The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) has been on my bucket list for years. I have done a fair amount of outdoor exploring in my home country of Canada, including a few overnight backpacking trips. I love hiking, but I haven’t loved having to carry 40-50 pounds of gear on my back. But I considered pitching a tent and eating dehydrated food to be a fair price to pay to enjoy serene nature without swarms of other people.
Then I heard about hut-to-hut hiking. The possibility of hiking with only a light pack was particularly appealing. Even more tempting were the hot showers, 3-course dinners, and warm soft beds available each night at huts along the trail. So I purchased the Kev Reynolds Guide to the TMB and started filling my travel fund piggy bank.
I love solo hiking, but I recruited a good friend, Steph, to train with me and join me for the first 4 days of the hike. The last 6 days I would continue on my own. Steph was planning on traveling in Europe with her boyfriend earlier in the month and wasn’t ready to commit to the full trip.
The Tour du Mont Blanc is a 10 day trek that doesn’t climb Mont Blanc Massif, but encircles it, passing through France, Italy, and Switzerland. It is well known as one of the most extraordinarily beautiful hikes in the world, covering 170 km and 11 000 m of ascent and descent. Ascending 11 000 m became more intimidating when I realized that is 1000 m more cumulative ascent than climbing Mount Everest from sea level!
My plan was to start in Les Houches, France, and proceed counter-clockwise through Italy then Switzerland, ending back in France in the alpine town of Chamonix. The minority of travellers opt to complete the trip clockwise. I had heard if you travel counter-clockwise you are more likely to meet familiar faces each night at the refuges, which appealed to me traveling solo. While I enjoy solitude while I hike, I don’t mind some evening socializing!
I also needed to choose when to travel. The most popular months to hike are July and August, with June being iffy depending on how the snow has melted. September can be excellent hiking with fewer crowds, but most refuges close in mid-September.
Steph and I opted for mid-August, avoiding the dates of the TMB Ultra Marathon, when hordes of trail runners descent on the trail! I worried that the trail would be too crowded in August, but I found it wonderful. I booked my accommodation well in advance, but there were other solo trekkers who were making bookings day-of with no problems at all. I did run into fellow travelers now and again. But even in the peak travel season I had many many hours of quiet time where I hiked alone and didn’t encounter a soul.