I dreamed about visiting in the Swiss Alps for a long time, but for some reason I’d made it out in my head to be some adventure that was just too far fetched. It seemed too far away, and too expensive, so I kept it in the back of my mind as something I’d only get to do one day in the very far future if I was very lucky. As luck would have it, Josh and I ended up doing the Tour Du Mont Blanc as part of our big 2017 trip! You can read more about how we ended up choosing to go to Europe and do this hike in my Europe post!
What is the TMB?
The Tour Du Mont Blanc (TMB) is an epic 110 mile trek that takes you around the tallest mountain in Western Europe, Mont Blanc. The trail winds through the stunning Alps of France, Italy, and Switzerland. It is typically hiked counter clockwise, starting and ending in Chamonix, France; however, many hike it in the opposite direction as well. In fact, there are many variations of this trail, which make it fun and challenging at the same time! The hike is best done in late summer when the snow has melted off of the trails. One interesting thing about the TMB is that you can make it as luxurious as you want, or you can rough it as much as you want. By that I mean you can camp and cook all of your own food the entire way, or you can stay in a mix of refuges and 3-5 star hotels and purchase food from grocery stores or even incredible restaurants along the way.
The most intimidating part of the TMB is the planning and logistics. You basically have 3 options:
- Do everything yourself (booking, hiking, transport, etc.)
- Use a guide service to plan the trip for you (booking, transport, etc.) but do the hike by yourself
- Go with a guide service that takes care of everything for you and completes the hike with you.
Doing everything yourself is obviously the most cost efficient way to do the TMB, but it can be a daunting task, especially if you don’t like planning or research. The other two options can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars depending on how many days you choose, how nice of accommodations you want to stay at, and what services you include (luggage transport, etc.)
Though I did research some guide services, and go back in forth in my mind about whether or not to use them, I ultimately decided to plan and book everything myself. We decided to do the hike in 6 days to allow for some time to visit other cities while we were in Europe, but this made planning a little challenging since we’d have to find bus routes and make sure we weren’t trying to hike too far in any one day. Additionally, since the traditional trek takes about 11 days, and the shortened versions are typically done in 7-9 days, I wasn’t able to easily follow other itineraries when making ours. Regardless, somehow I managed to pull something together that actually worked out!
There were several blogs and sites that I used for planning, but here are some of the ones I relied on the most:
Facebook Tour Du Mont Blanc Public Group
So finally, here is the itinerary that that we ended up with (check back for separate posts on each leg of the hike).
Day 4 – Courmayeur > Ferret/La Fouly > Champex
Day 5 – Champex > Martingy > Argentiere
Day 6 – Argentiere > Chamonix
Tips for Planning the Tour Du Mont Blanc
- First determine your budget, how much control you want over choosing your accommodations and timeline, and if you’ll need luggage transport each day. Then decide if you want to use a guide service or not.
- If you aren’t going to pay for luggage transport, make sure to pack as light as possible!
- Decide how many days you can allocate to the hike and if you’re willing to skip (bus) any sections before trying to determine where to stay. This will determine how much distance you have to cover each day. Keep in mind, there are some parts of the trail that you can’t skip. We opted to skip more of the Switzerland portion since Switzerland is much more expensive than France and Italy.
- If you plan to camp, make sure to read up on camping regulations in each country. In some places along the trail it is illegal to camp.
- If you want to go the DIY route, make sure to start planning early! The refuges can book up quickly, and in some areas, if you don’t get the one you want, you may end up hiking quite a bit more than you planned. Even worse, you may have to re-arrange your whole trip if you don’t have a place to stay for one of the nights. Additionally, if you want a private room at any of the refuges, its even more important to book early since they are fairly limited.
- Make sure to factor elevation into your distances. We made this mistake when booking Tre La Tete on the first night; we had no idea how much we’d have to climb to get there so we drastically underestimated the difficulty of day 1.
- Make sure to bring clothes for all weather types. Layers are key! Some days I was sweating in shorts and other days I was freezing in every single layer. Check out our packing list here.
Tips for Hiking the Tour Du Mont Blanc
- Make sure you are in shape for the trip! Some days will be very challenging (over 10 miles in one day, gains of up to 5,000 ft in elevation, and descents of the same amount). To give you some perspective, elevation wise, our second day was equivalent to hiking down and back out the Grand Canyon in one day.
- I work out regularly so I wasn’t too worried about training, but I was concerned about my feet/ankles surviving the whole hike. I often have tendonitis flare up in my ankles when I put in a lot of miles on foot in a short period of time. To prepare for this, I started walking/running as many miles as I had time for each day (usually about 3-4 per day), and this definitely helped! I also worked out my legs a little more than normal and did more light weight/high rep exercises to work on endurance. I won’t say that the hike didn’t challenge me; I was pretty tired at the end of each day, really sore by day 3, and some of the climbing tested my cardio, but I felt adequately prepared (especially compared to Josh, who did not prepare at all and would have enjoyed the hike A LOT more had he prepared).
- Use Hiking Poles! I repeat, Use Hiking Poles! I did not use poles because I never hike with them, and I went to the bottom of the Grand Canyon without them just fine so I thought I didn’t need them. Boy was I wrong! I almost cried on some of the downhills sections. Parts of the trek will require you to walk downhill for several miles straight, on super steep terrain that will have you begging for an uphill climb.
- Josh brought his poles and did pretty well on the downhill sections. I was jealous.
- Download a topographical map (we recommend the Gaia GPS iOS app) and have your coordinates plotted beforehand.
- Don’t carry excess food/water; there are water fill-up stations (they look like horse troughs) all along the trail, as well as refuges that you can refill at and purchase food.
- Learn a few basic French phrases.
- Get an early start each day, you don’t want to miss dinner after a long day of hiking!
The hike was absolutely incredible! The views were unlike anything I’ve seen before, and I’m still reminiscing on them to this day! I highly recommend this trip to anyone up for the challenge; it is 100% worth it!
Have you done this epic hike? What was your favorite part? Comment Below!
If you’re planning for this hike, I’m happy to answer any questions!