The Silitch Family

Adventures in the Alps and Beyond

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Team High-Alpine Mt Blanc Ascent-Descent/ Mezzalama Ski Mountaineering Race

Dear friends and Family,

This has been a truly amazing season and we are so excited that you could share the finale with us. We have had so many incredible experiences that shaped our last event. Nina and Lyndsay competed in 11 races before the Mezzalama, and 3 weeks before they competed in another famous race in Italy’s Valley d'Aosta called The Tour du Rutor. We finished in tenth place and were first American women's team to compete. A week later all of us participated in a new race in Chamonix and it was exciting to race on our home turf. A few days later with Michael’s expert guidance we successfully summited Mount Blanc on Tuesday, April 23rd at 9am. We had a great ski down the North Face. We ended the day confident of our ability and full of team spirit for the Mezzalama.

Race day began at 3 am with the alarm blaring. We had slept about 4 hrs the night before after completing pre-race check in, briefing, and gear sorting. We stumbled down for some morning fuel to keep us energized us for the climb ahead. We hiked up to the start for a warm up at 4:30 am. As one of the first teams through the avalanche beacon check we were able to lay our skis in the perfect sport for the start. A few minutes later we were joined by 800 other athletes, mostly teams of men, a handful of mixed teams, and just 12 teams of women. Greetings of, “Ciao. Ciao,” could be heard as though it was the start of an ordinary day.

The majority of teams roped up at the start as we would be traveling most of the race on a glacier. Thanks to Michael and his expertise, he dialed in our rope and made it as easy as possible to travel together. We skied up with the rope about 6 feet between each person. Soon we got into a gradual rhythm with Michael leading the way.

The start gun was to go off at sunrise, approximately 5:30 am. Starting altitude was 6627 feet and the first check point was 12,553 feet, the Col de Breithorn. As a mixed team we fell into the men’s category and we had to make the men’s time check of 2 hrs and 30 minutes. The all women’s teams were given 15 extra minutes. We knew it was going to be a push for us to make the time cut as we had to climb at 2,460 feet an hour or about 12 meters a minute. The course was not extremely steep, just very long.

We arrived at the Col, 12, 553 feet at 2:36, just 6 minutes after the men’s time cut and 9 minutes within the women's. We had known it was going to be tough to make the men’s time. It was cold at the col and the sun had not yet risen. We were told to take off our numbers by the Italian Army. “This is the Mezzalama.” they said, “We are sorry. Next time we have a time for mixed teams.” We had a moment of indecision. We could turn back and ski to the start, or we could continue on the course and complete our challenge, number or no number. We chose to continue. The sun was just starting to come up the horizon; the wind was at our backs and the Matterhorn to our right. You were all with us during that moment of indecision.

After some steep climbing with our skis on our backs and crampons on our feet, we carefully walked along the knife-edge ridge of Castor Peak and reached its summit, our highest point of the day, 13, 864 feet. We had climbed 7,237 feet in less than 5 hrs. We continued on course, descending and ascending, still connected together with a rope as we were traveling through glacier terrain. Skiing downhill roped up is not as easy, but we managed well. At around 12 pm the weather began to change. As a team, we made the decision to exit a different way. In the mountains, the most important decisions we make are around safety and we were confident in our decision to change the route.

Our ski mountaineering season has come to an end and we are proud as a team of our accomplishments. For all of us, this was our first real season of taking part in this new sport. We are proud to be the only Americans competing in ski alpinism in Europe and are pleased to encourage its growth. Ski alpinism has a huge historical base and we have met so many amazing athletes and are excited to compete again next year.

More importantly, aside from the sport of ski mountaineering, we have been humbled in the face of disappointment and inspired in the face of challenge. The obstacles we faced as a team in no way compare to what our friends and loved ones have endured with cancer. We want to express immense gratitude for these amazing individuals. It is these individuals who we all will think about. We shared our experience with them as we climbed to the highest point; we will continue to keep them close in our hearts.

We are still receiving donations for the American Cancer Society and will let you know how much has been raised in the final count. We are so pleased by all of your encouragement, love and support in our endeavors. We want to thank you again for your contribution.

Warm regards,

Nina, Michael and Lyndsay

We would like to share with you a short slide show/ video we put together of our climb of Mt Blanc and our Mezzalama race.

Please find the link below and click to play!