Tour du Mont Blanc 2012

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a multiday trek that circumnavigates the Mont Blanc Massif, Western Europe’s highest mountain range. It is 170km in length and has in excess of 10000m of ascent and descent (more than the height of Everest). The route also passes through three countries, France, Italy & Switzerland.
The route
The reasons for attempting this trek were twofold, I have a strange fixation Mont Blanc, having tried to climb it 3 times in the past and so what better that seeing it from all sides by walking around it. Also, as I’m off to Nepal later in 2012, I thought this would be an ideal warm up to test my gear and to see if I could cope with long, high, multiday treks.
This is my account of walking the Tour du Mont Blanc in June/July2012, by the more traditional anti-clockwise route, over 10 days. I did the trek with a friend and old work colleague of mine Phil, I’m not sure how I roped him into doing the trek with me, but I think he enjoyed it. I hope you find it useful and informative, but if you do have any questions please do not hesitate to email me.
Day 1 (25/06/2012) – Les Houches to Les Contamines
Height Gain
Height Loss
Max Elevation
6h 30min

We were awake and out of bed at 6:30 to finish packing my rucksack with everything I needed for the next 10 days, it was raining heavily outside, not a good start to the trek.
We went to the bakery across the square from our hotel in the centre of Chamonix and grabbed a couple of Pain au Chocolat for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch. We caught the bus to Les Houches, 20 mins down the valley to our start point. We were off!
The first two and a half hours of the trek was all up hill in the damp passing the deserted ski chalets and grassy pistes, until we reached the Col de Vosa, where the sun decided to make a brief appearance. This is not the most inspiring start to the trek, but the guidebook promised it would get better.
We thought it was safe to take off our waterproof trousers. However, this was short lived and it rained on and off for the rest of the day. As the weather was unsettled and the cloud was getting lower, we decided to change our intended route over the Col de Tricot and stick to the “normal” TMB route. This would shorten our day by an hour or so and would be at a lower altitude, so to avoid the worst of the weather. It was a good call for the first day as our bags felt heavy, making our shoulders ache, we were not used to the terrain and I was thinking “What have I gotten myself into? Could I complete the trek?”
From the col we crossed the Tramway du Mont Blanc train track and headed down into the valley. We had a break for lunch and a rest in a nice little village called La Villette, we made the most of the sun (which had finally decided to make an appearance). The rest of the route was very pleasant passing through tiny villages and then following the river into Les Contamines, one final uphill push found us in the heart of the village next to the impressive church. The town seemed to be still a sleep after the ski season, so we stopped at the only place that was open, a cafe for a soft drink and enjoy the sun which now was out.
Our hut (Chalet du C.A.F) for the night was a further 10 mins down the road, we checked in with the Gardien and went to our allotted beds. We had two lower bunks in a room of 4 which we had to ourselves. Hopefully, we could get some decent sleep after our first day on the trail.
Dinner was served at 19:00 so we washed and sat outside chatting to other trekkers until dinner. Dinner in alpine huts is normally a simple affair, but still we were served 4 courses all prepared and cooked by the Gardien. For starter we were given mixed salad, followed by fish (very unusual in the Alps let alone in huts) with rice and ratatouille. I was quite hungry and managed seconds. The third course was just cheese and dessert was chocolate cake.
Following dinner we readied for bed at around 21:30, this was going to be our normal bed time for the next couple of weeks. Day 1 down, some slight aches and pains in the legs and shoulders, but no blisters. We hoped that the weather would improve for the rest of the trip.
Day 2 (26/06/2012) – Les Contamines to Croix du Bonhomme
Height Gain
Height Loss
Max Elevation
6h 30min

I was up at 6:40 as the simple breakfast of bread & jam was served at 7:00. This would be our normal hut breakfast for the next couple of days, so anything different to this (e.g. muesli, fruit, etc) seemed a luxury. Another bizarre thing that I had forgotten about is that tea/coffee/hot chocolate is served in breakfast bowls in huts.
Good news was that the weather forecast was to be brighter with some showers later in the day. With that we left the hut at 7:50 to make use of the good weather. It was easy walking for the first 45 mins until we reached another impressive church just outside Les Contamines (Notre-Dame de la Gorge) from here the path rose up steeply along the Roman paved path, through the woods high above the river. We crossed a small humped back bridge. Looking down from the bridge, the river had carved its way through the rock over millions of years.
We continued on walking through the hilly pasture land with the constant dinging of cowbells until we reached the Chalet de la Balme, a small hut where we took a break, enjoyed the views down the valley from where we had come. We had some snacks knowing that our next objective was the Col du Bonhomme at 2329m was some 600m above us.
All refreshed we set off uphill again, where we encountered our first snow patch - before the trip I was slightly concerned about the snow patches, but it turned out that they were easier than expected. However, I found the relentless uphill slog tough going, and as this was only day 2, I was feeling the effects of altitude. Nearing the col at 2329m the weather closed in with fog and rain, we took shelter in the tiny wooden hut at the col, donned our waterproof coats and had some drinks & snacks. We knew we had 45 mins to our final destination of the day the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme.
After passing many more snow patches we lost the path, as did another group of French lads and a 76 year old German man. We decided to join forces, we checked the guide book and map then, retraced our steps to see if we could find the way. Finally Phil spotted the all important cairn and TMB markings on the rock, we were back on track. After another 20 mins we arrived at the hut at 14:20, soaking. This short leg had taken us an additional 30 mins due to the bad weather and poor visibility.
The hut was a welcome site emerging from the gloom. The hut was warm so we checked in changed into dry clothes then had a Leffe beer and some cake (it’s amazing what you can buy at 2400m in the mountains). We had 2 top bunks in a room for 6. Dinner was served at 19:00 so we spent the time chatting and drying our clothes. The German guy was drying out his soggy pants/underwear over the wood burning stove, not something I would want to see again soon!
Dinner was soup, followed by beef cooked in a thick red wine sauce with polenta, bread and cheese, then some chocolate cake. Phil and I shared a table with Bob and Brian, a couple of guys from the UK who go hiking every year with each other and have done for the past 20 years. The evening was then rounded off with entertainment from the hut staff, singing, playing guitars, trumpet & violin and lots of audience participation. I have never seen that before in a hut.
We retired to our bunks at 21:15, knowing we have a long day in the morning.
Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme
Day 3 (27/06/2012) – Croix du Bonhomme to Rifugio Elisabetta (via Les Chapieux & Col de la Seigne)
Height Gain
Height Loss
Max Elevation
7h 45min
Again we were up at 6:40 ready for another breakfast of bread and jam at 7:00. Both Phil and I had a poor night’s sleep as one of the French guys in our room snored all night and sounded like Darth Vader.
We left the refuge at 8:00 knowing that it was all downhill for the next two and a bit hours to Les Chapieux and that by the end of the day we would have entered Italy. We had decided not to do the alternative shorter route over the Col des Fours, as we heard that there was quite a bit of waist deep snow which could be prone to avalanches. Also the weather had improved immensely so the views down the valley were spectacular, we arrived in the “village” and stopped for some snacks ready for the long, hot walk up the road to the start of the next big objective, the Col de la Seigne, which we could see high up in the distance, this is also the border between France and Italy, a major milestone in our journey.
After about 1.5 hours on the road we reached la Ville des Glaciers, looking up we could see the zig-zags going straight up the hillside, they looked a daunting task. However, we were both surprised to find the angle of these was easy on the legs. At the top of the zig-zags we crossed a few streams and followed the path which contoured around the hillside, for me this seemed to go on forever and was getting hot and tired, I was having a bad day, but Phil kept me going. We passed one false summit after another until the real col came into view. On arrival at the col we were greeted with the most wonderful 360 degree views. Looking into Italy we had glimpses of Mont Blanc and its satellite peaks.
After a brief stop to take photos and to enjoy the views we headed on down the valley over the snow fields, finally reaching a well marked path that would lead us to the Rifugio Elisabetta. I had gotten some energy from somewhere and sped along the path. We eventually spotted our home for the night, the rifugio was perched high up on a rocky outcrop, this final uphill of the day was unwelcome, but after a few minutes of toil we had completed another day and were now in Italy.
Tight sleeping arrangements
On checking into the rifugio we were allocated 2 beds on the middle tier of a 7 wide, 3 tier bunk (21 beds in a very small space!). We set about our daily routine of having a wash, drying our clothes and claiming ourspace on the bunks, I managed to get a bed next to the wall, unfortunately, Phil got to sleep next to Darth Vader! We weren’t sure if we would sleep well tonight, due to the cramped conditions. Even though the sleeping arrangements weren’t the best, the rifugio’s food made up for it. Dinner was some charcuterie, followed by a starter of risotto (we think it was mushroom), a main of pork in a honey and paprika sauce with mashed potatoes topped off with apple tart.

We are now starting to meet up with fellow hikers that we’ve met at previous huts as we are all going the same way and stopping the same huts, Tim an English guy who lives in France, Bob and Brian, The American couple (Nate and Abby) and the Aussies (Jason, Amanda, Vince and Marissa) it’s quite nice to share your days experiences with others who have the same goals as you.

Outside the hut we were treated to a wildlife extravaganza with marmots running over the snow fields and ibex (bouquetin) hopping around the rocky outcrops.

Went to bed at 21:30 as usual!

Day 4 (28/06/2012) – Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur

Height Gain
Height Loss
Max Elevation
6h 30min
Phil and I were up at 6:00. The room had been boiling all night and I think Phil was ready to do something nasty to Darth Vader. That said we managed to get in some good sleep considering the sleeping conditions and bed fellows. Breakfast was at 6:30, I treated myself to bread, honey and Nutella and an apricot tart, it made a change from jam.
Rifugio Elisabetta
It was a bright and sunny day and we left the hut at 7:30 down the valley on a jeep track, after a while the TMB left the track on the right, steeply up a 400m climb. We got into a groove and plodded slowly upwards, we reached an abandoned hut after 1.5 hours and caught our breath and had some snacks. We continued upwards for another 20 mins until we reached out highpoint of 2419m we were treated to spectacular views of the south side of Mont Blanc, glaciers and in the distance the Dent du Geant (The Giants Tooth). At one point we were above an airplane flying along the valley.
After a quick photo stop, we set off downhill (steeply at first) and then across some steep angled snow fields, I was glad that I had my walking poles to dig into the snow to give me some additional balance and security. We spotted marmots scurrying across the hillside enjoying the morning sun. Each step from now on, until we reach Courmayeur would be downhill again the poles were a help here to take some of the impact and load off the knees.
We reached the Rifugio Maison Vielle, where we had a long break to give our knees some much needed respite from the downhill and ate our picnic. We had views over to Gran Paradiso (a 4000m Mountain that I had previously climbed). We were then joined by Tim, Nate and Abby.
It's a long way down to Courmayeur
Following a good rest we started on the final leg to Courmayeur, this followed the pistes and a dusty supply road, through a wooded area and descended 1400m into the Aosta valley to the pretty village of Dolonne on the outskirts of Courmayeur, I think Phil was not really enjoying this part of the route as the dust was playing havoc with his contact lenses, it was my turn to keep him going and with a promise of ice cream and a night in a hotel. We crossed the river then reached our hotel for the night (Hotel Croux) not far from the main shopping street and tourist office. The 3* hotel was luxury compared to the huts, we had a sunny balcony, we set about washing and drying our clothes and I had my first shower in 4 days, it was great to feel human again. We took the time to rehydrate, call home, wander the streets from one shady spot to another as the temperature was now well into the mid 30’s and have the all important ice cream. Courmayeur is a lovely little village on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc Tunnel.
We had an early dinner of pizza (what else would you have in Italy) then went back to the hotel to watch the football and a well deserved early night. It was the Euro 2012 game between Italy and Germany. Italy won 2-1 so the locals decided to celebrate by driving their cars around town honking their horns late into the night.
Day 5 (29/06/2012) – Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti
Height Gain
Height Loss
Max Elevation
5h 15min
Up at 6:45 after a great night’s sleep, just what the doctor ordered as our bodies were aching a bit after the previous 4 days exertion. Breakfast in the hotel was at 7:30 and was a great spread, melon, soft bread, apple cake, orange juice, pastries. I think we could have stayed there for the rest of the trip!
Back to the day in hand, we knew from the guide book that the first few hours were up, followed by even more up. We left the hotel at 8:15, walking through the now quiet streets of Courmayeur out on the road to Villair. The road then ended and we started up the zig-zags up to the Rifugio Bertone, we arrived after an energy zapping 1.5 hours, the morning sun was already beating down on us. We had a choice from here continue on the “normal” TMB route or go over the Mont de la Saxe. We chose the “normal” route for a number of reasons:
  • It’s shorter and I was tired from the steep climb out of Courmayeur.
  • It’s lower and the cloud looked like it was dropping, and we didn’t want to get caught out in bad weather.
Dent du Geant & the Grandes Jorasses
The chosen route skirted around the hill on a balcony that went through meadows filled with wild alpine flowers. We were rewarded with fleeting views of the Grandes Jorasses and the Dent du Geant when the cloud parted. After a pleasant walk we had one final 5 min uphill section to reach the Rifugio Bonatti at 13:30. It was nice to do a shorter/easier day. It was also quite hot with Phil’s GPS recording 42 degrees at one point, but I’m not sure if that was right!
Phil starting to enjoy hut life at Rif Bonatti
We were shown to our dorm room, this was for 14 people we had 2 beds near the window that had views of Mont Blanc (if the cloud wasn’t obscuring it!). This hut is the best hut I’ve seen in the Alps, we had loads of space, each bed had a hanging space and drawer, hot showers and fantastic staff. This should be the model for all huts in the Alps.
We got into our hut arrival routine of showering, drying clothes, etc. Then we relaxed for the rest of the day, eating (cheese & ham toasties), taking photos of the mountains and chatting to the other trekkers, whom we had met along the way and playing spot the refuge on the mountains opposite.
Dinner was served at 19:15 and consisted of antipasti (parma ham, speck, bread) penne pasta in a tomato sauce (I had 2nds and 3rds) followed by meatballs, mixed veg and cabbage and a dessert of apple strudel.
We watched the sun set over the mountains, in such a special place then went to bed at 21:45, slightly later than normal. Another milestone day - we had completed half of our trip.
Day 6 (30/06/2012) – Rifugio Bonatti to La Fouly via Grand Col Ferret
Height Gain
Height Loss
Max Elevation
7h 30min
Another great night’s sleep, I woke at 6:20 and got ready for breakfast at 6:30, I had cereal, some apple cake left over from the previous night’s dinner and the usual bread and jam.
We set off at 7:30, our hut regime now getting very slick, enabling us to get out on the trail ahead of the crowds and do most of the walking when it’s cooler. From the Bonatti Hut the trail continued to skirt around the hillside along a balcony, before dropping to the valley floor, we followed the access road up to the Rifugio Elena as we missed the turn for theTMB path as the sign was down. This didn’t really matter as it didn’t really add on any extra time or distance. Phil was in the zone and walked ahead of me at his pace, and I plodded along behind. We arrived at the hut about 2 hours after we set off from the Bonatti hut, and stopped for a well deserved rest and drinks.
Our highest point
The next leg of the day would lead us up another 500 vertical metres to our high point of our trip, Grand Col Ferret, and another country, Switzerland. Phil set off like a rocket (I think the coffee he had at the Rifugio was giving him superhuman powers) and I plodded along at my snail’s pace. The path was steep in places but not difficult. Slowly and surely the col came into view, where Phil was waiting for me. We took photos and after a 15 min rest we set off on the hour long downhill over numerous snow patches to the hut at La Peule. We stopped for massive but expensive omelettes and drinks.
Fuelled up we set off on the “high level” variant of the TMB, no real issues apart from a few steep ups and downs to cross some valleys, but the sun was out in full force and was really hot. Then we came to the killer, knee-crunching, toe-smashing steep downhill section. Eventually we reached the valley floor 20 mins outside La Fouly. We walked along the river into the little town and arrived at the Hotel Edelweiss. We were in the bunk room on the top floor, Phil and I again got 2 beds near a window as the huts can get very hot.
We went through our now slick hut arrival routine (drying clothes, showers, claiming precious space). There were massive queues for the 3 showers. However, I was offered the use of a shower by some fellow trekkers (Barry & Adrianne) from NZ who had a private room, result!
Phil and I then walked into town, if you can call it that! (1 bar, bank, small supermarket and outdoor shop, chalets) to grab some snacks/fizzy drinks from the shop. After the beautiful day the weather had turned and it started to thunder and rain. This looked like the forecast for the next day!
Early dinner in the hotel at 18:30, veg soup, chicken curry, rice and veg, crème caramel and a beer. After dinner went back to the bar in town for a weiss beer then returned to hotel and went to bed around 21:00.
I felt that my fitness was improving as I could walk for longer between rests, my muscles recovered quicker and I didn’t seem to have too many aches and pains especially after one of our biggest days.
Day 7 (01/07/2012) – La Fouly to Champex Lac
Height Gain
Height Loss
Max Elevation
4h 30min
I was woken up at 5:00 by some huge claps of thunder and lightning and pouring rain, I closed the dorm window so I didn’t get wet and then dropped back off to sleep eventually waking at 6:45.
Breakfast was at 7:30 and was the usual fair of bread, jam and cheese. We set off at 8:15 the weather looked like it was clearing up if a little cloudy, this day is described in the guide book as the easiest day ofthe trek, mainly downhill then a 1.5 hour uphill section into Champex.
Great wood stacking in Praz de Fort
We walked to 2 hours following the river, we were joined by Bob, Brian and Tim until we reached the pretty little village of Praz de Fort, this could be a model Swiss village, chalet style houses, immaculately mown lawns and neatly stocked wood piles. We briefly stopped for snacks then continued on through to the next village, Issert. Here is where the 1.5 hour walk uphill to Champex begins, which was quite a shock to the system considering we had been walking downhill for most of the morning. The path winded its way up the hill, sometimes zig-zags were used to smooth out the steeper sections.
Wood carvings on the way up to Champex
There were quite a few wood carvings (Ibex, mushrooms, boar and squirrels) along the trail which added a bit of interest and to take our minds off the hill. Near to Champex we joined the road, but now the cloud was descending and looking very ominous. We eventually arrived at 12:45 in the village and at our “hotel” (Au Club Alpin) just before the rain started. We were shown to the dorm room, we claimed two beds in a quiet corner and grabbed a shower.
We walked down the street and got a bite to eat. It’s a shame the weather was bad as we did not really see the best of Champex. It’s on a little lake which would have been nice to explore considering this was a very short day, other than that there is not much else to do. We returned to the hotel for a rest before dinner at 18:30. Dinner was an eclectic mix of food that didn’t really make a complete meal. Carrot soup to start, followed by Chicken in a creamy sauce with pasta & pesto and a salad. Dessert was chocolate mousse. I ate all of mine but Phil left most of his (probably the worse meal of the trip).
After dinner we had another walk around the village, but it hadn’t stopped raining since we arrived and the village was quiet and very eerie in the mist, so we went to bed at 20:45 as lights out was at 21:00!!!!
We hoped for better weather the next day.
Day 8 (02/07/2012) – Champex Lac to Trient
Height Gain
Height Loss
Max Elevation
5h 15min
I was up at 6:45, there had been storms overnight (thunder) and we awoke to more rain. The weather forecast wasn’t looking too good.
After the disappointing dinner the previous night, the breakfast more than made up for it, orange juice, fresh bread and cream cheese, muesli.
We packed our rucksacks, filled our water bottles and set off around 8:15. Almost immediately we had to put on full waterproofs. After a 5 min uphill walk out of Champex, we descended through woodland and pastures following the trail as it traversed around the hillside, nice easy walking to start the day, that all came to a stop after about 1.5 hours when the path went up 400 vertical metres in little under 1km. I found the path hard going as we had to negotiate exposed tree roots, big steps over wet boulders and lots of slippy mud. Added to these hazards were a couple of river crossings (no bridges were in place yet), which were made worse by the torrential rain. This steep hill is not really mentioned in the guide book - I may have to write to the author!
The angle eased near the top then the path followed the contours around the side of the hill high above the Swiss town of Martigny until we reached the little hut at Alp Bovine, soaking wet. Some of our trail mates (Tim, Sandra a French guide, Bob & Brian) were installed in the corner of the welcoming and warm hut. We grabbed a drink and a cake before heading back out into the weather. We knew that the majority of the uphill for the day had been completed.
On leaving the hut we found that it had stopped raining for the first time all day, we had one small hill to climb to reach today’s highpoint “Collet Portalo” at 2040m, then it was pretty much a gentle downhill stroll to Col de la Forclaz and then onto Trient. On reaching this high point we saw other trekkers having their bags carried by pack horse, why didn’t we think of that?
We had a brief stop at the col and then continued to Trient. Whist walking down from Col de la Forclaz to Trient, Phil spotted a snake, basking in the sun on the side of the path, I thought it looked like an adder, but we later found out that it was a bit more poisonous! A bit too close for comfort.

After one final set of steep zig-zags downhill, we entered the village of Trient and our “hotel” for the night, the grandly named “Relais du Mont Blanc”. We were in the dorm room on the third floor. We quickly grabbed the best beds in a corner, near a window and away from the door.
Our now slick routine kicked in, we showered and dried our damp gear and grabbed some lunch, it started to rain - again! We were sharing the dorm with a group of French people who had never slept in a dorm before. They were finding the whole experience a novelty. We spotted that all their kit was brand new and shiny and they even had their baggage transported between huts.
Dinner was at 19:00 and consisted of soup, cheese and bread, a salad course, main of pork in a spicy, wine and herb sauce with rice and a dessert of ice cream. We had a strange and surreal experience as a couple of rounds of “Happy Birthday” were sung to a Japanese Woman and a French chap, great fun, considering we were all singing in different languages, funnily enough the tune is the same!!!!
One final beer with Phil and Tim then it was off to bed at 21:40, it had stopped raining and the weather forecast was looking better for the final few days of the trek.
Day 9 (03/07/2012) – Trient to Lac Blanc (via Col de Balme and Aiguille des Posettes)
Height Gain
Height Loss
Max Elevation
9h 30min
Woke at 6:30 for breakfast at 7:00, had a great sleep. Breakfast was a bit of a free for all, but managed to grab some muesli, bread and cream cheese and a couple of apricots (nice to have some fresh fruit and nojam). We left the Relais du Mont Blanc at 8:15 as we knew we had a long day, crossing back into France for our final couple of days.
Views from the Col de Balme
We walked along the road through the sleepy village up to the next village, La Peutry. Then we were on the hill proper. This was a hard start to the day, steep switch backs ascending into the clouds. After about an hour of fairly steep climbing the gradient eased and we walked up the valley for a while, then we saw the Col de Balme, the Swiss – French border another 150m above us. After some easier zig-zags and about 2.5 hours of walking we arrived at the col. We had just climbed 1000m from Trient and were greeted with amazing views of Mont Blanc, Les Drus and the L’Arve valley. For me I’ve seen this view many times before on previous trips and it felt like I was coming home, quite emotional.
Spurred on by the view we descended to the Col des Posettes, then climbed up to the Aiguille des Posettes, unfortunately the cloud had closed in so we didn’t get any views. It was snack time (a common theme for Phil and me). The descent was relentless, pounding on the knees, it was rocky in places with wooden steps bolted to the rock, supposedly to make things easier, they didn’t! At one point on the descent both Phil and I got the giggles over the absurdity of the amount of downhill we were doing, which made the walk doubly hard. I was finding it difficult to breathe due to the laughter.
Eventually we arrived at the road in Tre-le-Champ, and walked the sort distance to the auberge for a bite to eat. For most people, this is the end of the day. However, we had decided to roll the final three days into two and had booked ourselves into the Refuge at Lac Blanc that night a further 3 hours and another 900 vertical meters above us. This was a good choice and would recommend it, otherwise the next day would have been very short.
We set off from the auberge, the initial part of the trail was an easy gradient (but always up) and kind to our weary legs, then we arrived at the ladders, this is one part I knew Phil was not looking forward to, as he’s a little bit frightened of heights, or in this case huge drops.
Me on the first set of ladders
I went first to scout out the route, Phil followed. The first few ladders were the steepest, we had to transition from one ladder to another using metal handrails.
Phil having fun on the ladders...NOT!
This was the start of a 50 min section of ladders, wooden steps and scrambling. Just before reaching the top we were once again joined by our trail buddy, Tim, who had managed to secure a bed in the hut. Phil later mentioned that he would never want to do those ladders ever again.
At the top of the ladders we reached a cairn stating that the hut was another 45 mins away, my legs were wasted and felt like jelly, not sure if I was able to make it. I plodded on slower and slower, we had one final short ladder to climb, passing the 3 little lakes (Lacs des Cheserys) and one final uphill push across some remaining snow slopes and we were at the hut, 9.5 hours after starting out. I was totally knackered, but I think that this was best hill day I’ve ever had, only 20km in length, but it had everything, crossing a country border, ladders, scrambling, altitude, finishing with spectacular views over the Mer de Glace and the Mont Blanc Massif.
We went to our dorm (5 beds), grabbed a well deserved beer and a shower before dinner at 19:00. Dinner was soup, pasta with braised pig cheeks in sauce (I managed seconds) and a dessert of poached pears with chocolate sauce and flaked almonds. I’m amazed what the Gardiens can cook in these fairly remote locations.
After dinner we chatted, took photos and watched the sunset, it was just great to be in the place away from the crowds in the valley below.
Phil enjoying the sunset at Lac Blanc
We went to bed at 21:40, knowing that we had one more long day to go.
Day 10 (04/07/2012) –Lac Blanc to Les Houches (via Brevent)
Height Gain
Height Loss
Max Elevation
9h 0min
GPS ran out of battery, not a complete profile!
I woke initially at 5:30 as the man in the bunk above me snored loudly, I decided to get out of my bunk at 6:00, the sun was coming up and the sunrise was great to see. Again breakfast was the simple and now familiar affair of bread, cheese and jam.
We efficiently packed our rucksacks for the final time and left the hut at 7:20. We blasted down to the cable car station at La Flégère in about an hour. From here it was another 2 hours to Plan Praz following a balcony path on the northern side of the Chamonix valley. On arrival at Plan Praz I was starting to feel the exploits of yesterday. It was a further 2 hours of steep climbing to reach Col de Brevent. Here we encountered the first of today’s snow slopes, this wasn’t too difficult. The next one however, was about 30m across at a 45 degree angle with a large drop off to the right. I focussed on each step, planting my poles in the snow securely until I had crossed it (I was then passed by a mountain biker, who made the crossing look easy!).
To gain the summit of Brevent our highest point for the day, we had a bit of scrambling to do followed by a short ladder section, this was passed without incident and was much easier than yesterdays ladder section. Finally we reached the cable car station and restaurant. We rested and had an expensive lunch of lasagne, we also bumped into the Aussie guys who we hadn’t seen in a few days (we thought they had given up due to the state of Vince’s feet)
With the refuelling complete, pretty much every step from our high point of 2490m to the finish at 975m was all downhill, that’s over 1500m of down in 3 hours. The going was steep at first, then the gradient eased until we reached the next refuge (Bellachat). The path continued to steadily descend until we came to a ravine where the path was protected by some metal steps and handrails, we tackled this without any difficulty. The path winded it way down through the trees until we reached the Parc Merlet (a zoo) then on down to Les Houches through the woods.
My feet felt like they were going numb due to the amount of downhill and my legs felt heavy as I though all my blood was draining into them. Finally we hit the road and the end was in site after 9 hours of walking we made it to the train station, we had completed the Tour du Mont Blanc.
All we had to do now was to get to the train back up the valley to Chamonix and grab a shower. We celebrated by having a big burger, fries, coleslaw and lots of beer at the legendary MBC (Micro Brewery Chamonix)
JOB DONE! I had completed the Tour du Mont Blanc an amazing achievement and something I can be proud of. This will go down as one of the best multiday treks I’ve done, it was 10 days of hard walking with a stunning backdrop.
Hints and Tips
For anyone who wants to walk the Tour Du Mont Blanc, here are some of my tips and observations that you may find useful:
  • Choose a walking partner that has similar goals and who you can get along with, you will be with them for 10 to 11 days in confined spaces. They must be able to motivate you when you are having a bad day (and visa-versa). I had the perfect partner in crime in Phil.
  • Get hill fit and don’t underestimate the amount of time you will be walking. The distances for each leg may seem short, but the effects of altitude, the amount of height gained and lost will add hours, don’t fool yourself and be realistic. Your fitness will improve throughout the walkand as you acclimatise, but it is best to have some basic fitness already.
  • I would advise to pre-book all the accommodation in the huts as these will book up fast. Definitely stay at the Rifugio Bonatti (this is how all huts should be) and stay in dorm rooms for the experience and to meet fellow trekkers. A cautionary note to this is to bring ear plugs for the huts. They can be noisy at times, especially if you are put in a dorm with Darth Vader.
  • If it’s possible to choose your bed in the dorm rooms, choose beds in the corners, on the lower bunks (as they are cooler) near the windows and away from the doors (in that order of preference).
  • Get organised - I found having all my hut gear (sleeping bag liner, wash kit, spare clothes, head torch) in one dry bag worked and meant that everything you need when arriving at a hut is in one place.
  • Go as light as possible. Our rucksacks weighed in just over 10kg including food and water.
  • You will meet many people on the trail (most of them are very interesting). You will see them many times at the huts if you are going in the same direction. One thing you’ll have in common is that you’re walking the Tour du Mont Blanc, one of the best multi-day treks in the world.
  • Have fun, take lots of photos, keep a journal, you’ll have loads of great memories once you’ve completed the trek and the aches and pains have subsided.
  • Walking poles are a MUST and will save your knees, especially on the downhills.
  • Apart from general aches and pains the main injuries you will probably experience will be blisters. Make sure you have well fitting broken in boots and good socks. However, these will not be enough so stock up on Compeed and zinc oxide tape to repair your feet. Also dry your socks and footbeds each night, rotate pairs of socks each day and ensure you keep your feet clean/dry.
Which way? The path is marked very well in places