On Friday, 29. June 2018, the Swiss Nicolas Hojac set off on the shores of Lake Maggiore in Ticino for a speed ascent. His goal was to cover the route from the lowest point in Switzerland (Brissago) to the highest point in Switzerland (Dufourspitze) as fast as possible. 4600 altitude, 112 kilometers and 14 hours and two minutes later, Nicolas landed in Zermatt. You will learn more about his ambitious project in the following experience report as well as in the video at the end of the article.

An experience report by Nicolas Hojac

Some time ago I kept hearing from people who tried this project and failed. This piqued my interest. After doing some research on the internet, I found out that probably only one person has made it so far. I started to think about how to approach this project. I didn't just want to get to the highest point, but also to go back down into the valley with the paraglider. On the map I quickly saw that the probably shortest route leads over the Marinelli Couloir to the summit of the Dufourspitze (4634m). I didn't know the route myself, just knew that it was the longest couloir descent in Europe.

Nicolas Hojac checks the weather conditions before starting his speed ascent
Last weather check in the bivouac (Photo Daniel Bleuer - Vertical Pictures).

At the beginning of the ascent, the bottle was already empty

On the 29. June I set off from Brissago on the shores of Lake Maggiore and cycled nearly 100 kilometers across Italy to Macugnaga. This section went smoothly and I was much faster than expected. After 3.5 hours of cycling and a generous break, I switched to the mountain boots and walked in big steps towards the Marinelli hut, which is at the bottom of the Marinelli Couloir. Unfortunately, I calculated my drinking too close and had no more after the hut. A fatal mistake, as it turned out later.

After a break, the bike continued on foot (picture Daniel Bleuer - Vertical Pictures).
After a break, we continued on foot from the bike (Photo Daniel Bleuer - Vertical Pictures).

Catastrophic conditions in the couloir

At the beginning of the couloir the conditions were still pleasant, but that changed quickly. The higher I climbed, the more I sank. The snow became more and more muddy. I was forced to avoid the fragile rocks. With the oncoming fatigue, it was not easy to stay focused. Constantly my bad acclimatization and lack of fluid became noticeable. My strength disappeared, I could no longer swallow and my tongue stuck to my palate. In the end it was a fight against my inner bastard and against the deteriorating conditions. From the silver saddle, however, I was faster again and reached the summit after 12 hours and 57 minutes. After a short breather I got back into the silver saddle, unpacked my paraglider and flew on the most direct route to Zermatt, where I landed 14 hours and 2 minutes.

Racing is certainly not my new passion.

Although this project did not involve any technical difficulties, I soon found it pleasing. Racing is certainly not my passion, but it was exciting to integrate a new discipline into a project. Not only to push his strengths, but to try something different. It was important to me not to make a material depot when climbing to the Marinelli Hut, but to carry paragliders and climbing gear from the valley to the top. Of course, my realization did not go as well as I had imagined, but I still think I'm lucky to have made it.

Video about the speed ascent from the deepest to the highest point in Switzerland

Credits: text Nicolas Hojac, pictures Daniel Bleuer - Vertical Pictures

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