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G.Hammer and I were married August 10, 2013, and spent our honeymoon backpacking through Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, then climbing Montana’s highest mountain, Granite Peak. We agreed then we should be in the backcountry for all our anniversaries, too. In 2014 we were backpacking in Glacier National Park and Greg surprised me by packing in his wedding tie and an ipod with our wedding song, and we danced under the stars and I cried from happiness. In 2015 we hiked to Amphitheater Lake (yes, Greg wore his tie again) in Grand Teton National Park with our nephew Blake (Log Riiiiiider!), and in 2016 our anniversary marked the first day on the Tour du Mont Blanc.
The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is a +/- 105 mile circuit hike around the massif of Mont Blanc which spans across parts of France, Switzerland, and Italy. There are 10 or 11 mountain passes to get up and over depending on the route, with an elevation gain/loss of 32,800 ft. In other words, it’s tough as sh**. But there are warm, cozy huts with comfortable beds and hot showers waiting for you at the end of the day, and someone to make you dinner every night, and breakfast every morning, and there is nearly always another hut where you can stop for lunch. The views are stunning, of course, and just when you think you’re all alone the sound of cowbells echos across a valley, bringing you back to your alpine reality. It’s worth the pain.
We heard about the TMB last summer when we were hiking Iceland’s Laugavegur Trail. Several people mentioned it to us, and the general consensus was that it was a must-do. I had heard of it before, but I assumed we’d have to be millionaires to do a hut hike through the Alps, so we never gave it much consideration. But we loved the huts so much in Iceland that when we got home I started researching the TMB right away. Turns out you don’t have to be a millionaire.
We bought Kev Reynolds’ Tour of Mont Blanc for my Kindle so we could research beforehand and carry it along on the hike. He gives suggested itineraries and trail descriptions, as well as ideas on how to get to one of the many potential starts of the hike, and a packing list. Kev is a great resource, but once we were hiking we quickly learned to ignore him, particularly about the difficultly of a certain stretch, or the amount of time it should take to get from hither to thither. I mean, Greg and I are not novice hikers, and we can move when we need to, but some days we actually doubled Kev’s suggested times. Not like, in our minds, but our actual hiking time. I had an emotional meltdown just about every day because I thought there was something physically wrong with me. I can’t keep up with suggested hike times! I should give up hiking! I’m too tender-footed to ever step on a trail again! I’m too weak to carry a pack! Now we think Kev’s times must be for straight-up hiking with no breaks, so… don’t get discouraged. The suggested hike times on the TMB trail signs are massively accurate, sometimes down to the minute, so… go off those. Kev’s book offers plenty of other pertinent/interesting info and we’d definitely recommend picking up a copy at the library or a used bookstore to start planning your trip. We have a few personal recommendations at the end of this post, but in the meantime, please enjoy our photo journal and hiking tips for one of the world’s most beautiful trails.
Day 1. Champex-Lac to Gîte de La Léchère- 11.35 miles, 7 hours 6 minutes
Day 2. Gîte de La Léchère to Rifugio Bonatti- 12.42 miles, 8 hours 22 minutes
Day 3. Rifugio Bonatti to Courmayeur- 7.58 miles, 4 hours 43 minutes
Day 4. Courmayeur to Maison Vielle- 3.73 miles, 3 hours 19 minutes
Day 5. Maison Vielle to Rifugio Elisabetta Soldini- 6.62 miles, 5 hours 19 minutes
Day 6. Rifugio Elisabetta to Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme- 10.31 miles, 6 hours 29 minutes
Day 7. Bonhomme to Miage- 11.97 miles, 7 hours 6 minutes
Day 8. Miage to Les Houches- 8.33 miles, 5 hours 46 minutes
Day 9. Les Houches to Flégère- 10.72 miles, 8 hours 36 minutes
Day 10. Flégère to Trient- 13.3 miles, 9 hours 52 minutes
Day 11. Trient to Champex- 9.8 miles, 5 hours 7 minutes
We got a room at the same Airbnb in Champex and there were four young Israeli men there, practicing Shabbos. G and I had never witnessed that before and didn’t know they couldn’t cook or use electronics. One of them asked me to flip on the bathroom light for him and I was like “It’s right there.” He was like, “Yeah I know, I can’t touch it.” But you know what they could do? Get totally ripped on beer and whiskey. Religion. We went down to a local pub for spaghetti and fries, then spent the rest of the evening teaching our housemates Bananagrams and Texas Hold ‘Em. It was a good ending to a long, beautiful hike.
Things We Used
1 quick-dry towel each
3 oz Sunscreen
3 oz Shampoo
3 oz Body Wash
2 oz Leave-in conditioner (especially useful when hot water supplies were limited)
3 oz Body lotion
4 oz Bronner’s for washing clothes and shampoo/body wash backup
2 bras (I like to have one to hike in, one to lounge around in)
Things We DID NOT Use
Snacks. We took jerky and turkey sticks and cheese and almonds and pistachios and chocolate and regretted evey ounce of it the first time we stopped at a hut around lunch time.
Rollerball perfume (never underestimate my need to smell good)
Big down jacket
2nd, 3rd, 4th bottles of lotion
Swimsuit (you think Euros care if you swim in your underwear? Or naked for that matter?)
2nd pair hiking pants
3rd, 4th pairs socks
3rd, 4th pairs undies
External charger (even the huts with solar power let us charge our phones, but if you’re a battery freak like me, you should probably carry one)
Things We Used But Could’ve Done Without
Deodorant (WHAT?! We showered every night.)
Extra camera battery/extra battery charger
Lightweight down jacket
Lip balm with sunscreen
2nd camera + charger
Headlamps + extra batteries
Greg’s Kindle (I used mine everyday)
Silk sack (we only used this in airports or on planes)
Don’t be an over-packer; you’re not going to die out there because you’re missing a few luxuries. Next time we’re just taking day packs and I’m wearing low hikers. We’ll take a few days to recover from jet lag, and a rest day or two on the trail. We’ll get a private room every few days and will go out to eat every chance we get. We’ll take peanut butter and turkey sticks for breakfasts, and some instant coffee to go with our post-hike tea. I don’t think we’d stick with Kev’s itinerary next time, but take it easier on the first few days and go longer as we get stronger. We wouldn’t hesitate to take a kid, as we saw tons out there in their tiny boots and little zip-off pants. We had unbelievably great weather in the middle of August, but would be happy to go after Labor Day.
Misc (map) $20.43
Total = $2139.37
Mind you, we flew standby to and from Zurich, so our transportation costs were super low. Without airfare we averaged $1036 per person, about $74/day. It was worth every penny and a whole lot more. Can we do it again, Papa?