History of Competitions in the mountains
- Trail Running
- USSR Alpinism Competitions
- Ski Mountaineering
- Sport Climbing
- Ice Climbing
Although athletics races were disputed since ancient Greece, these were often disputed in stadiums. The first time recorded that a few men ran in the mountains with the aim of arriving first that the others with common rules for all the runners was in Scotland the year 1040, when the king Malcom Canmore organized a Hill Race in Braemar with the aim of selecting its postman’s. Surely this was the first competition (with some rules of the game) that was played in the mountain. In this case, although it was not the goal of survival, but getting a job, we still can’t talk about an activity motivated just for the pleasure of doing it.
During the following centuries we found references in the use of runners to bring messages and mail, from Filípides in ancient Greece to the American Indians in the eighteenth century working for mail companies that could travel up to 150km between Canadaigua and Niagra. Running and runners were used as a means of transport.
It is not until the 19th Century that the first competitions in the mountain started on a regular basis, for the sole reason of pleasure, and it was again in the UK. During the first half of the 19th century in Scotland and England, several fell races were born, usually in short distances, between 2 and 5 kilometers, in 1820 trail running appears as a discipline in the outdoor games “Hare and Hounds”. In 1824 a fellrace in Whitworth Moor, in 1832 Braemar Gathering (6km,310m), in 1845 is the first edition of the Alva Games (1,6km, 400m) and 2 years after fellraces at Lothersdale, Burnsall, Grasmere, Hallam Chase…
In 1895 a race The Ben Nevis Race was born. Starting at Fort William, the runners must go up to Ben Nevis, the highest peak in Scotland, and run down, with 16 kilometers and 1500 meters of altitude, establising itself as the benchmark since then of the emergent fell running to United Kingdom.
Also in the aim of the search for the performance, but beside the oficial competitions in 1864, Reverend J.M Eliot of Cambridge linked the summits around the church at the head of Whasdale in 8 hours and a half.
In the following years, runners from the Lakes District increased that distance, linking more and more peaks in one day. Thus in 1870, Thomas Watson traveled 70 kilometers climbing 3000 meters and at the beginning of the twentieth century Johnson de Carlisle reached 110 kilometers and 5500 meters, It will be Dr. Wakefield from the village of Keswick, in the heart of the Lake District, who will run the same circuit in 1905 faster and will establish the codes that encompass the essential challenge, to cross the maximum peaks of more than 2000 feet on foot and return to the starting point in 24 hours, establishing this starting point in the center of Keswick. This would lay the foundations of the movement that appeared during the following decades, where runners begin to run connecting the fells or munros, the hills that dominate the country, from North Scotland to Wales. In 1932, Bob Graham links in 24 hours 42 fells in Lake District starting one of the best-known circuits or “round” in the fell running: the Bob Graham Round.
Fell running popularity keep increasing and national championships started to be organized since the 30’s, as well as the most famous races like Ben Nevis or the Three Peaks Race with the marathon distance. During the late 30’s and the beginning of the 40’s Charles Wilson will be the great dominator, while in the following years Dave Spencer and Peter Hall will take over.
In 1970 a Fell Running Association was established to manage the races and decide the national calendars and the next year the Bob Graham Club is born with all the members who had finish the route in less than 24 hours.
In those years, Jeff Norman, Olympic at the marathon in 76, won 6 times in the Three Peaks race and set numerous long distance records in the Lakes District, and Dave Cannon, winner of the Paris Marathon in 1980, dominates the races at Ben Nevis. It is precisely Cannon who will help in the transition from fells to asphalt one of the most outstanding runners, Kenny Stuart. Stuart who ran the marathon distance in 2h 11 minutes in 1986 was the winner of the Ben Nevis or Snowdon races battled with his rival John Wild or the first International Mountain Championship in Italy in 1985. A year before he set a record for the Ben Nevis race that has not yet been beaten. That same year, Pauline Haworth also set a strained female record breaking the hegemony (7 wins) of Ros Coats, who established a female record for Bob Graham Round.
In the early XX century, mountain guides and running clubs from mountain areas start to organize races to the summits. In 1904, in the French Pyrenees, the first edition of the Course du Vignemale was disputed, a year after, also in the pyrenees the Championat du Canigou, races in spain took place in Basque country in 1912 with the Pagasarri Cup in Bilbao, Copa Sant Llorenç in Catalonia in 1914, or the races that Alpine club of Peñalara organizes in Madrid with the Guadarrama tour since 1916, Copa del Hierro in 1923 and Copa 3 refugios in 1927.
In Italy, the beginnings of mountain running took place during the first half of XX century. In 1922 is the first edition of the famous Ivrea-Mombarone and the following years numerous small races among villages in the mountain regions of the Aosta Valley or Piemonte started.
Since then, the movement did not stop growing. If in Great Britain the Fell Running was a consolidated sport, practiced and regulated for years, in the rest of Europe races were becoming more popular in mountain areas. During the fifties many races appear, Giir di Mont (1961), Trofeo Malonno (1963) or the Bianchi memorial (1963) in Italy, the Besseggløpet (1961) and uphill races as Stoltzzekleiven opp (1979) a 800m distance race with 300 meters of elevation in Bergen, both in Norway and the Lidingoloppet in Sweden, which in the first edition, in the year 1965, had already 644 participants who didn’t stop to increase edition after edition until more than 15,000 today. In Switzerland, there were long races such as Le Tour des Dents du Midi with 53 kilometers (1963), and shorter ones between villages from the bottom of the valley to small villages or mountain cabins, as the Trophée des Combins (1967), Ovornnaz-Rambert (1976), Tour d’Hérémence (1977) among many others, and the one that is without a doubt the most well-known, the race of Sierre-Zinal that was disputed for the first time in 1973.
In Italy, mountain races were generally shorter and both ascent or ascent and descent without high elevations and began to be organized in committees, such as the CROMA in the Aosta valley founded in 1975 joining the races in regional circuits and cups. In France, races such as the Cross du Mont Blanc (1979), the Montée du Grand Ballon (1981) were pioneers, and in Germany (Berglauf in 1974), Austria and Slovenia (Smarna Gora 1979) the first uphill races would also appear.
In the United States, after the naturist John Muir run up Mount Shasta, 4322 meters in 1874, many runners wanted to climb faster, a few years later, in 1883, Harry Babcock did it in less than 4 hours and during the 1920s there were numerous runners to try the challenge. First Norman Clyde lowering at 3 hours and then Barney McCoy set another record that staid until 1925 when an official race took place. David Lawyer won the first edition and set a new record that was not beaten until 1985 when Robert Webb dropped for the first time under 2 hours.
One of the first trail races was the Dipsea Race in San Francisco in 1905, a 7 mile and a half race leaving Mill Valley and climbing the mountain before going down to Stinson Beach, the curious thing about this race is that a handicap system is applied: The youngest, children’s of 6 or 7 years old, or the eldest, 80 years old, will be the first to start, and gradually runners will start until the elite, who leave the last ones. In this way, the fight for victory gives the same possibilities to all, being won from children of 8 years old to grandparents or world elite’s.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the passion of mountain running stretches all over the world, where races begin to emerge climbing up and down the most emblematic peaks of each region; in 1908 the Mount Marathon in Alaska was born, in 1911 Mount Baker marathon in the state of Washington, in 1913 also in Japan with the Mount Fuji mountain race … The origin of these races usually starts at the pub or place of the village, where two friends were betting if one of them would be able to climb to the summit that is behind in less time. And after a duel, the challenge becomes an open race to everyone.
During the 1930s uphill races start to be popular in the United States, such as the Pikes Peak Ascent, Mount Washington race or Mount Shasta race, and in the fifties the movement gained strength in the United States with the birth of the Pikes Peak Marathon, this race follows the route of its little “sister” the ascent, who had been held since 1936, From the village of Manitou Springs to the summit of the Pikes Peak, 4302 meters and once reached the summit, runners turn halfway back to Manitou Springs, on a 42-kilometer, 195-meter course. This was one of the oldest marathons in America. In August 1956, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the most famous mountain in Colorado, Dr. Arne Suominen, a veteran Finnish marathon champion and strongly critical of the use of tobacco, challenged smokers and non-smokers to run up and down to the top, to prove that smoking was a important factor of physical abilities loss. Of the 13 runners that took part, only 3 were smokers, including Lou Wille, who, after smoking two packs a day, had won the Ascent race several times by the end of the 30’s. Lou came out like a rocket and arrived to the summit in front of Suominen. Even so, in the long descent, he could not stand the pace and had to quit, like the rest of the smokers. Suominen said pleased at the arrival “I proved what I wanted, I finished the race and none of the smokers did it!”
The race was the first marathon in the United States to open participation to women since the first edition, but it was not until the fourth edition in 1959 that a woman, Arlene Pieper, finished the marathon, becoming the first woman to officially finish a marathon in the American soil.
During the fifties the great dominator was Calvin Hansen with 5 victories and in the 60’s Steve Gachupin with 6 wins. During the seventies, the cross-country runner Rick Trujillo had a promising future competing for the University of Colorado but preferred the mountains to the stadiums. “This (see how fast I could climb up to a mountain) is the only reason to run.” From the heart of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, Rick train from very young, in the passes and summits around 4000 meters, and since he started racing he began winning, becoming the most influential American mountain runner during that decade and winning 5 times Pikes Peak and starting other courses like the Imogene Pass run in his beloved San Juan Mountains or the race at Crested Butte. Rick Trujillo was also one of the pioneers in mountain ultra running, when in the 90s he won 100-mile races such as the Hardrock 100 or linked the 52 peaks of more than 14,000 feet (4,000 meters) of Colorado in just 15 days.
80’s An International Sport
It was at the beginning of the 80s when the races began to be internationalized. Until then the participation in mountain races was mostly local or national with a few exceptions, but in the eighties this changed radically with runners traveling from north to south of Europe or crossing the Atlantic to compete.
At the beginning of this decade the American Pablo Vigil would come to the old continent to race and win up to 4 times Sierre Zinal (1979-.1982) establishing new records that would not be surpassed until the Swiss Pierre-André Gobet, author of the Mont Blanc record in 5 hours will win in his local race in 1989.
It was the year 1984 that the Committee for Mountain Running was created to manage the mountain running at an international level, later becoming the WMRA, the world mountain running association. This committee will organize from then on a world championship, where in the first edition celebrated in Italy the englishman and fell runner Kenny Stuart will be the first mountain running world champion.
In the 1980s, Colombians came strong into mountain running world. This races with a format of around 10 kilometers and not very technical give them the possibility to show its full potential. Jairo Correa was the dominant, with a victory for the world champions and two in Sierre Zinal of the 5 conquered by his compatriots from Colombia. Among women, the dominance of these races was the alternation between the French Isabelle Guillot, Veronique Billat and Marie Subot and the englishwomen Sally Goldsmith and Veronique Marot, who was also the fastest woman to run a road marathon in the 80s, with her victories and world records in Chicago and London.
In the 90’s, while in England, Ian Holmes, winner of the race at Ben Nevis 4 times and fell running championships and a doublet at the Climbathon in Malaysia, a race that since 1984 went up and down in the jungle and the granite walls to the top of Mount Kinabalu over 4000 meters in Borneo island, an American, an Italian and a Mexican disputed the global hegemony. Ricardo Mejia, was a small Mexican of just over one meter fifty able to run on any slope, and during the 1990s he got nothing more and nothing less than five wins at Sierre Zinal and five more at Pikes Peak Marathon among many other victories. Matt Carpenter, living in Manitou Springs, make up to twelve victories in the home race, reaching a stratospheric record in 3 hours and 16 minutes to complete the 42 kilometers of the Pikes Peak Marathon, beating on the way the uphill record, still untouchable today.
Mejia and Carpenter joined the Skyrunners who had begun traveling the world by organizing races going up the most emblematic peaks.
It was 1991 when Marino Giacometti, alpinist and runner from Valtellina, organized the first race of ascent and descent to Mont Blanc summit from Courmayeur, although that edition won by the alpine guide and skialpinist Adriano Greco had opnly three participants initiated a movement that did not stopped growing. In 1993, when Carpenter achieved his record at Pikes Peak, Giacometti organized the first edition of the Fila Skyrunner Throphy, where with the mentioned runners and Italians Fabio Meraldi or Bruno Brunod began to race-record at the most emblematic summits of the world: Mont Rosa skymarathon (1993) and Mont Kenya for Meraldi, Aconcagua for the trio Meraldi, Brunod and Jean Pellissier, Matterhorn and Mont Elbert for Bruno Brunod, Castle Peak for Carpenter, Breithorn and Ecrins for Pellissier or Iztaccihuati volcano for Mejia. They also performed flat marathon’s in hight altitude where Carpenter ran the distance in less than 3 hours at 4300 meters high and 3 hours 22 minutes at 5000 meters in Tibet.
Under this movement and Marino’s federation FSA (Federation for Sport at Altitude – 1995) they also started organizing the first vertical kilometers in Italy, looking for the steepest routes to climb 1000 meters of elevation as fast as possible, and the first competitions with a very technical character, where one had to use ropes, glide in snow fields or scrambling like Sentiero 4 Luglio, Trofeo KIMA, Sentiero delle Grigne, or the race to the summit of Aneto. In 1995 the first Skyrunning world championships were disputed in Cervinia on a race going up in the glaciers to the summit of Breithorn, of more than 4000 meters, and going down showing the runners sliding on the ass in the glacier to go faster. In a fierce battle between Mexicano Mejia and the valley runner Brunod, the Italian used his downhill abilities to become the first winner. Finally, at the beginning of the 2000s, the appearance of new mountain races of this style spread throughout the world, with races such as the Zegama-Aizkorri, Dolomites Skyrace, Maratón Alpino Madrileño… It was then that the Skyrunning began the Wold Series grouping races of this style throughout the world, from the Climbathon in Malaysia to Zegama. Catalan Agustí Roc, Ricardo Mejia or the English champion Rob Jebb and the French Corinne Favre and the English Angela Mudge among women were the dominants during the first years of the 2000’s.
In one of these first races of Skyrunning, in 1996, from the town of Alagna in Piedmont to the summit of Mont Rosa, about 4600 meters high, took part a 16-year-old boy trained by Adriano Greek. This adolescent was Marco De Gasperi and would be one of the great dominators of short mountain races (WMRA) at the beginning of the XXI century.
Marco de Gasperi was a strong uphill runner and one of the best downhillers and this allowed him to reach up to 5 world titles, the same amount as New Zealand’s Jonathan “Jono” Wyatt. In fact, both of them alternated on time in each mountain running world championship, the up and down for Marco and the uphill for Jonathan. Jono was a strong runner, getting the New Zeland records of 5,000, 10,000 meters on track and half marathon and participated in the Olympic games in Altanta and Sidney in the 10.000m and marathon. Despite its qualities in the flat, Jono was able to transport this quality to the uphills, where he was almost unbeatable. So, in 2001 he was the first and only one to get under 2:30 hours in the race of Sierre Zinal.
Among women, in WMRA, after the domination during the 90’s of Swiss Isabella Moretti it was the English Angela Mudge and the Czech Anna Pichrtová who dominated the mountain races, from Skyrunning to Sierre Zinal.
Since 2010 Trail running was more specialist oriented. When in WMRA the format of around 10km up and up and down races were followed by long distance’s up to marathon format in non technical terrains, in Skyrunning, athletes specialize in Classical Skyraces, where Kilian Jornet, Luis Alberto Hernando or Marco De Gasperi were winning the most important races in the men and Emmanuela Brizzio, Emelie Forsberg and Maite Maiora among women. In Vertical Kilometers, italian Urban Zemmer was the first man to go unde 30 minutes and french Christel Dewalle and Laura Orgué dominate.
In the tradition of running through the mountains, the British have been undoubtedly pioneers. The search for human limits and inner exploration drove during the second half of 18th century runners to explore how far they could run. In 1759, Georges Guest run 1000 miles in 28 days in Birmingham, 3 years after Foster Powell did the 100 miles distance in 21h35 and the same year 120 miles under 24 hours and 50 miles in 7 hours. In 1873 he run 400 miles from London to York and back. By the end of the 18th century, and especially with the growth of the popular press, this long distance challenges gained attention, and were labelled “pedestrianism”. Powell and other runners as John Barrett and Robert Barclay (who run 110 miles in 19 hr 27 min in a muddy parkin 1801 and 1000 miles in 1000 hours for 1000 guineas in 1809), Emma Sharp who was the first woman to complete the challenge of 1,000 miles in 1000 hours on 1864 or Ada Anderson, walking 1,500 miles (2,400 km) in 1000 hours. The sport known as Pedestrianism become very popular during the 19th Century not only in UK but in the United States, Canada, and Australia.
In the other side of the Atlantic, Edward Payson Weston, became a profesional long distance “Pederestian”. In 1861, he walked 478 miles (769 km) from Boston,to Washington, D.C. in 10 days and 10 hours because he lost betting against Lincoln 1860 presidential election . In 1867, Weston walked from Portland, to Chicago, covering over 1200 miles in 26 days, winning $10,000, as a part of a betting gamble.
In the United States a series of women’s competitions were staged, special indoor tracks were built in some towns, and intra-community long distance pedestrianism came into vogue. Along with sensational feats of distance, gambling was a central attraction for the large, mostly working-class crowds which came to pedestrian events.
In the United Kingdom, a “Long Distance Championship of the World” was created in 1878, and staged over six days, which became known as the “Astley Belt Races”.
The Fell running Rounds
In the mountains, from 1864 when Reverend J.M Eliot linked the summits around the church at the head of Whasdale in 8 hours and a half the “Fell running Rounds” became more popular and specially in Lake District in a first time, runners as Thomas Watson or Johnson de Carlisle and Dr. Wakefield will run longer distances in the mountains following the to cross the maximum peaks of more than 2000 feet on foot and return to the starting point in 24 hours, running distances over 100km with elevations over 10.000m. In 1932, Bob Graham links in 24 hours 42 fells in Lake District starting one of the best-known circuits or “round” in the fell running: the Bob Graham Round.
During the 60’s Alan and Ken Heaton increased this amount of summits several times up to 60 peaks and in the 70’s Joss Naylor run 75 peaks in Lakes district in 24h (105 miles-37.000ft) among other many records.
In the 80’s it was the boom of the rounds throughout the island. If in the year 1968 the Original Mountain marathon of 80 kilometers was held for the first time introducing the long distance, the following years with Ramsay linking the Scottish munros in 24 hours in the year 78 (Ramsay Round) and the following years the rounds on Glen Coe, Cullin or Cairngrom marks the beginning of this movement. Billy Bland, the winner of Ben Nevis in the 78 surprised everyone when in 1982 he traveled through the 42 summits of Bob Graham Round, with approximately 100 kilometers and 10,000 meters in just over 15 hours and a half.
USA 100 miles
Before the 1960s, most of the ultrarunners participating in ultradistance races were professionals (walkathlons indoors or The Pedestrian challanges). It was a spectator/betting sport. Only the 90-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa raced since 1921 was an exeption to that, so the general public never had serious thoughts that they too could run ultradistances.
As the Great Depression hit, events for professional ultrarunners dwindled and dried up in America. But rising from the tragedy and ashes of World War II, ultrarunning events slowing appeared again, this time for amateurs looking to test their endurance.
North America contains large natural areas with paths of hundreds or thousands of kilometers that cross it. The Pacific Cost Trail runs from the south to the north on the west coast and the Pacific crest trail through its rocky mountains. The Colorado Trail crosses this state vertically and the Appalachian Trail that follows the east coast for 3500 kilometers. From the moment that these paths were created at the beginning of the 20th century there were people who wanted to do the journey as fast as possible. So in 1948, Robert Speed earned his last name running the 338 kilometers that separate the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in California with 4421 meters with the Yosemite valley. This trail, the John Muir Trail, was created at the beginning of the century from an idea of the naturist John Muir, who died just before it was carried out and it was named as a tribute to him.
That same year, Earl Shaffler made the 3500 kilometers of the Appalachian Trail in 142 days and a few years later he repeated the feat in just 99 days. In the year 1955 Emma Gatewood was the first woman to do the AT non-stop in 146 days.
In 1951, Cash Asher, a journalist and author, was the publicity man for Padre Island. He came up with the idea of holding a race to walk the length of the island end-to-end, thinking this would be a way to get more publicity and attract tourists. He named the race “Padre Island Walkathon.” (The term ultramarathon would not be used until 1964. The “walkathons” were then held in indoor halls) The race was a three-day stage race started in 1953. The point-to-point race ran along the sandy beaches of the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. Those who put it on were very forward-thinking, previously long endurance races (in routes) were mostly limited to professionals. This race was for everyone, old, young and women during an era when female participation in endurance events was viewed as inappropriate.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy unintentionally played an important role. That year saw numerous 50-mile races on honor of the his assassination. the JFK 50 in Washington was one of the numerous 50 miles races that appear that year. Kennedy had challenged officers and the military to meet the requirements that Teddy Roosvelt demanded from his soldiers “be able to run 50 miles on foot in 20 hours to keep his place.” When the then known as “Kennedy Challenge” became public numerous non-military citizens wanted to try the challenge.
Soon after running events were created and the term “ultramarathon” was first used around 1964. Steve Seymour arranged in 1965 a 24-hour race at the indoor Los Angeles Athletic Club. It was called the “24-hour Last Day Run” and was held on Halloween. Steve started the enthusiasm for this event by participating in it and going the furthest distance; 50 miles in 17.5 hours.
100 miles running races have their roots in horse endurance rides. Much of the experience and practices of those rides became part of trail 100 mile runs that were established in the 1970s and ‘80s.
In 1955 Wendell Robie, a businessman and outdoorsman from Auburn, California had a discussion with an associate about whether a horseback rider could cover 100 miles in a day. He got riled up about it and vowed to prove it could be done. He wanted to conduct the ride on a trail he had particular interest in, a historic trail used by miners in the 1800s between the California gold fields and the silver mines in Virginia City, Nevada. Wendell named the trail, “The Western States Trail.” Some years before, in 1936, at Woodstock, Vermont, the Green Mountain Horse Association 100 MileRide was established as a horse ride race as well. During the 50’s and 60’s many of those horse races were raced in the west cost, future 100 miles running races inherited from them many of the same procedures of aid stations, course markings, trail work, crews, medical checks, and the belt buckle award.
But ultra running organized competitions didn’t appear in the mountains until the late 70’s and 80’s. Gordy Ainsleigh has a big role on that when in 1974, ran what would later become the Western States 100. Gordy was an experienced long distance horse rider, having completed the 100-mile Tevis Cup endurance ride. In 1973, Gordy’s new horse came up lame just prior to the race. With encouragement of a Tevis Cup board member, he decided to try covering the course on foot the next year, competing with the horses. He finished in 23 hours, 42 minutes. One other runner attempted the same feat in 1975, dropping out at 98 miles and the next year, Ken “Cowman” Shirk did the same in 24h30 and in 1978 they decided to organize a race reserved for runners, the Western States Endurance Run. In that first edition it was a woman who complete-it, Pat Smythe in 29:34 hours and the year after Skip Swannack did-it in 21h56 minutes.
During the 80’s many were the long distance races who began to be organized around the US. The Old Dominion 100 in Virginia that same year and in the early 80’s Wasatch Front 100 in Utah, the long Alaskan Mountain Wilderness Classic of 241 kilometers in Alaska, or the Leadville 100 in Colorado among others. In 1986 the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning was created recognizing the runners who completed in one year the 5 races of 100 miles Old Dominion, Western States, Vermont 100, Leadville and Wasatch. In the following years the list of 100 miles races did not stop growing. In 1986 the particular Barkley Marathons appeared. This race, inspired on 1977 escape of James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King Jr., from nearby Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, when he covered only 5 miles in 55h. Founder Gary “Lazarus Lake” thought some could make 100 miles in that time and organized the race consisting of 5 loops of approximately 20 miles through dense forests and peaks between orientation and overnight life in less than 60 hours. A year after it was the long Badwater, 10 years after Al Arnold run this route for the first time, following the route from the lowest point in the United States , at an altitude below sea level at Death Valley, to the start of Mont Withney (highest summit of California) 235 km after, with temperatures above 50 degrees. In 1992 it was the turn of Hardrock 100 in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, beginning a fruitful growth with more than 150 races of this distance in the 2000s.
With this explosion of long distance races, the athletes get excites to run the numerous long trails on the country, so in 1982 a group of 6 friends found themselves at the beginning of the John Muir Trail not to do it all together but to see who could go faster. 4 days and 21 hours later Don Douglas arrived at Yosemite, and one day later Nicki Lewis.
The previous year, in the Arizona desert, Allyn Cureton went from one side of the other to the Grand Canyon in little more than 3 hours and returned to the starting point in less than 6 hours. This route known as Rim To Rim To Rim has been one of the most popular trails in recent years due to its harshness, starting with a 1000 meters downhill to reach the river before climbing up to the other side.
In the first edition of Hardrock 100 in Colorado, the winner was David Horton, a very prolific runner with more than 100 races in 100 miles in 10 years! This university professor was the first to use the athletic preparation of ultrarunning in the long trails as when in 1991 he run the Appalachian Trail in only 52 days! He was the first to prepare a long trail as a race, with dedicated support team following him and giving him food and water and to train specifically for this goal.
In the 90s, the figures of Ann Trason, who with 24 years began in long distance races, and during the nineties won no less than fourteen times the Western States. The races were held for men, and the legendary Leadville 100 formed a team of five Tarahumara to win it, in a media edition of 1994 among the runners of this tribe of New Mexico, he would run for many hours and the Awesome Ann. In the end the Tarahumara Juan Herrera was able to overtake against Trason, who established a female record that still stays. At the same time, in California, Tim Twietmeyer dominated ultrarunning winning 5 consecutive times Western States 100 until the phemomen Scott Jurek made an outbreak in the world of long distance, achieving 7 victories and record at WS100, amongst numerous triumphs in ultratrail races or in asphalt, such as Badwater or Spartathlon, or in the 24-hour world championships. In the mountain, he also won once the Hardrock 100, which was dominated in those years, the early 2000s, by the unstopable Karl Meltzer (more than 100 victories in 100 miles races) among men and Diana Finkel and Darcy Piceu among women.
In the begining of the 2000’s, the term FKT (fastest known time) started to be dialy used by a generation of ultrarunners. The year 1999, Fred Vance, put in place a old idea he had of linking as many 14’ers in a 100 mile push and put out the Nolan’s 14, climbing the 14 peaks of 14,000 feet in Leadville region. Buzz Burrell and Peter Bakwin put some efforts during the 2000s by beating chronos in routes like the John Muir Trail. Tim Twietmeyer, who had completed no less than 25 times the Western States race ran around Lake Tahoe in less than 46 hours to complete the 165 miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail in 2005 and the following year a young Kyle Skaggs established a stratospheric mark on the 160-mile Wonderland Trail bypassing Mount Rainier in Washington state in just 20 hours.
During the last few years, many runners and runners have pointed to these challenges, such as Sue Johnston and Jennifer Pharr Davis who established the absolute records during the 2000s at the John Muir Trail and Appalachian Trail respectively. Among men, runners like Jared Scott, Jared Campbell, Brett Maune, Hal Koerner, Scott Jurek, Dave Mackey, Rob Krar, Anton Krupicka, Andy Anderson or Jim Walmsley, among many others have followed this trend.
The world of Ultra Trail appeared in Europe with years of delay compared to the United States. When the 100-mile races were already counted for dozens in America, the first competitions were appearing in Europe. Although races such as Sainté-Lyon 81-kilometer road, had been taking place since 1952, the Matagalls Montserrat since 1972, or the Swiss Alpine Marathon of 80 kilometers in 1982, the first 100 mile mountain races didn’t appear and become popular until the 90s.
We could cite two precedents. The first are the Adventure raids that were born during the early eighties with the Alpine Ironman and Coast to Coast in New Zealand, these competitions that combined running, climbing, mountain biking or canoeing were long-distance non-stop races and had immediately a big media interest that popularized them during the eighties and nineties with the Raid Gaulouises (1989) on an international level or the Raiverd (19990) in the Pyrenees. In some of these sections, the teams had to walk on foot in the mountains for ten or fifteen hours without stopping. With this adventure orientation, the Marathon des Sables was born in 1986, a stages race in the Sahara desert.
The first 100 miles race organized in Africa (French Reunion Island) was in 1989, with the name of Marche des Cimes, a crossing of the island which will become the Grand Raid de la Reunion, also known as Diagonale des Fous.
The other precedent would be the race around the Mont Blanc, which would eventually become the idea of the well-known UTMB.
It was in the year 1978 when the French Jacky Duc and Christian Roussel started running in Chamonix with the idea to run around Mont Blanc. Less than 26 hours after they were back. The following year Roussel, accompanied by Jacques Berlie, repeated it in 21 hours and 48 minutes and in 1980 was Edith Couhé was the first woman to achieve-it in 28 hours. In 1987, “skier of the impossible” Sylvain Saudan, the pioneer of steep skiing with his first descents in Chamonix and also in Denali or at 8000 meters, organized a Race called “Super-Marathon du Mont-Blanc” to run around Mont Blanc in 3 stages. In a first edition where runners equipped with athletic shoes, shorts and cotton shirts climbed necks above 2500 meters in bad weather between the snow and the fog, the Swiss Werner Schweizer won. The race was disputed during some years and in 1994 it was replaced by a non-stop 4 relay race. After a few years it dissapear until in 2003 when Poletti’s organizzed the first edition of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, won by the Nepali Dawa Sherpa.
Like in the US, in Europe it is some long distance popular trails and since the early 2000’s some runners had wanted to run faster. Pietro Santucci run in 2005 the GR20 in less than 36 hours, other runners went to the GR 10 or 11 that cross the Pyrenees or the GR5 to the Alps. Alpinist Enric Lucas, first alpine ascent climb of Annapurna south face, run in 2001 the hut to hut route Carros de Foc in 10h35.
At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, a series of events pushed the sport and give-it a popularity never seen before. In 2005, the Pikes Peak Marathon multiple champion Matt Carpenter run Leadville 100 to show what fast runners are able to do in Ultra distances, he explosed the record by more than 1 hour and a half, running under 16 hours. This feat inspired other college runners to try long distance, passing the focus from more traditional races as Pikes Peak to 100 miles. The next year at the same race, a young runner in his early 20’s, surprised everybody winning the race. His racing style, fast and athletic, its aesthetics, running only with minimalist shoes and a very short trousers, with the torso well tanned and a long free hair, and his philosophy, with proximity to nature and fleeing from the confrontation of competition with others but seeking a personal search in the long distance put Anton Krupicka at the head of a generation of young athletes who came to change the ultratrail world. That victory and his message impacted much more in the next generation than the Carpenter’s race and record. Two years later, Kyle Skaggs, also 23 years old, won the Hardrock race establishing a new record, racing as fast as he could from the beggining and without stoping mutch at any aidstation. A few months later that summer, Kilian Jornet, at 20 years old, won the Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc also running alone from the begining of the race. The 2 previous years had seen the victories of late 59 years old italian Marco Olmo. Ultratrail was no longer reserved for older runners and a fresh air came into this sport, making the young runners to look into the long distance. That same year the best-seller Born to Run book was also published. The book tells the story of Mexican Tarahumara runners, who equipped with sandals were able to win 100-mile races and the stunning Ann Transon and Scott Jurek. Dean Karnazes with his book Ultramarathon brought the trail running to people who lived in cities and entrepreneurs who needed a point of disconnection and challenge. All these events, the multiplication of races around the world and the begining of social media, who send all those informations and stories without the need of traditional press began to cook the boom that sport was going to experience in the following years and where young athletes like François d’Haene with his victories at UTMB and Diagonale des Fous, Xavier Thevenard winning all the races of UTMB or Jim Walmsley among other american athletes with a track and field college past will start, will be winning the races.
USSR Alpinism Competitions
Since 1935 Alpinism competitions were held in the USSR to clasify alpinist and give them a rang, starting at “Alpinist” to “International Master of Sport”. Those camps and competitions were held all over the country and it were filled with speed climbing, ice climbing, big wall and first ascents disciplines. Here you can read more about this system and period .
Ski mountaineering would be the first type of skiing used, either in Scandinavia or Asian countries, to travel in the winter months when snow covered everything. and for that reason they used animal skins to place under the skis and not slip.
The first competitions were born during the 2nd half of 19th century. In California in the 1860’s some races in the wild mountains, in 1883 a race between snowshoes and ski mountainnering is disputed at Colle Pragel in Switerland, in Italy, in the end of the century and begining of the XX some local races in the mountain villages are disputed and in 1915 Peñalara Alpine Club in Madrid organizes a “Marcha de esquí de montaña” with 3 summits to climb and ski down, and in the 1920’s in Austria some civil races appear (May race, Vulture race).
The competitions in mountaineering ski had a big military component. The borders of European countries as Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany or Austria are in the mountains, so they had alpine soldiers. This Militar Patrouilles did some races in skis during the winter as preparation and to compete between diferent military groups since the begining of the XX century. This races in patrols of three or four persons. This format was introduced to the Winter Olympics in 1918 in Chamonix on patrols of 3 skiers. In the next Olympics they added shooting in the competition in a sort of ski mountaineering biathlon. During those years, this patrouilles races become more popular in the alpine countries (Gosau, Germany, Poland, France, Italy). May 28 in 1933 is the first edition of Trofeo Mezzalama, a race from Cervinia to Gresoney traversing the glaciers and peaks over 4000 meters, such as Castor or Lyskam. In june is the time for Tour du Rutor, also in Aosta valley. A year after the “Scuola Militare Alpina” is born in Aosta, their soldiers will won the following editions of the race as well as the gold medal in Garmish Olympic Games in 1936, that same year is the first edition of Trofeo Paravicini in Lombardia. This is the begining of the profesionalism in ski mountaineering, related to this military training centers.
During the World War II, the Swiss army organised a race to test the abilities of its soldiers. The first military edition of Patrouille des Glaciers, between Zzermatt and Verbier was held in April 1943.
In the following years many races will appear in Italy and Switzzzerland. Trofeo Canizi in 1945, Trophée du Muveran in 1948, Tre rifugi in 1953. And during this time, in 1948 the ski mountaineering was in the Olympic games for the last time.
In the Pyrenees the first races also date from the end of the 1920s, also in teams of 2 or 3, such as the race of Puig d’Alp – Puigllançada in La Molina that began in 1927. In 1959 is the first Rally del CEC, a multi day race that was changing location every year in the oriental pyrenees. And in 1965 the Nuria-Set Cases race and the Travesia Andrés Regil in 1969.
In the Alps, during the World War II races like Mezzalama and Patrouille des Glaciers stoped and they not reappear until the 70’s, and with this many more races in the alps. (Trofeo Pozeti-Biona and Rober Olando in 1970, Pizolada delle Dolomiti in 1973, Dolomiti di Brenta in 1975). They used large cross country skis with skins under and the “sorcière” technique to go down. Races become more and more popular in the mountain regions in europe but it was not until 1975 that the first world championship was held in the already famous Mezzalama. In the 80’s the first official national cups appear, among them, the Catalan Cup was a pioneer in 1985.
The following year started what is known as the Tour de France of ski mountaineering; La Pierra Menta disputed in teams of two people with 4 stages at the French Beaufortain. Then the competitions were regulary played in all the european countries, mostly by soldiers in the Patrouille’s races and alpinists in the civil races, as we can see alpinists like Patrick Gavarrou (French champion), Christophe Profit Catherine Destivelle, or Erhald Loretan (organizer of Trophée des Gastlosen) among the first teams. French, Italians, Slovaks and Swiss teams were the winners of the international races.
During the 1990s, the dominator was the Italian skyrunner Fabio Meraldi, combining his talent running in skyrunning in the summer and doing ski mountaineering in the winter or even participating in the first sport climbing competitions. He won 10 editons of Pierra Menta, 5 among Adriano Greco, 4 with Enrico Pedirini and 1 with french Thierry Bochet.
In 1988 the first ski mountaineering federation was created (CISAC , then ISMC 1999 and ISMF in 2008). They organize a European Cup since 1992 and European championships since 1992. Since 2001 the European championships hold also Individual races and in 2001 it was the first World Championships under ISMC in Serre Chevalier with the 2 disciplines. Ducognon/Oggeri and Murada/Boscacci in teams and Valérie Ducognon and Stéphane Brosse in individual were the first world Champions. In 2004 a World Cup with 4 to 5 Individual races started. That same year in the World Championships the Vertical Race (only uphill) and relay (short 10 minutes circuit x 4 relays) were added, and in 2012 the sprint (a 3 minutes race) too.
During the beginning of 2000, transalpine skiers dominated the world scene, with Frenchman Stéphane Brosse as the first ambassador of modern ski mountaineering, with more specialisation required. The Italians Manfred Reichegger, Dennis Brunod and Giacomelli, the Swiss Rico Elmer or Troillet, french Florent Perrier and Patrick Blanc in the men and Swiss Cristina Favre-Moretti and Alexia Zuberer, the Italian Gloriana Pellissier and Roberta Pedranzini and French Corinne Favre among women ocupated the most part of the podiums.
In recent years, mountain skiing has followed several paths on one side in classic races for teams organized in circuits such as the Grande Course (with Pierra Menta, Mezzalama, PDG, Adamello, Rutor and Altitoy) and federative races, championships and world and continental cups, on a path to Olympic games under the ISMF. In this more specialist competitions, Italian army Damiano Lenzi, Robert Antonioli and Michele Boscacci, french William Bon Mardion and Kílian Jornet Burgada dominated in the men and Laëtitia Roux and Mireia Miró Varela in women.Verbier Ski Mountaineering World Championships // FULL REPORT from Verbier Ski Mountaineering on Vimeo.
Climbing was related to climb mountains at the origin of the practice. When dificulties of those climbs become more severe, alpinists started to practice in local crags to train for what they could found in the mountains.
- Evolution of climbing grade -1
- Evolution of climbing grade -2
- Evolution of climbing and bouldering grade -3
Oscar Eckenstein, a British climber and early bouldering advocate, conducts in 1892 a bouldering competition, with cash prizes, among the natives while on an expedition to the Karakoram Mountains.
During the 20’s and 30’s Pierre Allan, a French alpinist, was joined by several others at Fontainebleau, where his group of “‘Bleausards” developed a love of bouldering that went beyond simple training for the Alps. The famous Allain Angle, first boulder 5C, done in 1934, is a testament to their dedication and to the resulting elevation of standards. In Allain’s 1949 book, Alpinisme et Competition, he expresses his appreciation of this simple and understated climbing specialty. To facilitate the rock-climbing experience he developed the first rubber-soled, soft shoes specifically engineered for serious rock work.
The first climbing competitions were organized in the former USSR in the late 1940s. These events were focused on Speed Climbing, and were mostly dedicated to Soviet climbers until the 1980s.
In 1966 USSR join Union internationale des associations d’alpinisme (UIAA) and organize international climbing competitions, where speed climbing were predominant.
During the 80’s the evolution of sport climbing was notable. Patick Edlinger and Patrick Berhault with his films Opera Vertical and La vie au bout des doigts made climbing popular to everybody in france. They climb the first routes of 7b+ onsight. Peter Cleveland and Tony Yaniro climb the first routes of 8a in 77 and 79. In 1984 Wolfgang Güllich climb 8b (Kanal im Rücken), 8b+ (Punks in the Gym, 1985), 8c (Wallstreet, 1987), and 9a (Action Directe, 1991). At the same time Lynn Hill climbed the first female 7b in 1977, 7c 2 years later and 7c+ in 1987 and 8a in 1989 (together with Christine Gambert and one year after Luisa Iovane). In 1990 Catherine Destivelle climb 8a+ and Isabelle Patissier 8b. The following year Lynn Hill climb the first 8c.
In 1985, in the Olympic town of Bardonecchia, Italy, not far from Torino, Andrea Mellano, a member of the Academic Group of CAI, and Emanuele Cassarà, a well-known Italian sport journalist, gathered a group of the best climbers for an event called “SportRoccia” held at a natural crag in Valle Stretta. It was the first organized Lead competition, launching a new era of modern Sport Climbing. The jury was composed of Riccardo Cassin, Oscar Soravito, Maurizio Zanolla and Heinz Mariacher and thousand of spectators were amazed by the victory of German athlete Stefan Glowacz in 1985 and and french Catherine Destivelle.
The success was repeated the following year in 1986, when Arco di Trento became host to the second SportRoccia event. The final was won by French superstar Patrick Edlinger and his compatriot Catherine Destivelle winning again in front of Lynn Hill. More than 10,000 people attended the finals, including seven European television stations, as well as many media operators. In 1987, Sportroccia gave way for the first time to Rock Master in Arco, one of the most well known climbing competitions, and Stefan Glowacz and Lynn Hill (5 victories) won. This competitions attracted climbers from all the world and competitions started to developp all over. In 1988, Jeff Lowe organizzes in Snowbird (Utah) the first international rock climbing competition ever held in the US
The year before, the French Federation started organizing the first indoor event at a gymnasium in Vaulx-en-Velin, a suburb of Lyon. The potential future for Sport Climbing became clear as all climbers began to show interest in this new branch of their sport, even those who appeared reluctant at first. In 1988 the international competitions, as SportRoccia were hold in artificial walls.
The first Climbing World Cup was held in 1989, and included only lead climbing events. As a result, Paul Brasset created a new organization within the UIAA (formed by the CEC and CICE) that was responsible for training officials (judges and forerunners) and creating competition rules.
In the early 90s, several large events were organized in all the main arenas of Europe, as well as in Japan and the US. During these years, it was decided that International events would be run only on artificial walls, in order to eliminate any environmental impact.
In 1991, the first World Championship was organized in Frankfurt, with lead and speed disciplines. French climber François Legrand was the winner of the 3 first editions as well as 6 World Cups. With japonese Yuji Hirayama and french brothers François and Arnaud Petit also in the podiums and victories. Susi Good, Liv Sansoz, Robyn Erbesfield, and Muriel Sarkany among the women were the strongest.
In speed Hans Florine The specialist of speed ascents in The Nose was the first world champion in 1991, a discipline dominated by soviet country climbers.
In 1997 the ICC – International Council for Competition Climbing – was created inside the UIAA, and in 1998, Bouldering was officially introduced as a new climbing discipline. A test competition was organized dubbed the “Top Rock Challenge,” and its success lead to the creation of the World Cup in 1999.
During the begining of the XXI century the women start climbing 9th degree ( Josune Bereziartu 8c+ in 2000, 9a in 2002 and 9a/+ in 2005) and men consolidating the grade ( 9a+ 1996 by Alex Huber, 9b Bernabé Fernandez 2003/ Chris Sharma 2008). In competitions Alexandre Chabot, Paxti Usobiaga Lakunza, Tomáš Mrázek and Ramón Julián Puigblanque in the men were on the top and Muriel Sarkany and Angela Eiter between the women.
In 2006, the UIAA decided to end its governance of Competition Climbing and supported the creation of an independent International Federation to govern this sport. During that period the first International Paraclimbing Competition took place in Russia, Ekaterinburg, within the European Championships. Athletes with a visual impairment and with a physical disability from Belarus, Italy, Japan and Russia took part in the competitions and on January 27th, 2007 57 Federations founded the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC).
In 2007, the IOC granted provisional recognition to the IFSC, welcoming sport climbing into the Olympic Movement and in 2010 the definitive recognition. The 9 grade is not a big problem for this new generation and climbers like Adam Ondra (first 9b+ 2012 and 9c 2017), Jakob Schubert or Alex Megos perform as well in rock and in competitions and Kilian Fischhuber (5 world championships) or the same Ondra in boulder. In the women, slovenian Mina Markovic take the relay from Angela Eiter.
A combined of three competitions (lead, speed, boulder) will be in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The first known ice climbing competition was organized in Courmayeur on the Brenva glacier in the year 1912.
Ice climbing competitions in Russia (at that time Soviet union) were held each winter since 1970. There were three disciplines: difficulty, speed and speed climbing of a longer route (100+m) by roped partys doing 40m pitches. At the end of a season the winner of each of the disciplines was announced. During the winter 1996/1997 the Russiam team participated on a Courchevel competition in France and at that time they adopted the French rules for difficulty also for their events. The magnificent 40m high tower in Courchevel France was the synonime for difficulty ice climbing events in Europe from 1995 till 2000’s. The main rule was to climb as high as possible using as little hits as possible having the time limited between 8 and 14 minutes.
In America, Ice climbing was a popular activity, in 1991 Bill Whitt, a California windsurfing bum turned ice climber, and local Gary Wild build the Ouray Ice Park, and in 1996, Jeff Lowe organizes the first Ouray Ice Festival.
There were several competitions in North America. The most famous were Winter X games ice climbing events (speed and difficulty), but after 1999 ice climbing has been excluded from Winter X games. Another event was the IWC competition in Quebec Canada that hosted all the best competitors from the World. There are some other ice climbing events that also include a kind of competitions, but with their own regulation.
From 1994 till 1999 we had duel speed competitions on a natural rock in Bohinj and it used to be the main “ice climber event” in Slovenija. Last years there were problems with ice as the climate is (obviously) warming up. Since 2000 Solcava hosted difficulty and speed competitions while for the season 2002/2003 the event “Slovenian cup” took place in 3 different locations. Slovenian cup has now been done every year in speed and difficulty. In 2009 Slovenija hosted Ice world cup event in Mojstrana
In the year 1999 the competitions in Europe were organized to a kind of schedule (not yet IWC) which included events in Courchevel (France), Cortina (Italy), Pitztal (Austria) and Kirov (Russia). The first common rules appeared in 1998 while IWC Ice climbing World Cup appeared in 2000 organized by the company Hohenwerkstadt G.m.b.h. with 4 difficulty competitions on towers in Austria and Italy organized as Alpenpokal (Kotshach-Mauthen, Welsberg, Fieberbrunn). They organized the event till the season 2002 when UIAA took the Ice Climbing competitions, with a World Cup and World Championships. The first competitions in the World Cup were in Val Daone (Italy), Pitztal (Austria), Kirov (Russia), Quebec (Canada) and Saas Fee (Switzerland). And climbers as Ines Papert (w) Stephane Husson, Daniel Du Lac, Evgeny Krivosheitsev and Harald Berger were in the front of the mouvement.