The Patrouille des Glaciers was the last world cup ski mountaineering race of the 2010 season. This is a famous high altitude, long distance, race done in a team of 3. We were the first all American team, all women’s team, non the less, to compete and complete this famous race. The is truly a mythical event that dates back in history to as early as 1943. For more information on the PDG history click follow this link (in french). My teammate Lyndsay and I arrived in Zermatt a couple days before where we planned to join up with our other teammate Mona Merrill who was flying over from the States.

Mona, Nina and Lyndsay- Team USA Girls

Due to the ash cloud situation, the air travel delayed her a bit, but she managed to arrive by Thursday morning with plenty of time to get settled, stretch her legs a bit and be good to go for our midnight start Friday evening.

Friday we spent part of the morning getting our equipment checked by the army.

Equipment check by Swiss Army- Everything had to be "tip-top"!

Fortunately we were give the “A Okay” by the Army….and we returned by to our hotel with a few Swiss Army issued blocks of chocolate to keep us going.

Teams had to carry a 9m rope, ice axe, mobile phone (Swisscom) in addition to the normal safely equipment required by the ISMF

With the entry athletes were given a hotel room at random; we were lucky to get the luck of the draw- 4 star Hotel Pollux.  We spent the day getting gear sorted and resting as much as possible. In the evening we went to the briefing which is a magical experience, especially when we and our equipment and the surrounding countryside were blessed by not one but two priests- one from each end of the course -Zermatt and Verbier.

Briefing in the Church

To read the blessing of the race and equipment (in french) click here. We took advantage of our first class balcony view to watch the evening unfold.

All set...ready to go!

So..I had a goal of completing this race under 10 hrs. Mona was the expert in ultra distances and when we set off…the first part on foot with skis/boots strapped to our backs, her words of wisdom were…”We want to finish this race stronger than we start.” Reverse splits….Don’t go out too hard. We had about 1hr of running ahead of us until we put the skis on and then about 2000 meters of climbing until our first downhill, part way up that we would rope up for the glacier travel part of the course.  The total distance of the race was 53km with 3394 meters of climbing Zermatt to Verbier. For a full view of the course click here:

The Matterhorn was truly magical on this evening with the almost full moon next to it. Sorry no photo of that!

Already roped up...Mona in front, then lynds then me. A beautiful evening!

We arrived in Arolla- 1/2 way point in good time. We were supposed to meet Michael there. I was looking forward to getting a new pole as someone stepped on mine in the first 15 minutes so I had been doing the race with a pole 4 inches shorted than normal and no basket. Luckily the snow was firm and it was not a huge problem. No luck, we could not find michael amougst the huge crowd in Arolla. We made due. I filled the others camelbaks while we got a bit of food and then set off not magaging to ditch our heavy lights or take advantage of the resupply paks I made. Next time we will have a big USA flag to mark the spot.

Heading up out of Arolla…4:40 am…is never easy…1/2 way through the course.. As Mona said earlier on in the race, we will all feel good and back at different times throughout the race. It was important to work together as a team and push through the tough spots. I was feeling strong still both mentally and physically despite our little setback in Arolla. The guardian angel that was mentioned in Zermatt was guiding our way.

A little Swiss flavor on Rosablanche

Crowds of people cheering helps keep you going for last big climb-Rosablanche

Last big push....

Gritting and bearing it here...

Final transition before a super-fun downhill on Verbier pistes!

Started on foot and finish on foot- Last 1km run to finish in Verbier!

We were greeted by my family in Verbier, a nice site to see after 9 hrs 52 minutes. Thank you!!

B with a huge smile- Great to see at the finish!

We did it! We finished as a team….under 10hrs. 4th for the World Cup Women and 7th overall scratch women. Went through night and day, sweat and chills, all kinds of snow conditions, on foot and skis. It is amazing what you can demand of your body when you put your mind to it. Great job girls! Hope to do another one again soon!

An impressive airshow by the Swiss Army to top the day off!

To read the commendants message to all participants: (in french)

LA PATROUILLE, NOTRE COMMUNE AVENTURE…
Vous qui prêterez attention à cette modeste publication, vous le ferez au-delà de la ligne d’arrivée de Verbier… Ce mot vous est donc avant tout dédié comme un hommage à votre endurance, à votre ténacité et à votre courage.
Il est aussi dédié à celles et ceux qui vous ont accompagné durant tous les multiples mois de votre entraînement et qui ont, à leur façon, – ne comptant ni les absences ni les sacrifices, tous deux nombreux, – participé à l’effort commun pour bénéficier de tous les atouts afin d’affronter la montagne et se mesurer à la Patrouille des Glaciers.

Les qualificatifs me manquent pour la décrire, pour faire passer dans des phrases certes trop étriquées, les sensations, les douleurs et, tout au bout, la satisfaction d’avoir réussi à se vaincre soi-même, aidé par les deux compagnons de cordée et d’avoir été jusqu’à l’extrême de ses capacités.

Comme vous, cette PDG, je l’ai faite : mes félicitations proviennent dès lors du tréfonds de moi-même et possèdent quelque chose de que nous avons physiquement et moralement en commun.

Maintenant que j’ai passé de « l’autre côté du miroir », je me dois d’adresser mes remerciements à tous ceux qui se sont engagés pour que la Patrouille puisse avoir lieu et qu’elle soit cette incontournable fête du sport de nos Alpes. A l’Armée comme institution, tout d’abord, qui l’organise et met à disposition ses ressources et son savoir faire ; à tous celles et ceux qui, sous l’uniforme ou en civil, ont accepté de mettre leurs compétences, leur travail et leur coeur pour que toute la machinerie fonctionne. Sans tout cela, point de Patrouille des Glaciers.

Chapeau bas, ensuite, à toutes les régions traversées, à leurs habitants et leurs autorités qui ne refusent vraiment rien pour que la course soit une réussite. Je n’oublie bien sûr pas les médias qui, chaque deux ans, ne manquent pas le rendez-vous et trouvent les nouveaux clichés et les nouveaux mots pour parler de la PDG.

Alors, un mythe ? Vraiment ? Ou plutôt l’image de ce qu’on peut faire lorsque tous et chacun tirent « à la même corde ». Avec un tel état d’esprit, d’abnégation, d’enthousiasme, de sueur et de joie, le mythe est bien réalité : vous, nous, l’avons vécu.

Alors une brassée de mercis qui vaut tous les records, et vive la Patrouille des Glaciers.

Lt col EMG Ivo Burgener,
Commandant de la Patrouille des Glaciers.

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