The TMB is one of the world's great Alpine hikes, encircling the Mont Blanc massif, passing through parts of France, Italy, and Switzerland, anywhere between 105 and 120 miles, depending on variants, with some 33,000 to 36,000 feet ascended/descended in the course of its dozen or so passes. Typically, it is done in a counter-clockwise fashion, beginning at Les Houches in the Chamonix Valley, and goes on for 10-11 days, with over-nights in the many refuges or towns along the away, or in one's backpacking tent. In the annual TMB ultra-marathon, some runners do it all in less that 24 hours. Not us.
Vicki had read of the TMB sometime during our several previous visits to the region. Despite training on Black Mountain (our home was on Horseback Ridge) and Blue Montain near Missoula in the spring, we took the better part of three weeks to do the circuit back in 2005, including a false start, sometimes staying in the refuges, sometimes in our little tent, and three nights in a penzione in beautiful Courmayeur. We were in no rush. Our guide was Kev Reynold's The Tour of Mont Blanc; anything by Kev Reynolds or published by Cicerone is simply the best there is. We flew from Missoula initially to Ft. Lauderdale, to see my mother and sister and her family, and then on to Geneva. The bus took us to Chamonix, where we camped at Camping de L'ile des Barrats, got organized, and put excess baggage in storage. And then we were off to Les Houches and onto the TMB.
Despite the usual apprehension about travel and new experience, we had an easy and fine time. (Except for the red fox, which we'll get to later.) The refuges are all connected by phone and will make reservations for you at your next stop very easily. The food and drink are all regional and wonderful, and you are rarely more than a couple miles from good French, Italian, or Swiss fare. Everyone speaks English, or enough English to get by. The best part--the very best part--is all the people you meet on the trail, in the refuges and in the towns. Every European nationality and then a few. It is as good as an international experience can be. We even ran into some Americans on an REI tour on the Italian/Swiss border. And then there is the scenery....
We were three weeks on the trail and in Chamonix and Courmayeur, and, even then, before my current photo-excess, took hundreds of pix. I've culled them down to a mere 60 or so, to be divided into 4 posts. Below, first, is a map of the TMB, from mappery.com.
Click to enlarge; from mappery.com; best I could
Lewis and Clark; wait, no...
Main drag Chamonix, July, 2005; many French-type
The Aiguille du Midi, from Chamonix; a cable-car goes to the
top of the Aiguille
From Chamonix, looking up toward the summit of Mont Blanc
and the Glacier des Boissons
Me, on our first day, on the route above Les Houches; boldly
setting forth...expecting rain
View of Mont Blanc from near Bionassy
Small French-type personnes learning to climb, near
Beyond Contamines, our second day out (after
the false start), on the slabs (placed there by
Hannibal or some Romans or someone else)
Me, two days on the trail now, still smiling...
Vicki napping, same site
Next day, en route to the Col du Bonhomme, some crazy
French bicyclistes; these people, French and Italian, will
bicycle on anything
Vicki at the cairn at Croix de la Col du Bonhomme
The refuge at the Col du Bonhomme; we ate in but camped
out; here, I believe, I had my first-ever vin chaud; probably
also my second-ever vin chaud; it was cold outside
Next day, trail down