RAPID COMPLETE TMB - 6 DAYS

Our rapid Tour du Mont Blanc 6 day itinerary follows the complete TMB trail and is designed for trail runners or fast packers trail running on all descents. This itinerary IS NOT suitable for walkers or trekkers.

Rapid TMB – 6 days


Start point: Les Houches, Chamonix        
End point: Les Houches, Chamonix          
Length: 6 days

  • Day 1 – Les Houches – Val Montjoie
  • Day 2 – Val Montjoie Val Veny
  • Day 3 – Val Veny – Val Ferret
  • Day 4 – Val Ferret- Champex-Lac / Relais d’Arpette
  • Day 5 – Champex-Lac / Relais d’Arpette – Tré-le-Champ
  • Day 6 – Tré-le-Champ – Les Houches
Day 1 – discover the Miage Valley after descending the Col du Tricot on variant stage 1

Day 1 Les Houches – Val Montjoie (via Col du Tricot)

2004m up / 1311m down / 24.1km / 6-7hrs (Les Houches – Refuge de la Balme)
1222m up / 1320m down / 18.9km / 5-6hrs (Bellevue plateau – Refuge de la Balme)
Route overview:

This itinerary takes the Bellevue cable car from Les Houches to the Bellevue Plateau & picks up the path for the Col du Tricot. After the Himalayan suspension bridge the route begins to gently climb until the spectacular Bionnassay glacier comes into full view. From here you can see the top of the Col du Tricot and it’s a steady climb up to the grassy saddle. Spend some time here to admire the views over the Miage Valley and far off the Col du Bonhomme. Spot Refuge Miage in the distant cluster of farm buildings way down in the valley below (a great stop refreshment stop if you have time). If you look carefully to your left, you’ll see a stone archway on the ‘smugglers route’ to Refuge Plan Glacier (see our adventure itinerary). The descent down is STEEP! Take it easy and use your poles. Reaching the valley floor follow the signs to reach Refuge Miage in just 5 minutes. This cluster of farm buildings in set in an idyllic rural setting and is charmingly French. The view of the Dômes de Miage (3600m) from the refuge is outstanding.

After an initial short climb from the Miage Valley up and over to Auberge du Truc. From here it’s a long steady descent through the forest into Les Contamines. Have a leisurely lunch in this small French town before either choosing to walk along the river to Notre Dame de la Gorge (or pick up the free shuttle bus (navette) outside the Tourist Office to Notre Dame de la Gorge during the months of July and August) where the trail heads out into the wild once more. Taking the free shuttle bus means the difference between the stated length & hike time above. Take a moment to visit the beautiful Notre Dame de la Gorge chapel next to the gushing water before setting out on the well marked path. Warning – the trail is VERY steep here along an ancient slabbed Roman road to Refuge Nant Borrant but pleasantly flanks the bubbling racing gorge for much of the ascent. Be sure to look out for the pont naturel sign leading to a natural arch on the river, just a minute from the trail. Cross the roman bridge to take in the rushing gorge below. After reaching Refuge Nant Borrant press for almost a further 3kms before reaching Refuge Le Balme.

Iunch stop

If you’ve taken the variant stage 1 via the Col du Tricot (recommended in good weather) then Refuge Miage or Auberge du Truc are fantastic places to stop and have lunch.

For those of you on the traditional trail Auberge du Bionnassay is excellent but it’s a little too soon for lunch if you’ve taken the Bellevue cable car up. I would take a packed lunch or have a late lunch in Les Contamines.

accommodation on day 1

Accommodation at the end of day 1 is at the end of Val Montjoie in Refuge Le Balme or the excellent alternative refuges of Refuge Nant Borrant (1 hour earlier) and Refuge Des Pres (just above Refuge Le Balme)

Approaching the Col du Bonhomme – Day 2

Day 2 Val Montjoie Val Veny

1820m up / 1335m down / 24.4km / 7-8hrs (Refuge Le Balme via Les Chapieux to Elisabetta)
1764m up / 1279m down / 21.9km / 7-8hrs (Refuge Le Balme via Col des Fours to Elisabetta)

good to know

From late June until even the end of July you can expect to cross snow patches on the way up the Col du Bonhomme. This section has no exposure and so in July no extra equipment is necessary as there are good boot pack in the place and the 100m snow patch is rather a novelty.

From mid June possibly as far into the first week of July though you should be taking hiking crampons for the section between Col du Bonhomme and the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme. This is a traverse along a steep mountainside – when this is covered is snow you will need hiking crampons to feel secure on these snow crossings. Read my trekking the TMB early season here.

Route overview:

Today you’ll make the climb over a whopping 3 mountain passes! Col du Bonhomme (2329m) and Col de la Croix du Bonhomme (2483m) where early in the season (late June – end of July) you can expect to cross snow patches and finally Col de la Seigne (2516m) the border between France and Italy.

tour du mont blanc itinerary 9 days
Day 2 – the route descending the Col des Fours as seen from the viewpoint Têtes des Fours – a well worth 20 minute deviation with impressive 360 views from the Mont Blanc Massif, down along the Les Contamines-Montjoie valley to Col du Bonhomme & ahead along the Vallée des Glaciers to Col de la Seigne.

If the weather is fine take the alternative route just before Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme via the Col des Fours. This spectacular variant leads you over a lunar like landscape before dropping into the Vallée des Glaciers picking up the trail at Ville des Glacier. Tip: take the 10 minute detour at the top of Col des Fours to the view point Tête des Fours – it is nothing short of spectacular and is the only point on the trek where you can see where you’ve come from and where you’re going to from a birds eye view – oh and the view of the Mont Blanc Massif is nothing short of spectacular as well! I advise stashing your rucksack behind one of the many boulders to simply float up to the view point! Note this route cuts out the hamlet of Les Chapieux. Never attempt this variant route if the weather is nothing short of perfect.

If you’re continuing along the normal TMB route the well marked trail will descend all the way to the valley of to Les Chapieux, where you can stop for a welcome refreshment at the friendly Auberge de la Nova and carry on a further hour up the trail to Refuge Les Mottets. Or as we would suggest catch the navette (shuttle bus) which ferries you in 30 minutes to the parking area of Refuge Les Mottets (you’ll then have to walk down the hillside to the refuge in the valley bottom).

Climbing the Col de la Seigne, your third and final col for the day, is a gradual affair with a couple of false summits promising the end. At the top if the weather is good you’ll see Mont Blanc again but this time from the Italian side. It’s now referred to as Monte Bianco! The view here is astounding.

From the col it’s all downhill onto the wide, flat valley floor of Vallon de la Lée Blanche. Be sure to look out for marmots as you descend – they hang out along the rocky spine on the initial descent.

It’s an easy descent to Rifugio Elisabetta, a basic cavernous refuge, commanding an exceptional view perched on a spur of the Pyramides Calcaires, with not one, but two glaciers (Glacier d’Estellette and Glacier de la Lée Blanche) spilling down behind it. You are now in the Val Veny and you will either sleep in Rifugio Elisabetta or head on the further 45 minutes along the ancient arrow straight Roman road to the picture postcard A frame Rifugio Cabane Combal (below).

lunch stop

Today is a long day with 3 mountain passes to climb! It may be prudent to order a pique-nique (packed lunch) from your refuge the night before as it may be that you don’t have the time to stop for lunch today. If you would prefer to make a stop at a refuge to eat then the obvious choices would be Refuge Auberge de la Nova if you have followed the traditional route down into Les Chapieux or Refuge Mottets if have trekked the variant Col des Fours.

accommodation on night 2

Accommodation on night 2 will be in one of the only two refuges in the Val Veny – Rifugio Elisabetta or Cabane Combal.

tour du mont blanc refuges
Refugio Cabane Combal – a gorgeous A framed hut on the Miage glacier moraine will be your home for night 2

Day 3 Val Veny – Val Ferret

1663m up / 1829m down / 28.1km / 9-10hrs

Route overview:

There are no cols to climb today however it’s easy to presume that this stretch is not demanding. Think again. This stage is one of my favourites hands down. The formidable wall of rock holding up the Mont Blanc Massif on the opposite side of the valley highlights our minuscule selves. Prepare to feel humbled.

The trail climbs up the side of the V shaped, moat like Val Veny to the highest point of the day, the Mont Favre spur (2430m). With every step along the high balcony path, the sheer southern flanks of the imposing Mont Blanc Massif range rising on the opposite side, take your breath away.  Whilst not particularly challenging, the deceiving nature of this balcony trail leads to you believe you’re almost there. Many times.

During the peak summer weeks of July and August it is possible to take a gondola and chair lift from Maison Vielle down to Dolonne. From there it’s just a ten minute walk into the centre of Courmayeur. This is a good option for those with delicate knees – the descent into Courmayeur is brutal and in fact we would recommend this to anyone hiking in the peak period – you are not missing anything on this descent.

Take a leisurely lunch in the Italian town of Courmayeur before the next ascent. We highly recommend Pizzeria Ristorante du Tunnel who serve the largest pizza we’ve ever seen!

After lunch the climb is steep up to Rifugio Bertone after which a gentle balcony trail traverses along to Rifugio Bonatti – your home for the night.

Iunch

I’d recommend having lunch either in Rifugio Maison Vielle or a late lunch in the Italian town of Courmayeur. It’s possible to take the chairlift and cable car down from Rifugio Maison Vielle.

accommodation on night 3

Accommodation this evening is ideally at Rifugio Bonatti high up on the trail.

Rifugio Bonatti however, is a most coveted refuge. It’s beds book out insanely quickly. If you wish to book for summer 2025 you MUST book very early. This itinerary may be tweaked slightly if reservations cannot be secured at Bonatti. Alternative accommodation options are Hotel Lavachey or returning to Courmayeur (both involves a 30 min descent from Bonatti and then a short bus ride)

tour du mont blanc Italy
Refugio Bonatti has fantastic views of the Mont Blanc Massif. However such is its popularity it can be very difficult to secure a bed. This itinerary may have to be tweaked if you do not book early enough.

Day 4 Val Ferret – Champex-Lac/Refuge Relais d’Arpette

1636m up / 2035m down / 35.5km / 10-11hrs (to Relais d’Arpette)

Good to know: Many trekkers actually choose to omit stage 7 opting to take the bus from Ferret or La Fouly to Champex-Lac but for trekkers who are intent to complete the entire route this gentle section will give your tired legs a rest.

Route overview:

Today you’ll climb over the Grand Col Ferret and cross into Switzerland! The gentle Swiss alpine meadows are in stark comparison to the jagged wild landscapes you’ve trekked through in Italy and France. The trail descends to the hamlet of Ferret and the town of La Fouly – a good place to stock up on snacks.

La Fouly sits at the foot of two mighty mountains, Tour Noir (3, 836m) and Mont Dolent (3,823m) which incredibly is the tri-point where all three of the Tour du Mont Blanc countries, France, Switzerland and Italy’s borders meet! The route meanders easily through the valley past Swiss mountain pastures. Drink in the delightful scenes of rural life in Switzerland as you potter leisurely along this stage.

There’s only one more up before you reach Champex-Lac, your home for the night is a beautiful little town next to a pretty lake. Nicknamed ‘Little Canada’ it’s not hard to imagine why – this beautiful lakeside town is surrounded by hills of pine and is genuinely a beautiful spot. It may be that you are pushing further up to the Refuge Relais d’Arpette – this is a lovely trail through the woods 45 minutes further on the on the variant trail.

Iunch stop

I would personally take a packed lunch today or eat in the town of La Fouly.

accommodation on night 4

Accommodation is either in the town of Champex-Lac or a short way up the variant trail at Relais d’Arpette.

col du fenêtre variant stage 8
Day 5 – the view from the top of the Col du Fenêtre looking back

Day 5 Champex-Lac/Relais – Tré-le-Champ

1886m up / 2114m down / 28.5km / 9-10hrs

Route overview:

Today is a long day combining two variant stages into one. We must again make you aware that you cannot hike the Col du Fenêtre is the weather is less than perfect. It’s the most technical terrain on the entire TMB and unlike the rest of the trek, the trail is not marked well and can be lost. The boulder field just before the Col requires a lot of attention and trekkers need to be mindful of loose screw and rocks that dislodge easily and can be fatal to trekkers below. Set off super early though and you’ll be in for a treat. When you finally summit the Col you will feel a real sense of achievement – it’s the only place on the trek I’ve experienced other trekkers congratulating each other a real sense of camaraderie.

The Trient Glacier as seen from Refuge Les Grands on variant stage 9

The descent from the Col du Fenêtre is nothing short of astounding. Hairpin bends wind down the rocky descent with the incredible Trient Glacier trailing down beside the trail. This huge hunk of ice will mesmorise you during your descent and will surely be one of your unforgettable memories of this incredible trek.

Once you reach the buvette you’ll cross the wooden bridge and start the uphill slog to Refuge Les Grands. The Tibetan style path carved out of the rock will leave you in awe. Stop at the refuge for a cold drink and press on high along hugging the mountain flank until eventually you’ll spot Trient far below and the Trient glacier disappears behind you. You’ll soon see Refuge Col du Balme with it’s iconic red shutters – a tiny dot on the Col du Balme saddle – another frontière marking the boundary between Switzerland and France.

lunch stop

Taking the variant on stage 8 you will need to organise a packed lunch as there are no places to stop for food apart from the Buvette des Glaciers which is too late in the day. Be sure to also take extra water as this is a very dry stage.

accommodation on night 5

Accommodation on night 5 is in Tré-Le-Champ, however if you want to make today shorter an alternative accommodation option is Refuge Le Balme on the Swiss border.

The Trient Glacier as seen from Refuge Les Grands on variant stage 9

Day 6 – Tré-le-Champ – Les Houches via Lac Blanc

1801m up / 2187m down / 25.5km / 8-9hrs (full route down to Les Houches)
2138m up / 1065m down / 15.5km / 5-6hrs taking Plan Praz cable car down
Route overview:

Trekking the north flank of the Chamonix Valley, this itinerary divides stages 10 and 11 of the Tour du Mont Blanc with an optional detour up to the infamous Lac Blanc. Hiking through the Aiguille Rouge National Park, you’ll have a good chance of seeing marmots, chamois or bouquetin. If you want to complete the entire Les Houches to Les Houches circuit though you’ll need to set off uber early today – it’s a challenging day ending with a knee crunching descent into Les Houches. It may be too much for some and if this is the case there’s the option to take the Plan Praz cable car down to Chamonix centre rather than pressing onto Les Houches.

It’s a 2 hours climb up to Lac Blanc for fast packers. The route climbs steadily until you reach the infamous TMB ladders – a series of 13 ladders and metal ware built into the rock. It’s the most exciting physical aspect of the entire Tour du Mont Blanc. At the Tête aux Vents, a large cairn (2132m) which borders the national park you can choose to detour up to Lac Blanc or traverse along the trail to La Flégère. Lac Blanc (2,352m) has an almost mythical stature – however if you’re not staying overnight at the refuge you’ll most probably experience the hoard of day trippers who access the lake via the cable car and chair lift. It’s still worth a look but downgrade your expectations. The magic here happens when the day trippers leave late afternoon. If you have an extra day in your schedule it’s worth booking Refuge Lac Blanc and experiencing the incredible serene peace that descends each evening.

View of Mont Blanc on stage 9 descending from Col de la Balme

It’s worth noting that today you’ll have a number of exits available to you on the trail. If you need to cut your trip short and leave for home today you can either take the gondola down from La Flégère to the village of Les Praz (10 minute bus ride to central Chamonix) or continue along the balcony route until Plan Praz and take the Plan Praz gondola down to central Chamonix. Longer options are taking the Le Brévent cable car up from Plan Praz and then hiking down to Les Houches, or the longest option to trek the entire trail to Les Houches.

From Refuge Lac Blanc follow the balcony trail past La Flégère and continue to Plan Praz. The entire route along this balcon walk has incredible views of Mont Blanc weather permitting. It truly is astounding. Often it seems like a painted landscape it truly is surreal. Descend via the Plan Praz cable car to Chamonix centre or if you’ve still got energy – you’ve set off early and want to complete the entire circuit from start to finish you’ll need to continue onwards. The best way to do this is to take the cable car UP from Plan Praz to Le Brévent which gives again, insane views of Mont Blanc. The long descent from Le Brévent is hard on the knees but is beautiful with wild red and pink azaleas popping with colour. This area again is known for common sightings of chamois. Expect to fall into Les Houches exhausted but elated. You did it! The entire TMB in 6 days is an incredible achievement!

Click here to read my Chamonix & Les Houches Accommodation Guide