The Tour du Mont Blanc – Travel blog by Rick Steves

Earlier this fall, four of us, total long-distance travel novices, hiked Europe’s highest mountain. (On the first day, large birds of prey circled overhead. My take: They were vultures just waiting for one of us to swoop down.)

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a 100-mile hike, but we cheated a little by walking 60 miles from hut to hut over six days, catching local buses on the less interesting sections and letting a “sherpa service” carry our bags every day in France, Italy and through Switzerland from Chamonix to Chamonix.

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a 160 km (100 mi) circuit around Europe’s highest mountain. We made the most profitable 100 km (60 miles) connecting sections with public buses.
I love the Sherpa service offered at Mont Blanc. you leave your large bag in the hotel lobby or at your mountain lodge and trust the bus to pick it up and safely deliver it to your next lodgings. Each day our bags were happily waiting for us at check-in.
A number of buses and mountain lifts are available to tourists to assist them as they choose in the Tour du Mont Blanc. But the season is short, and most lifts and buses were closed by mid-September.

It was my first time enjoying a slice of Europe with my friend Shelly, and we were joined by Sue and David from Minnesota. (I worked with David Preston for 20 years at TPT – Twin Cities PBS. He is considered the “pledge guru” in the public television world.)

Everyone seems to be walking the Tour du Mont Blanc anti-clockwise, starting at the ceremonial start in the village of Les Houche, just outside of Chamonix. And this bow is always good for a happy, pre-blister group shot.

Each day we hiked what the trail signs said was a five-hour hike that took us six or seven. Our mantra: “Take our time. That’s why we’re here.” Generally, the day begins with a 3,000-foot climb to a pass (or “pillar”) 8,000 feet above sea level. Each pillar was a small triumph, with its jagged stack of rocks, dramatic weather that blew, breathtaking views and congratulatory selfies.

Part of our pre-trip training was steep hikes on the home approach. Since a typical day’s climb on the TMB is a thousand meters (or roughly 3,000 feet), I would recommend choosing a practice hike with 3,000 feet of elevation gain so you can use that as a reference point. In Washington State, ours was the Mount Sea Trail. We even had a term for the 3,000-foot elevation, “Mount Si.”

Each morning on Mont Blanc we would do our hard work, climbing a total of 3,000 feet. It seemed like it would take forever…but it didn’t. And reaching the pass (generally about 8,000 feet above sea level) was always a lunch celebration.

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