As mentioned in my earlier post, I spent a lot of time planning our trip and developing our itinerary. It was a daunting process. Having never before been to the Alps or hiking for such an extended period, it was hard to know just how long each leg would take us and how the cumulative impact of the hike would affect us from day to day. So, you learn what you can and, at some point, you just make a plan and hope for the best.
For starters, you need to determine from which point you will start, which direction you will go and how many days you have. We chose to begin in Les Houches (the traditional starting point) and approach the hike counter-clockwise (the traditional direction). Most hikers we met who were walking counter-clockwise also began in Les Houches, though some started in Chamonix. Beginning in Champex is typical for those going clockwise, and we met several people doing that route, as well.
We allotted 10 days for the hike, including one rest day in Courmayeur. Given those time constraints, as I planned our itinerary, it became evident that we would not be able to complete the Tour – that is, begin and end in Les Houches. Instead, we began in Les Houches and ended in Le Tour. (Le Tour is the highest village in the Chamonix Valley and just before Tre-Le-Champ, the typical end point for the day’s leg, though some hike on to Lac Blanc.)
While I believe we would have ended the hike somewhere above Chamonix regardless of the time we had (the descent from Chamonix to Les Houches is known to be arduous), I do wish we had one more day, as the views along the last stretch are said to be some of the most spectacular. In that case, we would have stayed a night at Lac Blanc and thereafter found the best spot to catch a cablecar or bus back. Of course, depending on the time of year you go, this part can be tricky, as most of the cablecars were already closed when we were there in mid-September.
One last point before sharing our itinerary: In addition to the above mentioned items, your trip will also be greatly shaped by the time of year you select for the hike. For example, we did the hike in mid-September and none of the refuges were full. This allows for those wanting more flexibility to avoid booking in advance and instead determine each day how far they will hike. There are other perks, as well, such as sharing the bathroom/showers with fewer people. It’s my understanding that most lodges are at or past capacity in the high season and those without reservations can be left out in the cold – literally! For our preferences, I couldn’t imagine a better time than mid-September when the season is coming to an end.
With that, our TMB itinerary was as follows:
- Day 1: Les Houches to Les Contamines
- Overnight: La Ferme de Bon Papa
- Day 2: Les Contamines to Col de la Croix du Bonhomme
- Overnight: Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme
- Day 3: Col de la Croix du Bonhomme to Rifugio Elisabetta (via Col des Fours)
- Overnight: Rifugio Elisabetta
- Day 4: Rifugio Elisabetta to Rifugio Maison Vieille
- Overnight: Rifugio Maison Vieille
- Day 5: Rifugio Maison Vieille to Courmayeur (rest day)
- Overnight: Hotel Berthod
- Day 6: Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti
- Overnight: Rifugio Bonatti
- Day 7: Rifugio Bonatti to La Fouly
- Overnight: Gite de la Lechere
- Day 8: La Fouly to Champex
- Overnight: Au Club Alpin
- Day 9: Champex to Trient
- Overnight: Auberge Mont Blanc
- Day 10: Trient to Le Tour
- Overnight: Auberge Le Beau Site (Les Houches)
Of course, creating an itinerary and implementing it are two different things. We strayed from our plans one day with disastrous results (though great potential). In subsequent posts, I’ll discuss in detail the demands of each day’s hike, the state of accommodations and how/where we would have done things differently. For a real-time summary of each day’s highlights and lowlights, watch our daily video recaps here.