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The Patrouille des Glaciers is arguably the biggest and most famous ski mountaineering race in the world, whose military origins began in 1944. It now attracts 1400 teams of 3, every 2 years, both military and civilian and is rigorously organised by the Swiss Army. The long course runs from Zermatt to Verbier (a shorter Arolla to Verbier course runs concurrently) entirely on foot and skis, covering 53km and with 4000 metres of ascent and descent. It usually starts and finishes below the snow line, necessitating an initial section of running for about an hour, for the faster teams, carrying skis, boots and sticks, before changing into uphill skiing mode. Teams soon need to rope up as the Stockli Glacier is heavily crevassed and this is mandatory- in the 1949 edition, a tragic accident lead to the death of 3 local participants, falling into a crevasse in the Mont Mine glacier, descending to Arolla.

[caption id="attachment_6073" align="aligncenter" width="450"]    First successful British completion of PdG in 2006 First successful British completion of PdG in 2006[/caption]

Personal experience tells me that to complete the PdG at all, as a team of 3 is challenge enough, and to my knowledge no Brits had entered before Nick Wallis and team did so in 2004- they unfortunately were unable to complete the course, as it was cancelled in the second half due to avalanche- he subsequently completed the 2006 edition with Roly Sinker and Otto Grolig. My first attempt was in 2008 with Rick Marchant and Carron Scrimgeour. I have had many adventures with Rick since Uni, and for many years he has now worked as a Mountain Guide in Chamonix. His first 4 seasons on skis were in a pair of Salomon SX90 boots from the 80s, that my Dad was going to chuck in the bin. More than 20 years later he reckons he has skinned in excess of a million vertical metres on skis- on different boots now! Carron is an Emergency Medicine and Intensive Care doctor, also living in Chamonix. He is the only person to have won the British Ski Mountaineering Championships twice.

[caption id="attachment_6068" align="aligncenter" width="449"]Roly Sinker looking very disgruntled at the size of the radio you had to carry in 2006... Roly Sinker looking very disgruntled at the size of the radio you had to carry in 2006...[/caption]

All went well for us in 2008 on the initial 2000m run then skinning ascent on skis, from Zermatt to the Tête Blanche at 3650m. This is not an altitude you can compete at without effective prior acclimatisation, otherwise it is just grim survival. For those unfamiliar with the effects of altitude think hangover- headache, nausea, off your food, tiredness, unwillingness/inability to exercise to normal capacity. Bad altitude symptoms can include vomiting, ataxia (unsteadiness on your feet), collapse and unconsciousness. All best avoided if possible- prior gentle exercise and particularly sleeping at altitude are the best preparation, before competing at a similar altitude.

[caption id="attachment_6070" align="aligncenter" width="450"]PdG training on Mont Rogneux PdG training on Mont Rogneux[/caption]

Starts are staggered to avoid logjams- we found ourselves overtaking many earlier teams and feeling good. We had an entertaining (well nightmarish really) ski down from the Tête Blanche roped-up. It does however make it considerably harder, given darkness, fairly rubbish torches by current standards, legs nicely softened from 2000m ascent, not to mention very lightweight skis that definitely are an acquired taste. Luckily at the Bertol Hut at 3260m you can unrope and ski down by yourself. Big relief, followed by big disaster.

Within minutes of leaving the Bertol I hit a mogul ask a speed that was not compatible with the quality of my ski- a now obsolete model. The only things good about it were it was light and cheap, but with additional features of being rubbish to ski on and totally flimsy I learnt the hard way that you get what you pay for- light and cheap equals light and rubbish. So I didn’t see my team mates until I got to Arolla after a very tiring one-legged off-piste descent in the dark of 1300m and many kilometres horizontal. I tried swapping the broken ski (snapped just in front of the front binding) to my other leg- impossible. I appear to be very right legged but with ridiculous mono- thighburn it was very tempting to just put a small amount of weight on the other leg- immediately face-planting was the inevitable result as the jagged edge repeatedly stopped me dead in my tracks..

Worse was to come as, having set off from Zermatt at 230am, the 7am deadline in Arolla was always tight- we missed it literally by seconds- even the team who had set off at 9pm immediately in front of us were allowed through. I tried arguing we would arrive hours before them (well Rick and Carron would have, as I would have had to have stopped anyway) but a Swiss Corporal under orders does not negotiate- “Non non non, c’est fini pour vous. C’est FINI !!”. Merde..

[caption id="attachment_6060" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Happier times when not getting eliminated in a race... Happier times when not getting eliminated in a race...[/caption]

Second attempt- 2010, same team, same agenda. Conditions good, I was well acclimatised, as was Rick, but poor Carron had to drop out in Arolla as the altitude had rendered him feeling very unwell and unable to eat or drink. Despite his immense speed and fitness his punishing work schedule had not allowed him sufficient time up high immediately prior to the race. Rick and I continued as a pair, but, although we were allowed to finish you do not get a ranking as a team of 2.

Unfortunately we missed out in 2012 but recently it was time to complete the job. This year it was a pleasure to race with fellow Ben Tibbetts, Chamonix based Aspirant Guide, photographer, strong fit skier, and with Ben Bardsley- top fell runner, biker, adventure-racer and in recent years top SkiMo racer. We picked the Z1 start on the Tuesday night to in theory allow 2 of us to get back for UK for a English Championship fell race, which would have clashed with the other start (effectively there are 2 separate PdG races every 2 years).

[caption id="attachment_6069" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Rab PdG team and Misha Gopaul starting Chamonix-Zermatt in 31 hours, April 2013 Rab PdG team and Misha Gopaul starting Chamonix-Zermatt in 31 hours, April 2013[/caption]

36 hours before the start we got a text from the organisers informing us of a 24 start delay, as a huge snowfall needed settling (read helicopter bombing). Frustrating but allowed us an extra mornings “training” in amazing snow on the Grands Montets. With a chequered history we feared the race might be cancelled altogether, but as it turned out there was a perfectly timed weather window during the race itself.

[caption id="attachment_6071" align="aligncenter" width="429"]Shredding on the Grands Montets Shredding on the Grands Montets[/caption]

We had 3 aims- complete the course, try and beat the fastest British time of 8 hours 44 mins, (Jon Bracey, Al Powell, Olly Allen in 2008) do as well as possible in the overall race. This year everything went smoothly. BB (Ben Bardsley) had been training and competing full-time all winter so we gave him the 1.5kg rope. I took the team ice axe and BT (Ben Tibbetts) took a chunky camera (I also took a small one, which never came out of its case..).

[caption id="attachment_6061" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Underway for the PdG at 1am, 1st May in Zermatt Underway for the PdG at 1am, 1st May in Zermatt[/caption]

The course was harder than I remembered, mainly due to the big preceding snowfall, which made the skinning a little powdery and slippy in places, and powdery and mogully from the hundreds of earlier starters.

[caption id="attachment_6062" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Striding into the night up the Stockli Glacier Striding into the night up the Stockli Glacier[/caption]

A large avalanche before the Tête Blanche also needed a course diversion- an extra small descent and another small ascent on skins to the Bertol. By now we had caught teams that had started several hours before us and after an incident-free descent to Arolla (other than scraping loads of rocks- sparking into the night) we arrived in good time to refuel.

[caption id="attachment_6063" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Steep icy piste leaving Arolla. Hundreds of slow teams to overtake! Steep icy piste leaving Arolla. Hundreds of slow teams to overtake![/caption]

At this point we joined the A1 competitors (Arolla to Zermatt) who had just started. This led to a small bottleneck below the Col de Riedmatten but a combination of politely asking people to let us through and making our own tracks saw us up and over the steep col and down to put skis on.

Fun skiing down to the Pas de Chat was shortlived, followed by, for many the toughest section- 4-5km of essentially flat terrain alongside the Lac des Dix. The previous time with Rick we skinned the whole thing, which was quite easy being flat, but unfortunately so many teams had passed us skating and poling I knew we’d made a mistake. So skating and poling that whole way was this years treat- back-pain-inducing hard work, especially with the fresh snow and constantly on a rightwards camber. It was a relief to get beyond it, put skins on and arrive at the other feed station at la Barma, now in full sun at 8am.

[caption id="attachment_6064" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Steep skin then bootpack up the Rosablanche couloir. The course had been previously cancelled in 2004 as this couloir avalanched! Steep skin then bootpack up the Rosablanche couloir. The course had been previously cancelled in 2004 as this couloir avalanched![/caption]

Our efforts had put us ahead of a number of teams we had been battling with, but with staggered starts we had no idea where we were overall. The 8h 44 deadline we had set ourselves was looking tight. So we kept pushing, pushing up the looooong Rosablanche couloir, with skis on our backs, then descending as fast as our legs would allow. One final climb to the Col de la Chaux and all downhill on pistes to Verbier.

[caption id="attachment_6065" align="aligncenter" width="448"]One last climb to Col de la Chaux One last climb to Col de la Chaux[/caption]

Racing down pistes is a favourite activity of my kids, but I’m not so keen normally- unlike teenagers I am aware of my own mortality and particularly the real possibility of hitting someone else. But on a piste that has been emptied for you to race down - excellent- it’s a favourite activity of mine too! Sadly the finish is not close to the snowline, so although gently downhill to run over a kilometre in ski boots down the road at this stage was purgatory. 8 hours 39 from Zermatt- third time lucky! It turned out we were 3rd overall, 2nd civilian team and we won our class- teams with average age over 34. Delighted given the many hundreds of teams with over 20 countries represented.

[caption id="attachment_6066" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Happy to finish, about to receive the iron-grip handshake from the Commander of the Patrouille des Glaciers Happy to finish, about to receive the iron-grip handshake from the Commander of the Patrouille des Glaciers[/caption]

It was a shame not to be able to complete this with Rick and Carron but the 2 Bens were both super strong team mates. In addition to that a few other factors were important- many extra years of experience and training, greatly improved and reliable ­equipment- especially Petzl Nao headtorches, Scarpa Alien boots, modern skis and finally support from Rab was invaluable.

It was sad to leave the snow, the mountains and many Alpine buddies but rock climbing is proving a welcome distraction from work. Classic grit at Cratcliffe, sport climbing at Malham, esoteric sandstone arêtes and corners at Nesscliffe have all been great fun. Pembroke, Fairhead and Pabbay all beckon, with the enticing prospect of Alpine rock this summer.

[caption id="attachment_6072" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Tombola, Nesscliffe- my first E7 Tombola, Nesscliffe- my first E7[/caption]

Jon MorganThe Patrouille des Glaciers is arguably the biggest and most famous ski mountaineering race in the world, whose military origins began in 1944. It now attracts 1400 teams of 3, every 2 years, both military and civilian and is rigorously organised by the Swiss Army. The long course runs from Zermatt to Verbier (a shorter Arolla to Verbier course runs concurrently) entirely on foot and skis, covering 53km and with 4000 metres of ascent and descent. It usually starts and finishes below the snow line, necessitating an initial section of running for about an hour, for the faster teams, carrying skis, boots and sticks, before changing into uphill skiing mode. Teams soon need to rope up as the Stockli Glacier is heavily crevassed and this is mandatory- in the 1949 edition, a tragic accident lead to the death of 3 local participants, falling into a crevasse in the Mont Mine glacier, descending to Arolla.

[caption id="attachment_6073" align="aligncenter" width="450"]    First successful British completion of PdG in 2006 First successful British completion of PdG in 2006[/caption]

Personal experience tells me that to complete the PdG at all, as a team of 3 is challenge enough, and to my knowledge no Brits had entered before Nick Wallis and team did so in 2004- they unfortunately were unable to complete the course, as it was cancelled in the second half due to avalanche- he subsequently completed the 2006 edition with Roly Sinker and Otto Grolig. My first attempt was in 2008 with Rick Marchant and Carron Scrimgeour. I have had many adventures with Rick since Uni, and for many years he has now worked as a Mountain Guide in Chamonix. His first 4 seasons on skis were in a pair of Salomon SX90 boots from the 80s, that my Dad was going to chuck in the bin. More than 20 years later he reckons he has skinned in excess of a million vertical metres on skis- on different boots now! Carron is an Emergency Medicine and Intensive Care doctor, also living in Chamonix. He is the only person to have won the British Ski Mountaineering Championships twice.

[caption id="attachment_6068" align="aligncenter" width="449"]Roly Sinker looking very disgruntled at the size of the radio you had to carry in 2006... Roly Sinker looking very disgruntled at the size of the radio you had to carry in 2006...[/caption]

All went well for us in 2008 on the initial 2000m run then skinning ascent on skis, from Zermatt to the Tête Blanche at 3650m. This is not an altitude you can compete at without effective prior acclimatisation, otherwise it is just grim survival. For those unfamiliar with the effects of altitude think hangover- headache, nausea, off your food, tiredness, unwillingness/inability to exercise to normal capacity. Bad altitude symptoms can include vomiting, ataxia (unsteadiness on your feet), collapse and unconsciousness. All best avoided if possible- prior gentle exercise and particularly sleeping at altitude are the best preparation, before competing at a similar altitude.

[caption id="attachment_6070" align="aligncenter" width="450"]PdG training on Mont Rogneux PdG training on Mont Rogneux[/caption]

Starts are staggered to avoid logjams- we found ourselves overtaking many earlier teams and feeling good. We had an entertaining (well nightmarish really) ski down from the Tête Blanche roped-up. It does however make it considerably harder, given darkness, fairly rubbish torches by current standards, legs nicely softened from 2000m ascent, not to mention very lightweight skis that definitely are an acquired taste. Luckily at the Bertol Hut at 3260m you can unrope and ski down by yourself. Big relief, followed by big disaster.

Within minutes of leaving the Bertol I hit a mogul ask a speed that was not compatible with the quality of my ski- a now obsolete model. The only things good about it were it was light and cheap, but with additional features of being rubbish to ski on and totally flimsy I learnt the hard way that you get what you pay for- light and cheap equals light and rubbish. So I didn’t see my team mates until I got to Arolla after a very tiring one-legged off-piste descent in the dark of 1300m and many kilometres horizontal. I tried swapping the broken ski (snapped just in front of the front binding) to my other leg- impossible. I appear to be very right legged but with ridiculous mono- thighburn it was very tempting to just put a small amount of weight on the other leg- immediately face-planting was the inevitable result as the jagged edge repeatedly stopped me dead in my tracks..

Worse was to come as, having set off from Zermatt at 230am, the 7am deadline in Arolla was always tight- we missed it literally by seconds- even the team who had set off at 9pm immediately in front of us were allowed through. I tried arguing we would arrive hours before them (well Rick and Carron would have, as I would have had to have stopped anyway) but a Swiss Corporal under orders does not negotiate- “Non non non, c’est fini pour vous. C’est FINI !!”. Merde..

[caption id="attachment_6060" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Happier times when not getting eliminated in a race... Happier times when not getting eliminated in a race...[/caption]

Second attempt- 2010, same team, same agenda. Conditions good, I was well acclimatised, as was Rick, but poor Carron had to drop out in Arolla as the altitude had rendered him feeling very unwell and unable to eat or drink. Despite his immense speed and fitness his punishing work schedule had not allowed him sufficient time up high immediately prior to the race. Rick and I continued as a pair, but, although we were allowed to finish you do not get a ranking as a team of 2.

Unfortunately we missed out in 2012 but recently it was time to complete the job. This year it was a pleasure to race with fellow Ben Tibbetts, Chamonix based Aspirant Guide, photographer, strong fit skier, and with Ben Bardsley- top fell runner, biker, adventure-racer and in recent years top SkiMo racer. We picked the Z1 start on the Tuesday night to in theory allow 2 of us to get back for UK for a English Championship fell race, which would have clashed with the other start (effectively there are 2 separate PdG races every 2 years).

[caption id="attachment_6069" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Rab PdG team and Misha Gopaul starting Chamonix-Zermatt in 31 hours, April 2013 Rab PdG team and Misha Gopaul starting Chamonix-Zermatt in 31 hours, April 2013[/caption]

36 hours before the start we got a text from the organisers informing us of a 24 start delay, as a huge snowfall needed settling (read helicopter bombing). Frustrating but allowed us an extra mornings “training” in amazing snow on the Grands Montets. With a chequered history we feared the race might be cancelled altogether, but as it turned out there was a perfectly timed weather window during the race itself.

[caption id="attachment_6071" align="aligncenter" width="429"]Shredding on the Grands Montets Shredding on the Grands Montets[/caption]

We had 3 aims- complete the course, try and beat the fastest British time of 8 hours 44 mins, (Jon Bracey, Al Powell, Olly Allen in 2008) do as well as possible in the overall race. This year everything went smoothly. BB (Ben Bardsley) had been training and competing full-time all winter so we gave him the 1.5kg rope. I took the team ice axe and BT (Ben Tibbetts) took a chunky camera (I also took a small one, which never came out of its case..).

[caption id="attachment_6061" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Underway for the PdG at 1am, 1st May in Zermatt Underway for the PdG at 1am, 1st May in Zermatt[/caption]

The course was harder than I remembered, mainly due to the big preceding snowfall, which made the skinning a little powdery and slippy in places, and powdery and mogully from the hundreds of earlier starters.

[caption id="attachment_6062" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Striding into the night up the Stockli Glacier Striding into the night up the Stockli Glacier[/caption]

A large avalanche before the Tête Blanche also needed a course diversion- an extra small descent and another small ascent on skins to the Bertol. By now we had caught teams that had started several hours before us and after an incident-free descent to Arolla (other than scraping loads of rocks- sparking into the night) we arrived in good time to refuel.

[caption id="attachment_6063" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Steep icy piste leaving Arolla. Hundreds of slow teams to overtake! Steep icy piste leaving Arolla. Hundreds of slow teams to overtake![/caption]

At this point we joined the A1 competitors (Arolla to Zermatt) who had just started. This led to a small bottleneck below the Col de Riedmatten but a combination of politely asking people to let us through and making our own tracks saw us up and over the steep col and down to put skis on.

Fun skiing down to the Pas de Chat was shortlived, followed by, for many the toughest section- 4-5km of essentially flat terrain alongside the Lac des Dix. The previous time with Rick we skinned the whole thing, which was quite easy being flat, but unfortunately so many teams had passed us skating and poling I knew we’d made a mistake. So skating and poling that whole way was this years treat- back-pain-inducing hard work, especially with the fresh snow and constantly on a rightwards camber. It was a relief to get beyond it, put skins on and arrive at the other feed station at la Barma, now in full sun at 8am.

[caption id="attachment_6064" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Steep skin then bootpack up the Rosablanche couloir. The course had been previously cancelled in 2004 as this couloir avalanched! Steep skin then bootpack up the Rosablanche couloir. The course had been previously cancelled in 2004 as this couloir avalanched![/caption]

Our efforts had put us ahead of a number of teams we had been battling with, but with staggered starts we had no idea where we were overall. The 8h 44 deadline we had set ourselves was looking tight. So we kept pushing, pushing up the looooong Rosablanche couloir, with skis on our backs, then descending as fast as our legs would allow. One final climb to the Col de la Chaux and all downhill on pistes to Verbier.

[caption id="attachment_6065" align="aligncenter" width="448"]One last climb to Col de la Chaux One last climb to Col de la Chaux[/caption]

Racing down pistes is a favourite activity of my kids, but I’m not so keen normally- unlike teenagers I am aware of my own mortality and particularly the real possibility of hitting someone else. But on a piste that has been emptied for you to race down - excellent- it’s a favourite activity of mine too! Sadly the finish is not close to the snowline, so although gently downhill to run over a kilometre in ski boots down the road at this stage was purgatory. 8 hours 39 from Zermatt- third time lucky! It turned out we were 3rd overall, 2nd civilian team and we won our class- teams with average age over 34. Delighted given the many hundreds of teams with over 20 countries represented.

[caption id="attachment_6066" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Happy to finish, about to receive the iron-grip handshake from the Commander of the Patrouille des Glaciers Happy to finish, about to receive the iron-grip handshake from the Commander of the Patrouille des Glaciers[/caption]

It was a shame not to be able to complete this with Rick and Carron but the 2 Bens were both super strong team mates. In addition to that a few other factors were important- many extra years of experience and training, greatly improved and reliable ­equipment- especially Petzl Nao headtorches, Scarpa Alien boots, modern skis and finally support from Rab was invaluable.

It was sad to leave the snow, the mountains and many Alpine buddies but rock climbing is proving a welcome distraction from work. Classic grit at Cratcliffe, sport climbing at Malham, esoteric sandstone arêtes and corners at Nesscliffe have all been great fun. Pembroke, Fairhead and Pabbay all beckon, with the enticing prospect of Alpine rock this summer.

[caption id="attachment_6072" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Tombola, Nesscliffe- my first E7 Tombola, Nesscliffe- my first E7[/caption]

Jon MorganThe Patrouille des Glaciers is arguably the biggest and most famous ski mountaineering race in the world, whose military origins began in 1944. It now attracts 1400 teams of 3, every 2 years, both military and civilian and is rigorously organised by the Swiss Army. The long course runs from Zermatt to Verbier (a shorter Arolla to Verbier course runs concurrently) entirely on foot and skis, covering 53km and with 4000 metres of ascent and descent. It usually starts and finishes below the snow line, necessitating an initial section of running for about an hour, for the faster teams, carrying skis, boots and sticks, before changing into uphill skiing mode. Teams soon need to rope up as the Stockli Glacier is heavily crevassed and this is mandatory- in the 1949 edition, a tragic accident lead to the death of 3 local participants, falling into a crevasse in the Mont Mine glacier, descending to Arolla.

[caption id="attachment_6073" align="aligncenter" width="450"]    First successful British completion of PdG in 2006 First successful British completion of PdG in 2006[/caption]

Personal experience tells me that to complete the PdG at all, as a team of 3 is challenge enough, and to my knowledge no Brits had entered before Nick Wallis and team did so in 2004- they unfortunately were unable to complete the course, as it was cancelled in the second half due to avalanche- he subsequently completed the 2006 edition with Roly Sinker and Otto Grolig. My first attempt was in 2008 with Rick Marchant and Carron Scrimgeour. I have had many adventures with Rick since Uni, and for many years he has now worked as a Mountain Guide in Chamonix. His first 4 seasons on skis were in a pair of Salomon SX90 boots from the 80s, that my Dad was going to chuck in the bin. More than 20 years later he reckons he has skinned in excess of a million vertical metres on skis- on different boots now! Carron is an Emergency Medicine and Intensive Care doctor, also living in Chamonix. He is the only person to have won the British Ski Mountaineering Championships twice.

[caption id="attachment_6068" align="aligncenter" width="449"]Roly Sinker looking very disgruntled at the size of the radio you had to carry in 2006... Roly Sinker looking very disgruntled at the size of the radio you had to carry in 2006...[/caption]

All went well for us in 2008 on the initial 2000m run then skinning ascent on skis, from Zermatt to the Tête Blanche at 3650m. This is not an altitude you can compete at without effective prior acclimatisation, otherwise it is just grim survival. For those unfamiliar with the effects of altitude think hangover- headache, nausea, off your food, tiredness, unwillingness/inability to exercise to normal capacity. Bad altitude symptoms can include vomiting, ataxia (unsteadiness on your feet), collapse and unconsciousness. All best avoided if possible- prior gentle exercise and particularly sleeping at altitude are the best preparation, before competing at a similar altitude.

[caption id="attachment_6070" align="aligncenter" width="450"]PdG training on Mont Rogneux PdG training on Mont Rogneux[/caption]

Starts are staggered to avoid logjams- we found ourselves overtaking many earlier teams and feeling good. We had an entertaining (well nightmarish really) ski down from the Tête Blanche roped-up. It does however make it considerably harder, given darkness, fairly rubbish torches by current standards, legs nicely softened from 2000m ascent, not to mention very lightweight skis that definitely are an acquired taste. Luckily at the Bertol Hut at 3260m you can unrope and ski down by yourself. Big relief, followed by big disaster.

Within minutes of leaving the Bertol I hit a mogul ask a speed that was not compatible with the quality of my ski- a now obsolete model. The only things good about it were it was light and cheap, but with additional features of being rubbish to ski on and totally flimsy I learnt the hard way that you get what you pay for- light and cheap equals light and rubbish. So I didn’t see my team mates until I got to Arolla after a very tiring one-legged off-piste descent in the dark of 1300m and many kilometres horizontal. I tried swapping the broken ski (snapped just in front of the front binding) to my other leg- impossible. I appear to be very right legged but with ridiculous mono- thighburn it was very tempting to just put a small amount of weight on the other leg- immediately face-planting was the inevitable result as the jagged edge repeatedly stopped me dead in my tracks..

Worse was to come as, having set off from Zermatt at 230am, the 7am deadline in Arolla was always tight- we missed it literally by seconds- even the team who had set off at 9pm immediately in front of us were allowed through. I tried arguing we would arrive hours before them (well Rick and Carron would have, as I would have had to have stopped anyway) but a Swiss Corporal under orders does not negotiate- “Non non non, c’est fini pour vous. C’est FINI !!”. Merde..

[caption id="attachment_6060" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Happier times when not getting eliminated in a race... Happier times when not getting eliminated in a race...[/caption]

Second attempt- 2010, same team, same agenda. Conditions good, I was well acclimatised, as was Rick, but poor Carron had to drop out in Arolla as the altitude had rendered him feeling very unwell and unable to eat or drink. Despite his immense speed and fitness his punishing work schedule had not allowed him sufficient time up high immediately prior to the race. Rick and I continued as a pair, but, although we were allowed to finish you do not get a ranking as a team of 2.

Unfortunately we missed out in 2012 but recently it was time to complete the job. This year it was a pleasure to race with fellow Ben Tibbetts, Chamonix based Aspirant Guide, photographer, strong fit skier, and with Ben Bardsley- top fell runner, biker, adventure-racer and in recent years top SkiMo racer. We picked the Z1 start on the Tuesday night to in theory allow 2 of us to get back for UK for a English Championship fell race, which would have clashed with the other start (effectively there are 2 separate PdG races every 2 years).

[caption id="attachment_6069" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Rab PdG team and Misha Gopaul starting Chamonix-Zermatt in 31 hours, April 2013 Rab PdG team and Misha Gopaul starting Chamonix-Zermatt in 31 hours, April 2013[/caption]

36 hours before the start we got a text from the organisers informing us of a 24 start delay, as a huge snowfall needed settling (read helicopter bombing). Frustrating but allowed us an extra mornings “training” in amazing snow on the Grands Montets. With a chequered history we feared the race might be cancelled altogether, but as it turned out there was a perfectly timed weather window during the race itself.

[caption id="attachment_6071" align="aligncenter" width="429"]Shredding on the Grands Montets Shredding on the Grands Montets[/caption]

We had 3 aims- complete the course, try and beat the fastest British time of 8 hours 44 mins, (Jon Bracey, Al Powell, Olly Allen in 2008) do as well as possible in the overall race. This year everything went smoothly. BB (Ben Bardsley) had been training and competing full-time all winter so we gave him the 1.5kg rope. I took the team ice axe and BT (Ben Tibbetts) took a chunky camera (I also took a small one, which never came out of its case..).

[caption id="attachment_6061" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Underway for the PdG at 1am, 1st May in Zermatt Underway for the PdG at 1am, 1st May in Zermatt[/caption]

The course was harder than I remembered, mainly due to the big preceding snowfall, which made the skinning a little powdery and slippy in places, and powdery and mogully from the hundreds of earlier starters.

[caption id="attachment_6062" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Striding into the night up the Stockli Glacier Striding into the night up the Stockli Glacier[/caption]

A large avalanche before the Tête Blanche also needed a course diversion- an extra small descent and another small ascent on skins to the Bertol. By now we had caught teams that had started several hours before us and after an incident-free descent to Arolla (other than scraping loads of rocks- sparking into the night) we arrived in good time to refuel.

[caption id="attachment_6063" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Steep icy piste leaving Arolla. Hundreds of slow teams to overtake! Steep icy piste leaving Arolla. Hundreds of slow teams to overtake![/caption]

At this point we joined the A1 competitors (Arolla to Zermatt) who had just started. This led to a small bottleneck below the Col de Riedmatten but a combination of politely asking people to let us through and making our own tracks saw us up and over the steep col and down to put skis on.

Fun skiing down to the Pas de Chat was shortlived, followed by, for many the toughest section- 4-5km of essentially flat terrain alongside the Lac des Dix. The previous time with Rick we skinned the whole thing, which was quite easy being flat, but unfortunately so many teams had passed us skating and poling I knew we’d made a mistake. So skating and poling that whole way was this years treat- back-pain-inducing hard work, especially with the fresh snow and constantly on a rightwards camber. It was a relief to get beyond it, put skins on and arrive at the other feed station at la Barma, now in full sun at 8am.

[caption id="attachment_6064" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Steep skin then bootpack up the Rosablanche couloir. The course had been previously cancelled in 2004 as this couloir avalanched! Steep skin then bootpack up the Rosablanche couloir. The course had been previously cancelled in 2004 as this couloir avalanched![/caption]

Our efforts had put us ahead of a number of teams we had been battling with, but with staggered starts we had no idea where we were overall. The 8h 44 deadline we had set ourselves was looking tight. So we kept pushing, pushing up the looooong Rosablanche couloir, with skis on our backs, then descending as fast as our legs would allow. One final climb to the Col de la Chaux and all downhill on pistes to Verbier.

[caption id="attachment_6065" align="aligncenter" width="448"]One last climb to Col de la Chaux One last climb to Col de la Chaux[/caption]

Racing down pistes is a favourite activity of my kids, but I’m not so keen normally- unlike teenagers I am aware of my own mortality and particularly the real possibility of hitting someone else. But on a piste that has been emptied for you to race down - excellent- it’s a favourite activity of mine too! Sadly the finish is not close to the snowline, so although gently downhill to run over a kilometre in ski boots down the road at this stage was purgatory. 8 hours 39 from Zermatt- third time lucky! It turned out we were 3rd overall, 2nd civilian team and we won our class- teams with average age over 34. Delighted given the many hundreds of teams with over 20 countries represented.

[caption id="attachment_6066" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Happy to finish, about to receive the iron-grip handshake from the Commander of the Patrouille des Glaciers Happy to finish, about to receive the iron-grip handshake from the Commander of the Patrouille des Glaciers[/caption]

It was a shame not to be able to complete this with Rick and Carron but the 2 Bens were both super strong team mates. In addition to that a few other factors were important- many extra years of experience and training, greatly improved and reliable ­equipment- especially Petzl Nao headtorches, Scarpa Alien boots, modern skis and finally support from Rab was invaluable.

It was sad to leave the snow, the mountains and many Alpine buddies but rock climbing is proving a welcome distraction from work. Classic grit at Cratcliffe, sport climbing at Malham, esoteric sandstone arêtes and corners at Nesscliffe have all been great fun. Pembroke, Fairhead and Pabbay all beckon, with the enticing prospect of Alpine rock this summer.

[caption id="attachment_6072" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Tombola, Nesscliffe- my first E7 Tombola, Nesscliffe- my first E7[/caption]

Jon Morgan