Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Another round in Chamonix

Beat and I arrived in France on Sunday night for our annual sojourn (of pain) in the Alps. Beat has his nearly-back-to-back-200-mile races that he can't quite pry himself away from, and so we're back in Chamonix for the 2015 Petite Trotte à Léon. 

Friends know I have no love for PTL, which pits a hundred teams on a high-mountain course that combines difficult terrain, long distances, often tricky navigation, and a time limit that ensures extreme sleep deprivation. Basically, it's light mountaineering with compromised strength under moderate sedation. Of all the things Beat does that cause me to fret, PTL is the most unnerving. Every year, the organization switches up the course to make it even harder, which only ensures it's more dangerous. Oh, but it's okay, because slipping is "forbidden." 

This year, Beat is racing with Pieter Schaaps, a young Belgian that he met last year at the Tor des Geants. The race started under heavy rain and high winds on Monday evening, where they launched straight from Chamonix up the local vertical kilometer course, climbed that vertical kilometer, and then dropped straight back down to a point that normally is only five flat kilometers from Chamonix along a nice river trail. This is PTL being nice, because at least the runners were on a trail while climbing and then descending 3,000 feet elevation in five miles.

Beat called me last night after about 28 hours in the race, just as he and Pieter were leaving a refuge. They hadn't slept yet, and Beat was on edge because they were running uncomfortably close to the cutoffs, even though they were near the front of the pack — 16th position out of just over a hundred teams that started. At least 30 teams have dropped. Beat expected time controls or attrition would get most of them unless the organization implemented some alternatives to the course, which he said has become "impossibly hard."

"They basically just linked up 300 kilometers of the 'best' (so, the worst) of PTL, without actually considering whether anyone can actually finish in 142 hours," he said. Even with "just" 26,000 meters of climbing, it's the technical difficulty that makes this event so slow. Because Beat is who he is, he's hanging on with all of his determination. Physically, both Pieter and Beat are fine beyond the predictable bad feet and sore legs. I'll be glad when it's over, whenever it's over. I sort of feel like that spouse at home while her husband gets wasted at a bar — livid at the bartender for serving him alcohol, but aware that the fault lies with the spouse who just can't get enough.

So what am I up to? Alpine touristing at its best. My parents are in town this week as well. They were in Switzerland all of last week, but arranged their Europe vacation to experience the spectacle of UTMB week in Chamonix (and hang out with me.) On Tuesday we did the best-of sightseeing with an all-day tram pass.

The remnant clouds from the previous night's downpour were just clearing at Brevent.

Of course we took the gondola to Aiguille du Midi. Visiting this high-mountain station just below Mont Blanc is the pinnacle of Alpine tourism, but you really have to do it, at least once.

I mean, you really do.

Glaciers tumbling off Mont Blanc.

Views of the Chamonix valley 9,000 feet below.

Next we took the train to Mere de Glace. It's a beautiful valley, and yet another unsettling reminder of just how quickly the ice of the world is melting away. To reach the glacier, we had to descend at least 300 vertical feet below the noted demarcation line of the glacier's level in 1985. Just thirty years ago. Even as recently as five years ago, the surface was 50 feet higher.

We toured the man-made ice caves, which were very cool (in both senses, as the weather here has become quite hot since the rain cleared out.)

Today Dad and I hiked from town to La Flegere, which I always remember as this flat and short hike by Chamonix standards, but it still climbs 3,000 feet over four miles of root-choked trails.

Also, this happened. UTMB starts Friday afternoon. I've been saying all summer that I wasn't going to race this event that I signed up for in December — before I decided to ride the Tour Divide, and well before I dropped out of that race after 1,700 miles with severe bronchitis and far too few running miles on my legs — but all the excitement has gotten the better of me. I have a strategy for my lungs, and some emotional acceptance of a number of disappointing outcomes, but I'm not going to pretend this is a good idea. Most of my best ideas aren't.


  1. Typical you, can't get enough of the pain and exhaustion and at your limits drama eh? I hope it turns out into at least a half-way decent idea ;) Watch you health and your ankles. Enjoy.

  2. Good luck, Jill, and don't get injured! You are going to do great!

  3. I only say it occasionally but your photographs are always incredible. The scale of those French mountains is very impressive.
    Good luck with the UTMB and take care of yourself Jill.
    I hope Beat hangs in there with the crazy PTL.
    I have a deep admiration of your dad. I bet he is loving getting in some hikes in those Alps.
    Looking forward to the next post.

  4. I feel like you very much, Li Jue unknown
    I'll give you recommend a game: FIFA Münzen

  5. if he needs a racer... try
    Ray Zahab...

    ran across the sahara in 111 days...

    let me know if you want in contact as I live around him (near Chelsea,Quebec canada)


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