Updated: Mar 28
In 2018, a new race in Switzerland was launched. The Swiss Peaks Trail 360km, (224 Miles) and 25500m (about 87000ft) of vertical in a time limit of 160h. Truly an epic trail run the length of the Valais!
One evening at the beginning of 2018 with a bottle of 'Primitivo' Italian red open and a couple of glasses already missing, I was watching a video of the Tor des Géants. I had this vision that I could complete a distance over 200 miles. At 60 years old!!
As the Tor des Géants is notoriously difficult to enter, I decided to enter this new Swiss Peaks Trail this same evening. Amazing what two glasses of red can do for confidence!
700 Swiss francs less in my bank account, I woke the the next morning to the sobering thought of how I would possibly manage to complete this beast of a race with a distance of which some people happily take a plane.
TO MY RACE REPORT:
Oberwald – Binn about 57km
Oberwald is the uppermost village in the Rhone valley just below the Grimsel and Furka passes. A beautiful location for the start to this adventure.
Sunday morning, race morning. After a hearty and delicious breakfast in the Hotel Furka, with my 50l drop bag and the Salomon S-Lab Peak 20 running vest fully packed, I made my way the short distance to the start area.
The first surprise of this epic race was the arrival of my brother Ruedi and his wife Imelda, to see me off.
The feeling was full of confidence with perfect weather conditions!
The first 26.8km to Reckingen Stalenkapelle passed without problems. This was the second feed station and the start of the first big climb to the Chummefurgge at 2656m. It was also the time to get the head torch ready for the first night in the mountains. Towards the top and now already in the dark it became very foggy and wet. It was difficult to see the next way marker. Probably over confident, I tripped over and had quite a big tumble. Result: A gash on my knee. Nothing serious. But within an hour, I fell again….more of loosing my balance and fell to one side. This time no injuries, but a broken carbon pole. Now I had to have a good pep talk to myself, I could not afford of having more falls like this. I told myself to be much more careful. It must have worked, because from then on, I had no more falls for the rest of the race.
I arrived in Binn, the first life base just before midnight on this first day. I spent nearly 3 hours there. The mobile phone needed charging already. And of course, a warm meal to fuel up on energy for the night. But the whole place was way too crowded and noisy. Everyone was stepping over each others bags and sleep was impossible. I was glad when I left that place in the knowledge that I already wasted about 2 hours of race time. But at least I was equipped again with 2 walking poles. I did foresee something like that and had 2 spare walking poles in my drop bag.
Binn – Zinal, about 58km – 158km total distance. Total elevation: 11258m
Binn to Eisten, the next life base was fairly uneventful and also a relatively easy section. I remember going over the Saflischpass at 2563m altitude, descending to the Simplon Höhenweg and on to the famous Simplonpass. From there it climbed again over the Bistinepass and down to the Nanztal and then again a climb up to the Gibidumpass before the long downhill to Eisten, the second Base de Vie or base camp.
I could not sleep much again, certainly no deep sleep. My phone needed charging as usual and no one to wake me. So I was too stressed to fall asleep as I was afraid that I would not wake up.
Eventually, I left Eisten at dusk to face a very difficult and steep climb up to Hannisalp! From there, an easy downhill to the feed station at the Hotel 'Zum See' above Grächen.
The absolute highlight of this race awaited me there. By the time I arrived, it was around midnight. As I entered the restaurant, I was greeted with the very familiar face of Suz sitting at the table with a beer in front of her. Of course! 😂 It was such an amazing surprise as I was not expecting to see her for another day! We spent some time chatting. She had booked a room at the hotel and I went with her to the room for about half an hour to...you guess it...SLEEP! First half an hour of deep sleep so far.
I then carried on in the early hours of the morning down to St. Niklaus and into the long climb to the Augstbordpass. 1700m of vertical in 12km awaitec me. First up to Jungu, a little old typical Valais hamlet, these days only used as holiday retreat. From there the going got more rugged and alpine towards the Augstbordpass at 2889m above sea level. I arrived there just before sunrise in freezing temperature and an icy wind. The ground was frozen solid.
After spending a couple of minutes at the pass to admire the sunrise and the view, a downhill of about 1000 vertical meters to the next feed station at Blüomatt in the beautiful Turtmann valley awaited me. At Blüomatt, raclette and boiled potatoes where on offer for breakfast, in a cow shed stinking of cow dung. But so delicious and the volunteers so friendly and cheerful! The climb to the col de la Forcletta was very pleasant with the rising sun warming the cold limbs. I was already looking forward to see Suz again at Zinal.
My feet by now where a bit in a mess. No blisters mind, but my heels were cracked and split. I did get a little sleep and eventually had my feet looked at. The girl dealing with them was horrified. Suz went scouting to buy 'Scholl cracked heel cream' from a chemist. I was glad that she did find a tube. rubbing that stuff into my heels really made it much more comfortable for me.
After eating some pizza, which Suz managed to scrounge from someone and also repacking my bag, I was ready for the next part to Grande Dixence. It was now early evening, not realising that my low point in this race was not far off….
Zinal - Grande Dixence 158km - 199km total distance. Total elevation: 15259m
I leave Zinal with confidence and comfortable still in the last sunshine of the day….my feet treated with Scholl cracked heel cream felt much better. Ahead of me 1200 vertical meters in about 5km. But I know this stage already as I have done a recce and training run 6 weeks earlier. The climb to Sorebois and down to the beautiful lac Moiry is not very technical. I have caught some other competitors and now heading down towards the dam of lac Moiry.
Just above the lake, I decide it is time to get the head torch out as darkness is approaching fast. I open my back pack...but to my horror...no head torch! I empty the whole bag out….no head torch….I should have two in my bag….obligatory kit!….My spare accu and batteries are there but no head torch. My heart is sinking! I try to think...what has happened? I am panicking thinking….there is no way to carry on in the dark. I am now almost in tears...Options: having to give up because a stupid mistake? Wait and waist about 8 hours until daylight? Both options are not acceptable. I make a split second decision. About 200m further down just by the lake side are a couple of competitors. I pack everything up and in the last daylight I catch up with these two runners. One of these two runners turns out to be Ben, a French guy who I already met on the long train journey to the start and also helped him to find sleeping accommodation for the night before the race. I explain to him what has happened. I follow in the torch light of Ben and the other competitor until we reach the next feed station. At this point, Ben offers me his reserve head torch. I accept gladly. It means, we will have to go together until Grande Dixence, the next Base de Vie about 40km away. We are not badly matched and make good progress over the Col de Torrent and then the very long downhill to the next feed station of La Sage. A quaint little restaurant in a small mountain village. They have sleeping accommodation for about 8 people. I think it is by now about midnight. Ben and I decide to take the opportunity to rest for 30 minutes and amazingly I fall in deep sleep. I had to be woken up. After a couple of strong black coffees we where on our way again. After 4km downhill another very long climb to the 2691m above sea level, Col de la Meina was on the program.
Just with the head torch light, one looses every sense of the surroundings apart from noises, like rushing water or water falls one can not see. A strange experience! Along the length of the race we encountered cows and even bulls almost everywhere. At night, these encounters where quite spooky as in the head torch light many eyes glowed and stared at you.
Ben now had a crisis...he was almost falling asleep whilst moving. We past an old barn full of hay. I tried to convince him that we could get some sleep in there. But this was not an option for him. So we carried on. A quick 15 min stop at the last feed station before Grande Dixence and about 2km before Col de la Meina. Progress was very slow now as Ben was literally moving whilst asleep. We reached the col just before sunrise. What a sight awaited us! Grand Dixence is a huge dam and loomed large at the opposite side of the valley. Ben is now feeling better again and is going downhill quite fast. In fact, he is better at going downhill than me. We finally reach Grande Dixence about 10 in the morning.
Just shy of 200km completed! My brothers arrived there exactly at the same time as us! An amazing surprise to see them! Suz came about 15 minutes later. Suz was looking after me brilliantly. I had two hours of deep sleep, not having to worry about a thing. I have now eaten, had a beer with my brothers and Suz and was ready to be on the way again.
Grande Dixence - Champéry, 198 km - 299km
Full of confidence and energy, I left into the last 100 Miles on the next stage of this adventure. This time with my 2 head torches safely packed in my bag. From Grande Dixence, the landscape is getting more technical and alpine. Once on the top of the Col Prafleuri (2966m) it is 'on paper' easy to the next pass, the Col de Louvie. (2932m) But in reality it is a difficult section where in many parts every step has to be planned and constantly the direction to be rechecked. See photos. In between the cols this area is called Grand Déssert.
A glacial rocky landscape dotted with ponds and pools . Lac Louvie and it's mountain restaurant looked like paradise to me. It was not a feed station, but the refuge left different teas and drinks outside for us competitors together with good wishes and encouragement.
I reached Planproz around 9.30pm to a welcome from Suz with the bell. This feed station offered something different organised by the few local people still living permanently in this remote village. Raclette as much as you could eat, as well as a glass or two of the local white wine 'Fendant' was on offer! After sampling the signature dish and wine of the Valais region I tried to sleep but quickly decided it would not work for me. I sat with Suz in the car for a little while. As always, she was amazing looking after me and helping me to get ready to carry on into the night. Suz could have slept in a comfortable hotel bedroom already booked for her. But instead she slept in the uncomfortable cold car as she felt not confident enough to drive back the windy narrow long road road to civilization . What a commitment!
The next section to Champex was rather uneventful and I can not remember that much. I arrived there about 8am. It is now Thursday morning. Again Suz was there to welcome me. I think I slept 2 hours, had my feet seen to and went on my way again. A rather easy stage. Suz met me again in Trient and then went on her way back to Le Bouveret for a well deserved night in a comfortable bed. For me, a steep climb down in to the Tête Noire gorge and the muscle sapping climb up to Finhault. A big screen was just showing the winner arriving at the finish . I again tried to sleep but could not.
So, by 8pm I went back on my way. Another technical and dramatic night awaited me. A long climb up to Col d'Emaney before dropping steeply down to Auberge de Salanfe. In the meanwhile it started to rain. At the Auberge, I got told that the climb to the Col de Susanfe was only allowed in a team of two or more. Timo from Germany arrived and we decided to go together. The ascent was ok , though difficult in places involving scrambling with chains and ropes to hold on to. We reached the top in thick fog and heavy drizzle. We stumbled round to find the way marker down towards the Cabane de Susanfe. Two French competitors came up behind eventually. They said that they new the way. But we were not right. One of the guys had a GPS mapping system and eventually with the aid of that we managed to get down to the Cabane de Susanfe. The feed station was in total darkness with just a couple of candles lighting up the windows. Their generator broke down. We stayed for about 45 min until the rain subsided a bit, before tackling the very technical and difficult downhill to Champéry, the last Base de Vie.
Suz was there again to welcome me! I had a shower, eat a hearty breakfast of the Swiss version of shepherd's pie and went to sleep for a couple of hours. A hand on my shoulder was talking to me telling me it was 11.30am. The hand said; Do you want to sleep a bit longer? And went away. Less than 30seconds later, I kind of realised that I had to get up. I crawled carefully out of bed. But the bed was a mattress on the floor. So, eventually I managed to stand up and walk out to where Suz was waiting. I think I was in a daze and not quite sure what was happening. Suz told me later that she woke me after an hour and half because she felt that I wanted to get on my way. There was me thinking that I am competitive! 😂
Suz had everything under control for me. All I needed to do, is getting the shoes back on my feet and shouldering my pack.
I must have left about mid day. It is now Friday . I am in the last 60km of this epic race. Suz met me again in Morgins. Now, less than a marathon distance to go. I felt comfortable although my left knee told me that it had enough soon! There are still some technical sections with signs telling me that there is a very steep path ahead and only suitable if you are vertigo free.
But in general the going was good. I reached the last feed station at Taney about 3am on Saturday morning. The 2 guys manning the station in the freezing cold were brilliant and offered great food and support. All downhill now to the finish. I texted Suz about 5km from the finish. The weird thing, I did not feel very elated that I now would definitely finish. Unlike when I did my first 100 Mile race!
Perhaps, I was just too exhausted and tired to feel excited. Suz was ringing me over the finish line with her bell.
I crossed the line after 136h 51minutes.
I owe a very big thank you to my supporters, Ruedi and Fritz, my brothers. And Imelda, Ruedis wife.
But the star for me has been Suz, who was there for me during most of the race and she endured a cold night sleeping in the car, waiting forever around, driving huge distances and still being the best supporter I could have wished for. Not only that, Suz gives me so much confidence because she believes in me! Thank you for everything. ❤ xxx