Tour du Mont Blanc

September 2021

Rather impulsive decision to go hike the Tour du Mont Blanc. Given I hiked both the Walker's Haute Route and part of the GR5 towards Chamonix in previous years, I more or less skipped on any planning. I simply packed my backpack and boarded a train only knowing I had six days to make it around the Mont Blanc massif.

After a night and morning of close to no sleep, I pitched my tent right outside of St. Gervais Les Bains, ready to start the Tour du Mont Blanc next morning. Perfect time to find out the GPS on my phone is broken and I have to navigate a bazillion tiny trails to connect with the Tour du Mont Blanc around Les Houches. Paper maps are so 18th century. It's fiiine!

You can download the route I ended up taking here. Starting point is the Les Houches train station, while ending at La Flégère in Chamonix.

TMB_sander_2021.gpx

DayElevation ↑Km
1Les Houches → Col des Fours *2.59931,4
2Col des Fours → Col de la Seigne → Courmayeur → Refuge Bertone *2.03233,8
3Refuge Bertone → Refuge Bettoni → Col des Ferret → La Fouly1.37026,0
4La Fouly → Champex Lac → Fenêtre d'Arpette → La Peuty1.78727,9
5La Peuty → Col de Balme → Col des Posettes → Tré le Champ le Haut → Chamonix **1.72719,2

* Wildcamped at the first good spot right after
** Took the La Flégère lift down to end the hike

Elevation profile per day
Day 1 · Les Houches → Col des Fours

After wildcamping somewhere after St. Gervais Les Bains, I now had to find the Tour du Mont Blanc. I did do some scouting before heading to bed so I knew which trail to take in the morning. After a bit of trial and error, I managed to find the Tour du Mont Blanc right after Les Houches and was ready to start the actual hike.

Early afternoon right before Regure de la Croix du Bonhomme there is a fork in the trail. Either continue south towards the refuge and Le Chapieux beyond or turn left to go over Col des Fours. There was some forecast of rain and clouds on this side seemed to grow darker. So I figured it would be a good idea to get over the col to the other side and find some blue skies. Around 16h I made it over the pass and back down far enough where the terrain levels out. With some campspots too good to turn down. I pitch my tent in a beautiful spot and enjoy my first portion of noodles.

Not much later, it starts raining followed by a fairly short but intense thunderstorm. Where most mountains were covered in clouds before, after the thunderstorm, I was treated to an incredible view from my tent.

Day 2 · Col des Fours → Refuge Bertone

I had two routes from my campspot to get to La Ville des Glaciers. I opted for the slightly shorter one, which of course ended up taking the most time. Given my lack of working GPS, my main way of navigating was signposts and elevation lines on the map. Alas, one old signpost was twisted 90 degrees, sending me off in the wrong direction.

Lesson for today, don't take variants of variants when you have no proper way to tell where exactly you are. I did feel rather adventurous though and with a tent and several days of food on my back, what's the worst that could happen right? After backtracking about half an hour, I took the other trail and made it to La Ville des Glaciers still early in the morning.

When planning this day in my tent, I figured I would make it to Courmayeur late afternoon. Not what I wanted, ending the day in a town in the valley. So either I would stop early and camp somewhere before, or hike a long day and climb out of Courmayeur to find a nice spot. After crossing Col de la Seigne and a horrible long descent I made it to Courmayeur around 16h30. The weather was excellent and I already had made up my mind to still do the long climb up today. It wouldn't matter if it would take me 2, 3 or 4 hours. Plenty of daylight left and temperature early evening is much more pleasant to do a long climb than the middle of the afternoon.

So after some snacks and refilling my water bottles, I set out again just after five. After a few hours of climbing I make it to Refuge Bertoni. My plan was to set up camp on the first decent spot after. Convinced at this hour, nobody would hike beyond the refuge, as wildcamping isn't exactly legal. So I was rather surprised when I saw the two gentlemen whom I had leapfrogged with a bit during the climb also continue on beyond the refuge. Either they hiked reaaaally long days as the next refuge was hours away, or they also camped in the wild. It turned out to be the latter. I pitched my tent somewhat to the side of the trail with perfect view of the sun setting over Mont Blanc, while they did the same about 100m further on.

Long day but felt great. Especially during the early evening climb. The weather was just perfect. Hiked well over 13 hours but happy I made the desicion to hike past Courmayeur.

Day 3 · Refuge Bertone → La Fouly

Wake up at my usual 6h. And with usual I mean usual when hiking. In regular life, I'm as far from a morning person as anyone can be. It had rained for the better part of the night, so some extra weight from a wet tent again. I make it to Refuge Bettoni around 8h. All guests were just finishing their breakfast and getting ready to head out. I only planned to make it to La Fouly today so I was in no hurry to join them. I sat down for some cornflakes and enjoyed the clouds over the mountains as I ate my breakfast.

Next up the only climb of today, towards Col de Ferret on the Italian-Swiss border. Soon after I set out, I caught up with group after group. By far the most crowded of any trail I have hiked. At the top of the col, I was joined by around 50(!) other hikers, almost all of them guided tours. It felt like a lesser version of the out-of-control Mount Everest tourism. As long as you pay enough, we will get you to the top, regardless of experience or fitness level.

Hardly any need to carry a backpack as you only sleep in huts, with a meal waiting for you on each stop. And someone with a professional photocamera waiting at the col to take a picture of your accomplishment for your social media. Just no. And all equally clueless about some common trail etiquette. Great help in making the decision to take alternate routes when available further on.

Right after setting out again, I ran into two Flemish speaking girls, who happened to be from Ghent as well, so I joined them descending to La Fouly being the social person I am :)

Day 4 · La Fouly → Le Peuty

Given I was at a campsite with proper toilets, I decided to sleep late and only get up at 7h. Living the wild life. After a downhill morning walk, I make it to Champex le Lac around 11h. This is where the Walker's Haute Route - which I hiked in 2019 - joins the Tour du Mont Blanc for a bit.

A tiny resupply consisting of a can of coke, a bag of chips and a new gas canister and asking the weather forecast, I set out towards Arpette. The main route of the Tour du Mont Blanc goes around towards Trient and Le Peuty. The Walker's Haute Route goes towards the Fenêtre d'Arpette and down directly to Le Peuty on the other side. Even though shorter, the climb is much harder and should only be done in perfect clear weather.

When hiking the Walker's Haute Route two years ago, the weather was poor and after climbing up to Arpette and spending the night in rain, we were forced down again the next morning, following the Tour du Mont Blanc to Le Peuty. Now, when doing the Tour du Mont Blanc, I was able to take the route over the Fenêtre d'Arpette. It took me about 7 hours just to get up and over. I only crossed one guided group at the start of my descent. And from the looks on their faces this was not what they signed up for. Tough long climb with lots of scrambling over rocks and rather steep. On both sides.

Still debating whether to camp in the wild or walk on towards Le Peuty. I pass a few possible spots in the forest when already down in the valley but nothing spectacular and after eating more noodles at a picnic table near the road, I hike on and pitch my - still wet - tent at the same campspot in Le Peuty as two years ago ealy evening. I am the absolute worst at taking a break during the day to dry my tent. Even though I had rain almost every night on this trip. I just enjoy going to bed in a swimming pool with my inflatable sleeping pad.

Day 5 · Le Peuty → Chamonix

Last day on trail starting out with a decent climb up to Col de Balme. Standing at the refuge near the col, I remember the descent through the ski resort and opt to take a slightly other route this time. Col des Posettes and then down towards Tré le Champs le haut. According to the trail signs, I should be at the La Flégère lift in Chamonix around 16h in the afternoon. Perfect.

The final part between Argentière and Chamonix still has some challenging parts high up with a whole series of cables and ladders. But I had a hot shower and dinner that didn't contain noodles to look forward to. The first campsite on my map turns out to be a newly urban neighbourhood under construction these days. The second one still exists and just like the one in La Fouly, unlimited showering! Making it to a campsite after days in the wild, only to find out they charge you a euro per three minutes of showering feels somewhat disappointing. You deserved more.

So after a long shower, I go out for dinner and try to figure out what to do next day as my bus and train back are not until the day after.

Chamonix tourism

In the morning, I pack up my tent and hike to Les Houches. And back to Chamonix to pitch my tent again at the same campsite. Not sure what I was going for here. Les Houches was not what I expected. Right next to a busy highway with road construction all over town. Back in Chamonix, I visit the Alpine museum which I thoroughly enjoyed. Paintings of the early exploration of the Chamonix valley in the 18th century The first ascent of Mont Blanc was in 1786!

I go to bed fairly early as my body is still somewhat on hiking schedule and have to get up fairly early still to catch my first train. In the evening I had around 5 hours of free time in Paris before catching the night bus back to Ghent. So after grabbing a pizza, I went for a long walk from Gare de Lyon along the river Seine to the Eiffel Tower. With some unexpected Lindy Hop in between as the weather was lovely and there was a social going on next to the water. The perfect way to end this little hiking trip.