I recently took part in the second edition of the Patrouille des Aiguilles Rouge, a ski mountaineering race starting in Arolla and finishing in Evolène in the Valais region of the Swiss alps, known as the Val d’Hérens, between Zermatt and Chamonix.
I visited the area two years ago when the race came into existence and wrote about that trip here.
My teammate and I originally entered the petit version of the race: + 2000m including 2 portages (requiring you to carry your skis and boot pack with crampons ice axe etc. ) and a section where you ski roped together. The longer version is + 2700m – starting in Arolla and heading to Evolène, via the Roussette, the Aiguilles-Rouges glacier, the Pointe de Darbonnaire, the Vouasson glacier, and finish off on the Pic d’Artsinol.
However, the Foehn wind in the South of the Alps as well as snow overnight and the low visibility forecast for Sunday morning meant the organisers modified the route so we departed from Arolla, headed to La Roussette, Darbonnaire, Lac Bleu and finished at Satarma. There was just one course and we could leave our rope, harness and ice axe at home- probably a good thing as we probably wouldn’t have made the cut off time. We decided not to splash out on expensive lightweight kit and used our normal heavy ‘ freeride’ touring kit instead- it being our first race and not knowing if it would be something we’d do again, it seemed pointless spending money just yet…..
However, it ( obviously) really did make a different- even my relatively light K2 Talkbacks slowed me down right from the start…. ( that’s my excuse anyway) and we must have lost between 5-10 minutes on each transition too – however, thanks to the fact the race was shorter, we made the cut off point with half an hour to spare… and trudged up the last 500m wondering when the uphill would all be over….
However, apart from an initial really nice powdery ski down at the top, the snow got choppy and sparse making for a difficult ski down, finished by about 1km walk down through the mud and trees…..
But we did get some amazing views as the cloud burned away- of the areas main peaks -the Dent Blanche (4357m) – often you can even see the Matterhorne from Evolene.
So despite the slog- it did became enjoyable, and I’m very glad we had a go. I will definitely be back- this time with proper skimo kit and transition training!