July 2018: Tour du Mont Blanc

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July 8 – 23, 2018

Your Guide: Himalaya Specialist Ang Dendi Sherpa
Tour Sketch: The Tour du Mont Blanc is a classic European hike around Western Europe’s highest and snowiest mountain, Mont Blanc.  Winding up and over high passes and diving into deep valleys, the Tour transports us from the Chamonix Valley of France, then into Italy and Switzerland before returning to France to complete the circuit.
Adventure Rating: Medium ~ our trails guide us into epic terrain, but we’re never too far from some of the best mountain amenities in the world.
Low Point: We’ll start our loop with a lungful of clean air in the village of Les Houches at 3,300 ft above sea level, ie, 1,007m
High Point: The summit of the Col du Fours pass is 8,741 ft ~ 2,665m and provides a nice challenge to start our 4th day on the trail.  Not particularly high if you simply look at the numbers, but positively alpine with forever views and well above many of the glaciers along our route.
Highlight: A dip in a high-altitude lake?  Wine & cheese every night?  Trekking in Europe, with a Sherpa?
Room & Board: Comfortable Chamonix Valley hotels treat us with creature comforts before and after the trek.  Mountain lodges provide us with hearty, delicious meals and a wide variety of sometimes quirky sleeping arrangements.
Cost: $3,699 covers almost all of your expenses in Europe over 16 days, including guides; luggage transfer, airport transfers, Chamonix & Courmayeur hotels; all mountain lodges while hiking; meals throughout.  Double occupancy.  International airfare not included, but expect East Coast USA round-trip fares to be in the range of $600 – $1,000.

Mont Blanc is the highest and snowiest peak on the right, as seen from the spire of Aguille du Midi

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a 13-day fully supported trek around the entirety of the Mont Blanc Range.  You’ll carry only a small day pack while your luggage is whisked away on the days we have road access.  Beginning in France, we’ll cross the Col de la Seigne (pass) a few days later to end up in Italy.  Switzerland is our next goal, but not after a rest day in the Italian ski resort of Courmayeur.  The highlight of Switzerland is the more relaxed terrain with rolling mountain pastures.  Our Tour concludes back in France, showcasing the ladders and other random hardware to gain the heavens of Lac Blanc, the high-altitude “white lake” that reflects the snows of Mont Blanc.

 

Your guide, Mr. Ang Dendi Sherpa

 

                    FastFacts for TourTrekkers

  • 16 days in Europe ~ France, Italy, and Switzerland
  • 17 days door-to-door from North America
  • one day of gondola & glacier touring high, high above Chamonix, France
  • yes, you will partake of wine & cheese almost every evening
  • Dendi speaks English, Nepali, Sherpa, Hindi, and Tibetan
  • the Bossons Glacier tumbles far down into Chamonix extending down to 5,500 ft
  • Chamonix is ground zero for the high-adrenaline sport of wingsuit jumping

 

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  The Mountain  

 

 Your Circle Around the Mountain  

 

Tour du Mont Blanc outline

  •      Day 1        Depart North America for Europe
  •      Day 2       Land in Geneva, Switzerland, transfer to Chamonix, France
  •      Day 3       Tour the gondolas & glaciers high above Chamonix
  •      Day 4       Short transfer to Les Houches, begin Tour and trek to Auberge du Truc
  •      Day 5       Trek to Refuge du Col de la Croix du Bonhomme
  •      Day 6       Trek over the Col de Fours and down to Refuge du Mottets
  •      Day 7        Trek into Italy at the Col de la Seigne and onward to Rifugio Elisabetta Soldini
  •      Day 8       Trek to Courmayeur
  •      Day 9       Rest day in Courmayeur
  •      Day 10     Trek to Rifugio Bonatti
  •      Day 11      Trek into Switzerland and onward to the village of Ferret
  •      Day 12     Trek to Champex
  •      Day 13     Trek to Col de la Forclaz
  •      Day 14     Trek to Tre-le-Champ
  •      Day 15     Trek to Lac Blanc
  •      Day 16     Trek to Les Houches to complete the circle!
  •      Day 17     Transfer to Geneva, fly to and arrive in North America

 

The Detailed Plan of Attack (subject to change)

 

Day 1

 

Depart North America for Geneva, Switzerland  ~  Saturday, July 7, 2018

Depart North America and you’re on your way to Geneva.  Although it’s not included in the package cost, Skychasers will arrange a group flight from Philadelphia or New York for those who would like to travel together.  For those not near the East Coast, I’ll give you a hand with your flight arrangements as well.

Day 2
Land in Geneva, Switzerland; transfer to Chamonix, France  ~  July 8

Upon arrival in Geneva, those traveling on the group flight from the East Coast will be met by our own personal driver who will take us directly to our Chamonix hotel.  Expect a 1.25-hour spectacular journey to Chamonix.  If you’re not on the group flight, there are regularly scheduled shuttles from the Geneva Airport that can be arranged for you.  Depending on arrival time in Chamonix, we can take a short hike, check out the town, or, just be content with dinner and relaxation.  Airport transfer, dinner, hotel included.

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The L’Arve River flows through downtown Chamonix, while in the background, the Bossons Glacier tumbles down into town
3,395 ft ~ 1,035m
Day 3
Gondolas & Glaciers above Chamonix  ~  July 9

After an unhurried breakfast we’ll ride the the gondola up and over the Chamonix Valley to a rock needle of a mountain, the Aiguille du Midi.  On return, we’ll have the option to disembark halfway down and do a warmup hike across the mountainside to the Mer de Glace (River of Ice), a massive glacier tumbling down towards the Chamonix Valley.  This is a truly remarkable day in a land of snow and ice.  B/L/D, gondola/tramway tix, hotel.

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The Aiguille du Midi rises almost two miles straight above Chamonix. This morning, we take a cable car to the very top of the spire!
3,395 ft ~ 1,035m and up!
Day 4
Drive to Les Houches, begin Tour w/ trek to Auberge du Truc  ~  July 10
  • 4.75 miles ~ 7.75 km
  • 3,302 ft ~ 1,007m   Start and low point in Les Houches
  • 6,953 ft ~ 2,120m   High point at Col de Tricot
  • 5,641 ft ~ 1,720m   Finish at Auberge de Truc

Our Tour starts in Les Houches a small village next to Chamonix.   Unless you’re a purist, you’ll take the cable car up to the Bellevue summit station and head towards the Col de Tricot, our first pass!  Surrounded by 360° views we’ll walk down to the Chalets de Miage for a nice, long lunch break.  For desert of lunch, we’ll take on the stiff, but not long, ascent that leads us out of the valley.  From there, a 15-minute side trail leads us to a small summit overlooking much of the area.  Backtracking soon finds us in the green carpet of the meadows of the Auberge du Truc, with its heroic, gangly cows, below.  Our mountain lodge owns a fine situation in this meadow with views in all directions.  B/L/D, Bellevue cable car tickets, transfer to Les Houches, luggage transfer, mountain lodge.

5,641 ft ~ 1,720m
Day 5
Trek to Refuge du Col de la Croix du Bonhomme  ~  July 11
  • 10.5 miles ~ 17 km
  • 5,641 ft ~ 1,720m   Start at Auberge de Truc
  • 3,750 ft ~ 1,143m   Low point in Les Contamines
  • 8,144 ft ~ 2,482m   High point on Col de la Croix du Bonhomme
  • 7,970 ft ~ 2,430m   Finish at Refuge du Col de la Croix du Bonhomme

We’ll get an efficient start this morning to tackle a longer day on the trail.  Beginning the day with a long descent into the town of Les Contamines works out a few of the 2nd-day kinks.  Following a hike up the valley floor, we presently encounter the Notre Dame de la Gorge church before beginning the climb up to our second pass, the Col du Bonhomme.   Midway up the pass, we’ll take a break near the Refuge la Balme to eat lunch and summon a bit of energy for the last steep section.   As we top the pass, instead of going straight up and over, we’ll take a left turn to point ourselves in the general direction of the next mouthful of a pass, the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme.  In turn, from there it’s a few hundred yards downhill to our mountain lodge.  B/L/D, mountain lodge.

Descending into the village of Les Contamines, our next goal, the Col du Bonhomme pass, comes into view, far left
7,970 ft ~ 2,430m
Day 6
Ascend the Col du Fours pass, descend to Refuge du Mottets  ~  July 12
  • 4.75 miles ~ 7.75 km
  • 7,970 ft ~ 2,430m   Start at Refuge du Col de la Croix du Bonhomme
  • 8,741 ft ~ 2,665m   High point at Col du Fours
  • 5,840 ft ~ 1,780m   Low point at La Ville des Glaciers
  • 6,150 ft ~ 1,875m   Finish at Refuge du Mottets

Today we leave our high-altitude refuge and immediately walk uphill, but not that far, to the summit of Col du Fours.  That’s the easy part, for what follows is a long downhill to the very bottom of the Valley of Glaciers.  In fact, let’s call it 3,000 ft down to the river and its tiny collection of houses called La Ville des Glaciers.  Crossing the river, we come upon a nice and easy path that winds its way slowly up to the  Refuge de Mottets.  And, that’s a wrap . . . after yesterday’s big day, the Refuge is a nice, quiet spot to spend the late afternoon and evening.  B/L/D, luggage transfer, mountain lodge.

Downhilling through the meadows in the Valley of Glaciers
6,150 ft ~ 1,875m
Day 7
Cross the Col de la Seigne into Italy, descend to Rifugio Elisabetta  ~  July 13
  • 5 miles ~ 8 km
  • 6,150 ft ~ 1,875m   Start and low point at Refuge du Mottets
  • 8,252 ft ~ 2,516m   High point at Col (pass) de la Seigne
  • 7,200 ft ~ 2,195m   Finish at Rifugio Elisabetta Soldini

Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you should overindulge in Refuge du Mottets “all you can eat” prune station.  After breakfast & bathroom,  we’ll leave the riverside and climb up the hill behind the refuge to the Col de la Seigne, in the process crossing into Italy at 8,252 ft/2516m above sea level and also the highest point of the day.  From there we have a 400-meter descent to the Rifugio Elisabetta Soldini.  All in all, another day that’s not too taxing, but with a big bang for the buck.  For those of you with extra energy, after we settle in at Rifugio Elisabetta, we can hike up to the glaciers not far above us.  B/L/D, mountain lodge.

The ascent to the Col de la Seigne and the Italian border is a magical upwards walk through green meadows
7,200 ft ~ 2,195m
Day 8
Trek to Courmayeur, Italy  ~  July 14
  • 9 miles ~ 14.5 km
  • 7,200 ft ~ 2,195m   Start at Rifugio Elisabetta Soldini
  • 7,960 ft ~ 2,426m   High point far above Lago di Miage
  • 4,021 ft ~ 1,226m   Finish & low point in Courmayeur

The hike from the Rifugio Elisabetta Soldini to Courmayeur is one of the best hikes in the Alps when the weather is clear.  Starting with a descent to the valley floor, the trail heads into mysterious terrain before taking a sudden and painful right turn straight up the mountain.  Our route passes by a couple old, abandoned buildings as it moves ever upward, finally leveling off as it takes aim at the mountain lodge on top of Col Chécruit.  If you make it this far without eating, it’s a great place for lunch, enjoying Italian specialties while watching ambitious mountaineers climbing the south side of the Mont Blanc. In the afternoon, all that’s in front of you is a long downhill through the ski slopes above the village.  With any luck, we’ll have a bit of time at the end of the day to explore the beautiful village of Courmayeur.  Did I mention we’re staying in a real hotel tonight?  B/L/D, luggage transfer, hotel.

Bonnie, Dendi, Rick, and Ken enjoy the views from today’s high point
4,021 ft ~ 1,226m
Day 9
Rest day in Courmayeur  ~  July 15

Courmayeur’s a great spot to take the day off.  Eat, drink, shower, and enjoy the outdoor walking mall.  If you’re like one of those Tour de France guys who falls apart the day after a rest day, you’re more than welcome to climb this Yosemite-like dome, Mt. Chètif, soaring 3,500 ft above Courmayeur ▼   B/L/D, hotel.

4,021 ft ~ 1,226m
Day 10
 Trek to Rifugio Walter Bonatti  ~  July 16
  • 8.5 miles ~ 13.75 km
  • 4,021 ft ~ 1,226m   Start & low point in Courmayeur
  • 8,380 ft ~ 2,555m   Above Col Sapin
  • 6,642 ft ~ 2,025m   Finish at Rifugio Bonatti

Today we’re accompanied by impressive views over the Grandes Jorasses massif and the rest of the Mont Blanc Range across the valley.  The morning walk brings a nice stroll out of town before a stiff climb to the Rifugio Bertone, which naturally calls for an early lunch break.  Continuing, we hike steeply upwards to gain a high ridge towering above the Val Ferret (Ferret Valley) with views directly across to the rocky pins, needles, and spires that make up the Grandes Jorasses.  The Rifugio Bonatti has a grand situation and is named after Walter Bonatti, a key member of the first expedition to summit K-2.  Dinner and breakfast in his mountain lodge are marvels of efficiency and taste!  B/L/D, mountain lodge.

Bonnie, Ken, and Rick and sheep herders’ huts
6,642 ft ~ 2,025m
Day 11
Trek into Switzerland, onward to Ferret  ~  July 17
  • 10.75 miles ~ 17.25 km
  • 6,642 ft ~ 2,025m   Start at Rifugio Bonatti
  • 8,321 ft ~ 2,537m   High point at Grand Col Ferret
  • 5,600 ft ~ 1,707m   Finish and low point in Ferret village

A spectacular crossing of the Grand Col Ferret is in store for us today.  After a big breakfast at the Rifugio, our trail takes us down, down to the valley floor before starting the ascent to the pass.  Along the way, we’ll stop at Rifugio Elena for a morning break, then continue upwards, at times steeply, to reach the summit, which is our dramatic gateway to Switzerland.  As promised, the descent from the pass comes with dairy farms and Swiss cows before gently rolling into the tiny village of Ferret.  B/L/D, luggage transfer, mountain lodge.

Deb and Susan make a steep section look easy on the trail to Rifugio Elena
5,600 ft ~ 1,707m
Day 12
Trek to Champex  ~  July 18
  • 11 miles ~ 17.75km
  • 5,600 ft ~ 1,707m   Start and high point in Ferret village
  • 3,460 ft ~ 1,055m   Low point at the pub in Issert
  • 4,808 ft ~ 1,466m   Finish in Champex

By Tour du Mont standards, this is a relatively easy and beautiful day as we hike the valley linking our destination breakfast in Ferret with our dinner in Champex.  As we gradually make our way down the valley, charming small villages pop up from time to time.  Grab a beer and rest your feet for a few minutes in the valley’s final village of Issert . . . it’s a good spot for a break before a rather steady ascent to Champex. The steps into town are a real treat as its lake and colorful houses come into view.  B/L/D, luggage transfer, mountain lodge.

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Champex, Switzerland
4,808 ft ~ 1,466m
Day 13
Trek to Col de la Forclaz  ~  July 19
  • 8.5 miles ~ 13.75 km
  • 4,808 ft ~ 1,466m   Start and low point in Champex
  • 6,745 ft ~ 2,056m   High point above Alp Bovine
  • 1,526 ft ~ 5,005m   Finish at Col de la Forclaz

The hike today begins with a pleasant walk out of Champex, going up a gradual hill on sidewalks.  Then, as with many days on the Tour, we have two great options for travel.  One through the lush, classic, alpine meadows of Switzerland, and the other far above it, crossing the high and mighty Fenetre d’Arpette.  The top of this pass brings us to a fantastic overlook of the Glacier du Trient and a long descent to our village of Trient.  If opting for the lush Swiss meadows route, your last hour of the day brings you to the Col de la Forclaz, which you’ll actually reach by going downhill, not uphill.  The stats above are for the lush meadow route, but the photo below is the summit of the pass on the high route.  B/L/D, luggage transfer, mountain lodge.

Fenetre d’Arpette
1,526 ft ~ 5,005m
Day 14
Trek to Tre-le-Champ  ~  July 20
  • 9.75 miles ~ 15.75 km
  • 1,526 ft ~ 5,005m   Start at Col de la Forclaz
  • 4,365 ft ~ 1,331m   Low point in Peuty
  • 7,620 ft ~ 2,323m   High point at Tête de Balme summit
  • 4,195 ft ~ 1,279m   Finish in Tre-le-Champ

From our flower perch on the Col de la Forclaz, we take a 30-minute plunge down into the village of Trient and its pink church.  From there, we re-start on an upbeat, or at least uphill, note as our first goal of the day is the Col de Balme, ie, our last frontier crossing, this time marching from Switzerland into France.  At an altitude of 7,186 ft ~ 2,191m, it’s not our highest pass, but is indeed our last.  It also brings Mt Blanc back into our sights, having been invisible much of the way through Switzerland.  We’ll wander around the upper paths, eventually ending up at the Tête de Balme, today’s highest of many high points.  From there, a short traverse brings us to the spiny ridge of the Aiguilette de Possettes, which we descend on the wave of its panoramic views.  Finally reaching the Chamonix Valley floor, we soon arrive in the tiny village of Tre-le-Champ, our final destination of the day.  B/L/D, luggage transfer, mountain lodge.

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Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc make an impressive comeback as we reach the summit of Col du Balme
4,195ft ~ 1,279m
Day 15
Up, up and away to Lac Blanc  ~  July 21
  • 3 miles ~ 5 km
  • 4,195 ft ~ 1,279m   Start and low point in Tre-le-Champ
  • 7,740 ft ~ 2,352m   Finish and high point at Lac Blanc

A special day awaits those of you who somehow haven’t gotten enough adventure along the way . . . the infamous hike from Tre-le-Champ up to then over the Grand Balcon Sud (large balcony south) to Lac Blanc (white lake) is waiting for us.  And, whoever built the trail up and out of the Chamonix Valley to the balcony trail must have been able to hike like Superman because they made it too steep for mere mortals like us.  To compensate, a non-superman installed a bunch of hardware, ie, ladders, stairs, cables, and now, we too can ascend to the Grand Balcon Sud.  Our stats today don’t really mean anything . . . yes, we’re only hiking three miles, but much of it is very slow as we climb ladders and enjoy massive mountain views throughout.  The 3,500 vertical gain?  You’ll notice you’re going uphill, but only because the views keep getting better and better.  B/L/D, mountain lodge.

The Lac Blanc mountain lodge occupies a seat of distinction 4,300 ft above the Chamonix Valley
7,740 ft ~ 2,352m
Day 16
Final trek to Les Houches, transfer to Chamonix  ~  July 22
  • 11.5 miles ~ 18.5 km
  • 7,740 ft ~ 2,352m   Start at Lac Blanc
  • 8,250 ft ~ 2,515m   High point on the Brevent ridge
  • 3,210 ft ~ 979m      Low point crossing the river entering Les Houches
  • 3,395 ft ~ 1,035m   Finish in Chamonix

Our last day on the trail may be our most spectacular!  Already high, we’ll continue traversing the ridges on the high, direct route to Le Brevent, a great spot to watch paragliders jump into thin air.  With Mt Blanc growing bigger across the valley throughout the morning, we unexpectedly turn right and uphill to ascend to the summit of Le Brevent, its unparalleled views, food, and drink.  From Le Brevent, the Tour does not release us from its grip easily . . . it’s a full vertical mile, ie, hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, all downhill to reach our final destination, the Tour du Mont Blanc start/finish line in Les Houches.  Lace up your hikers, stretch out your quads and let it roll.  Congratulations on completing one full circle around Mont Blanc!  We’ll transfer to a beautiful hotel in Chamonix and enjoy a last supper together.

The Patagonia paraglider soaring over the Bossons Glacier, across the Chamonix Valley
3,395 ft ~ 1,035m
Day 17
Breakfast, transfer to Geneva International Airport, arrive in North America  ~  July 23

Chamonix hotels really do breakfast right and sets us up for a day of travel.  After packing up, our van arrives at the hotel and drives us to the Geneva Airport for our flight home.  Most flights arrive the same day in North America.

Dendi, back in Chamonix
3,395 ft ~ 1,035m

+Trek the Tour, then climb Mont Blanc

Take advantage of your high fitness levels with an attempt on the summit of 15,777 ft Mont Blanc after the Trek . . . keep an eye out for forthcoming info on this high altitude extension!

++Check out the photo story of Team Tele-phrreaky’s 2016 Tour . . . 

Team Tele-phrreaky Treks the Tour

 

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