It had continuously rained during the 2 weeks preceding our first day on the Tour of Mont Blanc (TMB) so it was no surprise that the sky was cloudy and it was still raining when we arrived at Les Houches. We were worried about the weather and silently hoped it would improve enough to allow us to admire the mountains summits.
At 8PM, we took our backpacks and set off for the Col de Voza. We pitched our tents on the way before it got dark and the following morning we had the nice surprise of seing the mountains the had been hidden by the clouds.
Day 1 : The weather was so beautiful we couldn’t believe it. The clouds gave place to a clear blue sky and soon I was only wearing a short and T-shirt. We chose to take the variation route that climbed higher and led to the Col du Tricot (2120m). We enjoyed the sun for a while before starting our descent to the Refuge de Miage (1560m). The descent was pretty steep and it took me an hour to get down. By the time I reached the refuge my legs and arms were sunburnt. The sun was strong and there was no shade at all. I filled my CamelBak in the river and after a small rest we continued towards the Refuge du Truc and pitched the tents on the way.
Day 2 : The first thing I did after I woke up was to open my tent to look at the Glacier de Bionnassay. The sky was clear and the sun was slowly rising. As I moved in my sleeping bag I could feel the skin of my legs and arms burning. My brother was in an even worse shape. His neck and hands were bright red. From now on, we would have to be completely covered to protect ourselves from the sun.
We bought food at Contamines and stopped to have lunch at Notre Dame de la Gorge. At that point I was so hungry and hot I almost passed out. The un was shinning so hard we had to eat under a bush to be in the shade. At least we could dry our tents.
We were glad we had lunch. The path had become very steep and energy was needed. We kept wondering how the Japanese we saw at Notre Dame de la Gorge were doing. They were geared up to climb Mont Blanc. Their backpacks were huge and heavy; at least 35 kg I’d say. After 30 min the path eased and who was lying on the long chairs of the Refuge Nant Borrant? The group of Japanese. We joked about how a bunch of amateurs they were and continued, red and sweaty as hell.
The path between the Refuge Nant Borrant and the Chalet la Balme was mostly flat and flanked by meadows where dozens of cows were grazing, their big bells resonating in the valley as they strolled around. A view worthy of a Milka advertisement and even more so after a marmot got out of its burrow to look at us with curiosity.
We pitched our tents in a pasture and went to the river to get the water necessary to our dinner. The sun was slowly setting and the temperatures dropped quickly. Around 8 PM a guy came to us to ask his way. He was accompanied by two girls, they had small day packs, summer clothes and were lost. The TMB is very well marked so I don’t understand how that happened but the thing is they still had 90 min to reach their destination and one hour of daylight. No comment.
Day 3 : As usually we started our day early, waking up at 6:30 and on our way an hour later. The path was covered by snow as we got closer to the Col du Bonhomme (2329m) and it got worse as we continued to the Col des Fours (2665m) but luck was on our side that day because the sky was cloudy, attenuating the sunlight reflection.
We found shelter from the wind in a ruin that was often used as a bathroom, judging by the smell, and we melted snow to prepare lunch. Our plan was to climbed the Tête Nord des Fours (2756m), the highest point on the TMB but the weather turned bad and we were soon surrounded by foggy clouds. We had no choice but to get down.
At that point the path was completely covered by melting snow and it was so steep I almost fell three times. I progressed so slowly the guys shouted at me to slide my way down. It was scary at first but I soon regretted I hadn’t started from the top. After that we tried to get down quickly because it looked like it would rain but the path was not easy : mud, melted snow, screes, river crossings…
Our plan was to buy food at La Ville des Glaciers but there were only 2 farms. And they call that ‘ville’ (town in French). The first farm produced cheese and the second one served as an inn. There were some apartments in one of the buildings (150 EUR/night) and dormitories in the stable. I don’t know what shocked me the most ; the prices or the dormitories. There were no beds, just a long plank of woods where all the tourists lied down next to each other for the modest sum of 50 EUR/night.
With no way to buy food and no way to pitch the tents in the area we decided to take a shuttle bus to Bourg-Saint-Maurice and stay in a camping. I got to eat goat cheese, the guys McDonalds and we had our first shower since we left. That was well deserved.
Day 4 : In the shuttle bus that brought us back to La Ville des Glaciers (1900m) we asked the driver if wild camping was permitted on the TMB and he confirmed what we already knew ; strictly forbidden in Switzerland, permitted in Italy over 2500m and unclear in France. He told us the rangers walked around to fine those who picked flowers and didn’t follow the paths and they didn’t joke. A tourist who had picked-up a big bunch of Genepi had to pay 90€ per sprig…
We started hiking around 11AM and 2h30 later we were at the Col de la Seigne (2516m). We had reached Italy. We melted snow to prepare lunch and fill our water bottles before continuing to Courmayeur. Unfortunately it was getting dark so we stopped at Rifugio Elisabetta (2200m). The guys wanted to install the tents next to the ruins below the refuge but it was very windy so I convinced them to sleep in the old stable. It was pretty dirty inside, with rubbish and ibex droppings, so they made a broom out of a walking pole and straw to clean the floor. We had so much fun that evening that even as we laid down in our sleeping bags we couldn’t stop joking and laughing. My brother’s imitation of the Pokemon Cartepie is something I’ll never forget. Best night on the TMB!
Day 5 : The night had been cold but we were happy to see that the wind had dropped, the sky was cloudless and there was a couple of ibexes behind the stable. That day was definitely the best in terms of landscape with views over the Glacier d’Estelette, Glacier du Miage, Lac Combal and of course Mont Blanc. Like the most of the other days the difference in altitude was around 2000m, from the refuge at 2200m to the Lac Combal 1900m to the highest point at 2420m to Courmayeur 1200m. We spent the night in a camping and traded the freeze-dried food for pizzas.
Day 6 : Direction Rifugio Bertone (2100m). The climb was long and steep and the sun had burnt my hands so much the skin looked like a steak tartare. We had a short rest at the refuge before continuing to the Tête de la Tranche (2584m) and then Grand Col Ferret (2537m) which is the natural border with Switzerland. We had made good progress during the day so we decided to camp at La Fouly (1580m) which was 3 hours away. That was our toughest day with about 2500m altitude difference and 2 stages hiked. When we arrived at La Fouly at 8PM we were dead. Alex’s feet were so blistered it seemed a nuclear attack had taken place in his shoes. That evening we crawled to the showers and back to our tents.
Day 7 : That day was the shortest and roughly flat with La Fouly at 1580m and Champex at 1500m with the lowest point at 900m. Good for us because we would not have been able to do more. Our legs and feet were in agony. We arrived at the camping early afternoon and had our first laundry. At 6PM we got hungry. The supermarket was closed so we were left with 2 options : eat our usual food or go to the restaurant. Prices are crazy in Switzerland but we would have rather starved than to eat freeze-dried food again so we chose the restaurant and ate a fondue. Fondue for 3, two ice-creams, no drinks and a bill of 90€…
Day 8 : Switzerland didn’t impress us that much. We always hear that it’s super clean and neat but we didn’t see any difference with France and Italy. Moreover, the Swiss landscapes were far from being as nice as what we had been used to on the TMB. We skipped the variante to the Fenêtre d’Arpette and took the easy way via the Alp Bovine (1987m) and the Cold de Forclaz (1526m). At mid-day we were at the Col de Balme (2192m), then Col des Posettes (1980m), L’Aiguilles des Posettes (2200m) and finally Vallorcine (1120m) where we spent the night.
Day 9 : We chose an alternative route to go to Les Houches, our starting and final point. This was our last day on the TMB and I had mixed feelings. First of all I was sad it was coming to an end. I had loved the nature, the landscapes, the freedom of the hike. I was also happy I had shared the experience with my brother. I was also proud I kept up the pace because my backpack was the heaviest with 23kg.
We never expected to have such luck with the weather. On the night we arrived at Les Houches it started raining and it rained almost non stop for 3 days. We slept most of the first day, got bored on the second, went rafting on the third and on the fourth we hiked to the Lac Blanc (2352m). We didn’t see much of the lake because it was covered by snow and ice but we saw half of dozen of ibexes. Nice way to end our trip.
Our TMB in numbers : 170km, 12km of ascent/descent, 9 days. We set our next goal for the GR20 : the toughest European trail that crosses Corsica.