Adventure Luxury Found - Hiking the Tour Du Mont Blanc
So many of you have been asking about the month long trip my husband took us on last year, sounds utterly romantic right! Come to discover, it was romantically rewarding at points although not in the middle of our attractive headlamp-bunk bed-sweaty sock moments. We loved this trek and want to share bits of this incredible journey we embarked on - hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc.
Let me start by telling you how we were able to do such a wild adventure, especially with Todd being a hotelier, we hardly get time away together. As many of you may know there is hurricane season in the Caribbean, and the island of Anguilla where we reside basically closes for the entire month of September. We thought, let's take full advantage and book a longer stint abroad versus our typical week away.
Todd's pastimes include fly fishing, hiking and everything you might envision a canadian should be up to, as it's just in their blood. He also is an avid researcher when it comes to gear, so that's how he discovered the trek, a 7-12 day circumnavigation of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps which straddles France, Switzerland and Italy. Todd has had a lifelong dream of conquering the Appalachian Trail in the states, as he's done segments but has never had the time off to experience in it's entirety. and he definitely knew he would have a better chance of coercing me into a long hike if French wine and cheese were involved.
I kept a journal every day we were on the trail and thought this would be my thorough blog post to share with the world. Our story is a treasure we enjoy laughing and reminiscing about, and we still congratulate each other on finishing, it stays with you. Todd and I talked a lot about it afterwards and it's really not for everyone, and I'm not here to convince you to day in and day out hike these kind of miles. Really it's not about the miles because 100 plus doesn't sound like a lot, it's the terrain that you are facing. You do have to have a mental and physical stamina, let a lone carry a fifteen pound pack on your back. And some hardcore hikers probably chuckle, as this is somewhat of a luxurious feat, although we didn't want to run like the extremists, we wanted to take it all in and make friends along the way. I use the words adventure luxury in my title as it has a bit of truth, as you are not carrying a tent, you have plumbing access at the end of the day, and sometimes even a warm duvet at the end of your bed. Sure it's communal but a hot shower (most days!) was such a splendid treat at the end of the long day when all you could think about what getting dry, washing your clothes, hanging them in the sun, refueling, and then repeat. You plan your days by tracing each refuge, or mountain hut out on a map. Occasionally you have the option to hit a B&B but it's more fun hanging with your trail friends, having a cold beer and chatting about the day's highs and hardships.
Luxury is always in the eye of the beholder, and some who accomplish this hike tend to book with a tour company such as REI. It's a much larger expense although you get your packs carried to each destination for you and most of the time we saw many sipping wine a long the trail. We met many who did it this way and loved it, and many who were older understandably preferred the tour guide. Although we found reward in the grind, sweat, challenge, and navigation of it all, although we thought by the last day we did not want to see another yellow TMB sign for a long time. Most hike and plan with a book that's pretty thorough and all you need as the trail is so well traveled if you need help. We found each night cost us around 100 Euro for two for board, dinner and usually breakfast. We took 12 nights to complete the loop and chose the anti-clockwise route finishing with the challenging ladder segment.
I cannot recommend this journey enough if you are looking to push yourself and also discover little, simple luxuries that exist even in nature. And doing something outside of your comfort zone is definitely a treasure you will always reflect back on and say what a helluva trip. We experienced so much more than just booking an expensive hotel in Chamonix and sight-seeing a part of Mont Blanc. We conquered with no shortcuts, just good conversation, trust, a few cowbells and Todd's trail magic (aka. chocolate). We now facetiously say our marriage stood the test and got us up, over, sideways, down, around and through every mile.
A few favorite tips:
-Spend time researching gear and weighing out your packs ahead of time. Our goal was under 20 lbs each including water, which we came out about 14-17 each.
-Break your boots in before.
-Invest in carbon-fiber poles.
-Compartmentalize within your pack - we love packing cubes. This helps keep dirty away from clean, super organized is best for this hike, as you literally are unpacking and repacking twice a day.
-Don't overfill your water (we typically did 1 liter each at a time), there are spots everywhere on the trail to refill.
-Count your currency in advance, you are crossing three international borders after all and cash is king. bring a credit card though as well.
-Bring chocolate, and share it.
-Take your time, don't cram too much hiking into one day.
-Take a zero day in courmayeur, italy - so worth the warm pasta alone!
-Stay at La puele (dairy farm) in switzerland and ask to milk a cow.
-Get past day 3 and you will be home-free, again it’s a mental game.
-Ensure your medical insurance is in check.
-Pack a prescription for ciprofloxacin - antibiotic to take if you feel sickness coming on, true lifesaver, especially eating foods your stomach is not used to.
-Start and finish the trail at the same hotel in Les Houches (we left a bag behind of things we realized we didn't need or souvenirs and picked up at the end).
-After circumnavigating Mont Blanc in it's entirety, be sure and summit it via Chamonix - the Augille du Midi - it's breathtaking. Be sure and stand in 'the void' a clear glass box attraction which dangles amongst the snowcaps, it's really a rush.
-Leave the trail with many miles and one-identity (make-up trail names for each other!)
-I carried this women's pack, the osprey kyte 46, which i picked up at Rei. when you go into rei it's extremely important to try on and have them weight it to make sure the frame fits you. i tried on 5 or 6 various packs. i loved the waist pockets on the kyte 46 for easy access to my lip balm or small things. also my pack cover came in handy for a bit of rain to keep my pack dry. it has very handy pole slots to stick your poles in when climbing or traversing.
-Alpine carbon cork trekking poles by black diamond (make sure they are light-weight and adjustable whichever brand you buy) i shortened mine for hiking up and lengthened them for going down steeper segments.
-I wore these hiking boots (make sure the grip is strong, i like vibram soles and gore-tex for water protection as you do trek through a lot of mud at points)
-iphone for photos + book + charger
-Buff headband (we both wore these, swear by them) + beanie for colder times
-Camelbak hydration bladder if your pack doesn't already come with and/or refillable water bottle.
-Lueco tape (life saver for hot-spots) + swiss army with scissors.
-Compass + whistle (many packs have built-in whistle)
-Used dr. bronner's peppermint soap for everything, genius - to wash our hair, face, bodies, clothes.
-Febreeze lined trash bag (trust me on this for dirty, sweaty hiking clothes)
-Sunscreen + spf lip balm (I brought this tinted sunscreen and love it)
-2 pairs of thin hiking socks, like smartwool (I brought sock liners but wouldn't swear by them)
- Quecha hiking skirt, PFG hiking short, North Face hiking pant (black).
-Layer hiking shirts (3, short sleeve all moisture wicking) + PFG white button down lightweight shirt as a 'town/dinner' nicer option.
-Long underwear and long sleeve shirt baselayers for sleeping/basecamp (love Smartwool)
-Undergarments (3) + sports bra (2)
-North Face vest ( i found layering was key and this came in very handy as didn't need my arms covered most of the time)
-Quecha down jacket, lightweight and easily packable or any ompressible jacket
-Water-proof pants just in case, although didn't use at all, just in case.
-Sunglasses + croakies
-Patagonia rain jacket (packs nicely into small square)
-Cocoon travel sheets (used maybe for 1 or 2 nights, as most beds are equipped and really clean)
- Black diamond led headlamp (many brilliant uses, but a necessity at night when electricity is typically turned off. also nice to shine in your husband's face from your top bunk if he starts snoring, right Tami!)
-Swimsuit (optional didn't really need)
-Watch, just wore my polar (although gps might have been nice)
-Flip-flops for camp. some brought running shoes but i found too bulky and really liked airing out and freeing my feet after a long day. many refuges have crocs that you can borrow too.
- A few resealable ziplock bags
- Travel wallet that has compartments for various currencies + passport + travel documents if any. i kept mine all on my iPhone and wifi is accessible at many mountain huts a long the trail
- Wet-ones /toilet paper (you never know!)
-Contacts ( would highly recommend switching to dailies so you have a fresh pair to pop in every morning and not bring glasses)
One last packing tip: If you don't have it already packed, you can buy most everything in Chamonix, France, the starting off point as it's literally the mountain-hiking capital of the world. From poles to socks they have available although your overall goal is to pack extremely light.
Now for true inspiration and less chatter, our photos, enjoy!
I've been getting so many inquiries about our day to day itinerary.
Here are my little notes, they are kind of sporadic and less thorough as we went along, and seemed to be a lot about food but here you go if it's of any help!
Day 1 Les Houches to Les Contamines:
Started in Les Houches and walked to tram and took up to top of start of trail - Bellevue. Took more difficult trail to bionassay glacier, strait up vertical. Walked through meadows with view of glacier to col de tricot. Sheep ran down mountain, there were so many of them. Steep descend into valley and refuge for lunch. Had wine and ham and butter on baguette. Blueberry tart.
Started 8:30 arrived 5:30 pm.
Stage 1 complete
Stayed Hotel Chememaz, bath, cute hotel. Dinner lamb and beef, bottle of pomerol. Dessert fromage with blueberries.
Day 2 Les Contamines to Col del la Croix
1/2 Stage 2.
5 - 6 hours
Departed 11 am arrived 5:30 pm
Fairly steep climb by Notre Dame gorge then Long paths on meadows to La Balme for lunch. Veg soup and ham and butter sandwich. Badoit.
Vertical up hike from Col des fours to la Croix.
Elevation high 2756 Tête Nord des Fours summit ( without packs view of Mont Blanc)
Arrived De la Croix refuge and had beers. Bunk mates Australians Steve, Gayle and Jerry. Dinner beef bourgignon and polenta. Chocolate cake dessert. Japanese lady at table. Early bed. *this was most crowded refuge, try to get in early. only place had to wait in line for showers.
Day 3 Col de la Croix to Les Mottes
2nd half of Stage 2
Left 8:00 am Arrived 2:00 pm
Light bfast. Hike down long farm road past dairy farm
Arrived for late lunch- cheese raviolis with bread and cheese. Local Italian family singing and eating. neat, Old dining room with antiques and old cheese making equipment.
Red wine with sunset.
Dinner beef bourgignon with potatoes and rice. Dessert egg custard with vanilla in bottom.
Early bed - bunk mates Australians, older fit couple Rob and Sylvia.
Day 4: Les Mottets to Courmayer
*Longest day - 17 miles
Departed 7 am arrived 6:30 pm
More difficult and higher route with views of Mont Blanc
Stage 3 and Stage 4 complete.
Elevation high: 2516 m Col de la Seigne
Crossed from French to Italian Alps
Snacks at Rigugio Elizabetta on Italian border - hot chocolate, tomato, egg, cheese sausage from packed lunch
Stopped for Hot chocolate later in day at Riguge Maison above Courmayer and met up with Arizona group and Austrailans.
Hiked 2 more hours down steep forest (painful toe jam, make sure boots are tied carefully to avoid this) into Courmayer first passing into Dolhomme and cute italian brick village.
Checked into hotel Novecento.
Dinner at IL Tunnel, pizzeria 2 20 inch pizzas one ham the other margherita. Salad, wine, beer.
Hotel really nice although couldn't get wifi to work in room and front desk said oh well.
Day 5 - ZERO happy day exploring Courmayer.
Lunch at Zillo's - paninis and wine
Gelato at Gelateria
Dinner at Cadran Solaire - snacks, spaghetti, beef with foie gras and mustard sauce, zucchini, rack of lamb; pear and chocolate tart, limoncello, bottle of chianti
Day 6 - Stage 5
Courmayeur to La Vachey
Nice, sunny day
Stopped at Rigugio bonatti for soup and polenta then hiked down to hotel Lavachey - prosecco and peroni beer; dinner penne bolognese and sausage with tomatoes and carrots zucchini
Day 7 - Stage 6
LaVachey to La Puele
First view of Switzerland
Dairy farm - got to drink cows milk and milk our first cow *favorite spot we stayed, don't miss this one.
Cruto fromage for dinner
Amazing ham, cheese, mustard and butter sandwiches
Day 8 Stage 7
To Champex via La Fouly
Hottest day yet, hiked primarily in valley and end up forest
Stayed on lake in Au Club Alpin
Day 9 Stage 8
Champex to Trient via Fenetre (window)
Stayed at Auberge du Mont Blanc
Had soup, salad with beets and pork curry( fell asleep) and skipped dessert
Most challenging day terrain wise if you are not used to bouldering or somewhat unstable on rocks (light bouldering) left at 8 am in at 6 pm, only day it rained on us, needed my pack cover but not really rain pants I packed. you can take lower, easier route option if you choose not to do fenetre.
Day 10 Stage 9
Trient to Tres Les Champs
Stayed at Gite Moulin
Beautiful hike down to see Chamonix
Dinner potato, sausage and leeks with cheese, cucumber salad, cake with blueberries
Day 11 Stage 10
Tres Les Champs to La Flegerie
Via Lac du Blanc
Day 12 Stage 11
Final day back to Les Houches