Day 5 – Tre-le-Champ to Les Houches
The day dawned warm & sunny after the late storm of yesterday with once again storms forecast for mid-afternoon. Judy drove Steve & I back towards our finishing point of yesterday parking a little below it giving the canny Steve the chance to create a lead over me. ‘Paul, I’m not doing the whole TMB but you are, you’ll have to trot back up & start from there’ before he headed off the other way. This gave him about 400 metres on me by the time I’d picked up his trail & got stuck into the days first climb of (700 metres or so).
I was feeling pretty good today knowing it would be my last was clearly a mental boost & my stomach felt like it would behave itself. Soon I got Steve into my sights at which point he stopped to film me pick up my feet into a run (just) before climbing past him as we agreed to split up & go at our own pace.
From here I ascended well albeit not at full throttle & passed one group after another as I made my way up to the ladder sections which lay just above some large vertical gendarmes (rock pillars) which deserved a photo stop (later in the day I asked Steve what he thought of them, his response ‘didn’t see them’).
On the ladders I passed the last of the early risers & soon reached the top of the climb marked by an 8 foot signpost. My direction was left & downwards towards the la Flegere hut. Steve, the navigator, didn’t see the signpost as it was apparently obscured by a group of 8′ tall Americans & carried on climbing. He did however look down to see a small figure running below on a different line but for some reason carried on up. His reward for all of this ‘logic’ was that he did get to see Lac Blanc before heading back down & bailing into Chamonix, still a pretty big day in itself.
Back to me, I took a short stop to fill my water bottles from a mountain stream after calculating that it was un-likely to flow from Lac Blanc & therefore should not be contaminated by humans above, before running on to reach La Flagere. I was running safely but well & at this point got lucky, as I ran the diversion around the hut due to it’s renovation another runner came in from the right just ahead of me. I don’t think he was doing the TMB but he was fast & ran the Steep climb back up to the path proper which I could only follow at a fast walk. Respect & relief that I still hadn’t been overtaken due to nothing other than a bit of lucky timing, these things count when you’ve got 5 days often alone to your thoughts.
Next it was my turn to make a navigational blunder. Having traversed under a bowl which can only be described as a rockfall bowling alley I reached a wide access gravel road where I passed a group of guys who called out ‘are you heading to the Brevant’ I confidently replied ‘yes it’s this way’ before turning right & carrying on to start a stiff climb. Had they not been at the junction would I have looked at the signpost to see the TMB logo, would I have consulted the map? Who knows but I didn’t, I just trusted my two year old memory it looked right but I should have gone left! This climb hurt even before I realised my error, the track was at an annoyingly steep angle, worse it ended & led to a steepening rocky ‘path’ that seem to come & go at will eventually leading to a retaining wall built of large rocks which needed to be climbed. ‘Can’t remember this’ I regularly thought followed by ‘shit, this is exposed & serious’. Thankfully I survived the climb only to come over the brow to finally realise my error, far too far away in the distance The Brevant & to get to it I would have to cross a rock field to pick up a path that led annoyingly down for 200 metres. As you can imagine this felt ‘absolutely bloody great, you idiot’. I of course have no idea what the group of lads who’d set out to follow me were thinking, hopefully they’d turned back well before retaining wall finale.
After several more curses I was back on track having probably lost about half an hour & several hundred unnecessary calories & began the days final climb up to the Brevant (500 metres above me). Seemingly wanting to brutalise myself for my earlier error I stuck to the wide access track rather than a meandering single track path over to my right. In truth there probably wasn’t much time wise between these two options but mine felt like purgatory as I glanced longingly to my right more than once.
At last I passed underneath the Brevant’s headwall which was teaming with climbers & swung around it to reach the summit. At 2,525 Metres I was at the days high point with it’s stupendous views over the Mont Blanc Massif I took a selfie before descending 30 metres to a very welcome shack where a woman served me two pints of Orange Squash which were both downed in one whilst I briefly sat in the sun. By now the clouds were beginning to build so not much rest for the wicked, I moved on.
The final 1,500 metre descent was always a feared section for a wiery runner with tired legs but at least I’d have the lovely Belachat hut to rest at after traversing/descending the initial 400 metres. Here I again took in the stupendous view & ordered my regular Coke & 2 Oringina’s (as ever one for the bag).
The descent from here was as long as I remember but went surprisingly well despite the building heat as the valley floor slowly approached. The Oringina came out the bag about halfway down & kept me on track with a sip here & there before a final problem arose, ‘that hurts, I need a pee!’. Job done I moved on before ‘that hurts, I need a pee’. Nothing like repetition this happened every 2 to 3 minutes for the rest of the descent as I dribbled one drop at each ‘relief’ stop? Very weird but thankfully it stopped being so painful as I emerged out of the trees to reach Les Houches main street helping me avoid embarresing dashes around this street corner & that. A look at the watch ‘could brake 6 hours, run all this final bit’, I tried, I failed but at least I’d had the energy to try.
Judy had been patient, I was 30/60 minutes behind my predicted schedule, her warm smile welcomed me into my starting point of 5 days ago, relief, pride…. were followed by a photo of me sat on those initial steps before a slow walk back towards the car. Seeing a bar ‘fancy a Beer & an ice cream’, ice cream & two beers later Judy had updated me on Steve, we walked to the car, drove towards the campsite & the heavens opened.
Day’s stats:- 28.2 K in 6 Hours & 2 Minutes with 1,825 Metres of ascent.
Week’s Stats:- 183.74 K (115 Miles) in 37 Hours & 23 Minutes (only stopping watch at the end of each day) with 10,775 Metres of ascent (35,342 feet), all in a heatwave which can be best summed up by the state of my Salomon bag. Bright red & still looking brand new at the start (despite the Anglesey & other runs it had accompanied me on) by the end it was literally covered in white salt & needed a wash as much as I needed a shower.
These blogs do go on but they only cover a fraction of what goes through my head, the physical & mental changes flip from good to bad to good at multiple times daily. I feed on my stubbornness to keep going but there is absolutely no doubt how much I depend on great support whilst testing my limits & Steve & Judy provided it throughout the week to great effect. We had planned, we had had to adapt, a wonderful 5 days had come to an end.
Thank you Steve & Judy!