Fastpack Tour du Mont Blanc – 180km, 11,000m ascent, 5.5 days

The Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc (UTMB) is one of the world’s best known ultras, and one I dream of entering. For now a 100 mile race is beyond me, but I still wanted a taste of the UTMB…

So instead of racing, with my running buddy Bo, we fastpacked the Tour du Mont Blanc trail, setting off from Chamonix where we watched the start and some of the finishers of this year’s UTMB.
img_2026

A promise of the mountains from Chamonix centre at the UTMB start line

Day 1 – Chamonix – Les Houches – Les Contamines (France)
A day of two halves – spectacular views of glaciers from the Brevent (2526m), followed by an exhausting and seemingly never ending descent into Les Houches (1007m). 

After a quick lunch we revived in time for the hot and steep ascent to Col de Voza (1653m). The rest of the day was a pleasant wander through small French villages, following the river to Les Contamines where we stayed at Camping le Pontet (1,200m).

Day 2 – Les Contamines – Les Chapieux – Rifugio Elisabetta (Italy)
The morning started with a long ascent through a classic alpine landscape of green valleys cradled by snow topped mountains. We made quick time up to Col du Bonhomme and Col de la Croix (2,483m), and even quicker time down the steep switchbacks into Les Chapieux (1,554m). 

From here we climbed again, a long haul up to Col de la Seigne (2,516m), the border of France and Italy, a place with an incredible view down into the distant valleys Veny and Ferret. We descended a short way to Rifugio Elisabetta where we found a spot to wild camp.

At 2,200m it really was wild, rough and cold. It was all worth it for a magic moment when the wind dropped in the middle of the night. In the stillness the Milky Way was visible in the clear sky above, while lightning flickered over distant glaciers lit silver by the moon.
img_2404

A wild place to camp, beneath Rifugio Elisabetta at 2,200m

Day 3 – Rifugio Elisabetta – Courmayeur – Arnuva (Val Ferret) (Italy)
After a short trot along the floor of Val Veny we rose into dense cloud as we set off for what would be a long day. There was no reward of a view as we reached our first summits on a trail that undulated up to 2,400m several times. The sun finally came out as we descended steeply down a perfect pine scented trail into the city of Courmayeur (1,200m).
 
The next ascent to Rifugio Bertone (1,989m) was long, up steep rocky trails through woodland. From here we continued on runnable trails, out of the woods with views of glaciers on the opposite side of the valley until we reached Rifugio Bonatti (2,025m). It’s one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I’ve ever been.
img_2174

Taking in the view from Rifugio Bonatti

We pressed on in warm sun along sandy trails, surrounded by views of Italy’s expansive grey green granite. We had been aiming for Rifugio Elena, but on impulse stopped at Chalet Val Ferret in Arnuva (1,784m), unable to resist the promise of clean beds, hot meals, and a chance to wash and dry our clothes.
 
Day 4 – Arnuva – Grand col Ferret – Champex Lac (Switzerland)
Leaving the beautiful Val Ferret behind, we climbed through morning cloud which, with perfect timing, lifted just as we reached the Grand Col Ferret (2,537m), the border of Italy and Switzerland.  

If the Italian Alps are characterised by seas of granite and woodland, the Swiss Alps are softer in appearance, coated in a lush green that reveals miles of perfect runnable trails.
img_2203

Clouds lifting to reveal perfect trails as we leave Italy for Switzerland at Grand Col Ferret

We made relatively fast progress here, successfully navigating several cows on the trail, and stopping for lunch in La Fouly (1,610m). The final stage of the day was much flatter, following a riverside trail at around 1,100m with one final steep ascent to Champex Lac (1,466m) where we camped.

Day 5 – Champex Lac – Argentiere (France)

The day started with a good runnable trail, followed by a very steep and rocky climb to Alp Bovine (1,987m), where we recovered with home made Tarte Maison. From there we dropped to Col de la Forclaz and La Peuty (1,328m), the start of the last big ascents of the trip.

As we reached Col de Balme (2,191m) and re-entered France, Mont Blanc came into view for the first time in days, giving us a sense of the enormous circuit we had run. The trail dropped steeply here, and although there was a lower option, we chose to make our way back up to Aiguillette des Posettes (2,201m). At this stage it was hard work, with several false summits to overcome. It was well worth the effort for some of the best views of the whole route.

img_2282

Mont Blanc back in our sights as Bo heads for home on the descent from Aiguillette des Posettes

This was followed by another very tough descent as we dropped steeply to camp at Argentiere.

Day 5.5 – Argentiere – Flegere – Chamonix

We had intended to start our run in Agentiere, but had to dash into Chamonix at the last minute to buy replacement poles for Bo. On the last day we ran the final part of the route without our rucksacks, which was a total joy.

img_2302

If there’s a more perfect trail than this, let me know and I’m there…

The TMB route is slightly different to the UTMB race route, taking in higher variations. It’s not necessary to camp or carry meals as there are plenty of mountain huts, but we wanted to complete it in a self-sufficient style.

We carried camping and cooking gear, basic food for 4 days, and clean clothes as well as emergency gear (medical kit, waterproofs) map, compass, and headtorches. Our bags weighed around 7-8kg each. 

By running long distances over a sustained period I learned a lot about the best conditions for running well, especially what a difference a good nights sleep and hot food makes. All useful for future races and trips. 

It was an epic journey, unforgettable. Thanks so much to my most awesome running buddy Bo, who always brings the perfect amounts of psyche, science, and personal space!

img_2403

This seems to be the best (only) selfy we managed to take!

Advertisements

13 thoughts on “Fastpack Tour du Mont Blanc – 180km, 11,000m ascent, 5.5 days

  1. Helen

    hey!
    great blog! How would you compare Trolltunga and Tour Mont blanc? i have hiked both Trolltunga and Kjerag in 2015 August, but now i would like to hike Tour Mont Blanc (with my hubby and 1.4 year old daughter). Did you encounter any toddlers on your path?

    Helen,
    Estonia

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Anna Paxton Post author

      Hi Helen, thanks!

      Hmm… that’s a difficult question – I think the Trolltunga hike was slightly harder, but it was only one day. I don’t remember seeing any toddlers en route!

      Anna

      Like

      Reply
  2. Mike

    Hi, stumbled across your blog while searching for others’ fastpacking itineraries. Looks like your trip was epic! I was curious about the pack you wore- from the photos it looks like an ultimate direction fastpack 20 or 30. Were you happy with it if so? I’ll be doing a similar trip this summer (camping, being as self-sufficient as possible).

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Anna Paxton Post author

      Hi Mike, it was an epic trip, I would definitely recommend it!

      You’re right, I had the UD20. It’s one of the best bits of kit I own and I’m really happy with it. For this fastpacking trip I would have preferred a 30 litre bag, I had to strap my sleeping bag to the outside of the UD20 and space was very restricted. If you’re getting one specifically for a long fastpacking trip I would choose a bigger one.

      Hope that helps, and have a great time 🙂

      Anna

      Like

      Reply
  3. Katie M.

    Hi Anita, beautiful pictures! Thank you for sharing. Question for you – do you by chance have your daily distance covered? Is there anything you would change about this 5.5 day itinerary? Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Anna Paxton Post author

      Hi Katie,

      Thanks, I’m glad you like the pictures! I’m not sure how accurate the strava was, but it says we covered about 34km per day.

      I would have liked to complete it in 5 days ideally, but I think it would have been too much with the weight we were carrying.

      If I did it again I wouldn’t camp – I’d stay in the mountain huts and carry much less weight. Also, I would plan to stay at Rifugio Bonatti, because it was so incredibly beautiful!

      Hope this helps!

      Anna

      Like

      Reply
  4. anitalobban

    Hi Anna

    First of all well done on your amazingly fast TMB!

    Was that you and Bo that I talked to on the ascent out of Les Houches on Sunday 28th August? Bit of a coincidence it not as the 2 girls I chatted to briefly said that their goal was to fast pack the Tour.

    Loved reading your blog. Where to next?

    Regards

    Anita

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Anna Paxton Post author

      Hi Anita! Yes that was us, great to hear from you! How did your trip go, did you find a spot to wild camp?

      I’m glad you enjoyed the blog… I don’t have a plan yet, ideas are brewing 🙂

      Like

      Reply
      1. Anita

        Anna – how neat was that then! Don’t know if you remember but I did contact you via email before my trip re size of pack. I’ve actually had a VERY eventful month! I did wild camp my first night just before Les Contamines. Generally really hard to find places as terrain either too steep, covered by trees, cows grazing or inhabited! 2nd day hike up to Col du Bonhomme I realised that my pack was perhaps a bit heavy for me at 12kg :(, then on my 3rd day descending from Refuge du Bonhomme I slipped on the wet grass (as I was running downhill!), broke my ankle/leg, got rescued by helicopter and repatriated on 2nd Sept! I hope to try again next year but regrettably it will have to be without the wild camping.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Anna Paxton Post author

        Oh what a coincidence! Did I reply to you about the pack size, I hope so, I don’t remember seeing it.

        Sorry to hear about your accident, what a thing to happen – it’s good to know that the rescue services are there if you need them. I hope your leg heals quickly so you can get back out there and show those hills who’s boss!

        Like

  5. Pingback: Ultramarathon Daily News, Mon, Sep 19 - UltrarunnerPodcast

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s