The Tour du Mont Blanc – Rick Steves’ Journey Weblog


Earlier this fall, four of us — total novices at long-distance treks — hiked around Europe’s highest mountain. (On the first day, big birds of prey circled high overhead. My hunch: They were vultures just waiting for one of us to drop.)

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a 100-mile, ten-day hike — but we cheated a bit, hiking the best 60 miles in six days from mountain lodge to mountain lodge, catching local buses through the less exciting parts, and letting a “sherpa service” shuttle our bags each day through France, Italy, and Switzerland, from Chamonix to Chamonix.

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a 160 km (100 mile) circle around Europe’s tallest mountain. We did the most rewarding 100 km (60 miles) connecting the segments with public buses.
I love the sherpa service offered on Mont Blanc: You leave your big bag in the hotel lobby or at your mountain refuge and trust the shuttle bus to pick it up and deliver it safe and sound to your next accommodations. Every day, our bags were waiting happily for us at check-in.
An array of buses and mountain lifts are available to hikers to help them along, as they choose, on the Tour du Mont Blanc. But the season is short, and most of the lifts and buses were shutting down by mid-September.

This was the first time I’d enjoyed a slice of Europe with my girlfriend Shelley, and we were joined by Sue and David from Minnesota. (I’ve worked with David Preston for 20 years at TPT – Twin Cities PBS. In the public television world, he’s considered the “pledge drive guru.”)

It seems everyone hikes the Tour du Mont Blanc in a counter-clockwise direction, starting from the ceremonial start point in the village of Les Houches, just outside Chamonix. And this arch is always good for a happy, pre-blister group shot.

Each day, we’d hike what the trail signs said would be a five-hour hike — that took us six or seven.  Our mantra: “Take our time. This is why we’re here.” Generally, the day would start at a 3,000-foot climb to a pass (or “col”) 8,000 feet above sea level. Each col was a little triumph, with its cairn of rocks arranged in a pile, dramatic weather blowing across, commanding views, and congratulatory selfies.

Part of our pre-trip training was taking steep hikes closer to home. As a typical day’s climb on the TMB is a thousand meters (or roughly 3,000 feet), I’d recommend choosing a practice hike with a 3,000-foot elevation gain so you can use it as a reference point. Ours in Washington State was the Mount Si trail. We even had a term for a 3,000-foot altitude gain: “a Mount Si.”

Every morning on Mont Blanc, we’d do our hard work, generally climbing a 3,000-foot elevation gain. It seemed to last forever…but it didn’t. And reaching the pass (generally around 8,000 feet above sea level) was always a lunchtime celebration.


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