Banff Mountain Film Festival (Banff, Canada)
October 30th – November 7th, 2021
Rencontres Ciné-Montagne (Grenoble, France)
November 2nd- 6th, 2021
Montagne en Scene – Europe wide Cinema tour.
Opening – 15th November
Grand Rex Cinema, Paris, then touring Europe.
Kendal Mountain Film Festival (Kendal, UK)
18th – 21st November 2021
Femmes en Montagne (Annecy, France)
18th – 21st November 2021
Nordic Adventure Film Festival (Copenhagen, Denmark)
23rd – 28th November 2021
Mendi Film Festival (Bilbao, Spain)
3rd – 12th December, 2021
Krakow Mountain Film Festival (Krakow, Poland)
4th – 5th December, 2021
Urkedi Film Festival (Isaba, Spain)
4th – 6th December 2021
Frozen River Film Festival (Winowa, MN, USA)
9th -13th February, 2022
Durango Independant Film Festival (Durango, CO, USA)
2nd – 6th March, 2022
Facing some of the most challenging terrain in the world, Valentine Fabre and Hillary Gerardi, two world class athletes, attempt to be the first women to ski the Haute Route non-stop from Chamonix to Zermatt.
For Valentine, the Haute Route has deep personal resonance. Her husband, Laurent, had set the men’s record shortly before a fatal mountain climbing accident a decade ago. For Valentine, completing the route would be the ultimate tribute to Laurent’s memory.
“For Valentine, completing the route would be the ultimate tribute to Laurent’s memory.”
When Valentine met Hillary, she found a capable partner for this arduous and emotional journey. Despite being relatively new to ski mountaineering, Hillary has vast reserves of stamina that carry over from her career as a professional mountain runner. Together they set out on this non-stop 100km traverse, climbing 8000m over some the most beautiful high mountain terrain in the world. Will their months of training prove to be enough for these women to establish the record?
^ The Haute Route - Map & height profile showing the "non-stop" itinerary
“The mountains don’t care about our objective. They don’t care about what we’re trying to do. It requires a pretty high level of autonomy because it’s not a forgiving place.”
Directed and Edited
Ben Tibbetts & Jake Holland
Sound & Music
ONA Sounds / Joaquín Ignacio Gomez
Interview with Valentine Fabre and Hillary Gerardi – 2021
How did you two meet?
Valentine: We both live in the Chamonix valley, and it’s not a very big place. We had a friend in common who said we should meet, but in the end we met randomly while out running above Chamonix.
Had you already done some big outings together before doing this Traverse?
Hillary: This was certainly our first major project together. Its difficult to do projects much bigger than this! But we did long training outings together on skis in the mountains, and also some running.
Valentine: I also came and accompanied Hillary on one of the summits of here project “Summits of my Servoz”, where she ran between four summits around the village of Servoz where she lives. This was just after the confinement so there weren’t any races in the diary at that moment.
What led you to want to set out together on this “one push” attempt on the Haute Route?
Hillary: To start with it was actually by coincidence: we found out that we both had this idea thanks to Ben, Valentine’s boyfriend, who overheard me talking about this project with someone else after a ski race. My motivation for taking on this project really developed over several years and combines a lot of different factors. The route itself is incredibly emblematic and well-known even in the US. Records had been set, broken and set by men, but no women had ever attempted a record: those factors alone could be motivation enough. However, for me there was a really personal element as well: I’ve always loved the mountains and skied for years, but in 2012, I had a serious ski accident in the Mont Blanc massif which caused me to step away from ski mountaineering for a while. The positive side of that experience is that it led me to trail running: I needed another way to move in the mountains, and I found a new passion. Over the last decade, I’ve largely dedicated myself to trail running. However, since we moved to Chamonix in 2017, I’ve felt both a draw back to the high mountains and a desire to establish myself in a community that identifies more with the summits than the valleys. Attempting the Haute Route traverse was a project that really provided a response to all of those needs. It was also a challenge that could combine the endurance I’ve gained from running and the technical alpine skillset I’ve developed over the years. It was a little while after I had decided on this Haute Route objective, that Ben overheard me speaking about it and told me that Valentine and I had the same project. Pretty quickly, we realized that we’d make a good team.
Valentine: We get on really well and have a lot of laughs when out together. Moreover, we complement each other’s skills. For my part, I’ve had a long history with the Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route. Laurent, my husband, who died in 2012, had tried three times and broke the record in 2010. I had this project in mind since 2010. However, Hillary was the spark that gave me the resolve to try this adventure. When I think about its, I wonder if I would ever have set out to do this if she hadn’t been there. I’m very thankful that she had the drive to get us to do this.
What was your state of mind before you left?
Valentine: I was pretty stressed. I was working all week in Annecy and so I only had a few mornings or evenings to train in addition to some big outings at the weekend. This was very different to my training regime when I was in the French ski mountaineering team, where I had a lot more free time. I was really wondering if I was ready – if I hadn’t gotten into something too ambitious for my current level of training!
Hillary: It’s funny because I saw the trips that Valentine did in the mountains, and I also felt that I wasn’t training enough, I was convinced that I was going to be the weak link! However, I wasn’t afraid, I knew that we were going to have a pretty cool experience, even if there was still a fair chance that we wouldn’t succeed. With this type of project there are an awful lot of elements that must line up perfectly for the project to succeed. I had just told myself: “We’re going to set put, we’re going to have a go, and whatever happens it will be a cool experience. It’s probably going to be really tough, but will we make it to Zermatt? We’ll have to see!”
Valentine: There was also the unknown factor of how much snow was left along the lower altitude parts of the route. We had done the recce a week before, but in the meantime it had been really hot, and the snow had melted a lot. I was really wondering whether it was going to be possible at all. Were we going to get worn out by having to do lots of sections on foot?
What is your best memory of the traverse?
Valentine: Perhaps the view from the Col du Sonadon.
Hillary: Yes, it’s true! After the Valsorey hut, there is a very steep climb that we did in the darkness, and when we arrived at the Col du Sonadon it was daybreak and the view was just magnificent! From there you could see all the way to Mont Blanc.
Valentine: There was an incredibly colourful sunrise over Mont Blanc.
And the worst moment?
Valentine: It’s easy to remember what was the worst moment! My state while going up Col de Valpelline isn’t a great memory, at least not this time, on the day of the record.
Hillary: I wasn’t in the same state as Valentine at that moment, but I was really tired and I wasn’t able to help her either as I was pretty cooked myself. Mentally, for me, it was very difficult at that time as well.
How did you manage to fuel yourselves on such a long outing?
Hillary: Nutrition is a super important factor in long efforts. I have a lot of experience through running races, although I had never put in quite such a long effort in a race. I knew the problem was how to consume as many calories as possible. And so, I had thought about it a lot. From experience, I know you have to be able to have plenty of different food choices at the pit stops, because you don’t know ahead of time exactly what you want. It’s really important to eat something your body wants, and to eat as much of it as possible!
Valentine: What you prepare must be full of energy, but tasty too! There are plenty of people who use lots of energy gels. I don’t know how they do it. For a short duration these are fine, but when you go for 24 hours, the gels get disgusting with their repetitive and generally sweet taste. Even their consistency makes you gag after a while Being able to chew on something is part of the eating process, and on this long effort we were able to have decent food. In short, you need things that you want to eat, that are high in calories, with a taste that you like.
What did you prepare then?
Valentine: We had a bit of everything: pizzas, cured meat, Beaufort cheese, nuts and fruit, but also energy bars and gums…
Hillary: I had also cooked sweet potatoes which I like when racing. It’s quite high in calories, it’s a little sweet, a little salty. We also had crisps, dried fruits, and toasted almonds marinaded in soy sauce.
Valentine: Between the aid stations we had to be more careful what we ate, because we only had a small rucksacks and small pockets. Moreover, we didn’t want to load ourselves up unnecessarily. Between Bourg-Saint-Pierre and the Col de l’Evêque, it was quite a long time and we didn’t want to runout of food or water.
Hillary: I had split the race into three stages separated by the two aid stations and I knew which people I was going to see at which time. When we left Bourg-Saint-Pierre, I had in mind that at the next aid station, I would see Brad, my husband, at the Col de l’Evêque. And there Jon, our friend, said “yeah, that will be in 9 hours!”. That dented my morale a little!
Valentine: So we had to carry enough food and water for this nine-hour effort, and make it all quite compact. It wasn’t easy.
Did you forget or miss out anything
Hillary: Overall we had taken enough I think. Except perhaps on the last part, from the Col l’Évêque to Zermatt. I had estimated the amount based on the time we had planned on this last part. Until then, we had been fairly consistent compared to our estimates. Unfortunately Valentine got sick, and we took more time on that stage, so in the end I had nothing left! Fortunately it was mostly on the descent, and it was less difficult after Col de Valpelline. But so I hadn’t taken enough, and I think if I had to do it again, I would take a little more headroom, like a gel or an emergency bar. For drinks, most of my long-term exercise experiences come from running in the summer, when you sweat a lot. Hydration is super important. I spend the week before the race focusing on it, so that I am well hydrated at the start. In the end it wasn’t hot and we didn’t sweat a lot, but I had anticipated my hydration needs, and that probably helped.
Valentine: I am a bit like a camel, and so I’m used to not drinking too much in ski mountaineering races, because the drinks freeze quite easily in the tubes of the hydration bags. It’s the same in mountaineering, where you can easily forget to drink, unlike the cyclist or trail runner who always have a container handy and so you get used to it. I do, however, hydrate a lot before and after. I know it’s a very bad habit not to drink during exercise, though! Maybe that gave me problems. On the traverse, despite everything I ate, I couldn’t get rid of the hunger, I felt like I had no energy left.
Technically did you have any problems? With skins for instance?
Valentine: Not particularly. We each had two pairs of skins with us on the course and we still had spare skins available at the Bourg-Saint-Pierre aid station. My skins were almost new, so I had no glue problems.
In the film, you talk about the importance of female role models. Do you have any female role models that come to mind? Women who would have inspired you?
Hillary: When I was young, I was a gymnast, there were a lot of very strong girls who inspired me. Afterwards, in trail running that I have been practicing for ten years, I had the chance to meet some really strong women. For example, Nuria Picas or Emily Forsberg who are very high level athletes and who have an approach to the mountains that I find wholesome. And then in the mountains too, there are great women, mountaineers and climbers whom I like to follow.
Valentine: For me, it’s the female mountaineers; I think it’s always been hard for a woman to break into the world of mountaineering, even though mentalities are changing a bit now. Making a mark, and standing out as a woman in this activity where the models are most often men, that is very inspiring for me.
Hillary: To see someone who looks like you (gender, colour, background, etc.) is very important: it allows you to dream! If your role model is too different from you, it’s difficult to project yourself in that place. I wanted our attempt to inspire others to do it too, so that one day a young girl who sees the film, or who has heard of our adventure, will say to herself: “That‘s a great idea, I could do that too!”.
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