The thin air at the edge of the Matterhorn was cold enough for me to keep my eyes wide open at 3 a.m.
“One step at a time, Trist. You’re stronger than you think,” I thought with an inch of doubt circling back in my head.
There was a little Italian town that was barely visible from the ridge, surrounded by impressive mountains and millions of stars above each one of them. Crampon scratches and the rhythm of my breath were the only sounds I could hear — and it made me quite happy. I didn’t want to be anywhere else in this world.
“One step at a time,” I said.
Sunrise on Pic Tyndall (4241 m).
After a few hours of pure hands-on climbing, the sun woke up to warm up the rock. The wind picked up hard enough that I had to keep a low profile while walking the thin knife’s edge line on Pic Tyndall, a subpeak at 4,200 m. My 3 layers quickly became insufficient enough for the high alpine conditions.
At 7:14 a.m., my biggest dream became true. I started the 3-foot-long walk along the summit of the Matterhorn, the fifth deadliest mountain in the world. I couldn’t stop looking all around me, I was surrounded by the most wonderful landscape. I was filled with wonder at how any of this is even possible.
I had just reached my unreachable.
Summit ridge on the Matterhorn (4,478 m).
Us Against the World
Dreaming can be brutal. It often demands patience, sacrifice, and a fairly good set of brass you-know-what. For me, only an entire year had to suffice to plan this 30-day adventure in the heart of the Alps.
But where does the drive come from? Only a couple years earlier, climbing the Matterhorn would have been this impossible wish for me — one that only the best climbers could dream of doing. Then … a storm happened — the kind of storm that alters your entire mind, your spirit, and your personality. Hiding became my first immediate response to this life event, but that eventually forced me to exit this black hole even stronger than I was before — without limits to my dreams and purpose. This storm made me realize how important it is to set meaningful goals in life while you still have the time and conviction to make them come true.
Out of this mindset came a list of personal challenges that would put myself in the most beautiful situations I could possibly dream of. Mountains, loneliness, and music were the perfect combination to help me reach the highest level of perfection I’ve found in my life so far; that and a full year of preparation to create what is now called The Eternal Run — a personal challenge to run/climb 30 peaks above 3,000 m in 30 days in Zermatt, Switzerland.
The Matterhorn (4,478 m).
The Eternal Run by Numbers
TOTAL PEAKS: 50
- 3,000+ m PEAKS: 34
- 4,000+ m PEAKS: 11
- FAILED ATTEMPTS: 2
- % OF SUCCESS: 96.2%
- ELEVATION GAINED: 44,120 m
- DISTANCE COVERED: 450 km
- HIGHEST POINT: 4,478 m
- DAYS SPENT IN THE MOUNTAINS: 24
Couldn’t get colder than this at 4,164 m!
Break the Ice — As Hard as You Can!
At 4 p.m., I pulled my duffel bag out of the car and started organizing and packing my 35L backpack with camping, climbing, and mountaineering gear along with 3 kg of food and 5L of water. It was 41°C outside. I had a hard time breathing and my ears were still adjusting from the 8-hour flight that I was just on less than 4 hours ago.
“Here we go, Trist,” I said out loud in an attempt to motivate myself to officially start my trip with a 5-hour approach hike in late afternoon.
This first day was one of the hardest to date for obvious reasons, but I pushed through it. I reached the bivy site at 8 p.m. and went to sleep straight away. I only had a 24-hour window to summit, so I didn’t have room for any mistakes on my first day. The next morning’s 4 a.m. wake-up call and a 3-hour glacier walk allowed me to reach the 4,000 m goal the first time in my life. From 20 m in Montreal to 4,153 m in Switzerland in only 27 hours.
Now, I was really on track to live the most amazing month of my life.
At sunrise, on my way to my very first 4,000 m peak.
Under the Storm
I knew some peaks on my list were just completely out of reach. I admit that, but it didn’t keep me from packing my tent and finding out for myself. One of them is located about a day out from any main road. My original plan to tackle it failed along the main route to the top. My only choice was to improvise! I left basecamp with camping and climbing gear, lots of food, and hopes of find a way to the summit. I was determined.
Managing the potential for weather can require trade-offs. Bypassing the safest routes and ignoring other basic survival tactics can easily get your mindset turned in the wrong direction — resulting in bad decisions and possibly life-threatening situations. I took a day to investigate, but my food supply decreased faster than I anticipated. I then came up with the most stupid idea ever. I pitched my tent, left my backpack inside and went for the quickest summit push of my life with only my GPS and two bars in my pockets.
“Pizzas as soon as I come back into civilization,” I thought as I ran alongside the glacier.
My objective: the mountain on the far-left side.
The Hornet Elite 1P handled the situation perfectly during the storm that night, though the driving wind and rain kept me awake from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., desperately trying to hold everything into place.
It was truly an incredible way to face your deepest fears, I’m telling you.
The Hornet Elite 1P after the storm.
A Life-Saving Gear List
Choosing the right gear for this kind of adventure is truly one of the best ways to guarantee not only success, but your survival as well. Being sure it’ll hold off the worst weather in the highest alpine conditions — that’s when experience comes into place. Otherwise, it’s simply blind trust.
I have long subscribed to the NEMO philosophy that sleep shouldn’t be compromised at all costs. I have always found that better sleep helps you feel better and perform better physically, but more importantly, it helps you make the right decisions. Up here, alone in the Alps, those decisions often meant the difference in me being here today to tell this story.
That’s why I was equipped with the NEMO’s Losi 3P as my base camp tent along with the coziest sleeping bag and pad from NEMO (see below for the complete gear list). This equipment allowed me to fully recover from every single day out in the mountains, which made a huge difference throughout the adventure.
Sleepy morning in the Swiss backcountry with the Switchback.
NEMO Gear list:
- Hornet™ Elite 1P tent
- Losi ™ 3P tent
- Kayu ™15° sleeping bag
- Vector™ sleeping pad
- Switchback™ sleeping pad
Top 5 Essentials:
Learning Is All About Making Mistakes
Let’s be honest — projects like this one are emotionally hard to take on, especially when you’re alone to deal with everything. Injuries, weather, days that didn’t go as planned, route finding — all of this circles around in your head to make sure you stay focused … because your life depends on it. And sometimes … it’s just too much to take on.
Close to the end of my trip, I was running down a ridge after a successful summit. That day was the hottest of all at 42°C, with absolutely no wind to make it cooler. I had accumulated over 40,000 m in my legs by now, endured a couple of hard climbs, and spent lots of sleepless nights from stress. My mind was at its lowest point and I could feel it. I kept my body at cruise control the whole day, but still ran a few downhill parts to reach the end as fast as possible to make sure I didn’t run out of water.
It took me longer than usual to notice the mother and child coming at me in the opposite direction. I was caught off guard and barely had time to diverge from the path. When I lunged to the side, my foot slipped out and I ended up jumping straight toward a 2,000-foot drop. My hand caught a root on the edge and I was just able to stop my fall. It would have been, at that instant … GAME OVER. To hear the little boy clapping his hands while laughing at me made it all the more surreal, but also a bit less brutal.
Endless ridge in the heart of the Alps.
I understood, at that moment, how important it is to listen to your body and accept the tiredness you might be feeling. “Rest one day to be stronger the next” is a basic rule, but an important one to keep in mind at all times.
Dreaming Is Important
How many times did I visualize myself in Switzerland, running down a ridge with the sun slowly making its way down behind the mountains? Thousands. Dreaming can be wonderful, indeed. Now that it’s done, much has changed for me. I look at the world through a different eye, an eye that has seen terrible situations and speechless views, an eye that cried from pure pain and unique emotions. I learned throughout the month to never take life for granted.
We all need our storm to wake us up and change our own perspective, and who knows, maybe even find a passion that will push us out of our comfort zone and seek new levels of accomplishment!
Resting at 3,800 m after a failed attempt on a 4,000 m peak.
We all have dreams that keep us awake at night. The hardest part, however, is to make them come true. The struggles and responsibilities of daily life usually are too important to be ignored or shoved to the side, and that often forces us to just accept our dreams to be unattainable wishes. But in some cases, when you work hard enough, they do come true — and I think that’s one of the most beautiful feelings you can have in this world.
The fifth deadliest mountain in the world.
Dreaming is important and living them is a wonderful experience. There is an enormous world out there, and it’s beautiful. Find a passion. Do it as much as possible. Live your life to the fullest. Don’t stop. Ever.
Switzerland above the clouds.
- 2017: Challenge 1 (Canmore, AB, Canada)
- 2018: Challenge 2 (Chamonix, France)
- 2019: Challenge 3, The Eternal Run (Zermatt, Switzerland)
- 2020: Challenge 4 (in preparation, but it will be amazing so stay tuned @trist.hogue!)
Tristan Hogue is a mountain enthusiast, student, and a Montreal-based trail runner. He hopes to inspire others to live their dreams by exposing himself to unique and challenging projects around the world. Follow him on Instagram at @trist.hogue.