A great but tough day out and many lessons learned.
The awesome long steep-gradient climbs in the Orsières–Champex–Chamonix Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (OCC UTMB) are intense. I had never seen anything like this and it was more challenging than what I had envisaged, but this is Mont Blanc and the Alps after all. The use of sticks is a must in Europe and I made a note-to-self for next time. Most participants made use of trail-running sticks because they really preserve your legs during climbs with neck-cracking gradients at an altitude of more than 2000 metres.
The heat wave in Europe was severe and the temperatures in the valleys very high. At 80- to 90-percent humidity and at altitude, conditions were tough. Most European and Asian men and women are gladiators – beasts of note – and their interpretation of ‘tough’ and ‘pain’ in this sport is not the same as ours.
It was an amazing experience and we had great support along the way from all the spectators and fans. I have never experienced anything like it and took photos and videos all the way, even though I cannot remember going up Le Tseppes to the French–Swiss border, as I was busy trying just to hang on. When you have been climbing for an hour-and-a-half lunging vertically and you ask how much further, the response is, ‘yes to the top, another one kilometre up only, Le Giete, Champex Lac, Les Tseppes and Le Flégère ’.
From the start at Orsières to Champex Lac was a 13-kilometre climb and sticks had already been deployed one kilometre into the climb. If you were not careful you could jeopardize your whole race before the first checkpoint. I realised after the Le Giete climb that considering the conditions, I would have to slow down as there was still 3600 metres of climbing to come. This climb twisted and turned and also had a beautiful large waterfall crossing. Meanwhile, Catonye after Trient was a real tester and I knew if I could get through that then I had one more major climb to go in Le Flégère. Continuing from Comming into Vallorcine and Col des Montes, the heat was excruciating and physiological issues were hard to keep at bay. From Argentiere up into Le Flégère was another very steep long climb. The ski station at the top was our destination and the final checkpoint and provided amazing views of the Aiguilles Rouges with a sheer 7-kilometre descent into Chamonix. At this point the medics were asking people if they had headaches, as the altitude and fatigue were factors to take into consideration going forward.
I found a really good proper rhythm late at Le Flégère. My expected time of 7 hours I see now might have been possible if I had used sticks. The race time of 8 hours and 13 minutes was respectable, putting me in 216th position overall out of 1605 and 127th position in my category. The very steep route, rocky descents of 7-kilometre vertical drops and ascents that never ended, left you loving the challenge and the experience.
These types of races have it all: altitude, climbing ascent, heat, humidity and technically amazing challenges.
Author: Kyron Raad