Book review: Trail running in Chamonix & Mont Blanc Region
The Cicerone book, Trail running: Chamonix & Mont Blanc Region, is a brilliant guide to the many different routes on offer in this fantastic outdoors playground. The author Kingsley Jones has detailed 40 routes in the Chamonix Valley, Italy and Switzerland.
The routes range from 3.8km to 168km (if you have some spare days!) and are graded from 1 to 5 and categorised as trail running, fell running or skyrunning.
You can start the routes from Chamonix, Les Houches, Servoz, Champex, Courmayeur, Orsieres and Vallorcine, among others.
Step-by-step route descriptions are accompanied by 1:100,000 mapping and route profiles, with notes on safety and useful tips for runners. Also included is an equipment checklist, plus information on running at altitude, adapting to the Alps, navigation, maps and mountain safety.
The guide was a great bonus when trying to decide where to go – and for how long – during my recent stay in Chamonix. I either started from valley level and made my way (slowly) uphill or I made use of the lift system to start at higher altitude. See Chamonix.net for lift information and ticket prices. (I used the lift pass for accessing running and walking routes and also to take the Montenvers train to visit the Mer du Glace.)
Once I had chosen a route I took a photo of the details so I didn’t need to take the book with me.
If you like running and you are in this region, the book is invaluable.
Favourite trail running routes
Chamonix Vertical KM
- Start: Main Square, Chamonix
- Finish: Planpraz station
- Ascent: 1000m
The VK route is a must-do, simply because it is famous – or infamous – and because the views are superb. I joined an Everest attempt of the VK for one lap and then headed further up to Brevant at more than 2500m to make the route a bigger challenge.
Yuu can climb the VK and return by the lift or run back down to make a circuit.
Note: There is a full description of a route for Le Brevent in the book, too.
Mer de Glace
- Start/finish: Montenevers railway station in Chamonix.
- Distance: 15km
- Ascent: 1260m.
This is a classic run in Chamonix and although it’s a hard push up to Mer de Glace from the railway station, the traverse to Plan d’Aiguille offers spectacular views. The run down to Chamonix is punishing but again the views are wonderful and the tree cover is welcome if it’s a sunny day.
I have completed this run as described in the book and in the opposite direction. I have also used the Aiguille du Midi uplift to reach the half way point at Plan – and then completed the run.
I let the photos do the talking. This is the anti-clockwise route.
River track to Argentiere
- Start: Chamonix
- Finish: Argentiere
- Distance: 8.8km
- Ascent: 220m
This is a shorter run that is flatter than pretty much anything else you will find in the area. Reserve it for a recovery run or for when the weather is not so favourable for higher altitude running. I like that you can get the train back to Chamonix (or you can run back).
La Flegere run
- Start: Chamonix
- Finish: Argentiere
- Distance: 10.8km
- Ascent: 810m
Some of the paths around Flegere were closed or broken this summer because there is work being done to the lift system at the moment. I adapted this route to make it an out and back.
I basically ran up as far as I could go, passing Chalet La Floria on the way and then ran back down again. There are superb views.
Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB)
- Start/finish: Chamonix
- Distance: 168km
- Ascent: 9618m
I have not completed all of this route but I have enjoyed the first section of 31km from Chamonix to Contamines. I would love to do more of this famous route.
Buy the Cicerone Trail Running: Chamonix and the Mont Blanc Region for £12.45.