Martin from TrekkingBug.com took on the challenge of traversing through France, Switzerland, Italy and back to France again on the magnificent Tour du Mont Blanc recently. Here he tells us about his Alpine adventure …
As you descend towards Geneva airport and drop below the clouds, you get your first views of the Alpine foothills near the city and off in the distance the higher peaks that await you for your upcoming trek.
As you drive from the airport and cross the border into France the valleys either side of the motorway gradually become steeper, many with stunning waterfalls cascading from them. After a turn off the motorway you begin to get a feel for what lies ahead as the now narrower road winds through the town of St Gervais and on to Les Contamines. The nigh pitched hum of the vehicle engine dealing with steeper road might give cause for some concern was the scenery not so beautifully distracting.
Les Contamines is a great location to begin your Tour du Mont Blanc trek. Small enough to maintain its rural mountain charm but big enough to have a great atmosphere during the busier periods, it offers enough shops and other facilities to allow you to prepare properly for your walk next day should you need any last minute supplies. The town is dotted with wooden lodge type buildings and the steep valley walls either side of the town will have you craning your neck to take in the views during your evening there.
The walk follows a river path south as on passing the Notre Dame church climbs more steeply through forest before levelling off somewhat at Chalet de Balme where you can take a deserved rest before continuing upwards. On ascending closer to the Col du Bonhomme, it’s worth turning around occasionally to appreciate the views behind you, and give yourself a pat on the back for the walk you have completed so far. The Panoramic views when you get to the Col will leave you astounded and the stay with you for your walk along the shale path of the spur towards Col de la Croix de Bonhomme, the highest point of the walking day.
Again, views here are amazing and you’ll also be amazed by the presence of the Refuge de Bonhomme perched on the side of the mountain just a few hundred metres ahead. Many choose to spend the night there while others use it as a rest stop before continuing down the valley to the tiny village of Les Chapieux overnight. From Les Chapieux a small road brings you up the next river valley to start walk day two, however, a path will soon be built closer to the river as part of the official Tour du Mont Blanc, meaning road walking won’t be necessary.
While the walk today towards Col de la Seigne gains a lot a lot of altitude it does so at a more gradual rate affording you the chance to take in the views while a little less breathless than on the previous day. The views behind are again beautiful but on reaching the Col, and the border with Italy, the scenery is beyond what you could have imagined, even with the experience of the previous days walk fresh in your memory. On a clear day you may have also a chance to get good views of Mont Blanc itself up to your left as you look towards Italy. Dropping down into the valley you reach Rifugio Elisabetta sitting in a wonderful location on the mountain side. Around the refuge expect to see local wildlife such as Alpine Ibex and Marmots.
Continuing down from Elisabetta on your third morning you’ll pass Lac Combal on your left behind which you can see the massive wall of a glacial moraine. At this point you ascend onto a tree lined path which, weather permitting, will allow you to see the Mont Blanc massif from a great vantage point. The high point for today’s walk near Col de Checroui offers lodges for rest stops before descending to Courmayeur.
The town is a great place to spend a night and has a busy yet relaxed atmosphere with cobbled streets lined with outdoor sports shops as well as designer clothes shops. While many choose to walk directly out of Courmayeur many choose to take the local bus to Arnouva to walk from there over the Col Ferret into Switzerland. The view from the top, the border between Italy and Switzerland, down into Switzerlands Val Ferret is another unforgettable one and the walk down to the town of La Fouly is steadier giving you a chance to enjoy the walk and the scenery.
While some choose to stay in La Fouly, most opt to take a bus at the end of the walk day to Champex as the walk between La Fouly and Champex is one of the less interesting on the route.
From Champex to Trient there are two walking options, the Alp Bovine route and an alternative route for those looking for an additional challenge is the strenuous and challenging but spectacular trail over the Fenetre d’Arpette. Alp Bovine begins with a road walk through the villages of Champex Haut and Champex Bas before moving onto forest trail at Plan de L’Eau. The path then ascends more steeply up a river valley and after crossing the stream the path continues up at a steadier rate to a rest stop at Alp Bovine. From there is mostly downhill through the trees to Col de Forclaz where you briefly meet a relatively busy road and a shop before descending towards Trient, with its pink painted church.While it is a quiet location, Du Mont Blanc accommodation does have a bar where you’ll find plenty of other trekkers exchanging stories from their walking days.
While some choose to walk all the remaining stages from Trient to Chamonix for many departing Trient it will be their last walk day. The morning involves a steep ascent on challenging forest path before you emerge at the top of the forest section where the path levels out somewhat to ascend more steadily towards the Col de Balme (2191m) at the French border. From here you will have tremendous views of the valley of Chamonix. and there is a refuge here at which you can take a break. You can then choose to follow the traditional Tour du Mont Blanc route along the right side of the valley which passes L’Aiguillette de Possette or take an alternative route down the left hand side of the valley. The descent on the French side is easy to the village of La Tour from where you can take the train to Chamonix. You can also opt to continue walking for around 20 minutes to Montroc (1354m) where you can take a bus or you can walk a further 3km to Argentiere (1250m) where you can also take the train.
Arriving into Chamonix there is a great buzz and trekkers, mountain bikers, day trippers and the local population mingle in the bars and restaurants to discuss tours just completed or a new undertaking about to begin. It’s a great place to spend a night or two and if the weather is good a trip on the Aiguille du Midi cable car is a must. It is a two-stage journey. The first leg brings visitors to the Plan de l’Aiguille (2,317m). The second traverses Les Pelerins glacier before going up the North Face of the Aiguille du Midi at the top station. A footbridge connects the cable car top station with the terrace and an elevator inside the rock brings visitors up the last stretch to the top terrace at an altitude of 3,842 metres.