Monday, September 17, 2012

After the TDG

Looking toward Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco) from the Italian side
The day after Beat finished the Tor des Geants, he was predictably wrecked. Also predictable, for a person whose body had carried him so far over so many days, was the way he didn't fully believe he was done. One minute he'd be scheming about running 22 miles out and back to the iced-over pass that the TDG skipped, and the next he'd unintentionally doze off over an empty pizza plate. In making travel plans, we'd opted to stay through Sunday's awards ceremony. So we had two more days in Italy. Although to a much lesser extent than Beat, I was feeling fairly worn down myself. But, like Beat, I figured my body had handled these daily mountain outings just fine thus far. Why wouldn't I be able to continue indefinitely?

Before we came to Italy, I had ambitions to fast-trek the Tour du Mont Blanc trail on my own over three days. I only planned to do this if Beat ended his race several days early — mostly because the minimal support I could provide Beat in the Tor des Geants was more important to me. Not that he really needed it — but I did hate the idea of not being available if things went bad out there. So I never did get to see that much of the TMB route during this trip, but on Saturday I set out to explore a small section from Courmayeur, traveling toward France. My legs felt sluggish, and there were flashes of muscle pain and cramping in the first steep miles up to Delorme. As I climbed, I revised my expectations to the Maison Vielle refuge, only about three miles and 2,500 feet of climbing from Courmayeur. I was going to turn around after that. But as I gained elevation, the day revealed itself as the most perfect kind of bluebird — warm and brilliantly clear. Sunshine and mountains are really the purest source of energy there is.

Although I've only seen sections of the Tour du Mont Blanc trail, and even then mostly in fog and night, I have to say — this has to be one of the best sections of the whole route. A long, rolling traverse crossed the slopes above a glacier valley. It was blissfully runnable, which I tried despite cramping legs, and also bikeable. I think I actually started drooling when this guy rolled by — as much as I love hiking and running, wheels still hold the deepest affection in my heart. I mean, look at that — all that scenic singletrack. The trail was deceptively steep, and it would be a tough ride. But maybe someday I'll come back with a bike.

I crossed up and over L'Arp Sup Vielle and chatted with a two men from New Zealand who claimed they were on a "weight loss trip" and that the abundance of French food along the TMB wasn't helping them in their quest. "Wait until you go through Italy. Italians make really amazing food," I replied. "Don't tell us that!" they proclaimed. They were also noticeably distraught when I told them the gondola down from Delorme didn't appear to be running that day. "You mean we have to hike the whole ten kilometers into Courmayuer?" they moaned. Funny guys.

I wasn't ready to be done just yet but didn't want to descend too far on the TMB, so I cut over on a side trail that continued climbing up the ridge, even though I had no idea where it went. I thought I might climb about 500 feet to a better viewpoint. But the trail kept going up, and became continuously more rugged. Eventually I was crawling across boulders above 8,500 feet elevation and thought, "Huh. I must be climbing a mountain."

Mont Fortin was the name of the mountain, a little peak at a modest 9,050 feet elevation — little, but rugged. The route, marked with yellow paint, wrapped around the boulder field on a steep face, still ice-slicked despite the rapidly warming temperatures. Some of the terrain left me a little sketched out, and I nearly turned back three times. But if I looked around, I always I figured out a better way around the obstacle that was tripping me up, and continued to the top. The panoramic views were worth it.

Enjoying the last of my Reeses Peanut Butter Cups at the top. Of the six packs I brought with me to Europe, I saved these for a special occasion.

The ruins of a stone building, possibly a former refuge or bivouac on a ledge atop Mont Fortin.

An equally tempting traverse down into the next valley over. If I had a map with me and had a clue where it went, I likely would have taken it.

So many incredible views. Since I told Beat I was going to go for a short hike and now looked like I'd be out for nearly seven hours, I texted him with this as an excuse.

I had to return to the sketchy traverse on the way back down. There were only a few fields of snow left on the mountain, but they were rock-hard ice and any falls, while not fatal, would have really hurt. I took my time.

Then back down the TMB. I tried to run to make up time, but the legs were angry with me again. Still, I was bursting with energy. Mountains and sun. That's all I need (and peanut butter cups.)

Courmayeur to Mont Fortin, round-trip distance: 17.2 miles
Total climbing: 6,829 feet
Total time: 6:37