Tuesday, 5 September 2017

French Alps Holiday

Yey, Holiday Time! The original plan for this holiday was centred around Tim running the TDS - one of the UTMB races. Going from Courmayer to Chamonix the race covers 110km with 7000m of ascent - so not a short or easy one. Unfortunately injury led to Tim pulling out of the race but the holiday was still on. Tim's written about this over on his blog.

We got ourselves a 4 day lift pass so we could enjoy the Aiguille de Midi station, and get up higher on a few days without the 1000-1500m of ascent needed to get out of the Chamonix valley and on to the high paths. Cheating perhaps, but with a 3hr walk up switch-backs, it isn't something you want to do every day.

Weather was super hot the first half of the holiday, then mixed with a few days of low cloud and rain. We went from super hot to -10 degrees on our last trip up the Aiguille de Midi!

On our way up to the Aiguille de Midi, 3842m
The cable car journeys take 20mins from the valley floor rising 2700m 

Mont Blanc with Digital Crack on the chunk of rock...a hard climb (understatement I'm told)

Back down at the Plan de l'Aiguille at 2310m we had a wander up to Lac Bleu

On the first Saturday we headed up to the Gorges de Notre Dame for a walk up to Col de Bonhomme, an 18km round trip with nearly 1200m ascent.

View from Col de Bonhomme

The next day we headed back up to Chamonix early, wanting to avoid the heat of the day for our walk. But first, Tim headed up to the Plan Praz cable car station the hard way - up the Vertical Kilometre route which goes directly up underneath the cable car. I took the easy option in the cable car this time.

Mont Blanc from Chamonix town centre
I met Tim at the top, and we caught the high level cable car across to Le Brevent. Thankful of the cloud cover, we walked over to the Refuge Bellachat for coffee then down a million and one switch backs back down to Chamonix town centre.

Looking across to Mont Blanc from Le Brevant, 2525m

Heading down the first steep section from Le Brevant

On Tuesday Tim was off doing some Alpine climbing with Kev who we were staying with....you'll have to ask Tim for details of what they did, I just went to see them off as they left the Aiguille de Midi station, out of the ice cave and down the arete onto the glacier. I watched them get smaller and smaller as they crossed the glacier until I could no longer make them out.

Kev and Tim getting ready in the ice cave

They're the two on the left, just leaving the ice cave

and off down the arete

They're just visible by the sticky up rock on the arete

With the majestic Mont Blanc as a backdrop, Tim and Kev are down on the glacier next to those round dots....they're tents!

I took myself off on a delightful run/walk across the high level path from Plan de l'Aiguille to the Mer de Glace train over at Montenvers. Apart from a couple of guys up ahead and a few other runners I had the path to myself - my pace was somewhat slowed because I couldn't resist stopping to take lots of photos!

The Mer de Glace, claiming to be the largest glacier in Europe it is sadly retreating at an alarming rate

The next few days were rainy so we had a good relax, short runs and walks and caught up on doing 'not a lot'. On one of those days we did a little driving tour up to the Col Des Montets - visibility was not great but we did see plenty of markers out for the UTMB races.

Lac Passy - a lovely 2.5km circuit ideal for running, but also windsurfing and swimming

Our final day came too quick and with it more low cloud and rain. Perfect for me to give the Vertical KM a go. Now, this is no easy thing. The Chamonix VertK is one of the toughest because to be classed as an official VertK route the overall distance covered can be no more than 5km, obviously with a minimum of 1000m ascent. The one in Chamonix covers a short 3.5km - meaning it is steep. Very steep. And, to top it off - with no option to go around, right near the top is a section of via ferrata - not ideal when I get vertigo!!

Nevertheless, this was on my list of things to do so here I was. Tim was giving it another go (without getting off course this time!) so we set off together and once he'd finished he'd come back down to give me some encouragement to keep going. I was pleased to get over 700m before he came back down to me.

About a quarter of the way up and in the cloud

Maybe halfway now....totally in the cloud and feeling the calves burning

Yey - I've done the via ferrata section, calmly helped by Tim's reassuring words
After celebrating at the top we didn't hang around - it was cold and we needed to change clothes so we jumped on the cable car down to Chamonix.
In search of coffee....we headed back up the Aiguille de Midi one last time
We had a day pass so thought we'd nip up and see the snow that had been falling - rain in the valley is sure to mean snow up there and we weren't disappointed. In the picture above you can see the lighter green stripe up the opposite hill - that's the cable car route up to Plan Praz - and therefore you can clearly see the route of the Vertical Km which we'd just done!! 

Snow scoured mountains became obvious - but only on the return trip down from the Aiguille de Midi - on the way up the cloud was so thick you couldn't even see the cable car cables!!

Mont Blanc is in the background....honest!

Back in Chamonix town centre it was heaving - the UTMB race was expecting the first finishers in a few hours so we grabbed the most delicious burger and chips I've ever tasted (Poco Loco not far from La Poste if you go to Cham you must go). That VertK had given me a raging appetite!  So, we ate, hung around and soon we had the first UTMB finisher  - Francois d'Haene in only just over 19 hours - incredible for a race 170km long....then 15mins later Kilian Jornet came in second.

A superb holiday, with a good mix of adventure and relaxation. We'll be back to the French Alps - there's a lot to discover out there.