7/14/16 – First Day on the TMB Trail

First day on the trail. Summary for those that don’t care with more detail down below.

Summary. It was 20 miles, not 16, but we made it to the hut and had a great time eating with new friends and resting up from our long day.

More detailed version. Kinda long.

First day on the TMB trail notes:

We started off from Chamonix at about 8 on Thursday morning with what we estimated as a 16 mile trip to the Refuge de Nant Borrant. We began our trip in a light rain with the temp at about 40 degrees. About 2 miles into our journey, a huge group of runners came flying past us. We determined that they must have had much lighter packs than ours as we felt we weren’t moving that slowly. We ran most of the way to Les  Houches and then the climbing began. As I noted during our last trip to Europe, the climbs here are ridiculously steep. Even without a heavy pack I don’t think there would have been a ton of running up the climbs although being lighter would have  made a difference. M and I did the absolute best that we could have done as far as minimal packing, but with both of us having special food needs we were forced to bring 3 day’s worth of food for during our runs. The day before we began, we had a meeting with a guide and he advised us that we could get food and water along the way and so not to carry too much of either. If we didn’t have to have our own specific foods, that would have been very doable as there really is plenty of water along the way, mostly coming out of fountains that flow in to a trough. Food is also available along the trail at various restaurants situated on the trail and at all the little villages you go through.

As we continued up the climb the rain eventually turned to a light snow and by the Col de Voza I was pretty cold. At this point we got confused as to which way to go mainly because there were about 3 ways we could have gone. We stopped in a restaurant at the top of the climb where we sat by a beautiful fire while I shivered and M studied the map. Navigator M figured a way for us to go so we set off in the rain/snow mix again with me wearing all the warm things I had packed.  After a bit, the rain and snow stopped, although the weather remained misty for the rest of the day. I learned my lesson though and bundled up much more quickly throughout the rest of our day’s adventure.

We actually had some downhill to do for a while which was nice because we could move fairly quickly. The signs for the trail came even more often now and that too allowed for quicker travel.

All during the day we saw the group of runners who had passed us earlier. It was obvious that they had taken one of the many TMB variant routes since we only saw them at particular points. As it turned out, one of those groups of about 15 people arrived at the same hut we were staying in about 30 minutes after we did. We don’t know much about the group but we surmise they might be an Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc training group. UTMB is a trail race that follows essentially the same route we are following with a few minor variations. The race is just over 100 miles long and the finish cut-off time is 46 hours. It is one of the most famous trail races in the world and one has to qualify to enter it by earning points in certain other races. All this being the case there are professional groups that offer UTMB training camps for people who qualify and want to get an idea of the course.

When M and I finally arrived at the hut we couldn’t have been more relieved. Luckily enough for us, the hut only sits at the top of about a 1,000 foot climb which happens in about 1 kilometer. And of course we were fresh as daisies after what turned out to be a little more than 20 miles covered already. It turns out you can’t always trust Google maps. For the day we climbed over 5,000 feet and descended over 3,000 feet for an average elevation change per mile of around 400 feet.

The hut wass beautiful and very nice on the inside. The host showed us to our own private little room with one set of bunk beds and even our own sink. This hut also has showers with hot water which was quite welcome since we cooled off quickly as it was only about 40 degrees outside.

Dinner at the hut was fantabulous. That’s right it was so good I had to combine two words. We started off with vegetable soup that contained potatoes, leeks, and carrots. Added to that was a local cheese. I do not know what the cheese was called, but I can tell you that so far it was the best cheese ever in our history of cheese eating. Certainly our need for serious calories had nothing to do with that assessment. The main course was potatoes au gratin with a locally made sausage. I don’t really even like sausage but the whole thing was excellent and really hit the spot. Normal diners got an apple tart for dessert and M and I had a wonderful Apple.

The view from Chamonix when we left
A green valley that, as it turns out, we are headed up
Stone bridge that we assume has been there FOREVER!
Our lodging for the night