Tour du Mont Blanc hikers come in all different shapes and sizes so there is not one plan that works for everyone.
A very common question asked on hiking forums is how long it will take to complete the trail or get from point A to point B. Hikers with experience offer up how long it took them and/or how long various guidebooks suggest it will take, however, without knowing how fast and fit these hikers are compared to me or what there route and hiking preferences were, i’ve always found it hard to confidently build my plans using these estimates…particularly for multi-day hikes like the Tour du Mont Blanc where accommodation bookings makes your plan final.
In this blog post, I’m going to share the steps that I use to help hikers from around the world create their perfect multi-day itinerary for the Tour du Mont Blanc.
WHAT IS THE Tour du Mont Blanc?
Tour du Mont Blanc (known on the trail as the TMB) is the most famous multi-day alps hiking journey in Europe. Mont Blanc, or “White Mountain”, is the highest in the European Alps at an imposing 4,810 metres (15,781 feet). The tour follows well maintained trails through France, Italy and Switzerland as it leads hikers around the Mont Blanc Massif.
With each side offering contrasting landscapes of unparalleled beauty and host countries welcoming hikers from around the world with their alpine hospitality, it is not surprising that the Tour du Mont Blanc is the most popular hut to hut hiking trail in Europe. Our gallery has a sample of what is on offer.
HOW LONG DOES IT TYPICALLY TAKE TO HIKE THE Tour du Mont Blanc?
Hikers typically take between 8 and 11 days to complete the Tour du Mont Blanc. Anything quicker requires long days, Olympic speed walking and/or part trail running, anything longer is an indication that the hiker has multiple memory sticks full of photos and a mindfulness that others envy. Rather than leave you with this frustratingly vague range that doesn’t actually help you plan your hiking trip, let me breakdown how I determine how long it will take a hiker.
There are two main factors that will determine how long it takes someone to complete a lap of Mont Blanc
I have been thinking about how to ask these two questions for over 18 months now. The answers would become the key inputs into my itinerary models where I would marry them with detailed, up-to-date trail information to produce the perfect hiking plans.
1. HIKING STYLE
A hiking style encompasses both speed and endurance. It is not enough to know how quick you can be if it’s not a pace that can be sustained over multiple hours and days. Rather, I need to understand the extent that these factors combine to determine how far a hiker should travel each day.
This led me to originally ask the following two questions to determine hiking style;
What is your average hiking speed?
What is the maximum time you’d like to be hiking each day?
If hikers could answer these two questions, itineraries would be easy to build, right? I quickly found that less that 30% of hikers were able to estimate their hiking speed. Elevation changes and high altitude trails are both factors which can change a hiking speed and so I wasn’t too surprised that most found it difficult to estimate. Without an average hiking speed, I needed another way to determine hiking style.
I discovered the solution from going back and forth with hikers on what their pace might be. We’d start by trying to find a comparable trail they’d done then discuss what kind of shape they were in. However, as soon as I shared a table of information with detailed trail statistics for some of the different itinerary lengths, hikers could immediately determine which was best for them. Bingo!
So to answer the first question, I've created a table that lists the key trail and hiking statistics for each itinerary in our current range;
Use this table to determine which style and the number of days that best represents you. Click here if you’d like to see more information on our range of itineraries.
2. HIKING PREFERENCES
I started out by asking two questions to determine hiking preferences;
How many days do you want to complete the hike in?
Are you planning to camp?
Most hikers were able to answer these questions, however, I found that conditions usually accompanied the answers that required updates to be made before I could use them. For example, there was often conflicts between what the best number of days was for a hiker to complete the Tour du Mont Blanc in based on ability and the days they had available to complete the trail. I also found my model was making too many assumptions on accommodation preferences and highlights to be included when some hikers had a very clear view on these components.
I’ve found it is best to break this question down into the following parts that focus on the individual variables. Depending on the answers to each, the number of days indicated against the hiking styles in the table above may need to change to create the right self-guided itinerary.
a) Accommodation Preferences
The following accommodation options are available on the TMB;
Wild camping: Only permitted in some locations on the trail.
Campgrounds with amenities: showers and toilets, sometimes shops and laundry
Mountain huts with no food or showers: Only located at some points on the trail. Cooking facilities/utensils are available at these locations.
Dorm rooms: 4-16 bed rooms are available in mountain huts and some accommodation providers in the alpine villages
Private room with shared bathroom: Most villages have accommodation with these rooms available. There is also private rooms at many of the mountain huts
Private room with ensuite: Most villages have accommodation with these rooms available. Only one of the mountain huts has a private room with ensuite.
In many of the locations with accommodation, hikers, will have most of the options above available to choose from. However in some, hikers will be limited by choice (particularly as it nears hiking season when nearly all of the private rooms will be sold out in key mountain huts) so they may need to compromise on their accommodation preferences or adjust their itinerary to reach an alternative place. The most common compromise will be whether hikers are ok to stay in alpine huts which only have shared dormitory style accommodation. For this reason, a hikers accommodation preferences can influence their itinerary and route.
Based on the accommodation available, the following options are provided for hikers to choose from;
Private room with ensuite mandatory
Your route will ensure that each day finishes at a location where you can book a private rooms with ensuite. It may result in you missing out on a trail highlight to ensure you reach the next finish location that has a private room with ensuite.
Private room mandatory, ensuite when possible
Your route and itinerary will ensure that each day finishes at a location where you can book a private room. If there is an option to stay at two locations near each other and one has a private rooms with ensuites and the other does not, the former will be chosen. This choice will only be made if it does not materially impact the hiking difficulty for that day and the day after. It may result in you missing out on a trail highlight to ensure you reach the next finish location that has a private room available.
Private room preferred, but not if it means missing a highlight
The primary focus of your route will be to include all the trail highlights you want and secondary focus will be finishing each day at a location where private rooms can be booked.
Dorms or low-cost private rooms only
The primary focus of your route and plan will be including all the trail highlights you want. If there is an option to stay at two locations near each other and one has a dorm/low cost private room and the other only has more expensive private rooms, the former will be chosen. This choice will only be made if it does not materially impact the hiking difficulty for that day and the day after.
Please Note: I am not offering camping itineraries for the 2019 season at this stage so do not provide accommodation preferences for this in my model. Choosing a hiking style does not lock you into purchasing that type of accommodation every night, rather just making sure it is available for you each night.
b) Time Constraints
Some hikers only have a set amount of time to complete the hike. Depending on your hiking style and days available, your self-guided itinerary can be designed with a more direct route that can be completed in a shorter amount of time, or suggest parts to skip via bus/train/gondola. Depending on how much time you need to cut out of your itinerary, it may be at the expense of skipping some of the highlights…but the satisfaction of completing the trail is an important part for hikers that I want to help them achieve! For those who prefer not to skip any of it, I can suggest where the best places are to enter and exit the trail so you can complete the Tour du Mont Blanc in multiple trips.
If you don’t have any time constraints, your hiking style and other preferences are used to determine your route and itinerary.
c) Trail Highlights/Route Preferences
This is a part of my itinerary model which allows specific customisation to ensure I can include specific route highlights not on the main trail. Having hiked these trails over the last two years, there are some that I recommend and try to include in every itinerary provided time and accommodation preferences allow. These are the additional highlights/preferences off the main Tour du Mont Blanc trail I suggest hikers consider;
Col de Tricot: Cross a swing bridge over the run-off from Glacier de Bionnassay and reach a much higher pass with a inspiring landscape view showcasing the Mont Blanc massif and what is in store for the rest of your hike.
Col Des Fours: By keeping the height and continuing to climb, you’ll reach the higher pass where views of the Mont Blanc massif are not restricted like at Col de la Croix where the main trail then starts to descend.
Col Sapin: Trail highlight with stunning views of South East facing side of the Mont Blanc range. This section was previously part of the main trail, however, it was changed to the lower route over 10 years ago which is much less demanding but misses out on one of the best landscape views on the tour!
Fentre dÁrpette: The climb up to Fentre DÁrpette is one of the most relentless but hikers are rewarded with sweeping views of the Trient glacier as they cross the pass.
Refuge Les Grands: A staircase carved into the rock cliff lifts you out of the treeline and provides sweeping views of the Trient glacier and an opportunity to stop at Refuge Les Grands (no food available) on the way to Col du Balme.
Grand Balcon Sud Start: A surprising number of hikers have a level of vertigo they need to manage. While climbing the ladders near Aiguillette d'Argentiére to reach the Grand Balcon Sud section of the trail above Chamonix is a highlight for some, others would prefer to avoid it! There is an alternative route that avoids this section by taking a different trail up to the official start of the Grand Balcon Sud trail.
Lac Blanc: Trail highlight and alternative accommodation. An alpine lake and popular mountain hut encourages hikers to take a break and soak up one of the most stunning landscape views of the North West Facing sides of the Mont Blanc Massif.
3. BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
With these ingredients, the final step is combining them with my database of up-to-date Tour du Mont Blanc trail information to produce the itinerary. Not only does my database contain statistics like distance and elevation changes for over 130 sub-sections of the trail, It also has the location of water re-fill, toilets, shortcuts and restaurants / kiosks / supermarkets which are helpful to plan breaks and re-supply stops.
To see an example by clicking here of the self-guided itineraries I serve up using this process.
HOW CAN I HELP YOU?
I hope you’ve enjoyed my recipe run-through for creating itineraries. If you’d like me to prepare an itinerary for you, click on the button below which will take you to a form where you can follow the process above and I’ll create an itinerary just for you!
I’m here to help you self-guide the Tour du Mont Blanc with confidence. Contact me anytime at email@example.com