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Thread: Tour du Mont Blanc

  1. #1
    Senior Member roadtripper's Avatar
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    Tour du Mont Blanc

    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:
    pictures

  2. #2
    Senior Member Mohamed Ellozy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by roadtripper
    The Alps - Switzerland, France & Italy
    July 1st - July 17th

    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.
    I suspect that you are not exaggerating.

    I lucked out, and reached Switzerland on July 13, and heard all the moaning and groaning about the terrible weather over the previous two weeks.

    Lucked out even more when we had three weeks of solid good weather (apart from a couple of overnight thunderstorms there were just three short sprinkles), followed by a few days of "unsettled" weather. Snow in early August is not something we are used to here!

  3. #3
    Senior Member cbcbd's Avatar
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    Nice report and awesome pics (although they seem a little bit out of order )
    I too fell in love with the Matterhorn (who hasn't?!!) when I was in Switzerland... it just calls to you.

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    Senior Member Abster's Avatar
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    Wow!

    RTripper - nice pics and TR! I loved my Haute Route trip, but heard about the TMB many times while over there. I think dipping into Italy would have been great.

    Sorry about the crappy weather. Like Mohamed, I had great weather pretty much the whole time although it did snow & rain a couple nights.

    I didn't get up to Lac Blanc, but hiked to Flegere (sp?) for a beer and sandwich before heading back down.

    What a special area!

    Thanks.
    Last edited by Abster; 09-06-2007 at 01:16 PM. Reason: mispelling

  5. #5
    Senior Member giggy's Avatar
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    awesome stuff.
    Accomplishments:
    Fastest known time around the flume visitor center boardwalk
    Voted the "best barnes field" party organizer 2008
    Only person to get bit by a dog on mt washington
    Most known ascents of the picnic tables on the kanc
    Most rounds of the pinkhman notch visitor center stairs - also fastest known time of climbing the stairs from the gear room to the gift shop
    Adopter of la casa in millinocket and the cheap beer store in gorham

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    Senior Member king tut's Avatar
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    Gorgeous! I cannot wait to get back to the Alps. I notice that there is always an Aiguille du Midi everywhere in the mountains. I know that it means something of noon, but not sure what...
    The Land of Tut

    Immature beyond my years

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    Senior Member Stinkyfeet's Avatar
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    Ooooh! Ooooh! I wanna go there!!!!
    Absolutely gorgeous photographs!

    As a child I lived in Northern Italy for two years and have been meaning to go back there for awhile now...... Thanks for the tease!


    www.runsuerun.blogspot.com

  8. #8
    Senior Member Abster's Avatar
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    Rt

    Where is the ridge in the 3rd pic down?

    KTut - I think that Aig. du Midi is 'middle needle', but then again the French speakers here could tell you for sure.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Mohamed Ellozy's Avatar
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    "Midi" means noon, and by extension "Le midi" refers to the south, as in "Le midi de la France" which means southern France.

    So Aiguille du Midi is much like our own Noon Peak; it is to the south of some location and points to where the sun is at noon.

  10. #10
    Senior Member roadtripper's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Abster
    Where is the ridge in the 3rd pic down?
    It's the view from the very top observation deck of the structure atop the Aiguille du Midi and I believe that it is the ridge that climbers use to ascend the final steps to the top of the Aiguille. Behind that are the Grand Jorasses.


    - Greg

  11. #11
    Senior Member Abster's Avatar
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    thanks Greg - wow! what a sight!

    Okay, that is my first/last attempt at translating French..

  12. #12
    Senior Member Artex's Avatar
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    Wow, those pictures are stunning! What a beautiful area.

  13. #13
    Senior Member pudgy_groundhog's Avatar
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    Sorry you had a run of bad weather, but glad you still had a great time! The pictures you posted are beautiful!

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    Thumbs up

    Quote Originally Posted by roadtripper
    It's the view from the very top observation deck of the structure atop the Aiguille du Midi and I believe that it is the ridge that climbers use to ascend the final steps to the top of the Aiguille. Behind that are the Grand Jorasses.
    That's bringing back some good memories. Awesome TR and as others said, awesome pics too. Thanks for sharing

  15. #15
    Senior Member bunchberry's Avatar
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    Just finding this one now, I've been away for a bit as you know. I loved the stunning photographs (cows are almost always photogenic), and I'm glad you didn't let the weather get you down - just think, you had a really authentic experience! I'm about to go look at the full photo set...

    Very cool trip!!

    katie
    Peace is always beautiful
    -Walt Whitman

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