Crampons: a critical piece of equipment for the Aneto-Posets Great Trail
THE ANETO-POSETS GRAN TRAIL
The first Aneto-Posets Gran Trail was held in Benasque in July, 2014. The 106km route was set in the heart of the highest mountains in the Pyrenees. Unlike most trail running races, this one takes place in high mountain territory and, in this respect, it is similar to the Mont Blanc Ultra Trail.
Although most of the route can be run, there is a section in the Aneto-Posets Gran Trail which belongs more to the world of mountaineering than to trail running: Salenques valley. Here is how one of the runners (RamÃ³n Ferrer) described this section: âwithout a doubt, this is the toughest part of the race, due to its verticality and the amount of snow, which was frozen and proved to be difficult and dangerous for the runners. Many chose to wear crampons for this section, but shoe crampons on such steep terrain need to be handled with precaution.â
On the other hand this valley is covered in large rocks that go all the way up to the Vallibierna mountain lakes at km 41 and it becomes almost impossible to run this 20km stretch. The sea of rocks can make even the toughest runners despair, but at a height of almost 2000m, it is also spectacular high mountain terrain, with rocks, more rocks, snow, ice, mountain lakes and stunning scenery.
Runners descending Salenques col.
In a competition of this kind, the organizers request a much longer list of mandatory gear, which means extra weight in your pack. This can be hard to accept for minimalists who are used to taking the least amount of gear on trail running competitions in less extreme conditions. But it is important to understand how quickly things can get complicated in the mountains, if the weather deteriorates. Fog and hail can slow you down or even make you stop, which is not advisable at these altitudes. Evacuating a runner can also be extremely difficult, because unlike most races, there are no marked trails in many sections of the race.
Our Barrabes colleague, Fernando TomÃ¡s, completed the race in 23 hours and came 19th. His comments after the race were very clear on the use of crampons: âI gained over an hour at Salenques and I caught up with about 15 runners on the descent. I felt secure on the descent while others were very tense, some even asked me to give them a hand getting down. In spite of the safety rope, there was a serious accident.â
Our colleague, Fernando during the race. Foto: M. Esteban
Upon arrival, another runner who reached the finishing line a few minutes after Fernando, claimed to have gained two hours during the same descent over other runners who had reached the col at the same time but werenât wearing crampons.
And this brings two questions to mind:
- Can we play with our safety, even our life to avoid carrying 500 grams more in our pack?
- By avoiding this extra weight do we really reduce fatigue if it means taking 2 extra hours to complete the race and suffer a great deal of tension and effort due to the precarious conditions?
- Do we actually spend more energy in that time than the energy we save by carrying a lighter load?
Fernando has no doubts: âNot taking crampons for this kind of competition is an unnecessary risk, which ends in lost energy and time; two essential things in an ultra-trail. Of course, you must optimize the weight of your pack, but itâs easy to distribute the 500 grams properly, so that they donât interfere during the race and the benefits they offer in technical areas is invaluable."
MICRO CRAMPONS AND CRAMPONS FOR COMPETITION USE
Micro crampons are designed to be used on flat terrain â let there be no mistake. They are almost totally useless if used on a steep slope with hard or frozen snow. These micro crampons were designed to prevent slipping over when walking in snowy towns and villages. They may prove to be effective in competitions with flat trails, but on alpine terrain, such as that found in the Aneto-Posets Gran Trail, they are useless.
However, there are two models of crampons on the market that have been specifically designed for mid to high mountain competitions. These crampons are made for shoes and fit like a glove. They can also be used with a trekking boot in certain situations and on uncomplicated terrain. The spikes are similar to a those of a trekking crampon and they are lighter, although not as light as a micro-crampon.
During the Aneto-Posets Gran Trail with the Camp Ice Master M
ICE MASTER M, CAMP
Fernando TomÃ¡s used the medium sized Ice Master by the Italian brand, Camp (approx. 480 g). There are four sizes available.
Camp Ice Master M - 39/41 Orange
Camp Ice Master M - 39/41 Orange
The attachment system developed by Camp makes it extremely quick and easy to put these crampons onto trail running shoes. Just slip in the toe and pull the rear rubber tab over your heel. It feels as if it wraps round your foot rather than being tied into strap crampons.
Itâs important to ensure the rear rubber heel has been pulled upwards so that the chains between the points are taught. The upper Velcro then tightens the rubber straps to keep the chains taught, but this should be done after pulling up the rubber heel.
The Ice Master has 12 points that give sufficient penetration in deep snow. It consists of three parts: the heel, with four points, the central part with six points and a mobile part, with two points. This mobile section rocks on the ascent thanks to two hinges that adapt to the flex of your toe.
The chains and mobile section give the crampon good flexibility and adapt to shoe movement. This, together with the Velcro strap and rubber upper, ensures a good fitting crampon that wonât come off your shoe easily during activity.
PERFORMANCE OF THE ICE MASTER ON THE ANETO-POSETS GRAN TRAIL
After the trail, Fernando shared his race experience:
I arrived at the Salenques col with my running partner at 3 am. The snow was hard and there was also a fine layer of ice on top.
When the snowy area started to ascend, some of the organizers informed us about the snow conditions and the safety ropes which had been placed to the left of the gully on the descent. As soon as I put on the Ice Master M I felt they were effective and soon started to pass other runners who were ascending less comfortably. My rhythm on the ascent was safe and stable and I didnât even need to follow the steps of the ones in front as the points sank in easily.
When we reached the col, other organizers gave us another briefing about the descent and the safety ropes. It was at this point where things started to get really tricky for the majority of runners and I passed about fifteen runners, simply because of the help we were getting from the crampons. This is where I got the best performance out of the crampons, because I between most sections of snow I kept them on until the break of dawn.
I soon found that I could use them to cross the short rocky areas. On some occasions I removed them (which took about 10 seconds) when I reached the rock, but mostly, I kept them on.
Dawn on the Aneto-Posets Gran Trail. The lakes between Salenques and Llauset
I didnât slip or stumble once and the crampons performed well on the ascent with no need to change my style, thanks to the flex that adapts to the shoe. On the descent, where they were most useful, the long points (if we compare them to micro-crampons) dug in perfectly and gave a great deal of security.
Given the results, I think it is definitely worth carrying the Ice Master M, in spite of the extra 500g, considering the time, energy and, more importantly, the safety gained both on the ascent and descent.
Although the rubber upper has a small tab on the heel, if it were larger it would be easier to pull the crampons on when wearing gloves. As I mentioned earlier, the rubber heel has to be pulled upwards to tighten the chains.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR USE
I would definitely recommend these crampons for trail running races in the mountains. The difference with mini-crampons is that the Ice Master points sink well into the snow, for better downhill performance.
However, it should be clear that these are not mountaineering crampons and they shouldnât be used as such, and certainly not on more complex terrain or steep slopes.