2022 July: trek Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) in Europe

After years of anticipation, our group of three completed the magnificent Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB). Twelve days of strenuous walking up and down covered 30,000 vertical feet over 100 miles. This 16-day TMB itinerary started with afternoon arrival in Geneva (Switzerland) and included 5 nights in Chamonix (France) and 3 nights in Courmayeur (Italy), in 2022 June 29–July 14.

Our Tour du Mont Blanc was part of 5.5 weeks of glorious trekking in the Alps, including 10 stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1) and 4 days at Saas-Fee resort. From June 28–August 5, we walked 200+ miles and ascended 56,000 vertical feet. Alpenwild.com sponsored my photography and booked our epic Self-Guided package. Luggage transfers provided between comfortable hotels lightened our day packs every day (except for three overnights in refuges). See Tom’s abridged gallery “2022 Alps favorites: TMB, Via Alpina, Saas Fee“; or full portfolio “2022 Alps: all TMB, Via Alpina, Saas Fee

Seen from Le Signal Forbes trail, the Mer de Glace ("Sea of Ice") glacier emerges from the Mont Blanc massif below the Needles of Chamonix. We hiked the Grand North Balcony from Plan de l'Aiguille to Montenvers (4.3 miles one way with 2000 feet vertical ascent and 700 ft descent), above Chamonix, in France, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: seen from Le Signal Forbes Trail, the Mer de Glace (“Sea of Ice”) glacier emerges from the Mont Blanc massif below the Needles of Chamonix, in France.

TIP: The eleven TMB “Stages” are well documented in the excellent book “The Tour of Mont Blanc: Complete two-way trekking guide [Amazon]” by Kev Reynolds (2020, Cicerone Trekking Guides). Taxi Besson provided luggage transfers. Since lynchpin lodgings on the popular Tour du Mont Blanc requires booking about 9 months in advance, consider instead trekking its highlights more spontaneously as day hikes done in good weather (assisted by weather forecasts 1–2 days in advance), based comfortably in Chamonix and Courmayeur for Stages 1, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, & 11 as described in my Alps Guide.

For a warmup hike, we walked the Grand North Balcony, from Plan de l’Aiguille to Montenvers via Le Signal Forbes Trail (4.3 miles one way with 2000 feet vertical ascent and 700 feet descent), which was harder than expected due to jet-lagged bodies unaccustomed to exercising in thin air at 7500 feet above sea level. This scenic saunter isn’t an official Stage, or Étape, of the Tour du Mont Blanc, but our subsequent 11 hiking days covered all eleven TMB Stages, numbered as Days 0 through 10 as follows:

TMB Day 0 (Stage 10): For a second superlative warmup hike above Chamonix, we looped to Lac Blanc (shown below) and Lac de Chéserys, starting atop the lift, “Télécabine Flégère–Les Praz” (5.8 miles with 1930 feet ascent and descent). TIP: This rewarding lake circuit covers the most scenic parts of Stage 10 (Étape 10) of the Tour du Mont Blanc, but with much less effort than the standard one-way version that starts from Tré-le-Champ or Col des Montets.
Lac Blanc. We hiked a loop to Lac Blanc and Lac de Chéserys, starting from atop the lift, "Télécabine Flégère–Les Praz" (5.8 miles with 1930 feet ascent and descent) above Chamonix, in France, Europe. This rewarding circuit covers the most scenic parts of Stage 10 (Étape 10) of the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), but with less effort than starting from Tré-le-Champ or Col des Montets. This hike on the Tour du Mont Blanc is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 1 (Alternative Stage 1) : The majority of hikers do the Tour du Mont Blanc in a counterclockwise direction, as we did. After taking a bus from Chamonix to Les Houches and riding the Téléphérique de Bellevue, we hiked the more dramatic option of Stage 1 via Col du Tricot to Hotel La Chemenaz in Les Contamines-Montjoie village in France (8 miles, 2100 feet ascent, 4000 ft descent). Below: Refuge de Miage provided a welcome lunch break at the foot of Mont Blanc (which looks remarkably like Mount Rainier from this angle):
Refuge de Miage, at the foot of Mont Blanc in the Alps, France, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 1: after taking a bus from Chamonix to Les Houches and riding the Téléphérique de Bellevue, we hiked via Col du Tricot to Hotel La Chemenaz in Les Contamines-Montjoie village (8 miles, 2100 feet ascent, 4000 ft descent) in France, Europe. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 2 (Stage 2): hike from Les Contamines-Montjoie via Col du Bonhomme (photo below) to Les Chambres du Soleil in Les Chapieux hamlet, in Bourg-Saint-Maurice commune, France (11.4 miles with 4200 feet ascent, 3000 ft descent):
Looking southwest from Col du Bonhomme. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 2: hike from Les Contamines-Montjoie via Col du Bonhomme to Les Chambres du Soleil in Les Chapieux hamlet, in Bourg-Saint-Maurice commune, France, Europe (11.4 miles with 4200 feet ascent, 3000 ft descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 3 (Stage 3): hike from Les Chapieux in France via Col de la Seigne to Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny (8.8 miles miles with 3450 feet ascent, 1440 ft descent). Our packs were slightly heavier on this day and the next, because remote Elisabetta Refuge doesn’t support luggage transfers. Although the understaffed Elisabetta Refuge valiantly provided a good dinner, we were underwhelmed by slow check-in, long lines waiting for delayed flooded showers, a cubbyhole bunkroom for three, and very rudimentary breakfast. In retrospect, we appreciate the showers being hot and the tiny room being private (versus the densely stacked dormitory). The post-pandemic staffing problems will hopefully be corrected in the future.
Below: Aiguille Noire de Peuterey rises above us in the Mont Blanc massif near La Casermetta in Val Veny, Italy:
Aiguille Noire de Peuterey in the Mont Blanc massif, seen between La Casermetta & Elisabetta Refuges, Val Veny, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 3: hike from Les Chapieux in France via Col de la Seigne to Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny (8.8 miles miles with 3450 feet ascent, 1440 ft descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 4 (Stage 4): hike from Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny (Italy) to Hotel Pavillion in Courmayeur (walking 6.9 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2320 ft descent along the main TMB ridge route to Rifugio Maison Vieille, then taking the chairlift from Col Chécrouit and gondola lift down to Dolonne).
Sunrise scenes around Elisabetta Refuge, near Courmayeur, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 4: hike from Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny to Hotel Pavillion in Courmayeur (walking 6.9 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2320 ft descent along the main TMB ridge route to Rifugio Maison Vieille, then taking the chairlift from Col Chécrouit and gondola lift down to Dolonne). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A beautiful sunrise experience compensated for understaffed services at Elisabetta Refuge.
Below: Sunrise highlights pink alpenrose flowers (Rhododendron ferrugineum) near Elisabetta Refuge:
Pink alpenrose flowers / Rhododendron ferrugineum at sunrise near Elisabetta Refuge, Courmayeur, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 4: hike from Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny to Hotel Pavillion in Courmayeur (walking 6.9 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2320 ft descent along the main TMB ridge route to Rifugio Maison Vieille, then taking the chairlift from Col Chécrouit and gondola lift down to Dolonne). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The Mont Blanc massif rises above Val Veny during sunrise seen from the deck of Elisabetta Refuge:
Sunrise scenes around Elisabetta Refuge, near Courmayeur, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 4: hike from Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny to Hotel Pavillion in Courmayeur (walking 6.9 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2320 ft descent along the main TMB ridge route to Rifugio Maison Vieille, then taking the chairlift from Col Chécrouit and gondola lift down to Dolonne). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: One of the highlights of the TMB is traversing this scenic ridge on the way to Col Chécrouit, high above La Visaille in Val Veny (a branch of Aosta Valley):
TMB trek Day 4: the Mont Blanc massif rises above Val Veny, above La Visaille, near Courmayeur, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 4: hike from Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny to Hotel Pavillion in Courmayeur (walking 6.9 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2320 ft descent along the main TMB ridge route to Rifugio Maison Vieille, then taking the chairlift from Col Chécrouit and gondola lift down to Dolonne). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Dolonne, an historic neighborhood of Courmayeur, in Aosta Valley, Italy, Europe (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The Tour du Mont Blanc passes through historic Dolonne, a charming neighborhood of Courmayeur (where we recommend staying for at least 3 nights).

From Courmayeur, don’t miss breathtaking vistas from Skyway Monte Bianco cable car system:
View Mont Blanc from Pointe Helbronner station of Skyway Monte Bianco cable car, Courmayeur, Italy, Europe. The Skyway Monte Bianco opened in 2015 in the Italian Alps, linking the town of Courmayeur with Pointe Helbronner on the southern side of the Mont Blanc massif. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Pointe Helbronner station at the top of Skyway Monte Bianco reveals stunning perspectives on the Mont Blanc massif.
Below: My peak experience of the month was the 5-kilometer ride on “Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc,” an incredible system of triplet cabins strung between Pointe Helbronner (Italy) across France to Aiguille du Midi (which is alternatively reachable by lift from Chamonix):

The "Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc" cable car crosses 5 kilometers of the Mont Blanc massif in France from Aiguille du Midi to Pointe Helbronner. To reach Pointe Helbronner, we used Skyway Monte Bianco cable car, where the top platform splits the border between Italy & France, and the bottom station is in La Palud village just north of Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley, Italy, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: climbers rise to the challenge on Aiguille du Midi (12,605 ft), in the Mont Blanc massif, France:
Mont Blanc Massif seen from atop Aiguille du Midi, France, Europe. We reached Aiguille du Midi via the "Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc" cable car, which crosses 5 kilometers of the Mont Blanc Massif in France from Aiguille du Midi to Pointe Helbronner. To reach Pointe Helbronner, we used Skyway Monte Bianco cable car, where the top platform splits the border between Italy & France, and the bottom station is in La Palud village just north of Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Aiguille Verte (left) and Dent du Géant (right) rise above the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) Glacier. The "Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc" cable car crosses 5 kilometers of the Mont Blanc Massif in France from Aiguille du Midi to Pointe Helbronner. To reach Pointe Helbronner, we used Skyway Monte Bianco cable car, where the top platform splits the border between Italy & France, and the bottom station is in La Palud village just north of Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley, Italy, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: While dangling from the spine-tingling “Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc” cable car in France, admire the Aiguille Verte (left) and Dent du Géant (right) rising high above the Sea of Ice Glacier (Mer de Glace).

TMB Day 5 (Stage 5): Rebecca and I hiked from Courmayeur via the Mont de la Saxe option of TMB, to Walter Bonatti Refuge (10 miles with vigorous 5200 feet ascent, 2700 feet descent). Carol separately hiked the standard TMB Stage 5 (8 miles with 3300 ft up, 700 ft down). Each route rewards you with beautiful vistas proportionate to the effort. Our packs were slightly heavier on this day and the next, because remote Rifugio Bonatti doesn’t support luggage transfers. After the understaffed Elisabetta Refuge had disappointed us on Stage 3, the elegant Rifugio Bonatti surprised us with a spacious private quad bunkroom for our group of three, excellent bathrooms & showers, and tasty generous meals served promptly by lots of happy staff! Both refuges offer impressive mountain settings, but Bonatti has a newer, superior design.
Six-spot Burnet moths (Zygaena filipendulae, a black insect with 6 red wing spots, in the Zygaenidae family) sip nectar from a Knapweed (Centaurea) flower. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 5: I hiked from Courmayeur via the Mont de la Saxe option to Walter Bonatti Refuge in Italy, Europe (10 miles with 5200 feet ascent, 2700 ft descent) (whereas the standard TMB route hiked separately by Carol was 8 miles with 3300 ft up, 700 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Six-spot Burnet moths (Zygaena filipendulae) sip nectar from a Knapweed (Centaurea) flower.

Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 5: I hiked from Courmayeur via the Mont de la Saxe option to Walter Bonatti Refuge in Italy, Europe (10 miles with 5200 feet ascent, 2700 ft descent) (whereas the standard TMB route hiked separately by Carol was 8 miles with 3300 ft up, 700 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Mont Blanc seen from Mont de la Saxe ridge (a harder option for Stage 5 of the counterclockwise Tour du Mont Blanc).

TMB Day 6 (Stage 6): hike from Walter Bonatti Refuge in Italy to Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly, Switzerland (12.9 miles with 3000 feet ascent, 4300 ft descent).
Helicopter bags service Bonatti Refuge in Val Ferret, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 6: hike from Walter Bonatti Refuge in Italy to Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly, Switzerland (12.9 miles with 3000 feet ascent, 4300 ft descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Large white helicopter bags service Bonatti Refuge in Val Ferret, Italy. In the background, a golden sunrise spotlights Mont Blanc.

TMB Day 7 (Stage 7): hike from Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly to Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac (9.3 miles with 1585 feet ascent, 1910 ft descent).
TMB trek Day 7: sunrise seen around Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly, Val Ferret, Switzerland, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 7: hike from Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly to Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac (9.3 miles with 1585 feet ascent, 1910 ft descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunrise at Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly, Val Ferret, Switzerland.
Below: Garden gnomes in Val Ferret, near Orsières, before ascending to Champex-Lac.
Garden gnomes in Val Ferret, near Orsières, Switzerland, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 7: hike from Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly to Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac, Switzerland, Europe (9.3 miles with 1585 feet ascent, 1910 ft descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 8 (Stage 8): continuing within Switzerland, Carol and I hiked from Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac via Alp Bovine to Hotel Col de la Forclaz (8.6 miles with 2500 feet ascent, 2360 ft descent). Rebecca chose the more difficult Alternative Stage 8, via the daunting Fenêtre d’Arpette pass (8.5 miles with 3900 ft gain & loss, which Carol and I had already done in the opposite direction during our Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route trek in 2005). Below: trekkers take a lunch break at Alp Bovine, which overlooks Martigny and the Rhone Valley of Switzerland.
Alp Bovine. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 8: hike from Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac to Hotel Col de la Forclaz, in Switzerland, Europe (8.6 miles with 2500 feet ascent, 2360 ft descent). This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 9 (Stage 9): hike from Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland via Col de Balme to Hotel de la Couronne in Argentière, France (10 miles, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent).
Below: Sunrise on Aiguille du Tour seen from Col de la Forclaz, Switzerland.
Sunrise on Aiguille du Tour seen from Col de la Forclaz, Switzerland, the Alps, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 9: hike from Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland via Col de Balme to Hotel de la Couronne in Argentiere, France (10 miles, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent). This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Aiguille du Chardonnet, Aiguille Verte & Mont Blanc seen from L' Aiguillettes des Possettes, on the way from Col de Balme to Argentiere, France, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 9: hike from Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland via Col de Balme to Hotel de la Couronne in Argentiere (10 miles, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent). This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: we celebrate a vista of Aiguille du Chardonnet, Aiguille Verte, and Mont Blanc from the side of L’ Aiguillettes des Possettes, on the way from Col de Balme to Argentiere, France.

Hotel de la Couronne. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 9: hike from Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland via Col de Balme to Hotel de la Couronne in Argentiere, France, Europe (10 miles, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent). This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: we fell in love with our room with a view at Hotel de la Couronne in Argentière, France.

Picnic dinner. Hotel de la Couronne. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 9: hike from Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland via Col de Balme to Hotel de la Couronne in Argentiere, France, Europe (10 miles, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent). This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
TIP: In Northern Europe, shopping at local groceries for delicious gourmet picnic dinners & lunches saves lots of money and time! In comparison, when dining at hotels or restaurants in the Alps, we were frequently frustrated by slow multi-course service and meal times which often started later than desired. Instead of using hotels’ Half or Full Board meal plans, we prefer Breakfast Only (or no meal plan) for greater flexibility.

TMB Day 10 (Stage 11): Today, we walked a modified TMB Stage 11, instead of repeating Lac Blanc (TMB Stage 10, already done for initial training on a sunny day forecast). I chose a route that covered the main highlights of Stage 11 but was much easier. Starting from atop Télécabine Flégère–Les Praz lift, we hiked from La Flégère to Planpraz (3.6 miles, 940 feet ascent, 600 ft descent). From Planpraz, we rode Le Brévent cable car round trip for sightseeing on high, then caught the Télécabine Planpraz lift down to Chamonix.

Below: don’t miss the impressive panorama atop Le Brévent cable car station above Chamonix. (Multiple images were stitched to make this picture, which shows the same cable car twice, a few seconds apart.)
Views atop Le Brévent lift. Chamonix, France, Europe. Our Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 10: starting from atop the Télécabine Flégère–Les Praz lift, we hiked from La Flégère to Planpraz (3.6 miles, 940 feet ascent, 600 ft descent) to catch Le Brévent cable car for sightseeing above, then took the Télécabine Planpraz lift down to Chamonix. This routing covers the main highlights of "Stage 11" (Étape 11) of the standard counterclockwise Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) but with much less effort. Multiple images were stitched to make this panorama picture, showing the same cable car in two different positions. This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The above photo highlights are excerpted from my trip gallery “TMB | Tour du Mont Blanc (FRANCE, ITALY, SWITZERLAND)“.

We were ecstatic to return to Europe since our last visit five years ago (in 2017 to the UK). We previously visited the Alps in 2016, 2013, 2011, 2005, & 1981.

To plan your trip, see Tom’s online guide to the Alps.

There you have it, our first 16 days in the Alps in summer 2022, trekking all 11 stages of the Tour du Mont Blanc, with some options done harder, some easier. The next phase began by train from Chamonix (France) to reach Saas-Fee resort in Switzerland, covered in the next article.

2 thoughts on “2022 July: trek Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) in Europe

  1. Hi Tom, I live in the UK and have travelled around Europe extensively so recognise some of the places that you have visited. Your photographs look wonderful!!!, for all your 2022 travels are you still using the Sony 1inch sensor cameras for photography? If so they look remarkable.
    Best wishes, John

    • Yes, I used just the 1-inch sensor Sony RX10 IV and RX100 VI cameras for all trips in 2022 (plus a few smartphone shots). Since 2016, my 1-inch-sensor Sony RX10 IV (and earlier version III) cameras have preserved publishable image quality while radically extending zoom range to 25x. For multi-night backpacking where a lightweight pack is critical, I carry the Sony RX100 VI (8x zoom), which has the same 1-inch sensor, but weighs 3 times less. Much of the quality you see in my photos comes from editing in Adobe Lightroom Classic, to optimize the image back to my perception of the original scene. The machine rendering of color tones by cameras rarely matches human perception, so careful editing must compensate. I always shoot using raw image file format, which allows editing to recover up to 2.5 stops of shadow and 1 stop of highlight color tones, where needed.

      You’re lucky to live in Europe, near a vast variety of cultural and scenic wonders! Fantastic trip to the Alps this summer.

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