Completing the missing pieces of the jigsaw of the TMB around this iconic mountain has been on my 'to do list' since my first experience with Mont Blanc Treks in July 2019. Back in 2019 I signed up for the Easterly Tour du Mont Blanc. Guided by Sara and Alex and I was the one British traveller in a friendly group of co trekkers from USA and Australia. A year ago I was blown away by the whole experience of hiking three countries: France, Italy and Switzerland. The beauty of the high mountain cols, flower strewn valleys, crystal blue lakes and charming refuges made a lasting impression upon me. I regretted not having the time to trek the entire TMB route and made a promise to myself that I would be back to finish the missing days. Who could have predicted the unprecedented events of 2020?
After many weeks of being grounded in the UK I made the decision to drive back to the Chamonix Valley for a high altitude mountain break. With the help of Sara Mont Blank Treks arranged a three day experience for me in the mountains.
Day 1: Col de Tricot (the prologue - was I fit enough for a day hike?). With packed lunches, plenty of water and Margo the MBT dog we set out from Les Houches to Col de Tricot. The day was beautiful (il fait chaud), we hiked up past the ski areas of le Prarion. A suspension bridge spanned the torrent of a high mountain river. We made our way above the tree line and up the col which topping out in the snow at 2036 m above sea level with spectacular views of Mt Blanc. 18 km in just over 6 hrs was a big day for me (and Margo), but what a joy to be out in the high mountains again.
Day 2: Les Contamines to Refuge Mottets. 19.9km, 6.5 hrs, 2569m, This was described to me as the hardest day of the TMB, three big cols to climb! We set off briskly, hiking up through the beautiful Contamines valley towards the Col de Bonhomme, Croix de Bonhomme and Col de Fours carrying our gear for an overnight at Refuge Mottets. Friendly local hikers, fishing groups and expat group from Morzine were good company at the top of the Bonhomme.
The next cols were snow capped, more remote but still we met hikers and bikers enjoying the beautiful quietness of this rare environment.
After a long descent we finished our day with a trip to the Fromagerie at Ville des Glaciers for some delicious local Beaufort. This was eaten for aperos at the outside bar of refuge Mottets.
Tired legs on this day after seven hours and just under 20km. We ascended to 2569m at the summit of the final col of the day. Refuge Mottets served a wonderful three course dinner with wine and beer for around 30 guests. We were a mixture of nationalities all enjoying a welcome mountain break. MBT Sara and I had a private room but others were happily and safely, socially distanced in the dorms. The refuge felt like a safe and relaxed haven after my hardest ever day in the mountain. We slept well after a big day in the mountains.
Day 3: Refuge Mottets to Courmayeur. 25km, 7.5 hrs, 2440m. Described by Sara as the best day of the TMB we set off after a Mottets breakfast at 8am.Up up and up, over we crossed into Italy at Col de la Seigne with a visit to La Casametta and hiked into the inaccessible shangri la valley that is Val Veney.
Incredible views and a multicoloured carpet of alpine flowers. Sara identified them all for me; the deepest blue gentians of every type, pyramid orchids, delicate mountain avens, mountain asters and bladder campions.
Amongst all this flora were a host of seemingly tame, furry, marmots. This was the closest encounter I'd had with these cute mountain creatures. Before the long climb up to Maison Vielle and a welcome drink stop, another first was had. We met a wonderful Slovakian hiker, practising high altitude yoga. He talked us into a balancing act with him as the base, the Italian side of Mt Blanc was the backdrop. We descended the hard way through the woods into Courmayeur. The welcome from Lorenza and Alicia at the beautiful Hotel Crampon where we enjoyed the best bed and breakfast possible was second to none.
We had a night out on the town in Courmayeur with more ‘aperos’ at Caffe de la Poste. The next day was relaxed! Shopping and Italian ice cream with a MBT minibus back to the Chamonix Valley.
So what would I say… Just Do It! Seize the day and escape to the mountains. The trails, refuges and hotels have hand sanitisers, respect social distance, but most importantly they're open, and ready to welcome us. The TMB is in prime condition, take a week or ten days and join Mont Blanc Treks for a guide or self guided mountain experience like no other this summer!