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ULTRARAVIS

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ULTRARAVIS is an epic tale of what makes a house a home, and how to experience it by living in the present moment. 

For Thibault Pollet Villard, a native of La Clusaz, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France, it was more about the journey than the destination. When he left his home village on Saturday morning, August 15, he had a story to tell. The 110-km route crossed some of the most difficult and technical terrains, with a total elevation gain of 9500 m along the mountain ridges surrounding this unique basin.

"This is quite a natural route if you know the environment around the village. This is where I train in summer and winter alike, and it made perfect sense to link up these stretches of Skyrunning-type terrain into a single project. The idea developed from a combination of years of practice, the wonderful scenery and of course some dreams too, and now it has come to fruition. This unprecedented year, the lack of competition, was just the final factor in bringing this project into concrete reality."

The support along the way was made all the more special by the group of friends that came together to help Thibault achieve his dream.

"Initially it was a surprise to see so many people converging around this project: locals, but also athletes and other people who simply felt the fascination this challenge. I was very moved and happy to be at the centre of my village, and to feel so well-supported in my epic adventure."

Not only was the chosen route beautiful, with incredible views, but the terrain was extremely difficult with landscapes that kept changing right the way through.

"Having reached the Col des Aravis, I enjoy the pleasure of the company of Jan Marguerit Sole, a renowned international skyrunner. We share the Col des Aravis - Les Fontanettes section, enjoying friendly discussions about our love for the mountains. We start at the foot of the impressive Combe à Marion, a chaotic mass of stones that continues into the Coillu à Bordel, a name which suggests even greater chaos! This narrow corridor sits between two vertiginous walls. Poles are no good to us here, I have to use my hands and all my agility to progress safely, and I have to pay attention to my partner behind me. The next part is just as intense, with the sharp crest of the Étale. Even here we meet friends who have come to encourage us; what a joy to high-five them! After that we follow the long aesthetic ridge leading to the foot of the Charvin. It's kind of our Matterhorn, with its impressive north face! We reach the summit of the Charvin on the via ferrata along a magnificent ridge."

This is a particularly special moment in the route...

"There are people there, it's magic, a clear view, Mont Blanc, friends and lots more wonderful feelings. At the top of the peaks you can see the whole route, that feeling right there is intense, seeing yourself progress from one mountain to the next in a matter of hours. Next comes the descent to Les Fontanettes."

The presence of his friends and the picturesque mountains of his stamping ground made it easier to bear the physical effects of the long adventure and the heat.

"My pacers switch out, Pierre joins me, together with Delphine, Marine and Jan's girlfriend, bringing a major energy boost, the sun is beating down and I already feel like I have sunstroke. I drink more than 20 litres of water over the 25 hours of the run. The going is easier for a few kilometres before starting the climb up the Sulens by a ridge better known in winter than summer, the Arête Sèche or "dry ridge" which lives up to its name! The sun is scorching! We make our way down to the refreshment point at la Bottière, Maxime takes over and we give all the more consideration to the heat, adding a pacer, Aurélien, whose pleasure it is to lead me up the Tournette. We ascend the Tournette via Praz Dzeures, with a few stops in the pools to cool down, but the temperature remains a problem."

"I maintain my determination, and as Lake Annecy comes into view, I am able to recentre myself, focusing on the beauty of the landscape, which resembles the Dolomites. We reach the Fauteuil using the via ferrata, then stop for refreshments before going back down a fairly rough path to Rosairy. It is time to take the long steep corridor leading to the Rocher de Belchamp, which we cross with the help of the map loaded on my watch. The terrain is rough and we use steel cables for the final part of the descent to Thônes where refreshments await us. We are a little behind schedule, undoubtedly due to the sun exposure and changing weather forecasts."

This feels difficult.

"The technical, challenging nature of the terrain leaves little respite, and the energy expended due to the heat does not make recovery any easier. Refreshment stops are quite long, punctuated by occasional words, exchanged glances and gestures with the people who have come to support me. There were surely between 20 and 50 at each stage. We set off again with Julien, and our apprehensions are confirmed, but no need to panic! We take the trail leading to the chimney at the foot of Mont Lachat, and night falls with a magnificent sunset over the Aravis mountains. We make our way through a stony universe, then finally headlamps shine on us! Bells are ringing! Friends are at the top ready to welcome us! What a moment! The same ones who were at Pierra Menta!"

These people are fabulous! The energy transmitted in moments like this is amazing.

"This is what I love about the mountains, making headway up there and sharing it. We continue on the Suet, a long crossing on the ridge, again assisted by the map before going down the steep path to Saint Jean de Sixt. We meet up with Florian, who will be my next pacer, before heading for the refreshment stop in Le Grand Bornand. It is one o'clock in the morning. We are already talking about changing some parts of the route, concerned about the additional energy expended due to sun exposure. My trainer tells me he has analysed some videos shot by the pacers, watching my condition deteriorate with the sun exposure, my sensations of shivering and what an intense effort it is. He suggests that I study some alternative routes. Maxime straps my ankles to ensure a secure foothold. We get back underway, into the calm of the darkness. We will pass La Culaz in the dead of night. Near a refuge in Grand-Bornandins, we are welcomed by the applause of a group of hikers! Another unforgettable moment! Flo and I continue into the night alone, passing the Lac de Lessy before reaching Col du Rasoir. I decide to go straight down to Col de la Colombière so as not to jeopardise the rest of the route.”

"Unfortunately, when I reach the van, the combination of the weather forecast, which predicts a thunderstorm at 3 pm, and my physical condition, the chances of finishing the original route are already in jeopardy. In order to be sure of finishing by nightfall, I would need a good hour's sleep and amenable weather conditions. I sit down for a few minutes, then listen carefully to Delphine, my girlfriend, and Adrien.”

"Fortunately, my support team are clear-minded enough to opt for an alternative route along the balcony trails leading to Col des Annes. Here we are met with smiles, because we are not expected so soon. Pierre has joined Florian to pace me, and we make good time on these smoother stretches. We opt for another balcony trail along the Aravis chain, thus completing the loop. I reach La Clusaz in the relaxed company of friends."

What a joy to run, to laugh together. We meet people who encourage us.

"A little challenge for the last kilometres, approaching 4 minutes per km. We enter La Clusaz where we hear Arnaud on the microphone. People have gathered in the square to welcome and congratulate us. An intense and moving moment that helped to close the circle. I owe a lot to my followers, my logistics team, my family and friends, and my coach, without whom none of this would have been possible."

GEAR

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