Over the past week, the legendary Patrouille des Glaciers (PDG 2016) ski mountaineering race took place between Zermatt and Verbier. Alongside this is a smaller race between Arolla and Verbier. Between the two events, Bramble Ski had four members of our central team registered to take part. It was a week of mixed fortune for the four, as the mountains, in typical fashion, reminded all that events that unfold in their majesty are also subject to their mercy.
Because of the popularity of the race, the PDG is held over two separate race days. One mid-week and one on the weekend. The first running of the race over Tuesday evening and Wednesday last week saw our Verbier pre-arrivals manager Sarah take part in the big race departing from Zermatt, while directors Colin and Barry formed part of a team departing Arolla in the smaller race.
Sarah and her two fellow team-mates left Zermatt at 11.30pm on Tuesday. From the start, the course takes a steady and punishing route to the top of Tête Blanche, at 3,650m the highest point on the whole course, and a total climb of over 2,000m. Exposure and glacier travel on this climb and the descent towards Arolla means that the teams are obliged to travel roped up over this part of the course.
Sarah and her team descended through Arolla, the half-way point of the race, and made it to the following checkpoint at the top of the next climb at Col de Riedmatten before painfully withdrawing from the race.
Colin, myself, and our third team member Rob, departed Arolla at 4am on Wednesday. We had a taster on the first 1,000m climb of the tricky, energy-sapping icy conditions that Sarah and her team would have experienced on their way up and down Tête Blanche.
By the time we got to the top of our first climb at Col de Tsena Réfien at 2,952m, the first rays of light were showing on the horizon. It’s a moment that is imprinted on my mind and will be for a long time to come … dark skies above blending to hues of blue and thin bands of yellow and orange silhouetting the peaks in the east. And beneath these, a long line of headlamps tracing the route we had just taken.
Sunrise, as we traversed across Lac des Dix, was also a magical experience. We were being blessed with perfect conditions for our first ever participation in the event. The rest of the course progressed without any major event and we arrived into Verbier and the finish line at 9.38am before the day had a chance to warm up too much. Beer at 10am never tasted so good!
The perfect mid-week weather conditions had unfortunately shifted by the time Friday rolled around for Duncan’s Zermatt start. The weekend races were cancelled due to safety considerations. Duncan and his team were participating in their second full PDG and had invested a huge amount of energy and commitment into training for the race. They were fit and very strong, and it was hugely disappointing to have the weather deal them the harsh blow of not being able to test themselves.
All-in-all though, I think the uncertainty of the weather combined with the uncertainty of personal physical performance in such extreme conditions only goes to add to the allure of events like this. I am certain that the four of us will be back for one event or another in two years’ time, and there are already rumblings in the office of other members of the Bramble Ski team entering next time.
Read here for a brief history of the PDG.
Below are two short video clips from this year’s mid-week Arolla to Verbier race.
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