Tour of Mont Blanc, Sep 2006
Pete and Jills Tour of Mont Blanc. Click on any picture below to get a bigger version.
EasyJet lost Jills rucksac, leaving us stuck in a hotel Les Houches while we waited for it to (hopefully) turn up. In the meantime we went into Chamonix and priced up a load of stuff, in case it didn't turn up. Not a particularly promising start! We finally got going a couple of days later.....
Day 1: Les Houches to Les Contamines
It was raining in the morning, and there was no sign of the missing rucksac. It finally arrived by courier at lunchtime. It looked a bit worse for wear. The main hip strap was half torn from the body, as was one of the shoulder straps, the buckle was broken, and the chest strap had disappeared altogether. We managed to get it into a usable state by tying some of the straps to each other. To try and recover some time, we took the cable car up to Bellevue, then a short walk down to Col de Voza to pick up the route. At least the rain seemed to be easing off a bit.
Lots of jeep track and road walking down from Col de Voza
At Les Contamines there was a short detour into the village, and there was a well stocked supermarket, where we bought quite a bit of food. The campsite was a bit further along the river, and it was fairly quiet. We piched up next to a gazebo covering a picnic table. It came in quite useful, as almost as soon as we had got the tent up, there was a burst of torrential rain and hail.
Day 2: Les Contamines to Les Chapieux
- Sunny day
- Baguette with peanut butter and houmous for breakfast
- Reached Chalet le Balme after couple of hours, and sat in sun drinking a pan of tea
- Rockier bit from Col du Bonhomme to Croix du Bonhomme, past marmots lying in the sun (much chubbier than tibetan ones!)
- Free camping at Les Chapieux, noodles for tea
Day 3: Les Chapieux to Elisabetta Refuge
- Dry day, quite sunny, although clouds over peaks
- Road walking for first hour or so to Ville des Glaciers
- Then climbing up to Col de la Seigne on well trodden path, not dissimilar to walking up Skiddaw
- Bunch of mountain bikers passed by near the top
- Some spiky views at top, although mostly hidden by cloud
- Descent past old customs house, being done up, then down to flat jeep track
- Elisabetta very full, including group carrying their stuff on a donkey!
Day 4: Elisabetta Refuge to Courmayeur
- Cloudy and drizzly, no views all day!
- Stayed at Pension Venezia in Courmayeur, near to tourist info, well worn but good value
- Courmayeur was a quaint town, quite sleepy, wooden chalets with hanging flower baskets
- ....the outdoor shops seemed more like fashion boutiques, it took some searching to find one that actually stocked a camping gas cylinder!
Day 5: Courmayeur to Bonatti Refuge
- Still raining!
- Got lost on the way out of Courmayeur following red and white flashes!
- Party of japanese tourists with brightly coloured waterproofs appeared out of the mist on way up to Bertone Refuge
- More drizzle climbing up to Tete de la Tranche, lots of insects and frogs about
- Clouds swirling around the peaks, occasional views opening up and then disappearing again
- No camping at Bonatti, but without meal the beds were quite cheap
Day 6: Bonatti Refuge to la Fouly
- Wet morning, but cleared up later on
- Descent through forest to Val Ferret in the rain, then road walking up valley
- Brewed up a pan of tea at the Elena Refuge
- Reached Col Ferret quite quickly, good views opened up
- Well stocked super at La Fouly, and campsite underneath glacier
Day 7: La Fouly to Champex
- Chucked it down all day!
- .... but found a great sheltered outdoor climbing wall beside the path, only a few minutes from the campsite
- Interesting bit on the Crete de Saleina, where path goes along the crest of ancient glacial moraine
- Otherwise a fairly dreary day!
- Still chucking it down at Champex, checked into very overpriced gite to dry out
- Poorly stocked supermarket, and lack of bank didn't endear us to the town either
Day 8: Champex to Col de la Forclaz
- Still raining!
- Disappointing to miss Fenetre d'Arpette but not much point in the low cloud and drizzle
- Path up to Bovine not too bad, picking its way through huge granite blocks, bilberries, conifers, and mountain ash
- .... then headed up steeply through forest, clambering over rocks
- Camping on small grass terraces above hotel, with views of all coming and goings on the pass
- Small gift shop, with a single shelf containing a few camping supplies! Got some pasta sauce and dried fruit
Day 9: Col de la Forclaz to Les Frasserands
- Dry day! Some sunshine. Hooray!!
- Great views of snow covered peaks appeared at Col de Balme
- Lovely descent down Auguille de Posette, crumpled rocky landscape, through heather and bilberries
- Campsite closed at Les Frasserands, but plenty of space in gite just down the road
- After ditching rucksacs we wandered down to Argentiere and stocked up on food, camping gas, and cash
Day 10: Les Frasserands to Lac Blanc
- More sunshine. Hooray!!
- Section of iron ladders, short but good fun
- La Flegere closed for the winter so headed up to Lac Blanc refuge
- Lovely spot beside the small greeny-blue lake, superb views of the mountains and glaciers
Day 11: Lac Blanc to Les Houches
- Sunshine again!!
- Early start, homemade fruitcake for breakfast in the refuge!
- Nice rocky steep climb to Col du Brevent, where the GR5 splits off
- Great section through rocky cols after Col du Brevent, including some more ladders
- Seemingly everlasting descent from Brevent back down to Les Houches
A day in Les Houches campsite to recover. Just to fully complete the circuit, as we took the cable car on our very rushed first day, we walked up to just below Col de Voza. But its a pretty uninspiring walk, through construction sites for new chalets sprawling up the hillside, then up wide steep dusty jeep track, with occasional construction trucks hurtling down, probably not worth the bother to be honest.
All in all, the TMB is a reasonably pleasant walk. Quite a lot of it is fairly pedestrian (and relies heavily on the views for interest), but there are also some more interesting and rugged bits too. The Cicerone guide by Kev Reynolds has good descriptions, and combined with the 'IGN 3630 OT', 'IGN 3531 ET' 1:25k maps should suffice. There is also a 1:50k map 'A1 Pays du Mont-Blanc' which is better for identifying distant peaks and glaciers.
- Total distance: 180 km (105 miles)
- Total height gain: 10,320 metres (33,857 feet, or 1.16 X Everest)
- Most hilly day: Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti: 1,750 metres (5,741 feet) - includes getting lost on the way out of courmayeur!