TMB Notes – a 6 night abbreviated version.
In July 2013 my partner Julie and I did an abbreviated Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB). While the “official” plans suggests a 10 night, 11 day itinerary, we only had max 7 nights available and so had to make some decisions about what to skip, what shortcuts could help speed things along and most importantly, just how much distance we could reasonably make in a day, while also closing the loop in a logistically practical way (some short TMBs leave you in Italy for instance and you have to find your way back to Chamonix, which could be a pain.)
Julie and I are reasonably fit, healthy and active (we were 46 and 55 years of age respectively) and are keen cyclists. We also trained as best we could before departure to get used to walking with fully loaded packs. But I at least am not an experienced hiker or walker (Julie has done Kilimanjaro.)
Like several aspirants, we found Owen Barder's blog on his TMB experience an excellent and concise starting point. But since he is also a marathon runner and did the entire TMB in just 8 days, I doubted that we could just follow his itinerary and survive.
On two of their days, for instance, they covered 33km and 28km, so each was effectively a double day. I knew that we couldn't do that and didn't want to be so rushed.
Here then is how Julie and I cut it down to 6 nights (we had planned on possibly 7 nights but were close enough to Chamonix on our last day that we just pressed on).
On most days we arrived at our destination by 15h30 or 16h00 with enough energy and sunlight to have done a couple of more hours. So, there is no need to panic about covering the distances. Somehow it just happens. Our latest arrival was probably Day 6 to Trient. But we took the long scenic route over Fenetre d'Arpette and hung out at the top a little longer than we normally would have.
Day 1. les Houches > Chalet la Balme (short cuts: cable car up to Bellevue, shuttle bus across les Contamines) arriving late afternoon.
Day 2. La Balme > Mottets (so skip the overnight in Les Chapieux which might be nice but seemed too "back in civilization " for us. Short Cuts: weather permitting, take the Cols des Fours route directly to Mottets, rather than down to Les Chapieux, though there is a regular shuttle bus up from les Chapieux to Mottets)
Day 3. Mottets > Courmayer (Short Cut: take the ski lift down into Courmayer)
Day 4. Courmayer > Bonatti (Definitely take the high route from Bertone refuge. It's spectacular and less busy.)
Day 5. Bonatti > La Fouly
Day 6. La Fouly + Bus to Champex Lac > Trient (we took the Fenetre d'Arpette route which added time and effort. VERY TOUGH scrambling over boulders but a pretty spectacular view from up there. Top of the world.)
Short Cuts Summary
In brief here are the very handy shortcuts that helped us make it work.
Day 1. Les Houches > Chalet la Balme.
1. Skip Chamonix > Les Houches which on paper seemed one of the less interest legs. Start at Les Houches. Take the bus or taxi to the base of the cable car. (we were lucky to have friends who dropped us off).
2. Take the cable car ($) up from Les Houches to Bellevue. (Saving several hours uphill walking)
3. Take the free shuttle bus across les Contamines to Notre Dame de la Gorge. Saves walking several kms along a flat paved road
4. Take the Col de Fours route if weather permits. That drops you directly into Refuge Les Mottets and skips a leg that the Reynolds guide seems to include in his itinerary, an overnight in Les Chapieux. We wanted to stay off the beaten path and les Chapieux sounded too much like going back to civilization. (If you do wind up in Les Chapieux and still want to get up to les Mottets that day, there is a shuttle bus up that valley too, so it can be done.)
5. Take the ski lift down into Courmayer (saving several hours of tough downhill walking at the end of an already long day). While it is "back to civilization" Courmayer is a pretty nifty little town and a nice break from the refuges. We stayed at the Buton D'Or. Affordable, nice room and a GREAT breakfast. There are also lots of good little restaurants in town.
6. Start the day by taking the bus from La Fouly to Champex Lac saving entire leg. We axed this leg because it was flat and the Reynolds guide was just so-so on it. (Ask your hotel for the bus schedule. But don't miss it, there are likely only 2 per day. I think the first left at about 830am.)
7. Once you get back to Argentiere in France you are home free and if you are running late, you can grab a quick bus back to Chamonix.
I'll post another link with more notes on our routes, accommodations and meals later.