Tour stories

The Hills are alive with the Sound of Music

July 4-13, 2019

Tour Story By Simon Conroy

Guided by Simon Conroy

Running the classic Tour du Mont Blanc circuit out of Chamonix was a wonderful experience - for all the senses. Varied trails, incredible views, fresh tarts and coffee - and even singing - made for an incredibly fun tour and a group of very contented runners.

My trail running season wouldn’t be complete without running the Tour du Mont Blanc at least once. It gives me everything I could ever wish for as a trail running guide. It has its obvious connection with the world famous UTMB® race series, now the biggest yearly event in the Chamonix diary. It also has a history of endless mountaineering exploits dating back to the 16th century; ever-changing vistas abundant with flora and fauna; great villages and inns en route; mountain refuges and restaurants. But most importantly, it has the best and most varied running trails for which a trail runner could wish.

I was fortunate on this trip to be accompanied by three lovely ladies, who made it a most memorable experience: Dorcas DenHartog and Suzy West, both Vermont, USA ladies, and Sarah Tapp from Helensburgh, just outside Sydney, Australia. To say that these women are fit and strong runners would be like saying that Secretariat was an average race horse.

After the shake out run on our first day in the Chamonix valley, we had the pleasure of Run the Alps friend and Ambassador Hillary Gerardi joining us for a quick chat and a smoothie at Galerie Café des Aiguilles. Hillary – I did not know – also turned out to be from Vermont!

The next morning we set out on the tour, heading out of Chamonix towards Les Contamines on the UTMB route, which energized us all. After tackling the ‘passerelle’ suspension bridge over the Bionassay glacial meltwater, and climbing over Col de Tricot, we arrived at the busy Chalet Miage for lunch. There were delights of fresh ‘tarte aux myrtilles’, or blueberry tarts, and many other treats. Afterwards, we found ourselves running against the flow of a local trail race, with shouts of encouragement and looks of wonder from runners bounding past us – including one accusation that we were cheating by using poles!

Over the next few days we ran the trails towards and over the Col de Seigne into Italy, along Roman roads with, we imagined, elephant foot prints from Hannibal’s days. We ran over snow-covered cols whooping and a-howling as we glissaded – that is, gracefully slid – down the other side, danced amongst cow patties and listened to Sarah’s unique renditions of the “Hills are Alive” and “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music… admitting that she never sung lullabies to her children, understandably.

After a well-deserved rest day in Courmayeur, Italy, we headed for Switzerland. We ran along the most glorious balcony trails of the Val Ferret, with views of the Massif du Mont Blanc which were shared in postcards from Refugio Bertone, past Refugio Bonatti and then a pasta lunch at the Refugio Elena. We crossed the border into the land of cheese and chocolate at the Grand Col Ferret, and trundled down to La Fouly. This was a long but rewarding 21 miles of endless fun and laughter, with the wonderful sights and sounds of the Alps.

The next day from La Fouly to Trient via Champex Lac was fast and furious. We took a secret variant that was used many years ago by those in the know, but now has reclaimed itself into some fantastic hidden “Lord of the Rings” trails. We were immersed in the forest which passed over the new Bovine route and kept us away from the throngs of trekkers. We got to our accommodation with plenty of time to soak in the ice cold Valais river that runs through Trient, which once transported ice from the Trient glacier to the cocktail glasses of Switzerland’s rich and famous.

Our final day had us running from Switzerland back to Chamonix, via the Col de Balme, with its much improved Chalet that now serves filtered coffee! The run was broken up by a lunchtime visit to the Albert Premier mountain hut, which sits next to the Le Tour Glacier at 2700m. There, we had some fun joining an organized Run the Alps photo shoot. Thanks to all who participated in this event.

We had a very special finish to the trip, with celebratory beers at the Place de l’Ėglise Saint Michel – the official start and finishing point of the UTMB® trail race.

As always, our last meal was filled with stories of fun, laughter and tears, with promises to be kept of future visits and friendships forged on mutual respect and appreciation of life itself.

Thank you so much to Dorcas, Suzy and Sarah for being such wonderful human beings, and for sharing this experience with me. I hope to see you again soon and Bonne Chance with your future ventures, be it running trails, or whatever else life brings.

Namaste, Simon

Meeting up with Hillary Gerardi at Chamonix’s Galerie Café des Aiguilles (Photo: Simon Conroy).

Taking a rest on Bridge in Val Ferret, Italy (Photo: Simon Conroy).

The crew, joined by some friends of Run the Alps, on the move high above the Le Tour valley, headed towards the Albert Premiere hut on their last day of running. (Photo: Mark Brightwell.)

Enjoying the icy meltwater from the Trient glacier (Photo: Simon Conroy).

Suzy and Dorcas putting their poles to good use on the climb up to Col de Balme (Photo: Mark Brightwell).

Taking a break at the Refuge du Col de Balme – on the border between Switzerland and France (Photo: Mark Brightwell).

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