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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.

When:



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.

Planning:



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 English speaking hikers.

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 outfitters.

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 price.

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.

Physically

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.

2015 Tour Du Mont Blanc Gear List:

OuncesPacking System
2152L Arc Blast Backpack
1Pair Shoulder Pouches
1.5Pair Belt Pouches
OuncesShelter System
32Duplex Flex Tent Prototype
2.18x Carbon Tent Stakes w/ stake sack
OuncesSleeping System
18.0ZPacks 20F Reg, Long Down Sleeping Bag
1Medium-Plus Dry Bag
8Neoair Xlite Pad, size small
OuncesCooking System
3.3.6L Evernew Pot
.2Titanium short handle spoon
.5Lightload Towel
.4Mini-Bic Lighter
.5Homemade Alcohol Stove
.58 oz fuel bottle
1.4Roll top Blast Food Bag
OuncesWater Storage
1.51 Quart Powerade Bottle
1.51 Quart Powerade Bottle
0No water treatment.
OuncesMiscellaneous Items
5.1Galaxy S5 Smartphone / Camera
12x Spare Phone Batteries
1.5Pak-Light w/ homemade headband
.7Wenger Esquire Pocket Knife
.5Silva Compass / Thermometer
.3ZPacks Travel Toothbrush
.8Travel size toothpaste tube.
1Passport Credit Card, License, Cash in Travel Zip
.950ft 1.75mm Z-Line cord (repairs, bear bag)
.44x Mini-D Carabiners
.3Chap Stick
.01Ear plugs
.8Sunglasses
.1Ibuprofen
OuncesGear Repair
.63x strips of Cuben Fiber Repair Tape
.16x Large safety pins
.1Sewing Needles, dental floss thread
OuncesCarried Clothing
4.5Challenger Rain Jacket
3.8Challenger Rain Pants
1.0Challenger Rain Mitts
.9ZPacks Fleece Hat
1.9ZPacks Wind Shell Jacket
8.9ZPacks Climashield insulated Jacket (coming soon)
1.7Medium Pillow Dry Bag
OuncesWorn Items (Not part of base weight)
10.2Columbia Silver Ridge II Zip off pants
7.3Champion long sleeve, breathable shirt
.9Ultamax Triathlete low cut socks
3.5Patagonia boxers
3.9ZPacks Pointy Hat
1.5Velocity Visor
23Teva Grecko Sandals
7.3ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff
OuncesTotal Base Weight
130.88 lbs 3 ounces (3.7 kg)
Comments

We carried our normal gear on this trip even though it was pretty warm weather, and there was frequent lodging and food. We carried at most 2 days of food and even that was often overkill. We had tents and sleeping bags so that we could stealth camp rather than planning our trip around the refuges. If you booked refuges you could do this trail with a small daypack.