By Julie Bitz-Thorsen
7 days hike around Europe’s biggest mountain Mont Blanc with no hiking experience at all. Read about Julie’s adventure from when she hiked the famous Tour du Mont Blanc in 2013.
The very first hiking adventure
This hiking trip was my very first one. And one I will never forget – both for the good parts but indeed also for the tough parts. Growing up in a family that has never gone on a skiing vacation or being on a mountainside, this was something that I never had experienced before. It was truly amazing.
Since it has been a few years and my memory isn’t what it used to be, I won’t go into details from each stop/stay during my hike. I will focus on a few favorite places and tell you in general about this amazing trip in the mountains.
So, this hiking trip circles the highest mountain in Europe, Mont Blanc, standing 4810 m. It is roughly 170 km long – up and down only! You will cross country borders, hiking in France, Italy, and Switzerland. I didn’t make it through the entire circuit, we had to skip a few days of hiking in Italy because of limited days. In total, we were away for 9 days, hiking 7 of them without a break in between days. We flew in to and from Geneva and from there caught a bus to Les Houches to TMB and back from Chamonix. To sum up our trip, I’ve listed our hiking days and the stops we did. All of these you will find on the map below:
The overview: TMB day-by-day
- Day 1: Bus to Les Houches, France, to start the hike. Les Houches to Les Contamines-Montjoie (6 hrs), crossing the mountain pass Col de Voza (1653 m), and through Bionnassay, le Champel and Tresse.
- Day 2: From Les Contamines-Montjoie to Les Chapieux (8.5 hrs). Stopped at a cute little church Norte-Dame-de-la-Gorge, went through la Balme, crossed two mountain passes Col du Bonhomme (2329 m) and Col de la Croix-du-Bonhomme (2479 m), stopped for a coffee at Refuge du Col de la Croix-du-Bonhomme before going only downhill for two hours to Les Chapieux.
- Day 3: Les Chapieux to Arp-Vielle supérieure (7.5 hrs). Through Les Mottets, crossing Col de la Seigne (2516 m, crossing into Italy) and stopping at Refuge CAI Elisabetta. In this area, you can see marmots and glaciers! Finally, stop at Arp-Vielle supérieure to catch a bus to Courmayeur.
- Day 4: Bus from Courmayeur to Arp-Nouva-Desot and hike to la Fouly (5 hrs). We crossed Grand Col Ferret (2537 m, crossing into Switzerland), through la Peule and Ferret.
- Day 5: From la Fouly to Champex (4.5 hrs).
- Day 6: From Champex to Trient (5.5 hrs). Crossing Col de la Forclaz (1526 m).
- Day 7: From Trient to Chamonix (7 hrs). Through Peuty, crossing Col de Balme (2191 m, with a great view of Mont Blanc) and trough Tré-le-Champ and La Flégère.
Hiking between B&B’s
The most common way to hike the TMB is to stay at the B&B’s that are spread out over the entire route. We did not book anything in advance and had trouble finding a place to sleep a few times on our trip forcing us to keep moving. The hike was in July which is probably one of the busiest months on the trails. We were rarely alone on the trails.
Sleeping at the B&B’s is quite expensive because you purchase dinner as well, usually because nothing else is nearby. Luckily, it also means you only need to carry very little since you do not need a tent or sleeping gear. Only your clothes and lunch for the day is in your backpack. To our surprise, a lot of people had their luggage flown by helicopter to their next location to avoid carrying it. So, if your budget allows that is also an option! However, it may be worth looking into the rules of setting up a tent on the TMB.
Finally, you do not ever need to worry about having enough water with you. The mountains will provide you with fresh, ice cold water from the streams of melted snow the entire way around. I don’t think we purchased water once on this trip!
My highlight and lowlight of this trip
The hardest day, physically, of my life, happened on this trip. It was the second day of the hike (which is always the toughest anyway) and I was so completely exhausted after that day’s hike that I couldn’t eat anything. All I wanted to do was just to sleep and I didn’t even get that good of a night’s sleep anyway! Despite the exhaustion, it still stands out so clearly in my head for so many good things too.
We started the hike from Les Contamines-Montjoie and quickly stumbled upon Norte-Dame-de-la-Gorge, which is a tiny but extremely beautiful church. It was super cool. From then on it went upwards and here started the grand views of the mountain range. The beautiful green grass fields in contrast to the white mountains. We stopped to enjoy the view while three elderly ladies practiced some type of yoga in the grass. We continued for a while and stopped with our mouths open when we realized we had to walk in snow the last part towards Col du Bonhomme. Which was a quite long part…. To admit. I had not expected this at all and was a little nervous. But everything went great even on the very last, few steep steps to the top.
A small detour, sore feet, and good hiking buddies
Up until now everything was fine for me, exhaustion-wise, and it continued to be when crossing the next mountain pass and reaching Refuge du Col de la Croix-du-Bonhomme. But then it started to go downhill and it kept going downhill for hours! I have never had trouble with my knees before but they were certainly not happy about this. We finally reached the bottom and made the mistake of turning right towards a parking lot instead of following the path to the left. This resulted in a 1.5-2 hours detour (which should only have been 15 mins) on a day where we had already walked for 8 hours!! And on top of that, it was on asphalt roads the entire way… I swear, I have never in my life had that sore feet in my boots when walking on that hard, hard asphalt.
What was truly amazing though, was the way my friend on this trip could somehow read my body language and knew exactly when to cheer me on and when to shut up. Downhill for that many hours, she helped me take the mind of my hurting knees by singing and having me sing too. I am today still grateful to her for that and she made this trip one I will never forget.
After a tough second day, I woke up happy and hungry. The last one was easily fixed and we were on our way for the day towards what would be the most beautiful view of the tour. There are a lot of magnificent views all the way around TMB, but my favorite has to be from Col de la Seigne when standing in the mountain pass on the borders of Switzerland looking at Italy.
I have two other favorite moments from this trip that also stands clear in my mind. The sound of cowbells and reading a book in the shade of a tree. I remember the first time a heard the bells I thought I was hallucinating. But quickly we came up to a big pasture with huge cattle all having a collar with a big bell on them. The sound of the Alpes! On the very last day of our hike, we descended about a 1000 meters into the warm Chamonix upland. We decided to rest in the shade of a tree and my friend read out loud the book we had brought along for our entertainment. Resting our bodies and feet in the grass on that warm summer day was just pure enjoyment.
Of course, we finished the entire tour in a proper manner with red wine and cheese fondue in the beautiful city of Chamonix. If not hiking TMB this town is definitely still worth a visit. Also in the winter, it is a great place for skiing.
Thanks for reading!
About the blogger
My name is Julie, I am in my late twenties and I am a biologist. I have lived most of my adult life in Copenhagen but has recently moved to Tromsø for work. I love being outdoors and I love hiking! When living in Copenhagen, I went on hiking trips to get new experiences and to see new countries, but also to get some quiet from the busy city. Now I have moved to a place, where raw nature is right in my backyard. I love the mountains and can’t wait to explore them!