Something that brings me a lot of joy and happiness is to push my body and discover the most incredible experiences available in this world. To keep pushing my limits, both physically and mentally, and get the opportunity to capture some of the world's most surreal places and feel the feeling of being on top of the world. That's what I want to spend the rest of my life doing: chasing that feeling.
So I suppose that's why, when Connor reached out in May to ask if I wanted to hike the TMB this summer, one of the world's greatest long distance multi-day hikes, I wholeheartedly said yes!
The Tour du Mont Blanc is a 165km hiking loop around Mont Blanc, with nearly 9km of elevation gain into the sky, through 3 countries: France, Switzerland and Italy. You can go as fast or as slow as you want, staying in your choice of the many refuges (mountain huts) along the way at night. I know people who've done the whole loop in 3 days, and others who take it slow and go for 12 days. Connor, a friend and fellow hiker from Vancouver, and I planned a 9-day trek on the TMB.
I will attempt to summarize my journey with my words and photographs - a journey that pushed my body, drained my energy, but refilled my mental clarity and strength, reminding me that I can do just about anything I set my mind to. Here's how it went...
How to Plan the Tour du Mont Blanc and Where to Start
I've broken down the guide below per day, including total distance, elevation gain, elevation loss and where we stayed each night. In total across our 9 days, we hiked 164.86km and climbed 8815m in elevation.
Although you can book your accommodation up to a year in advance, I suggest not leaving it to any longer than 4 months before you set off. We booked just 6 weeks out, and although we still found places to stay, the available huts were not all spaced out equally, so we ended up with 3 particularly long and a couple of really short hiking days.
Also note, we hiked the entire TMB in reverse, due to the low availability of huts. The typical route begins in Les Houches, which you can easily reach by train, and heads south towards Italy, then loops up and around through Switzerland (counter-clockwise). However, I can wholeheartedly recommend hiking clockwise. We genuinely preferred all the descents and ascents this way around. Plus, it wasn't nearly as busy!
What to Pack for the Tour du Mont Blanc
In a few words: as little as possible!
I'm not kidding. The lighter your pack, the happier you'll be while you're trekking 165km around Mont Blanc. And believe me, you really don't need much - you can rewear lots of things if you make sure you have quick-dry outdoor gear that doesn't smell! Here's everything I had in my pack, a well-fitting comfortable 25L backpack with chest and waist straps, plus a rain cover:
The clothes and shoes:
- 3 t-shirts (I would avoid tank tops so that your backpack doesn't rub under your arms)
- 1 long-sleeved shirt
- 2 pairs of shorts
- 1 pair of leggings (I never wore them, but good to have in case of bad weather)
- 1 pair of thin sweatpants (wore these every single evening at the hut)
- cotton shorts and t-shirt for sleeping in
- 1 puffy waterproof jacket (for warmth and dryness)
- 1 baseball cap (essential to keep the sun off) and sunglasses
- 4 sports bras (wore each one twice)
- 8 pairs of underwear (one per day)
- 4 pairs of thick hiking socks (wore each pair twice)
- sturdy, worn-in hiking boots
- Birkenstocks (you need hut sandals, you can't wear your boots indoors)
- 1 fleece sweater
- snacks (the refuges will provide breakfast and dinner, and you can also order a packed lunch to go)
- 2 1L water bottles (and Connor brought a water filter, as many spots don't have drinking water) and electrolytes
- sleeping sack (like a thin sheet - required for all huts) and pillowcase
- toiletries (bring small sizes as they're lighter: toothbrush, toothpaste, face wash, moisturizer, hairbrush, shampoo, body wash, and whatever else you use, but keep it to a minimum)
- sunscreen, bug spray
- small first aid kit (bandaids, antihistamines, ibuprofen, antibiotic ointment, throat lozenges)
- camera, charger, SD card, extra battery
- phone, charger, battery pack, headphones
- headlamp (in case you're hiking in the dark)
- passport, proof of medical insurance, credit card, cash ( some refuges only take cash!)
- a book and/or deck of cards and/or journal and pen - depending on how you like to spend your freetime
Day 1: Les Houches to Gîte Tupilak
Total distance: 1.9km
Total elevation gain: 242m
Total elevation loss: 0m
Refuge we stayed at: Gîte Tupilak
Having been delayed by 2 days with severe food poisoning and spending those 48 hours either sleeping or bent over my toilet, my preparedness to spend 9 days hiking through 3 countries was thin. I missed out on the pre-hike Connor and I had planned in Zermatt, but managed to buy a new train ticket and reroute my journey to travel 11 hours from Salzburg in Austria (home) to Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland on 6 trains, each more beautiful than the last. 24 hours in Lauterbrunnen, fueled by raclette and overpriced coffee, and I was ready to get into the mountains.
6 more trains brought us to the mountain town of Les Houches, the world famous start point of the Tour du Mont Blanc. And while day 1 for us wasn't technically part of the official climb, I counted it anyway as we started from the official TMB gate in Les Houches and climbed to our refuge at Gîte Tupilak for the night.
It was a steep and sweaty climb and upon arrival, realized we forgot to tell them in advance that I'm vegetarian, so the massive portion of bacon pasta bake served up for dinner wasn't quite going to cut it. Luckily, the owner very kindly whipped up a sublime tomato-caper-fennel-spaghetti dish for me, chased down with a decadent meringue with Greek yoghurt and honey for dessert.
Over dinner, we met two girls from Bellingham in Washington, USA, just across the border from where I grew up in Vancouver in Canada. Kate and Alyssa's energy was infectious. Alyssa was bouncing off the walls with excitement and Kate was a ray of wonderful sunshine. We realised the next morning when we met, bleary-eyed for breakfast, that because we were doing the hike in opposite directions, we'd get to cross paths, hopefully, somewhere along the way.
READ MY ENTIRE TMB JOURNEY HERE!
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