10,000m of elevation gain/ 180km/ 8 days/ 3 countries. By some miracle, I made it all the way around Mont Blanc alive and now I’m telling everyone I know to go hike the TMB! And I’m also telling everyone I know that I DID IT, because I’m pretty bloody pleased with myself, if I’m being honest. This has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’ve got the wounds to prove it, but it has also been the most rewarding experience and one of my proudest accomplishments. Here are the highlights from my 8 days on the trail, as well as a summary of trail stats and the campsites I stayed at.
Day 1: Les Houches – Les Contamines
Distance covered: 20km Elevation gain & loss: 646m & 643m Trail time: 6.5hrs Highlights: Passed through the most adorable little French villages, saw French llamas and little French kitties, caught a few glimpses of Mont Blanc through the clouds
CAMPING LE PONTET
Located about 2km past Les Contamines, this is a lovely campsite and gîte with clean facilities and reasonable prices. Due to torrential rain, I paid a bit extra to stay in a dorm bed in the mountain hut-style dorm and was very happy to be out of the wet and cold.
Price of camping: ~8€ Price of bed in gîte: 14€ Facilities: toilets, hot showers, wifi (for 1€) Food: a small shack onsite sells some snacks and drinks
Day 2: Les Contamines – Col des Fours – Les Mottets
Distance covered: 23km Elevation gain & loss: 1579m & 876m Trail time: 7.5hrs Variations: Col des Fours to Les Mottets Highlights: Crossed 3 mountain passes, reached the highest point on the TMB at 2,665m, saw a marmotte and a herd of chamois, wild camped in the most incredible spot in front of the mountains.
WILD CAMPING NEAR REFUGE LES MOTTETS
I originally set my tent up on the side of the river closest to the refuge, but was told to move to the small grass patch opposite the field of cows. I woke up to a chorus of thousands of cow bells and enjoyed spectacular views of the mountains, so it was well worth the lack of facilities to enjoy wild camping for at least one night.
Day 3: Les Mottets – Rifugio Elisabetta – Courmayeur
Distance covered: 30km Elevation gain & loss: 1464m & 1818m Trail time: 8.5hrs Variations: combined stage 3 & 4 into a single day Highlights: Crossed the border into Italy, walked with a lovely group of people, incredible mountain views, descended into Courmayeur and got to enjoy pizza and gelato.
ALBERGO LE MARMOTTE IN COURMAYEUR
After combining two stages into a single day and covering a brutal amount of distance both up and down steep trails, I arrived a day earlier than I had originally planned in Courmayeur. As a reward, I stayed in a room at Albergo Le Marmotte (my friend Katy was staying there while she waited for me to come through Courmayeur). I must say, it was nice to have a hot shower and a good long sleep in a bed!
Price of hotel:80€ for a double room Food: there are a million pizza/pasta options in town (my motivation for walking farther today than planned) and the hotel also serves a delicious Italian breakfast in the mornings, included in the room rate
Distance covered: 28km Elevation gain & loss: 1710m & 611m Trail time: 9.5hrs Variations: combined stage 5 & part of stage 6 into one day Highlights: Stunning wild flowers, glimpses of “Monte Bianco” (as the Italians say), crossed the border into Switzerland.
I camped inside a yurt at Le Peule for the same price of pitching a tent on the property, and it was certainly a warmer option. There is one yurt furnished with beds that is more expensive, and also the option of dorm beds for 25€, but I was quite happy to sleep with my air mattress and sleeping bag on the wood chips of the storage yurt after enjoying a delicious drink and some cheese from inside the refuge.
Price of camping: 15€ to pitch a tent or stay in the unfurnished yurt Facilities: toilets, hot showers, indoor seating in the refuge Food: hot meals at the refuge, drinks and cheese for sale
Distance covered: 24km Elevation gain & loss: 465m & 1465m Trail time: 5.5hrs Variations: combined part of stage 6 & stage 7 into one day Highlights: Passed through some cute Swiss towns, dozens of wood carvings of animals along the forest trail, gorgeous lake in Champex.
CAMPING LES ROCAILLES
On the far side of Champex, this is a large and well-equipped campsite with good wifi and nice facilities. I found it a bit difficult to locate (luckily, I ran into a friend from the previous day who helped me find my way), so just follow the lake all the way around through town and it is immediately off the trail you will take tomorrow, can’t miss it. Stock up on food at the supermarket in town before checking in!
Price of camping: 15sfr Facilities: toilets, hot showers, wifi (!), picnic tables Food: sells a few snacks, 15min walk to supermarket and restaurants in Champex
Distance covered: 15km Elevation gain & loss: 1199m & 1139m Trail time: 6.5hrs Variations: stage 8 high route via Fenêtre d’Arpette Highlights: The so-called hardest day of the trek, incredible uphill climb to highest point on the TMB at 2,665m, amazing views of Glacier du Trient.
Having heard that there is no camping at Col de la Forclaz, the traditional end of stage 8, I detoured about 20min to Le Peuty, where a simple campsite sits below the mountains. There are excellent directions in Kev’s book, but basically you just walk downhill along a winding road until you come to a small, level clearing. The facilities are really minimal, but the site has a great view and was pleasantly inexpensive.
Price of camping: 4sfr Facilities: toilet block outside, small shelter to cook and eat under Food: 5min walk to a very tiny shop selling sandwiches and a couple food items, plus a bar with drinks
Distance covered: 16km Elevation gain & loss: 1069m & 1178m Trail time: 4.5hrs Highlights: Crossed the border back into France, unobstructed views of Mont Blanc, wine with friends at a great camp site.
AUBERGE LA BOERNE
There are several options for camping in Tré-Le-Champ and Argentière, but I was really happy with this spot in the garden of Auberge la Boerne. Campers get full access of the wonderful indoor bathrooms and it’s just a short walk to a massive supermarket (by mountain standards) so you can binge on tasty snacks on the cheap.
Price of camping: 8€ Facilities: bathrooms inside the Auberge, hot showers, wifi also in the Auberge Food: hot meals at the Auberge, 15min walk to a supermarket in Argentière
Day 8: Tré-Le-Champ – Lac Blanc – La Flegere – Chamonix
Distance covered: 17km Elevation gain & loss: 760m & 1257m Trail time: 5.5hrs Variations: combined stage 10 & 11 into one day, included Lac Blanc variante, and arrived back in Chamonix Highlights: The famed ladder section with vertical climbing, stunning alpine lakes, swimming in freezing cold Lac Blanc, descent from the mountain into Chamonix for the end of the hike!
Back in Chamonix, there are a number of campsites in and around the town, as well as a wide range of accommodation options throughout the area. Treat yourself to a hot shower and a comfy bed, you’ve earned it!