Refuge La Flégère closure in summer 2019: Impact on Tour du Mont Blanc Hikers

Update 7th October 2019 - Work is on track for the new La Flégère gondola to open in December 2019. Refuge La Flégère will re-open for 2020 as the gondola construction will be complete. After a change in management, Refuge Lac Blanc was re-opened for the 2019 hiking season.

Refuge La Flégère is a key location on the Tour du Mont Blanc for hikers to spend a night. The next closest accommodation options on the main trail are located 7km (4.5mi) and 10km (6mi) away. The closure of Refuge La Flégère for the 2019 summer season due to installation of the new gondola between the valley and ski area, means that TMB hikers will need to find alternate accommodation for this night. Due to the Flégère cable car also being closed, hikers are unable to make what would have been an easy return journey to find alternative accommodation in the Chamonix valley for the night.

As I was preparing our range of self-guided hiking itineraries and GPS mobile maps to address this change for the 2019 hiking season, I thought I’d share my analysis and a mobile phone map file (only for anti-clockwise options) to help hikers navigate this unexpected change with confidence. You can find my details at the bottom if you have any questions about the information here or need assistance to plan your Tour du Mont Blanc hike.

Where is Refuge La Flégère Located on the Tour du Mont Blanc?

Refuge La Flégère is located within the Flégère ski area, perched just off the Grand Balcon Sud section of the Tour du Mont Blanc trail at an elevation of 1875m (6,150ft). It has wide-sweeping landscape views of the Chamonix valley which lies some 800m (2,600ft) below, and also of the North West facing side of the Mont Blanc Massif. On the main TMB trail, the next closest accommodation is located 7km (4.5mi) from the refuge at Tré-Le-Champ (Clockwise on TMB trail) to the north east and 10km (6mi) at Refuge de Bellachat to the south west (Anticlockwise on TMB trail).

The blue line highlights the main Tour du Mont Blanc trail with Refuge La Flégère located in the center between Tré-Le-Champ and Refuge de Bellachat. It’s been smoothed between key points of interest for this illustration. Chamonix can be seen at the centre bottom and some of the Mont Blanc Massif can be seen in the bottom right hand corner.

What are your other options with Refuge La Flégère Closed?

With Refuge La Flégère closed, I’ve identified 5 different options for anti-clockwise TMB hikers to navigate this change and 4 different options for those hiking clockwise. Although there is likely to be a couple of favourite alternatives (ie: staying at Refuge Lac Blanc), remember there will be 1000’s of TMB and other hikers also be trying to change their plans so make sure you’re aware about other options in case your first choice isn’t available.

I identified and ordered the options by using the following principals;

  1. TMB hikers do not want to add extra distance to their hike unless they will benefit from a trail highlight

  2. Some TMB hikers prefer not to use transport assistance during their hike (ie: gondola)

  3. An easier option is necessary for hikers that already have an optimistic hiking plan for the day they were planning to stay at Refuge La Flégère

Options for Anti-Clockwise hikers

The following map shows the 5 different options for anti-clockwise hikers I analysed to determine the impact of each scenario.

The coloured lines represent the different options analysed as part of our Tour du Mont Blanc anti-clockwise itinerary review to address the Refuge La Flégère closure in 2019. The lines have been smoothed between key points of interest for this illustration.

  1. Take the TMB Alternative Route to Stay at Refuge Lac BlanC

The best option.

TMB Alternative Option 1: Refuge Lac Blanc

Pros: Lac Blanc is a recommended trail highlight to include in your hike regardless of whether Refuge la Flégére is closed. The Refuge Lac Blanc sits on an alpine lake where hikers are encouraged to take a break and soak up one of the most stunning landscape views of the North West facing side of the Mont Blanc Massif.

Cons: Small increase to overall Tour du Mont Blanc itinerary distance and elevation change, as well as an increase to the day after you were intending to stay at Refuge La Flégère

Variation details: Instead of joining the Grand Balcon Sud trail to Refuge La Flégère after climbing the ladders near Aiguillette d'Argentiére, continue through the junction to reach Refuge Lac Blanc.

Impact to a main route TMB itinerary

  • Day you were planning to stay at Refuge La Flégère: Change in Distance = -2km (1.2mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = +170m (550ft) | Change in Elevation Loss = -310m (1,020ft)

  • Next Day: Change in Distance = + 3km (1.8mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = +20m (65ft) | Change in Elevation Loss = +490m (1,610ft)

  • Overall Impact: Distance = +1km (0.6mi) | Total Elevation Change = +370m (1,180ft)

Please Note: Contact the new guardian to request a booking via this website. If you have tried to make a booking via an another website, it has likely gone to the old guardian who will provide a message that they are not excepting bookings due to a legal matter (disputing the lease).

 

2. Continue on the tMB trail from Refuge La Flégère to Refuge de Bellachat for the night.

For those unable to secure a booking at Refuge Lac Blanc and have the fitness to extend their day by 10km / 6mi

TMB Alternative Option 2: Hike to Refuge Bellachat

Pros: Refuge de Bellachat is on the main TMB route so there is no additional distance or elevation change to a hikers overall plan. Hikers can soak up views of the entire tail of the Bossons glacier which many anti-clockwise hikers speed past with the lure of reaching Les Houches for the night/finish line too strong.

Cons: Refuge de Bellachat is located 10km (6mi) further along the main TMB trail from Refuge La Flégère. The extra effort required on this day to reach Refuge de Bellachat will rule many hikers out. While the shorter following day may suit hikers finishing in Les Houches, it may trigger a reshuffle for those continuing on. Note: Refuge de Bellachat doesn’t offer a shower so for those that like to feel (and smell!) fresh after their day of hiking, may reconsider this option.

Variation details: Continue on the main TMB trail through the Brévent ski area, over the col and summit before descending down to the refuge.

Impact to a main route TMB itinerary

  • Day you were planning to stay at Refuge La Flégère: Change in Distance = +10km (6mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = +780m (2,560ft) | Change in Elevation Loss = +500m (1,640ft)

  • Next Day: Change in Distance = -10km (6mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = -780m (2,560ft) | Change in Elevation Loss = -500m (1,640ft)

  • Overall Impact: Distance = nil | Total Elevation Change = nil

 

3. Continue on the tMB trail from Refuge La Flégère to Plan Praz and catch the Gondola to Chamonix for the night.

For those unable to secure a booking at Refuge Lac Blanc or energy to reach Refuge de Bellachat

TMB Alternative Option 3: Gondola to Chamonix

Pros: The Plan Praz gondola station is located just off the main TMB route so there is only a very small additional distance and elevation change to a hikers overall plan. Descending to Chamonix for the night offers hikers maximum choice in terms of accommodation and restaurants for the night.

Cons: For hiking purists, catching a gondola to find accommodation may not sit well with their ideology of what a hiking trip is about! Also, those managing their budget closely may not want to spend the €18,50 required for the return gondola trip.

Variation details: Continue on the main TMB trail to the Brévent ski area. When the TMB trail takes a U turn up to Col du Brévent (at the base of the Parsa chairlift) continue on the Grand Balcon Sud trail to the top of the Plan Praz gondola. Make sure you reach the gondola during their opening hours to ensure you don’t have an unexpected ~1,000m (3,280ft descent);

Impact to a main route TMB itinerary (assuming you catch gondola down + up)

  • Day you were planning to stay at Refuge La Flégère: Change in Distance = +5.5km (3.5mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = +300m (980ft) | Change in Elevation Loss = +175m (575ft)

  • Next Day: Change in Distance = -4.5km (2.8mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = -225m (740ft) | Change in Elevation Loss = -100m (330ft)

  • Overall Impact: Distance = +1km (0.6mi) | Total Elevation Change = +150m (490ft)

 

4. From Refuge La Flégère, Hike Down to the Valley for the night and Back up again

For those unable to secure a booking at Refuge Lac Blanc, fitness to reach Refuge de Bellachat and don’t want to catch the Plan Praz gondola.

TMB Alternative Option 4: Hike to valley and back

Pros: Hiking down to the valley from Refuge La Flégère to find accommodation is the next best option to Refuge Lac Blanc in terms of additional distance and effort required. The valley offers accommodation catering to all budgets and preferences. Hikers have the option to catch the Plan Praz gondola back to the trail from Chamonix the following day if preferred.

Cons: This option requires a significant amount of hiking off the main TMB trail, adding to the already challenging multi-day hike. The steep descent then grinding ascent the following day is also not accompanied by a trail highlight to sweeten this detour.

Variation details: From Refuge La Flégère, follow the trail zig zagging down on the right side of the cable car before crossing back to the left just before reaching valley floor at the golf club.

Impact to a main route TMB itinerary (assuming you hike back up to TMB trail at Plan Praz)

  • Day you were planning to stay at Refuge La Flégère: Change in Distance = +4.5km (2.8mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = nil | Change in Elevation Loss = +840m (2,760ft)

  • Next Day: Change in Distance = +1.6km (1mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = +740m (2,430ft) | Change in Elevation Loss = -100m (330ft)

  • Overall Impact: Distance = +6.1km (3.8mi) | Total Elevation Change = +1,480m (4,850ft)

 

5. HIKE down the valley from Tré-Le-Champ TO Chamoinix for the night, then catch gondola up to plan praz to resume hike

For those unable to secure a booking at Refuge Lac Blanc and either can’t or don’t want to add any extra distance to the day they had planned to stay at Refuge La Flégère

TMB Alternative Option 5: Hike along valley

Pros: The hike down to Chamonix on the treelined valley trail is much easier than the climb up to Grand Balcon Sud and Refuge La Flégère. After many long days of hiking, choosing this option all but guarantees you’ll be able to reach your alternative accommodation with frequent buses and trains also available to assist.

Cons: Hikers will miss out on the ladders near Aiguillette d'Argentiére (some may be happy about this!) and the entire Grand Balcon Sud section of trail which has stunning views of the North West facing side of the Mont Blanc Massif.

Variation details: From Tré-Le-Champ, follow the tracks and a section of road to Argentiére before entering the trees and continuing down the valley trail. At the golf club, change to the path running along the L’Arve stream until you reach Chamonix.

Impact to a main route TMB itinerary (assuming you catch gondola up to TMB trail at Plan Praz)

  • Day you were planning to stay at Refuge La Flégère: Change in Distance = +3km (2mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = -720m (2,360ft) | Change in Elevation Loss = +120m (390ft)

  • Next Day: Change in Distance = -5km (3mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = -300m (980ft) | Change in Elevation Loss = -100m (330ft)

  • Overall Impact: Distance = -2km (3.8mi) | Total Elevation Change = -1,040m (3,410ft)

 

Offline Mobile Maps To Navigate these Alternative Routes

I’ve turned each of these anti-clockwise alternative route options into GPS map files for offline mobile phone navigation. Don’t worry if this will be your first time using this type of navigation, I have instructions on how to load it onto your phone and use it too!

If you would like to download these sections for free, sign-up to our newseletter below and you’ll automatically receive an email with details on how to immediately access and download the map(s).

Below you will find a sample of these 5 options, as well as images showing the different GPS map features which you will receive for the sections (not the entire TMB route).


Clockwise Options

The following map shows the 4 different options for clockwise hikers I analysed to determine the impact of each scenario.

This high level map shows the different options analysed as part of our Tour du Mont Blanc clockwise itinerary review to address the Refuge La Flégère closure in 2019. The lines have been smoothed between key points of interest for this illustration.

 
  1. Stop Earlier at Plan Praz and catch the gondola to Chamonix for the night

    For those who are climbing up from Les Houches this day and don’t mind catching the gondola to Chamonix for the night

TMB Alternative Option 1: Gondola to Chamonix

Pros: Hikers that have come up from Les Houches this day would have been hiking for 6-7 hours by the time they reach the main Brévent ski area. The Plan Praz gondola station is located just off on the main TMB route so there is only a very small additional distance and elevation change to a hikers overall plan. Descending to Chamonix for the night offers hikers maximum choice in terms of accommodation and restaurants.

Cons: You are extending your next day by 5km, so depending on where you are planning on ending, it could end up a very long day. For hiking purists, catching a gondola to find accommodation may not sit well with their ideology of what a hiking trip is about! Also, those managing their budget closely may not want to spend the €18,50 required for the return trip.

Variation details: As you come down from Col du Brévent continue descending on the Grand Balcon Sud trail to the top of the Plan Praz gondola. Make sure you reach the gondola during their opening hours to ensure you don’t have an unexpected ~1,000m (3,280ft) descent to Chamonix!;

Impact to a main route TMB itinerary (assuming you catch gondola down + up)

  • Day you were planning to stay at Refuge La Flégère: Change in Distance = -4.5km (2.8mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = -300m (980ft) | Change in Elevation Loss = -25m (80ft)

  • Next Day: Change in Distance = +5.5km (3.5mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = +375m (1,230ft) | Change in Elevation Loss = +100m (330ft)

  • Overall Impact: Distance = +1km (0.6mi) | Total Elevation Change = +150m (490ft)

 

2. Take the TMB Alternate Route to Stay at Refuge Lac BlanC

For those that are confident in adding 3km (1.8mi) and 490m (1,610ft) in elevation gain to their hike from Les Houches or Refuge de Bellachat

TMB Alternative Option 2: Refuge Lac Blanc

Pros: Lac Blanc is a recommended trail highlight to include in your itinerary regardless of whether Refuge La Flégère is closed. The refuge sits on an alpine lake where hikers are encouraged to take a break and soak up one of the most stunning landscape views of the North West facing side of the Mont Blanc Massif.

Cons: Although there is only a small increase to the overall distance by adding this alternative route in a hikers itinerary, hikers will be required to gain an extra 490m (1,610ft) in elevation to reach Refuge Lac Blanc. This will be challenging for many hikers that have already gained over 1,500m (4,920ft) coming from Les Houches this day.

Variation details: Instead of joining the Grand Balcon Sud trail to Refuge La Flégère after climbing the ladders near Aiguillette d'Argentiére, continue through the junction to reach Refuge Lac Blanc.

Impact to a main route TMB itinerary

  • Day you were planning to stay at Refuge La Flégère: Change in Distance = + 3km (1.8mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = +490m (1,610ft) | Change in Elevation Loss = +20m (65ft)

  • Next Day: Change in Distance = -2km (1.2mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = -310m (1,020ft) | Change in Elevation Loss = +170m (550ft)

  • Overall Impact: Distance = +1km (0.6mi) | Total Elevation Change = +370m (1,180ft)

Please Note: Contact the new guardian to request a booking via this website. If you have tried to make a booking via an another website, it has likely gone to the old guardian who will provide a message that they are not excepting bookings due to a legal matter (disputing the lease).

 

3. Continue on the tMB trail from Refuge La Flégère to Tré-Le-Champ

For those with the energy to extend +7km (4.5mi) past Refuge La Flégère, or were unable to secure a booking at Refuge Lac Blanc

TMB Alternative Option 3: Hike to Tré-Le-Champ

Pros: Tré-Le-Champ is on the main TMB route so there is no additional distance or elevation change to a hikers overall plan. Although there are accommodation options in Tré-Le-Champ, you’ll be connected to public transport in the valley that opens up a range of other accommodation providers.

Cons: Tré-Le-Champ is located 7km (4.5mi) further along the main TMB trail from Refuge La Flégère. The extra effort required on this day to reach Tré-Le-Champ will rule some hikers out but they will benefit from an easier hike the following day.

Variation details: Continue on the main TMB trail along the Grand Balcon Sud before turning off at the junction to climb down the ladders near Aiguillette d'Argentiére and trail to Tré-Le-Champ.

Impact to a main route TMB itinerary

  • Day you were planning to stay at Refuge La Flégère: Change in Distance = +7km (4.5mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = +310m (1,020ft) | Change in Elevation Loss = +790m (2,590ft)

  • Next Day: Change in Distance = -7km (6mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = -310m (1,020ft) | Change in Elevation Loss = -790m (2,590ft)

  • Overall Impact: Distance = nil | Total Elevation Change = nil

 

4. From Refuge La Flégère, Hike Down to the Valley for the night and Back up again

For those that don’t want to catch the gondola down to Chamoix, were unable to secure a booking at Refuge Lac Blanc or can’t quite reach Tré-Le-Champ, hiking down to the valley is for you.

TMB Alternative Option 4: Hike to valley and back

Pros: Hiking down to the valley from Refuge La Flégère to find accommodation is the easiest option (besides catching the Plan Praz gondola!). Hikers will reach the La Joux train station which connects them to the entire valley to find accommodation catering to all budgets and preferences. By hiking back up to the main trail, hikers can enjoy the unique section of the ladders near Aiguillette d'Argentiére.

Cons: This option requires hiking off the main TMB trail, adding to the already challenging multi-day hike. The steep descent then grinding ascent the following day is also not accompanied by a trail highlight to sweeten the extension.

Variation details: From Refuge La Flégère, take the trail on the right side of the small lake and start the descent which crosses a stream and steepens. You’ll come out of the trees and into the valley at the La Joux station.

Impact to a main route TMB itinerary

  • Day you were planning to stay at Refuge La Flégère: Change in Distance = +3km (1.8mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = nil | Change in Elevation Loss = +680m (2,230ft)

  • Next Day: Change in Distance = +2km (1.2mi) | Change in Elevation Gain = +700m (2,300ft) | Change in Elevation Loss = +30m (100ft)

  • Overall Impact: Distance = +5km (3mi) | Total Elevation Change = +1,400m (4,590ft)

 

offline mobile Maps for Clockwise Hikers

Unfortunately I have not created the same mobile map files for the clockwise options at this stage. You can fill in your details to register your interest and if there is enough demand, I’ll let you know when they are ready to access.

Your privacy is very important to us - your details will remain secure and only used by us for sending updates on the maps and a TMB trail newsletter.

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