The North Face Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc – Gary Pearson


(The Alps around Mont Blanc [France, Italy, Switzerland])

Distance: 166kms

Terrain: 33,000ft of climb

Time allowed: 46 hours

Start Date: 29th August 2008

Race History: Completed the course last year in 40 hours/ it’s been running for 6 years.

Cost: 90 Euros

Flights: We went Easy jet and got a bargain.

Hotels/Hostels: Is out of season in Chamonix so only around £30.00per person per night.

The North Face Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc – (UTMB) 166kms

The start of the race was at 6.30pm from the centre of the French Alps town of Chamonix. There were around 10,000 people at the start; with over 2000 runners competing. The North Face put on 3 races this year, apart from the UTMB there was also the CCC which was 98kms and the Petite Trotte (teams of 3) and which was 220kms)!

Vicky and I arrived in Chamonix a few days before the start and were met by the rest of the support team: Mum, Graham, Ivy and Bryony. The whole place was bustling with runners (all sporting last year’s t-shirts, a must if competed last year)! The North Face put on an excellent supporters bus which only cost 20 Euros.

The main difference to last year was that Chamonix was in a mini heat wave, the pleasant temperatures of last year had been replaced by HOT sun, even at 6.30pm the day was still hot.From Chamonix the race first takes you to the French towns of Les Houches, La Charme, St Gervais and Les Contamines, all of which give you a really big reception with large crowds and local bands. Last year I was feeling very strong at this stage of the race but when I reached 31kms and the Les Contamines food checkpoint I was feeling a bit queasy! Not good as I was only a fifth of the way through the course. The terrain so far had been a bridleway path through woods with one 1000m climb in, and I knew there was much worse to come. I wasn’t alone and the medics were putting the sickness down to the heat.

The next major stop to get to was Les Chapieux which is right at the bottom of the Croix du Bonhomme mountain standing at 2479m high. I arrived at Les Chapieux (50kms) at 4.05am. The next 28kms of the race takes you over two mountains Cole de la Seigne and Arete du Mont Favre both sit at around 2500m. After summiting these two you then get to the Italian checkpoint Courmayeur. I was very happy to get to Courmayeur as this is the half way point more or less, I was less happy with the fact that I had been sick a couple of times in the night, no sleep on top of my running fatigue was playing on my mind and I was ready to quit. Luckily for me my supporters ignored my pleas and pushed me on dismissing my sickness claims!! If you are thinking of doing the UTMB having supporters is a great, many of the people who drop out are there alone and simply do not have the people to push them along.

The goal for Saturday was simply to keep on going until you hit Switzerland and the main rest station of Champex-lac. You start from 1190m at Courmayeur, climb up to 1989m back down to 1769m and then ascend the scramble path that takes you up the Grant Col Ferret at 2537m then it is a rocky downhill with one final climb to Champex-lac. I left Courmayeur at 11.06am (Saturday) and arrived at Champex at 12.44am (Sunday) unlike last year I felt pretty strong during this part of the race, all sickness fears behind me and although completely knackered I could begin to think of the finish line. Champex to Chamonix is another 43kms which seems quite close when you have already completed 123kms!

After a hot meal, kit change and 30 minute power nap at Champex I was on my way to the finish. I had begun to hear rumours of another mountain at the end of the race before we hit Chamonix, my supporters who had been talking to some other Brits confirmed this! At this point I wasn’t overly concerned by yet another mountain ~ the impact of this final trial was yet to come. Leaving Champex at 2.02am (Sunday) I was looking for a steady jog in, I had teamed up with a running partner called Patrick from the UK to help while away the long painful hours. All was going to plan until we hit the final two mountains as there are two close together Tete aux vents and La Flegere (as they are both close together) from Vallorcine at 1260m up to Tete aux Vents at 2130m was a tough hot scramble there was only a single track so we were also pretty stuck in our tracks as far as speed, whilst scrambling up I saw last year’s time slip by and now just needed to concentrate on getting over the finish line within the 46 hours.

Unfortunately the downhill into Chamonix was not good as by this time my quads had decided they didn’t like downhill! On the flat of the town Patrick and I gave it a last push and both got over the line in just over 44 hours. We all stayed around for the end of the race to see how many could get through in the next two hours, we knew lots of people wouldn’t make it as we knew how many were still on the last mountains. At 46 hours the checkout was strictly closed and anyone who came in afterwards had not succeeded.

53% of the participants completed.

General feelings after: As last year The North Face put on a fantastic race, there is no possible way of getting lost as the course is very well marked. There is excellent food and drink stations and a great medical team, the anti sick tablets worked well! The supporters get to most of the checkpoints for a bargain 20euros. Amazing scenery.

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