Living and working in both the Swiss Alps and California’s Sierra Nevada, the PatitucciPhoto team of Dan and Janine Patitucci with partner Kim Strom have focused on creating trail running resources for these two mountain ranges.
Daily mountain runs are a main part of their working life. This summer, through rising temperatures, prolonged drought, and shifting landscapes they ran even more than normal, which afforded them a unique perspective on change in the mountains.
What follows are some of their favorite shots from the record-breaking summer of 2022.
Words by Dan Patitucci and Kim Strom.
Our summer kicked off with an early start to Sierra trail running. After another dry winter, the high peaks opened ahead of schedule for running tours and peak bagging. The 14,094-foot Mount Russell, a neighbor to Mount Whitney, moved to the top of the list for early in the season.
By May, we were already staying high to avoid the heat. After a trip up the long trail to Sawmill Pass, Dan hid in a small patch of shade and guzzled all the water he could get. As California started to bake, we took our hard-earned Sierra running fitness and headed to the Alps where we went straight to work on a mini guide to Chamonix Trail Running.
Arriving in Chamonix in June meant having the trails to ourselves for a very brief period. Come July, and through August, the town swells with thousands of trail runners from all over the world. June in Chamonix usually includes lingering snowfields and still unrunnable trails. Not this year. June resembled August and it was immediately apparent that the summer wouldn’t be what we’d come to know as normal.
The ceaseless hot weather allowed us to be out on the trails each day. After a month with more than 300 miles, 100,000 feet of vert, two cases of COVID, and countless baguettes, we had the images and runs for our Chamonix Trail Running Guide.
Temperatures continued to rise. Summer in the Alps usually has periods of sunny, dry spells, but the rain always comes at some point and will even settle in for days at a time. Not this summer, instead, glaciers melted at an alarming rate and rockfall was rampant from the deep melting of the Alps permafrost. With this came the closure of peaks like Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn due to safety concerns. Running La Jonction with Hillary Gerardi, we watched seracs fall from the Mont Blanc massif as rushing meltwater from shrinking glaciers exposed new rock and new dangers.
The record heat and dry conditions in the Alps opened up opportunities for running peaks normally done in “traditional” mountaineering style, with big boots and big packs. The Aletschhorn is a 13,763-foot mountain known for its remote location in the Swiss Alps that is typically done in 2-3 days as a minor expedition.
It’s a peak we never dreamed we’d do in running shoes, but with its south side bone dry for the first time, we headed up with our friend Remco Graas. Sure enough, the usual snowy ridges and open faces were dry talus. Besides a short section of glacier to cross, the route was 4th class scrambling to the summit. (See Running the Aletschhorn for all the route info.)
The next project in our line-up was to spend 3-4 weeks seeking the best trail running tours, consulting, and shooting photos in Switzerland’s easternmost mountains, the Graubünden. Home to the well-known mountain towns of St. Moritz and Davos, the region is fast becoming a premier trail running destination.
An abrupt change in pace from Chamonix, with its hordes of runners, attention to who’s who, and abundant buzz, the Graubünden offered some solitude for us to enjoy its motherload of smooth singletrack. At the easternmost tip of the Swiss Alps, the Val Müstair, we found a trail runner’s paradise.
As Europe’s hottest summer on record shifted into mid-September, we finally had to start checking weather forecasts and carrying rain jackets for the first time in 2022. With the landscape turning yellow, the high peaks got their first dusting of snow. We ran our final trails in the Graubünden and headed for home and a brief break before what comes next. Back to the Sierra’s extended summer, and the continuing seasonal migration of trail running athletes and photographers.
In 2018, PatitucciPhoto published the definitive guidebook to the Swiss Alps called, “Run the Alps Switzerland,” following it up with the online resource Elevation : The Alps Trail & Peak Running Resource, and the Alps first dedicated multi-day running tour, the nine day Via Valais connecting Verbier with Zermatt, Switzerland. In 2021 and 2022, they worked on a guide to the Sierra Nevada, Sierra Trail Runs : A Guide to the Eastside, now available for pre-order.
Watch: Learn more about this amazing team with “Black Diamond Presents: Into The Route.”