Stunning Alpine Ultra-Marathon

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Dodo Kopold has speed-soloed across the full length of the Tatra Mountains in his home country of Slovakia: a 44-mile winter traverse over 130 peaks, which he completed in 72 hours of nearly nonstop running and climbing.

Little-known in the U.S. and topping out at less than 9,000 feet, the Tatras form a rugged natural border between Poland and Slovakia. These mountains have trained generations of Himalayan climbers, including Kopold, who has done major new routes in Pakistan and Nepal. For years, Kopold has been doing major link-ups in the Tatras, with and without partners.

"Traversing the Western Tatras is a 42-kilometer  snow ridge, then the High Tatras with 26 kilometers of technical rock ridge, and then the Belianske Tatras, which is mostly easy walking," Kopold said. "My idea was to manage a speed solo nonstop traverse without any support." The full traverese of the Western Tatra, High Tatra, and Belianske mountains has only been done once solo and unsupported in winter, by Pavol Pochyly, in 14 days. Kopold's goal was to do it in less than four days.

On January 5 at 4:20 p.m., Kopold began the traverse in the east, warming up on the easy Belianske mountains in excellent conditions, with minimal avalanche danger and temperatures averaging around freezing—the "conditions I was waiting for many, many years," he said. He carried a 30L pack with less than 22 pounds of total weight, including 60m and 30m 5-millimeter ropes, three pitons, ice tools and crampons, helmet, climbing shoes, two headlamps, a stove, a bivy sack, mobile phone, clothes and food.

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By the middle of the first night, he had reached the High Tatra—"harder and harder, with many spires and peaks in Grade III–IV" (approximately 5.3 to 5.5, but in winter conditions). It took him about 48 hours to work through this crux section, climbing and rappelling day and night, before exiting the High Tatra at 11:45 p.m. on January 7. "My plan was to sleep 15 minutes during all my rests, but this plan was not real," he said. "Most of the time I was sweaty, and when I stopped, after few minutes, I started to shake because of the cold. Easier was to move to stay warm." Kopold skipped a few peaks during this section because they were in poor condition and he felt they'd be too dangerous, but he did not leave the ridge.

"In the Tatras there are several places where you can go down to the valley and be at a chalet in one to six hours," Kopold said. "And I can clearly say that this fact is the hardest: not listening to the voices from the safe chalets, ignoring the lure of good food and drinks."

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Instead, Kopold began the third phase of his route: a marathon-distance run across the the snow-covered ridgeline of the Western Tatras. He left all his climbing gear and began running, hoping to finish this last section in 12 hours. Kopold was joined for the last few peaks by some climbers from a mountain rescue team, who gave him some drinks and new motivation, but mostly he traveled alone. On January 8, after exactly 72 hours, he reached the end of the range. He had slept less than 30 minutes during the full traverse.

Kopold said he had spent years working out how to climb nonstop for so long. "The one problem was with sleeping and resting," he said. "That´s why I started to learn more from ultramarathons and sailers—trans-Atlantic solo sailing—what to eat during the endurance sports, how to rest, and many, many things. To know your body as much you can was a main key for this project. And for sure, climbing, running, climbing, running…"

Dates of traverse: January 5–8, 2014

Source: Dodo Kopold