Before starting the Tour du Mont Blanc, we spent a day hiking from Chamonix. After that, we started the TMB at Les Houches, following it clockwise over Le Brévent to our first night at La Flégère. On our second day, we visited the Lacs des Chéserys, crossed Aiguillette des Posettes, and passed over Col de Balme to reach Trient.
This is part of our series of posts on the Tour du Mont Blanc, including:
- Planning the Tour du Mont Blanc
- Our Tour du Mont Blanc packing list
- TMB by day:
- 0-2: A Day in Chamonix, Les Houches – La Flégère – Trient (this post)
- 3-5: Champex – La Fouly and the Swiss Val Ferret – Col du Bonhomme and the Italian Val Ferret
- 6-8: Mont de La Saxe – Courmayeur – Rifugio Elisabetta – Croix du Bonhomme
- 9-10: Tête Nord des Fours – Lacs Jovet – Les Contamines – Col du Tricot – Les Houches
Day 0: Chamonix and Les Bossons 27 June 2018
We had arrived in Chamonix the previous night via shuttle from the Geneva Airport. We woke up and double checked our gear after the flight. Once we were sure everything was in order, we set out for breakfast and to run some errands.
For breakfast, we took the short walk to La Panière (TripAdvisor), where we bought breakfast croissants and some snacks for lunch. We then followed the river to a bank, where we picked up enough cash for the refuges and snacks between Chamonix and Courmayeur.
With that, we were set for the TMB, which meant we could spend the rest of the day exploring. We had originally planned to use the day to ascend the cable car to Aiguille du Midi and possibly across to Helbronner. Emergency repairs, however, meant that the cable car was closed and so we instead looked for day hikes.
Cascade du Dard and Les Bossons
I had read good things about the trails around the Les Bossons glacier. After identifying a route that would take us by Cascade du Dard and onward to the Les Bossons viewpoints, we set out.
Cascade du Dard was lovely. From there, we continued hiking up to various viewpoints below the Les Bossons glacier. At each viewpoint, signs promised a better viewpoint just a bit further up. With plenty of time to spare, we followed their advice.
Finally, we reached the highest, fenced-in viewpoint. Travel beyond here was signed as at our own risk. We looked at the terrain and decided we were comfortable with it, and so we continued up a boot path to Plateau des Pyramides. This vantage point gave us great views back across the Chamonix Valley. It also got us up close to the glacier. Along the way, we came across several pieces of debris from twin Air India crashes above the Les Bosson glacier: a Constellation in 1950 and a 707 in 1966.
We returned via the same route we had ascended. On the way back to Chamonix, we stopped again at Cascade du Dard to see it in the afternoon light. Our hike totaled about 7 miles (11.2km) and 2600 feet (800 meters) of elevation gain — a nice warmup for the TMB.
Back in Chamonix, we headed for Chalet 4810 (TripAdvisor), which we read had both good ice cream and good pastries. Several items tempted us, and we eventually settled on a lemon pastry and a mocha pastry to enjoy back at the hotel. Both were well-worth the stop.
We then decided to take advantage of the hotel’s spa, including both the jacuzzi and the sauna. This was welcome after the long flights and a day of hiking.
For dinner, I had made reservations at Le Fer à Cheval (TripAdvisor). The food had good reviews, it was convenient the hotel, and it had views looking out. Despite several events in Chamonix, the reservation turned out to be unnecessary that evening, but we did get a table on the patio with outstanding views back up to Mont Blanc and Les Bossons. Kyle had a good steak with an excellent sauce; I had outstanding lamb chops.
Day 1: Les Houches to La Flégère 28 June 2018
In the morning, we aimed to get an early start. We headed downstairs to check out with plenty of time to pick up breakfast and catch the 8:15am train to Les Houches.
Once downstairs, however, we ran into our biggest snag of the trip. Despite booking the hotel because they advertised luggage storage, we were told that we could not store luggage, even for a fee. This left us in a bind. We had various spare clothes, shoes, and bags for the flights and from our first day in Chamonix that we did not want to take with us on the trail. The front desk, however, was unwavering.
They instead pointed us to a hostel nearly a mile away. I’m not sure we have ever covered a mile so quickly with so much stuff, but we quickly navigated to the hostel only to find it closed. Breathless, we used our phones to search for alternatives. We found one potential hostel that would allow left luggage in the center of Les Houches. We then headed back toward the train station — another mile.
Just a block from the train station, we saw a tabac with a sign offering luggage storage. It took only a minute to strike a deal to leave our bag for 10 days, at a cost of 40€, and to confirm their hours for our return day. By this point we had missed the 8:15 train, but we were greatly relieved. We returned to La Panière to pick up breakfast and lunch.
The 9:15 train brought us to Les Houches, and so, just an hour later than planned, we started the Tour du Mont Blanc!
Starting the Tour du Mont Blanc: Les Houches to Le Brévent
From the SNCF station in Les Houches, starting clockwise, the TMB followed a road through the forest before it begins to climb steeply. The first mile featured several junctions and passed a giant statue of Christ. The trail then leveled out a bit and passed the Parc de Merlet mountain zoo through its parking lot. We didn’t stop, but did follow a short side trail to views toward Mont Blanc. Past the parking lot, the trail resumed climbing. The area around Parc de Merlet was sort of odd — the trail was set up closely against fences, and in some places the fences encroached on the trail.
On this stretch, we started passing a steady steam of hikers going the more traditional counter-clockwise direction. Shortly after, the trail broke out of the forest to grand views. Two more long series of switchbacks brought us to Refuge Bellachat.
With our late start, we paused only to enjoy the views. One more short climb brought us to the ridge line. Here, the trail continued to climb steadily. This is also one of the more popular sections of the TMB for day hikers, and so even in shoulder season, the trail was fairly busy.
As we continued along the ridge, clouds moved along the Mont Blanc massif across the Chamonix Valley, offering us different glimpses of the various peaks. In early afternoon, we reached the summit of Le Brévent (2525m / 8284′). Access by lifts from Chamonix and 360º views make this a popular destination. We took in the views, but, eager to reach our destination and to get away from the crowds, we did not stop long.
Le Brévent to La Flégère
At Le Brévent, we had two choices of routes. We could follow the main TMB route, which appeared snow-covered in places, or we could follow the crowds down the ski piste and avoid much of the snow. Having trail crampons (more like micro spikes with extra bite; see our packing list), we decided to go with the main route.
This included the snowiest sections of our Tour du Mont Blanc trek. It also took us over ladders, where we had to pause to take off and re-don our trail crampons. I would not have wanted to do these sections in these conditions without them — there were places where we would have slid a loooong way if we started to fall. We also post-holed in a few places. However, the route also offered us some unique views that we would have otherwise missed.
Distances also appeared illusory on this stretch. From Le Brévent, we had a clear view of La Flégère; it appeared to only be an hour or two of hiking away. The next time we saw it — about an hour later — it appeared no closer. This continued throughout the afternoon. La Flégère would disappear from view only to reappear, seemingly no closer. The views continued to be excellent, so we did not mind.
At one narrow section, we passed a hiker heading the other way who was paused. We asked if she was okay, and she explained it was vertigo. After passing, we waited until she had cleared that section before continuing.
Along the way, we saw several marmots. We also passed a baby ibex and its mother. Suddenly, La Flégère was much closer. Then we were there. The guidebook had warned us that the ski lifts and outbuildings did not make for the most picturesque setting. We were so busy looking across to Mont Blanc that we hardly noticed.
We checked in and got settled at La Flégère. Shoulder season paid off here: we had a cozy four person room to ourselves. We also enjoyed La Flégère’s ample hot water for showers.
Dinner was also quite satisfying. It included soup, potato gratin, bread, meats, a cheese plate, and a choice of desserts. I had a chocolate mousse, Kyle had an apple tart. At dinner, we were seated with guests who were mostly finishing their treks (and one who had started at Courmayeur, heading counter-clockwise, who was at the midpoint). We took advantage of this opportunity to inquire about trail conditions ahead. After dinner, we watched the sun fade over a cloudy Mont Blanc and turned in.
All-in-all, this was a hard first day: about 5,000′ (1550m) of elevation gain and 10.5 miles (17km), not counting our two-mile detour to try to leave luggage. It was also spectacularly beautiful.
Day 2: La Flégère to Trient 29 June 2018
After the partly cloudy evening, we were happy to wake up to a perfectly clear morning. We went outside to enjoy the morning light reaching Mont Blanc. A chamois ran by, the only one we saw of the trip. We returned inside only when it was time for breakfast.
Over breakfast, we discussed plans for the day. At dinner the night before, we had been told that we could do the snow-covered trail to Lac Blanc. However, because it was still frozen, it may not be worth it. This was disappointing for me — photos of Lac Blanc were the first that put the TMB on my list of things to look into. Others had encouraged us to instead prioritize the hike up over the Aiguillette des Posettes, which we originally had planned to skip because that plus Lac Blanc would have made for too long a day.
We formed a plan to skip Lac Blanc, visit the Lacs des Chéserys, and cross over the Aiguillette des Posettes. Still, we found ourselves torn as we left La Flégère. Even if skipping Lac Blanc was the right choice, it was nonetheless a difficult one.
La Flégère to Lacs des Chéserys and Tré le Champ le Haut
The route from La Flégère to Lacs des Chéserys was gorgeous. Not far from the refuge, it led to a series of cascades rushing down rhododendron-covered slopes, with a view directly across to the Mer de Glace and Mont Blanc. We paused for a while in this spectacular spot.
Just a bit more up and down brought us to the turnoff for the Lacs des Chéserys. This trail first passed some tarns, a high point, and then the largest of the lakes. We followed the far shore of the larger lake first. This gave us views back across to Mont Blanc and its reflection. After circumnavigating the lake with many pauses, we returned to the main TMB.
From this junction, the route descends steeply over the famous ladders. We found these to be fine, though certainly appreciated that we reached them on a dry day. The biggest challenge was pausing for the heavy foot traffic heading in the opposite direction. For those more averse to heights, though, I’d recommend the alternate route through Col des Montets.
Near the road crossing in Tré le Champ, we paused at a stream to refill water.
Aiguillette des Posettes, Col de Balme, and Triente
Refilling water turned out to be a wise choice, as the climb back up to Aiguillette des Posettes was long, steep, and warm. Fortunately, it did not take us long to get back above tree line to great views.
While we had been surprised and delighted by the rhododendron the day before, that had not prepared us for the incredible amount of rhododendron on Aiguillette des Posettes. The entire mountainside glowed pink. Views to both the east and west were excellent — we were glad we had gotten the recommendation to make the climb.
From the summit, we followed the TMB down the ridge to Col des Posettes. From the col, the climb back up to Col de Balme was probably the low point of the day. It was longer than it appeared and followed rocky routes that were hard on our feet. Fortunately, views continued to be gorgeous, so we could pause often.
At Col de Balme, we crossed into Switzerland. A long series of switchbacks brought us down to a stream crossing at Nant Noir, with views back up toward the Trient Glacier. From there, it was a relatively short valley walk past Peuty and to Trient.
In Trient, we checked into Auberge du Mont-Blanc (Hotels.com | Booking.com). Reviews had led us to not expect very much from this hostel, but we loved it. We had a comfortable two-person room at the end of a hall. The room had ample storage and power. Shared showers were clean and had hot water.
We enjoyed cold beers at a table in the patio as dinner started. Dinner was ample, and we were offered a choice of pork and rice or tomato fondue and potatoes for dinner. We went with the pork and rice, though I tried the fondue and it was also excellent. These were accompanied by a nice soup, a salad with beets, corn, carrots, bread, and a slice of an ice cream/sorbet loaf for dessert.
After dinner, the mountains turned pink with alpenglow, and then we were off to bed. Another long day — 12 miles (19km) and about 4000′ (1200m) — had left us tired.
Read on to part two of our Tour du Mont Blanc trip, covering Days 3-5: Champex to La Fouly and the Swiss Val Ferret, then across Col du Bonhomme and the Italian Val Ferret.