Tour du Mont Blanc – solo hiking and camping trip highlights, July 2015

In July I solo hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc, camping along the way. It was physically the hardest thing I’ve done so far, involving 9 days of sustained effort to carry all my camping gear through three countries, over 170km, and up and down 10,000m of accumulated ascent/descent.

It was also one of the most rewarding experiences, with incredible views, physical and mental obstacles overcome, and many lessons learned. Here are a few of the highlights of my trip:

Lunch stop near Lac du Brevant on the first day - what a view

Lunch stop near Lac du Brevent on the first day, and a chance to take off the heavy pack

I quickly realised that I had packed more clothes, food, and water than I needed, and struggled over the first couple of days with my heavy rucksack. At the end of day two I was ready to give in, I was utterly exhausted and believed that this walk was physically beyond me.

Not a pout, I was huffing with exhaustion... and this was day one...

Not a pout, I was huffing with exhaustion… and this was day one…

After a shower and food I was ready for a re-think. I would reduce the weight in my bag by using water sources along the way and carrying less water. I also needed to be mentally tougher, of course it wasn’t going to easy, but escaping back to Chamonix was not an option no matter how tempting it felt.

The many water sources along the route meant that I could reduce the weight I carried

The many water sources along the route meant that I could reduce the weight I carried

I realised how important it was to break up a long day with rests, and although it was still hard work I got into the rhythm and the days began to flow. I carried less food, and the highlight of each day was usually lunch in a mountain hut once the majority of uphill was covered.

One of the Refuges near Les Contamines, France

One of the Refuges near Les Contamines, France

View from the balcony of Rifugio Elisabetta, Italy

View from the balcony while eating onion soup at Rifugio Elisabetta, Italy

Apart from the food, one of my favourite moments was when a butterfly passenger landed on my arm in Val Veny, Italy, and stayed there for about 5km!

My butterfly friend in Val Veny, Italy

My butterfly friend in Val Veny, Italy

The most spectacular moment was literally the high point of the hike, the Fenetre d’Arpette in Switzerland. The day involved hiking up a steep boulder field to a notch which marked the join of two valleys. I was lucky to be speedy on my ascent, so I got to spend time alone enjoying the spectacular views. Shortly after, about 15 more people arrived, all blown away by the view and proud to have reached this point, so an excitable international lunch party formed.

Looking back down the steep boulder field and valley leading up to the Fenetre d'Arpette

Looking back down the steep boulder field and valley leading up to the Fenetre d’Arpette

Signs marking the high point of the TMB at 2665m

Signs marking the high point of the TMB at 2665m

But my favourite part of the trip had to be Chamonix and the surrounding area. I started and ended my hike near the Brevent. There are incredible views of glaciers on the opposite side of the valley, the air is full of peacefully drifting paragliders, and the rocky trails are perfect for running or hiking.

Paragliders taking off from the Brevent

Paragliders taking off from the Brevent

On my final day the last lunch stop was at Lac Blanc, and it has to be one of the most beautiful places I have seen.

Saving the best for last, Lac Blanc on the final day of the TDM

Saving the best for last, Lac Blanc on the final day of the TMB

It was hard to absorb that over the past nine days I had walked around an entire mountain range! I didn’t want to go back down into the valley, and sat for a long time looking at the view and feeling proud and grateful for such an amazing experience.

One last selfie at the end of the TDM before making my way down to Chamonix

One last selfie at the end of the TMB before making my way down to Chamonix

I’ll be back in August to run part of the TMB trail as an ultramarathon. I’m hoping this trip will translate into good training, it was hard work anyway!

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25 thoughts on “Tour du Mont Blanc – solo hiking and camping trip highlights, July 2015

  1. Joy

    Hi Anna,

    I stumbled across your blog while potentially considering the TMB hike-very helpful, thanks you! I noticed you mentioned going back to TMB for the ultramarathon. The vacation week I was considering actually overlaps half of the time with the TMB ultramarathon event, so I wanted to know if you’d think it’d be enjoyable to hike the trail still during that time despite all the runners?

    Did you pass a lot of hikers while running? Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Anna Paxton Post author

      Hi Joy

      Personally, I loved being there while all the runners were there, but I am a trail runner! You would need to consider that Chamonix will be very busy, buzzing and a great atmosphere, but accommodation might be booked up and there will be plenty of people about.

      If you see runners on the trail (they will be wearing race numbers), cheer them on, they will definitely appreciate it!

      I do think it would be enjoyable, especially if it is only half the time you’re there, it’s something a bit different and exciting.

      Hope that helps and have a great trip!

      Anna

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      1. Joy

        Hi Anna,
        Thanks for your quick reply. I’m actually a runner myself, so this event does sound exciting to potentially witness. Looking forward to using your tips for an awesome time. Thanks again!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. brookearoundtown

    Hi Anna, I am doing the hike in July and will be camping, your information has been so so helpful! I’m just wondering about charging a camera along the way? Did you find that there were opportunities to do this or should I bring a solar charger? I’m just trying to save weight wherever possible πŸ™‚

    Thank you!!
    Brooke

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    Reply
    1. Anna Paxton Post author

      Hi Brooke! I’m glad you’ve found my posts helpful πŸ™‚

      I charged everything using a portable battery pack. If you are planning to stay at campsites there will be electricity points in the shower blocks where you can leave it to charge overnight. The advantage of a battery pack is that it doesn’t cost much so it’s not the end of the world if you lose it, although no one has ever touched mine. They don’t weigh too much and you’ll probably be able to charge a couple of devices in a day with it.

      Hope this helps, and have a great trip!

      Anna

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  3. tbiggar

    How much did your pack weigh? I am going mid-June and would love to camp. However, this is my first long distance trek and reconsidering due to pack weight. Any feedback is much appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Anna Paxton Post author

      Hi! Good question, my pack weighed about 15-18kg (up to 40 pounds), depending how much food and water I was carrying. Personally I think that was too much and 12-15kg (max 33 pounds) would have been better.

      My advice would be:

      1 – There are water sources on the route, so you don’t need to carry too much water.
      2 – Use walking poles, they will help when you have a heavy bag.
      3 – Expect it to be hard work… take it at your own pace and you can do it!

      Hope this helps, Anna

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      1. Teresa

        Thanks so much for the feedback, Anna. I currently have my pack weight at 18lbs. Adding 2L water and light snacks that is another 5-6Lbs, but I cannot find anything else to lose!
        What did you keep your food in and where during camping nights? Someone mentioned keeping everything in the tent due to foxes, but what about any other critters? It doesn’t seem like there will always be trees around to hang a bag πŸ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

      2. tbiggar

        Thanks so much for the feedback, Anna. I currently have my pack weight at 18lbs. Adding 2L water and light snacks that is another 5-6Lbs, but I cannot find anything else to lose!
        What did you keep your food in and where during camping nights? Someone mentioned keeping everything in the tent due to foxes, but what about any other critters? It doesn’t seem like there will always be trees around to hang a bag πŸ˜‰

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      3. Anna Paxton Post author

        Hi! 24lb is very light – mine was in kilograms, much heavier!

        I kept my food in a dry bag that I left in the outer bit of the tent, I’ve never had any problems with animals eating my food. Actually I didn’t see any critters apart from marmots and they’re very shy πŸ™‚

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  4. Alex

    Hello, Anna!

    I am about to leave to the Mont Blanc in 4 days. I’ll do the conter clockwise route and, just like you, I will also camp. First of all, I have to tell you that your blog saved my life because it provides all the info that I need and that I couldn’t find in the Cicerone guide. But I still have a few questions and would be great if you could answer.

    The first one is about the water. Can you guarantee that I will be able to find water sources all along the way? Do I need tablets to purify the water?

    The second question is about the camp sites. You said you did the whole thing in 9 days but you point 14 or 15 camp sites on your blog. In which camp sites did you really stay?

    Thank you SO MUCH for your attention.

    All the best for you.

    Alex.

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    Reply
    1. Anna Paxton Post author

      Hi Alex, thanks I’m glad you’ve found it useful.

      My blog describes my experience on the TMB last year, so I can’t guarantee what you will find along the way. I found plenty of water and did not need to purify the water when I was there.

      Have a great trip!

      Anna

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    2. alanstravelssite

      Hi Alex.
      I agree with you that Anna’s blog post was invaluable ! I have just completed the same TMB only about 3 weeks ago. I too walked alone and camped having carried my own gear. Feel free to ask me any questions, I am excited to talk about it !!!
      Alan.
      (alanlever69@hotmail.com)

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  5. Anita Lobban

    Hi Clare
    Love reading about your trip. I’m looking to do some of the TMB
    What would you recommend for a shorter Mont Blanc hike around 5-7 days? Is it possible. Thanks

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  6. Alan Leverseidge

    Your blog especially regarding camping has been fantastic. I’m solo trekking with tent next week !
    Thank you so much !
    πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
      1. alan leverseidge

        Hi again. I’ve just packed my pack and even with minimal snacks it’s still 21kg !!! May have to ditch the waterproofs what do you recon ?!

        Alan

        Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

        Like

  7. Pingback: Tour du Mont Blanc camping advice – your TMB questions answered | Anna Paxton

  8. jrattray83

    Awesome, thanks for that input and for responding so quick! Also your camping page is super helpful, glad I stumbled across it. Great site, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  9. jrattray83

    Hey, Wondering if you went for boots or trail shoes, I have pretty decent boots but read a lot about the benefits of light weight shoes recently. I guess because more people are running routes it has opened up more options with sturdy but light shoes. Any way, just wondered what you went for and how you found your choice! Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. alpsoutdoors Post author

      Hello, great question! I wore trail shoes, La Sportiva Helios. They were perfect, lightweight and grippy. One downside could be that they’re not waterproof, but fortunately the weather was good so it didn’t matter for me.

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  10. Clare

    Hello! I am thinking of trying the Tour du Mont Blanc solo this coming June and was wondering if the route is well marked? I’m not sure if I need to buy the map? And also how physically fit do you reckon I would need to be? Would appreciate any advice!! Thank you!

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