Tackling the Tour Du Mont Blanc

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So, here I sit on a train to a small town about an hour away from Lausanne (in August of 2018), Switzerland reflecting on an amazing adventure in the Alps.   My backpack smells like sweat, my legs are fatigued, at least 2 of my toenails are black, my hair hasn’t seen a good conditioner in weeks, and my heart is full, though everything seems to feel like a dream.   I’m not quite sure how I landed on this train or if I really spent an amazing 11 days trekking around Mont Blanc.   

Mont Blanc is the tallest mountain in the European Alps, at about 4,809 meters (15,778 feet). The trip I reference above, also called the Tour of Mont Blanc or “TMB”, has been on the list for years – the circuit passes through Switzerland, Italy and France.

I met a Swiss guy some time ago who talked about this adventure – how lovely it was and how it could be done self guided. Since then, it’s always been in the back of my mind, but never seemed within my reach for some reason….I have no idea why. Perhaps the thought of it was intimidating.

In December of 2017, I FINALLY started researching self guided trips around Mont Blanc. I found a tour company called Macs Adventure to help plan it. The thought of researching all the logistics seemed like a hideously daunting task, so I hired them to do it for me and Sean. It turned out great – though I can see how people are able to book everything on their own given how organized the trail is and the number of lodging options available (at least in most places).

One of the benefits of companies like Macs Adventure is they provide an app that has a description of the trails as well as a GPS map to help navigate the trip.  Super easy to use assuming you use it!  If you want to plan this on your own, the bible for this trek is called “The Tour of Mont Blanc” by Kev Reynolds.  It lays out the entire trip and provides recommendations on lodging, routes, etc.   We leveraged the book every day, it’s one of the best I’ve seen.

We started counter-clockwise (the most popular route) in Les Houches, France and ended in Chamonix, France. There are a total of 11 stages – about 29k of elevation gain and 29k of elevation loss – roughly about 110 miles depending on how many times you get lost or if you decide to take the variant routes. The variants supposedly provide better views along the way, but in many cases are significantly more difficult. We did 2 of them – the others seemed to be terrifyingly exposed (at least to me).

The trail was so well marked, I’m not sure how people got lost, but everyone we spoke to (including us) had some challenges at least once. The day we did get lost, we followed the path of one of the most challenging variants. Instead of looking at our handy app, we kept following the standard red and white stripe trail markers and a 20-something backpacker. It never felt quite right but we kept going. BIG mistake – we should have used the app – but we assumed the trail was heading in the right direction. It took us an hour and a half off track! We nearly had another disastrous detour, but thanks to a heaping pile of human poo on the trail (not ours – LOL), we redirected and headed back the proper way.

The terrain was as you would expect – MOUNTAINOUS with the most stunning views you can imagine! The challenging parts of this hike are the significant ups and downs on a daily basis.  Those ups and downs will break your soul if you let them.  You just have to realize you are in an amazingly beautiful place and accomplishing something you will never forget – to keep on keepin’ on.

Photo: Mont Blanc in the Chamonix Valley

On most days we hiked what felt like straight up for a minimum of 4 hours, however, there were a couple of “easy” days of 2 hour ascents.   What goes up must come down so the downhill is brutal.  Switchbacks are not the norm, hence my comment about the black toenails…the day after day, relentless shoving of toenails into the toe box of my hiking boots has made for some lovely feet!  My trip to the nail salon is going to be hideous!

Leaving Refuge de Mottets where we stayed 1 night
Entering Switzerland from Italy

I absolutely LOVED the entire Italian valley called Vallon de la Lee Blanche (I had a precious cat named Blanche!).  You can see all the way from the French border (starting point) to Switzerland when this leg of the trip is complete.  It is the coolest thing to be able to see how far you have gone – unreal feeling actually!   In the image below, we started this leg of the trip from the most pointed “Rock” about two inches in from the left!  We have about another hour to the border of Switzerland from this point in the picture.

Bye-Bye Italy – you were amazing!
 Beautiful Italy!

A panic attack is inevitable any time there are slippery rocks, ledges, steep drop-offs or steep descents in loose rock.  Irrational fears blow – I can’t explain them.  Somehow I managed to dig deep, breathe and carry on until we got to the dreaded ladders.  The ladders are in Stage 10 the Tre le Champ area of the trail, which thankfully is near the end of the TMB.   The 10 sets of ladders themselves are not too crazy, its the ledges in between that will scare the bejeezus out of you if there is any slight fear of heights!  There are railings – BUT STILL.

The ladders!

The lodging was great!  We did the “comfort” tour which means we stayed in 3 star hotels and only 2 huts.  I was ok with that in the end….the huts are fun – but the food just wasn’t that great.  Les Mottets was in a beautiful location but they gave us corn puffs, bread and cheese for breakfast.   Not super sustainable when hiking 6 to 8 hours a day.

Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly
Refugio Walter Bonatti
View from our hotel in Courmayeur
Inside of our hotel in Trient

Who do you meet on the trail?? The Brits. The Irish. The Americans. The Australians. The French. The Germans – that’s who! What do we all have in common? We all hiked the TMB! The camaraderie of fellow trekkers from all over the world is one the magical components of travel. The people you meet can make or break trips. In this case, we were extremely lucky with the peeps who crossed our path (below). The German couple second from the left were unbelievable hikers – they would leave a half hour later and finish an hour sooner every day – without sweating I swear! All in this group but Sean and I, saw an Ibex – I still think those animals are really unicorns – somehow we missed them every day whilst they were grazing by seemingly every trail our friends were hiking. We miss them – thank goodness for Facebook!

It was hard, it was long, it was scary at times, we sweat like pigs, it was beautiful, the people were amazing – what else do you need on a vacation?? Every time I return from adventure like this, my gratitude for life expands 10-fold.

…i choose this….

Pam

This post is part of the 30-day November blogging challenge known as NanoPoblano2019. Our challenge is to write for 10 days, read others’ posts for 10 days, and share our posts for 10 days – could be to other social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or simply sharing with friends with a text link.

Check out this NanoPoblano2019 link and discover some talented writers/bloggers!

40 comments

  1. My training list to be in shape for the PCT gets longer and longer… TMB already was on the list anyway, I guess it’s top place now, with crossing the Pyrenees length-wise so I can tackle some altitude challenges.

    Thanks for (finally!!!!) talking about TMB! 😋

    By the way, as usual: your pics are stunning! 😍😍😍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks lady! YES, this would be an amazing training ground for you. I KNOW you would love it. I started listening to that podcast you recommended. It’s awesome. I like how she talks about the REALITY of if all.

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  2. An amazing story and your photos are a delight. I applaud anyone who can do and enjoy hiking the ways you did. I’m glad you got the opportunity to do this and that you met some great people along the way. An experience of a lifetime, eh?

    Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ll follow, then it will somehow reverse! I swear I’ve tried it several times. See if you can check your settings or reach out to WP help! We can test it. Am I one of your followers? I’ll try again right now.

          Like

  3. Last summer I spent a week in Chamonix. While I was there, I hiked with the owners of Like the Wind Magazine (fantastic British mag-no online edition). They entertained us with stories of running TMB for their honeymoon–seems like a lot can go wrong. It’s now on my running bucket list right behind rim-to-rim grand canyon. Your photos do a great job of capturing the beauty. Made me miss vacation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I still love camping, but Sean doesn’t. Though we are camping this coming week. It’s gonna be freezing, but we are bundling up! Get the hubby on board with this one! Keep me posted on what you plan! I love to hear what others are doing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. WOW! What a breathtaking trip! I am in awe of you as much as I am in awe of those mountains. I could not believe them when I started the Via Francigena from Great Saint Bernard Pass. Who knew those buggers were so big!!?? Congratulations on a true adventure and with comfy beds at the end of the day! Lucky you, Mel

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Even though we’ve done this trek, I look at your photos and am just wowed! The Alps are amazing, and where else can you hike in that kind of spectacular beauty all day and then sleep in a bed and eat three different delicious cuisines every night?! I also love that you guys did this unguided – I must try Macs someday. Oh, and my knees hurt just remembering the ups and downs of that trip! Just when I’d be sooooo happy to be done ascending every day after all those hours, I’d start whining about the descents and the knee and quad pounding! Still worth it, though!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What an absolutely fabulous trip! Thanks for sharing the route, the gorgeous pictures, and the trials/tribulations. I’m way past doing anything this strenuous, but I love seeing others accomplishing what I can only wish to do. You go, girl. Hiking looks good on you!

    Liked by 1 person

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