We have had so many Tour du Mont Blanc Highlights this year, its difficult to cram them into a single blog post, but we thought we should try our best. We had a great group who were all well prepared and up for the challenge of hiking 105 miles in 11 days, with over 10,000m of ascent and nobody missed a single step as we all successfully completed our full circuit of Mont Blanc.
This was just one review from our group, who thoroughly enjoyed the experience:
“I’m still on a high from completing the Tour du Mont Blanc trek with Kevin and Yen in July. A great challenge and hard going, especially the descent on the last day. Kevin was a fantastic guide and very knowledgeable – ‘slow and steady’ was the climbing mantra. The organisation by Yen was brilliant with a varied and quirky set of refuges. We had an amazing group of fellow trackers and the weather was perfect. Looking forward to doing other treks with Mountain Hikes in the near future. A big thank you again to Kevin and Yen – you made this a trek to remember.”
Our first day began in glorious sunshine as we gathered outside our hotel in Les Houches on 25th July 2016.
The first day starts with a fairly steep climb up out of Les Houches towards the Col de Voza, but it delivers great views all the way up and is a great appetiser for the wonderful views ahead.
The rest of the hike today takes us through lovely villages and chalets before following the river into the Alpine village of Les Contamines where our accommodation is based. It gives us our first opportunity for an end of day beer and to head into the village for any urgently needed items.
Day 2 is one of the toughest days of the whole tour, but also one of the most rewarding. It involves a long climb up to the Col du Bonhomme but with a stop for coffee and myrtille tart on the way.
The path kicks up steeply as we approach the col, but we get our glimpses of snow still remaining from the winter.
There follows a steep descent down to the aptly named Ville de Glaciers and our refuge for the night. But the setting is fantastic surrounded by mountains and with views of the surrounding mountains and Glacier.
Some of us take the opportunity for a bit of stretching, led by Yen, while the rest of us just enjoy the view and a well earned beer.
The meal and accommodation is fantastic and one of this year’s tour du mont blanc highlights, as we even get some entertainment from an old fashioned barrel organ, enthusiastically played by the staff.
Day 3 again starts with a climb, but a much more benign one than the day before, as we head up to the col de la Seigne, the border into Italy and our first proper view of Mont Blanc.
We descended to the Elizabetta Refugio for a lunch stop as a change from our usual sandwich stop on the route.
It was then an easy afternoon hike to our rather luxury accommodation at the Cabane du Combal.
We have stayed at the Elisabetta on previous trips, but even though it is quite atmospheric its very busy and always feels cramped, so we thought we would try Cabane du Combal for a change and were really pleased.
The next two days are without question amongst this year’s Tour du Mont Blanc highlights, as we traverse the south side of Mont Blanc, with spectacular views of Mont Blanc and the Grand Jorasses. We start as usual by heading upwards above the Val Veni for yet more wonderful views of Mont Blanc and the full extent of the mountain range on the Italian side.
The views keep coming as we make our way to Col Checrouit for a break for lunch and opportunity to enjoy the sunshine.
A steep descent follows lunch through trees and surrounded by clouds of butterflies, as we make our way down to the Hotel Dolonne in Courmayeur.
Its a lovely comfortable hotel in a picturesque part of Courmayeur and we get a chance to explore the town.
This is another great day with wonderful views throughout as we climb up out of Courmayeur and hike high above the Val Veni and Val Ferret valleys.
With a great picnic spot for lunch overlooking the spectacular valley and mountains directly in front of us.
We continue our high mountain hike in the afternoon, until we reach a stream, which is just perfect to cool off our hot feet. Although David decides its just too inviting and decides to go all in.
More refreshment awaits us as we arrive at the Bonatti refuge, although for some its more an opportunity for a well earned rest and another photo opp.
The refugio Bonatti is a great place to stay, with outstanding views, friendly cows (!), comfortable rooms, a great atmosphere and wonderful Italian food.
As we leave the Refugio we continue on our high level path above the Val Ferret and enjoy the views for the for the last few hours, before we finally descend down to the valley at Chalet Val Ferret. We have a short stop here to collect Dan’s mobile phone, which he had left behind in Courmayeur by mistake. The hotel very kindly arranged to transport the phone to the top of the valley for us to collect on our way, so Dan was a very relieved man, when we finally picked it up.
The approach to the Refuge Elena, is through pasture as we follow the river over bridges.
The climb up is steep, but when we reach the top we are at the border now with Switzerland and so say goodbye to Italy.
We stop for lunch at the Grand Col Ferret and then then its a pleasant descent down to the valley on the Swiss side and our accommodation for the night in the lovely Swiss village of La Fouly.
Surrounding the lake with stunning snow capped mountains beyond, it really is one of the Tour du Mont Blanc highlights.
There are two variations to the route today, one which heads up to the Fenetre D’Arpette and the other is via the Bovine Alp. Last year there was a major rock fall at the Fenetre route, so we head up and over the Bovine route, which is very scenic and gives us an opportunity for lunch at the Buvette on the way. Which Dan takes full advantage of for a fondue.
Trient is a great village and dominated by views of the church and the Glaciers beyond.
Today we climb up to the Col du Balme for our return into France. Its a very “benign” climb up today, after yesterday’s steep ascent and before long we reach the col and the border with France.
Its cloudier today, which obscures some of the view as we then head up and over the Aiguillette des Posettes, but its still a great place for a group photo.
Our accommodation for tonight is the Auberge La Boerne, which is one of the quirkiest, most interesting and cosy places we stay and definitely one of the Tour du Mont Blanc highlights. The food is great and it has a lovely garden to enjoy a well earned beer.
Another truly great stage, which we were lucky enough to complete in glorious sunshine again. Just for a change we start this stage with another climb, from Col des Mottets to join the Balcon Sud in the Aiguille Rouge nature reserve. Its another steep climb, but by now, we are used to it and getting fitter every day.
We choose this route, rather than the ladder option for two main reasons. The first is that while some people find the ladder route very exciting, many others are put off by them. But more importantly the views are better this way, we spend more time at a higher level, the paths are quieter and we see much more wildlife. This time we saw a lot of Ibex and managed to get really close to some.
The views of Mont Blanc on a day like this are some of the best on the whole route as well, as Dan found.
After a stop to enjoy the views and have a mid morning snack we made our way up to Lac Blanc, which is another spectacular setting.
Its a fairly easy descent from Lac Blanc with more opportunities to stop and gasp at the awe inspiring view of Mont Blanc and its Glaciers.
And when we reach the Flegere refuge there is even time for coffee and cake, while looking at the mountains before dinne. Or another beer of course.
The last day of this year’s trip and we have to start with a final group photo in front of Mont Blanc.
We then make our way on an undulating path (not a steep climb for a change) to Plan Praz, high above Chamonix. We then start a short but breathtaking climb up to the Col du Brevent.
Our lunch stop, couldnt be in a better position at the top of Brevent and is without a doubt one of this year’s Tour du Mont Blanc highlights.
The final descent back to our starting point in Les Houches is long and tiring, but with many more wonderful views to enjoy.
It was a fantastic two weeks, which we are sure to repeat next year, so look on the website for more details.
In 2017 we will also be leading a Walkers Haute Route trip from Chamonix to Zermatt, for those who are really mountain fit and also a slightly more leisurely Alpine hiking week in Les Houches, for those who prefer to do their hiking from a comfortable chalet.