The room emptied in a quick if not fully sober fashion into the side alley and once again we were on the run, or hike. With an acute awareness that this might take another 100+ hours to get done, nobody was springing out of the blocks hard on cold legs. Even just a few minutes from where we’d spent the uncertain early hours of morning, we could look back and see the white-dusted mountains we had climbed and descended through the night before. In the first light of a blue-sky day, their calm beauty spoke little of the chaos and jeopardy just hours before.
Heading uphill once again it was time to stop and readjust layers, in the usual cycle of too cold to move – get moving – heat up too much – stop to shed layers – feel cold again – stuff it all in pack – get moving again. And of course the other cycle of stop another 80 metres up the track – dig around in bag – find lube – apply to chafed bits – stuff it back in bag – readjust to the left – get moving again.
Even at this early stage, a couple of entrants could be seen coming back down the track, looking like they’d forgotten something. Making eye contact to query what was up, their reply was just a shrug without slowing as they headed back to the checkpoint. To see people pulling out this early at the simple thought of a hill, or perhaps at the memory of rockfalls the night before, was a mixed moment. Yes, this is only going to get harder. There’s more of who-knows-what to come, and it’s a shame you’re not going to be there for it. But, then again, I’ve outlasted you. And even that gutless little coward of a voice, ‘do you wanna pull out?’. The reply was still pretty easy, ‘don’t be a dick, let’s go.’
As we came into a mountain-ringed valley there was some quick photo-taking. This was a stunningly beautiful morning. There was snow behind us, snow and two big climbs ahead of us, but we were here laughing in the sun after a night that exceeded expectations of ferocity, and it felt great.
We were a conga line, runners stretched ahead and behind as the power hike revved its engine. Moving up a gentle slope contrary to the flow of the crystal river beside us, we tended left as the next valley revealed the joys it had in store for the morning. Col du Entrelor, a 3030m barrel of laughs we as yet had little idea about rose up in front of us, as similarly stunning snow-covered ridges moved behind us. Trudging a series of switchbacks, the day felt cold again as the wind steadily picked up and grey clouds moved in over the range behind us, soon to block the sun. Continue reading