Ps. Including coffee and crepe stops…
The annual summit of trail running is descending like a horde of locusts on a little french mountain town at the base of Mont Blanc. Grocery stores are packed and trails are busy. For a few weeks in August there probably is not a place on the planet with a higher density of hydration vests, compression socks and dirty trail shoes. While this event deserves an immense appreciation, the magic of Chamonix can be found with or without participating in UTMB.
So, here are a few runs you can do right from your chalet in Chamonix. These runs aren’t exactly off the beaten path, in fact they ARE the beaten path, but they are beautiful, steep, and most importantly, have some place along the way to stop, sit, get a coffee and soak in The Alps. The first three of these destinations are also accessible by tram or train, so if you're feeling adventurous, but your traveling partners are not quite as obsessed with putting up vert numbers on Strava, you can still enjoy a lunch together high above Chamonix. Most importantly, while coffee and crepes are a delicious way to break up the run, be sure to pack plenty of Spring Energy because all this vert is going to need whole food energy to fuel it!
Mer de Glacé: Be ready for a steep, rugged climb! Or take the easy route by train to the Sea of Ice above Chamonix. At the top there is a place to buy coffee, a historic hotel (Montenvers) and a place to eat lunch while enjoying a 360 degree view of glaciers and vertical granite.
The Vertical Kilometer: From downtown Chamonix up to PlanPraz climbs 1,000 meters in just over 3 kilometers. It starts out steep and just gets steeper as you near the top. The final few 100 meters include cables and ladders (so probably not a best choice for those who don’t enjoy heights), but the view from the top is worth the challenge. A bonus is watching the paragliders take off from the hillside at the top. Chamonix is the world epicenter of extreme sports and on a summer morning the sky will fill with hundreds of colorful wings as flyers float back down to the valley.
Refuge de Plan de l'aiguille and Buvette du Plan de l'Aiguille: 6.5 kilometers and 1,200 meters up, this refuge sits on the Grand Balcon Norde, a trail that rides high above Chamonix. Sipping coffee at either of these huts will make you feel like you are right in the action as you watch climbers head into the peaks and watch the glaciers wind down into the valley below you.
Chalet Floria: A beautiful little Chalet serving coffee and lunch just about 3 kilometers and 350 meters up out of Chamonix. This chalet sits right on the TMB (Tour Du Mont Blanc) and is a perfect place to sit and watch the clouds roll above Mont Blanc.
As a disclaimer, this is not a trail guide, just an appetizer to give some ideas for further research. Trail conditions vary based on season weather, and being prepared for challenges in difficult terrain and conditions is vital. Use this as a starting point for a trip to Chamonix or a little inspiration for your lunch break daydreams.