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Special Training Day


by Warren Teissier

September 11, 2002

My training for the Pikes Peak Ascent has been spotty at best. For a few weeks, I had managed to keep up with my goal of running at least one 2000+ vertical ft run a week. But being on vacation with the family made the excuses not to train a lot easier to come by.

This day is different though, I have been daydreaming about this run for a couple of months. At first I did not know if it was physically feasible since I was not familiar with the terrain but now after checking out a couple of maps I know it can be done.

We split up after a fun picnic among goats returning to a nearby farm and magnificent views of the surrounding mountains, Sonia and the kids will head back down the mountain and I am to meet them in two hours at the car down at the train station. I am wearing shorts, a cotton shirt and have a light shell in a small pack together with water and a camera. I am severely under-equipped judging by the outfit and gear that most of the hikers on the trail are sporting: heavy boots, long pants and shells and the vast majority are using two telescopic ski poles (later saw them for $25 each at the village below) as well as packs that seem to be full of something. You’d think they’d all be heading for some grueling 20 mile death march through some glacier moraine, but no, they will all, with no exception, be staying on the trail. There is no question, I am in that zone where tourism and nature uneasily come together, tourists pretend to venture into nature and nature does it’s best to remain well, natural, in spite of the developed trails and braids of sub-trails, the many trail signs and spray painted trail markers and in this particular place, the cog railway…

I set off running up the wide, well worn trail that proves challenging only because of the hordes of tourists on it. The trail climbs continuously, as it nears the first bend I find, to my relief, that the crowd thins out drastically after the initial 200 yards, this is probably due to the fact that the trail starts at 7000 ft and this is a challenging altitude for your average lowlander tourist. I cross a small run off stream and contour around the right side of the rounded arête just as it starts raining. The rain is surprisingly cold and as I stop to put on my shell most of the tourists are reversing their course having had enough nature for a day.

I head up what looks like the bulk of the vertical gain via a couple of switchbacks. I settle in my pace but find it hard to concentrate on the trail since the views to my right are simply unbelievable. I can count at least 6 glaciers in front of me and I am close enough that I can feel the hollow booms that the ice makes as it breaks while slowly making its way down the slope. As I reach the top of the ridge and try to find the correct connecting trail past an alpine restaurant and a small train station the rain stops. I lose time by picking the wrong trail and as I finally find my way, the rain picks up and turns to hail. I briefly consider calling it a day. But the clouds are thin and moving fast and, after all, this is a unique day for me, well worth a soaking and more than likely I will not get another chance to do this tomorrow.

The new trail runs down the opposite side of the ridge and immediately hugs a small rock buttress, this buttress connects with the main objective of my run... I continue running sheltered from the rain by the overhanging rock. This trail is much more primitive than the last one and the crowds have really thinned out to only a few pairs of hikers spread out along the next 2-3 miles of trail. I go down a fair amount only to gain it back by climbing yet another ridge. I reach the top of the ridge and move away from 4 hikers to take it all in. In front of me is the wall I’ve come to see. Due to the cloud cover, I can only see the lower third of the wall, it stretches perhaps a mile wide with the faint trail dropping down diagonally from right to left through the scree slope. I try to make out the features I have read about for years, I struggle to find the historic routes and places. Not without difficulty, I pick out a faint trail that will take me to the wall once I leave the hiking trail. As I speed down the regular trail towards the scouted passage to the wall, I pass a couple of groups of hikers slowly picking their way down with their poles. They look at me with incredulous eyes, is it that I am such a sight, running in the mountains where they struggle to walk? or is it that I simply look like another crazy T-shirt clad, short wearing American doing it’s thing? I tell myself it is probably the later…

The scree is unstable and I struggle to find an easy way to get to the wall quickly. Finally, I stumble onto a faint trial and a few minutes later I am at the foot of the wall. The mountain gods take pity on me, the rain had stopped a while back and the clouds open up allowing 100% visibility of the wall. Suddenly, everything is quiet but for my heart. The hikers are still down there, I can see them looking up at me, wondering how or more importantly why I strayed from the trail and came all the way up here, to this brooding wall.

But I know why… I touch the wet rock, it looks slippery but is amazingly textured, like very fine sand paper. I touch the holds of the first pitch, the first pitch of the Original Route on the Eigerwand. I can’t resist climbing a couple of moves, suddenly I am some 30 ft off the ground climbing with my running shoes on great holds. I am awed at being here. I think of my long time heroes, Terray, Lachenal, Rebuffat, of Messner doing the Eigerwand in a day. I think of the enormous amount of pain and challenge offered by this mountain. “They all grabbed these same holds you know…” says a voice inside my head. I strain my neck to make out as much as of the route as I can but it is futile, the wall is 5000 feet tall and I can only see the first 1000 ft perhaps.

I take picture after picture although I know they will not turn out too good since I am so close to the wall. I touch the rock over and over, I can smell it, each mountain has it’s own smell and the Eiger is no different. I take a few steps on a snow patch near the start, and finally pick up a small rock that was balanced precariously on one of the holds on the first pitch. It’ll sit on the mantle of the chimney at home… The clouds close in, communion time is over, time to head back…

I run back down to the trail. It is easy now since I know the way. I run back to the Kleine Scheidegg station where I started from, past the Eiger glacier station where so many of the epics have begun. I stop only to take shots of the wall as the clouds play games hiding and revealing different sections at a time. As I reach the final stretch I melt again with the river of tourists now out in force since the rain has stopped. At first glace we are no different, why we both came to see the Eiger, but for me this is a very unique experience. For years I have lived on edge reading the writings of the many climbers who have come face to face with the Eigerwand, and now by walking the trail they walked, by touching the stone they touched I feel a connection with them, small and remote but a connection none the less…

Oh yes, the run went well, ran some 2100 vertical feet, I think it must have been some 4-5 miles round trip and the time was, well, that doesn’t really matter since I was busy fondling the wall and letting it all sink in for some time. Let’s just say I was half an hour late meeting my wife and kids…

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