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Running the Chamonix Vertical Kilometer: Straight Up the Side of a Steep Mountain

A lot of the major European mountain trail-running regions have a vertical kilometer race, and the Chamonix Vertical Kilometer (‘kmv’ as it’s sometimes referred to by the locals) is a classic and takes place during the Maraton du Mont Blanc race weekend each summer.

What is a Vertical Kilometer (aka VK, KMV or Vertical Kilometre) Race?

Have you heard of a ‘Vertical Kilometer’ race? It’s a niche trail running race and, if you are an experienced trail runner who’s up for a short yet intensive mountain running challenge, you’ll want to run one yourself once I’ve told you what it involves: A Vertical Kilometer race is an uphill running race that covers 1000m (3280ft) over a distance of 5km or less. So basically, it goes straight uphill, up the steepest mountain that could be found. Sound fun? Yep, definitely Type 2 fun.

The Chamonix Vertical Kilometer

Running the Chamonix vertical kilometer vk
You can just make out the ziz-zag vertical kilometer route running up the cleared area under the cable car.

The Chamonix vertical kilometer race is one of the most famous European vertical kilometer races due to its location and that it takes place as part of the famous Maraton du Mont Blanc event weekend.

The VK route runs up under the route of the Planpraz Gondola, from the Church in the town centre, and is around 3.5km in distance, so it is particularly steep. You don’t have to run it as part of the race, you can go up in your own time during a visit to Chamonix for trail running – with the right experience, preparation and weather conditions, of course.

The photo above is the view of the route from our hotel window during a previous visit to Chamonix.

Chamonix trail running weather

Chamonix can get very warm in the summer. Let me tell from not one, but two previous experiences running the Chamonix Vertical Kilometer that you make things a lot more difficult for yourself by heading up there later than 10am in summer – you’re going to be grinding up that steep mountainside with the sun on your head and back, and probably not much breeze to cool you down – so I definitely recommend starting early.

The first 100m are up a hill to the gondola base station, followed by around 500m of zig-zagging paths which you can just make out in the photo. You quickly start to experience stunning views as you realize how high above the valley you have climbed in such a short space of time!

Running the Chamonix vertical kilometer vk
Just a bit of scrambling in the Alps

Every 100m someone has marked on the stone how many vertical meters you had climbed at that point, and it was great to see these and then look back down at the town getting smaller and smaller as we climbed.

As demonstrated in the photo above of me running the VK, I advise ensuring you have three points of contact before turning around and looking down, it can be pretty gnarly up there and you definitely wouldn’t want to fall…

Via Ferrata on the Chamonix Vertical Kilometer route

Running the Chamonix vertical kilometer vk
Admiring the view over Chamonix while Alastair tackles the via ferrata

After about 700m thing start getting really interesting. The path becomes steeper and more scrambling is required, including climbing up ladders and using cables built into the side of the mountain to hold on while negotiating particularly tricky sections. These are locally referred to as ‘Via Ferrata’ – an Italian term translating as Iron Way.

The best view of all, in my opinion, is from around 800m where there is a plateaued area of rock where you can stand and admire the view over to Mont Blanc, the glacier and of course Chamonix itself, below.

Here I am, very pleased with myself as I gaze down over the valley knowing I’m 80% of the way up the VK!

Running the Chamonix vertical kilometer vk

Reaching the top of Chamonix Vertical Kilometer

After passing the 900m marker then you can almost start celebrating – only 10% of the climbing left to go, the top is near!

Running the Chamonix vertical kilometer vk
Ali was pleased to see he was nearly at the top

To make it to the top of the Chamonix vertical kilometer route, you reach the edge of the mountain lodge and climb up a ladder to reach one of the balconies overlooking the valley. Be prepared for some strange looks from the other tourists who are up there hanging out eating and taking photos, as you literally look like you’ve emerged from a cliff-edge – and to be fair, that’s pretty much what you just climbed up.

After crossing the balcony, you run up to the left up a path (which would be a ski slope in winter) to clock over 1000m and then it is job done! Woo! Such an awesome feeling.

Feel free to celebrate your achievement with snacks from one of the mountainside cafes, before taking advantage of being up so high by doing another couple of hours running, such as across to Flegere (another gondola station) and then back down to Chamonix (on a more winding, not-so-steep route).

If you’re feeling pooped then you could also get the gondola back down, I won’t judge.

Is it worth running the Chamonix Vertical Kilometer?

If you have the skills, fitness and confidence I would highly recommend exploring this route if you have a day in Chamonix.

Running the Chamonix vertical kilometer vk
Admiring some more views near the top of Chamonix’s VK

I would make sure it is a dry day though as I expect some of the more technical sections could be quite slippy, especially where there are metal steps involved.

I would also suggest going in the morning to avoid the potentially punishing and energy-sapping heat of a hot summer’s day while you’re trying to ascend the mountain. Be prepared, make sure you have the right conditions and experience, and you’re in for a great time!

Traveling to Chamonix for a trail running vacation

If you’re interested in visiting France for some epic European mountain running, our post ‘Guide to Planning a Chamonix Trail Running Vacation‘ may be helpful as it includes advice on when to go, how to get there, where to stay, where to eat, how to get around – and, of course, recommendations on great trails to run on while you’re there.

For more information on other international running destinations and vacation ideas and inspiration, click here to visit our ‘runcation’ category and here to check out our content on places to run all over the world.

One of Trail & Kale's co-founders, a mom, and guardian of our resident trail dog, Kepler, Helen can be found trail running with Kepler and enjoying road runs with her mini in a jogging stroller, all while testing out the latest running gear for our readers.


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