Tour du Mont Blanc, France/Switzerland/Italy

I never thought that I would be the type to take a guided tour across three countries in seven days, but hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), with Utracks and my friend Caro, was a nature-filled, active way to experience some of the most beautiful mountains and valleys that Europe has to officer- as well on feed on French, Swiss and Italian cuisine.Interestingly, the soles of my much-loved 5’10 approach shoes started coming apart on Day 1 of this hike. But against the advice of others, I was able to salvage 7 days of hiking wiith the help of Araldyte, super glue, and fabric strapping tape. We parted ways at Notre Dame de La Gorge…

Route: Chamonix to Notre Dame de La Gorge (to Chamonix)

Distance: 170km (while the TMB is typically 170km, we did about 90 km of hiking and had some bus transfers along the way)

Time: Typically, the hike is 7-12 days. It is possible to do it much quicker (in 4 days for the hardcore hiker) or extend it to longer to take in all that beautiful mountain scenery.

Difficulty: Moderate to difficult (Basically you will be walking between 8-25km a day and ascending up to 1500m). Dependant on the time of year, you may encounter snow (particularly early in the season in June) and these passes can be deep and challenging. Be prepared for all types of weather such as cold, rainy, snowy, stormy, muddy and windy- mountains can be unpredictable!

Special Notes:

There are so many ways that you can do this hike. While traditionally this completed in anti-clockwise direction, there is nothing really stopping you from doing it clockwise (which is what we did).

I love walking in Europe because you are often not too far from the next village (and therefore close to water, food and other drinks). You can also choose to stay in hut accommodation which is great as they provide you with a delicious hot meal in the evening and breakfast the next day, so all you need to carry through the day is your water and lunch, as well as your clothing, a sleeping bag and other essentials (which added up to a maximum of 10kgs).

Ideally hut accommodation should be booked in advance, especially during the peak season from mid July to mid August when it can get super-busy. Check out www.chamonix.net/english/accommodation/mountain-huts/tour-du-mont-blanc-huts for information on the huts and refuges (otherwise, there are some companies that provide self-guided tours where the accommodation is all organised for you)

Camping is a more affordable and flexible option for hiking the trail (although can be annoying in bad weather and you need to carry more things).

It is best that you treat any fresh water that you collect on the way as there is much livestock on the way. Higher up, you can get water from many streams along the way- make sure they are deep and/or flowing: for extra care boil the water for 3 minutes, use water treatment tablets or a water filter.

Getting There, Getting Away

The most direct way to get to Chamonix is via Geneva International Airport, where there are regular shuttle buses that take 1-1.5hours to Chamonix.

Alternatively, you can also take train connections throughout France (it is about 8-11 hours from Paris).

Note: The train station in Geneva is a little far away from the airport and takes 3 hours, so not the best or most convenient.

Check out:

Swiss Buses: www.gare-routiere.com

Transfer service: www.mountaindropoffs.com

France Rail: www.voyages-sncf.com

When hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc in June 2014, my trip was clockwise and more “horseshoe-shaped,” where a bus transfer filled the gap of the last section. Here is the description:

Day 1: Chamonix to Montroc [5 hrs]

Day 2: Montroc to Trient [6 hrs]

Day 3: Trient to Champex [6 hrs]

Day 4: Champex to La Fouly [6 hrs]

Day 5: La Fouley to Courmayeur [7 hrs]

Day 6: Courmayeur to Les Chapieux [8 hrs]

Day 7: Les Chapieux to Notre Dame de La Gorge (to Chamonix via bus) [5 hrs]

(I will be describing the walk as I completed it)

The classic walk generally involves going in an anti-clockwise direction.

For the hardcore hiker:

Day 1:  Chamonix to Les Contamines [5.5h]

Day 2: Les Contamines to Courmayeur [7.5 hrs]

Day 3: Courmayeur to Champex [7 hrs]

Day 4: Champex to Chamonix [6 hrs]

OR

For an extended hike:

Day 1:  Chamonix to Les Houches [5hrs]

Day 2: Les Houches to Les Contamines [6 hrs]

Day 3: Les Contamines to Les Chapieux [7 hrs]

Day 4: Les Chapieux to Refuge Elisabetta [5 hrs]

Day 5: Refuge Elisabetta to Courmayeur [5 hrs]

Day 6: Courmayeur to La Vachey [5.5 hrs]

Day 7: La Vachey to La Fouly [6 hrs]

Day 8: La Fouly to Champex [4.5 hrs]

Day 9: Champex to Trient [5.3 hrs]

Day 10: Trient to Tre le Champ [5 hrs]

Day 11: Tre le Champ to Chamonix [4.5h]

 

The TMB is one of those classic routes in the Alps and really gives you a taste of the great mountain life.

I have to say, on quite a number of multi-day hikes I have done, I have been absolutely blessed with fabulous weather- which is great luck, because the mountains hold secrets when it comes to changes in weather. Completing this walk in June (during the first week of the hiking season), we saw mostly blue skies and clear conditions but had a few precarious snow passes. Not being around snow regularly, this made me a little nervous at times so I was thankful that I took trekking poles for the extra balance.

DAY 1: Chamonix to Montroc (5 hours)

Leaving from Chamonix, you start to ascend and walk across the “Grand Balcon” a balcony path 2000m above Argentiere and Chamonix village. Continuing up the valley the trail takes in the huge expanse of the Mont Blanc Massif, the Argentiere glacier and the Aiguille du Tour (3542m). 

DAY 2: Montroc to Trient (6 hours/700m)

From Montroc village, you start to make your way up to the Swiss border. It is quite a challenging start to the day with a quite an ascent but, we were welcomed with clear conditions to see some iconic mountains including Mont Blanc, “La Verte”, the Drus and the Needles of Chamonix. After crossing the Swiss Border, you make your way down into the sweet Swiss village of Trient .

DAY 3: Trient to Champex (6 hours/930m or 1082m)

Because there was snow during our hike, we took the route via the Alp Bovine which crosses the Forclaz Pass (1527m) rather than taking the “Fenêtre d’Arpette” (2665m) route. From this route, we were able to see the beautiful lake views of Champex and descend into the town to stay for the evening.

DAY 4: Champex to La Fouly (6 hours/550m)

Although this is most definitely an easier day, it is also one that highlights some amazing natural beauty. You meander through old villages such as Praz de Port, acres of farm animals and fields of alpine wildflowers. You walk through the “Valais des Hommes” and are greated with beautiful mountain views at La Fouly.

DAY 5: La Fouly to Courmayeur (7 hours/900m)

This day takes you out of Switzerland into Italy. You start the day with a moderate but steady climbing to the Grand Col Ferret which provide spectacular views into Italy and of the Pre de Bar glacier. After reaching the pass, you then continue and start descending to the roadhead. Our tour involved a bus transfer to the Italian ski resort town of Courmayeur where we were able to walk around and indulge in a well-earned gelato.

DAY 6: Courmayeur to Les Chapieux (8 hours/900m)

From Courmayeur you head back to France. You make your way over the Col de la Seigne mountain path via Lac Comabal, Val Veny. The trail then descends across the high mountain pastures to the City of the Glaciers until you arrive

DAY 7: Les Chapieux to Notre Dame de La Gorge (5 hours/900m)

This mornings walk takes you up mountain pastures to the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme (2483m) where there are brilliant views southeast to the peaks of the Vanoise. The trail continues down to the Col du Bonhomme (2329m) and crosses the Contamines Natural Reserve. A sharp descent through a pine forest fringed gorge takes you to an  ancient Roman Road and the church of Notre Dame de la Gorge, where there is a bus or taxi service to Le Fayet and Chamonix.

For more information on the Tour Du Mont Blanc visit:

http://www.chamonix.net/english/summer-activities/trekking/tour-of-mont-blanc

http://www.utracks.com/utau/index.php?section=trips&id=29916

http://montblanctreks.com.au/