Mont Blanc, the highest (and deadliest) mountain in all of Europe sits at 15,770 feet, and the Tour du Mont Blanc, named ONE OF THE BEST HIKES IN THE WORLD, encircles the infamous mastiff dipping into France, Italy and Switzerland on a relentless 110-mile trail with over 36,000 feet of collective elevation gain and somewhere around 65 hours of hiking..! Needless to say, circumnavigating this incredible piece of land in just 6 days was a challenging, exhausting, nearly death-defying feet! But even more so, it was INSANELY REWARDING. One of the most magnificent journeys we have yet to embark upon, get ready as we share the story (and documentary at the bottom of this post) of our unforgettable experience:
We initially dismissed the idea of hiking the TMB as we were going to be in Chamonix during peak season (July/August) and everything we read said that the mountain huts, aka “refuges,” were likely to be booked. PLUS we had absolutely none of the proper gear (essential gear list at the end of this post). So, we marked it as a dream hike to remember for the future, little did we know how soon that future was going to arrive:
We rolled into Chamonix on July 15th after celebrating Bastille Day watching the fireworks from our van on Lake Annecy the night before. We stopped in the Decathlon Mountain Store (most affordable gear in town), which happened to have a tourism office inside. We intended to enquire about epic day hikes but when the lady mentioned that she could arrange the entire TMB for us in a matter of hours at minimal cost (more on $ below), sending us off on our voyage the very next morning, there was absolutely no way we could resist!
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Last minute decision: tomorrow we start the #TourdeMontBlanc!! The route makes a complete circuit of #MontBlanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe and the highest peak in the Alps. We will be hiking 110 miles and climbing over 36k collective feet over the course of 6 days, passing through the three neighbouring countries of France, Switzerland and Italy… 😳WOAH. With little time to prepare, we have more than enough excitement to take us up, around and back down this incredible giant⭐️ #TMB #passionpassport #openmyworld #getoutstayout #choosemountains #thegreatoutdoors #Chamonix
You see, we were about to be blessed with 6 days of SOLID SUN, absolutely gorgeous, perfect weather for hiking the stunning TMB. Though we had NO IDEA what we were in for (we literally had done like ZERO research) we couldn’t help but let the stoke take over. So with 1 hour left till closing, we scurried across the store, gathering up whatever minimally essential gear we could find and spent the rest of the night rearranging our packs + scouting for a parking spot that would set us up for a bright and early start the next morning!
We had considered backpacking and camping the TMB but this would have required real backpacking packs + at least 3 more days to make up for the added weight and slower pace + carrying / cooking all our food + no showers + hiking in the rain (requiring us to buy more rain gear). So, knowing that we had just 6 days of beautiful sun to work with, we decided to buy and carry less gear, instead booking refuges and ultimately using that money to enjoy the experience a whole lot more.
Full Disclosure: Normally we are 100% against any sort of short cuts but because we only had 6 days of sunshine, our refuges were booked in such a way that there was no physical way for us to be able to walk all that mileage. We ended up taking a bus twice, once from La Visaille to Courmayeur and another from La Fouly to Champex. We were averaging 20 miles per day so we had our fill, which made it a bit easier for us to accept the rides 😉
We paid just over $700 total for 5 nights of room and board ($70 per person per night). This allowed us the privilege of looking forward to discovering our unique refuges each night + warm beds + hot showers + INCREDIBLY delicious family-style dinners and breakfasts that we could eat to our hearts’ desire + pack some to go for lunch the next day! The more we saw, the more worth it we realized it all really was! We can’t even begin to explain how grateful we were to arrive to those little mountain oasis huts each night. We wouldn’t have traded those feelings / showers / meals / friends / beds for anything.
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#RefugedesMottets aka. our little #home in the mountains on night #2 of the #TMB. We arrived to an incredible feast, live music and a bustling room full of happy and hungry hikers. We feasted together, told stories about the day's adventures and shared our plans for the days ahead. Each night has been completely different and we love trying to guess what awaits us at the end of the day's trail. We have no idea what the #sleeping arrangements will be, what the food will be like, what the place looks like, who we will meet or what time we will even arrive! True #adventure is about making room for the unknowns, #lettinggo of the need for answers and truly allowing yourself to #embracethejourney… no matter how long it takes to #arrive ✌️#staywild #athomeintheworld #passionpassport #feedyoursoul #abmlifeiscolorful #neverstopexploring #tourdemontblanc
NOTE: We don’t recommend doing this hike in 6 days, we just happen to be CRAZY enough to successfully attempt it. We ended up hiking 10 – 13 hours, 5 out of the 6 days with our 20-30 pound packs. There were plenty of times when we wanted to stop but couldn’t because we had to make it to our reserved mountain hut in time for dinner (usually 7pm, though we arrived late most nights in a state of relief / exhaustion / joy / delirium). While this itinerary was the perfect solution for our given situation, if we were to do it again (which we both hope to), we would plan for 10 days. There’s no need to rush time in this breathtaking landscape, especially if you have the luxury and proper gear and/or weather to do so.
Day 1 (France): 9am start in Chamonix – get lost finding trailhead – hike up to Bellevue (take the Bellevue téléphérique if you want to save yourself 2 hours of uphill hiking right at the start) – we snap 1st polaroid of the trip (below) – picnic on suspended bridge – meet lots of cows – arrive to Camping Pontet at 7:30pm – eat potatoes au gratin + tomato salad + beef stew + rice pudding for desert – sleep like a baby despite the 1 really loud snorer in our dorm.
Day 2 (France): 9:30am start – steep uphill hike to the Croix du Bonhomme – see lots of wild flowers – meet a guy hiking part of the TMB barefoot! – get lost traversing snow – ski down snow covered peak on butts – arrive to Refuge des Mottets at 8pm (our favorite refuge of the trip) – eat indescribable amazingness – meet ultra marathon runner completing the journey in 3 days – listen to accordion playing – shower – crash.
Day 3 (France to Italy): 8am start – hike hardcore till 12:30 – take bus at La Visaille to Courmayeur (where we wish we had more time) – eat picnic in the grass – start hiking again – FINALLY arrive to Hotel Lavachey at 8pm (we were beyond grateful) – eat gourmet spread of Italian wonderfulness, ie. vegetable soup + spaghetti marinara + salad + polenta + omelette + chicken + endless wine + popsicles for desert . This was THE MOST EXHAUSTING / ENDLESS day.
Day 4 (Italy to Switzerland): Drag ourselves out of bed – get lucky enough to catch a ride with fellow hotel stayers to the trailhead (avoiding walking on the road + we had just missed the bus) – 10:45am start hiking at Arnouva – meet more inappropriate cows (below) – enjoy our favorite picnic spot on top of Grand Col Ferret – catch bus from La Fouly to Orsiers + another bus from Orsiers to Champex (where there was a beautiful lake we wish we had the time to dip our feet in) – hike along stream to Relais d’Arpette just in time for dinner at 7:15 – Drew enjoys his 1st fondue of life.
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Today we woke up in Italy, hiked into Switzerland 🇮🇪🇨🇭 and in 2 days we will be walking across the border back into France🇫🇷! With another sunny day on the horizon and a 6:30am wake up call, we are getting ready to roll into our bunk beds at our refuge and call it a night. #traveltuesday #mygreatestadventure #athomeintheworld #choosemountains #thegreatoutdoors #outdoorbella
Day 5 (Switzerland): Exhausted. 7am start hiking to the highest point on the TMB, the Fenetre d’Arpette at 8,743 feet – hike all the way down to Trient – arrive just in time to see the Tour du France zoom through town at 4pm – stay at Auberge du Mont Blanc, where random man sleeping next to Drew tries to snuggle him in the middle of the night..!
Seeing the TDF (Tour du France) on the TMB!! We caught them on the uphill so we could admire for at least a few seconds longer.
Day 6 (Switzerland to France): 7:45am start hiking – meet some sheep – hike some more – take the Grand Balcon Trail (gorgeous) – hike faster – 6pm we miraculously catch the last ride down from the Planpraz Téléphérique back to Chamonix, they didn’t even charge us for the tickets, talk about a gift!
Note: If we had missed this téléphérique, the only other way down would have been via a grueling 2 hour, 3.5 mile, 2,500 foot descent on VERY tired feet. Once we made it down to Chamonix, we gave thanks (twitched a little) and completed the final trek, finally limping / floating / arriving to our little van home at 7pm.
Once we made it back, we bathed in the lake we were parked next to – made something yum for dinner (of which neither of us have any recollection) – slept for a very long time and woke up slow as the sound of rain trickled on our van the next morning. For the next 2 days we DIDN’T. MOVE. We literally stayed parked next to the lake, which had a perfect view of the Aguille du Midi, and while it rained and rained, we read, relaxed and reflected on the unforgettable journey we had just been blessed enough to complete.
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We slept under the gaze of the mighty #AguilleduMidi last night and today we rest our tired bodies, thinking about all those who are still up there, living their adventure on the #TMB. Tea, maps, journaling, pj's, rain and #thatview… there's nowhere else I'd rather be right now 🚐💕#homeiswhereyouparkit #athomeintheworld #atfirstsight #choosemountains #darlingescapes #freedomview #vanlifediaries
Now finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: Here we present to you our documentary capturing the entire 110-mile journey! Sharing the views and emotions in a way that photos and words alone just can’t convey. We hope that by watching this you are able to experience a taste of the immense beauty that is the TMB:
- Cicerone Trekking The Tour of Mont Blanc Guidebook: THE BEST TMB GUIDEBOOK EVER. It has the most insightful tips + an elevation chart for each day!
- TMB hiking map (we bought ours at the Decathlon mentioned at the beginning on this post)
- Hiking Poles
- Hat + Sunscreen + Sunglasses
- Day pack (mine ended up weighing 22 pounds and Drew’s weighed 30 pounds). NOTE: You can pay an additional amount to have your packs/suitcases transported from refuge to refuge.
- 2L CamelBak + Insulated Hydro Flask water bottle (great to carry around the refuge / bring to meals)
- Cash / credit card / ID
- Journal + Pen
- “Body Sock” aka. sleeping bag liner for sleeping in the refuge beds because they only wash the sheets once a weekish – this freaked us out at first but our exhaustion helped us quickly forget about it.
- Toiletries (toothpaste + toothbrush + shampoo + conditioner + soap + deodorant)
- Miniature quick-dry bath towel (we forgot ours which was interesting)
- Laundry tablets to wash your clothes in the sink each night so you can re-use
- 1 pair of hiking pants (mine also roll up into shorts)
- 2 t-shirts + 1 long-sleeve shirt (you may notice us wearing our shirts inside out in some photos – simple hiking “life hack”)
- 1 pair of waterproof pants + rain jacket + light jacket (with the weather we had we didn’t have to use any of these)
- 1 pair of flip flops to wear while walking around the refuges (I forgot these and ended up barefoot or stuck in stinky socks, which was less than ideal)
- Undies + official hiking socks (for blister prevention)
- PJ’s that you feel comfortable meeting new friends in
- Camera gear – Polaroid Mini
- Phone charger + Universal Power Adaptor
- 1 Protein bar for each day (they don’t sell stuff like this in the mountains)
- Band-Aids for possible blisters / First Aid Kit
… I think that about covers it! We hope this post inspires you to climb more mountains, on the earth and in your life. It’s amazing what you can do with persistent effort and a good attitude, not to mention a wonderful partner by your side.