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Planning a Tour of Mont Blanc hike

Tour of Mont Blanc

When planning a hike of the Tour of Mont Blanc (TMB), which circles around the Mont Blanc massif, the choices immediately get overwhelming. Once you’re on the trail it becomes even more obvious that, while there may be an official TMB route, the variations are endless.

About the TMB

The Tour of Mont Blanc is about 110 miles (170 km), though that can vary quite a bit depending on shortcuts, side trips and choices about sections to skip, either due to weather, scheduling issues or a desire to shorten or lengthen the trip. This may be obvious, but the Alps are tall. Very tall. It’s not that they are so high compared to the monster mountain ranges of the world, as most of the TMB is under 9,000 feet (2,700 m). However, the topography is such that the route can gain and lose 3000-5000 feet (900-1500 m) in a day, day after day. Therefore, most hikers quit paying attention to the mileage and just want to know what the elevation gain and loss for the day is. A six mile (9.6 km) day with 5,000 feet (1500 m)  of elevation gain and loss can take twice as long as a 12 mile (19 km) gently undulating day.

One of the pleasures of the TMB is the unique nature of walking through three different countries, France, Italy and Switzerland, in one trip. “Bon jour” changes to “Buongiorno” in an instant as soon as you cross into Italy. Food choices vary with each region, though pizza reigns supreme in all of the larger towns.

To get oriented, see maps on the Chamonix.net website.

Woman with daypack

Inga’s daypack was 35 liters and contained everything she needed for the Tour of Mont Blanc.

What to Pack

We carried everything we needed for the hike in 35-liter backpacks. Steve’s pack weighed about 10 lbs (4.5 kg) and mine weighed 12 lbs (5.4 kg). These weights are  without water, but with some snacks (mostly energy bars). With water and additional snacks, including our lunch, our packs probably weighed 15 lbs (6.8 kg). This was a real treat since we normally carry 25-30 lbs (11-13 kg) with our full backpacking gear. A couple we met on the trail had a plan included a service that transported their luggage from lodging to lodging each day (except a couple of remote areas where they had to carry their own gear). Their day packs were extremely light.

Stone building, Refuge Mottets, France

Refugio Mottets

Lodging

The type of lodging desired represents a major decision point. The options are

  • Regufio/refuge (mountain hut) and hostel
  • Hotel/inn/auberge
  • Backpacking/camping in a tent

The choice is dictated by individual preference, budget and travel style. They are not mutually exclusive and many people mix and match. We chose to stay mostly in hotels and inns, along with two refugios that were located in remote areas where there were no other options. We enjoyed getting a taste of the refugio experience but we decided on the comfort of hotels/inns for the majority of the trip. In my 20s the refugios would have been wonderful but being of a more “mature” age, the shared dormitory environment was not as appealing for the whole trip. We normally would have backpacked but were put off by hearing that it is not always easy to camp legally and, having never been to the area, were unsure of how well it would be accepted to camp. Many backpackers decamped to refuges and hostels when the weather turned bad, unwilling to brave continuous rain for multiple days.

Bunk beds with red checkered bedpreads

Bunk beds at Refuge Mottets

We had “half-board” included in our price of lodging, which included breakfast buffet and dinner. Lunches can be ordered from most lodging establishments, including refugios, for around US$ 13 (€ 12). We ordered sack lunches a couple of times (one lunch was usually adequate for the two of us with some of our other snacks), ate in cafes a couple of times and assembled lunches from supermarket fare several times.

Blue bandana topped with picnic lunch of baguette, sausages, crackers, cheese and avocado.

Typical picnic lunch with baguette, slim sausages, crackers, cheese and avocado.

When To Go

Deciding when to go is another big decision. The peak season is July and August. June is possible but the trail may be snowbound in big snow years. September is a strong choice but it is important to be aware that hotels, refugios, buses, chair lifts and other services start closing down mid-September. By September 10 we were constantly encountering “just closed yesterday” scenarios.

Man and woman standing on trail with Mont Blanc in background

Mont Blanc from the TMB near Courmayeur, Italy

Sample Itineraries

Our itinerary, presented below, seemed to be fairly standard. We went counter-clockwise, which is the traditional direction, but it’s possible to do it in reverse. It includes 10 days of hiking, a rest day in the middle in Courmayeur and two days allocated to arrival and departures. One couple we hiked with didn’t have a rest day so we had to say goodbye in Courmayeur. We heard of others doing it in seven days, which would be fairly reasonable and of course there are all kinds of speed records, including 2 and 4 day circuits for the speedy types and adventure racers.

A 7-day hike, which eliminates part of the trail around Chamonix, still provides the essence of the most dramatic parts of the trail without sacrificing too much. The audacious tunnel that extends under the massive mountain from Chamonix to Courmayeur allows even shorter treks on half of the TMB in either direction.  Shorter itineraries are offered below.

Sample 10-day, 110-mile (170-km) counter-clockwise hike (10 days of hiking, with two extra days for arrival and departure and an optional rest day, for a total of 13 days)

Pre-Hike: Chamonix (arrival)

Day 1: Chamonix to Les Houches

Day 2: Les Houches to Contamines

Day 3: Contamines to Refuge Mottets

Day 4: Refuge Mottets to Courmayeur (add optional rest day in Courmayeur)

Day 5: Courmayeur to Refuge Bonatti

Day 6: Refuge Bonatti to La Fouly

Day 7: La Fouly to Champex-Lac

Day 8: Champex-Lac to Trient

Day 9: Trient to Argentiere

Day 10: Argentiere to Chamonix

Post-Hike: Transportation from Chamonix

Man and woman in winter jackets standing in the rain.

Julie and Bruce are bundled up against the cold. We had four days of rain in early September.

Sample 7-day trek (7 days of hiking, with two extra days for arrival and departure, for a total of 9 days)

Pre-Hike: Chamonix (arrival)

Day 1: Les Houches to Contamines

Day 2: Contamines to Refuge Mottets

Day 3: Refuge Mottets to Courmayeur

Day 4: Courmayeur to Refuge Elena

Day 6: Refuge Elena to La Champex-Lac

Day 7: Champex-Lac to Trient

Post-Hike: Train/bus to Chamonix and beyond

High alpine lake, Lac Blanc, with snowy mountains in the background

Lac Blanc is one of the most photographed spots on the TMB.

Sample 3-day counter-clockwise hike (3 days of hiking, with two extra days for arrival and departure, for a total of 5 days). This could be stretched to 6 days of hiking for a less rigorous hike. This segment could potentially have more elevation gain and loss than the following clock-wise 3-day itinerary.

Pre-Hike: Chamonix (arrival)

Day 1: Les Houches to Contamines

Day 2: Contamines to Refuge Mottets

Day 3: Refuge Mottets to Courmayeur

Post-hike: Courmayeur to Chamonix via bus through the tunnel

Three TMB signs; white and red strips, yellow diamond and paint on rock

Signage is good, but varies between white and red lines, yellow blotches of paint, a yellow diamond with or without “TMB” or other waypoints.

Sample 4-day clockwise hike (3 days of hiking, with two extra days for arrival and departure for a total of 5 days).

This can be stretched to 6 days of hiking for a less rigorous hike. This segment could potentially have less elevation gain and loss than the above 3-day counterclockwise itinerary for hikers looking for a less bone-jarring trek.

Pre-Hike: Bus from Chamonix to Le Tour

Day 1: Le Tour to Trient (or Col de la Forclaz refuge)

Day 2: Trient (or Col de la Forclaz refuge) to Champex Lac

Day 3: Champex Lac to Refuge Elena

Day 4: Refuge Elena to Courmayeur

Post-Hike: Train/bus from Courmayeur o Chamonix via tunnel

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a stunning hike that meanders through three countries and has many variations.

Other articles on the Tour of Mont Blanc by Inga Aksamit:

Information:

Tour Companies (there are many)

Mont Blanc Treks, can assist with making lodging reservations for self-guided tours, as well as arranging guided tours. This is the only service I have personal experience with and can highly recommend it. We chose the self-guided tour and carried all of our own gear. The service they provided for us was making reservations for lodging each night and providing detailed route cards, but they offer much more.

Mac’s Adventure, offers a range of itineraries. A friend is using this service, choosing the “Relaxed Tour du Mont Blanc,” with a couple of extra days built into the itinerary. He chose to have his luggage transported so only day-packs will be needed.

Guidebooks

Websites

Facebook Group

All photos by Inga Aksamit, unless otherwise credited.

Disclaimer:  I may earn a small commission for links to any products from Amazon. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. I get a few cents for products purchased through this link. It is not a big moneymaker but I want to be transparent.

Group of people dining in rustic cabin.

Though we were hiking independently we met fun people along the way. This is a group dinner at Refuge Mottets.

 

2 thoughts on “Planning a Tour of Mont Blanc hike”

  1. Tanya Radowicz Boillot February 7, 2017

    Have been dreaming of this trip, thank you for summarizing so much great info in English! Loved your top ten runs at Squaw article too, that is what got me here. Merci bien!

  2. Inga February 8, 2017

    Hi Tanya,
    I’m glad you enjoyed the articles. Check back (or subscribe) as I’ll be posting several more articles on the TMB in more depth.
    Inga

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