Switzerland/France/Italy Tour du Mont Blanc 2000.07.05 - 07.09

Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), Part 1
Introductory Information

Updates based on our TMB hike in August 2001 are added in Orange.

Were it not for Elizabeth, the proprietor of the Bed and Breakfast we stayed at in Boat of Garten, Scotland (see Scotland), we wouldn't have known about this 11 day hike that loops around Mont Blanc and several other 4000+ meter peaks. Elizabeth showed us a book by Andrew Harper titled "Tour of Mont Blanc", published by Cicerone Press, that details a counter clockwise loop per the author's recommendation. Harper's book includes a description of the terrain, hiking distances and times, recommended stops, accommodation options, and various alternate hiking, bus, and train routes between stopovers that may appeal to the more rugged or less energetic. A perusal through the book was enough for both of us to decide to enjoy this lengthy hike when we reach the Alps. We easily found a copy of the book at a travel bookstore in London. From there we carried it through Paris and on to Switzerland in excited anticipation of our trek.

The book assumes the hiker is coming from Britain, and therefore recommends a starting point in France near Chamonix, the most convenient place to reach by car or train from London. In fact, most day's starting and stopping points on the circuit are accessible by train, bus, or cable car, and hikers can decide for themselves where to begin and whether they want to hike the full loop or only a portion of it. Since we came from Lucerne, Switzerland, we started the hike from Champex, listed as the starting point of day 8 out of 11 in the book.

Copying portions of the "Tour of Mont Blanc" is hardly adding value for future hikers of the circuit, and would infringe on copyrights. Instead, this page will assume that any serious hiker will buy the book - you'll want to carry the complete text in hardcopy if attempting the hike anyway. There are several aspects that Harper skips, maybe because his English audience would make similar assumptions as he. From our perspective, the TMB circuit is like hiking in luxury. The type of accommodation is extravagant by U.S. mountain hut standards. Food and drink is readily available at most lodges. Some even offer packed lunches for the next day's outing.

Another excellent TMB source is "Around Mont Blanc", a Rother Walking Guide ( http://www.rother.de ) by Hartmut Eberlein published in English. This Rother guide has color photos, detailed color topological hiking maps, and trail descriptions. It lacks accommodation information but presents practical hiking data better than Harper's book.

Travelers may want to lighten their load before starting the TMB circuit. We were fortunate to have friends in Lucerne who could keep one of our large backpacks for a month. On the Swiss side, most train stations offer luggage storage. The Chamonix SNCF train station offers luggage storage for FRF 20 per day per piece. There is no time limit. The storage room is on platform 1 of the station.

Several places on the TMB only accept cash (their own country's). Be sure to have Swiss Francs, French Francs, and Italian Lira in your wallet before starting. We recommend carrying the equivalent of US$200 in each currency. Chamonix has cash machines on the Plus and Cirrus networks, and there are also several money changers.

Each day on this web page is documented based on our direct experience of walking the loop. The specific accommodation information is added because Harper only provides lodge names, phone numbers, and the number of beds. Our intention is to help future hikers prepare their packing list and decide how much cash and food to carry.  The accommodation we selected was mostly by chance, and may very well not be the best possible.

In addition to Harper's book, we discovered the need for a hiking map. Harper's book is good as long as his documented recommended or alternate routes are followed precisely. In reality, lodges fill up, especially on weekends, forcing a route alteration. Because a huge number of trails intersect with the TMB, and the TMB itself has several alternate paths, a detailed hiking map of the entire area is needed to make good decisions about what routes to take. The best hiking maps of the area are published by Institut Geographique National (IGN). Blue maps are 1:25,000 ratio and green maps are 1:100,000 ratio. The maps recommended by other French hikers are blue maps 3531 ET "St-Gervais" and 3630 OT "Chamonix". Between these 2 maps, the full set of hiking trails, roads, and cable cars around and including the TMB, with the exception of the very small section in Italy, are covered. These maps seem to be available at any town along the TMB. Late in the TMB, we found another map that covers the entire TMB. The map is by Didier Richard and titled "Pays du Mont Blanc, 8. Mont Blanc, Beaufortain, Aravis, Val d'Arly". The scale is 1:50,000. This Didier Richard map is available in Chamonix.

Another good source of information comes from other hikers on the circuit. On day 1, for instance, we learned from a French couple that one of the lodges at the opposite end of the circuit was destroyed by avalanche a few months ago. As a result, sleeping spaces are very limited in the town of Elisabetta they warned.

Some useful Tourist Information Office numbers:
Chamonix Tourist Information 04-5053-0024 (Int'l +33-4-5053-0024)
Les Contamines Tourist Information 04-5047-0161 (Int'l +33-4-5047-0161)
Courmayeur Tourist Information 0165-842060 (Int'l +39-0165-842060)

Key used for lodging:
B = breakfast; L = lunch; D = dinner
V = Visa credit card accepted; MC = Master Card credit card accepted
CHF = Swiss Franc; FRF = French Franc; ITL = Italian Lira


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