Day 1 – The VKM
With a 7 week break in our busy event schedule it seemed like a good idea to escape the trail of the UK and head out to Chamonix. With the mighty UTMB looming, it was a great chance for us to step into the shoes of the worlds best trail runners and experience just a small bit of this race and see just how brutal it is.
With good old easyJet providing the flights at a mere £30 each way we were good to go.
Then just to find some accommodation, for which we were spoiled for choice. With Chamonix being such a draw all year round there are so many different places to stay for all budgets. We packed our Kitbrix bags which fit perfectly as cabin baggage on easyJet flights even with 2 zipped together. So we boarded our flights and by 9:30 UK time we were sat in Geneva Airport waiting for the Alpybus to get us to our hotel. We chose the Hotel Alpine which is a perfect location and our room looked out on the famous Vertical KM where some of the world’s finest runners have recently pitted their skills against this incredibly tough climb. Kilian Jornet is reputed to have done this in 34mins!
That afternoon we were met at the Alpine Hotel by Adrien from The Advent Running trail team. He had decided, as a welcome to Chamonix, our first run was to be the Vertical KM followed by a 6km descent through some incredible scenery. We quickly pulled on our Stance Run Socks, loaded up our Camelbak Race Ultra packs with Skratch Labs Hydration, Summit Salami and plenty of water and headed out to meet Adrien “AKA The Chamois” or “Mountain Goat” in English!!
Looking up at the Vertical KM our hearts sank; it’s steep! It’s a 1000m climb in just under 4km so you can do the maths!
We hit the bottom of the Vertical KM and we were met with some nice dry, dusty trails underfoot; the right footwear is essential for Chamonix.
Soaking up the beautiful weather we made our way up, turning regularly to drink in the incredible views that Mt Blanc provides.
As we got close to the halfway point Adrien mentioned that we would be climbing ladders so with some excitement at the prospect of tackling even tougher terrain we pushed on to the summit.
The last 200m were just amazing including some pretty dangerous sections with old cables drilled in to the rocks to hang on to.
We reached the top and the calves were screaming! Then, as we were met with a few large claps of thunder, all we could think about was getting down the mountain before getting caught in the rain!
We headed over the top on to some wide open loose stone trails with some even more mind blowing views.
If you thought running downhill was easy then think again. This was just as hard as the climbing as it smashes your quads. With gravity pulling you down the steep loose descents your foot placement needs to been spot on.
After about 5km of descent we headed in to some incredible technical single track, running along the side of the mountain through tight winding trees and rocky drops. We came across a waterfall with fresh glacier water and gorged ourselves on this nectar and refilled our bottles for the final attack.
With Chamonix about 1km away we headed back in to town just as a massive rain storm came though. So what else can you do but sit down and sip back a Mt Blanc White beer…?! All smiles and sore legs, we sit and contemplate the pure beauty of this location.
Day 2 - The Chamois Express
AFTER A FEW BEERS AND EPIC SLEEP, THE 20 MILE ROUTE ADRIEN HAD PLANNED WAS FIRMLY IN OUR MINDS AS WE HEADED IN TO CHAMONIX TO GET OUR BREAKFAST PASTRY FIX TO FUEL US ON THE EPIC JOURNEY.
The weather was on our side again and as we headed to the famous Saint Michel church that the UTMB starts from to meet up with Adrien we found ourselves with a new running partner - Angela from New Zealand who Adrien had been speaking to in his hostel. So with much excitement as to what the day would hold we headed up to the base of the Vertical KM and along the Grand Balcon Sud. This trail runs parallel with the river and is really easy to navigate. There are plenty of signs giving you directions to your chosen route. We were heading on a 1300m climb to Aiguliette des Houches; this climb would put us in the Pain Cave, it was 9 miles long….! Everyone was in high spirits and with the addition of Angela the team dynamic was good.
Once again as we worked our way up this incredible climb, we couldn’t help but loose ourselves in the views that just take your breath away. Before reaching the summit on this climb we came across a small chalet which served food and drink, possibly one of the most awesome locations for this small family run café.
We left the café and headed on up to the the summit. The final climb was pretty tough on the legs but worth every step as the view was just phenomenal. We had a 360° view of the surrounding mountain ranges and were lucky enough to have a clear view of Mt Blanc.
That view was short lived as our attention was drawn to a pretty serious ridgeline which we all agreed would be epic to run. So we finished our European lunch of bread and cheese and headed up to the ridge line.
This is where our guide Adrien engaged Chamois mode and led us along a ridge which was no more than 3ft wide and with sheer drops either side it was pretty intense but exhilarating, possibly the best moment of our run so far.
After descending the ridgeline, we found ourselves looking at another 350m climb to reach the summit of La Brevent. After a fairly quick run up we didn’t stay long to take in the views as the clouds rolled in and threatened us with rain. On the way down we had our first experience of running in the snow and our first real encounter with Chamois! From this point it was all about the descent and with quads ready to rip we set off on the descent back to Chamonix for a much needed beer at a micro brewery.…and my god, the beer tasted amazing.
Day 3 – R&R
SO OUR FINAL DAY WAS UPON US AND AFTER A RESTLESS NIGHT’S SLEEP WE HEADED OUT EARLY TO GRAB SOME MUCH NEEDED COFFEE AND BREAKFAST. WE FOUND A SUPERB CAFE AND SOAKED UP THE MORNING SUN COMING OVER THE MOUNTAINS.
We sat and discussed just how lucky we had been with the weather and were both mesmerised by the bluebird skies over Mt Blanc. On our final morning, we looked through the UTMB guide and chatted about the monumental task that people will take on in just over 4 weeks’ time.
We decided that today would be a good chance to take a look at the Mer De Glacé, and what better way to head up there than by an old rack & pinion train It was our first interaction with a tourist attraction and it just shows how people mostly take the easy option. After seeing probably no more than 20 people on our run routes it puts into perspective how tough some areas of the Mt Blanc region are.
We wound our way up the mountain side climbing to 2000m and the journey up was stunning! It was nice to be able to see the routes we had run from the opposite side of the mountain range and it was quite unbelievable.
Once we disembarked the train we headed off in search of a route on to the glacier itself, but it was closed and the only real way down was by rope access.
We watched a few groups of climbers hiking up the glacier and from our vantage point they looked like ants. It really gave a sense of the scale of this place and how insignificant we look in comparison once on the glacier.
With time not on our side we made the most of the sunlight and got some product shots done for Maverick Apparel, Kitbrix, Skratch Labs and Stance Run.
It was time to pack up our bags and return to Chamonix to do a bit of last minute shopping for the families.
We headed back to our favourite cafe and chatted about just how amazing Chamonix had been.
It really is the Mecca for trail running in Europe and maybe even the world. Chamonix you will forever be in our minds and those mountains are our constant reminder of just how incredible our planet is. The draw to return is so strong and we know we will see you again soon.