Running on Mt. Etna

In October 2016, my personal running season came to a successful end. Back in Sweden,  long training sessions along the icy-cold beach at the coastline awaited me. How was I supposed to stay motivated to go for training runs before breakfast? That is when a friend asked if I want to run on Mt. Etna in December. The idea was to plan an ambitious project that keeps us pushing during the dark winter hours. After some research, we picked a route from the sea all the way to the summit; an estimated 30 kilometres distance with an elevation gain of 3,500 metres. It was the perfect challenge and we decided to give it a try. So we booked flights to Italy, made sure we were properly acclimatised, and had enough rest prior to the run.


When checking the weather the night before the challenge, our plans started to fall apart. The temperature on the summit was going to drop down to -20ΒΊ Celsius. Reaching the top was not our main objective anymore. Running above 2,500 metres was going to be extremely difficult for us. Snow and ice dominated the upper part of Mt. Etna. Back to the map, we sketched out a new route until late that night. Early next day, we started somewhere outside of Catania. The course went only uphill from there. First, we had to tackle some 500 metres of elevation gain on technical terrain.  Then, the rocky trail turned into an icy ridge. Easy trail running became strenuous climbing. It took hours to cover short distances. We faced the truth and abandoned our project midway. Instead of climbing further up, we finished at the Rifugio Giovanni Sapienza. Over a cup of coffee, we enjoyed the spectacular sunset before heading down to Catania by car. We failed but I promise to come back Mt. Enta!


Climbing Lobouche East Peak

After climbing Island Peak, I felt very confident about summiting Lobouche East Peak. The hike from Island Peak Base Camp to Lobouche High Camp gave me some time to recover from the strenuous climb. Earlier than expected, our team arrived at camp and we started to set up the tents when the weather turned its back on us. It started to snow so that we went inside our sleeping bags and did not leave them until the middle of the following night. The weather did not change, but we agreed to give it a try. Getting to crampon point was more difficult than on Island Peak. The hike was shorter, but low visibility gave us a hard time finding the way. From there, we continued until we reached our next big objective. A 400 metres high face leading all the way to the summit. Being one of the first teams to climb Lobouche East Peak in autumn 2016, no ropes had been fixed yet. We analysed the final stretch and decided to keep to the right side due to the risk of avalanches. Pema took the lead and I followed him wheezing through the thin air. It was tough but more enjoyable than the climb on Island Peak. When we arrived at the summit, I felt extremely exhausted. All distant peaks were lulled in clouds; Everest and Lhotse remained hidden. However, experiencing the Nepalese Himalayas in perspective was totally worth the journey despite all the pain and suffering.


The Beauty of Island Peak

In the middle of the night, I wake up to start my adventure for climbing Island Peak. My body is shivering and my head is hurting, but I knew that it will get better as soon as I start moving. I force myself to drink some tea and eat some porridge before I go off into the darkness, following the poorly lit spot of my head torch. After some hours of strenuous hiking and easy climbing, I reach the crampon point. It is time for a short break and to rope up. I am feeling strong and am motivated. As we continue our way up, the sun is rising and colours all surrounding peaks in bright red. I come to believe that I can climb the final 200 metres of steep snow and ice within less than half an hour to see the sun crossing the horizon. Soon, I start to realise that it is far fetched. Every step up the mountain takes a huge effort. Cold air is painfully filling my lungs with every breath. Two hours later, I find myself on top of Island Peak (6,189 m). Sunrise is long gone. The view is amazing though. Right in front of me, the north face of Lhotse (8,516 m) is breaking through the clouds. All pain and suffering is forgotten. A truly impressive mountainscape.