By Michael Lanza
You want to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc, but you’re not sure how hard it is, whether you can do it all, or even whether to hire a guide? One of the world’s great treks, the TMB is easy to do self-supported—but it’s not easy to figure out how to do that. When I hiked it with 12 family and friends of varying abilities—including my 80-year-old mother—I spent many pre-trip hours mapping out a flexible daily itinerary that allowed some in our group to use local transportation to avoid hard sections or bad weather, and everyone had a wonderful experience. This guide will show you how to duplicate that trip or customize your own.
As I wrote in my story at The Big Outside, “Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc at an 80-Year-Old Snail’s Pace” (which includes dozens of photos from the trip), everyone in our group was awed and delighted with the entire experience, from the scenery to the blend of cultures, the people, the mountain huts and inns, the towns and villages, and of course, the food: Even the most widely traveled among us agreed we enjoyed some of the best meals of our lives on the TMB.
That’s no surprise. Look at any list of the world’s greatest hiking trails, and the roughly 106-mile (170k) Tour du Mont Blanc invariably occupies a spot atop it or near the top. There are many reasons for that, but first and foremost is the sheer majesty of this walking path around the “Monarch of the Alps,” 15,771-foot (4807m) Mont Blanc. Passing through three nations—France, Italy, and Switzerland—and over several mountain passes reaching nearly 9,000 feet, it delivers views of glaciers, pointy peaks and “aiguilles,” and when it’s not engulfed in clouds, the snowy dome of Mont Blanc.
Another reason for the TMB’s enormous popularity, though, is the abundance of towns and villages and transportation options along the trail, allowing hikers to customize their trek, choosing which sections to hike depending on difficulty, weather, how they feel each day, or how many days they have for it.
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That gave some members of our group the flexibility to skip or shorten a few days while most of our group hiked all nine of the TMB’s stages that we planned to do. For example, on one day in Switzerland, we split into three groups: Some took a harder, higher, more scenic alternate route, some stayed on the primary TMB route, and a few took public transportation around it. We all rendezvoused at our lodgings every evening but one, when two in our group got a hotel room in a valley while the rest spent the night at a mountain hut (as we had planned).
Still, even those who only hiked relatively easier sections enjoyed some of the TMB’s best scenery.
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We spent three of our eight nights on the TMB in mountain huts with views of towering peaks and heavily crevassed glaciers. But we slept most of our nights in comfortable hotel rooms in towns and villages, including in Chamonix the night before starting the trek and the day we finished it, enjoying excellent dinners every evening.
My downloadable e-guide “The Perfect, Flexible Plan for Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc” describes the daily itinerary I created for hiking the TMB unguided. It provides detailed advice on day-to-day options for customizing a flexible TMB hiking itinerary on the first nine of the TMB’s 11 stages, including how and where to take transportation to shorten or avoid difficult sections or bad weather; how to plan and prepare for a TMB trek; and gear and safety tips. It also recommends shorter sections of the TMB to trek if your time is more limited.
See many more photos in my story about our TMB trek, “Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc at an 80-Year-Old Snail’s Pace” at The Big Outside. See also “My 30 Most Scenic Days of Hiking Ever” and all stories about International Adventures at The Big Outside.
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