I’ve always packed pretty light but rolling off a 15 hour flight with little more than a backpack took packing “light” to a new level.  As Ryan Ghelfi and I jogged toward the Geneva train station with everything we needed for the next week on our backs, I felt a new level of freedom, and just a little bit of fear.

Did I pack enough warm clothes?

Would the trail be covered in snow?

Are we going to starve out there?

Our goal for the trip was fast packing the Haute Route–a classic trail that rides valleys and ridge lines high in the Alps from Chamonix to Zermatt–and the plan was simple: run until tired, eat some food, go to bed, and do it all over again tomorrow.

The gear we carried was minimal and all of it was well-tested before the trip.

My Ultimate Direction Fastpack 35 contained the following:

  • sleeping pad and bag
  • UD FK Bivy
  • UD FK Tarp
  • One pair of running shorts
  • Trail shoes
  • T-shirt
  • Down jacket
  • Rain shell
  • iPhone
  • Couple chocolate bars
  • A toothbrush (with the handle cut off)

For me, cutting the handle off a toothbrush is less about the weight and more about the ritual. For those few moments of hacking at the plastic handle of a toothbrush I get to reflect on the fact that whatever I’m about to do will probably be really tough.

And things on the Haute Route got tough.

After about 25 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing it became clear that the snow was too deep for us to accomplish our goal. We packed for August and it was October. To avoid a freezing alpine night sleeping on the snow we ran downhill for about 10 miles to get to lower elevation. Just as it got dark we found a campground where we dropped our packs, ate the last of our food, and climbed into our bivys exhausted and a little bummed.

We had missed our goal.

Initially the trip felt like a big waste of time. We quickly reminded ourselves, this is only a failure if we don’t learn from it. We learned that running with 20 pounds on your back is actually quite doable. We learned that planning to fuel exclusively with candy isn’t exactly sustainable. We learned the nuances of our gear and the nuances of ourselves a little better. We learned the Swiss don’t like it when you accidentally crumple your train ticket, and finally we learned that days spent moving fast through mountains is never a waste of time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In good conditions and with the knowledge learned from failure, we’re confident David and Ryan will put down a seriously fast time on this classic route. Stay tuned for the redux…