When I arrived back from Scotland this spring initially I was wiped out and the idea of running anywhere wasn’t even the slightest of considerations. After a few weeks of beers, PlayStation (yep) and general inactivity I started to yearn for some fast paced mountain exercise and with skiing being quite limited with the lack of snow this winter I quickly turned my attention to trail running.
I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with running over the years. I love the idea of it. Moving quickly through the mountains jumping from boulder to boulder, flying down scree slopes and sprinting up perfect alpine trails. Perhaps it would be like that if I were more like Killian Jornet but alas not many of us are. The reality is sore legs, lots of walking up hill (but shhh don’t tell anyone you walk otherwise you can’t claim to be a runner, and walking isn’t cool anyway) and the odd twisted ankle. Nevertheless I started out again trying to warm up slowly. After a few shorter runs and staying on top of the inevitable tight and sore lower leg stabilising muscles that haven’t been used after a winter in stiff boots, I started to put in for some longer runs. After a few weeks of long (2hours or more) slow and steady climbs and runs down on the trails behind my house I was ready for some adventures.
Heres my round up of my top five favourite adventurous long runs from this summer so far in no particular order. Discalimer; Some of these “runs” are certainly more skyrunning or skywalking even. Perhaps if your uber fit you can run some of the routes(?) perhaps not but either way I always ventured out on these runs in good weather with trail running shoes, shorts, t-shirt, windproof top, phone, 750ml of water, neck gaiter and some food all stashed in a Salomon Running vest and of course my Suunto Spartan Ultra for recording the tracks. Thats not to say some people might feel better being with a rope and climbing equipment on some of the trips!
1. The Autannes Ridge
Perhaps this is known as something else but its been on my to do list for a while since my friends Joel and Pete did it a few years back. This route starts from the Top of the chair lift in Le Tour where you head towards the Col de Balme then up onto the skyline ridge heading towards the Aiguille du Tour. You go over three summits on the way; Les Grandes Otanes, Pointe des Berrons and the Point des Grands and then drop down from the Col des Grands back towards the Albert premier Refuge where you can stop for some fizzy suger if you require before giving it the big legs back towards the chair lift. Pretty neat circuit I have you thinking, but its not with out its difficulties. It is pretty exposed and does require some climbing skills. Nothing too difficult but you will be using your hands for sure. Also it does cover quite a bit of loose rock along the way. This definitely falls closer to scrambling than running if I’m honest but it your looking for a similar adventure but without the exposure then a run up to the Col des Grands and back could be just what your looking for.
I don’t want to tell you too much but if your fit, capable of some easy scrambling, have good mountain sense and you’re up for an adventure this could be one for your wish list. What I will say is I descended a steep loose gully just after the Pointe Des Grands and that wasn’t a great idea… Carry on further to the Col and come down there.
2. Mont Joly
A few weeks ago me and Irene were dog sitting but wanted to go for a big hike/run. It was pretty warm nice weather and we fancied going somewhere out of the valley but not too far. I’d always wanted to go to the top of Mont Joly in Megeve and thought what better way to get a long duration, Zone 1 (easy pace). We walked the whole way up more or less (see I tricked you into thinking this was about running) and ran down the same way. We started from the Le Baptieu in Les Contamines and followed the trail signs to Mont Joly from there. It certainly was a bit of a grind in the heat but it was pretty awesome crossing through the huge alpine meadows high up then going across the ridge to the summit. The summit itself is a bit scruffy with a massive service station up there but it does have great views of the Mont Blanc massif and is a worthy trip out. This is one of the only true Trails out of the five also!
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3. Balcons de la Mer de Glace to the Couvercle Refuge
This particular journey is pretty unique as you have to quite a bit of time on the Mer de Glace trotting past Alpinists who are clad in there heavy gear as you slip and slide around in your running shoes and shorts. Newish or sturdier running shoes is recommended for this one as Irene Found out on the ice! This is a there and back type run which pushes the boundaries again of “running” as at least 1/3 of the day is spent climbing up and down ladders. All this said you should only venture out on this run if your capable of doing exposed ladders, you know how to navigate your way around a dry glacier and you understand that your going deep deep into the mountains in a very light weight style. Expect some funny looks on the glacier!! If running or trying to do this fast seems stupid or isn’t your thing then I would strongly recommend taking a 20m rope and harness and using the fixed carabiners to protect yourself on the ladders, and spending a night in the Couvercle. This has to be one of my favourite mountain refuges. All in all it was a great day and on that I will for sure be doing again in summers to come. Perhaps I’ll even be offering this as a guided day out in the future! Heres what you do…
Start from Montenvers (or add in the Via Corda to the start if you want to add some more scrambling to your already very long day). From here, drop down onto the glacier via the ladders, “run” up the glacier (keep your eyes pealed for Cristals and Crevasses!), climb up the new (ish) ladders situated between the Charpoua and the Couvercle refuges. From here the trail begins proper but you’ll have already covered most of the distance of one way by this point. The path across has to be one of the most jaw dropping of all alpine trails and leads you up to the Couvercle Refuge where you can stop for a coffee and even a slice of cake! Take a quick trip to the massive boulder that sits over the old refuge and take in the views of the North face of the Grandes Jorasses. Then about turn and go back the way you came. Don’t forget the ladders are easier on the way down if you face out…. Have fun!
This short, rough cut video should give you a bit of a flavour of the day!
4. La Jonction
This is the only other true trail run of the five. If you like vertical ascent like me then this is the one to do as it has 1800m of ascent from les Bossons . I think it’s one of my favourite up and down runs in Chamonix and well worth anyone undertaking it if you have some degree of fitness. The Strava times are ridiculous but even if you planned to take the whole day to go up there and back I’m sure you wouldn’t be disappointed. I’ve been up there four times this summer now so that shows how good it is! You can take the two man chairlift in les Bossons (included in the Chamonix lift pass) to cut out a lot of the ascent and the lower part isn’t the most interesting section anyway. They do also let you take dogs on there too if you have a trail buddy.
It is clearly signposted from the top of the chairlift and you can’t really go wrong. However there is a trail that drops down on the Tacconaz side from about 2/3 of the way up. It is sign posted that it closed and for good reason. Not recommended. There are a couple of steep sections where you might need to use your hands for balance but this add to the journey for me. The lower section in the forest can be a little dull as there isn’t a huge amount to see but as you gain hight you start to get some amazing glimpses of the glaciers on either side. It gets its name from being the point where the Bossons and Tacconaz Glaciers meet and at the highest point your surrounded by glaciers on three sides which is pretty unique.
Near the top you’ll pass a big boulder with a sign on it. Thats was where Jacques Balmat and Michel Paccard slept when they did the first ascent of Mont Blanc on the 7th of August 1786. At the top of the Jonction you’ll have an amazing view of the Chamonix valley, west face of the Aiguille du Midi and the Grand Mulet Route on the Mont Blanc as well as the impressive north faces of Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit.
If your in Chamonix for a week I would highly recommend this Outing.
5. Mont Buet Via the North Ridge
STRAVA LINK HERE (but not the correct way onto the ridge)
The Trails around Le Beut are some of the best in The area and provide the intrepide runner with a plethora of good adventure options for long days out. Having been up Mont Buet several times in the winter and once in the summer via the normal route up the Bérard valley I was keen to try something else. Irene had suggested the north ridge and I had heard it was good so we were keen to check it out. I’d also only been in the Tre les Eaux Valley once in the autumn and was keen to see it without its wintery coat.
From Le Buet Train station you can either head up the Berard valley then cross the river on the first bridge after the buvette (about 1 k up) then you do a dog leg to pick up the trail that leads up to the Tre les Eaux Valley. If you were smart you’d walk up from Le Couteray following signs from there.
The hike/ run up the Tre les Eaux is pretty cool taking in a short rock step with the use of some chains. Curiously the river was flowing strong at the bottom but when we got to the upper flat part there was no water to be seen. We carried on direct rather than climbing up to the Cheval Blanc which I would recommend over the way we went. We zig zaged our way up then attacked the steep grassy and rocky slopes at the end of the valley. It was quite the trudge and if it was wet it would have been very sketchy. Once on the north ridge some cables help you climb up towards the summit of Mont Buet and had it been less cloudy I’m sure the views would have been awesome. We stopped for a few moments on the summit then started the long descent down into the Bérard Valley. All in all a pretty big day and a great fun adventure to have with nothing on your back. Go for it!
Thats All! Happy Running everyone and please feel free to share this with your running friend who is heading to Chamonix for the UTMB! It might give them some inspiration for some training runs!