Notice: Undefined offset: 11 in /home/u290915664/domains/pinyourfootsteps.com/public_html/wp-content/plugins/tracking-code-manager/includes/classes/core/Manager.php on line 235

Notice: Undefined offset: 11 in /home/u290915664/domains/pinyourfootsteps.com/public_html/wp-content/plugins/tracking-code-manager/includes/classes/core/Manager.php on line 235
Tag

alps

Browsing

Around the king of the Alps

The Tour du Mont Blanc commonly knows as TMB is one of the most popular long-distance walks in Europe. Even though the track doesn’t go anywhere close to the summit, everyone knows Mont Blanc – the highest mountain of Western Europe (4.808 m a.s.l.) and its name attracts thousands of hikers every year. The first successful ascent by Jacques Balmat and Michael Paccard took place on August 8th 1786, causing a significant boom in mountaineering.

TMB goes around the massif, covering a distance of roughly 165 kilometres passing through parts of Switzerland, Italy and France. Depending on the path you take, it’s wise to prepare your legs for a little bit more. In my case it was over 180 kilometres, having completed several variants.

Following the classic route, the highest point is 2.537 m a.s.l. at the Grand Col Ferret which is also a border between Italy and Switzerland. However, some variants can get you higher than that. For example, Col des Fours or Fenetre d’Arpette rewards hikers with the panoramic views from 2.665 m a.s.l.

Fenetre d'Arpette Tour du Mont Blanc, Switzerland
Fenetre d’Arpette, Switzerland

TMB was in my mind since I completed a few overnight hikes in New Zealand. Long-distance hiking totally got me and the plans for 2020 were modified several times. First, it was supposed to be Camino de Santiago (French Way), but in the end, it was the Main Sudetes Trail in Poland (440 km). After that, it was supposed to be Camino again but the number of COVID-19 infections increased in Spain once more (third time lucky?). Then, my eyes turned to the Alps.

Tour Monte Rosa, Tour Matterhorn and the Haute Route were all on the list of possible hikes to do. Having no previous experience in the region, I chose Tour du Mont Blanc as the most popular one and probably the easiest of those.

Alps
The Alps seen from the plane

It was time to book a one-way flight to Geneve. I didn’t know what to do after TMB, therefore it was better not to stick to a specific return date. I was sure there would enough time to think about the next steps while hiking or resting in a tent!

When to go

The best period (and the busiest) to hike TMB is definitely summer, more precisely July – August. June and September as shoulder months could be an option too, but the weather will definitely be more unpredictable and snow can be experienced at higher elevations.

Clockwise or Anti-clockwise

I chose to follow anti-clockwise direction, starting and finishing in Les Houches. It seems to be a way more popular option. However, after completing the track, I don’t think that going clockwise would make any significant difference.

Tour du Mont Blanc in the Alps
First day on TMB

By going with the flow, it’s easier to make friends on the way as you see the same faces every day. On the other hand, if walking anti-clockwise, the track will be mostly empty in the morning hours, until you meet groups of hikers going from the opposite direction. It gives you the chance to enjoy a more secluded atmosphere. I don’t mind having other hikes around me but everyone has their own vision of encounter with nature.

If hiking clockwise, it is advised to start elsewhere than Les Houches to avoid 1500m killer ascent to Le Brevent on the first day when your body may still not be used to heavy backpack and increased physical effort. From that stage I clearly remember never ending descent and how sorry I felt for all the people going up. Consider starting in Argentiere, Champex or Courmayeur instead.

Where to stay

There is plenty of options to choose from if you have deep pockets. Private accommodations, hotels, refuges. I took my tent and camped every single night. Obviously it was the most cost efficient way, but to be honest I can’t imagine going for such a hike without a tent. This makes the whole experience complete.

On the last day, I set my tent next to Refuge la Flegere and decided to treat myself with a proper dinner there. The food was nice, the chat with other hikers was nice but somehow I felt happy when I went back to my tent immediately after the meal. To find my own peace and rhythm.

Moreover, I didn’t have to bother at all about any bookings. I simply arrived at the campsite and had no issue with finding a spot. All the other options, especially refuges, require bookings well in advance, especially in COVID-19 times when the number of spots is even more limited.

Tour du Mont Blanc
Camping next to Refuge la Flegere

The website www.montourdumontblanc.com makes planning very handy. You can choose your departure point at the specific date and it shows you the list of accommodations on the way, including walking distance. Really cool!

The places where I camped:

Chamonix – Camping Les Arroles
Les Contamines – Camping Le Pontet
Les Chapieux – free camping next to the information office
Courmayeur – Hobo Camping (use free bus service in Val Veni to get there)
Arp Nouva – Camping Grandes Jorasses (use free bus service in Val Ferret to get there)
La Fouly – Camping des Glaciers
Champex – Camping Les Rocailles
Trient – Camping La Peuty
Le Flegere – for free at the lake around Refuge le Flegere (ask the staff)

There are plenty of alternatives and I will mention some of them in the separate articles dedicated to specific sections.

Wild camping is discouraged or forbidden, depending on the country. I didn’t do it so I have nothing to say in this topic. In Italy, wild camping is allowed above 2,500 m a.s.l. In Switzerland, it’s forbidden when in France no one really knows what the rules are and it’s usually tolerated. Some people set the tent at sunset and leave at dawn. Do it at your own responsibility and needless to say, leave no trace.

What to pack

As I was camping all the way, most of my backpack was filled with equipment that made the experience comfortable and hassle-free:

Clothes:

  • T-shirts (best to take 2, should be easy to dry)
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Hoodie / sweater
  • Rain jacket
  • Long pants
  • Shorts
  • Hiking boots
  • Socks and undies (2-3 pairs)
  • Sandals (I have the ones from KEEN and they were great to get around the camps)
  • Flip flops

Other:

  • Ultralight towel
  • Hiking poles (extremely useful!)
  • Painkillers
  • Toiletries
  • Wet tissues
  • Plasters for blisters (Compeed brand is great)
  • Sunglasses
  • Suncream

Optional:

  • Thermal underwear – it wasn’t really that cold to use it, but if your sleeping bag is not too thick, it could be a good option to wear for sleeping.
  • Buff – if it gets windy, you may put it on your head or neck. I used it also to wipe sweat from my forehead 馃檪
  • Water filter – never used on TMB but good to have just in case.

I did laundry almost every day and on the next day my backpack looked like a Christmas tree with socks and undies as decorations. It was the only way to dry them though.

When it comes to food, you will be able to refill your stocks along the way so no need to add more weight into your backpack. I usually had food for 2 days, in case of an emergency stop due to bad weather or sickness.

Here are some examples of what I usually eat on the track:

Breakfast:

  • Bread with jam, honey or peanut butter
  • Instant cereal with fruits or porridge
  • Biscuits with jam
  • Powdered milk
  • Banana
  • Tea or coffee

Lunch:

  • Bread
  • Cheese
  • Salami
  • Humous
  • Ready to eat sausages
  • Instant soup
  • Tea or coffee

Dinner:

  • Instant rice or pasta
  • Tinned tuna or chicken
  • Instant soup
  • Freeze-dried meal
  • Tea or coffee

Snacks:

  • Chocolate
  • Muesli bars
  • Biscuits
  • Nuts

How to get there

Most hikers fly to Geneve and take a bus to Chamonix, so did I. Flying directly from the holidays in Spain, I didn’t have sufficient time to look for the most affordable option and I booked a shuttle bus from Mountain Drop-Offs. It cost me 40 EUR and I was the only passenger on board. It’s very easy to find their box at the airport and over an hour later I was already at the campsite in Chamonix.

On the way back, I used the service of BlaBlaBus which took a bit longer but was significantly cheaper (around 22-25 EUR).

Travel by train is possible as well but it’s more complicated and usually requires catching at least two connections.

Tour du Mont Blanc
Track markings

Budget

In total I spent 300 EUR, starting from day 0 after arrival to Chamonix when I bought a gas bottle, lighter, shoelaces and some food. Flight ticket and transportation from Geneve airport need to be added on top of that.

Campings were the most expensive in Switzerland: ~17-22 EUR per night. The exception was La Peuty for only 6 EUR, but the facilities were very basic. In France setting up a tent costs usually between 10-12 EUR and in Italy 12-15 EUR per night.

Everything else was mostly food. Spaghetti bolognese, pizza, panini, burger and even McDonald’s once back to Chamonix 馃檪 Even though I mostly stocked in supermarkets and cook by myself, all of these meals are tempting and if you are tired, it isn’t easy to resist.

My itinerary:

Finishing the track took me 9 days, tackling a lot of variants which made the route a bit more difficult than the standard one. Some people do it faster, some people do it slower. It doesn’t really matter. Take your time, don’t rush and enjoy the views. I planned to take a day off in case of pouring rain, but it never came so every day I slept in different location 馃檪 Being so lucky, there was no point in wasting such perfect weather conditions!

Day 1: Les Houches – Les Contamines (via Refuge de Miage)
Day 2: Les Contamines – Les Chapieux
Day 3: Les Chapieux – Courmayeur (via Refugio Maison Vieille)
Day 4: Courmayeur – Arp Nouva (via Col Sapin)
Day 5: Arp Nouva – La Fouly
Day 6: La Fouly – Champex
Day 7: Champex – Trient (via Fenettre d’Arpette)
Day 8: Trient – La Flegere (via Lac Blanc)
Day 9: La Flegere – Les Houches

Tour du Mont Blanc
Col de la Seigne – border between France and Italy

Final thoughts

Tour du Mont Blanc is absolutely amazing. In fact, it’s the first hike that I could imagine doing one more time straight away. Planning the stages, taking in all the sights and arriving at the campsite being filled with satisfaction. Setting up the tent, preparing dinner on a gas stove, far away from daily routine. Knowing that the next day will bring more good vibes.

It’s hard to describe the feeling on the last day. Being very tired, I was walking the final kilometres to Les Houches with a wide smile on my face, thinking of all the preparation, flight to Geneve, bus to Chamonix and completing all the stages. Adventure came to the end, but what an adventure it was!

If you are a hiking enthusiast and were thinking of doing a long-distance hike in the Alps, just do it. Do it now, not later. To be honest, I am always against postponing personal plans for later, as later can never come. The memories will enrich and stay with you forever.

Do you have questions? Drop a comment below!

The main attraction bringing tourists to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, commonly known as Chamonix, is Mont Blanc. The summit of the highest mountain in Western Europe is at 4810m a.s.l. and the first successful ascent by Jacques Balmat and Michael Paccard took place on August 8th 1786, causing a significant boom in mountaineering.

Winter sports were always popular in the region and it resulted in the first Winter Olympics organized here in 1924.

Mont Blanc MultiPass

Following below itinerary, you will save a lot of money by purchasing a 1-day version of Mont Blanc MultiPass. It costs 68 EUR, while return ticket for the cable car to Aiguille du Midi costs already 65 EUR. Totally worth it!

Aiguille du Midi

It’s impossible to miss a huge cable car station in the centre of Chamonix. Looking up, you can see the destination and the upper station at a height of 3,777m a.s.l. with o the summit terrace at 3,842m a.s.l. One can’t get closer to the summit of Mont-Blanc without hiking or climbing. It only takes around 20 minutes to get there, starting at the altitude of 1035 m a.s.l. It’s like a journey to a different world. Alpine world.

There is usually a lot of people but also a lot of space on the terraces to observe the panorama of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps, of course including the king – Month Blanc.

View to Aiguille du Midi from Chamonix centre
View to Aiguille du Midi from Chamonix centre
Upper station of Aiguille du Midi cable car


At this altitude, it is usually much colder and windier than down in the valley, so take an extra layer but also sunglasses and suncream.

You may want to check out extra attractions such as small exhibition, cinema or something called Step Into the Void. It’s a 2.50 m glass cage out over a 1000 m precipice. Waiting lines are usually long here so I didn’t want to lose time just to take one picture.

Gondola ride to Aiguille du Midi is included in Mont Blanc MultiPass, otherwise, return trip costs 65 EUR.

Panoramic Mont Blanc Gondola (optional)

The Panoramic Mont-Blanc gondola is not included in Mont Blanc MultiPass but for me, it’s the most awesome ride in Chamonix region. For an extra 32 EUR, it takes you from Aiguille du Midi over the Glacier du Geant seracs and crevasses to the Pointe Helbronner in Italy. One way ride takes around 30 minutes.

There are a lot of hikers who challenged themselves to tackle the highest mountain in the Alps and their camps are like colourful pins on a white sea. I feel the strong atmosphere of this place. Will I ever be able to stand at the top of Mont Blanc? I have no experience in mountaineering whatsoever, but it’s never too late to learn.

Mer de Glace

From Plan de l鈥橝iguille du Midi, which is the mid-station of Aiguille du Midi gondola, take a scenic track known as Grand Balcon Nord towards Mer de Glace. It takes 2 – 2.5 hours and it’s a wonderful alpine walk.

In English, Mer de Glace means the Sea of Ice.  It’s the largest glacier in France, 7km long and 200m deep. Being heavily covered in debris, it doesn’t look like it at all. But take your time, use your zoom lens or binoculars and you will understand how impressive it is.

Chamonix Mer de Glace
Panorama of glacier

Obviously, it was even more impressive some years ago. After reaching Montevers train station, check out small exhibition located dedicated to the history of glaciers in Glaciorium. Then, take a small cable car down to the ice cave. From the cable car lower station, there is still a long descent on metal platforms and steps. Every year new platforms are added and the way down is getting longer. Why? There are a lot of information boards along the track indicating the level of the glacier in the last years. It is really scary to see how fast it’s receding.  

Ice cave itself was not very impressive but maybe it’s because I saw similar attractions in Switzerland before. When I was there, it was way too crowded to really enjoy the experience.

Chamonix Mer de Glace
Inside the ice cave

The Montevers train, even though looking cute, was even more crowded with tourists and hikers with big backpacks and equipment. The ride is included in Mont Blanc MultiPass, otherwise, one-way ticket costs 28.50 EUR.

Le Brevent

Another popular gondola lift takes you from Chamonix to Plan Praz (2000 m a.s.l.), from where you continue by cable car to the top of Le Brevent (2525 m a.s.l.). Views to the south slope of Mont Blanc are terrific and there are nice walks in the area as well, such as Grand Balcon Sud or Lake Cornu.

The ride is included in Mont Blanc MultiPass, otherwise return ticket costs 34 EUR.

If you are about to hike Tour du Mont Blanc, you will conquer Le Brevent anyway by foot, so going there by cable car won’t make sense.

Chamonix Brevent
View from Le Brevent

Chamonix

In such a case, spend the afternoon visiting the Alpine Museum in Chamonix. It’s quite cheap compared to other attractions in the area and for 6 EUR you can easily spend an hour here learning about the increasing popularity of mountain hikes, followed by the construction of cable cars and gondolas to meet the demand. All of that resulted in the development of the popular French mountain resort – Chamonix.

The town is extremely charming, despite the crowds of tourists. Spend your evening strolling on the streets. Don’t miss the statue of Balmat and Saussure. In 1760 Horace B茅n茅dict de Saussure challenge climbers offering a financial prize to the first people setting foot on the top of Mont Blanc.

The statue of Balmat and Saussure in Chamonix
The statue of Balmat and Saussure in Chamonix

After several unsuccessful attempts, on August 8th 1786 two local Chamonix men finally made it happen. They were Jacques Balmat and Dr Michel Gabriel Paccard. As always, it’s all about money and a great story which in that case promoted Balmat, making him a local superstar. The role of his companion was consistently ignored and downgraded.

The second bronze statue to commemorate Dr Paccard was erected only in 1986. It stands only a few meters away and somehow nicely corresponds to the original story. Paccard calmly looks at the mountain when Balmat and Saussure stand in the spotlight, pointing at the summit in clearly visible excitement.


Notice: Undefined offset: 11 in /home/u290915664/domains/pinyourfootsteps.com/public_html/wp-content/plugins/tracking-code-manager/includes/classes/core/Manager.php on line 235