One of the main objectives of getting out to Chamonix early has been to preview sections of the UTMB course that not only I haven’t seen before, but that I will hardly see when I race because it will be during the night time. With a recovering ankle sprain it has been a huge concern. But also wanted to know the magnitude of this climb. Mike had gone out to go up and over Col du Bonhomme a couple weeks before starting from Les Contamines and said it was a beast. He had then gone all the way to Courmayeur. With just 3 weeks out it was a little late in the game for me to go this long. While I really wanted to see both this major climb and the backside descent, I would have to settle on just the climb. From the Notre Dame de la gorge its a stiff 1425m in about 11km to Refuge du Bonhomme. So an out and back was going to be plenty for me. With the weather suspect on Sunday I also didn’t want to be caught out to far. Alas, I get to test out my rain gear. It had been sunny and warm up until then.
Mike drove me up to the church to spare me the run up and through the towns to pick me up later after they had a look around the markets and towns St Gervais and Les Contamines with Usha and Krissi.
The cooler air was definitely refreshing. As I ascended it got a bit colder and more drizzly but never the downpour that was expected. I was feeling quite good but not pressing it – I kept it pretty mellow and easy but tried to run when I could. The poles were out early but a bit useless on the rocky semi paved first section up to Le Balme. I was a bit wet before I decided to put my rain jacket. The climb wasn’t as constantly steep as I expected with a few breaks that are very runnable. With that, I know I will do just fine up this climb.
The Col du Bonhomme came before I knew it but as Mike mentioned and I found it to be quite a false summit. There’s a bit more meat going up to La Croix du Bonhomme and was longer than expected. Colder and a bit more wet, the Refuge was absolutely packed with backpackers without any space to sit down let alone put your pack down and sort things out. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the refuge and what they were serving (soups) despite it being cold up there, I only stayed long enough to rearrange a few things in my pack, put on a dry long sleeve shirt and a beanie, and warm up/dry off a bit inside before deciding to head down.
The descent felt great but took it very easy. The trails were a bit more slick by now and I actually washed out and jammed my thumb on a corner. Not the shoes (Dynafit Alpine) but me being stupid and planting my foot on an off camber mud spot on a switchback! No problems with the ankle though which was good.
I was able to send out a message to Mike that I was on my way down, along with using the new Google Location Sharing feature they met me with perfect timing back down at the Notre Dame de la gorge. I had a a croque monsieur and an Orangina waiting for me which was awesome. Overall felt really good today. A huge confidence booster.
And I made it back to Cham in time for my massage!
I’ll have to be mindful on how soon to put on the rain jacket. I don’t want to overheat but I don’t want to be wet. Getting to the top of the Col was cold, but I know it can get much colder as we move in the night. But I know I won’t be stopping at the top. Back down the mountain is significantly warmer. I made it to the top from the church under and hour and half which seemed short for some reason for a big climb. I was pleasantly surprise to find that was a pretty good time – and I wasn’t even pushing it. I know I will likely be going slower on race day but mentally its good to know I can clear than mountain in under 2 hrs.