Friday, September 4, 2015

Chamonix and the CCC route

After a great week in Zermatt, Joel, Joe and I headed over to Chamonix to continue our trail running and training camp. It was the week before UTMB so there were plenty of runners over there and the atmosphere in town was incredible. I could feel the intensity and excitement in the air and I loved seeing all the runners doing their final preparations for the race.

We did a couple of training runs early in the week from Chamonix on some classic routes. First from Chamonix up to Plan d'Aiguille and back. Second from Chamonix to Plan Praz to La Flégère and back down to Chamonix. The weather was tough on the first day, however, it cleared after that and the views were incredible making for perfect running weather.

A perfect photo spot between Plan Praz and La Flégère.
Looking over Chamonix to Mont Blanc.

Running the CCC route

As a last long training run before his race at the end of the month Joel wanted to do a back-to-back with some good mileage. I would like to run UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc) or CCC (Courmayeur, Champex-Lac, Chamonix) next year so we decided to run the CCC route over two days. We chose Wednesday and Thursday last week which was the day before the actual CCC race so the course was mostly marked and we didn't have to find our own way around the route.

CCC route day 1

We started early and caught the bus from Chamonix through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Courmayeur. It's an easy 45min journey (€15) and we arrived in Courmayeur to beautiful warm weather.

The first part of the day was a perfect start to an incredible journey. The sun was just peaking up and we could see the sheer faces of the Alps and Mont Blanc looming above us. We ran to rifugio Bonatti and rifugio Bertone along the smooth and runnable trails that wind up the valley. It was pretty easy going and we set a decent pace.

Monte Bianco from the Italian side of the mountain.

Some abandoned building after rifugio Bonatti.

The big challenge of the day came after the two refugios. The climb up Grand Col Ferret. This climb is the high point on the route and marks the border between Italy and Switzerland. We diligently worked our way up and were rewarded with some brilliant views back down the valley and of glaciers in the mountains.

Joel showing me the climb up Col Grand Ferret.

Looking back towards Courmayeur from Col Grand Ferret.

The TMB route is well marked everywhere we went.

Descending on the Swiss side of the col we felt that we had worked up a pretty good hunger after a few hours of running. We stopped at La Peule and had the hugest sandwiches I've ever seen. The lady in the rifugio pulled out a circle of cheese when we made our order and cut us thick slabs of cheese to put in 3cm centimetre thick slices of bread. It was one of the simplest and best sandwiches ever!

A long descent from La Peule to La Fouly.

The beautiful little town of La Fouly.

The last part of our day was a long descent (about 20km) into Switzerland and then a short, sharp climb to Champex-Lac. Joel and I made a good pace on the descent, fuelled by our huge sandwiches, and hiked up to Champex-Lac. It was a warm and sunny evening and a treat to arrive in Champex-Lac to stay the night.



CCC route day 2

The second half of the CCC route is definitely the most difficult. It is essentially three big climbs and three big ascents from Champex-Lac to Chamonix. We left out cosy BnB next to the lake after a huge breakfast (more tremendous slices of Swiss cheese and bread) to face the day.

The first of the three climbs goes past Bovine and over to Col de la Forclaz and then to the aid station at Trient. It was a beautiful morning with the sun rising and bringing warmth in the mountains. We climbed gradually and slowly increased the pace as the day warmed up. The descent was longer than I remembered from a run here once before, but the trails were smooth and fun going.

An early morning start.

Enjoying the view in the Swiss Alps.

The second climb was up from Trient to Catogne and over to Vallorcine. I've run this climb quite a few times and feel familiar with it. It's a steep grind at first then becomes more runnable terrain with views down the valley towards Maritgny and later over the railway line of the Mont Blanc Express train railway line on the border between Switzerland and France. Knowing the climb helped a lot because I was starting to feel tired and the fatigue and discomfort were creeping into my legs. That could only mean one thing: time for a lunch break in Vallorcine!

Great view from the climb to Catogne.

All mountain trails and fortunately all downhill to Vallorcine.

From Vallorcine the final push is up and over Tete Aux Vents to Chamonix. We were going slow and feeling tired and the thought of just wanting the run to be over had started to creep into our minds. You can see by the fact that I only have one good photo from that section that I was starting to get tired. I don't think the section was especially tough, rather that it came at the end of two long days. I'd love to run it again fresh and learn the climb and what it feels without so many miles in the legs.

Two glaciers in the view from Tete Aux Vents!!

Running into Chamonix was an amazing feeling. We had completed our goal, had two fun days on the trail and were ready for some well earned rest and food.