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~ Tuesday 6th May 2014

It's been a brilliant winter with lots of new places, fresh tracks, fantastic skiing and last Sunday's success in the Patrouille des Glaciers ski race was the perfect end to the season! All winter I've been preparing with the team, starting way back in December. A fitness test at Swiss Olympic Medical Centre in Sion confirmed there was a lot of work to do, but surely 6 months would be enough?

Well, 6 months passed quickly and on Saturday we found ourselves in Zermatt waiting, nervously, wondering if the weather would clear and the race would start. With only 2 hours to go before start time we were told the race would run, but it was still raining in town...finally with an hour to go the rain stopped, patches of blue sky appeared, and soon we were running through the town - on the way to Verbier!

I lose the smile for camera competition

Starting at 9pm meant the first bit was in fast-fading daylight. Soon torches were on as we climbed through Zmutt and on to Stafel. There we hit snow for the first time and swapped trainers for ski boots. Stafel is better known as the end of the Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route - it's where you make the short walk up to the bar-restaurant before skiing down the piste to celebrate in Zermatt - so for me it was a strange feeling to be going the other way! Having skied down here recently I knew all too well it was a long way to Tete Blanche. There are time limits in the race and you have a maximum of 3 hours to reach the Schonbiel checkpoint, so the pressure was on. Go fast enough to make it whilst saving enough strength for the remaining 12/13/14 hours!

We reached Schonbiel with time to spare, but in deteriorating weather. On with the rope for the crevassed section, warm clothes , a quick bite to eat, and we were off again.

It's a long way up the Stockji glacier!

Quick break at Stockji checkpoint. About 1600m climbed now. Weather improving but smiles fading!

Reaching Tete Blanche is a big psychological target, 2000m climbed and we'd been up here from Arolla in training and knew the descent - but skiing the other side at 3am, fast, roped up and in the dark with lots of other teams was pretty exciting! A quick skin to Bertol and we put the rope away before tackling the big descent to Arolla. Some great powder (really!) but lots of big bumps and plenty of rocks made for a nerve-wracking descent. Just a few weeks earlier we'd walked a 500m section below Plan de Bertol on the summer path, but it was now thinly covered sketchy skiing all the way, lit by headtorches and sparks from skis!

At Tete Blanche, about to ski to Bertol

We made it to Arolla - phew! Half way there, and a warm welcome from our superb support team with hot soup, and more food for the rest of the race. It took a big effort to get going again, knowing the Arolla piste is steep and slippery, but with refuelled legs we made good time to Riedmatten in the dawn light. The col is a known bottleneck, but we were dismayed to find a massive queue. Stuck in the line, freezing, our time schedule suddenly looked at risk as the margin we'd worked hard to build up quickly ebbed away.

The queue up the Arolla side

...and down the Dix side

After a careful think it looked like we were still on track despite the wasted hour. The ski down to the Dixence lake was fast but a bit tricky low down - crash here and you can easily lose a ski down the steep ground to the lake, as a couple of folk had found out! Skinning along the lakeside is flat, but long. Very long. You can see the Rosablanche high above and it looks miles away (it is!) Failing to make the time cut-off here would be desperate, with 3000m of ascent already behind you, but we had time to spare at the checkpoint, even a margin for slowing down if needed, and success was starting to look likely!

The climb back up to Rosablanche is tough on legs that have been skiing for 12hours. Steep skinning track leads to the foot of the infamous couloir. You can hear the crowd at the top from here - cheering, Swiss cowbells and some wonderfully tuneless horns! Helicopters fly overhead (filming us!) The atmosphere is huge! It's a steep climb, carrying skis, but you know success is close now.

Reaching the top was an emotional moment. 6 months of doubts, fears, challenges, and pure hard work to get here! It's worth it. Big hugs from the wonderful support team - thanks guys, you'd been up all night too but were still smiling! Hard to force ourselves to keep going, skis on for the fast blast down to the foot of the final climb to Col de la Chaux. Slog up steeply, then carry skis for the last bit and suddenly it's all downhill to Verbier! We've done it!

Huge thanks to the team, who were great company and made the whole thing fun.

Huge thanks also to everyone who helped out and to all the great supporters on the route!