Tour du Mont Blanc – 2012 – Champex to Courmayeur

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.

137 D4 mushroom trail 136 D4 mushroom trail

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.

140 D4 old building 141 D4 issert 143 D4 praz de fort 148 D4 Praz de Fort

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.

151 D4 route to La Fouly 154 D4 camp at La Fouly155 D4 view of Aiguille de La neuve

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.

159 D5 path near Ferret 160 D5 path near Ferret 205 D5 flower 175 D5 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.

180 D5 the view ahead 187 D5 the path to Grand Col Ferret 197 D5 view down to Val de Ferret 202 D5 view from grand col de ferret

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.

209 D5 looking back up the Val Ferret 213 D5 view from Val Ferret

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

253 D7 route up 258 D7 view of Val Ferret  261 D7 Refuge Bonatti

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.

264 D7 river 269 view

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.

274 D7 descent 252  D6 Cormayeur 229 D6 Mont blanc  236 d6 view of mountain

Tour du Mont Blanc 2012 – Chamonix to Champex

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.19 Mont blanc from Les Marmottes campsite

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.

23 D1 Plan Praz 29 D1 view to Chalet de la Flegere  46 D1 Mer de Glace 44 D1 Ibex

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.

48 D1 route across Grand Balcon 58 D1 routeFrom 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.

76 D1 Frasserands village

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.

80 D2 view back across to Day 1 descent 88 D2 looking back along 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?

94 D2 looking back along route down across snow

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.97 D2 La Peuty 100 D2 Glacier de Trient

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.

103 D2 rough camp at La Peuty

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!

112 D3 view from Bovine route 113 D3 view from Bovine route 115 D3 cows at Bovine

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.  122 D3 route through champex 126 D4 Lac de Champex