Sat Dec 27th 2008 23:29:00: Camping on the Tour Du Mont Blanc (TMB)
Back in July I walked the TMB with my girlfriend and another friend and I've been meaning to write this article ever since! To make the holiday cheaper (for the poor students) we decided to camp and here is some useful info for anyone intending to do the same.
Day 0 (6th July 08) - Les Houches
We flew into Geneva (which is in Switzerland don't forget!) and got a lift with Alpybus to Les Houches (in France!). Alpybus were great - all went smoothly and they matched their competition's internet price (so it's worth checking around and knocking them down if you find it cheaper). We were planning to stay at Camping Bellevue Les Houches, however there was a torrential downpour and the campsite was flooded when we got there! Fortunately we hadn't booked (non of the campsites on the trip took bookings for our small group) so we walked up the road and checked into Hotel Les Melezes.
Day 1 (7th July 08) - Les Contamines
On day 1 we first went shopping to buy some gas [photo]. There was a sports shop to the west of the town center where they sold Coleman gas canisters cheaply. We were using a Trangia with gas converter which was fortunate as we didn't see any Meth's at all during the trip. We then walked to Les Contamines, stocked up with some food and then continued walking for 20 minutes or so to Camping Le Pontet Le Praz. This was a large camp site with good toilet and shower facilities etc [photo].
Day 2 (8th July 08) - Les Chapieux
At Les Chapieux [photo] there is the refuge (Refuge La Nova) and a big meadow. You can camp in the meadow for free and so there were lots of tents and camper vans. There are also toilet and sink facilities available for free.
The facilities at Les Chapieux are good, however it's worth considering the bivi sites up near Col de la Bonhomme. These obviously don't have any facilities, are quite exposed and there are only a few of them, however it avoids the long (knee killing) down hill and allows you to take the "short cut" to Ville des Glaciers which means you avoid the tedious road walk at the start of day 3. Of course the other way to avoid the long road walk is to hitch a lift on the mini bus service. I don't know how much it cost or anything (as we walked), however I can tell you it existed and was running when we were there!
Day 3 (9th July 08) - Refugio Elisabetta (aka Refugio E Soldini)
As we approached the refuge there were some camping spots on the left, however this was quite a way from the Refuge and was being used by a big party. We decided to see if we could stay in the refuge, so we walked up to it (it's slightly off the TMB and up the hill!) only to find it was full (they did offer us floor space!). Fortunately they were quite happy for us to pitch our tents on the ground above the refuge and then make free use of their facilities :-) The ground was pretty rocky, so we had to choose our spot carefully, and it was very exposed to the wind, however we were camping just below the glacier which was very cool [photo]. We then cooked dinner on the refuge's balcony [photo] and spent the evening playing games in the boot room (where it was nice and warm!!)
Day 4 (10th July 08) - Courmayeur
I couldn't find any campsites in Courmayeur - the only ones I found were quite a lot further on. Therefore we stayed in Hotel Edelweiss which was nice and simple (although it did look to be a building site as we approached). They'd clearly come across walkers before as we walked in the door and they sent us straight to our room with no faffing! This was very much appreciated as the down hill into Courmayeur was a killer. We'd planned to hitch a lift on the cable car, however it looked to be all closed up. Moral was soon destroyed when a car went whooshing over the top of us! We later decided that it was probably a service run as we didn't see any more!
Courmayeur had a supermarket etc, however it was generally an expensive place for shopping (Gas was really expensive!). It also had a post office, so we filled a box up with all the unnecessary stuff from our bags and posted the whole lot home! The box took about 2 or 3 weeks to get home, however it lightened our load by a few kilos and made life much easier. We'd definitely recommend taking the bare minimum of stuff and keeping the bags light. The benefit of the way we did it was that after a few days we knew how cold it was so we could send all the dirty and excess warm clothing home.
Make sure you take a map of Courmayeur with you, as ours came in very useful (however I can't find the link to the PDF I used anymore :( )
Day 5 (11th July 08) - Refuge W Bonatti
We had booked to go to Refuge Bonatti on the 5th day (again no campsites in the right place), however due to heavy bags on previous days we were pretty worn down. Therefore we decided to cancel that booking and have a nice easy day and walk along the valley (Val Veny) to Refuge Elena (just before Col Ferret) [photo]. This meant we were ahead of ourselves for day 6 and the Refuge was really nice and modern (a whole bunk bed each!). We cooked for ourselves outside, rather than buy dinner at the refuge, which was fine. Apparently the walk to Bonatti was really memorable, so we'll have to do that some other time!
Day 6 (12th July 08) - La Fouly
La Fouly [photo] was a pretty little village with a cafe and a small supermarket. There was also a small sports shop, but I can't remember if it sold gas (I think they had "Camping Gaz" only). There was a big campsite - Camping Les Glaciers - with good toilet and shower facilities. The campsite also had a building you could cook dinner in which was good as it poured it down that night (I woke up to find my tent in a small pond)!
Day 7 (13th July 08) - Champex Lac
[photo] We had planned to camp at Camping Les Rocailles, however it was still raining and we were bored of being wet. Therefore we went to the Tourist Information and they directed us to the Alpine Garden [photo]. This was a tourist attraction in the town, however we rented a room in the antique looking lodge (and got free entry to the garden!). The room was basic as it just had bed (no bedding - you needed a sleeping bag) and en suite toilet. Downstairs there was a shower and a communal kitchen.
Champex had a few bars and shops and we had a very nice meal out that night. The supermarket was very poorly stocked and really expensive.
Day 8 (14th July 08) - La Peutry / Col de la Forclaz
The walk from Champex past "Bovine" is really cool - it's hard work, but basically you are walking up a little stream which was fun. The refuge at Bovine sells food and drink which looked pretty nice however we had cuppa soup from our Trangia :-)
There are two camping possibilities at the other end - Col de la Forclaz which is up at the pass - and La Peutry which is down in the valley. We decided Col de la Forclaz was by a main road, so we went for La Peutry in the valley. If you want to do the high loop on day 9, then stay up at the Col, else you'll have to climb back up! The campsite in La Peutry [photo] was just a field near the Refuge. Both the refuge and the campsite are unstaffed - someone turns up at the start of the evening to collect your money. The campsite had a roofed area where you could cook and a toilet block so wasn't too bad. At the other end of the village (about 15min walk away past the church) was a little shop selling basic food stuff. The only problem with La Peutry was the next morning it was really really cold. After lots of faffing in the hope the sun would get to us, we eventually set off and within a couple of minutes we were in the sun and over heating! After that we always decided where to pitch our tent based on where we thought the sun would come up first!
Day 9 (15th July 08) - Les Frasserands
The campsite at Les Frasserands is just down the hill from the TMB route. It's not very far though, so is not a problem. The campsite has good facilities and a sheltered cooking area, so got the thumbs up from us! 15 minutes down the valley (follow the path out the back of the campsite) there is a big super market.
Day 10 (16th July 08) - La Flegere
The walk from Les Frass to La Flegere involves ladders [photo] which were good fun, however hard work with big packs on!
We detoured via Lac Blanc with our packs, rather than going to the refuge first. This wasn't too far and we got lots of respect from the unfit day trippers as we ran past them on our way back down to the refuge :-) The lake was very pretty and therefore a massive tourist attraction and meant it was heaving with people.
At La Flegere we stayed at the Refuge [photo] which is near the cable car station. It was really nice to watch the sun go down over the valley whilst the remaining day trippers made their way down on the cable car. We had no choice but to eat at the Refuge, however the meal was really good and the bunk rooms were nice and spacious. I had trouble contacting the refuge to book before we left, so we booked our beds at the tourist information when we were in Les Houches on the first day. The number they gave us was 06.03.58.28.14 (Tel. Refuge) or 04.50.55.85.88 (Tel. Gardien)
Day 11 (17th July 09) - Les Houches
On our return to Les Houches we checked into Chalet Refuge Michel Fagot. This was a cheap hostel with bunk beds and communal facilities. It wasn't a great nights sleep, however it did the job.
There are lots of kit lists on the internet, so I won't bore you with all that, however I'd comment that walking poles are essential and you'll need a nice warm sleeping bag. I used an Ajungilak Kompakt which was really nice. Tent wise, the girls used an old 2 man Jack Wolfskin tent whilst I used a 1 man Terra Nova Laser Competition. The Terra Nova was nice and light, but handled the weather conditions with no problems. The only problem I had with it was the build up of condensation which made getting out of bed quite a wet experience if you were not careful!
We didn't really use our torches very much (we were normally fast asleep by the time it got dark and too lazy to get up in the morning!) so you don't need anything particularly big and heavy. We didn't need GPS at all, however the guide book, map and compass were essential. We found the Carte de Randonnees 1:50,000 map wasn't nearly as good as an OS map, however when combined with the guide book we didn't get lost. I highlighted the TMB on the map with a highlighter pen which was quite useful.
I'll also mention again that you need to travel light - you will smell foul at the end of it, so there is definitely no point taking more than 2 sets of clothes (1 of which you are wearing!). Don't try and carry anything more than bare essentials else it will hurt! Of course, don't skimp on the emergency equipment though.
If you find anything mentioned above is out of date, or you have more details to add, please leave a comment or drop me an email. Likewise for any questions... can't promise to be able to answer, however I'll try my best ;-)