After a gentle via feratta and walk en route we arrived via Martigny Switzerland.
The evening at Col do Forclaz was chilly and damp- perhaps I would need my primaloft after all. I took a photo ans admired the view as in the race I would be here in the dark!
Fortunately the morning dawned brighter and we drove down to Trient to park. I was keen to suss out some of the UTMB route and checkpoints. The race does not follow the TMB walkers route entirely but we did our best. The climb out of town was steep but we managed the 800m climb in about 50 minutes. It was a reasonably graded track and nav seemed straight forward.
We opted to stay above the shepherds huts at Catogne- but I noted the route. Instead we climbed to the col near Croix de Fer before a nice little scramble up to it's summit. This was an out and back before heading over Tete de Balme.
It was chilly but sunny and dry. We headed cross country to the Col de Balme hut but it was crowded and in full blast from the wind so we continued on our way down the 'true' TMB route. I experimented with running down the wide stony mule track. My calf felt very odd and a bit uncomfortable as the bulge of fluid bounced up and down but it didn't hurt.
We had lunch at the shepherds huts that are being renovated for the use of walkers and then carried on down to the forest. This path was much wider than our way up and had picnic tables, fire pits and even a lean to shelter. The path zig zagged quite steeply and close to the valley it was now hot. We arrived in the village just above Trient to find another huge covered picnic area and toilets. We were soon back at the van and I sat in the sun reading with my leg elevated in the vain hope of dispersing some of the fluid. A shorter day than we had intended but never mind.
It gave us time to drive round and into France and plan the next days walk. We found easy parking at Le Buet and went for a late afternoon stroll up through le Couteray and then back along the river. Monday started fair and warm but our walk was curtailed by the weather.
We climbed to the Refuge de Loria (Loriaz) and found a huge party about to depart. Our path soon steepened dramatically and changed from wide track to grassy path, to boulder path and then to steep scree. We stopped for breathers and admired the view.
It was hot work despite the cloud cover. Close to the top two inquisitive Ibex came to investigate. By the Col de Terrasse the cloud had descended and a fine rain had started. As I gained the high point this turned to light sleet! I sheltered in a huge boulder hollow and put on cag and over trousers.
We dropped to the dinosaur track path and finding all the footprints made Bob's day.
I had seen them about 30 years ago when I worked in Switzerland. At this point we decided there was little point continuing over le Cheval Blanc and Le Buet as this would commit us to a high route and the weather did not look like improving. After a bit of doubt we found a tiny path to the Col de Corbeaux and dropped off the old snow onto more sheltered ground.
A huge Ibex appeared as we headed to the Val de Tre les Eaux. The head of this valley with cirque, head-wall and remains of glacier etc was intimidating with steep cliffs and very black rock.
After a short section on the valley floor we found the protected path and a series of chains and bits of metal guided us over the steep rock out of the hidden valley. Give the recent rain this gave some important security.
This added another interesting little twist to the walk. We contoured over the shoulder and past a tiny hamlet on the spur before dropping into Val Berard. We should study the map more carefully- this path had a cafe complete with metal stair way that allowed you get right up close and almost under the very impressive waterfall.
So instead of feeling annoyed that our original walk had been curtailed we instead had chains, a waterfall and a coffee stop!
That night we moved closer to Chamonix and camped wild near Montroc. I went on a very short exploration to suss out the path we would need. That night it rained... and rained and rained. The river just below us started to sound awesome and very unusually I got a damp pillow. The poor PTL runners had started last evening- what a horrid first night they must be having. The rain continued all morning and the river was moving such huge boulders it sounded like a giant steam roller.
By lunch time the rain lessened and we moved onto the Greppon car park in Chamonix. This was free to all runners and was already getting crowded with motorhomes/campervans. We explored the town and got our free train and bus card.
I also bought a very trendy pair of calf guards to hide my injury and stop the fluid bouncing around. We also had loads of time to wander round the 'salon' - a little village of wooden chalets selling and advertising all things running.
Wednesday was bright and sunny so we took the train to Montroc and then found the path to the Col de Montets. I would probably be here in the dark of my second night awake so thought it would be well worth seeing what this section was like.
The camaraderie of all runners was already starting and several runners said Hi. Initially the climb is brutal and steep but once up on the balcony it was great. We found officials marking off a SSSI area and the undulating ground was a joy to run across.
The rocks were dry and grippy. In retrospect we should have made the detour up to Lac Blanc but as it was we stuck to the UTMB route and were soon at the first ski slope terrace of La Chavanne. The views across the valley into the glaciers on the Mont Blanc massif were superb.
We climbed to the main left station at La Flegere and as we would clearly have time in hand we stopped for our food and a beer. We were still idling time away in the sun when Mandy and Martin arrived. Eventually we acknowledged that it was time to move and I tried out the compression guards. I flew downhill chasing some Spannish guys and kept hoping I was making the correct turns. Suddenly I arrived at a tiny cottage totally covered in hanging baskets and flowers - La Floria buvette.
I stopped and waited for Bob and chatted to a Czech couple and a French runner. We refreshed with a wonderful citron presse before continuing our way back to Chamonix. Time for an enormous ice cream! We finished early enough for me to register.
So now I could walk the town with my smart red wrist band which announced to all those in the know that I was doing the UTMB.