2015 Tour Du Mont Blanc - France, Italy, Switzerland
What is it:
Mont Blanc is the tallest mountain in the European Alps, at about 4,809 meters
(15,778 feet). The Tour Du Mont Blanc is a trail that circles the mountain through the
French, Italian, and Swiss Alps. The loop is around 100 miles or so, and our
trip was 9.5 days.
We hiked the TMB from July 17th to July 26th, 2015. The busy season is mid July
through August. If you hike it too early and there may still be snow on the
passes, too late and you may get early winter weather.
Our July trip was HOT, with daily highs in the 80s Fahrenheit. It is
typical to have afternoon thunderstorms in the summer, but on our trip we got
rain storms right at dusk most nights and no rain during the day.
The TMB is mostly above the trees with panoramic views of the Alps all around.
The snow was 100% melted in July other than a few permanent glaciers up high. If
I were to hike it again I would consider June to avoid the heat and the crowds.
This was my first trip to non-English speaking countries but the language barrier was a non-issue for us. Most Europeans on the TMB speak
French, and at least half the people we met spoke either fluent English or
enough to get the gist. There were also a good amount of British and American
You only really need to know two words in French to communicate, "Bonjur"
(Hello) and "Merci" (Thank you). Everything else, for example buying food at stores or ordering at
restaurants can be communicated nonverbally or in English without a problem.
The trail is a loop, so you can start and end anywhere on it, but the Chamonix
Valley in France is a popular start/end point.
We flew in to Geneva, Switzerland and then took an "Alpy Bus" shuttle bus to Les
Hooches, France (pronounced LE ZOOSH). There are a handful of companies that run
regular shuttles from the Geneva airport to Chamonix valley. Les Hooches is a
small town in the Chamonix valley that has a grocery store, hostel, and
France and Italy use Euros. Switzerland uses Franks, but the Swiss locations on
the trail took Euros without a problem. Many of the refuges don't take credit
cards so bring Euros.
We had a hard time finding a data sheet or accurate mileage info for this trail
but it was easy to follow. All the trail signs are in "hours" rather than km or
miles. Don't underestimate how long this trail takes. It is only 100 miles or
so, but it is extremely steep with massive elevation gain and descent every day.
If you plan to stay in refuges during the busy season it is a good idea to make
reservations in advance, however we did not do that. We carried our full gear so
that we would have the freedom to hike as much or little as we wanted and camp
when needed. We stayed in one refuge, motels twice, and stealth camped the rest
of the nights.
Logistics / Resupply
Logistically the TMB is the easiest trail I have
ever hiked. There are "refuges" every 3-5 hours which are like hostels with
bunkrooms. They have water, toilets, and sometimes hot showers. Most of them
sell snacks and tasty beverages, and some have full cafes with cooked food. If
you stay the night at a refuge they will usually cook you dinner and a light
breakfast. They'll even pack you a picnic lunch to go if you want. All for a
The trail also passes through small mountain towns about every 2 days or so. They are
ski towns which have resupply, lodging, and restaurants. You don't need to carry
more than snacks.
If you are looking for a wilderness experience look elsewhere or choose a
different season. Each day you may
encounter hundreds of fit Europeans running circles around you wearing day packs
or hydration packs. There is so much food and lodging that you can do the trail
without even carrying a backpack if you want to. We carried our full backpacks
and mostly tent-camped rather than relying on the refuges, but we did eat at
them every chance we got. All the food stops actually slow you down quite a bit
since you are constantly stopping to eat and relax while you take in the views.
It is a pretty rough trail.
Water is fairly easy to come by, there are frequent mountain streams and every
refuge has water. We never carried more than a liter or two.
Camping is actually prohibited along most of the trail other than a few
designated campsites. We were able to find discrete stealth camping spots
without too much trouble, but you can't just camp anywhere due to the steep
terrain and the restrictions.
The TMB is a "tourist grade" trail, meaning it is very well
maintained and well signed. It is easy to find your way. There is no scrambling
or particularly difficult terrain, but that does not mean it is easy. On the
contrary, it is very physically demanding with long steep ascents and descents.
If you have hiked the JMT or PCT you may find it similar to the High Sierras, in
that you hike up up up to a pass then down down down to a valley, and repeat.
The TMB has a whopping 11,600 meters (38,000 feet give or take) of elevation
gain. That means that on a 9.5 day hike like ours you are climbing 4,000 feet
and descending 4,000 feet or more every single day.
The trail circumnavigates Mont Blanc over the numerous ridges and surrounding
mountains. It does not go near the snow capped summit of Mont Blanc. Crampons
and climbing gear would most likely be required for that.
Tour Du Mont Blanc Gear List:
This is the gear list that I would take if I were to do any three-season thru-hike today.