Setting out at dawn on Sunday, July 19 in Cervinia, Italy, the tireless twosome began their epic journey by climbing the Breithorn (4,164m). After spending the night at the beautiful Schönbielhütte (Schönbiel hut), they then departed for a 120km passage on the Haute Route stretching from from Zermatt, Switzerland, to Chamonix, France. Forced to take refuge from the weather, they restarted and completed their trip the next day on Thursday, July 23 by taking down the Mont Blanc in just one day.
This project has been in the works for quite some time and required several months of logistical planning and physical preparation. As elite athletes in the world of trail running (both top-10 UTMB 2019 contenders in their respective categories), Katie and Germain were eager to combine mountaineering with their love for ultra running.
In total, the route covered around 190km with more than 13,700 meters of elevation gain, and was executed in three stages and 42 hours. Read on for a full breakdown of the route and a behind-the-scenes Q&A.
Stage 1: Cervinia to Schönbielhütte
The first stage began on Sunday, July 19 with a 5am wake up in Cervinia, Italy. Always ready for a challenge, Katie and Germain began their journey with the ascent of Breithorn (4,164m).
When preparing for the trip, the two had only one goal in mind: to enjoy the moment and explore what the Alps have to offer.
“A few days of enjoying lots of time outdoors, listening to the mountains, testing our limits, gauging the risks and constantly adapting to the moment. We set off on this shared adventure in the high mountains to explore new peaks, ridges, valleys and glaciers as a simple endurance challenge.” - Germain
This mountain range is not to be underestimated. With snow covered glaciers, technical trails and a four thousand-metre peak, it’s best to have a guide if you're planning your own adventure.
But for our ultra duo, the first 35km stage was executed in just six hours.
Stage 2: Crossing the Haute Route
Stage two was action packed, starting on Monday, July 20 at 5:20 am, after a night at the beautiful Schönbiel hut. First up, sunrise on the snow covered Stöckji glacier.
The day continued with five more glacier crossings, before hitting the final challenge: the 8km Otemma glacier. Taking breaks with the team who assisted them on their journey, Katie and Germain continued the 115km route by running through the night.
Arriving 24 hours later at the fog-covered Col Supérieur du Tour above Trient, the two were still in high spirits. But that’s not where this stage ended. Determined to reach Les Houches, the two continued on their way until midday.
“The altitude, the technicality of the terrain and our heavy backpacks make this route really challenging but a great adventure.”
Acclimatization would normally take three to four days, and the journey about the same amount of time, as your body adjusts to receiving 25% less oxygen.
For those of us who are not elite runners or avid hikers, it’s recommended to receive a health assessment and training by a professional mountaineer before deciding to conquer any routes in the Alps. The Haute Route is only open mid-June until early September.
But for our pros, it was onwards and upwards.
Stage 3: Les Houches, Mont Blanc Summit
After the second stage of crossing glaciers, a night on unsteady snow and the final leg to Les Houches, Wednesday, July 22 was a rest day while the team waited for the ideal weather window.
Thursday, July 23, Katie and Germain headed out one last time before sunrise to complete the final stage of their epic journey. 35km, 11 hours and 30 minutes later, the pair arrived back at base camp, looking slightly weathered, but no doubt proud of their achievement.
Summiting and descending Mont Blanc in a day is in itself an incredible feat. It’s one of the highest mountains in the world and home to the UTMB – one of the world's toughest ultramarathons. Most people take between two and three days to climb it, and are often assisted by train for the first 1000m.
"These last few days with Germain will truly define my 2020 summer. We set off without any stress to reach precise time objectives or beat any kind of record, just to spend long days in the high mountains, to see where our bodies could take us."
"With most of the events canceled this year, this project was a good opportunity to go back to the roots of what we love most: spending long days moving through the mountains,” reflects Katie.
“This is what we live for,” adds Germain.
Your Questions Answered
You asked, we got the answers. During their trip, Katie and Germain sat down with us to talk all things trails, the gear they love and to answer questions from our social media community.
On: Do you guys enjoy the scenery during your trail runs or just focus on putting one foot in front of the other?
Katie: We have to navigate some pretty technical terrain, but of course the scenery is what brings us to to the trails.
How much of the full distance do you run and how much do you walk – if any at all?
Germain: I would say that it’s 60% fast hiking and about 40% running. We have to sometimes change gear and summit snow covered peaks – that would be pretty tough to run.
What is your favorite piece of On apparel and go-to trail shoes?
Germain: I like the Race Shorts for their super lightweight design, and the Cloudventure Peak for its speed on technical terrain.