Tour du Mont Blanc


John, our friend Hans and I recently completed a 9 day hike around Mont Blanc in the Swiss, Italian and French Alps. We followed a pretty similar route as the UTMB, but we went clockwise and counted our progress in days not hours. Some day I would like to run the UTMB, but for now I am fine with hiking in the Alps. 

Our route for the most part follows the one described in the Tour of Mont Blanc book by Kev Reynolds, except we did our trek in 9 days instead of 10. We also stayed in a few different places than Kev suggested, since quite a few of the huts/rifugios close after September 15th. 

TMB trail sign
Below our my daily notes from each day of the trek. We had a blast and I can't wait until our next adventure in New Zealand, which will involve an ultra. 

Day 1 – Champex Lac - Ferret

Our first day was an easy 11 miles on old roads and trails through small villages, with good views. The forest we started out in had wood carving sculptures of squirrels, mushrooms and even a bottle of wine.  It was a good jet lag hike. 

Champex Lac and the bottle of wine I ran to get

wood carvings



Day 2 - Ferret - La Vachey
Morning started off with a 2650 foot climb to Col de Ferret (8500 feet), which is the Swiss - Italian border.  We had our first wildlife spotting: marmots. It was a sunny day, but we were expecting rain the next few days. The weather was nice enough when we arrived at La Vachey that we got to enjoy beer and wine outside with all the day hikers.

Swiss side of the Col

Italian side of Col Ferret


Microbrew!

Route planning


Day 3 - La Vachey - Courmayeur
We had light rain in the morning climbing out of La Vachey. We stopped at Rifugio Bertone to take a break while it rained quite a bit harder. We took cover with other hikers from California, Texas and Germany. Hans and I went in to get coffee and got the worst service, they made us 2 lattes and when I asked for 1 more coffee, they said no more drinks until they finished lunch. We walked outside and they locked the door behind us. After our snack and coffee it was a quick walk to Courmayeur. We walked around town bought wine, cheese and focaccia for lunch the next day (well not the wine). We had a wonder dinner in Courmayeur; I wish I remembered the name of the restaurant. 

Rain gear!






Markings from the UTMB a few weeks before


Day 4 - Courmayeur - Rifugio Elisabetta

The day started off with me realizing I left my beanie at the restaurant the previous evening, luckily we were in a town filled with outdoor stores and there was one open at 8:30 am.

Rain, more rain, oh and wind! John passed some Germans that told him that Rifugio Elisabetta was closed; I panicked even though we verified a week before they were open. In the pouring rain we had to hike through bunch of cows on trail, which was a little unnerving. The Rifugio was open; we were so happy but wet! Our longest day was next day. We chatted with a French guy who was doing the TMB in 6 days! We put all our wet clothes in the dining area to dry; I pulled everything out of my bag to discover the bottom of it was soaked despite having a rain cover on it. Come to find out my water bladder had sprung a leak; duck tape would not fix it. Hans and John tried to seal the hole with a lighter, which also did not work. Luckily the Rifugio has plastic .5 liters of water and we were going to be in a town with sports stores in a few days.
For dinner we had an awesome vegetable barley soup, which John would not stop talking about the rest of the trip.


Rain gear Hans

looking for shorter routes to avoid the rain 

Day 5 Rifugio Elisabetta -Refuge Nant Borrant

We didn’t get a lot of sleep the wind was howling all night. We had planned to leave at 7 am since we had a long day ahead of us, but we woke up to 20+mph winds and several inches of snow and a power outage. The wind finally died down and we left the Rifugio around 9, and started breaking trail on our ascent up to Col de la Seigne, which is the Italian and French boarder. As we descended we passed a huge group of people, that we found out later was an REI group that had everything hauled around for them.
Luckily the weather held out for us, but by the time we made it to the turn off to Col des Fours dark clouds were moving in, so we decided to go the longer route through Les Chapieux. As we started our last climb to Col de la Croix John’s boot started to bother him, he had to make several boot adjustments during the climb. We passed several groups that started their day late from Nant Borrant because the weather was so awful. By the time we made it to Nant Borrant we were spent, it was a 9 hour / 17 mile day.
We met a nice German couple working on their PhDs in physics at Nant Borrant who had tried to cross Col des Fours that day but had to turn around due to weather.

Rain turned into snow over night




snow covered cairn


Nant Borrant


Day 6 Refuge Nant Borrant - Les Houches

It was raining pretty heavily in the morning and the forecast didn’t look like it was going to let up, so we decided to walk 3.5 miles into Les Contamines and take a bus and train into Les Houche. It rained until we got into town then the sun came out to reveal amazing mountain ranges. It was nice to have a day off to do laundry and relax, and finally take a shower. Our hotel room was really tiny but it has a balcony so I used our hiking poles as drying racks. Unfortunately sun didn’t last long enough to dry our clothes outside, but we had spotted a Laundromat in town. We decided to bring our clothes down to dry before dinner. Well that plan didn't work out, we dragged all our clothes 20 minutes from the hotel for the driers not to work. After dinner we dried our clothes in our hotel room with a blow dryer for more than an hour.

waiting on the bus to avoid the rain


using our hiking poles as drying racks

view from our hotel room

Day 7 Les Houches - Refuge du Lac Blanc

John’s boot was still hurting him, so he decided the 5000 foot climb out of Les Houches might be too much and decided to take a bus to Chamonix to find a different route to Reguge du Lac Blanc. Which actually ended with him buying a new pair of minimalist trail running shoes to hike in.
Hans and I made the 5000 foot climb to Le Brevent in 3 hours, which is suppose to have amazing view of Mont Blanc, but of course it was cloudy and we didn’t get any views. We did get to pick plenty of huckleberries and raspberries along the way.

hiking up hill 5000 feet in the fog for no views


a tiny break in the fog for a sneak preview


The clouds started to break a bit when we approached La Flegere and we got our first peak at what we thought was Mont Blanc.

On our climb to Lac Blanc we saw several baby Ibex and their moms, they have to be the cutest things ever.

After 8+ hours we finally reached Refuge du Lac Blanc and I saw John outside waiting for us. We had the best views of the whole trip at Lac Blanc. There were clouds blanketing the valley below the elevation of the Refuge, with the peaks above it. We had a spectacular sunset and alpen glow on the mountains.

There were more people at the Refuge than any other place we stayed, between each course at dinner everyone would run out to take pictures. We sat with several Americans and a couple from Tasmania, and after chatting with them I was convinced to spend some time in Australia when we go to New Zealand next year. 

finally a break in the weather and the views we had been waiting for




Ibex and mountains



Lac Blanc

Day 8 Refuge du Lac Blanc – Trient

This was probably my least favorite day of hiking, I was tired from not getting a lot sleep in the dorm the night before in Refuge du Lac Blanc. It was a long hike down to Tre-le-Champ and we over shot our route a bit and had to back track to the trail to begin the climb up to Aiguillette des Posettes. After several days of rain and cooler temperatures, we finally got some sun; unfortunately a lot of the hike was pretty exposed. We passed several large groups on our way up to Aiguillette des Posettes, which we started calling the “REI groups”. I was really amazed how bad their trail etiquette was, they didn’t move aside to let the smaller group go by. We also had more false summits on our way to the top then I could count. I was so glad to get to the top that I don’t really remember much about the views. Luckily the second climb to Col de Balme wasn’t as bad, Col de Balme is also the Swiss / French boarder. We stopped at a little hut for some sodas and a snack before we made our descent to Trient. When we started to approach the little village we started to kid that it would be funny if it actually wasn't Trient but a “false village”, well it was another village. But just a short walk down the road we found Trient.

That evening an Australian family we met the previous morning at Lac Blanc was also staying at the same hotel we were, it was the first time during the whole hike we met anyone traveling the same direction as us. We had a great time chatting with them. We all sat together at dinner and we were also joined by another Australian. This new guy had all sorts of stories about his hikes all over the Alps, flying secret missions, and getting is license revoked in Shanghai. At one point he mentioned how he wouldn’t make it in NYC though, and father from the Australian family said that he would probably be like Crocodile Dundee. We all had a good laugh; it was a great end to the day.




French and Swiss boarder

Day 9 Trient – Champex


We took the Fenetre d’ Arpette route, which is the highest elevation point on the whole route. The hiking reminded me a lot more of our previous Alps hikes, a lot more scrambling and loose rocks. On the ascent there was a glacier to our right, which was the first time on the whole route we had a glacier so close to us, there was even a guy bivouac on the side of the glacier. Crocodile Dundee was at the waiting for us at the top, he kept popping out from behind a rock to tell us stories; he became the Easter Egg of the trip. The descent was harder than the climb up, the east side was completely different, no glaciers but instead streams and trees. And finally we reached Champex, where we stopped for ice cream and ran into our friend Christine in the parking lot of the hotel. We toasted our accomplishment with Prosecco! 


Glacier

Crocodile Dundee looking down on us 

Fenetre d’ Arpette


The rest of my pictures.

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