Wednesday, January 23, 2014
Black Diamond athlete Dodo Kopolod traverses 72 km Tatras ridgeline and summits 130 peaks in a non-stop 72-hour solo effort.
“Tatra mountains. Western, High and Belianske. They are connected by 72 km long ridge. 134 peaks and spires create bold and logical line. Traversing the ridge is a serious undertaking. If it´s climbed pure alpine style, climb all the peaks, don´t descend to the valleys and don´t use support team of supplies carried up in advance. No one has ever done it this way in summer. In winter, Tatras mountains are much more difficult. They can be unpredictable and dangerous but yet harshly beautiful.“
Short history of the winter traverse:
• Polish climbers make the first attempts in the 1950’s.
• Slovaks made the first winter traverse of the ridge in 1952 (Kluvánek, Kele, Lehotský, Mereš, Psotka).
• In 1979, Pavol Pochyly made the only solo traverse of the ridge without support and in winter. Hi did it in 14 days.
• In 1997 Plulík managed a winter solo of High Tatras traverse (didn´t climbed Western and Belianky) in 50 hours.
• In 2013, the Western, High and Belianske Tatras were climbed in alpine style by Michal Sabovčík and Adam Kadlečík in 15 days.
A speed solo of Tatras’ main ridge was my multi-year project—traversing Western Tatras 42 km snow ridge, then the High Tatras with 26 km of technical rock ridge in grade around V and Belianske Tatras, which is mostly easy walking. My idea was for a speed solo nonstop traverse without any support. Climb and run light using only minimum of the climbing gear though terrain that I climbed before only in parts.
Conditions in Tatras during the early winter season in December and January 2013/14 were very dry, had no avalanche risk, perfect weather and warm. Temperatures were around 0°C and up to 3°C during the day with light wind. I had been waiting for these conditions for many, many years.
My first attempt at crossing Tatras was ten years ago, but that time I wanted to connect ten North faces in the logical line from east to west. We failed because of the weather. Then several more attempts failed again because I was too slow or the avalanche risk was high. This kind of project normally takes ten days, which is too long. Ten days of good weather and conditions can be had only in dreams. That’s why I wanted to be faster and tried to manage this project in minimum time. To be faster means not just being a faster climber or faster runner. To save the time, you cannot sleep during the nights. You have to have a good luck and perfect conditions.
The idea to climb non-stop has been around a long time. One problem was sleeping and resting. That´s why I started to learn more from ultra-marathons and sailors who did trans Atlantic solo sailing. I learned what to eat during the endurance sports, how to rest and many, many things. To know your body as well you can was a main key for this project’s last years—and lot of climbing, running, climbing and running.
On 5th January I was ready to go for my biggest challenge ever. To traverse Tatras ridge from east to west connected by 72 km long ridge non-stop. For me it´s a challenge like never before in my life. I was ready to climb and run 80 hours. I was ready to push my limits to maximum.
In my 30-liter pack I carried only two 5 mm x 30 m and 60 m long cords, 2 HMS carabiners, 3 pitons, 2 ice axe, crampons, 2 headlamps, a stove, light sticks, maps, sunglass, a helmet, one pair of socks and gloves, a light down jacket, light waterproof jacket and pants, climbing shoes, mobile phone and emergency bivy sack. My food – 5x MG Fast gel, 9x energy bar, energy drops 20 tabs, 5x K4 power, 4x Multipower Mg liquid, 10x Cytomax energy drink, 3x soups, 3x small bread with butter and ham, 2x 120g dry meat. Less then 10kg!
At 4.20 p.m. I started with easy running through Belianske Tatras with 11 peaks. It was a good warm up before the hardest part 26 km into the technical High Tatras. At 10.20 p.m. I climbed easily up to Jahňací štít thanks to good snow conditions. But then, the traverse gets harder and harder with climbing over spires and peaks at grade III-V UIAA, with much down climbing and rappelling from fixed gear. My main plan was to climb all peaks on ridge. To climb all small spires was not so important.
After all-night climbing without any rest I was feeling good. Sunny weather the next day gave me a new energy and I enjoyed one of the most beautiful parts of Tatras. I met some people on summits descending down to challets. I think the hardest part of Tatras was to leave the beer and continue another two days with only with energy drinks 🙂
At 2 a.m. I was climbing a very difficult ridge on Kačací štít. It´s very technical, and I started to feel tired. From this place you cannot descend. You have to climb it all or retreat, which is essentially the same. I wanted to sleep, my body was shaking and my mind was empty. It was my first personal crisis during this ultra-marathon. I was not able to think clearly, and time to time I was sleeping during the climbing which was very dangerous. I didn´t know how but somehow I finished this part. I drank a little but I was not able to sleep. My plan was to sleep 15 minutes during the all my rests but this plan was not real. Most of the time I was sweating and when I stopped I would start to shake from the cold after a few minutes. It was easier to move and stay warm.
I had started on Sunday evening. On Tuesday morning after a horrible night I decided not to climb a few peaks on the ridge. Rumanov štít, Ganek and Ťažký štít. Not because of the difficulty, but they weren’t in good conditions and I decided that it was too dangerous. Anyway, I continued with climbing the last long part of High Tatras which took me another full day until the late night.
At 11.45 p.m. on Kasprov vrch, after more then 50 hours of nonstop climbing and running, I finally finished Belianske and High Tatras mountains. I was exhausted and I wanted to descend down to the hotel, which was easy to manage from this place with around six hours of easy, but long, walking.
In Tatras there are several places where you can go down to the valley. There are chalets you can get to in one-to-six hours, and from any place you can call rescue from a mobile phone. I can clearly say that this is a hard fact of these mountains. Don’t listen the voices from the safe chalets, and ignore the smells of good food and drinks. After 3 nights without sleep it´s very difficult to stay and continue.
Western Tatras is long, and I knew this. We can say that it´s like a mountain marathon. It’s about 40-km long! Last year my friends crossed Western Tatras in 3 days, but I wanted to do it like a runner in around 12 hours, which was not realistic this time even though conditions were perfect. I was exhausted, so I decided to leave my climbing gear on the ridge and go as light as possible to start the night running.
At 6.26 a.m. I sent a massage to my friends: “I’m on Volovec, I feel totally exhausted.” And then I just moved my body to the summits of more peaks in the Western Tatras. Some of the peaks I just crossed 5-10 meters below the summit because I was unable to think clearly.
I met some climbers on ridge but I do not remember if I was talking with them or not. In the afternoon I saw some guys from mountain rescue. I was happy. They gave me some drink, new energy and motivation. We climbed the last few easy peaks together.
At 4.20 p.m., after 72 hours of nonstop climbing and running, I finally finished this ultra-marathon that had never been done before. I was happy. My multi-years project was finally finished. You can safety close your eyes, go sleep and eat how much you can. It’s over.
I woke up in a strange state. My body was destroyed but still moving. I don’t understand why I could see so clearly, why I can see my body’s energy, why I crying and shaking. My mind is empty. I don´t clearly remember what happened last few days. I have something like hang over. I can´t stay on one place and I still have to move somewhere. I fell better in the car. I want to sleep but I cannot.
I contacted my doctor but I still fell strange. During the day I have a hung-over feeling and my body burns. After seven days I feel normal for the first time. But still I don’t understand what happened to me during the last days.
Now I know that during this mountain ultra-marathon in Tatras I reached my limits. Maybe I was past my personal limits, too. There are still many things which I don´t understand. Why didn´t call rescue earlier? Why didn’t I descend from Kasprov vrch when I was totally exhausted? Why didn’t I sleep in when I was exhausted? Where was all the energy inside me to keep my faith to finish this project?
In 72 hours I slept less then 30 minutes, climbed around 130 peaks and traversed three ridges at around 2000 meters. I was in contact with my family, a cameraman and a friend. I sent four massages about my state and position but I didn´t call to anyone. Only on the last part of the ridge was I with anyone else.
I would like to thank all who helped me and joined in on the way down from the ridge as well as my friends who believed in me and to all who gave me all the support during the last years. Because this project is now finished I can continue with other big projects and new experiences. I think that knowing your body and your mind is the secret to the next level of adventure. So now I know, real adventure has no limits.