Tour de Mont Blanc, Part 1

My original plan for the TMB was to treat it the same as my first two hikes. I was going to carry my food, filter my water and camp every night. Basically, I would approach the TMB like it was a remote mountain adventure even though there are towns in every valley and refuges near every pass.

It wasn’t long before the TMB disabused me of the notion that I’d be roughing it in the backcountry. I gradually realized that on the TMB there’s only frontcountry. And in this frontcountry, there is no shortage of comfort and amenities.

Chamonix from Col de Voza

Chamonix from Col de Voza

This was a big lesson to learn. Instead of trying to force the TMB to fit my preexisting idea of what it should be, I needed to chill out and let the hike flow. To take what it gave me and enjoy that for what it is. After momentary resistance and a bit of helpful encouragement from a new hiking buddy, I accomplished that masterfully on the TMB.

Cloud-covered Chamonix at sunrise

Cloud-shrouded Chamonix at morning


I spent two days in Chamonix before the hike buying provisions and soaking in the stunning mountain views. The night before the hike, I visited with my friends Tom and Paula, who were starting the TMB the same day as me. I’d met them through my Uncle Jack (who is probably more to blame for the nature of my current adventures than anyone) and had first gotten to know them on their own John Muir Trail adventures.

We caught up at their hotel and planned some time together on the trail. To top things off, Paula arranged for me to sit in on their guide agency’s orientation meeting. That meeting provided useful information about the hike as well as the first of many glasses of red wine that would find their way into my hands over the course of the TMB.

Tom and Paula on Col de Tricot

Tom and Paula on Col de Tricot

Day 1

The morning of the hike, I caught the bus to Les Houches from Chamonix-Sud. I’d planned an early departure but after waking up late, picking up some last minute provisions and just missing the 8:52 bus, I didn’t arrive in Les Houches until after 10:00am.

Foreshadowing the rest of the trip, I promptly ran into Tom and Paula again as their group unloaded at the Bellevue Téléférique cable car parking lot. We had a quick chat, then I left them to take the cable car to the top of the first pass while I headed toward the trailhead just down the road. I planned to catch up to them when I could and join them for a few hours of hiking.

Scoping out the next pass

Scoping out the next pass (Photo courtesy of Travis Olsen)

I hit the trail and plowed up the 600m climb from Les Houches (1,007m) to the top of the Col de Voza (1,653m). I had the usual first-day bounce in my step and made it to the tram tracks that mark the top of the Col in less than an hour. At the top, I turned left (east) along the ridge and took the alternate TMB path toward the Hotel Bellevue and eventually the Col du Tricot (2,120m).

I ran into Tom and Paula at the crest of Col du Tricot as they were taking a lunch break with their group. We hiked together down to the beautiful Refuge de Miage (1,550m), nestled at the foot of the impressive Domes de Miage. This was their last stop for the day so I joined them for a long beer on the patio.

Val des Glaciers below Col de la Seigne

Val des Glaciers below Col de la Seigne

The good company and beautiful scenery tempted me to call it quits for the day. I somehow resisted and pushed on after several hours. I made the short climb up the Col du Truc (1,720m) and began the long decent into Les Contamines (1,167m), where I planned to camp for the night.

Something strange happened shortly after I started the descent. I got passed. That rarely happens so I looked over to see who it was. As I did, he hit me with a “How’s it going?” and we started chatting.

The Glacier du Trient below le Fenetre d'Arpette

The Glacier du Trient below le Fenetre d’Arpette

His name was Travis and, in a funny twist, it turned out we were following similar paths in more ways than one. We had both done well in our respective industries – me in law and Travis as an entrepreneur – but had decided to check out to travel the world. We’d even left our homes within several days of each other in late May.

We made Les Contamines and headed for a restaurant. This led to a three-hour marathon of good food, red wine, and a ridiculously entertaining conversation that covered everything from our desire to make a positive impact on the world through entrepreneurial endeavors to our former baseball careers, the inevitability and impact of the Singularity, and our bone-deep belief that former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is “the devil incarnate.”

Travis and I atop Le Brevent

Le Brevent

After dinner, we wandered around in the dark for an hour before eventually finding the gîte/campsite located at the south end of town at around 11:00pm. Travis headed in to grab a bed. I set up my tarp then hit the sack with a thud.


Check back in soon for Part 2 of my Tour de Mont Blanc adventure.

"I Carry Nothing but Cheese"
Intro to the Tour de Mont Blanc