The Alps - Switzerland, France & Italy
July 1st - July 17th
A couple of friends and I decided it was finally time to make a visit to the Western Alps since all the hiking we've done to this point has been focused in the States & Canada.
Here are a couple of our favorite shots from this adventure:
Our original plan was to hike the entire Tour du Mont Blanc (called the "TMB"), which, at something like 105 miles in length, is one of the most popular long distance walks in Europe. It circles the Mt. Blanc massif as you pass through France, Italy and Switzerland. It is typically done in a counter-clockwise route, which was how we attempted it.
The tour was recommended to me by Kathy from VFTT (pudgy groundhog), who completed the tour several years ago on her honeymoon. I had the original idea of doing the Walker's Haute Route instead, but was easily convinced the TMB made more sense for us.
The base of our adventure was Chamonix, France, which is considered by many to be the world's greatest mountaineering center. We found the town to have excellent accomodations, with plenty of restaurants (100+ probably), a huge variety of hotels & hostels (100+ probably), and enough gear shops to find anything you need.
Due to the size of our group (8 people), we were forced to make reservations for each of the huts, refuges, and hostels along our 10-day hiking route on the TMB. This made the tour extremely structured for us, which turned out cause significant problems.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that the weather for the first seven days was atrocious. It rained, almost nonstop, for six out of the first seven days. We quickly learned that there are two major types of weather in the Alps - "settled" and "unsettled". When the weather is unsettled, it can be horrible for weeks at a time. If I had to guess, I'd say something in the range of 10-12 inches of rain fell in total over these seven days.
The majority of our group had done substantial hiking and/or backpacking in the rain, but this rather extreme for all of us. At one point, we were forced to turn back as we approached a mountain pass called the Col du Bonhomme (around 7,500 feet) due to a flash July 4th snowstorm (with lightning!) - It was quite the Independence Day for us
We never quite recovered from this emergency retreat on Day 2 due to the snowstorm. The following day we were thinking about retracing our steps up the mountain pass, but we heard reports of there being unable 2 feet of snow and some white-out conditions. As such, we had to return back to a nearby town and arrange for transportation back to the trail on the other side of the mountain pass.
Upon arriving in Courmayeur, Italy on Day 4 of the hike (via bus) and missing the section of trail between the Col du Bonhomme and Courmayeur, we had a break in the weather and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. That day turned out to the best day-hike of my life as we trekked from Courmayeur to the Rifugio Bonatti, which was the nicest refuge I've even seen (the excellent "1664" beer was on tap!). The majority of the pics above were taken on that amazing day.
After that gorgeous day in Italy, it poured cold rain for the next 2 days straight as we hiked into Switzerland. Upon arriving in La Fouly, and seeing that the weather forecast continued to be poor, we finally said to heck with fighting this unsettled weather, and we decided to rethink the rest of our trip. Four of us, myself included, ended up buying a 4-day Swiss Rail pass and take a fantastic tour of Switzerland. Two went to Paris for a couple days and two went to Rome.
The four of us that bought the Swiss rail pass headed to Zermatt for some light hiking and views of the famous Matterhorn. We didn't do too much hiking here, but we walked up to the small village of Zmutt for lunch. We caught clear views of the Matterhorn, which is far and away the most gorgeous natural structure I've seen anywhere. It's worth a trip to Zermatt just to snag a view of this mountain from the town center.
After Zermatt, we headed to Montreux, Switzerland for a jazz festival and to tour Switzerland's most famous castle, the Chateau du Chillon. From there, we headed back to Chamonix to meet up with everyone.
While back in Chamonix, a couple of us hiked from town to the refuge at Lac Blanc, which is located on one of the alternative routes of the TMB. The superb setting of this lake was unforgettable. It was one of the highlights of our trip.
Three of us also ascended the Aiguille du Midi cable-car, which carried us to 12,600 feet for incredible views of the entire Mt. Blanc massif. It was expensive ($50 USD), but a phenominal experience none-the-less.
After Chamonix, we spent the last day and a half exploring Geneva before flying home.
All in all, it was a memorable trip as full of adventures as it was of misadventures. We had a good share of unforgettable days and I think we all feel content that we have seen a little bit of the heart of the Alps.
The complete set of pictures can be seen here: