RAPID COMPLETE TMB - 6 DAYS

Our rapid Tour du Mont Blanc 6 day itinerary follows the complete TMB trail and is designed for 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 – Refuge Le Balme (25.8km – 7-8hrs)
  • Day 2 – Refuge Le Balme Cabane Combal (28.1km – 7-8hrs)
  • Day 3 – Cabane Combal Bonatti (26.7km – 8-9hrs)
  • Day 4 – Bonatti – Champex-Lac (34.9km – 9-9hrs)
  • Day 5 – Champex-Lac – Tré-le-Champ (28.8km 8-9hrs)
  • Day 6 – Tré-le-Champ – Les Houches (24.5km 8hr)

‘Self guided treks’ are a great option if you want to be independent on the trail but want to take the stress out of organising the trek from scratch. The most frustrating element of the Tour du Mont Blanc is undoubtedly booking the refuges! You’ll pay a fraction more than planning the trail completely independently but without the stress of booking the refuges and with the reassurance of having someone on the ground in Chamonix to help with advice as well as a 24 hour help line during your trek. 

I work exclusively with local company Adventure Base to power my itineraries. We work together closely to ensure that we are providing you with the best possible Tour du Mont Blanc possible. Adventure Base are based in Chamonix and have a wealth of experience trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc.

trekking the TMB

WHAT’S INCLUDED WITH ADVENTURE BASE?

  • initial route discussion
  • detailed itinerary (inc. alternative route options & GPX file )
  • refuges & hotels bookings
  • welcome meeting (if starting from Chamonix)
  • welcome pack (map, snacks, basic first aid kit etc)
  • 24hr in resort contact (in case you need a taxi, bad weather advice, help etc)

EXTRAS

  • hiking pole rental 
  • airport transfers 
  • luggage transfers
  • first night accommodation
Day 1 – discover the Miage Valley after descending the Col du Tricot on variant stage 1

Day 1 – Les Houches – Refuge Le Balme (25.8km – 7-8hrs)

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 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.

Approaching the Col du Bonhomme – Day 2

Day 2 – Refuge Le Balme Cabane Combal (28.1km – 7-8hrs)

Good to know: From late June until even the end of July you can expect to cross snow patches at Col du Bonhomme

Route overview:

Today you’ll make the climb over three mountain passes, Col du Bonhomme (2329m), Col de la Croix du Bonhomme (2483m) and Col de la Seigne (2516m).

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 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.

You’ll pass Refuge 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. The refuge has a good terrace if you need a refreshment before heading on the further 45 minutes along the ancient arrow straight Roman road to your accommodation for the night – the picture postcard A frame Refugio Cabane Combal (below).

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 – Cabane Combal Bonatti (26.7km – 8-9hrs)

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 Veni 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 Refugio Bertone after which a gentle balcony trail traverses along to Refugio Bonatti – your home for the night.

Note: Refugio Bonatti is the most difficult refuge to book! If you wish to book for Summer 2023 you MUST book very early. This itinerary may be tweaked slightly if reservations cannot be secured at Bonatti.

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 – Bonatti – Champex-Lac (34.9km – 9-9hrs)

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.

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

Day 5 – Champex-Lac – Tré-le-Champ (28.8km 8-9hrs)

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 your home for the night – 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.

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

Day 6 – Tré-le-Champ – Les Houches (24.5km 8hr)

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!