Swiss Iron Trail (141K, 83 miles)

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Pontresina (small town next to St Moritz) to Chur.

(for any Jack Reacher fans out there…) Three drop bags, all meticulously packed for 60k, 90k and 141K checkpoints were taken to the designated drop off point in the third floor basement car park at Pontresina.  No gels. The race was too long and my speed to slow, instead seeded 9bars, cliff bars, dried fruit, nuts and salted potatoes were ready.  On the way back to the hotel at 8am the loud speakers were playing a mix of 1990’s chart music and increasingly dramatic  gladiator style soundtrack themes as the 201k start time approached.  It wasn’t raining but like Davos last year all the peaks had dark top hats and the sky was grey.  It was cold. It was only 5 degrees on Piz Nair 2pm the previous afternoon. 15 minutes before the race start it was announcement that the 201k start would be delayed 7hours until 4pm. I bumped into Andrea Tuffli the race organiser and his chief medical officer who seemed relaxed, an experienced mountain man and used to this weather – they expected a local storm.  170 of us would be setting off 5 hours later at 9pm for 135k of five major mountain peaks, the Begrunden Swiss alps range, certainly one of the toughest passes in Europe.  The irontrail had placed red and silver reflected markers at every junction, then again a few meters afterwards, getting lost out here was not an option and once we were off I huddled together with a group, fell behind taking photos and quickly raced back to as far up front as possible. Everyone was running slow, the more experienced knew how to pace themselves, I was rash and headed out fast, aiming to cover long distance using the cold nighttime temperatures to run hard. It had been over 70 degrees the pervious day and hotter still in Chur.  Head torches were donned but it was still light until 5k into the race so no one turned them on until just before we were stopped above St Moritz town and about the climb to Corvilia. Piz Nair somwhere in the rain cloud above – the first summit. I was the 10th person to arrive and we were held for 15minures whilst the organisers discussed the weather. It was a smart move as the clouds were low and thick, everyone was already wet but now as one group we shared light and followed each others footsteps.

The trail was easy, mainly a well trodden mud trail, the sort of stuff you get anywhere and we’d all trained for it. Some waited for Corvelia station to put on their coats but by now they were soaked. A bad move I thought. From Corvilia gondola station it was a long down hill run of around 2k, tail back up hill for 2k followed by a challenging set of high switchbacks 500m to the summit.  Before I got to the switchbacks the orange emergency signals were out and they had called off the summit, fast 201k’ers were on there way down and said it was hailing. Mandatory kit with inspections were carried out before the start and everyone had to take long trousers. Everyone was wearing them now.  I wondered how they had reached this point already but their 4pm start gave them a 5hr head start on a 30k(ish) loop (reduced from 60K to avoid bad weather). I headed down now, the terrain on the other side changed instantly from well trodden soil trail to mini rivers, boulders and rocks. Everyone’s feet were soaked now.  Some paths were not distinguishable and everyone took their own line, other sections were clear and well laid out – this was switzerland – it was well organised. As we descended, we saw more emergency orange signals. Behind that, runners coming down from what would have been the second ascent to the waving marshals. The race was cancelled. We all stopped running. The race was over. Everyone was disappointed.

The organisers arranged for every taxi and volunteer to pick up the runners from a small town that we walked a few miles to get to, we could have run back really but the aid stations were closed and it was a different route – so three am I found myself back at the hotel I started in, knocking on the door hoping the security guy would hear me and let my cold shivering body into the warmth!  He must have wondered what the hell I was doing!   Stupid British guy comes to switzerland to hike the mountains, in the dark, during bad weather – idiot!

I agreed with the decision to call off the peaks, but maybe not to cancel the race – but I accepted it, it was their call and the marshals were excellent, very polite and gracious.  I hadn’t studied the 201k route but if it was similar terrain they’d be slower, no longer running and be colder than us 141’ers with fresher legs albeit My Gore-Tex shell jacket had stopped working and a few minutes after stopping 23k of running I was instantly cold.  But, it wasn’t raining any more and we all had at least the right equipment, but, for the safety of the group I understand the call… I’ll be there next year!

Davos k42 in three weeks.

(the pictures on Piz Nair were from the previous afternoon – 2pm)

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One Reply to “Swiss Iron Trail (141K, 83 miles)”

  1. Well done Kris, cant believe it got stopped so quickly but hey ho always next year! well done to everyone who took part.

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