An arena for adventure and adrenaline.
However there is one, probably above all others that captures the runners mind, that race is the Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc (UTMB) a grueling 105miles with 32808ft of ascent. Not a race for the feint hearted.
I’d planned a run that would take me along part of this famous route, from the far end of the Chamonix valley, my feet on the Franco-Swiss border and then across the stunning peaks dropping down to Montroc Le Planet before the brutal ascent up to Lac Blanc.
From here I’d run downhill, at least as far as le Flegere cable car station, before crossing to Plan Praz and the intense descent to Cham through the switchbacks visible to all those above.
Starting out I jumped the train to Vallorcine on the border and walked over to find the cable cars closed. Not a good start. I had minutes to work out what to do, not wanting to be stuck with road running after coming this far up the valley I ran back to the station and caught the same train back two stops – some furious map reading indicated I could jump off at Montroc le Planet and, after crossing the railway could start running up from there, I’d miss one mountain but I’d still get a serious ascent and swift descending, so all seemed ok.
The ascent was hard, keeping a reasonable pace up here proved a challenge, but occasional lifts came from passing others who were walking up. However, a new challenge arose once I realized there were sections of Via Ferrata, some much longer than others – none particularly stretching but all requiring a good degree of concentration which, given I was going pretty much straight up, also meant my average pace reduced as I wasn’t moving forward very fast.
The views across the valley were unbelievable and from this vantage point opened up the mountains showing normally hidden valleys, occasional photo’s were in order, especially of Lac Blanc, truly a wonder and a place to stop and admire. I certainly did even though my time was affected it was not something to rush, although the descent from this wonderful little lake was quite special. Thrown down the mountainside on this route there was no margin for error, if things went wrong then things would really go wrong, steep sections made of rocky steps required careful negotiation and there was a fair amount of it before I reached Le Flegere.
Here I bumped into some of our group and chatted to them, before the need to get moving again.
Trying to keep a decent pace was a challenge for several reasons. Firstly, the ground was nothing short of a rollercoaster, the only constant here was the sheer variation of the ups and downs following each other with a regularity that defied a consistent pace and certainly added to overall tiredness, which was the second reason. It was tiring, I certainly felt some altitude affects and I had no doubt my body hadn’t fully recovered from the two days on Mont Buet, bottom line – physically and mentally this was tough.
Plan Praz couldn’t come quickly enough despite my best efforts to be as mindful of each moment of this wonderful run and its beautiful setting, I considered Le Brevant, I even took a few steps up towards its summit, but the fact that I was nearly out of water and feeling tired made me reconsider and make what was the more logical decision, to head down.
Not, it should be pointed out, that this was the easy decision. This wasn’t an opt-out, a quick fix, nothing of the sort. The route down was swift and consisted of the switchbacks mentioned earlier.
It was going to be a challenge. And it was, not only because to keep descending is hard but also because I would have to keep on navigating my way down, to take the wrong path would mean that I sent myself well off route and leave me miles out of my way on the valley floor. Not a positive, especially when feeling so tired. The map and I became the best of friends.
Stopping however was not much fun as every stop necessitated a start, and the starts hurt. Not in a particularly excruciating way, in a more numbing way, the muscles weren’t keen and it was hard to re-motivate after every, necessary, stop. Chamonix came soon afterwards and I threaded my way through the streets back to an appointment with a hot tub. This had been a fantastic run, with incredible views and perfect weather, it was tiring and hard, and all the more worthwhile for it.