Tour of Mont Blanc (Part I)

For months Kelley and I (Kelley: mostly just Matt) toiled over countless guidebooks trying to decide what to do during our 12 days in the Alps. We had a roundtrip ticket to Geneva, Switzerland and lots of ideas but no definitive plan. We could walk the…

  • Tour of Mont Blanc – Looks cool but maybe busy and not pretty enough (Kelley: “not pretty enough”?!  oh Matt Davis……)
  • Haute Route – I just skied that, why would I want to do it again
  • Tour de Matterhorn – Requires glacier travel and ladders, Kelley would not like that (Kelley: wow! he loves me!).
  • Alpine Pass Route – More ladders + its 326 km long. I probably cannot convince Kelley to hike 30+ km per day (18 miles) (Kelley: its only taken about 8 years for him to fully accept my dislike for ladders and painfully long days)
  • Tour of the Jungfrau Region in Switzerland – The guidebook says “practically every step of this enjoys a constantly evolving panorama of bewitching mountain splendour, upon which it would be impossible to improve.” I’m sold!

After weeks of back and forth we (I) decided we were going to do the Tour of the Jungfrau, so we purchased the guidebook and got on to planning. Once the guidebook arrived we created a day-by-day trip plan and costed out how much the trip would be… well it turns out Switzerland is expensive – (Kelley: like seriously expensive! we’re talking 80 Euro/person for a hut bed, light breakfast, and dinner) – YIKES! With that realisation we settled (Kelley: “settled”…..poor Matt…..) on the Tour of Mont Blanc (TMB) a day before we were set to fly out.

The TMB is one of the world’s most famous treks, crossing through the heartland of the alps over ten mountain passes, seven valleys, and three countries during the 170 km (105 mille) trek around the Mont Blanc massif. Over 10 days we traversed through flowery fragrant meadows, hiked along babbling brooks and raging rivers, traversed hanging glacial valleys, hiked up steep alpine passes (you gain nearly 30,000 feet in elevation – Kelley: thats the hight of Mount Everest!), and sauntered down heinously steep mountain sides (you also lose 30,000 feet in elevation through some knee-crunching descents) all while enjoying an ever evolving tapestry of mountain grandeur unfolded around each bend in the trail. OMG it was gorgeous (Kelley: Thank God he was willing to “settle” for this hike……lol)!  So let me stop babbling and get to the trail!

Kelley and I flew out of Dublin on a Wednesday morning but when we arrived at the airport they asked if we would be willing to give up our seats to take the next flight and receive a 250 Euro voucher EACH! We were not in any particular hurry so we gladly accepted the offer – wow! this trip just got a lot cheaper! Also, we have the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, which gives you access to a lot of airport lounges, so instead of chillin’ in the terminal we were able to relax in style with complementary beer (Kelley: it was 7am….), wine (Kelley: yup, still 7am….), and food (Kelley: there we go!) – what a treat!

When we landed in Geneva, we took the first bus to Chamonix arriving just in time! It was the summer solstice and in France that means there are live bands performing everywhere. Quite a way to start our trip! After imbibing in a few adult beverages and sampling some local cuisine (Kelley: actually, I think we had hamburgers….) we headed to bed – we had a lot of hiking to do the next day!

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Day 1: Tired from the massive jet-lag (<— sarcasm……it’s a 1 hour time difference from Ireland) we got a late start (Kelley: What can I say?!  I love sleep!). It was well past noon before we arrived at the trailhead in Les Houches, as a result we opted to get a lift assist for the first couple miles of hiking and 1,500 feet of elevation (don’t worry, there was still nearly 3,000 feet more to climb + a similar amount of down). For some reason Kelley really enjoyed that lift ride up – I have never seen her so enthusiastic at the start of a trek (Kelley: seriously, it was so awesome!).

After our awesome lift-assisted start, we set off on the trail.  We were instantly delighted by the trail quality and amazing sights!

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Our first steep descent!
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That evening we stayed at the Auberge du Truc high in the mountains above the normal stopping point of Les Contamines. It was a good decision! It was 40 Euro for 1/2 board and a delicious 5 course meal! The last two courses were quite memorable with a velvety cream cheese with cream and sugar on top, followed by a crème brûlée – all with milk from cows just outside the door.

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BEER!

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That’s the cream cheese!
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Day 2: This was perhaps the toughest day of the trek since we had to make up for lost time from Day 1. From the Auberge du Truc we descended down into Les Contamines, which was a lovely little town. From there we had a seemingly never ending ascent (nearly 4,500 feet) up to the Refuge de La Croix Du Bonhomme. Despite the physical level of exertion required, it was a splendid day in the mountains with increasingly beautiful views around each kink in the trail – spectacular! (Kelley: after about the third “that must be the top” moment, I had to sink down behind a hut to escape the wind and eat a few fist-fulls of M&Ms to regain some moral…..)

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A nice art display in Les Contamines

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After climbing most of the morning and before learning we were headed for the pass behind us
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Up up and away!….. wow we were just smiling down in that valley!

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Flowers!
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Kelley tired! Still another hour of up to go!

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More flowers!
Once at the Refuge de La Croix Du Bonhomme we sat down for a much deserved rest and we enjoyed taking in the breathtaking views. (Kelley: 110% worth the effort!! AMAZING!)

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Can’t be a proper hut experience without your own pony keg!
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Day 3: This was another tough day! From the Refuge we crossed over the Col du Fours, which afforded us some fabulous views! I was even able to bag a peak while Kelley enjoyed a peaceful viewpoint at the pass!  She sat with a group of Korean hikers who spoke very little English and were incredibly entertained watching me run up to the peak.  They all clapped when they saw me reach the top!

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From the col we headed down into the La Ville des Glaciers, which lived up to its name!

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(Kelley: “exaggerated hiking stance”)
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After several hours and thousands of feet of descent we made it to the valley and then promptly began hiking straight back up over the Col de la Seigne – oy vey!

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The col was spectacular but due to the gale force winds at the time was a rather inhospitable place.

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The illusive Mont Blanc
Once off the col we were officially in Italy and greeted by their furry border patrol agents – marmots! They look about the same in the US but Kelley is a sucker for small furry animals. (Kelley: Marmots are my mountainous spirit animals!  They love nature AND laying flat on rocks in the sun for hours!)

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From the col it was a leisurely hike to our accommodations for the evening – Rifugio Elisabetta. The hut was in a fabulous location on the glacial moraine and well, the pictures speak for themselves.

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For the uninitiated, Italians dance to the beat of a different drum and as a result their huts do not necessarily run with Swiss precision nor follow any rules. However, everything will work out in the end – a good life motto… so it was with much apprehension that Kelley and I filed into a triple-decker bunk house with 10-15 beds across on each deck – oy! Kelley and I quickly sized up the situation and agreed that this was not going to be a pleasant sleeping arrangement (ie: no sleeping was going to happen in that room!).  Thankfully, Kelley was able to finagle our own private room with a view of the glacier!

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Our room with a view!
And with that, that’s it for Part I, come back soon for Part II. Cheers!

Here is our Google Map……We will update the accommodations towards the end as we get to those posts 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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