July 1-10, 2021
Tour Story By Doug Mayer
After 16 months of a global pandemic, the first Run the Alps group returns to trail run the iconic route around the Mont Blanc massif. It was a special moment for all involved!
Running a loop around the highest peak in the Alps is always a special experience. But, after eighteen months of lockdowns, travel bans and disruption, Run The Alps’ first Tour du Mont-Blanc felt extra special. Once again having the freedom to run over mountains and across international borders with a group of guests who had been able to travel from overseas felt incredible. Life in the Alps feels like it is returning to normal, which in turn allows us to achieve something completely abnormal: running over 100 miles with 30,000 feet of ascent around Mont Blanc… and having a lot of fun along the way!
Tobias, Lisa, Sal, Marianne and Aaron had travelled to Chamonix, France from across the United States. It was great to get to know one another the first evening, over drinks on the terrace of the Hotel Refuge des Aiglons, under the towering aiguilles, or needles, and glaciers of the Mont Blanc massif. The trip coincided with the Marathon du Mont Blanc race series, so there was an exciting atmosphere in town, which only served to compound our group’s enthusiasm as we started our adventure the next morning.
Day 1 of trail running began when we took Chamonix’s local train to the beautiful hamlet of Montroc at the end of the Chamonix valley, not too far from the Swiss border. There, we joined the famous Grand Balcon Sud, a wonderful balcony trail that runs parallel to the Chamonix valley, high above treeline. The route climbs up to an alpine high point known as Tête aux Vents, the final uphill of the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. Unlike UTMB racers, however we were able to enjoy the climb with fresh legs! The Mont Blanc Marathon’s 90 km trail race was passing along our route, and the group (especially Sal!) gave the runners a huge amount of encouragement. As we climbed we left the race behind and cruised along the balcon, stopping to admire Ibex and the stunning panorama of Mont Blanc, with the town of Chamonix far below.
After a second night in Chamonix and our shakedown run around the valley complete, our real adventure began. We left the famous St Michel church, the traditional start line of many of the classic races here in Chamonix, such as the Mont Blanc Marathon and the UTMB itself. Seven days later, we would all arrive at the same spot, having completed a loop of Mont Blanc entirely on foot.
Each day for the ensuing week was beautifully simple: wake up, devour a delicious breakfast, pop on our trail running shoes and run through the mountains until we reach the next town. We took our time, stopping to enjoy the wildlife and flowers, sampling the local food and marveling at what we have achieved each day…. as we also marveled at how much coffee Lisa consumed every 24 hours!
We got to see every mood of the mountains, from hot sun to exciting storms. We enjoyed it all! As Tobias wisely noted, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” Judging by the huge grin on his face as we battled across Col du Bonhomme amid the rain and clouds, he was wearing the right clothing!
Halfway around the Mont Blanc Massif, we had a much-needed rest day in Courmayeur, Italy. This classic medieval town in northernmost Italy was a welcome sight after a long day on the trail. It was amazing to see Aaron, who had been a bit tired earlier, break into a full-speed sprint for ice cream. Once in Courmayeur, we restored our energy for the second half of the trip with pizza, espresso and a trip to the ancient roman spa in nearby Pré-Saint-Didier.
On the second half of the trip, from Courmayeur back to Chamonix, we got back to our daily routine of long days out in the mountains, climbing over our high point at Grand Col Ferret, and passing into yet another country- this time, Switzerland. As the days went by, the mountains became more familiar feeling. We knew we were heading back to Chamonix!
The final mile into Chamonix was an emotional experience for all of us. Seeing the church really made our shared achievement sink in. Marianne said she felt like she had just finished something big and, well we had! Almost 20 miles every day, over mountains, through three countries, and all the way around Mont Blanc… and we did it all, each powered by our own two feet.
Congratulations to Lisa, Sal, Marianne, Aaron and Tobias on your big achievement!
On the move, the group loosens up on the Grand Balcon Sud, the Mont Blanc Massif in the distance. (Photo: Grant Fulton.)
The longest pedestrian bridge on our loop around Mont Blanc, the passerelle below Col Tricot, on our first, day, provided some excitement! (Photo: Grant Fulton.)
Time out for a posed portrait! The gang takes a break on the Tête de Balme summit, with the Mont Blanc Massif in the background. (Photo: Grant Fulton.)
We did have some rain, fog, and wind, along with the blue skies! Here, we run down to the Swiss village of La Fouly, emerging from the fog. (Photo: Grant Fulton.)
Team photo! Back to the church steps of the Église St-Michel in Chamonix. (Photo: Doug Mayer.)