My husband, Ian and I decided to walk the Tour of Mont Blanc this July.
Mont Blanc at 4807m is the highest mountain in Europe. It is part of a mountainous mass of peaks, aiguilles and glaciers on which the borders of France, Italy and Switzerland meet. The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is a circuit around this mountain block making a journey of 170km with an accumulated height gain of about 10,000m. The exact statistics vary according to the route taken, because there are variations. There are 11 passes or cols to cross as you walk from one valley to the next.
The route is circular and can be walked in either direction and starting from any point. There are no rules. Everyone is free to custom build their own TMB. There are many tour operators and guides who will design your TMB for you. We did consider this option but we decided to go it alone and made all our own arrangements. For us this was the correct decision and it worked out very well. We are fairly fit with experience of hill walking and following long distance footpaths. With a bit of common sense and some research before setting off on the tour you can easily do your own TMB.
By going it alone we were able to tailor the trek to suit ourselves. We wanted to WALK all the way round the TMB. Following the official way marked route and taking high variants if we wanted to on the day. Various tour operators offer a 7 or 8 day tour which means they have to use buses and ski lifts and miss out mountain sections to walk in the valleys to reduce distance. This would have de-valued our TMB. Additionally, we were able to walk at our pace, stop when we felt like it, and stay overnight at places which suited us. We enjoy each others company and had our fill of socialising with other TMB’ers in the evenings. We enjoyed meeting interesting Americans, Norwegians, Israelis and more Americans – did I mention there were a lot of Americans? The Brits we met were trudging along behind their Explore or Exodus leader, at the pace of the slowest member of the group. They seemed to be missing out the best bits to save time. We counted 25 people in one Exodus group though the Explore groups we met were smaller.
EVERYONE on the tour had a copy of Tour of Mont Blanc by Kev Reynolds.
This is an excellent book and Kev was our constant companion. We soon were able to interpret his oft repeated ‘wearisome’, steep’, ‘eventually’ and ‘steeply’ into how the terrain would feel. The nature of a walk that goes over cols from valley to valley necessitates wearisome ascents that are steep that will bring you eventually to a col and then descend steeply …etc – you’ve got the picture.
You don’t really need a map but I took IGN 3630 and IGN3531 which has most of the route on it. I bought an IGC Italian map in Courmayer for the few kilometres that were missing. We looked at the Guidebook and the map in the evening but found it unnecessary to use the book or a map for navigation whilst we were walking, as the route is very well marked.
The other main resource for planning was the official TMB website. Everything you need to know is here including an online booking service for accommodation.
Although we planned our own route and walked without a guide, carrying all our own gear, we did make life easy for ourselves. We stayed in Refuges and we bought food as we went along. This meant that we were able to keep the weight of our rucsacks low. We only carried 10kg each and this included 2 litres of water. Packing light certainly contributed to the enjoyment and success of our trek.
What to take?
As little as possible but enough so that you are warm and dry at 2600m 3 degrees below freezing in a blizzard.
- 25 litre rucksacks with waterproof rain covers
- Leki sprung walking poles – 2 each
- 2 litre hydration packs
- Exposure bag
- Maps in waterproof case
- Boots. Well worn in waterproof and comfortable. Walking shoes are not sturdy enough, you need proper boots.
- Paramo Velez trousers
- Marmot jacket
- Lycra shorts
- Lightweight trekking trousers
- 2 pairs technical underpants
- 2 pairs socks
- 2 sports Bra
- 1 technical t shirt
- 1 trekking shirt
- Long sleeved thermal base layer
- 2 lightweight fleeces
- Tilley hat
- Gore beanie hat
- Lightweight gloves
- Winter Buff
- Sleeping bag liner
- Hut slippers
- Insect repellant
- Sun screen
- Lip salve
- Compeed blister plasters.
- Anti fungal cream
- Antihistamine cream
- Antiseptic cream
- Small travel toothbrush and toothpaste
- Small shower gel
- Shower ‘scrubber’
- Small trek towel
- Book to read
- Reading glasses
- Sun glasses
- Head torch
- Laminated list of all bookings and contacts
- Euros (many refuges do not accept card payments)
- Debit and credit card
- Cereal bars and some chocolate bars
I used everything except the compass, whistle, exposure bag and Compeed blister plasters. I was pleased I didn’t use them, but pleased that I had them with me .
You don’t really need maps, but they are interesting.
We decided to go at the beginning of the trekking season. The beginning of July is the earliest time to go. This is when the winter snow has mostly cleared from the passes and the risk of avalanche has passed. However Alpine weather is unpredictable. The peak summer season is from the middle of July so we went before this so the trail would not be too busy.
We flew to Geneva from Bristol with Easyjet and used ChamExpress to transfer from the airport to Chamonix.
We decided to walk anticlockwise and Les Houches is the most convenient place to begin and this corresponds to the Kev Reynolds book which ties in very nicely.
After deciding your starting point and whether to go clockwise or anticlockwise it’s a good idea to have a look at accommodation options. The official TMB website is a good place to start and it’s possible to book ahead from the website. Some places take a deposit and some don’t but unless you get an email confirming your reservation assume that they are full.
We didn’t want to sleep in a dormitory so 2 weeks before leaving we nailed our itinerary and booked accommodation. If we had realised that even in early season the huts would be full we would have booked much earlier. However if you are happy to sleep in a dorm bed in a dorm with up to 30 others, booking ahead is not so important.
So here we go… Day 1