Quick Adventure Facts:
What - The Tour du Mont Blanc
When - July 17th to July 26th 2015 | 10 Days
The Tour du Mont Blanc is a circuit around the Mount Blanc mastiff which passes through portions of France, Italy and Switzerland.Length
The TMB offers many official and unofficial variants. The average route length is approximately 100 miles.Terrain
The TMB is a "tourist grade" trail, meaning it is very well maintained. 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.
Most people hike the TMB in the summer where temperatures routinely are in the 80's and afternoon thunderstorms are common. Even then, you are likely to find a little bit of snow near the passes and strong winds at the higher elevations.
The busy season for the TMB 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. The downfalls to hiking it during the busy season are crowded trails and crowded refuges.
While the TMB doesn't have an official beginning or end, most hikers begin the TMB somewhere in the Chamonix Valley in France or in Courmayeur, Italy. Both locations are easily accessible via shuttles from Geneva, Milan or Turin.
The trail is very well mark and almost impossible to get lost on. Side trails usually lead back to the main trails and there are plenty of other hikers to refer to for help.
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
Camping is actually prohibited along most of the trail other than a few designated campsites.Resupply
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. All the food stops can actually slow you down quite a bit since you are constantly stopping to eat and relax while you take in the views.
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.
Note: 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.
By: Joe Valesko
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