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, and 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 run 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!