Speed Mountain Running at 13,000 Feet!

Swiss alpinist and adidas Outdoor athlete Andreas Steindl (26) has accomplished what most people deem impossible: he ran 30.66 kilometres from Zermatt to Saas Fee crossing five 4000m peaks, including the Dom, the highest mountain lying entirely in Switzerland, in a time that awes even the most experienced mountain guides. For the 4,014 metres vertical ascent across pathless terrain, glaciers and exposed ridges, Steindl needed only 7 hours, 45 minutes and 44 seconds.

The night before his speed crossing Andy Steindl is nervous. His legs felt a bit sore during his last run. But as he steps outside his home at 2:55 a.m. he is confident. He wears ear phones and listens to „Run Boy Run“by Woodkid. Dressed in a ¾ tight, a long sleeve shirt and trail running shoes, he follows the shine of his headlight to Zermatt’s church square. In his small backpack he only carries what’s absolutely necessary: a light jacket, a headband, gloves, sunglasses, crampons, a lightweight ice pick, 3 carbo bars and gels as well as a camelback with an isotonic drink. It’s supposed to get hot during the day.

Steindl grew up in Zermatt, surrounded by 38 four thousand metre high peaks. His father is a mountain guide, his mother a passionate amateur mountaineer. At the age of 14, he did his first 4000m ascent on the Matterhorn. 12 years later, now a mountain guide himself, he has stood more than 80 times on the summit of this iconic mountain. Steindl even holds the Matterhorn speed record for the ascent from Zermatt (2h57). Climbing up Matterhorn is like a training session for the passionate mountaineer. The mountains are his playing field, both in summer and in winter. In 2013, Steindl won the Ski Mountaineering World Championship with the Swiss National Team. He likes speedy ascents and descents, just to fit in more climbs in a day.

That explains how the 26-year-old came up with the idea to cross five 4000m peaks in a row. “This project evolved, because I always see the Taeschhorn and the Dom from my home, two beautiful pyramids that glow in the evening sun”, Andy Steindl explains. “I was eager to climb them. But the descent from the Dom is quite tricky. I wanted to find a safe way down to the valley, since I’m on my own out there. That’s why I chose the route across the five peaks Alphubel (4,206m), Taeschhorn (4,491m), Dom (4,545m), Lenzspitze (4,294m) and Nadelhorn (4,327m).“

In the summer of 2013, the Swiss did his spectacular crossing for the first time and needed an unbelievable 9 hours and 3 minutes. Since then Steindl has waited for the opportunity to repeat his 5-peaks tour and beat his own time. “Many factors have to come together to realize this project”, Steindl says. “The conditions on the mountain must be perfect, meaning the exposed ridges must free of snow and the firn must be frozen at the same time, which is why I start at night; the weather needs to be good and I must be in excellent shape, both physically and mentally.”

It took two years for the perfect day to arrive. This time, the Swiss allowed a camera team to follow him by helicopter. “Of course I primarily do this project for myself”, Steindl notes, “but I hope that I can inspire people at home in their living rooms with the footage of these summits and encourage them to go out and explore the mountains.”

The church clock says 3:15 a.m. Andy Steindl starts his stopwatch and runs off into the dark. The first one and a half hours lead on hiking trails through the forest to Taeschalp and then onwards to the Taesch hut, where most mountaineers start their ascents to Alphubel or Taeschhorn. As Steindl reaches the glacier at Alphubeljoch, the sun rises. He mounts his crampons and continues across the ice. On the summit of Alphubel, his first checkpoint, he is 22 minutes ahead of time, on the summit of Taeschhorn the advance is already 41 minutes. The camera crew has a tough time following him and spotting the tiny human being in the monumental landscape.  Crossing from Taeschhorn to Dom is what Andy Steindl is most concerned about. “The rock of the ridge is extremely brittle. It is the high risk section and I must be very focused”, he says. Nevertheless he manages to traverse from Taeschhorn to Dom in 1 hour and 5 minutes. As he runs down the glacier towards Lenzjoch, the 26-year-old passes several roped parties, who seem staggered watching his downhill run. After 6 hours and 7 minutes Andy Steindl stands on top his fourth 4000m peak, after 6 hours and 37 minutes he reaches the fifth summit. He needs only 1 hour and 9 minutes from the top of Nadelhorn to the church square in Saas Fee. Exhausted he sits down on the church stairs and stops the time: 7:45:44 an. Steindl is over the moon.

„Of course I wanted to be faster than last time, but I had the feeling that I wasn’t as fit as I was two years ago. I just wanted to do my best, but I never expected such a time. In the beginning I thought my watch is faulty.  It was an amazing day for me; I am tired but satisfied and happy. You cannot top such a perfect day in the mountains. And now it has been captured it forever.”

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