In preparation for this holiday, we read a guide book called ‘Trail running; Chamonix and the Mont Blanc region’ by Kingsley Jones, a great book with detailed descriptions of running routes in the Chamonix Valley. We’d used it as the start point for most of our trail runs this trip, adding a ski-lift up or a ski-lift down to make them more manageable.

Today, we wanted to stick to one of the routes detailed in the book and attempt the ‘vertical kilometre’ or otherwise known as the ‘vertical KM’ – a 3.8 km run from Chamonix town to the top of Brevant cable car with a brutal 1,000m elevation.

The thought of stretching our legs and testing our lungs on this challenging trail was thrilling – we knew we wouldn’t be quick, but the views would be worth it!

Prarion – Bellevue 5km (192m elevation) 0h37m

Before attempting the vertical KM, we wanted to make the most of our ski lift passes to do some more exploring. 

To this end we took the Prarion gondola to the top at 1900m. From there we ran down, in what we hoped was the direction of Bellevue cable car, to get back down.

We ended up circumventing the mountain top, via a charming fromagerie to Col de Voza (1683m), past the cows and the Mont Blanc tramway, then up to Bellevue summit (1794m).

The distance was about 5km and it was a really lovely run, lots of down and enough up to make it feel like we worked hard. Beautiful views on both sides of the ridge and lots of interesting things to see on the trails.

Chamonix Vertical KM: Chamonix – Planpraz 4.1km (1000m elevation) 1h19m
The next challenge on our list was the vertical KM. The trail was quite easy to find – we could see the cable cars rising through the tress behind a few buildings ahead of us, so we knew we were going in the right direction as we left Chamonix town heading north. The other clue was to go straight up the hill. The elevation started almost immediately from the tourist information office to the cable car station.

At this point the real ascent begins – on a winding single file track directly under the cable cars. If anyone is attempting this route, the best way to know you’re on the right path is that you’ll see the cable cars passing directly above you almost the entire way!
We actually missed the start of the single file path winding under the ski lift. Instead, we stuck to the wide gravel path that became a runnable earthy track. It was signposted Planpraz, but was a slightly less direct route. This detour only added a few hundred metres to the total distance of the run so no real harm done.

Once we emerged from the sheltered forest, we joined the rocky winding path which snaked upwards and would have been quite repetitive except for the ever changing and beautiful view – we could see Chamonix town getting smaller and smaller beneath us, and looking across the valley the clouds hung mystically in front of the multiple peaks of the Mont Blanc massif.

We were getting quite tired at this point, not just out of breath and working hard, but really tired, like leaden legs. To give some perspective, the ascent up to Snowdon (via the Pyg Track) is 750m elevation and the distance is 7.3 miles. This vertical KM is half the distance with a quarter more ascent – so a lot steeper! Despite running regularly in Hampstead back in London, and doing a fair amount of hills each week, we found that it was a real challenge to keep going.

With about 0.5km of distance to go, the gradient increased and the path wound to the side of the mountain away from the cable car and some areas became so steep we had to use handles, steel cables and footholds. This was actually a blessed relief to our legs, since we could now use our arms to haul ourselves up, and it was much more interesting than just plodding up. Finally, we made it onto the solid flat ground of the Planpraz picnic area, and we were treated to stunning panoramic views of the Mont Blanc massif.

We saw lots of runners on this route – more runners than hikers in fact, but the trail itself was quite quiet.

Soon after we finished, as we were taking the photos from the summit, an out-of-breath runner joined us on the terrace to say he’d beaten our time by 15 minutes. Apparently, the record for this route is under half an hour! We’d love to come back and do it under an hour – think we’ve got a lot more trail and hill running practice to do before we can get nearer to that!