I might have done this whole route nearly 7 years ago, but living in Marsden I regularly walk along bits of this route near my home. Something in the landscape never change! Looking back through these pictures has a tinge of sadness though, as my companion Dougal is no longer with me and he loved to roam the moors of the South Pennines.
Day 2 -Standedge to Hebden Bridge – 15.25 miles / 24.4km
We set off from Standedge in typical West Yorkshire mist and low cloud. This section of the Pennine Way is a nice one in good weather as you walk along the watershed of the South Pennines, first looking out over Delph and then crossing Buckstones Road you eventually reach Windy Hill radio mast and the bridge over the M62. Ok, not exactly the most picturesque bit of the route, but walking over what is the highest motorway in England its certainly interesting. (As a regular commuter on the M62 I can say it is never normally this quiet!)
From here there is yet more moorland to get to Blackstone Edge. On this day you couldn’t see down into Littleborough and Hollingworth Lake; Dougal could barely keep his ears on his head!
As you cross Blackstone Edge you also cross the old Roman Road and pass the Higgin Stone before you reach the A58 at the White House pub.
I’ve recently walked this next section a couple of times to see the new Simon Armitage poem ‘Rain’ which has been carved into the rock. Back when I walked this route though, the poem hadn’t even been thought of as a concept. Eventually you come to Warland Reservoir after which the route heads Easterly towards Stoodley Pike and views over Todmorden.
From Stoodley Pike the route drops down to the Rochdale Canal leaving you half way between Todmorden and Hebden Bridge. Dougal and I then walked into Hebden Bridge for a well earned drink and the train home.
Having embarked on the mission to finish the Pennine Way soon, I thought I’d share some old photos of the route from when I first started, back in 2006.
Day 1- Edale to Standedge – 29 miles/46.7km
Edale is a fantastic place to start a long distance trail, easy access on the train from Manchester and Sheffield and a really easy to follow route to start you off.
From following the track along the valley you eventually head up Jacobs Ladder a steep brutal ascent to get onto the Kinder Plateau. I’ve been up Kinder many times since and still haven’t seen a view from the top! In mist this isn’t the easiest area to navigate.
The route along this section has some great metal signposts by the Peak and Northern Footpath Society. This one is looking back to Kinder and the route back to Edale.
The path continues to wind across the moorland to cross the A57 Snake’s Pass and on to more relentless moorland up Devil’s Dyke – a large deep cutting in moorland top which feels like it is winding a lot before you finally reach Bleaklow Head and the descent down to Crowdon.
Living in Marsden it was too tempting to walk on and make it home so from Crowden I motivated my dad with ice-cream from the visitors centre before dragging him onwards.
The path becomes less barren as it rises up and crosses Laddows Rocks. From here much of the path is now paved to prevent erosion to the peat. Black Hill summit is a bit less barren than this now!
The paving continues down the other side from Black Hill trig point and down to meet the A635 at the top of the Wessenden Valley.
From here it was getting dark as we crossed to descend the Wessenden Valley and follow the route between Black Moss and Swellands Reservoirs to meet the A62 at Standedge.
Always one to make the most of the bank holiday weekends, I dragged my best friend to the Trossachs. Not only was this her first time hiking in Scotland, it was also the first time she had been camping in the UK too. I had to rectify that immediately!
Now I’m not suggesting she isn’t a hiker, as she’s done the Inca Trail, but somehow she’d made it through her life and never walked any of the amazing hills in the UK. So we took the opportunity to visit a friend in Scotland to rectify the situation.
I opted for Crieff as our base, deciding there would be enough to keep us all happy if the weather was awful the whole time we were there, which lets face it is always a possibility in Scotland. It was also close enough for our Scottish friend to join us for a few days.
I was careful not to have the whole break revolve around mountains, which I would have done had I gone alone, I resisted my urge to inflict my obsession on others. Out of the choice of great walks in the area bizarrely they both opted to climb Ben Vorlich over the shorter walk of Ben Chonzie.
After a day of relaxing at the Blackford Highland games and sampling some very fine whiskey, we spent the next day bagging the two munros of Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin.
Ben Vorlich is an easy munro to bag as there is a clear path from Ardvorlich to the summit and we were very lucky to have great views once there. However from there it is clear that not many walkers carry on to bag Stuc a Chroin too; probably put off by the wall of rock staring back at you.
Despite the rockface ahead there is a path of sorts around it to the left to avoid any need to scramble, although my fearless friend still didn’t want to look back at the view!
From the summit of Stuc a Chroin most people skirt back below its summit to the north side to end up back on the Ben Vorlich track. Despite the long walk and jelly legs from the ascent, my friends decided they wanted to descend down to Glen Ample to walk through the woodland. This added an entertaining climb through a 10 metre high deer fence (thankfully there was a person sized hole in it!) and another 2-3 miles to the walk, past the deers at a local farm and back along the country lane. Nevertheless it was a good route all round.
Our second day’s walk was a half-hearted affair to bag Ben Chonzie, just because it was there. But I was please to discover that despite the blanket fog we encountered my friend really wanted to go on. I think I might have turned her into a munro bagger after all!
Our final two days walking on the Tour du Mont Blanc was some of the hardest with steep ascents in hot temperatures.
Day 9 – Les Contamines to Les Houches – 8 hours 45
Total distance 19.5km ascent 1225m descent 1505m
Today felt like a brutal walk, a bloody steep ascent in scorching weather. Being stung by a horsefly and then zapped by an electric fence; my knees ached and I hadn’t eaten enough chocolate the day before. It was hell. And then someone said that we were on a harder variant path…
It was a steep walk through woodland from our campsite at Les Contamines to Auberge du Truc, but there was an amazing view once there.
From there we had to descend down to the Chalet du Miages and then we were faced with a very steep ascent up to the Col du Tricot. Despite it being a relentlessly boring slog of dusty zigzags up to the col, it was worth it. I know, it doesn’t look that steep, but zoom into the photo and see the smaller ants near the summit, they’re people!
Whilst it would have been easy to moan about why we had taken the harder variant path, and not stuck to the main TMB which followed the side of the hill around through Bionnassay village, this route enabled us to have a fantastic view of the Bionnassay glacier and cross a rope bridge to reach the Col de Voza.
Unfortunately, from here we had a very dull slog down the ski trails and tracks to reach the road, which we followed into Les Houches.
Day 10 – Les Houches to Plan Praz (over Le Brevent) 6 hours 30
Total distance – 9.5km ascent 1515m descent 465m
I set off a bit giddy that this was our final day and I had a day of lying in my tent a bit later than normal, eating ice cream and riding the cable car up to the Aiguelle di Midi to look forward to.
The giddiness soon wore off when the long slog through the woodland began. Today was a day of climbing a mountain, Le Brevent, and there would be no relenting in the uphill slog to the top. I didn’t stop to take photos until the refuge Bellachat. Sections up to the refuge were narrow with cable rails for the rocks sections.
The refuge had taken us 3 hours to reach, and though it was less than 400m in altitude and 2km from the summit, a rest was needed.
Though the path onto Le Brevent summit was more rocky it wasn’t as steep and had amazing views across the valley. I have to admit to being elated to have reached Le Brevent and know it was all downhill to the end, but also bitterly disappointed it was so busy with tourists who had cheated and caught the cable car up. Its like slogging up Snowdon to be confronted with a load of people who’ve caught the train up.
The route back down to Plan Praz, were we had started our adventure, didn’t take long, especially since much of the route was still covered in snow and it was easier to slide down than walk.
We arrived at Plan Praz and caught the cable car down for ice cream in Chamonix. Mmmm
The following day I splurged and went both paragliding and up the cable car to the Aguille di Midi. Expensive but worth every penny to see real mountaineers having adventures on Mont Blanc. Maybe next time.
The next three days of the Tour du Mont Blanc would take us from the pristine Alpine villages of Switzerland, over the Grand Col de Ferret the highest point of the TMB route, and into Italy – from the home of fantastic cheese and chocolate to the home of fantastic gelato and … chocolate.
Day 4 – Champex to La Fouly – 5 hours 50
Total distance 14.6km ascent 555m descent 440m
Today’s walk would take us through some gorgeous quiet villages as we headed for the end of the valley and our last campsite in Switzerland. It was a cooler day and having a relatively flat route it was also more relaxed.
The start of the walk from Champex takes you through the Santier de Champignons – route of the mushrooms; evident by the trees carved on the woodland trails.
When we reached the road at Issert (and stopped for a hot chocolate) it had begun raining, making the walk through the villages to Praz de Fort less interesting. If your following the cicerone guide on the clockwise route this would be your first days walk, which is described as “a charming pastoral valley whose timber chalets and haybarns recall a long-lost era…” I’m afraid for us it was waterproofs on, head down.
Once we reached Praz de Fort we followed the route along the river to our campsite at La Fouly. Initially a nice track it become a slow gradual ascent, and as a track it wasn’t a particularly lovely route to follow, it became a slog. So it was a surprise to find a huge campsite at La Fouly.
Day 5 – La Fouly to Planpincieux 8 hours 10
Total distance 21km ascent 930m descent 940m
Like gluttons for punishment we started the day by veering off the main TMB route to take the steeper variant route, which would allow us to climber quicker up the pass and also have a more scenic view through the spring alpine meadows. Nevertheless it was a grateful surprise to find the refuge at La Peule.
After drinks at La Peule we continued on upwards to the Grand Col de Ferret, where the top of the pass was still covered in snow, making the walking slower. The view down into the Val Ferret and Italy was worth the effort though.
At 2537m the Grand Col de Ferret marks the high point on the TMB. After admiring the massive view of the valley below, it occurred to us that our campsite at Planpincieux was down there somewhere and we still had a long way to go. The route down the valley was long and steep initially so it was good to know a hot chocolate stop at Refugio Elena was half way down, although we could see the refuge long before we got there. The hot chocolate was like mud and worth it.
From the refugio it was another two hour walk down the track where, passing the refuge Val Ferret we left the TMB main route and followed a path down to the road to the campsite at Planpincieux which, on tarmac, was hard on the feet.
Day 6 – Planpincieux to Courmayeur 5 hours 20
Total distance 13km, ascent 625m descent 865m
Having complained the day before about walking down the road and the fact the summer bus service started that morning, we decided it would be stupid to do the road section again, just to reach the TMB path. So we caught the bus up the valley to the route.
From La Vechy we ascended up a path to pick up the TMB at the Refugio Bonatti – where I can confirm the best hot chocolate in the world is served. Like thick mud. Mmmm
From the refugio Bonatti we headed onwards towards the refugio Bertone; as there was still a lot of snow melting on the high ridge, the rivers we crossed en route were still in spate and required good balance and acceptance that feet were going to get wet.
From Refugio Bertone we headed downhill in to Courmayeur town centre. This section was very busy with families headed upwards. Thankfully we had quite a wait for the bus back up to our camp at Planpincieux so we had time for gelato and a trip up the cable car to admire Mont Blanc up close.
At 105 miles the Tour du Mont Blanc is not the longest long distance route I’ve completed, but it was the first one overseas and the first completed in one go and not broken up over weekends like the Pennine Way.
Suggested by two friends who had completed the trail years ago, the thought of crossing through 3 countries, tackling Alpine passes and walking through sun, snow and probably rain, the TMB sounded just like my kind of trek.
Choosing to walk clockwise meant that we would be passing other walkers rather than catching them up, which for most of the route would enable us to have relative peace. Or as much as you can ever get in the Alps.
With my bags packed, the Cicerone TMB guide studied and a whole lot of enthusiasm and naivety; I headed out to the Alps giddy with excitement.
Having spent the first night at the campsite at Les Bossons, just outside Chamonix we had a fantastic view of Mont Blanc which we were to spend the next 10 days walking around.
Day 1 – Plan Praz to Frasserands 6 hours 30
Distance 13.6km and 400m ascent and 2030m descent
Starting at Plan Praz felt a little like cheating as we had caught the cable car up to the first station. But our last day would be covering the tremendous hike from the floor of the valley to Le Brevent mountain top, so what idiot would do half of the height twice? Not us.
It also gave us a relaxing start to the trek, which in the 32 degree heat was appreciated. The path is really easy to navigate and a good track all of the way. We stopped briefly at Le Flegere refuge for a drink and to soak up the view and check out the ibex who wasn’t at all bothered we were there.
As it was still early in the season we took the Balcon sud route as there was still a significant amount of snow on Les Blancs. This is one of the special joys about the TMB is that whatever season you undertake this in, there are a lot of variant paths than mean you can still do the route.
From the Col de Montetes we had a knee crushing descent of endless switchbacks to reach the road at Tres le Champ, where we then plodded down a path by the road into Fresserands and our campsite for the night, where we could see tomorrows ascent to the Col de Balme.
Day 2 – Frasserands to Le Puety 6 hrs 45
Distance 10.7km approx with 1115m ascent and 1070m descent
Being able to look back over the our first day’s walk made the ascent out of Frasserands bearable; its certainly a steep ascent through the woodland. Initially the path felt like an assault course through the fallen trees and though we made good time it was hard going. Steep never-ending zigzags would become a theme of the trek. These pictures are looking back along the route.
There was an annoying section of downhill before we ascended the paths of the ski area around the Col de Balme to reach the top of the pass, saying goodbye to France and hello to Switzerland.
The descent down included crossing some steep banks of snow – can you see the little people at the top of this one looking back up the route?
Reaching the Treint valley was exactly like reaching the Sound of Music country, with endless fields of wildflowers and the sounds of cow bells, which would be less than romantic late at night but for now was just what I wanted.
Our campsite was the rough ground at La Peuty where the was a toilet block and cold running water and an area to sit and cook. So it was a pretty good spot – quiet except for the damn cows and their bells.
Day 3 – La Peuty to Champex 7 hours
Total distance 13.9km and 910m ascent and 680m descent
Despite the day starting with a climb the path to the Col de Forclaz was steep busy relatively easy, following an old track through the woodland. The cafe at the road was open so we stopped for a strong coffee.
The ascent from here up to the refuge at the Col de Bovine seemed to go on and on, but breaking out of the woodland eventually to see the Bovine refuge was amazing and worth the effort. Even if it was clear why it got its name!
After another coffee at the refuge Bovine we continued on heading downhill to Plan de L’Au, a steep and winding path which eventually flattened and headed through woodland.
We eventually arrived in Champex where we walked around the Lake to the campsite.