14th July Thursday Heading for home

I decided that an overnight stop near Reims would be a good idea to break up the journey home. This would mean a 390 mile journey from Chamonix to Reims followed by a 200 mile from Reims to Calais. Then one of my good friends from my University days, Jason, Is kindly having me stay over at his place in Wellwyn Garden City. All this breaks up the journey into manageable chunks. I was keen to avoid another 520 mile journey (Potes to Mataro).
So after taking down my big tent for the last time I left a damp Chamonix behind. It was a bad start as my sat nav took me on a scenic route through Les Houches and over a mountain pass. I cursed it but then though it may have been my fault. I think that whilst reviewing the route with the rubbish touch screen (apple it definitely isn’t) I may have altered the course then saved it. Ah well it was a nice route, well it would have been had I not had another 370 miles to go.
I went to the first choice site near Reims but found nothing. I wasn’t so sure about the translation in Google, I think it may have meant Champagne, not camping, because there was a nice champagne chateaux. So I put in the next choice which meant another 65 miles, a total of 460 miles. I am glad though as I am at one of the best campsites of the whole trip, and only 12 euros per night. Maybe I will come back and stay longer another time. I’ll have to figure out exactly where I am first though! I know I only have 120 miles tomorrow to Calais then a further 100 miles to Jason’s gaff. I also have a very easy camp to pack into the car, even if it does look like I should be at Glastonbury! Life is good.
I won’t post until I get home now on Saturday or Sunday. But safe to say I have been doing a lot of reminiscing over the last two days. My last post on this trip will be about my gathered thoughts on the whole experience.

13th July Wednesday Climbing competition day 2

The day was a wash-out. It rained for most of the day, stopping only in the late afternoon; it then drizzled whilst I joined a good crowd to watch the technical climbing competition. They had to get as high as they could on the wall. Two of the women managed it. But prior to me leaving having had enough of the standing in the drizzle, no man had made it beyond the final overhang.
I spent the rest of the day organising my kit ready for packing up to head home.

12th July Tuesday A long TMB training run

  Nothing much to report from Monday, not even worth a post just a hot day resting for a long run on Tuesday.

I decided that instead of doing a climb from Les Houches to the Gouter hut and back, I would be better off doing a long training run that was more like the TMB course. So I got the bus to Col De Montets; again; and did the TMB route to La Flagere; again; but this time I climbed over the Col De la Gliere then descended down to Plan Praz, then ascend to Le Brevent before descending back to Chamonix via Bell Lachat. It was a hot day and by 9am I could feel the heat. Never the less it was an enjoyable 5 hour run even though the trails were a little busy for someone running.
I have tried to estimate the distance and ascent but it is tricky as I don’t have a map that goes beyond Le Brevent. But I think that it was about 1,900 meters and 13 miles in 5 hours 5 mins.


In the evening I watched the speed climbing section of the world cup series. It was good to see these pros climbing at a sprint. The final was between a Czech and a Russian climber. The Russian won it in a world record time of 6.37 seconds, incredible. A Polish lady won the women’s race in 8.5 seconds. Tomorrow night it is the problem wall.

10th July Mont Buet

I got the early (free) train from Chamonix to Le Buet to have a go at climbing Mont Buet (3,096m). The town of Le Buet is at 1,350m making the ascent a fairly tough 1,746 meters. I decided on an early start as the weather forecast predicted thunder storms anytime in the afternoon. Again I believed the forecast because on Friday night it looked like aliens where trying to blow up Mont Blanc with white lasers. The sky in that area was cloudy but flashes of bright white were to be observed around the Mont Blanc summit area for about 2 hours constantly. It didn’t rain much but there was a lot of lightning.
So at 08:20 I set off for Mont Buet from Le buet train station using the very good mountain signs, and noting the first one saying 6 hours to the summit. I was not intending taking that long and I didn’t. Doing it as kind of a training run and speed being the order of the day, I was surprised that I met a French guy who asked me if I was doing a TMB training run as he was doing the same but on a different route. Maybe there are quite a lot of local people training at the moment as the race nears. I carried on with no navigational issues through a valley and up a rocky section, then a steep rounded ridge to the summit. Or at least I thought it was. It was actually a relay point for the emergency services. The summit was a little further across a small ridge. After 2 hours 35 minutes I was on it and asking a guy to take a photo to mark my first time above 10,000 feet (10,157 feet); without cheating with a cable car anyway (Bellevue to the bottom of the Grand Couloir). I descended in about 1 hour 30 minutes and made the 12:31 train back to Chamonix.
I watched the Grand Prix. Then later went to have a drink with Ali Welsh and a nice family whom he is guiding up Mont Blanc via the 3 Monts route. I enjoyed a couple of drinks and a chat, whished them luck and headed off to meet Vince for a Pizza and a chat. It would be hard to top that day on this holiday. A 10,000 foot summit and great company, if only Lewis Hamilton could have won at Silverstone. Ah well you can’t have everything.

9th July Gaz problems again

Most of my Saturday was taken up, again, by problems with my Camping gaz. After cooking breakfast I started my daily routine of gathering heat sensitive items of food, and also the Butane Camping Gaz cylinder together to put in the shade under the car. The gas cylinder felt very light. I shook it and there was very little liquid in it. Not good after just 2 days use. Thinking at the time that I didn’t switch the gas off properly and let it leak away, I spent the rest of the day tracking a new cylinder down. I eventually found some in a shop in Le Praz, but only after resorting to asking where there is a camping shop at the tourist information centre. I am typing this on a sunny Monday morning after discovering that my stove has been very slowly leaking. I affected a fix on the pressure vessel and it seems o.k. now. Either the screws had worked loose, or the seal is worn and the olive oil I put on it is only going to buy me a bit of time. I will just have to keep a close eye on it, and if it leaks again I will stop using it.

It makes me think that on that Saturday morning it was leaking whilst I was cleaning my cool bag after discovering some rancid milk in the bottom of it (overpowering any gas smell!). I think whilst I was doing this for 2 hours after breakfast it was slowly discharging 200 grams of gas into my tent. It’s a good job the front was open. But even so later that day I struggled to remember what I had done for the earlier part of the it and where I had been, now I know why. I think I did partly gas myself. Oops.

8th July Friday a trail run to Aiguillette Des Houches and Le Brevent

As the forecast was for showers in the afternoon I decided to go for a trail run rather than for a planned ascent of Buet (3,070m). I believed the forecsast would be accurate as the dawn was misty, and we had had a violent thunder storm in the middle of the night. I had promised Vince a trip to a shop near St Gervais, as he wanted some energy bars that he said were the best he had ever had, and I needed some Camping gaz, again. That last one can’t have been full. So at the shop I instantly recognised the gas. It was a real stroke of luck as we expected to have to find a large supermarket to buy it. Vince got a vast amount of Quechua energy bars, I did too, thought I might as well try them.

After returning Vince set off for a hike up the side of the Bossons glacier, and at 11 am I set off on the long trail to Aiguillete Des Houches. After 2 hours of traversing the hillside I finally arrived on its summit. It is a new summit for me which is always good, even though I am not really a peak bagger. The clouds looked threatening as they clung to the Mont Blanc Massif so I had a bite to eat and got a move on, this was a TMB training run anyway so “Vite” was the order of the day. I quickly descended to Bell Lachete then re ascended to Le Brevent. A place I have visited many times now, but it is still a nice high spot to appreciate the much higher peaks on the Mont Blanc side of the valley. After a quick break it was time for the descent with rain threatening. I had to go a longer way around as the trail was closed on my usual line back to Chamonix, so it took longer than usual; about 66 minutes; still not bad for a 1,500m ascent. I also saw a 2 foot long black and white snake on the diversion route, and it was a very nice, if overly winding descent track.

I finished in Place du Triangle just as it poured down with rain. But it was only a sharp shower and I was soon off back to the campsite, buying a can of Orangina on the way. This seems to be tradition now, even though they are 1.50 Euro. A small treat for a good run I suppose.

7th July Thursday a run with Vince

The first person that I spoke to when arriving at the campsite a week ago was, not that I knew it at the time, a 22 year old Canadian guy called Vince. After visiting friends in Switzerland he returned to the campsite as my neighbour. We have been talking ever since.

He asked me if I would like to go for a run. I had little planned for the day so thought why not. We had a nice little jog down the valley towards Argentiere, it was easy for me as Vince hasn’t run for 6 weeks (he did however manage to summit Mont Blanc with his friend). During the run we talked about his ascent, and I have now realised that to get your foot in the door to these high mountains you really need to start off being paired up. Soloing is for the experienced; up to the glaciers is o.k. Beyond it is really a 2 man job. Plus, even if you were to atempt it in one go, without the support that the record breakers get, it would be best to set of at 9pm and get to the Gouter for 3 am. You could then join the masses to the summit. I also told him a bit about Ultra running and about the TMB which he seemed fairly intrigued by.

5th and 6th July Mon and Tuesday rest day then a TMB reccie Col De Montets to Chamonix

I didn’t do much on Monday. Just rested after the last 2 days exertions and tried to get some advice from friends as to whether to have a go at an ascent of Mont Blanc. After all the kind advice I have come to the conclusion that although I am physically fit to do it (or at least I think I am), I don’t have enough experience of high mountains, especially dangers like soft or very hard snow, rock falls, and crevasses. The ascent in one effort up and down, I think would have to come after the experience of ascending the traditional way. That is to ascend to a hut then overnight and set off early in the morning when the mountain conditions are more stable. I read a guide book, lent to me by a fellow camper, it suggested that Mont Blanc should not be "your first high peak". I am know coming to terms with that advice. I may still (just to get an idea of how tough it would be) set off from Les Houches at 07:30 with my only goal being that of reaching the Gouter hut a 2,850meter ascent I think I can do it with high mountain gear, i.e a fairly heavy pack, in about 5 ½ hours. I may see if I’m right when the forecast is good. That probably means Sunday at the earliest.
Today I got the free bus to Col De Montets and ran back over the Tour Du Mont Blanc trail. The route goes via La Tete au Vente and La Flagere. At La Flagere I spotted an Chamois eating its lunch. Once it realised I posed no threat it carried on eating, barely lifting its head for me to photograph it, how inconsiderate! Not wanting to disturb it too much from its lunch I carried on. Running the from Col De Montets to La Flagere in the light, in fell shoes, was much easier than the last time I did it 2 years ago in the TMB on legs that had done 94 miles and in the dark, with squashed trail shoes. I have run down from La Flagere several times. So this time I decided to see how quick I could do the full TMB route down including the loop in Chamonix. I managed it in 42 minutes. The run took 2 hours 10 minutes with a few photo calls. If only I could do it that quick in 7 weeks’ time at the end of the TMB; no chance.

4th July Mont Blanc Reccie : Les Houches to Bellevue

Earlier today I reccied the first section of the route. This is from the valley at Les Houches, to where I got the Cable car to yesterday at Bellevue. I then descended a bit to Col De voza and ran the reverse of the TMB route back to Chamonix. Altogether, including a few navigational errors it was about 3 hour day. I ascended the 850 meters to Bellevue in 1 hour 15 minutes, albeit with a lighter pack. But still it gave me a little encouragement. I estimate that I could, if I didn’t suffer fatigue, get from Les Houches to the Gouter hut in about 5 hours. My plan would be to set off at 3am and get to the summit by about 10:30 am. The problem is that I have no idea how long it would take me in the snow from the Gouter hut to the summit, or how the high altitude would effect me. The estimated time would include 2 and  a half hours for those last 1,000 meters.
All the time whilst running I was trying to decide whether to forget the idea altogether. It is a daunting prospect on my own. With someone else I wouldn’t hesitate. But on my own I know the safety margins are much tighter. I am  not experienced at high altitude mountain tops which are snow covered, and although I know my ability on normal ground is good, I am not so sure how good I will be on snow for that long.
At best I will wait for perfect weather set off at 3am and see how far I can get, with no clear plan to summit. Just to get to the Gouter hut and reassess. I will make my mind up after a chat with mark.

3rd July Mont blanc Reccie : Bellevue to The grand couloir

The plan today was to get the cable car from Les Houches to Bellevue and then reccie the section from there 1,800m to The Gouter hut 3,800m approx. Two navigational errors lead me onto a ridge ascent instead of an easier tram track, then the second one higher up onto another ridge instead of a small glacier traverse. The first was tough physically but the second was tough mentally which was worse. The problem with the second error was that I was then under an area prone to rock fall. I spotted a few rocks whizzing down so got a shift on to clear it. I was going well until here then I came to a halt at 3,270 m. The problem was that the crossing of the grand couloir had rocks tumbling down. I didn’t take my helmet and was alone. If you were hit by some of the bigger ones they would break bones or knock you out (more likely with no helmet). So after watching for a while I decided to turn back. I estimate about 550 meters below the Gouter hut.
I still did the 1,450 m ascent in less than 3 hours with full kit; the descent was about 1 hour 25. I learned from some climbers that the huts are fully booked all year. During the climb I started thinking of doing it the easier way and having an overnight stay in the gouter hut, especially now that Nick isn’t going to do the climb with me due to a sore knee. But still my preferred simpler option appeals, that of ascending and descending in one effort on one day. It means no last minute reliance on booking the hut on a weather window, then finding there is no room. Plus it will be a really tough challenge. Tomorrow I will reccie the lower section from Les Houches to the Bellevue Cable car station. Then I will wait for good weather, the forecast until Thursday doesn’t look so good.

1st and 2nd July The move From Grindelwald to Chamonix, and my first full day

My move From Grindelwald to Chamonix Mont Blanc was smooth. It was actually a nice drive. My sat nav even decided to take me on a short cut on some really twisty narrow mountain road. It must have known that I was enjoying it. Even better was that I didn’t have to pay the Swiss road tax. You are meant to purchase it for about 28 Francs on entering. Ignorance is bliss, it works for me. Anyway they can drive for free on U.K roads so why should we have to pay!
My first day in Chamonix has been a fact finding on, in terms of how to get to Les Houches and when, and how to reccie the Mont Blanc route from there. I have a free bus pass to Les Houches as part of the camping cost (amazing for 10,20 / night) so I will use that to get there tomorrow then get the first cable car to Bellevue 1,780m where I hope to ascend to about 3,400m. The tram to point Aigle doesn’t start until Tuesday. If I feel I need to look at the high part of the route again I will use it to get me to a start point of 2,380m. For a look at the route higher up towards the Gouter hut.
After visiting the Tourist Information in Chamonix, I walked to Les Houches on the TMB route to get a sense of what it is like. It is odd being in Chamonix without the TMB being on and having my own car here. As I have only ever run through it on the TMB I thought it prudent to familiarise myself with the area. I found the cable car and walked up the route that I will look at on Monday i.e. the first part of the ascent out of Les Houches. I did a bit of shopping then queued for the bus for 40 minutes on the wrong side of the road, a young lad drove into a stationary me on his bike; slowly thank god; we were both o.k. I then saw the bus going the other way, so chased it, laden with shopping, and just got it before it pulled away. It has been a more adventurous day than I had planned. Now I will have and early night and prepare my kit ready for an early start tomorrow.

The picture top left is the view from my tent, not bad for 10.40 euros a night( I was going to stay at a campsite costing 25 euro a night, but it was too small for my large tent. I am really glad about that now.) It is the popular cable car point of Le Brevent, a place I have run to on several occasions.

30th June A short walk with Matthius

I had a quiet day today. It rained in the morning so I tried to update the Blogg but a total system failure thwarted my attempt. Then early afternoon, when it finally stopped raining I got talking to a nice German guy called Matthius, from the Black forest area, he is a mountain biker but hikes as well. He was interested in doing the Eiger trail so I filled him in on the details. He wanted to walk up the same valley that I started the Eiger trail on yesterday so I offered to show him the way. I walked up to about 1,400m mark then left him to continue on to Baregg hut. During my descent back to Grindelwald I passed the restaurant. Not unusual that is the route. But there were two old chaps in a hot tub wearing nothing but bowler hats, being photographed drinking cocktails. I just said high and carried on. It must be the air around here.

When I returned I started looking at the map and looking at the next hut on my German friends route, the Shreckhornehutte SAC. I studied the map as best I could (1:60,00 not ideal), and thought that the summit of Lauteraarhorn may have been a possibility. Too late now though, and going into the high hills on your own cuts your safety margins down a lot. So now I turn my attention to Chamonix and a possible attempt on Mont Blanc, I move to Chamonix tomorrow, and I will begin looking at the route on Sunday.
I had a drink with Matthius last night, his English is good, and so we discussed mountain biking and walking routes. I advised him to go to Morzine for the mountain biking as here it isn’t very good for it. The Swiss seem to want the bikers mainly on the roads. He gave me a good German beer to try, Beck Brau I think, it was nice. I shall be sad to leave Grindelwald even though the high street is a mass of road works at the moment, and it is very pricey. The views have more than made up for that.