“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!” ― Dr. Seuss
This route with its Les Houches starting point gets going immediately with plenty of climbing, and some of the best views on the whole route are within the first 3 days but nearly all the views on the TMB are superb.
Les Houches to Les Contamines
15km, 700m up, 1300m down, 6 hrs with Bellevue cable car
We hiked from our hotel to a cable car at the base of Les Houches which took us up to Bellevue to begin our hike. (We started hiking around 9 am from the hotel and there were plenty of other TMB hikers setting out as well as day hikers and rock climbers heading up in the cable car.
The first part of the day winds through the woods and over glacier rivers. Then, begins the ascent up to Col de Tricot. Going up and down is incredibly scenic (you may read that a lot in this post).
After a short break at a refuge at the bottom of the ascent, it was up another steep but short climb to Col de Truc.
And ultimately, the trail winds down a forest road to the hamlet of Les Contamines which is at the top of the same valley where Megeve and St. Gervais are located. ( We fell in love with France all over again this summer. Megeve and St. Gervais are another two absolutely stunning villages in France.) We arrived in Les Contamines on a Sunday, and the shops in town were having a massive market sale that took over main street. Les Contamines is yet another beautiful spot. (You will hear that a lot in this post with the exception of Trient which we suggest hiking thru and no staying staying in Trient, if at all possible.)
Les Contamines to Les Chapieux
18km, 1350 up, 90o down, 6-7 hrs
Today’s route started off on another steep forest road along a river, and then climbed up to an open valley that was just spectacular. We hiked along the valley for a couple hours all the time viewing the saddle where we were heading – the Col du Bonhome.
This day was another dual Col day. So after the initial climb, we climbed up to the Col du Croix du Bonhome which is one of the highest spots on the TMB.
There was a refuge just below the summit to grab some food and cafe. Then it was a long downhill to the tiny village of Chapieux. There is not much in the tiny village of Chapieux but a couple spots to stay, a bar and a small store (that sells wonderful sausage and cheese).
Les Chapieux to La Palud
20+ km, 1100m up, 500m down, 6 hrs, with lift down
Today, we hopped on a public bus and took it up the road about 7km. Purists hike the whole way, but our bus was filled with about 30 folks looking to cut off the less interesting dirt road that starts the hike. And then it is up up and away to the Col de La Seigne – today’s primary climb. The peak is the border between France and Italy.
Once over the top, you hike down and along a valley that reminded us of some of the hiking we have down in Alaska – open meadows, glacial rivers and towering mountains. Our destination was Courmayeur, Italy, and there are more than a few options to hike to Courmayeur. We chose to hike up to the Col de Checrouit which gives you access to a high route along the valley with astonishing views of a number of glaciers
After descending from the high route, we found a couple lifts to shorten our descent down to Courmayeur, a classic Italian Alps town. It is large and jammed with tourists in August but we stayed a few kilometers above the city center in the smaller village of La Palud.
La Palud to La Fouly
18km, 1200m up, 900m down, 5 hours
The start of today’s hike also included a bus start. We hopped on the Courmayeur public bus and rode it to the end of the road, about 10km or so past the city center. The road followed another valley and a small river until we were at the base of the Grand Col Derret. It was a bit cold and slightly wet at the top of this climb (the only day we pulled out our rain jackets), but the views and scenery did not disappoint. The peak is also another border – between Italy and Switzerland.
The descent down eventually winds through woods and along another glacier stream that flows through the town of La Fouly, a very typical Swiss village in the Alps. The town is small – a few restaurants, a supermarket and a bunch of beautiful Swiss cabins. It was pretty quiet when we were there, but it has two ski lifts and a bunch of Nordic tracks in the village so it is likely more popular in the winter.
La Fouly to Champex-Lac and Rest Day
20+km, 400m up, 550m down, 4 hours
Today was a relatively easy day until the end. The route was mostly downhill through a number of small Swiss villages. We passed a number well preserved historical farm buildings and neighborhoods and ended the descent in another classic Alp’s valley
The last hour or so was a steep uphill through the woods to the alpine lake town of Champex-Lac.
We had a rest day in Champex-Lac which worked out well as it was the only day on our route where it rained heavily for most of the day. We took the opportunity for a couple short hikes around the lake and trails around the village, but mostly took the day off from hiking.
Champex-Lac to Trient
15km, 700m up, 1000m down, 5 hours
Today was another relatively easy day. The hike was still long and we had plenty of climbing – some of it very steep. There was some leftover moisture from the previous day so it was a bit chilly and wet heading up the first Col. But there was a nice refuge up there to get a cafe and warm up a bit.
The route took us up to the Col de Forclaz which is one of the popular road cycling climbs in the area and was featured in this year’s Tour de France. We took a side hike up to another refuge and a glacier vista which was quite nice.
The trail up followed an ancient aqueduct so it was relatively flat and also positioned well to follow the valley to our final destination of the day, Trient. Trient is a tiny spot with nothing to offer. There are a couple auberges that are pretty worn and tattered but its location on the trail make it a very popular overnight stop. There were definitely more hikers than residents in town the evening we were there. (Trient is the only village that we would suggest skipping if you plan to do the TMB.)
Trient to Argentiere
20+ km, 1200m up, 1300m down, 5+ hours
We woke up early and exited our auberge as fast as we possibly could so we were on the trail at 7:15am. We could not get out of it fast enough (it was really the only spot on our hike where we were not thrilled with our accommodations but it did offer a clean bed, cold beer & wine as well as hot food). Our first goal of the day was to hike up to the Col de Balme which was a 2 hour steep hike in the woods and then another hour of incredible walking up through an alpine meadow to a refuge at the top of the Col. We watched marmots playing and hawks hunting them as we followed the hairpins to the top.
At the top (after throwing in an extra Col because of some poor navigation), you are greeted with stunning views down to the Chamonix Valley and can almost see to Les Houches – still a few days of hiking away.
There are many trails down that wind through ski areas, forests, and ridges to the towns of Tours and Argentiere – both villages north of Chamonix. We chose the route along the Aiguilette des Posettes which was along a ridge line that provide views of two different valleys.
We ended in Argentiere which could be our favorite village on the TMB. It is a short bus ride to Chamonix but not as crowded or developed. It also has a train stop and a number of lifts that can get you high on the mountains fast for great skiing or some alpine hiking.
Argentiere to Chamonix
11+km, 1150m up, 400m down, 4.5 hrs
We took a trail right out of Argentiere to avoid any buses or lifts that many trails require in the area and headed up to Lac Blanc – which is a very popular day spot for hikers staying in Chamonix. The trail up was steep but beautiful and very rocky at the top.
The lake itself was beautiful but a bit busy. We stopped at the refuge for some water and refueling and then headed down a steep and rocky trail to a lift that took us close to Chamonix where we were able to take nice wooded trail along the river right into the heart of Chamonix.
Chamonix Rest Day
We had plenty of energy on this rest day. And having spent a few days this summer in Chamonix, we decided to hop on a bus back to Argentiere and climb up to the Argentiere glacier. This is a spot that I have skied in the past so I was looking forward to seeing it in the summer. It was good to see the glacier was still there.
Chamonix to Les Houches
13+km, 800m up, 1700m down, 5 hrs
Today was all downhill accept for the parts that were not. We took the PlanPraz lift up to the base of the Col de Brevant and then climbed for 90 minutes or so to the top. The lift was quite crowded in the morning with paragliders who launch at the base of the climb and sightseers who take another lift up to the top of the Brevant. We really enjoyed the hike up to the Brevant as it was very quiet along the backside of the ridge and offered views of different valleys. The trail was steep with some ladders, rungs and chains to help keep you on the trail. Once at the top, the views were fantastic. It was then a long steep downhill back down to our starting point of Les Houches with epic views the whole way.
We regrouped with our travel companions in Les Houches for some celebrating and a big meal and then it was off on the train in the morning to the St Gervais valley.