Countdown to the Tour Du Mont Blanc…
The TMB — one of our Bucket List Hikes — and the majestic French Alps are looming close, and we’ve been busy getting ready for what promises to be the adventure of a lifetime. This means physical, mental and practical preparation. It also means spending a lot of money on things like this…a universal adapter. Did you expect to see US voltage compatible wall outlets in the alps?
The route we will be doing is almost exactly that described by Kev Reynolds in his outstanding guidebook, still the definitive one on the subject. Counter-clockwise, beginning and ending in Les Houches, with eleven days of actual hiking. We also plan to take a pair of rest days (we will burn one in the scenic Italian mountain villa of Coramayeur, as Mr. Reynolds suggests, and another further along on the Swiss Frontier.) So, thirteen days, total…plus a couple other bookend days spent in Chamonix, a place worth exploring in its own right.
Brian and Sylvia’s day by day on the TMB…
|Day Start||KM||MI||Day end||Notes||Accomodation|
|Chamonix||18||12||Les Contanamines||Hike Begin||Refuge du Truc|
|Les Contanamines||18||12||Les Chapieux||
Ref Du Bonhomme
|Les Chapieux||15||10||Col de la Seigne||Ref Elisabeta|
|Col de la Seigne||18||12||Coramayeur||Hotel Funivia|
|Coramayeur||0||0||Coramayeur||Planned Rest||Hotel Funivia|
|Coramayeur||12||8||Grand Col Ferret||Ref Bonati|
|Grand Col Ferret||20||14||La Fouly||Auberge Les Glaciers|
|La Fouly||15||10||Champex||Pensien en plien air|
|Trient||0||0||Trient||Planned Rest||Auberge Mont-Blanc|
|Tre-le-Champ||8||6||Above Chamonix||Ref La Flegare|
|Above Chamonix||17||12||Chamonix||Hike End||Chamonix|
Sylvia and I discussed at length how to handle the bookings for this hut-to-hot style trip. We discussed leaving our itinerary open, as suggested by BestHike.com. The idea here is not to book too far ahead, but rather to book only a day or two ahead, relying on the staff at the hostels to call ahead and make bookings for you at the next stop. The plus side of this is, there is no need to re-arrange an entire itinerary if a single day of the hike does not go as planned…you can simply hike as you please so long as the available options allow.
The drawback is the very real risk of having a key location (especially ones such as the Refuges Elisbetta and Bonati, which inevitably factor into any itinerary due to their remote locations) fill up on you, forcing you to hike on many miles more or else lose a day on the trip.
You need a great deal of confidence in yourself as a hiker AND maximum flexibility in your schedule to hike this way. If that isn’t enough, we are hiking right during peak time on the circuit, when hostels are most likely to be full. Thus we decided to err on the side of booking everything ahead and deal with what comes of it. Better to chose a path and stick to it rather than wander all over the map.
Thought not quite the ball of confusion it was upon a time, doing any sort of bookings for the TMB is a very painful exercise…there’s a plethora of refuges, hostels and hotels, all owned by multiple groups and parties, spanning three nationalities speaking two languages and using two or more currencies…all of which must be strung together in a manner that the hiker can reasonably walk and afford. And there is still no easy and foolproof way to plan it, let alone do it.
Well, there is one easy way to plan…pay people to do it for you. There are some companies now that will set up a ‘self-guiding’ itinerary for you…for a price. A brief check online showed that the cost for these self-guiding options range upward “from” $1000 or so per person. The full cost of doing the complete itinerary using a ‘self guided’ tour might be $3000 or more for two people. And that doesn’t include transportation to and from Chamonix. You can set it up yourself for half that…But the cost of that method is measured in headaches.
There are now some low-cost web sites that do much of the pre-arranging for you in one place, with only a minimal charge. One such is the autourdumontblanc site and its affiliate booking site, montourdumontblanc. Many people appear to be using this to plan out their own independent trips.
We did in fact use this site for most of our bookings, and we’ll tell you all how it went. Here’s my impressions of it so far, which bear in mind is with the story not even half told…
For most of the stops, the Montour site made booking very easy. For a few others it was less useful, though still helpful in an indirect way. It’s a great way to plan out the adventure and give you a sense of what is available at each leg. But on the other hand, some of the refuges can’t be booked at all through this site…we found three that required direct communication, two by email and one by phone. Thank God for Google translate!
Additionally, some of the placed which required a down payment (the bigger hotels basically) required you to log onto additional websites to make the arrangements and payment. Thus the Montour site cannot be viewed as a on-stop shopping hub…it can however reduce the number of stops.
In short, Montour saved us some headaches, but did not solve all of our problems. There is still no single place where all the booking can be researched, set-up, paid for and reliably tracked on line.
Additionally, the service may be crude but it is not free. There is a two euro booking free extracted by some organization that represents the huts (or so it claims); and then there is the fee itself. We’re still not 100% sure what we got charged…a fee of a certain number of Euros appeared on our credit card; we THINK that traces back to the site, but we’re not sure, since the billing company is listed as a French version of PayPal, basically.
The site was also uneven in terms of sending notifications about what had been booked and what hadn’t. There were confirming emails from each of the places in question; but while some contained all the detailed information we needed (do we need to pay cash? Do we need to confirm in advance? Do we need to pay anything in advance or just show up?) some just said “thanks for booking.” And we could find no email at all that explains the mysterious charge that appeared. Ain’t that convenient?
But at any rate, all our booking for the hike is done, as is our transportation and our accommodations in Pari…as well as the more basic touristy stuff we will do there in the City of Light. You know…That odd looking metal tower. And then there’s supposed to be some art museum with an expensive gift shop. And an elaborate residential dwelling, very elegant so I hear, from which Sylvia hopes to draw some decorating ideas. And strangely there’s a church named in honor of an American football team.
All that and more! It’s coming! The Tour Du Mont Blanc, one hundred miles of up and down in the Alps!