Ueli Steck on the Zinalrothorn's regular route during his 82 Summits project in 2015.
The idea for The Way Up came from years playing in the mountains with a great friend who pushed me to my limits, and opened my eyes to what was possible. This friend was Ueli Steck.
I joined Ueli for a few days during his 82 Summits project in 2015 when he climbed all 82 of the Alps 4000 meter peaks with no mechanized support; running, paragliding and biking between peaks, all in one 61 day push.
He asked me to join him for the Zinalrothorn, a peak I had previously climbed a couple of times. The deal was he'd meet me at the Rothhorn Hut after having done the Obergabelhorn earlier that morning. My strategy was to run up to the hut from Zermatt early in the morning and wait for him, then we'd continue to the Zinalrothorn together. No matter how hard I tried, I never really had to wait for Ueli for much of anything. Of course he was already there when I arrived. Together we ran up the peak, wearing running packs, light boots, and taking only a short rope for the down climbing. We were up and down it in just a few hours, and the continual fluid movement, I found, was beautiful. We were back at the hut well before lunch.
I had been climbing classic routes in the Alps for 16 years, and typically did them in the traditional style; hike to hut, spend the night, get up very early, climb mountain, descend. It's how the masses do it. Ueli wasn't the masses. He was basically trail running the 4000 meter peaks of the Alps, and woke me up to what I could be doing if I combined my climbing skills with my trail running fitness for a kind of light alpinism.
We each have our own version of what is possible relative to our abilities. For me, I can do many classic alpine peaks in running shoes, or some of the new ultralight climbing boots. With less, or just lighter gear, why not do peaks typically done in two days, in one? I was a climber long before I was a runner and for me trail running for the sake of running is often not enough. I started looking for the right peaks for my skill level to apply this strategy to, and by doing so found an outlet to put all my mountain skills to the test, from fitness, to gear, to planning. I called it, "The Way Up" because:
Running peaks in the Alps typically requires a lot of vertical. We've found that many of the Way Ups are a 1:100 ratio of kilometers to vertical meters.
The way you go up is important as it might be technical terrain, requiring more than just running fitness and skills. Conditions are critical since you will be traveling light and fast.
Summits are goals, but the experience you have reaching them is ultimately what counts. The style in which a peak is done, and the route chosen, is of value. Carry just the right amount of gear so you can flow through the terrain, successfully manage the conditions you get, and always have the proper fitness to attain your goals.
The Way Up routes are not for everyone, so we'll do our best to detail what is involved to do them as well as include some easier routes. It must be understood that these are not solely running on trails. They are often steep and in more difficult terrain, as such, a lot of walking is likely. They may require climbing skills, glacier travel, and a solid knowledge of what will be encountered, and how to safely deal with it. This style of mountain running is not just about being able to do the peaks, it is knowing when you can do the peaks. Your gear will be lighter and without the safety margin that some types of gear afford, requiring you to understand that you are committed to going up or coming down, quickly. Speed, continual movement, and experience are your tools. Combine all these things and you have the potential for big rewards. For me, The Way Up is my personal project that I am most passionate about.
By Dan Patitucci
Interested in Way Up Runs but not sure where to start? Here's a collection of easier Way Ups that don't require extra equipment or climbing skills. They stay on trails, but are huge vertical days up in the alpine.
One of the Alps ultimate Way Ups ... Ueli Steck and Dan Patitucci did the Eiger's West Flank from Grindelwald during the dry winter of 2016/2017.