Monday, July 11, 2005

Tour du Mont Blanc

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a 6-10 day trek of approximately 100 miles around the base of the Mont Blanc, Western Europe's highest mountain at almost 16,000 feet. The trail goes through France, Italy, and Switzerland and features varied and spectacular scenery. (See some pictures below)

While the climbs are arduous the footing is generally much smoother than in the White Mountains of NH and there are no technical climbing areas. And, at the end of each day huts with showers, beer, wine, great food, and friendly fellow hikers can be found to recharge the battery and rest the feet. Huts are reasonably priced at about $50 per night with dinner, breakfast, and bunk room accomodations. About $10 more per person for rooms for 2-4. Reservations are a good idea. The Cicerone guidebook described below includes all the phone numbers. We used a mobile to call ahead when we determined where we might end up for the night.

We completed the trek in 6 days at the end of June 2005. Doing the Tour in 6 days is tough involving 10 hours per day of steady hiking. Of course, more leisurely versions are possible with most completing the trek in 10 days or so. Ideal timing is last week of June as snow is mostly off the passes and the crowds reasonable.

The trail features multiple "variations", all listed in the guidebooks and on the maps. Do them all if weather permits as often they cover somewhat higher routes and are truly spectacular. The variations include the Col du Tricot, Col des Fours, Col Sapin, and the capstone the Fenetre d' Aprette.

Click to view map-# indicate location of end of each day of our trek in 2005. See pics below

Guidebook: Cicerone Guide Tour du Mont Blanc is the best English language guidebook. Series also includes other superb English language guides to treks in the Alps and elsewhere. Of course there are any number of guided trips, some as we saw complete with donkeys to carry gear. REI, Wilderness Travel, etc.. all organize such treks. This said it is easy to go "unsupervised".

Gear: Travel light. We somewhat overpacked. Good non Gore-Tex (due to heat) light hiking boots are vital, trail running shoes possible but not recommended due to time on the trail daily. Otherwise 2 or 3 rapid drying t-shirts, shorts, wool socks, a fleece, and water proof shell are all you need. Do bring a pack towel and soap for those great end of day showers. A light weight sleeping bag liner is essential for the huts. Plan on a hydration bladder or a Nalgene and bike bottle. We clipped the bike bottle to the pack sternum harness for on the go sips. Wrap a decent amount of duct tape around a water or sun tan lotion bottle. Duck tape is fantastic for blisters and fixing just about anything. Quite literally there is no need to carry much more than would fit in a decent sized daypack. Note of course that doing the Tour earlier in June or in the fall might mean somewhat warmer clothes.

To give readers a day by day feel for the adventure:

Day One

Col des Montets (France near Chamonix) to Refuge de Belachat above Chamonix


Bouquetins Mountain Goats Prancing above Chamonix

The view from the Refuge de Belchat towards the Aguille du Gouter on Mont Blanc

Day Two

Belachat to Refuge Nant Borrant above Contamines, France.

Stretching before setting out from Refuge Nant Borrant-Best Food!

Day Three

Nant Borrant to Refuge Elisabetta near Courmayeur Italy

On the way to the Col de Seigne and Italy

Approach to Refugio Elisabetta near Courmayeur, Italy
Day Four

Refugio Elisabetta to Refuge Bonnatti in Italian Val Ferret above Courmayeur


Day Five

Refugio Bonnatti to Champex Switzerland


Refugio Bonnati

Who says hiking has to be miserable
The bar at the Refugio Elena. We stopped for an expresso on the way up the Col Ferret

Hikers headed up Col Ferret towards Switzerland from Refugio Elena

Day Six

Champex Switzerland to Col de Balme over the Fenetre d' Arpette

The final climb -Col de Balme Switzerland

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey,
Good review! I´m thinking about doing the Tour and carrying a light tent on my backpack. Is it possible to camp round there?

Sam Winebaum said...

Thanks! Camping along the route from what we could see is not encouraged. Possible yes but the huts are relatively inexpensive at 40-60 euros a night with 2 meals and if you want beer and wine. Most have shower included. All you need is sleeping bag liner. Going the hut route also means that you really don't need to carry more than a large daypack, overnight pack and given the terrain you can do the Tour in light hikers or running shoes, which I did this past year.

Paul said...

Hi Sam
I'm just wondering what were the dates you did the Tour? I did it solo the first 2 weeks in July 2010 and I think I remember seeing you on a couple of different occasions during my trip!
It was a great trip that I would highly recommend to anyone, you can make it a little bit easier by using the huts or do like I did and camp which was a little harder due to the extra weight but it was well worth it! But I did stay in Refugio Elena one night due to bad weather and because I needed a break from my tent!
Here's a few photos from my trip if you are interested in having a look to bring back some nice memories!!
Nice blog, I have only just discovered it today.
All the best
Paul from Ireland
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?id=1669783945&pid=561560#!/album.php?aid=32130&id=1669783945
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?id=1669783945&pid=561794#!/album.php?aid=32132&id=1669783945
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?id=1669783945&pid=564242#!/album.php?aid=32495&id=1669783945

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