Whilst I’m inspired by the UTMB I’ve never actually wanted to do it – a fact Kev is probably eternally grateful for – but when Kev suggested that we take this year’s holiday in the Northern Alps about two weeks before UTMB I found myself suggesting Chamonix. He agreed and half an hour later we had an apartment booked. Fast forward a month and a half and we’d arrived.
Chamonix is located in the Haute Savoie area in the Rhone-Alpes region in the south-eastern part of France. In between the massive peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges and the Aiguille du Midi, Mont Blanc.
The holiday plan included some running, including two four-hour runs as I’m training for my ultra, The Grand Tour of Skiddaw. There are loads of popular routes around the valley but I was really excited about running some of the UTMB course.
I attempted, with the emphasis on ‘attempted’, to run the first 13 miles of the UTMB course on Sunday, the day after we arrived. I didn’t have route notes or anything so this was kind of made up based on looking at the route people took in 2015 on Strava. I was making one deliberate change to go to the top of Tete de la Charme before picking up the route again.
I said goodbye to Kev and the girls, with a see you in St-Gervais-les-Bains in four-hours, which was how long I had predicted it would take me to run the 13 miles.
It was easy running from Chamonix to Les Houches and I arrived in Les Houches on my planned schedule. I then started the walk up to the top of Tete de la Charme during which I spoke to a nice French bloke who asked if I was training for the UTMB as I walked past. I replied, “No, I’m not that daft but some of my friends are,” or words to that effect. Eventually he decided he had better wait for his wife, and I carried on.
It was all going so well until I got near to the bottom of the Fontaines ski run and found it was shut with tape barriers across the path and everything. My map showed another way around so I went that way only to find myself in a dead-end with more tape barriers across the path. I turned back on myself and unwilling to go back up the hill I ducked under the barrier and carrier on my planned route – in my defence there were at least six other people walking around the other side of the tape barriers.
A bit further on and there were a couple more taped barriers across the path. I should of turned left to run down to Montivon, so instead I indulged in some more on the run map reading/route planning and turned right to head for St-Gervais-les-Bains. The bonus here was that I got to cross the train tracks just before the train up the valley came past so I stopped and had a drink while waving to all the passengers who seemed a very friendly bunch and waved back while shouting things like, “Bonjour” and “Allez!”I picked up the UTMB route a bit further on but I was aware I would have ran around two bonus miles by the time I got to St-Gervais-les-Bains. I was going to be about four-hours for 15 miles, better than the four-hours for 13 miles I predicted but I had a deadline and a family to meet so rather than follow the trail UTMB route into St-Gervais-les-Bains I decided just to follow the road. A brief stop to take some photos on some tourists phones for them and I was in St-Gervais-les-Bains feeling very pleased with myself, a lot more confident at map reading and navigating and ready for a trip up the Aiguille du Midi with the family.
There’s nothing technical about this section of the UTMB, but I did trash my quads running down into St-Gervais-les-Bains, but that’s more to do with me not training for running down that type of long, steep downhill.
My first impressions are that the Chamonix valley is a beautiful valley with miles and miles (or should that be kilometres and kilometres since we’re in France?) of trails from easy wide paths by the river to leg burning descents. You really need to go!
Until next time…