TURBO TMB CHAMONIX TO CHAMONIX FOR FAST PACKERS - 4 DAYS

This Turbo Tour du Mont Blanc 4 day itinerary follows the TMB trail from each end of the Chamonix Valley starting in Les Houches and finishing in Le Tour. Designed for trail runners or fast packers moving very quickly running down descents. This itinerary IS NOT suitable for walkers or trekkers.

add an extra day to complete the entire trail

This itinerary skips stage 7 as well as stages 10 and 11 along the Chamonix Valley. Stages 10 & 11 could be added as an extra 5th day

Turbo TMB – 4 days


Start point: Les Houches, Chamonix        
End point: Le Tour, Chamonix          
Length: 4 days

  • Day 1 – Les Houches – Refuge Croix du Bonhomme
  • Day 2 – Refuge Croix du Bonhomme – Courmayeur
  • Day 3 – Courmayeur – Relais d’Arpette
  • Day 4 – Relais d’Arpette – Le Tour village
  • Return to Chamonix via Le Tour chair lift/cable car/bus

timings, distances, elevation

Timings for this itinerary is non-stop, meaning you should add extra time for stopping to take photos, rest stops and your lunch break. Expect this to always be more than you imagine. Consider adding 2 hours onto your timings per day (for a full day). Remember it’s best to set off early and arrive early – thunderstorms commonly occur around 4pm each afternoon in the peak summer months on the TMB trail.

Distance & elevation for day 4 is down to Le Tour village as this itinerary does not take in stages 10 and 11 which are along the flank of the Chamonix Valley. From Le Tour village there is a frequent bus service to Chamonix.

If you would like to add a 5th day onto the Turbo itinerary, you would complete stages 10 and 11 to finish the tour in its entirety at Les Houches. There would be several accommodation options at the end of this day so this might be slightly shorter or longer depending on which accommodation option you choose. For example the first available accommodation would be Refuge Col du Balme however Henri always opens late for bookings so it’s difficult to confirm in advance. This distance would be 17.3km (ascent 1,875m / descent 1,324m) via variant stage 8 (Fênetre d’Arpette) and stage 9 (via Les Grands). The next refuge would be Gîte d’Alpage Les Ecuries de Charamillon which is up and over the Col du Balme so a little further (18.6km ascent 1,856m / descent 1,413m) via variant stages 8 and 9.

Note: if you hope to take this trek early season (June & possibly first week of July) the Fênetre d’Arpette may not be passable due to snow. In this case, or in the case of storms, you would note be able to take these variant high routes. In this case you would need to take the traditional stage 8 and 9 which is easier technically however longer in distance (21.3km ascent 1,659 / descent 1,251m from Relais – Refuge Col du Balme or ascent 24.8km ascent 1900m / descent 1375m) or 24.2m ascent 1838m / descent 1359m . If you are booking a self guided trek then the exact timings/distances/elevation will be given to you on finalisation of your exact itinerary once your accommodation has been booked.

Approaching the Col du Bonhomme

Day 1 – Les Houches – Refuge Croix du Bonhomme

2005m up / 1364m down / 24.4km / 8-9hrs

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. From here you’ll start climbing the Col du Bonhomme and then the Col du Croix du Bonhomme, an ancient route across these mountains. It’s not unusual for Col du Bonhomme to still have to cross a stubborn patch of snow left from the Winter even in late July. From the top of the Col du Bonhomme the route skirts around for a further hour before reaching your bed for the night at the cavernous Refuge du Croix du Bonhomme.

how can you make today easier?

There are two possibilities to make today’s TMB stage easier. The first is to take the Bellevue cable car from Les Houches to the Bellevue plateau – perfect for starting the variant stage 1 via the Col du Tricot. The cable car generally opens from early June to almost mid September (the 2023 dates were from June 3rd – September 10th).

Trail slashed by:-

5km from official Les Houches archway to Col du Voza (traditional route)

6km from official Les Houches archway to variant stage 1 start

The second way to take transport today is to take the free bus from outside the Les Contamines Tourist Office to Notre Dame de la Gorge. Note: this service ONLY operates in July and August.

Trail slashed by 3.5km

You can find out more about both of these transport options here.

Iunch stops

You’ll be travelling quickly so it’s probably more beneficial to take food with you instead of stopping for lunch. A suitable stop could be in the town of Les Contamines where there are plenty of restaurants and three small supermarkets. Spar & Carrefour do not close for lunch.

Bonhomme refuge
Refuge Croix du Bonhomme – your first night’s stay

Day 2 – Refuge Croix du Bonhomme – Courmayeur

1546m up / 2790m down / 33.8km / 9-10hrs

Route overview:

Today you’ll trek from France over the Col de la Seigne into Italy. Ciao!

If the weather is fine take the alternative route via the Col des Fours (not in June or first week of July). The trail can be picked up just before Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme so you’ll need to double back on yourself for a couple of minutes to head via this route. The Col des Fours is a spectacular variant leading over a lunar landscape before dropping into the Vallée des Glaciers picking up the traditional route 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 and be cautious if doing this early season – whilst you will not be descending down into the Col des Fours and the snow bridges, the route could still be covered with snow

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 via Ville des Glaciers. Note: there is a navette (shuttle bus) from Les Chapieux to Ville des Glaciers which can shave a good hour off your timings. We have included this navette in our timings for this schedule.

Refuge Les Mottets, a renovated dairy farm, has belonged to the same family for over 100 years. Stop here for a spot of lunch before climbing the formidable Col de la Seigne (2516m) – the frontière between France and Italy

From Ville des Glaciers it’s a steady ascent past the converted dairy farm, Refuge les Mottets (a good place for lunch) up the Col de la Seigne – the frontière between France and Italy. In good weather this is your chance to see Mont Blanc again. The views here are spectacular as the Italian Val Veni (Veni Valley) lays before you. The descent is easy enough before hitting the U shape valley floor. You’ll pass the infamous Refuge Elisabetta reaching the arrow straight roman road to Lac Combal. The trail ascends from the emerald lac climbing steadily up to the highest point on stage 4, a spur from Mont Favre. Looking back you can see the monstrous moraine of Glacier Miage dwarfing Cabane Combal and on a clear day all the way back to Col de la Seigne. From here you’ll trace the contours of the south flank of the Val Veni, following the rise and fall of the mountain side with jaw dropping views of sawtooth peaks and Monte Bianco opposite.

From Refugio Maison Vielle (during peak season Aug & Sept) take the chair lift and connecting cable car down to Dolonne which is a 10 minute saunter into Courmayeur. The descent from Maison Vielle is brutal and so we have included the chairlift / cable car down in this itinerary timings (29.9km 7hr 30)

Note: taking the Les Chapieux shuttle AND the From Refugio Maison Vielle chairlift/Dolonne cable car reduces this day to 25.3km / 6.5 – 7 hours.

The delightful Italian town of Courmayeur is your home for the night. Our self guided itineraries include either a basic hotel or a comfort or deluxe hotel with spa.

how can you make today easier?

If you plan to take the traditional route (rather than the variant Col des Fours) you can take the navette (shuttle bus) from Les Chapieux to Ville des Glaciers or to Refuge Mottets parking

Iunch stops

As you’ll be travelling fast a packed lunch may be better for you on this itinerary. If you’d prefer to stop at a refuge for lunch, Refuge Mottets or Refuge Elisabetta would be the best stops.

side trip – La Ville des Glaciers cheese farm

A brilliant side trip just minutes from the trail today is a visit to a tiny cheese farm that produces the delicious local cheese – Beaufort. Read my post Don’t Miss: La Ville des Glaciers cheese farm.

glacier du Miage
Looking back along the Miage glacier moraine down to Val Veni from the Mont Favre spur in Italy – day 2

Day 3 – Courmayeur – Relais d’Arpette

2913m up / 2486m down / 47.3km / 12-13hrs

Route overview:

You’ll cover a lot of ground today leaving Italy behind after crossing the Grand Col Ferret into Switzerland before catching a bus between Ferret or La Fouly onto Champex-Lac with a last push onto the next refuge the Relais D’Arpette.

The day starts with a steep ascent up to Refuge Bertone and traverses along the gentle southern ridge of the Val Ferret valley today passing Refuge Bonatti before descending to Chalet Val Ferret. From here the trail climbs up past Refuge Elena and up and over the Grand Col Ferret (2537m), the border between Italy and Switzerland. Drink in the rugged peaks and icy glaciers before descending for Switzerland’s landscape changes here to gentle pastures and farm land.

Passing the working dairy farm, the Gite Alpage de la Peule nestled into the mountain side on the other side of the Col, it’s an easy descent to the hamlet of Ferret where you can pick up the bus to Champex-Lac. Alternatively continue onwards to La Fouly where the bus also stops.

From the lovely lakeside town of Champex-Lac it’s a short ascent up to Relais d’Arpette where you can settle in for the night before the more technical ascent tomorrow up the Col du Fenêtre.

How can I make today easier?

There is real short cut on this day as you are already taking the bus from Ferret to Champex Lac. In the case of injury or bad weather you can catch the no 5 bus from Courmayeur to the end of Val Ferret

Iunch stops

As you’ll be travelling fast a packed lunch may be better for you on this itinerary. If you’d prefer to stop at a refuge for lunch, Hotel Chalet Val Ferret or Refuge Elena would be the best stops.

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Descending alongside the magnificent Trient Glacier on day 3 – Switzerland

Day 4 – Relais d’Arpette – Le Tour village

1753m up /1891m down / 27.9km / 8-9hrs

Route overview:

Today is the most technical day of the TMB and can only be done in good weather. Never attempt the Col du Fenêtre in anything less than perfect weather. You will need to return to Champex-Lac and continue on the traditional Bovine route if bad weather is predicted.

The terrain on the ascent to the Col du Fenêtre is unlike the trail on the entire rest of the TMB circuit. The trail is not marked well and can easily be lost in bad weather. 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 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.

Reaching the Buvette at the bottom of the descent you’ll turn left crossing the bridge and tackle the steep ascent to Refuge Les Grands (a cosy manned un-catered refuge). Watch out for the Tibetan style path cut steeply into the rock!

Day 4 will take you on a spectacular trail with much less trekkers en-route. We love this exhilarating section just before Refuge Les Grands which reminds us of Tibetan trekking!

Stop at the refuge for a cold drink and press on high 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 frontiere marking the boundary between Switzerland and France. The gentle balcony walk contours around until you pass the refuge. Re-bonjour! You’ve come in a complete circle and once again the Chamonix Valley is in sight. Look to the far end of the valley to spot Les Houches where you set off.

Our itinerary descends now to the valley floor just past the refuge via the chairlift and gondola to Le Tour. Taking this shortcut is included in today’s timings (21.5km / 7.5hrs). However please note that this chairlift and cable car is currently closed for the duration of summer 2022 so you will need to descend to the village of Le Tour on foot adding a further 1 hour to your itinerary. Catch the bus from Le Tour into Chamonix. Well done!

Our self guided itinerary for this tour includes basic or more deluxe accommodation in Chamonix if you want to indulge your exhausted body!

Our self guided tours take the stress out of booking your TMB trek – all your accommodation either in valley hotels or high mountain refuges are booked for you, you’ll have a luggage storage facility where you can store your bags during your trek, there’s a 24 hour emergency helpline as well as a WhatsApp group during office hours for general questions whilst on the trail. Extras such as airport transfers or baggage transfers can also be arranged.