Difficulty / Planning / Safety

Trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc in June – early season

June can seem to be the perfect time to trek the TMB. Trekkers hoping to avoid the crowds and enjoy alpine flowers in bloom are often drawn to trek during this early shoulder season before the holiday season kicks in good and proper.

When trekkers tell me they want to trek in June, most are surprised by my one word response. Snow.

Yes. There is invariably snow on the TMB during the last two weeks of June and often into the first week of July. Many people planning an early TMB trek do not realise this.

Snow can mean a totally different experience of the Tour du Mont Blanc. Trekking during this early season should be well thought through with realistic expectations.

Laura, one of my zoom clients, climbing the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme in June

Conditions trekking during this 3 week period are hard to predict. Snow levels are dependent on two things – the amount of snow that fell during Winter and two – the melt rate come Spring.

Consider this – Chamonix ski lifts are STILL open into the first week of May for end of season skiing – this puts into perspective how much snow is still up there in May and June.

Given that so many trekkers planning their trek don’t realise this – I thought it would be prudent to write a post about trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc in June so you can decide whether this is the TMB you envisaged, and if so, to help you plan with confidence.

Alex, one of my zoom clients, enjoying the snow on the TMB in June

So what is it like to trek the Tour du Mont Blanc early season?

There are still a large number of trekkers who hike the Tour du Mont Blanc in June but it is quieter than the peak months of July and August.

Chamonix mountain guides do go out on the trail before the opening date to clear sections where possible or put in ropes. The main trail is generally clear mid June however snow fields will still cover the cols (mountain passes) at 2000m plus.

Through the snow fields there will be a visible track for you to follow as others before you hard pack the snow into a route. You’ll follow deep foot tracks in the soft snow. This snow packed route over the high cols will change as the snow melts and the main path becomes again visible.

The two dangers that trekkers should be aware of hiking during this time are:

1/ slipping whilst traversing snow covered sections of the trail with high exposure

2/ melting snow bridges (that often have strong glacial torrents underneath – not something you want to fall into)

What do we mean by high exposure? High exposure means one side of the trail descends very steeply – a slip could mean a long fall down.

There are particular sections of the trail that have exposure that are prone to hold onto the snow a little longer, for example right at the beginning of the traverse to the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme setting off from the top of the Col du Bonhomme (see the first two photos below). The third photo is a snow bridge over a torrent on the climb up to the Col du Bonhomme. The last photo shows the whole first traverse section towards the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme taken from the top of the Col du Bonhomme.

Snow filled gullies can also be tricky to cross where there’s a degree of exposure.

There’s a particular tricky one on the way up to Col de la Seigne between Ville des Glaciers and Refuge Mottets on stage 2 (first photo below). The ascent up to Refuge Elena from Hotel Chalet Val Ferret on stage 6 is also prone to snow filled gullies early season! The second photo shows one of these gullies. Both taken mid June 2023.

The third photo is looking back onto the Contamines-Montjoie valley from the beginning of the ascent of the Col du Bonhomme – June 2023. The bottom photo is on stage 4 heading towards Refugio Maison Vieille mid July 2018.

Another thing to note in early season is there can be a fair degree of mud! Melting snow equals mud. Expect to squelch down some descents – this can make going downhill a bit trickier, more prone to slipping and possibly tweaking something so caution is wise.

Some trekkers choose to descend snowy descents by sliding either on their bums or standing up (with invisible skis) – a much more fun alternative.

What early TMB trekkers need to be aware of:

1/  TAKE EXTRA EQUIPMENT TO STAY SAFE

Hiking crampons (with spikes not circular flat discs) are normally required. They don’t weigh a lot so there’s no excuse not to throw them into your bag. You will definitely feel safer with these on when crossing a snowy traverse with a lot of exposure! Mid June you may even want to consider renting a lightweight ice axe. You would hold this in one of your hands whilst crossing a tricky section – its the only thing that would stop you if you fell.

2/ DON’T TAKE ANY VARIANTS APART FROM NO 1

You should not be planning to take any variants if you’re trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc in June, except from perhaps variant stage 1 via the Col du Tricot which is generally always clear during this time. It’s too dangerous to take any of the other variants. If you are staying at Refuge Mottets, you would need to descend down the traditional route via the hamlet of Les Chapieux instead of taking the Col des Fours variant.

3/ VISIT THE HIGH MOUNTAIN OFFICE IN CHAMONIX BEFORE SETTING OFF

Visit the High Mountain Office in Chamonix before setting off to find out about up to date conditions. If you are booking a self guided Tour du Mont Blanc trek then the company you have booked with should be telling you up to date conditions on the trail as well. If in doubt – ask. 

The High Mountain Office updates conditions on various trails in Chamonix once a week, normally on a Thursday. You can check this page here. Check this page the week before your trek however there is no substitute for going in and speaking to them.

An example of the High Mountain Office TMB conditions update posted on their website on June 20th 2023

“Only the Col de Tricot can be safely negotiated. On the Col des Fours side, there is a lot of snow, the slopes to be crossed are long, steep and exposed and there are several dangerous torrent crossings (water flowing strongly under the snow with the risk of being swept away). It’s also too early to tackle the Arpette window”But there is still snow on the main passes: Col du Bonhomme – Col de la Seigne – Grand Col Ferret – Col de Balme. Crossing the Col du Brévent is still problematic (see above) and it is preferable to take the Brévent cable car back down to Bellachat or to go around the bottom (Planpraz- Plan Lachat – refuge de Bellachat- Les Houches).Snow-covered sections of the route require appropriate and essential equipment to minimise the risk of slipping: – high waterproof boots – poles – hiking crampons (and mountain feet!)

We did visit the Bureau des Guides in the Maison de la Montagne building. They were very helpful. We purchased a couple of maps from them too.

Corinne and Bill Barnes, Aug 2023
Snow bridges become more unstable as the weather warms. In this photo the snow bridge is quite obvious – in other places you cannot see the conditions underneath so caution is required crossing one at a time

So when does the TMB trail actually open?

The trail opens on 14th June every year but this is France – there are no rules – there are no physical barriers that are taken down on the 14th June and the trail ‘opens’. What it means essentially is that the infrastructure on the trail opens on the 14th, and whilst some of the public transport options won’t kick in for a few weeks, the refuges are now open and you’ll see trekkers on the trail. 

As mentioned above, the guides of Chamonix go out on the trail to clear tricky sections or to put in ropes if necessary before the 14th June. This does not mean it is ‘safe’. If snow is covering sections of the trail which have significant exposure (one side falling away very steeply) then trekkers need to use caution and extra equipment to safely cross (hiking crampons & possibly an ice axe) – as the High Mountain Office phrase it ‘to have mountain feet’!.

I want you to know the risks, what to do and what NOT to do.  Tragically a solo trekker perished in June this year on the Cols des Fours by falling through a snow bridge into glacial water. This variant should never be taken early season as the snow covers torrent crossings (glacial streams) which are fast flowing. Snow can completely blanket this water so trekkers are unaware of it. Accidents can happen as snow bridges begin to become unstable as the weather warms.

Lac Blanc is almost still completely covered by snow – photo taken on June 24th 2023. Stages 10 and 11 take some time for the snow fields to thaw. Expect to encounter snow early season at Lac Blanc and Col du Brévent.

Where are the tricky areas to be aware of hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc in June?

In general there are always the same tricky areas when trekking Tour du Mont Blanc in June.

These are (but not limited to):-

  • Flégère – expect Lac Blanc to have a lot of snow surrounding it with the lake appearing much smaller than normal as ice and snow cover it.
  • Brévent – there is always a lot of snow still on the Col du Brévent. The High Mountain Office will normally advise hikers to avoid this and take a lower route. If you were planning to hike stage 11 first (which is a good idea if you’re trekking in peak season and you don’t have dodgy knees – as it helps get around the limited accommodation options between stages 10 and 11) I wouldn’t, not if you are planning to trek in June. Instead trek stage 11 as its chronological stage to allow more snow melt by the time you come around to it 11 days later.
  • Col du Bonhomme / Croix du Col du Bonhomme – whilst the Col du Bonhomme does not have any real exposure once you get to the top and start the traverse to the Croix du Col du Bonhomme – there is a lot of exposure to the right hand side (if you trekking counter clockwise) – the mountain descends steeply to the right and the trail (with snow on) is a very narrow track where caution and concentration is necessary. See the photos further up in this post.
  • Col des Foursthis always holds a lot of snow until the beginning of July. There is a very steep descent from the top of the Col des Fours which can be tricky with snow on but the much bigger danger are the unstable snow bridges crossing the glacial torrents (see above). No-body should consider taking the Col des Four variant in June or the first week of July. Tragically there have been deaths on this section early season.

In the one main snow section, I think my micro spikes, a crucial item and honestly unsafe without.  I did see a couple folks without, and think in the moment, each agreed they wish they had them.  It was super steep and side hill.  The snow was crusty early, but got soft rapidly in the sun.  Many of the folks I spoke with had no idea what a fall arrest was, let alone practiced in them.  That particular section just passed the Col Du Bonhomme, if someone slipped and wasn’t able to immediately arrest, they would be traveling far too fast and seemed everything looked to end in a vertical fall or large boulders.  Simply a prime example of where not to risk it.  Spikes in that section should be a mandatory safety item.

While I only wore my spikes twice, and only once for any real distance, I’d never go that time of year without them.  That said, the torrents are what personally unnerve me more than anything else.  When the rotting snow bridges start to give way, I take particular note.  I’m over 6 feet tall and not what one would consider petite, so when also carrying a heavy pack, I always imagine if a snow bridge is going to collapse with someone crossing it, I have a higher probability of being that someone.  There were a few that I personally found unpleasant to cross, and honestly the only remotely sketchy parts of my trek.  With spikes, the snow fields were actually quite enjoyable, even with the steep grades, but there isn’t really any safeguarding a torrent other than going around which at times isn’t an option.  I didn’t have any problem though, opting to take my time, and on a couple moving up slightly to clearly thicker snow that was less traveled, and therefore less rotten without the darker prints from previous hikers soaking up the sun’s warmth and growing softer in the mid-day.  

Will Walton, Alaska

If you have trekked the Tour du Mont Blanc early season, we would welcome your comments below to help other people planning their TMB to decide whether trekking in the second half of June or first week of July might be something they would consider.

As always, thank you.

Best.

Mags

6 Comments

  • Maca
    May 30, 2024 at 10:44 am

    Really really good post! I’m going next week (3rd of June), and yes I know is super early, but my husband and I are backpackers since more than 15 years and have experience. Nevertheless I think it’s important to be prepared, so I wrote down all your tips! We will also do only half of TMB, starting in Courmayeur. But will make a stop in Chamonix to talk to the mountain office. I will comment once again after the trips and tell about my experience. Thanks again, I love your blog!

    Reply
    • tourdumontblanchike
      June 2, 2024 at 5:37 am

      Hi Maca. There remains a lot of snow on the trail – particularly in Italy. Please take an ice axe and microspikes. The guides have only just departed yesterday. There is still a risk of avalanche. You must NOT take any variants apart from the Col du Tricot on stage 1 which is clear of snow. Many setting off now are returning ….. Take care. Mags

      The High Mountain Office updated their website on Friday with this message:-

      Pour la randonnée pédestre, il ne faut pas aller au-dessus de 2000m si vous voulez être tranquilles ! Pensez à nous appeler pour vérifier ensemble la faisabilité de votre projet !
      L’activité démarre très doucement sur le Tour du Mont Blanc (début d’ouverture des refuges, les premiers randonneurs pointent les bouts de leurs bâtons). Les cols et sections en altitude sont très enneigés. Il ne s’agit pas de névés mais bien de longues parties enneigées ce qui implique :
      – sentiers et balisages non visibles  = risque de se perdre
      – marcher longtemps dans la neige = étapes plus physiques voire épuisantes si il faut (re)tracer, avoir de bonnes chaussures de rando montantes + guêtres (la neige ça mouille!!!)
      – risque de glissade/dévissage : emporter et savoir utiliser les crampons voire petit piolet (la neige ça glisse!!!)
      – faire attention en traversant les torrents/ruisseaux de ne pas passer au travers et se faire emporter
      Dans ces conditions, il est réservé aux randonneurs très aguerris, entrainés et adéquatement équipés. La plupart des randonneurs qui partent actuellement font demi-tour (pensez à le faire avant qu’il ne soit trop tard !!!).

      Reply
  • Jimmy
    June 3, 2024 at 10:00 pm

    I fly out to start the trail this Thursday 🥴 I’m more than a bit apprehensive as I’m a solo trekker.
    I have my spikes but no axe 🪓 can I get a axe in chamonix? I’m planning to do 25/30k on some of the days, I did the Edmund Hillary route to base camp last October in 17 days so I’m aware of the slog I’ve got to contend with 😭 I hope this snows not as bad as I’ve been reading about

    Reply
    • tourdumontblanchike
      June 4, 2024 at 11:06 am

      Hi Jimmy. You will definitely need to rent an ice axe. You can book online in advance if you wish on Ravenel Sports, Snell Sports or Technique Extreme. However you can also rock up and rent one when you get here. The snow is actually quite an issue. I would visit the High Mountain Office in Chamonix before departing. This is their update on Friday just gone for the TMB …. For hiking, don’t go above 2000m if you want to be safe! Don’t forget to give us a call to check out the feasibility of your project!

      Hiking on the Tour du Mont Blanc is off to a very slow start (refuges are opening and the first hikers are warming up). The cols and high altitude sections are very snowy. These are not névés but long stretches of snow, which means :
      – paths and markings not visible = risk of getting lost
      – walking for a long time in the snow = more physical or even exhausting stages if you have to (re)track, have good hiking boots + gaiters (snow gets wet!!!)
      – risk of slipping/falling: carry and know how to use crampons or even a small ice axe (snow is slippery!!!)
      – Take care when crossing streams and torrents so as not to fall through and get swept away.
      In these conditions, it is only for very experienced, trained and adequately equipped hikers. Most hikers who set off at the moment turn back (remember to do so before it’s too late!!!).

      The weather has finally turned nice this morning here in Chamonix and looks to be sunny for the next few days however storms are predicted towards the weekend. Good luck. Don’t be too proud to turn back if you are unhappy with conditions and DO NOT take the Col des Fours – in fact all the variants apart from variant 1 via the Col du Tricot – this one is okay. Expect to put crampons on at the top of the Col Du Bonhomme to start the traverse to the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme. This is a notoriously exposed stretch when there is snow on it. Best. Mags

      Reply
  • Thalita
    June 5, 2024 at 10:57 am

    Hi Mags! Thank you SO much for all the info you provide to the community. I have been devouring your blog for a few days. We are set to start the hike now on the 10th (unfortunately we were not able to book another date due to work). I did get in touch with the Chamoniarde office via email and they basically told me that crampons are a must, but ice axes are optional. They said, in these words “if you have hiking poles you should be okay”.

    I am not sure what to make of this… In fairness, I have ZERO experience using an ice axe. What would you recommend? We plan to go there in person to speak to them on saturday as well.

    Also, gaiters are probably advised, correct?

    We are going to take our time in this hike (more than 11 days, if needed) and are planning to keep safe and not take any variants.

    THANK you THANK you THANK you!

    Reply
    • tourdumontblanchike
      June 7, 2024 at 4:20 am

      Hi Thalia good to hear from you. I would take your advice from the HMO so yes visit them in person. Crampons are definitely a must and yes also gaiters. An ice axe can seem scary but really it’s just there to have in hand if you slip whilst crossing snow in an exposed section. The trail is steep and sometimes there is nothing to stop your fall at all. If you were to fall on these sections, having an ice axe in your hand would give you purchase and would be the only thing to stop that fall. Above 2000m it is still snow – not patches of snow but long long stretches. Bear in mind that you will get much more tired than normal so don’t assume that normal trek times will apply, they won’t. We are still gaining information on the snow conditions. I trekked stage 10 yesterday and the ladders are free of snow which is good. It’s melting everyday but obviously way behind other years. The most dangerous section from what I’m hearing is actually the Grand Col Ferret. Italy had a lot more snow than us here in Chamonix so the Italian cols have more snow. You will be okay to trek variant 1 via the Col du Tricot – it’s beautiful and safe. There are a couple of snow patches towards the top but the steep descent into Miage is free from snow. No crampons required on the easy climb up to Tricot. If the weather is good take it. However we have a lot of storms predicted over the next week and even though I want to get on the trail to test the conditions before I leave to trek the Dolomites next weekend I’m carefully watching the weather. Do not take any other variants and you may need to take public transport around from Courmayeur to Champex Lac. Good luck and stay safe. Mags

      Reply

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