refused to fix the broken ski saying that it was not a problem with the construction. So its official, Fischer Alp Attack race skis are weak and the customer service is poor!