I’ve just returned from a week in one of Europe’s trail running meccas – Chamonix – and an active holiday of hiking, running and yoga to explore this ski resort-turned-centre-for-adventure in the Summer months.
Ahead of our trip we’d planned some routes to make the most of our week using a guidebook by Kingsley Jones, an experienced mountaineering and running guide. With 40 routes outlined in the book there was plenty of choice, but we thought we’d start with Route 1 – Mer de Glace – on our first day as it was described as the most classic trail run in Chamonix for ease of access and views.
Our day started at the Montenvers railway station, crossing the road to take a path through the Les Planards car park and past the kids playground to follow a steep track pointing us in the direction of Les Mottets. Passing the wails of both kids and adults alike enjoying the speed of the Summer luge and crossing the track of the Montenvers mountain railway, we zigzagged our way along the trail before hiking up a long rising traverse.
As underfoot became rocky and the ascent flattened out, we reached the small wooden cafe below Les Mottets, which was a hive of activity with picnic-ers and many enjoying the view over to the Mer de Glace glacier and the rather imposing Aiguille du Dru in the distance. Stopping only for a breathe we turned sharply right and followed yellow dots painted on the rocks to find two ladders to climb over some boulders blocking the path.
We followed the signs for Montenvers and after winding through large boulders for a while the path became runnable, until we passed under the lines of the cable car that takes tourists down to the ice cave within the glacier below. We took a detour from the detailed route here and ran down the steps to where the tourists were gathered to see the glacier up close, only to be rather underwhelmed and deciding to make our way back up to Montenvers station and en route again.
From the Victorian Montenvers hotel we took a left turn towards Le Signal, the path made up of a series of switch backs, with greater views to the glacier and the Grandes Jorasses. We stopped shortly at Le Signal – the high point of the route – to admire all the stone cairns that had been built to honour those lives lost in the mountains before enjoying the rolling hills and descent towards Plan d’Aguille.
We chose the wrong cafe at Plan d’Aiguille – that higher up at the cable car station rather than the mountain hut below it – but enjoyed espressos and delicious tarte aux pommes to fuel our final descent back to Chamonix. The return path begins to the right of the small refuge, descending steeply and on rocky terrain at first, but it soon turns to softer ground underfoot, winding through dense forest perfect for an enjoyable and fast paced end to the run.
15.3km (a little more if you go down to get closer to the glacier at Montenvers and up at Plan d’Aiguille to get cheaper apple tart!); 1260m ascent and similar descent reaching a high point of 2204m at Le Signal; just over 5 hours (with lots of photo and food breaks)
*According to the guidebook, this route should only be attempted between mid June and October due to it crossing several major avalanche gullies