No doubt on what the most famous ultra-trail is: the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. It starts in Chamonix, France and features 10.000mt D+ and 170km development across 3 countries: France, Switzerland and Italy. Two years ago I won the lottery for CCC – one of the 6 course of the UTMB event – but in the end I didn’t go. I then decided to check out the places where I should have raced.
While planning my travel to Chamonix, I made an extensive search for good trails where to run. One of the first results I got from Google was the Vallee du Trail website (www.valleedutrail.com), that offers a mobile App with suggestions for trails divided by levels. Once installed the App, I looked for suggested readings to find out the bestseller was the book by Kingsley Jones “Trail Running – Chamonix and the Mont Blanc region” (more info at this link). It isn’t easily reachable online and almost impossible to find it in book stores in Italy. In the end, it was too late and I only I bought a 1:50.000 map of the region and made my way to Chamonix.
Immediately after crossing the Mont Blanc tunnel I felt in a magic place. Chamonix is situated at 1.000mt altitude in a valley between very high mountains. Two cableways from Chamonix directly takes you to Aguille du Midi at 3.842mt and, on the opposite side, to Le Brevent at 2.525mt.
Using the incredibly well made Vallee du Trail App I planned a big tour for day 1. I woke up early feeling like I child at Christmas Eve and wore shoes and camelback. My wife drove me to Vallorcine, the town immediately after Argentiere. The App marked the trail as Difficult with 1.600mt D+ and 26km development but I was not afraid, since I dealt with something similar in the past and I was euphoric. It was great fun from the beginning jumping up big rocks along a river. The trail brought me to a pass covered with snow and then to the highest peak of the trail at Col de Salenton at 2.526mt.
From there the slight downhill didn’t allow speed because of muddy slippery terrain. Water pour from stream and waterfalls everywhere. The environment was wild and silent. At km 15 I found the Refuge de Moëde Anterne (http://www.refuge-moede-anterne.com) where I filled up my flask. After another couple kilometers I had a blast seeing Lak de Pormenaz, a small Lake at 2.000mt altitude with a crystal clean water. From there it was a way down to Servoz where I met my wife at the train station waiting for me with very appreciated and fine food!
On Day 2 I rested because of bad weather conditions and went to Annecy for a fast day trip, that I recommend.
On Day 3 I went for what the App described as an “Easy” level trail. The course started in the centre of Chamonix and brought me up to Chalet Floria at 1.355mt. The Chalet was beautifully built on the side of the mountain, a wonderful balcony reached out the valley. Unfortunately, that day was very cloudy and foggy, so I couldn’t enjoy the view, anyway it was great fun. The way back was very slippery, so I had to slow down the pace to avoid a fall.
On Day 4 I had sore legs but I didn’t want to waste the opportunity of a final run before going back home.
I planned to go with my wife on the top of the first cableway stop to Le Brevent at 1.999mt, so instead of taking the cableway I ran up the steep 1.000mt D+. There are two trails climbing up the mountain: one is below the pylons with a final climbing and the other one seemed easier. I decided to go for the easier one. I found the trail interrupted by two different landslides so I had to climb the rocks to get back to the trail twice. The trail was not clean so I couldn’t run, but the view on Chamonix and Mount Blanc was amazing. I never experienced something comparable before. At the cableway arrival station, I found a lot of people doing paragliding and finally a fresh bottle of water. The way back I decided not to run, in the end who like descending!
My days in Chamonix are now over but I’m absolutely sure I will be back. Chamonix it’s a beautiful city, well served and full of countless trails in all directions. It can be described as the trail runner paradise, indeed. However, Chamonix has much to offer to anybody likes nature.
I love you Chamonix, I love you Mont Blanc!