I have always dreamed of coming to this place, the capital of European outdoor adventure sports and one of the most famous villages in France. Who knew I would struggle to enjoy it for precisely the reason I was drawn to it.
The Chamonix valley in summer is like an adventure magazine photoshoot. Everywhere you look, people are doing amazing things. While up the Aiguille du Midi, a gondola up to a 3800m peak on the Mont Blanc massif, we saw literally hundreds of people climbing in the snow on their way to bag Europe’s highest mountain or scaling rock faces that have emerged from the snow. Meanwhile no hill is sacred as trail runners clamber up peaks pushing their lungs and legs to the absolute maximum before sprinting down, slurping some gel and heading to hunt out another. And that’s not all, people are riding tour de France stages, biking down skifields covered in body armour while the skies are littered with more paragliders than clouds. Carrying an ice axe on your back around here is as common as carrying a handbag!
So many people were out there completely marvelous athletic feats, it made me feel guilty to be having a rest day to ride a gondola and not smashing out 40km to the next town.
It’s always inspirational to see sports’ best athletes perform whether it’s Dan Carter in black, Federer at Wimbledon or Kobayashi at the Coney island hotdog competition.
But in a way Chamonix is like arriving at the famous Nathan’s hotdog stand with a healthy appetite to find absolutely everyone around you is smashing back five hotdogs a minute.
The depressing reality is that here in the heart of the alps, someone (or a lot of people) is always doing what you’re doing but faster, higher, longer and better than you.
In all seriousness, I found our Chamonix valley experience inspirational on two levels.
Firstly, it is amazing to see so many people adventuring and pushing themselves to athletic heights. After two days I was keen to buy a pair of climbing shoes and an ice axe (despite not know what to do with either).
Secondly, there is actually no competition or comparison with these commonplace superheros. It’s easy to forget that everyone is here on their own little unique mission and taking on their own personal challenges. Which goes for everyone in the alps or on the suburban footpaths.
Even though Chamonix village is pretty commercial (every outdoors brand short of lululemon has a flagship store here), out of the popularity and outdoor tourist friendly setup comes unparalleled accessibility. Experienced guides can take everyday chums like us up Europe’s highest peak or float you 500m above a valley. Here you can have trail runners circumnavigating mountain ranges and overweight American tourists looking closely at a map for gondola short cuts on the Tour de Mont Blanc sitting next to each other for dinner at a refuge. All of them equally conquering their own adventurous challenges and cherishing the beautiful mountain setting. That’s pretty inspirational.
And if your energy to get outside still only works on becoming the best in the suburb/street/forest at that instant, Chamonix is not really that bad… I’ve heard Boulder, Colorado is crushing.
The Grande Randonné 5 is one of Europe’s premier long distance hiking routes. The full 12 week route runs from the Netherlands, through the French Alps, ending in Nice on the Cote d’Azur. We have chosen the common route of joining the trail at Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) and heading south.
Stage 2 runs from Les Houches in the Chamonix valley (where Kilian jornet lives!!) to Montchavin, a quiet ski town. This part of the trail overlaps part of the Tour de Mont Blanc whoch can get busy and slow at times.
Distance: 72km over 2 days
Difficulty: lots of Tour de Mont Blanc walkers to pass and make you feel better. You’ll still walk up all the hills.