This may need splitting into several blogs but I’ll start typing & see how it goes. PS. Having now typed Day 1 the run definitely needs splitting into several blogs (from my personal diary point of view, sorry).
Two days after Judy & I descended off Mont Blanc’s Western flanks we drove into Geneva’s airport & picked Steve up. By the time we got back to our Les Bossons camp site he would have little over 12 hours (more than half of which would be taken up by sleep) to prepare his kit, mind & body for our Tour du Mont Blanc run.
Day 1 – Les Houches to Chapieux (or so we thought).
Monday 22nd July dawned with the temperatures forecasted to rise as the week drew on. Judy drove us to our starting point in Les Houches, photo’s taken & at 9:00 am we were off. Soon we were into one of the hardest climbs of the week, an un-relenting slog over less than interesting terrain up to Col da Voga. Steve (as ever a great navigator) soon corrected my failure to follow a marker before we left the climbs last road section & got onto the slog proper. It was soon after this that the first sign of a problem arose & much to my surprise, ‘I’m dropping Steve, am I going too fast too early? Don’t think so, carry on & see what happens’.
By the top of the climb with Steve out of sight I carried on to a small café & bought us both cokes & waited. The wait was not long but set the theme for the day. Now for anyone who doesn’t know much about me & Steve, Steve is a considerably faster runner than me (particularly in race mode) has a CV that includes a Dragon’s back, O.60 British Fell Running Champ & no doubt a hell of a lot more in the days before I got to know him so what was up? I decided lets just carry on, he’ll find his form, but in the back of both our minds we knew that my recent spell of long runs whilst Steve’s recent spell of over-work (finally rewarded with great success less than a week before) were affecting his mind or body or both.
A pleasant traverse led to our next climb the Col du Tricot, here we passed many walkers but arriving at the top my wait for Steve was a little longer. Then an even bigger surprise I (un-arguably a poor descender by fell running standards) left Steve for dead on the descent & arrived at the very pleasant Refuge de Miage. Here I had time to contemplate the extent of the days plan that still lay ahead of us (we were well under halfway) whilst supping another coke & deciding when he gets here sod time lets get some energy into us. Soon after Steve joined me we were sharing a gigantic omelette that had to be seen to be believed, fed, refreshed the next smaller climb began, again a gap opened up & this would repeat time & again on our descent into les Contamines-Montjoie. This was not the Steve I knew at all but at least we were halfway through the day, or so I thought.
Leaving les Contamines we soon got into the days crux, a come & go long climb to Col du Bonhommie, a climb of approximately 1,300 metres. With Steve still struggling I decided a stop at the Refuge de Nant Borrant to get some fluids into us would do the trick not knowing that the canny Steve had stopped just below it to re-fill his bottles from a trough, I had inadvertently cost us time but we at least used thes time to discuss options in case we failed to reach our overnight stop in time for the 7:00 pm meal. Seeing my concerns Steve resolved them by saying ‘Paul, you could go on & make sure they serve us & I’ll eat it when I get there’, a good plan ‘We’ve still got time so lets see how it goes’.
Soon after leaving the hut my pride took a dint as first two guys I’d run past with ease in les Contamines followed by a lean Norwegian came past me as I tried to tether my pace to Steve’s. Later I passed all 3 as they rested at the next hut whilst I moved on before stopping to wait for Steve allowing the Norwegian to pass me again. This time having waited 15 minutes for Steve there was no debate & at Steve’s call I agreed to go on & secure our food. It was now 4:00 pm & we departed from each other for what should have been the last time that day.
‘Now lets chase that Norwegian’ my un-competitive mind said, ‘he’s got 7 minutes on me!’. Well I closed him by 6 minutes during the 30 minutes it took me to reach the col & thought I saw a slightly surprised look on his face as I ran past him (he had stopped to take in the views). From here the traverse to the Refuge du Bonhommie was both longer & had more climb than I remembered, my thoughts were ‘shit, Steve’s not going to like this is he’.
Finally I was running the long descent to our overnight stop, the Chambre de Solaire which Tim had booked during our coffee stop at St. Gervais 5 days ago. I reached it at 5:45 with plenty of time to spare. ‘Your not booked in’, ‘yes we are’, ‘no’, ‘yes look at the confirmation e-mail on my phone’. The confirmation e-mail had small print so I hadn’t read it, they read it & confirmed ‘that’s for the Refuge des Montets just up the road’, ‘how far up’, ‘oh about 6 Kilometres’. Now they say men can’t multitask but in the next few seconds my brain went through it all, Steve’s going to kill me, even if I could get there by 7:00 how do I let him know (no reception on the phone to even think about diverting him on a more direct variant to our ‘new’ hut) & surely I can’t expect him to have another 6K in his legs, food, logistics………
With the help of the lady who had given me such bad news we hatched a plan. Soon I was in a shop buying all kinds of crap snacks & drinks, we would at least eat. At this point the Norwegian came into the village we gave each other a look of respect, ‘get back to business Paul’ I thought & went back into the shop ‘can I book a taxi’ ‘how many for’, ‘at least one maybe two’, ‘what time for’ with scenarios going through my brain at warp speed I best guessed Steve’s ETA as 7:00 pm & booked it for ‘7:30’. I had a plan in place, I needed a beer.
Back at the refuge with beer in hand I first got talking to a group of Brits about both my predicament & run, they were impressed with the latter & had sympathy for the former. Next the Norwegian came over, he’d come even farther than me (from Chamonix) but I felt we must have started later & I thought I probably had his measure.
At 7:05 the Brits left me for their evening meal, Steve came in at the same time, ‘you’ve even had time to get a Beer Paul’, ‘It’s my second, sit down I’ve got some good news & some bad news’ & ordered him a Beer.
The discussion went better than I could have hoped, Steve soon focused on the problem & we agreed to wait for the Taxi then Steve would take our ‘supper’ in the Taxi to try to secure a proper meal at the hut whilst I ran & walked (well another 400 metres of ascent lay ahead) the 6K to it.
The taxi didn’t arrive but the shopkeeper opened his closed window to tell us it was running 15 minutes late, Steve’s logic kicked in ‘we know it’s coming, you set off now Paul’ which I did.
Whether it was the beers or a sense of relief I then really enjoyed myself running hills that earlier I would have walked. Steve’s taxi beeped as they passed on the other side of the valley, apparently the female driver was a tad bonkers & erratic. 6.6 K & 1 Hour & 3 minutes later I walked into Refuge des Monttets’ dining room to see Steve in the far corner with a large group of other late arrivals eating, a very pleasant sight indeed, it was just before 8:45 pm. We were lucky it was an incredibly friendly hut, we ate well, drank wine & went to bed with a long first day behind us. Next morning I offered the hut’s guardian a carrier bag of crap snacks & fizzy drinks which he accepted with slight bemusement & thanks.
Days Stats: 45.08 Kilometres, 3,076 Metres of ascent in 9 Hours 48 Minutes (excluding my un-planned stop in Chapieux).