Tag Archive: Courmayer

  1. Day 4: Courmayer to La Fouly

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    Day 4 had a lot in store for us. And by a lot I mean 20.1 miles and 7,170 feet elevation gain. In addition to that, I was really terrified of climbing Grand Col Ferret. I’m not sure why out of all our many climbs (11 to be exact) I was most scared of it. Perhaps because it was on the longest day with the most elevation gain? Or maybe at Day 4 I thought I might be too tired to do it? Or maybe because it gained 2183 feet over 3 miles over a third of the way into an already long day?

    We woke up in Courmayer and again I was not sore. I was tired (Thanks Italy), but my muscles were all still fine. Knees fine, feet fine, shoes fine. I felt so lucky that I didn’t have even one little issue.

    John and I were awakened by our early morning alarm. Existing on very little sleep for the fourth day in a row, we were groggy as we carefully assembled our running kits and packed up our traveling luggage to give to Simon downstairs. He had been arriving each day and filling his car with our bags to shuttle them to our next lodging location. I highly recommend this arrangement if you’re planning to run or hike the TMB.

    John and I had our running gear locked down, and today we even managed to shed a few items from our running kits thanks to really beautiful weather. As you’ll see, that turned out to be a good thing since today would be a very, very long day.

    Breakfast included some fresh-baked croissants, so it wasn’t as sad as the previous day had been. I still would have murdered someone for a egg. If you know me, you know I like a egg for breakfast.

    After we finished our meal, the kind waiter pointed to our HamandCheese on the table behind us. These were new! Instead of one sandwich the size of my head, today we got two small sandwiches. These smaller HamandCheese were voted a favorite by several members of the group, though I still preferred the one on the Col de la Seigne. The vegans got salads. In plastic containers. Because. That’s easy to carry on a run? None of them ended up carrying the salads. So, overall, there had been some kinks with breakfast and lunch. But we were still trucking.

    Straight out of the hotel room we gained 2573 feet over three miles. Seriously. That was really, seriously, very hard.

    But a theme emerged that would keep me going for the day. That theme would be the “Italian Dog.” Leap-frogging me on the trail was a jaunty Puli, a four-legged rastafarian who would stop and look at me out from under his dreadlocks as if to say, “Don’ Worry.” He would let me get about 100 feet ahead, then he would bound past me like a drive-in car wash. I was so smitten with this mop I almost forgot to realize that we had come two and a half miles and we were still climbing.

    Before I knew it, we were stopping at the first refuge of the day. It wasn’t even open yet because we had made such good time. We took some selfies and ate some bars. We were all drenched in sweat but still smiling.

    Then we kept climbing.

    The distance between the two big ups was a rolling, grist trail along the side of the mountain with a stunning view of the valley and the glaciers and the peaks and the aguilles. Frankly, who could complain? Honestly I was running on fumes that were pure adrenaline because every single time I looked around it was paradise. We kept a steady pace until we dropped steeply (and we resented every lost foot) into the valley, where we would then hoof it up the target in my crosshairs: I’m gonna get you Grand Col Ferret!

    We hiked and hiked, then stopped at a refuge for a cappuccino, our last in Italy, because once we reached the top of the Col and dropped down, we’d spend the next two nights in Switzerland. I was the last to take off from the refuge. I stared up at the trail, not even trying to do the math for how long it would take me to get to the top. Suddenly I saw something that would keep me smiling for the next 45 minutes: two absolutely gorgeous Gordon Setters, brother and sister it turns out, who were running 100 steps for every 1 step their owners took. They were clearly hunting: trying to flush small game from the grassy mountainside.

    After about 20 minutes of up I passed their owners. We chatted for a minute while the Setters cooled off in a stream. Their silky black coatsScreen Shot 2015-07-30 at 8.23.23 PM were so beautiful. I started hiking again and they continued leap-frogging me on the trail, running ahead then waiting as I caught them. Their carefree romping took my mind off the relentlessness of the climb.

    Finally, I made it to the top. The view was stunning, and we even got a special treat–a clear view of the Matterhorn. In fact, our entire run down the next mile gave us panoramic views of it. I would look down quickly to “pick my line” and then gaze up, staring at that glorious peak.

    It was a lot of down until we reached another refuge, where we had a cold drink, then prepared for the rest of the descent into the valley. We met a group who was doing the trip as a tour through REI. They were taking 11 days and would use some alternate transportation as well–a few buses, a cable car, a train. We said good luck and goodbye, and it was a stunning but narrow trial down through wildflowers and grasses and rocks and tree roots, and it was tough going. We also had to navigate through a full field of cows cordoned off by an electric fence.

    I had expected a 19 mile day, so I kept checking my watch and when it passed 20 miles I was a little surprised. At that point I must have “seen the barn” because I picked it up and ran hard, or I guess as hard as I could run, considering. I was pretty proud for knocking out an 11 minute pace on the last mile of the day after such an exhausting and comprehensive effort.

    Our lodging for the night was the cute Auberge des Glaciers, which had a patio with a view that looked completely fake. We were famished, so we went and got some pizza before dinner and I’m glad we did because the meal at the Auberge was crowded, slow, and strange. Pickles. Potatoes. And a slice of cheese. And bread. I wished I had ordered the vegan meal, because their plates were gorgeous and colorful and tasty.

    John and I slept really well. It was nice and cool in La Fouly. We were also pretty tired from being on our feet for nearly seven hours.

    I was so, so proud of myself that I made it through Day 4. I felt great. I felt ready to tackle Day 5.

    Total distance: 32919 m
    Max elevation: 2532 m
    Min elevation: 1215 m
    Total climbing: 2926 m
    Total descent: -2550 m
    Total time: 08:06:58

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  2. Day 3: Les Chapieux to Courmayer

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    While training for TMB, about the best I could do to replicate the elevation we would experience in the Alps was to run up Pyramid trail over and over again. It was the steepest, highest hill in South Mountain Park that was accessible quickly. Even then, Pyramid gains only about 680 feet of elevation over a mile, and I knew we would have segments along TMB where we were steadily gaining over 1000 feet each mile for almost three miles.

    Day 3 on the TMB would be long (over 19 miles) with lots of climbing (almost 5500 feet) but it wasn’t the day I feared most: that would be Day 4, or Sunday, the day for which some folks in Phoenix had organized a “Prayer Circle” after they saw the elevation chart.

    Day 3? Easy in comparison. I wasn’t so nervous about it, and I was still feeling great. Not sore, but tired.

    We woke after another restless night. I think I was averaging six hours, when I do best on nine. That was putting me squarely into grumpster territory.

    Was it the sleep deprivation that made me kind of angry at what we called our “prison breakfast”? It was again a buffet, but it featured, realistically, only bread and butter. We took trays (what for?) and loaded them up with bread, and, well, butter.

    After we “ate,” we started our run with a steady uphill on a paved road. In fact, there was a shuttle taking hikers and dropping them off at the top of the road, and they waved through the windows as they passed us. I wondered for a moment if I should have hopped on the bus to cut out three miles of our trek. Would I have what I needed to finish such a tough day, after two tough ones prior and three tough ones to come? I wasn’t sure. But I was proud of myself and determined to do every bit of the trail on foot.

    Once the road ended we started up a delightful, smooth, steady uphill that afforded ridiculous views of the valley, the cows, and the aguilles that towered into the clear blue sky before us.

    Our first big up on Day 3 was the Col de la Seigne, and this is where something funny happened–a French woman stopped me and asked (in French) if we were runners. When I said oui she told me we were going the wrong way. At first I thought I was not understanding her French. After a long conversation, with its classic sitcom pratfalls, we learned that there was a trail race up ahead and the woman thought we were participants in the race. I assured her we were not with the race, that we were runners, but that we were running with a private guide, and we laughed and moved along.

    Up to this point in my recounting of our TMB time I have failed to mention the HamandCheese Situation. The Situation existed thusly: every morning before we hit the trail we were given a sack lunch that included exactly three items: a bar, a piece of fruit, and a HamandCheese Sandwich. (Since three of our seven runners were vegan, I guess you could say we were given four HamandCheese sandwiches and three ????? sandwiches each morning.) We had begun to remember each day as much for the scenery as for the exact shape and variety of HamandCheese.

    Day three was by far my favorite HamandCheese. It was the size of my head, first of all, and it was essentially a whole big baguette with a slice of ham and a slice of cheese. Almost as much fun as crunching into the crusty thing was holding it up to see whether my little bites had made any dent in its size. It was at the top of the Col de la Seigne, wind blowing, our jackets on, that I sat and did as much damage as I could to that glorious, life-affirming HamandCheese.

    After snacking, we started our first descent and this is where we met the real runners. The race was being staged out of Courmayer Italy and the runners were super fast and super fit. Even though we did not have numbers, people mistook us for racers and hopped easily out of our way and also cheered us on and even took our pictures. It made me think of getting a race number to wear for the last three days of the trip!

    We rounded a curve and were greeted by an unbelievable view of Mont Blanc. Again, the weather could not have been more perfect. We told our Lead Runner Emily that now we were ruined, since we would never even be able to imagine the Alps without a massive blue sky.

    We started a steady descent with a view so gorgeous it was nearly painful (painful in that way when you experience a moment you hope will never end, knowing full well that it will soon be ending) until we got to a mountain refuge where a man was being evacuated by helicopter. We had all purchased our own helicopter evacuation insurance, and oh how we hoped we would not have to use it. At the refuge there was an aid station set up for the trail runners and we enjoyed watching them swing in to get snacks and water.

    From the refuge it was a super, super steep drop on a dusty and root-covered path down to the Italian town of Courmayer. By this time several of us were overheated–it was a hot day and we perhaps didn’t hydrate as we should have. So it was a relief to arrive at our inn for the night, Hotel Edelweiss. It featured hotel-style accommodations with great storage and a bathroom in each of our rooms. We checked in, showered, then hit the town for some snacking and shopping.

    Dinner at the hotel was delicious in the most Italian way. Can you say pasta? Pasta! We enjoyed a delicious meal and headed to bed to pass out.

    However, the entire Italian nation seemed to have different plans for us. At one AM, what sounded like EVERY ITALIAN PERSON EVER could be heard screeching, laughing, slamming doors, and running down the hallway in front of our room. John and I exchanged “oh my gods” and thought about calling the front desk but assumed it would end soon enough. It lasted for hours. We were so groggy when we got up we did not even have the energy to mimic the bad behavior down the hallway in front of all of the offending sleepers’ doorways. Too bad. I think we could have taught Italy a real lesson.

    Total distance: 31425 m
    Max elevation: 2508 m
    Min elevation: 1171 m
    Total climbing: 2054 m
    Total descent: -2384 m
    Total time: 07:10:26

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