Having some weeks of spare time before “normal life” would get hold of me, I decided to fulfill me another wish from my bucketlist of hiking trails. My goal was to accomplish a 170 kilometer circuit around the highest mountain in the European Alps. I wanted to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB). Starting at the end of June I was hoping to avoid the main season and be a little ahead of the big crowds.
To reach my starting point – a small village named Les Houches in the French Alps – I boarded the ICE in Karlsruhe and arrived a few hours later in Geneva. From there I just had to jump on a Ouibus to get to Chamonix which is close to Les Houches.
But where is that busstop? I was wondering while I ran around like crazy in front of Genevas rather small airport. It took me a while and the help of a guy from a car rental company to realize that I had to go downstairs to find the busstop. It was while asking that guy, when I realized that the French I learned at school is more than rosted, it barely exists!
Once I knew where the busstop was, it was easy and after another 30 minutes of waiting I boarded the Ouibus to Chamonix. Not long and some impressive mountains were building up in front of my bus window…
The day of the Australian ladies
I already met them at the bus stop in Geneva and we were sitting close to each other on the bus chatting for quite a while. Two older Australian ladies were on their way to Chamonix to hike the TMB as well. Looking at the two I was impressed. Cheers, ladies!
Arriving in Chamonix at a very cute busstop it was easy to jump on the next bus to Les Houches. 20 minutes later I stood in front of Gite Michel Fagot which was meant to be my home for the first night. I checked into the dorm room which I shared with Travis and Andrew – two American brothers. We talked a long time about hiking in the US and the days of hiking that would lie ahead of us on the TMB. We tried to get every information possible by asking other people who stayed at the gite and were in the middle of their hike already.
Funny enough I sat at the dinner table with three older Australian ladies (different ones!) who had just finished their hike. It was great to share that moment with them and I witnessed a ranking of the accommodation options along the trail.
After my first night in a dormitory since a long time and a good breakfast with fresh baguette I was ready to hit the trail!
My first steps on the TMB
A short walk along the main road in Les Houches brought me to the start of the trail. Some stairs led up the mountain and started what should be a long and strenuous climb for a first day. The European Alps are much steeper than the mountains or better hills I usually hike up. I had to climb all the way from Les Houches (1014m) to the first milestone which was Col de Voza at 1659m.
The climb was fairly steep in places and after a while I could feel my shoes rubbing in the back. Knowing better, I ignored the feeling for some time until I finally sat down on some green gras next to the trail to prevent upcoming blisters. I taped the back of both of my heels and kept on climbing. It was hot and the forest road I was mainly hiking on was only partly shaded.
Col de Voza – 1659m
Puh, the first milestone of the day is reached. But there’s only time for a small break at Col de Voza as I have planned to take the alternate route via Col de Tricot (2114m) and therefore I had to climb another 500 meters. Big program for my first day!
Col de Voza seemed to be quite busy with a big hotel and I could also see the famous tramway of Mont Blanc passing by. After checking my feet and not being really happy with what I saw I put on my hiking boots again and jumped on the trail. The weather was great, meaning it was hot and so I filled up my water bottle before I climbed further up the mountain.
The trail crested along a steep mountainside and in some places there were even metal handrails to help the hikers get through. Not my favourite sections as I am afraid of the heights! Hopefully I will get used to that.
After some climbing I had to get through quickly and an adventurous crossing of a suspension bridge the trail eventually levelled off a bit and led into a beautiful alpine valley. Green gras and all kinds of early summer flowers were glowing in the sunshine. Looking ahead I could see glacier-covered mountains. I had to take photos on every turn! It was worth stopping! Especially the purple, yellow and blue mountain flowers were really beautiful and fit perfect into the whole scenery.
This was just day one and I already knew why I came back. I love the European Alps!
The first mountain pass – Col de Tricot (2120m)
From the beautiful alpine valley I had to climb a bit further up and reached the first snow patches of the trail. Since hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016, I am very confident with hiking over snow and actually prefer it over slippery sand and rocks. Still stepping on muddy snow I could see some sheepy locals grazing in the distance. The sheep wore small bells to not get lost – same as the cows in the alpine environment.
A few more steps and I was at the top of Col the Tricot. With 2120m the first mounrain pass I had to cross on this journey. There were quite a few people sitting up there enjoying the view into the valley and I joined them for a little while.
But this first day should turn out to be a long one and therefore I didn’t stay too long. From the pass it was a fairly steep downhill in switchbacks. An older man in running shoes overtook me halfway and made me feel even older. I told myself “You can do it!” and went ahead with more energy.
Resting at Auberge de Miage
My legs were already tired when I reached the small hamlet in the valley with the Auberge de Miage. I needed to sit down and rest for a moment.
One coke later I hit the trail again. I had to climb over another mountain to finally descend into Les Contamines where I would stay for the night.
Finish of day 1 & a night at the Refuge CAF Les Contamines
I climbed up and over the next mountain and descended into the valley of Les Contamines. It was already late and my legs felt heavy when I walked down the main street in this small touristy village. The air was filled with fumes from different restaurants and after a long first day of hiking I started to get hungry.
A bridge across the river led me towards my home for the night, the Chalet Refuge CAF Les Contamines. I entered the door and first got rid of my heavy hiking boots. I was carrying my crocs as hut shoes. The house was very small and I had to squeeze through some doorways to finally check in. It turned out that I shared my dormroom with a bunch of French guys, some in a group, some single hikers. Unfortunately they couldn’t speak English and once again I realized how limited my knowledge of the French language is. As a result we communicated with hand and feet and did quite a good job!
Dinner consisted of a soup and a nice curry as well as some cheese and sweet cream afterwards. At the table I got to know Tyler and Claire from Boston and another couple from Hongkong. It’s just awesome how many people come from all over the world to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc!
Slipping into my hut sleeping bag I grabbed my guidebook and read about the upcoming trail section tomorrow. What challenges would I have to face?
next post –> Day 2 – Les Contamines to Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme
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