The origin of our trip to Wales was open ended, so much so that we didn’t know Wales was our destination until a couple weeks out. This trip serves as an example of an unplanned road trip that’s a culmination of cheap flights across the pond, an expiring travel voucher, and no time to plan. The end result was cliffs, rocks, castles, and fish and chips.
Over the past few year, we’ve had our delays and plans go awry. But it always seemed we were able to figure out new plans and were able to achieve what we wanted to do. So we were due to run out of luck at some point and the norse gods were happy to be the ones to bring all my plans crashing down and then some.
Our decision to visit Norway came about with a one-way Oslo to Boston fare sale on TAP business class for $417 (see frequent miler’s breakdown of the deal here). This is more than we would typically paid for a one-way across the Atlantic, but it was an incredible deal for business class. It is still available for a couple hundred more at the time I’m publishing this a half year later.
TAP Air Portugal Business Class Fares From Europe To The Miami, Boston, JFK, or Toronto for ~$700 one way. We took advantage of this last year. https://t.co/l9ptJlbJ8R#deals
From a financial standpoint, the comparative costs for our 2 options, including extra flights up to the Lofoten Islands or car rental for the Fjordlands, were pretty similar at estimated around USD$800 since I left this decision to the last minute. Norway is a very expensive country relatively speaking (Big Mac Index) and the cheapest way to counter that was to camp and be out on the trails, which made our decision for the Lofoten Islands final.
A major reason for our decision to head to the Lofoten Islands was simply because I found a 5 day trek that fit our schedules pretty well from Alexandre de Brébisson covering the southern island of Moskenesøya. Moskenesøya island, as part of the Lofoten Islands, is said to be the best aesthetically with the highest peaks, mountain lakes, and beach camping. That sounded good to me.
If you are planning to do this trail, a key connection aspect is catching a ferry between Vindstad and Kirkefjord. The schedule of the boat can be inconsistent and they might not always stop in the same order listed on their webpage. It is a good idea to call them ahead of time to confirm your pickup and dropoff. As far as cell phone reception, there was signal at Vindstad with our phone service.
general and trail information
For the best online guides and trail listing for the Lofoten Islands, there are 2 awesome websites listed below and I will cite throughout my report.
Norway is expensive, however everything is very modern and there are plenty of grocery stores to stock up food in Bødo. Utilizing the markets was the inexpensive way to go, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t good food. When not on the trail, we ate both fresh and smoked fish with fresh baked bread, veggies, and tubed cheese. The fish was so fresh, no cooking was needed. For planning purposes, grocery stores in Bødo open early in the morning while the sporting good store are open around 9:30-10am, and the pharmacies open around 8:30am. Across the Lofoten Islands, you can also resupply most villages (list compiled by Hiking Lofoten).
Credit cards are accepted everywhere in Norway we were at, even on the Vinstad ferry while in the middle of the lake. Meg was very happy about this since it meant she had a good amount of left over cash to go shopping with, even more so regarding the quality of the shoes she bought there and it was similar in cost compared to the US.
Lastly for communication purposes, google fi worked without a problem in Norway and even had intermittent reception as we were in the backcountry trekking. There was reception even at Vindstad, where we could call the ferry to confirm our extraction.
With our one-way business class flight from Oslo (OSL) to Boston (BOS) booked, we’d have to get ourselves to Norway and have reposition flights on both ends. Fortunately, getting across the pond is very cheap with so many budget airlines. Norwegian airlines made this specifically easy as they offered many cheap flights from the US to Norway. The lowest fare we found was a direct flight from Providence, Rhode Island (PVD) to Bergen, Norway (BGO) for USD$140.8 each ticket (USD$281.6 total). Since this was before our decision of where to go in Norway, BGO worked as it was the cheapest and a good starting point if we decided on the fjords.
Repositioning to PVD from the DC area (Baltimore, BWI) and back from BOS was easy for use through Southwest points and our companion pass (guide from FrequentMiler). Direct flights to PVD for the 2 of us was 2330 SW points and USD$11.2 in fees and direct flights, again for the both of us, back from BOS was 3603 SW points and USD$11.2.
For our flights to get to Bødo (BOO), a gateway to the Lofoten Islands and the best place for our intended trek, our booking was pretty much last minute and the prices reflected such at USD$427.50 each ticket. The flight would connect us from BEG to BOO and back to OSL to connect with our return flight. To dampen the out of pocket cost, I used 57k US Bank Altitude points earned through the signup bonus to cover the entire USD$855 cost. There are a few options to fly directly to different sections in the Lofoten Islands in Harstad/Narvik (EVE), Svolvær (SVJ), or Leknes (LKN) airports.
Our total flight itinerary covered 5 different bookings and we would earn 5712 United miles each from our TAP business class booking. There were other earning option if we attributed TAP flights to other frequent flyer programs, but the United miles are much easier for us to utilize since we already have balances with them.
The equipment we brought was our typical loadout. The weather in the Lofoten Islands can be pretty punishing (as we witnessed first hand) so a good tent and good layering is recommended. The locals say that it will most likely rain everyday, but in patches. They also told us just to simply look outside to determine what to do.
For our traveling gear, we were able to store a backpack in Bødo at our hotel.
Our flights to Bødo would be spread across 2 days accounting for the time zone change. We left the house around 5:30am for the Baltimore Airport (BWI) on Saturday and walked into our hotel in Bødo around 11:30pm on Sunday. Across the 4 flights, the main portion of our Saturday and Sunday was spent on the ground, allowing utilize the time to get some work done. The airports at Bergen and Providence were both small airports and Oslo did not have a lounge we could access with our Priority Pass, so we packed a few sandwiches to eat along the way as a means to minimize paying for overpriced airport food.
Our flight from BWI to Providence (PVD) was uneventful was asleep the entire time. PVD wasn’t the smallest of airports, but there wasn’t much in term of real food landside. We walked the 20 minutes to a local diner for breakfast. Afterwards, we spend the rest of the afternoon working at the Starbucks back at the airport until check-in for our flight. Since this was an international flight, we had to manually check-in to have our passports validated.
Our experience on Norwegian’s budget cross Atlantic experience wasn’t bad at all. We did not pay to pick seats so we were assign ones at the back of the plane. Luckily as I expected based on the seatmap, the flight was nowhere near full and both Meg and I were able to stretch across our entire row. The seat themselves were not the most comfortable, but there was a good amount of legroom for a budget flight. Our plan was to go to sleep right away since the red-eye flight would only be around 6 hours. Having had our dinner before boarding and sleeping through the entire flight, we didn’t need to purchase any additional services. One thing to remember is to bring your jacket or your own blanket on these flights there aren’t any provided and it gets pretty cold. I’d take these flights again in the future with these prices.
Immigration and customs were very quick at Bergen (BGO) as we arrived early Sunday morning. We didn’t plan to drink while during our time in Norway since it is very expensive to drink there. If you do plan on buy alcohol, duty free is your cheapest option before entering the country.
While we could have taken the trip into the City, we opted to stay at the airport rather than lugging our backpacks around the town since was no storage at the airport. Airside, there were several areas that was in the process of renovation, but there were also plenty tables, seats, and power outlets where I could do some work and some last minute research on our trek. Interestingly, we had great internet access as all the Norwegian airports were equipped with the same educational network “eduroam” that our university utilizes. Lastly, there were plenty of places for napping as well helping us to adjust to the time difference.
Our last flights from BGO to Oslo (OSL) and connecting onto Bødo (BOO) were uneventful.
The walk from BOO to our hotel in downtown Bødo took about half an hour, but it was nice to stretch our legs before turning in for the night. We used a few Hotel.com gift cards that we bought for 80% value and earned back an additional 10% at the Scandic Bødo Hotel. The hotel ran for $146.53 and was pretty basic with a good bed and a very nice full breakfast. We were fine with the higher spend after the traveling and wanted to have a good rest before heading out on the trail. The Scandic Bødo is part of the Scandic hotel group, but since it’s not a group we would have much opportunity for frequent stays, going though Hotels.com provided better value for us. For travel hacking purposes, Choice hotels provides excellent redemption values for Norway and Europe in general.
The Scandic Bødo is central in downtown Bødo and about a 10 minute walk to the ferry station and train station. The next morning, we went around stopping at grocery stores for supplies, sporting good store for butane/propane gas, and the pharmacy for sea sickness medicine. The sporting good store was the latest to open around 9:30am.
Unfortunately for us, the ferry schedule switch over to the winter schedule on the day we arrived so instead of having a morning ferry option, we had to wait for for the afternoon ferry. Even the locals and the hotel managers were caught off guard of the change, so make sure you check for yourselves.
We paid for the ferry while in line for it to pull up. The seating on the ferry was first come first serve and we headed up to the top deck where there was a pretty cool forward cabin view.
I don’t get sea sick very often, but the slow rock of the the ferry did start to get to me half way through the decently long ride and I had to take a nap.
While on the ferry, we met Julien, who guides trips from France to the Lofoten Islands. The company he works for sets up tour groups with different lodging up the Lofoten Island chain and he would guide the group on day hikes and does the cooking for everyone in his group. We would see him through the few days we spent on trail and if you are interested in join his trips, contact me and I can get you his contact information.
As we neared the end of our of ferry ride, the islands starts to appear out of the rainy clouds.
It was quite the mystical sight as we pulled up and I had a feeling like we were pulling up to Jurassic park, though a bit colder.
We filled off the boat to the dock area at Moskenes port.
A short ways from the dock, there is a campgrounds called Moskenes Camping that provides showers, but reviews aren’t great there. Several people we’ve talked to have said they just walked further along the road and found a remote place to wild camp. Other trip reports suggest the best place to spend the night is actually at the waiting room for the harbor to the right after exiting the boat behind the bus stop.
Since we had lost half a day due to the ferry schedule change, we decided to start at the southern end of the trek closer to Moskenes rather than waiting for a bus to start at the northern end at Fredvang. Our trailhead would be a mile or so south of Moskenes at he town of Sørvågen. Our new friend Julien offered to drop us off in Sørvågen with their rented shuttle since they were heading that way as well, which we accepted gratefully.
name: Sørvågen to Vindstad
type: point to point
distance: 11.8 miles
elevation change: 5077 ft ascend & 5094 ft descend
time: 2 days (14 hours)
location: Lofoten Islands – Moskenesøya
There were several alternative side hikes/scrambles up to different peaks. We didn’t attempt any of them due to the weather. Our original plan also included the section from Kjerkfjorden to either Fredvang or Ramberg to cover the majority of the Moskenesøya Island.
day 1: Sørvågen to wild camping
After we were dropped off in Sørvågen, we still had some daylight so we decided to get as far along the trail as we could before setting up camp. There were a couple of alternatives we could do through the first section of the trail including the rarely summited Støvla, the popular Munken, and the tallest in Hermannsdalstinden, so we wanted to knock off a couple miles to plan for our possible climbs.
Turning from the main M10 road, we passed a parking lot and there are a few signs for Munkenbu we followed initially.
We were under a light drizzle as we passed a structure and the trail narrows.
It also starts to rise moderately over the first lake of Sørvågvatnet wit ha Star of David over looking the lake. Around this area, there are a few trails that turn to the right and looping around the lake. From the openstreetmaps and the overhead satellite photos, there seem to be a shelter toward this area. It wouldn’t haven been a bad idea for us to head there, but we didn’t know of it then.
A little further along the trail we come to Lofoten Falls. There are a few more trails branching to the right that you can reach the shelter after the falls.
We continued up the muddy slope to the next lake, Stuvdalsvatnet. The trail rounded the shores of the lake without any good place to camp, so we continued on. The only plausible areas were close to a couple houses.
After the houses, the trail splits with the right trail heading toward Munkebu while the left trail seem to head toward the route to summit Støvla. We decided to head to the left as the gps showed a possible flat where we may be able to set up camp. Shortly after the split, we came to a cascade.
We crossed the cascading stream over a footbridge and started looking for any dry and flat area to set up camp.
Unfortuately, most of the grassy areas around were marshy and water soak. We ended up finding a mix area of flat rock and moss to set up our tent.
It was dark by the time we got our tent up, but the view we had next morning was pretty stunning.
Our first day was only about 1 hour covering 1.5 miles with 775 ft ascent and 217 ft descent as it was late in the day by the time we arrive on the Lofoten Islands.
Even though our camping spot was very beautiful, we were in a position where the wind swirled around us the entire night and it wasn’t a big area to set up our tent. Had we known, it would probably have been better to set up at the shelter area right after Lofoten Falls.
The wind was still whipping when we woke the next morning. After packing up, we thought we’d take a look at what the route would be like for peaking Støvla. We continued to follow the trail up including a couple sections with chains.
The clouds were moving fast over head as we continued up.
The follows the cascading stream upwards until
we reached reached another marshy flat with the wind on full blast. The trail ended at the flat. Looking ahead to bushwacking climb and the questionable weather,
we decided to continue back to the Munken trail.
We hiked off trail toward the outlet of the lake Fjerddalsvatnet.
We cross the rushing stream that was about knee deep, but our shoes provided good grip as we waded across.
A slip down the stream wouldn’t have been fun. The more challenging part was climbing up the rockface on the other side. We threw our bags up and climbed up.
Looking back toward Støvla, we were happy we didn’t attempt it with the exposure and heavy winds.
We hooked up with the Munkebu trail just as Julien’s tour group was at the junction.
The well marked trail follows a scramble alongside another cascade before curving around a couple muddy flats.
At the final flat, there is a nice outcrop where the lakes of Tennesvatnet and Krokvatnet are seen sitting under the tallest peak of Hermannsdalstinden.
The views continue as the trail starts downwards.
Shortly after, there was a small hill of Djupfjordheia that provides a pretty cool view of the fjord and E10 bridge.
The wind did not relant during lunch, so we decided not to try for any of the peaks. Our plan at the time was possibly camping around Krokvatnet lake or the hill directly above that. After the stream a few couple times, the trail downward was muddy, a precursor to the trail that waited for us after the hut and lunch.
Once we slip and slided our way down to the bottom of Tennesvatnet Lake before another scramble up a boulder section.
At the top of the climb, the sun broke through briefly.
We headed down to the lake to refill out water supply. Fishing is a big attraction here in the Lofoten Island lakes, so bring a rod if that’s your thing.
We headed up to the top of the hill for a possible camping spot, but the wind was relentless and the sun was gone. Since we still had plenty of day light, we made the call just to keep on trucking. The view from this hill was among my favorites on this section and the peak in the distance reminds me of a half dome clone.
The next section was one of the steepest downhill we’ve encounters on this trek. With the wind howling, we made our way down the muddy trail with wires and roads aiding our descent at times.
At the outlet of Tennesvatnet Lake, there is a power station and a cement platform where we thought of stopping, but at this point we thought the idea of camping on the beach would be better. We saw the afternoon ferry from Reine drop someone off at the power station below us.
From the powerstation, the trail around the inlet to Vindstad was some of the worst trails we encountered the entire day. There were no markers the entire way with was the most difficult in the initial section where we were scrambling up and down on mossy boulders. The best markers we had were crushed blueberries on the ground that those before us left. The trail eventually was more pronounced as a muddy trail. It was much slower going then the distance and elevation profile suggested. If you have the option, take the ferry and skip this section all together.
We were happy to enter Vindstad, but there really isn’t any places near the village to camp.
The weather looked like it was going to be ok as we made our way through the village of Vindstad toward Buneset beach.
However the rain came down on us as we rounded the top of the hill toward Buneset Beach.
There was an out house at the beach and there are a couple piles of garbage that campers have brought in, but it was a quiet nice view. We were eager to setup our tent and turning in for the night. We tried to find a place behind some rocks to help shield the swirling wind got even stronger.
It was so strong, that our tent pole snapped as we were holding on trying to prevent the tent from blowing away (our tent has since been repaired by the awesome staff at Sierra Design for free, thanks Nate for handling my inquire and Kathy for doing the repair). This day was the worst wind we ever experienced in our trekking careers, even more than Patagonia.
So being dejected, we packed up and headed back toward the Vindstad. We had passed a community center/cafe that had a hallway open and a couple of bathrooms in Vindstad and squatting there for the night was our plan with our shelter broken. After cooking dinner we fell asleep to the pouring rain and wind gusts continuing overnight.
For the day we hiked a total of 10.2 miles with 4302 ft ascent and 4878 ft descent over 12.5 hours.
It was a challenging day with the weather, but still provided great views along the way. The weather prevent us from attempting to bag and of the peaks, it will be something we’ll have to come back to next time. The big bummer was that our trekking trip was over with our tent snapping, it’s fortunate we found a place to squat at and right where we can take the boat to the town of Reine the next day.
The rain and wind continued to pound the area as we woke up the next morning. As we were cooking breakfast, another camper, Daniel, came in from the rain. He had spend the previous night at Buneset beach braving the weather, holding his tent up, repairing the tears from the wind, and not sleeping at all. It sounded like we got the better end of the deal.
My phone had both reception and internet at Vindstad so I was able to make a Airbnb reservation for the night in Reine and call the ferry company for a pickup.
We found that the hut by the pier was open and offered another option to crash at should others be stranded.
Luckily for us, rain stopped briefly as we headed out toward the pier.
We were able to pay on the boat with a credit card and we had plenty of seats.
The boat had stopped at Vindstad first and headed over to Kjerkfjorden before returning to Reine. This would have been convenient for us had we still had a working tent, but it was opposite of their schedule. It would be advised to contact them with your plans the day of your trip.
There were several of us getting out of the weather in Reine.
While walking to town, our airbnb host Toming saw us and waved us in. The airbnb was 1 of 2 rooms on the top floor of his house. It was a comfortable house and a good place to spend the rest of the day sheltered from the storm that continued throughout the day and night. We supplemented some of the food we already had with some fresh fish and cheese from the market and spend the rainy day reading and napping.
The word was that the ferry between Bødo and Moskenes was canceled a couple times while we were on our trek due to the weather so we made the decision to head back to Bødo the next morning since the weather outlook was poor. Toming offered to take us to the ferry since his family was heading for Bødo as well, we were grateful for him saving us the walk along the road.
If the weather would have been better, we could have stayed in town and hiked Reinebrigen.
views: 4. Even though the weather prevented us from summitting any of the peaks, the aesthetics of the many lakes and waterfalls among the granite peaks made for the trip. Adding on the remote beaches, the Moskenesøya Island of the Lofoten Islands are quite stunning. I am giving it a bit leeway here as well since other’s experiences may be much better in terms of the weather. Not only that, there is also the prospect of the midnight sun or auroras to possibly enhance the experience here. These are motivations for me to come back.
difficulty: 3 (4 – summits). The weather obviously played a big factor for our trek. We didn’t attempt the summits because of how harsh the winds were blowing. I would only imagine the wind being worth further up making the steeper climbs worse. There is also a good amount elevation change among this route, making it a decently high endurance route.
technical: 3 (4 – summits). In terms of navigation, the popular areas are well marked, but not so much the areas in between. There are no markers and you are following trails the best you can without much cairns in those less travelled areas. The trail has some decent scrambling and some very steep and muddy sections. The summits I expect are more technical in the steepness and scrambling needed, but we didn’t attempt them this time around.
A big limitation to our trip was that was we had only a week in Norway and we needed much more time to truly flush out and enjoy the Lofoten Islands. For our planned trip, we only had planned 5 days to hike. It was cut short first by the ferry schedule changing leaving us with about 4 days to trek the route that we wanted. Then the terrible weather and our tent breaking, left us with 2 nights of camping and a day of hiking. But if we were there exactly a week later, we would have gotten very lucky with clear days and a solar flare leading to the northern lights showing up early in the aurora season. So next time.
With spending money for housing rather than wild camping and a rental car, it’s possible to still have a great experience driving around and doing the day hikes. The major viewpoints and peaks mostly can be done as day hikes and the trails connecting them are pretty poor since they aren’t used much. Most that come and camp in the Lofoten Islands do so at the beaches (Buneset, Horseid, or Kvalvika) rather than a trek, so walk your own walk.
The next morning, we rode with Toming and his family to catch the morning ferry back to Bødo. It was a stormy and rocky ride, so I spent most of the time with my eyes closed napping. We stayed in Bødo for a couple of nights at the cheapest airbnb we can find while relaxing, doing a hike, walking around town, and shopping. Danielle and Alex rent out both of their bedrooms at the airbnb, so it was small but adequate for us.
Bødo is known as the gateway to the Lofoten Islands and is the most southern city where you can see the midnight sun, during the top summer month. Again, there are plenty of groceries (open early), outfitters (open around 10 am), and pharmacies (open around 8:30 am) should you need supplies. Additionally, there is a Sunday farmer’s market.
During our couple of days in Bødo, we mainly bought fresh and smoked fish, cheese, fruits, and veggies for our meals. However we did have a hardy traditional Norwegian meal from the Kafeteria, which was one of the cheapest restaurant around outside of fast food.
There is a tourist center downtown and there are free city walk tours offered by a local. The walk involves heading up to the free observation floor of the Scandic Havet – the tallest building in Bødo, the church, and seeing several of the street around the city.
An attraction about 30 minutes south of the city in Saltstraumen and can be reached by public transportation is the Saltsatraumen Maelstrom (youtube video captured by Gheorghe Falcaru). It is the place of the world’s strongest current that takes place every 6 hours when the tidal change has water rushing from the Skjerstadfjorden to the Saltfjorden.
There are several hiking trails leading away from Bødo as well, the most popular is Keiservarden. It’s what we opted for during our day in Bødo instead.
type: in and out
distance: 3.3 miles
elevation change: 1214 ft ascend & descend
time: 2 hours (1.5 hours moving)
The trailhead is on the northern side of town. There are couple of trailhead the one we took was at the bottom of the uphill. However there is another one with a carpark further up the hill.
There are 2 ways around the first small lake of Øvre Vollvatnet, both are pretty much the same. We took the left route up.
Following the left route, there is a T intersection. To continued straight at the intersection is a less hiked and more aggressive uphill. The standard Keiservarden route takes the right path at the intersection, which we did.
The first section is among the trees and then continues onto a section of boulders and flat rocks. The final approach to the top are a few sets of stairs, which we climbed into the clouds.
At the summit of Kieserverden is a big flat area with a shelter. From there we can see Bødo in its entirety.
With less cloud cover, the island of Landegode could be seen out at sea. The clouds lifted a little as we started to head down revealing a nice rainbow.
After eating a snack we headed down to get out of the wind.
view: 3. The views from the high point is a nice 180 view of the city of Bødo, bay, the mountains opposite the bay, and Landegode Island. If you have some time to in Bødo waiting for the ferry or plane, it’s worth a quick 3 mile hike.
difficulty: 1. The trail is mildly sloped and not very long. Many locals run up the mountain as their exercise.
technical: 1. The trail is clear and no difficulties.
After 2 nights in Bødo, we had an early 8 am flight to connect to Oslo. We walked the 30 minutes to the airport and our time in Norway came to an end.
Our flight from OSL to Lisbon (LIS) was in coach, but it was a short uneventful flight.
We landed in Lisbon in a completely different weather. At the airport, we bought a 24 hour metropass that took us to our hotel and allowed us to head downtown during our 18 hour layover. We stayed at the Lisbon Marriott using our free night certificate as part of the Chase Marriott card.
After checking in, we headed downtown for dinner and to walk around. Our first option was to head to the well known Vervejaria Ramiro shown on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, but they were closed for renovations. So we settled for the next door Cervejaria Barcabela. Their service was a bit lacking as specified by some tripadvisor reviews, but we enjoyed seafood meal.
We spent the rest of the evening walking around the pretty cool city. The castle at the top of the city just closed when we reached it, so we will have save it for the next time. We enjoyed Lisbon during our layover and really felt the similarities between Lisbon and Rio, though Lisbon felt more relaxed. We’ll have to return for longer next time.
We left for the airport early next morning and had breakfast at the TAP’s new flagship lounge as part of our business class tickets. It was fortunate we left for the plane a little bit earlier as immigration took longer than expected. There were automatic kiosks, but they only worked if Portugal is your port of entry into the EU.
TAP’s business class flight were on Airbus A330-200 planes with a 1-2-1 business class lay flat configuration. It would have been more useful if this was an overnight flight, but we enjoyed getting pampered watching movies and napping.
We landed in rainy Boston (BOS) and spend a fun evening with our friends, thanks Tashuana and Roger for hosting us! Our flights early morning on Southwest back to BWI was uneventful and our quick trip came to an end.
It was a hard decision on where to spend our time in Norway and the Lofoten was much more appealing than the crowded fjords around Bergen. Even though we did experience some wonderful views in the Lofoten Islands, I’d recommend just renting a car and doing day hikes in the fjords around Bergen.
This is because the amount of additional travels to position to the lofoten Islands via flights and ferry really only left us with 4-5 days compared to 6-7 if we just has our Bergen flight. Secondly, the extra flexibility to prepare for the weather is much needed for the temperamental weather above the arctic. Should you have longer than a week, I would highly recommend the Lofoten Islands.
Consider the costly nature of Norway, I was pretty happy with our budget even though we had extra housing and food costs from having to spend 2 more days off the trail. We save money by not drinking and eating out once during our time in Norway. Our flights were more than we could have spent, but it was Business class for about US$300 more.
We spent a total of US$2334.93 out of pocket. We redeemed 57000 US Bank Altitude Points, 5933 southwest points, and 1 Marriott category 1-5 free night from the Chase Marriott credit card worth a total of US$1039 based on thepointsguy’s August 2017 valuations. The total value of the trip is worth US$3373.33 for 2 people. The detailed spreadsheet is listed below.
Lastly, we were able to earn 5712 United Airline miles for both of us with TAP business class flight and 67 Norwegian Reward points.
Recently, airfare between Europe and United States have been on an all-time low driven by budget airlines like WOW, Norwegian, and Level even in the summer high season. With the ease of the trans-Atlantic commute and the beginning of summer hut to hut trekking season in Europe, I thought it was appropriate to jump back in the time machine to June 2014 and write about the time we did a segmented Walker’s Haute Route trek. As with my previous report about the past, my information might be dated now. Please cross check all the trail information with reputable sources.
Before I get started on the report, a key aspect to keep in mind is that the Walker’s Haute Route is really sections of different hut to hut hikes that was put together to fit the 2 week holidays Europeans, especially Brits, have by Kev Reynolds and the Cicerone guide books. There are many, many different alternatives you can take or loop together. The number of trails in Switzerland is pretty astounding, though it fits since the entire country is pretty much just glacier carved valleys.
A unique aspect of our trek was that we started the hike in mid-June, which was before the official Walker’s Haute Route season that year. So we had to mixed and matched different sections of the trails around, hence the segmented nature of this trip.
This was one of those things seemingly all young Americans did when I was growing up. It was almost a rite of passage. It was in line with the American road trip with your buddies. Some movies I can remember off the top of my head include Before Sunrise, An American Werewolf in Paris, some movie(s) with theOlsentwins, and of course Eurotrip (I didn’t say they were good movies). What I’m referring to is the European backpacking trip. More specifically, getting a rail pass and just going from city to city. For many it’s getting back to the old country and back to their roots, for others it’s to immerse in a different culture, and definitely for some, it was to get wasted and party their way across the land. Regardless of what someone did, backpacking in Europe with friends or by oneself seemed like, to me, one of those things that all young people did. It was a place with plenty of backpacking infrastructure and easy to go from place to place. And in most cases, one would take away life lessons, create stories they’d tell the rest of their lives, and returned back more knowing more about the world and themselves. Today with the internet, travel blogs, and global tourism, kids aren’t so confined to Europe to get that experience. But for me, a kid of the 90s, a Euro trip was the first place to travel to.
This entry is the first of the backlogged trip reports from the past that I’ll be working through. Unlike current reports, I won’t have exact costs or as complete of a report as I’m working off memories. Furthermore, by no means was I as efficient in budgeting in the past as I am now so there are definitely areas I could have saved money and some areas I went way too out of the way to save money. Lastly, some of the information and trails may have changed also over the years, so please cross check any information for your own safety.
the decision and planning (sure, we’ll call it that)
Before graduate school and after I quit my job, I had about 2 month to do some traveling and move across the country. So, I used 40 of those days backpacking around in Western Europe. I bought a flight in to London and out of Rome and booked my hostel for my first night in London. That would be as much planning as I got to before jumping on a plane. An example of my preparedness, I was flashing my iphone 3 in the Detroit airport so I could put a European sim card in it to text and call people.
Of course, I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do, which including traveling from city to city with a railpass (here are few evaluation of the europass), visiting some friends I had made the year at the hostel on Maui, and do some trekking. This was also a time where I didn’t know too much about trekking, I had just gotten into it and had my first trip earlier that year with my California friends Jared, Miguel, Arnold, and Matt in Yosemite. In my trekking career at the time, I had learned about layering, awesomeness of zip-lock bags, and the magic of wool, but I still hadn’t learned the no-no of cotton. So, I had a hard shell, soft shell, wool long sleeve base layer, sport shorts, some kind of long polyester pants, and a set of indoor clothing. I also had the essential purchases from that first trek including my Asolo 95 boots, one-person tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and of course backpack. I even had a water bladder, which I thought was an essential at the time. Some of the more sillier things I had included a full-sized bath towel, a roll of medical tape and gauze, and a bottle of rubbing alcohol for first aid. I did have the sense to pick up a headlamp, backpack rain cover, and a couple of real maps recommended by outfitter the day before the trek. Though it took me getting to the first town to get hiking poles and a quick dry t-shirt.
Anyways, most of my trekking stuff stayed at the bottom of my pack during the first couple weeks of my trip in Europe, though the sleeping bag was useful at certain hostels and on the floor of my first couchsurfing. I don’t remember when exactly I decided I wanted hike the Tour du Mont Blanc, but I do remember talking about it with a fellow backpacker on my last day in London. I remember doing some research here and there on my laptop at hostels, where I could get internet, but that was mostly figuring out day to day activities and booking hostels. I also lost my power cord for that brick at a hostel after the first week. I did get Trekking the Alps by Kev Reynolds (no, not his dedicated Guide to the Tour du Mont Blanc, but rather a boiler plate of very brief summaries on 20 treks in Europe) on my iphone so I knew I need to get to Les Houches to start and it would take 8 to 11 days. If you were wondering why I didn’t get his actual full guide book, it was because I was being cheap and thinking why pay more for something that has less treks? A mistake I’d realize later on as the my book was not an adequate guide, just point to point.
I wanted to do the hike the typical counter clockwise direction as I actually looked forward to meeting new people being a solo traveler and having people walk in the same direction would be helpful so I don’t get lost. Navigation on the main route was never bad as it was always marked by the TMB sign, red and white stripes, or piles of horse poop. The alternatives can be more dicey at times.
I also knew there were huts to stay at along the way, but I still decided to bring my tent in case (for some unknown reason). Looking back, it is kind of hard not to giggle at the state of naivete I had going into this. It was a learning experience and I’ll have more on some of those lessons later on.
After 2 weeks of visiting landmarks, eating, and drinking with friends new and familiar across western Europe, I think was a getting a bit tired of city hopping. I had gone from London to Paris to Bruges to Amsterdam to Osnabrück to Gothenburg to Stockholm to Berlin to Munich and finally to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. From there, I was ready for the outdoors and the Alps. Working with my timetable booklet, it took me 2 days with a stop in Bern, with its awesome glacial river to float down, before reaching Les Houches in the afternoon. It is the recommended starting point of the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB).
I had spent a little more money and booked a room in at Hôtel du Bois. their facilities were very nice and I had a great view of the mountains from my second-floor window.
The breakfast was especially good the next morning, which was nice kickoff to the trek. Les Houches had everything you needed to prepare for the hike including outfitters, stores, and laundry. There is a tourist information center in town that I remembered being helpful. Lastly, there were a lot less people than the main French town of Chamonix providing a quaint atmosphere.
In preparation of the trek, there isn’t too much you need to bring. In fact, you can get away with just a small day pack (which clearly I had not opted to do).
In your pack, you mainly have to bring along lunch for a day or two and some snacks. The huts a can provide you with a small bag lunch in their “full board,” but it is much more economical to go with the “half board” option, which include dinner, bed, and breakfast. This way, you can have better lunch and it’s much cheaper to pick up the materials in town. Since you are going through a town almost every other day, you don’t have to bring too much.
name: Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB)
type: multi-day hut to hut loop
distance: est. 110 mi (170 km)
elevation change: est. 38k feet (11.6k m) ascend and descend
time: 7 to 11 days
location: Border of France, Italy, and Switzerland.
The Tour du Mont Blanc is a major hut to hut route that fits perfectly with a two week European holiday. It is great starter trek and requires minimal equipment. It is also a bit more expensive, but relatively cheap in comparison a typical budget traveling in Europe. There are many different alternates of the tour and many other treks in the region should you be looking for challenges or more seclusion.
day 1: Les Houches to Mont Lachat to Refuge de Miage
At breakfast on the first day, I met Joshi. He was a med student from England who was also trekking the TMB. So we thought it would be cool to start together. Our ambition told us to not take it easy and to the standard route through Col de Voza and Le Champel. Instead, we headed for the closest peak.
The way up was full of clouds and fog, something I’d have to get use to on the trek. On a way up, we got a glimpse at the valley we ascended from.
As we reached the peak of Mont Lachat, it was complete white around us.
From Mont Lachat, it was a very steep down hill to connect with the main alternate. The initial down required sliding on my back. By the time we reached the lift station at the bottom that trail, I was soaked. After lunch there, we continued on toward Col to Tricot through the fog
and the meadow full of blooming flowers
until the bottom of Glacier de Bionnassay.
At the swing bridge, we saw a large group of day hikers
checking out the glacial run off.
After that, it was a grueling up toward Col de Tricot again in the fog.
All that left was a zig zag down to the first stop of the TMB,
Refuge de Miage.
Day one was in the books full of cloud and fog, but we did see a glacier. I was completely soaked for the majority of the day and I wished I had known about gaiters at the time. Below is a recounting of the route I took (in purple) versus the actual TMB (orange).
day 2: Refuge de Miage to Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme
We woke up on day 2 to a completely different view.
After a brief up, it was a nice slopping down toward Les Contamines-Montjoie.
In town, that’s where I first found the magic of prosciutto at the local cheese chop. After grabbing lunch for the next day it was a quick stop at the outfitters to pick up some hiking sticks and a quick dry shirt, both on sale. It was the first time I’ve used hiking sticks and they can definitely be useful on these none technical treks. One thing to be aware of the towns on the trek is that they close all during midday, so plan accordingly.
The walk out of town was along the rushing glacial stream from the south accompanied by plenty of day hikers.
Along the sloping up, there are stops here and there where you can get a nice looking at the stream rushing through some canyons.
After passing a couple of huts and the crowd started to thin out
as we get closer to the major up of the day.
As we got higher up, we can see an high attitude pond across the way. It would have made a nice day hike.
It was around early afternoon when we reached a little shelter at Col du Bonhomme.
The trek from the pass continues up through a bit of rocky section
before coming to the next pass at Col de la Croix du Bonhomme and
the second stop of the trek. Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme.
From the refuge we could see what I believe to be the standard TMB, but I would not be heading that way since we wanted to do the variant from here to Col des Fours, one of the high points of the TMB.
Unlike others that were heading all the way down to the town of Les Chapleux, we would enjoy the rest of the beautiful day with a nice half liter of wine. It was reasonably priced too around 10 euros if I remembered correctly.
The night ended with a full moon as I headed to bed early before the long day ahead of us.
Day 2 was a complete contrast from day 1 as the beauty of the of the Alps shown through. It was definitely difficult with a major uphill and the last bit definitely hit me pretty hard. I remember wanting to push on for the last section rather than stopping an eating, which made me feel a lot worse on the last section. It was a lesson I didn’t learn from though.
day 3: Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme to Têtes Nord des Fours to Rifugio Maison Vieille
The day 3 started before the dawn. This was because the most convinent stopping point, Rifugio Elisabetta Soldini at the bottom of Glacier de la Lee Blanche was completely full. It is one of the most popular refuges on the trek due to its location under the glacier. So, we had to trek further all way to Rifugio Maison Vieille.
As we had planned, we started upwards toward the Col de Fours. After following a few markers, route became less clear as we headed up with several areas of snow in the way.
We figured we’d continue up and eventually found a few pills of rocks and cairns. This is where I’d eventually regret not having Kev Reynolds’ Cicerone TMB guide book. If I did, I would have read that Col de Fours is not at the top of this section. Rather, we would reach it first, then should drop our bags and head up to where we eventually got to,
Têtes Nord des Fours. This was probably the most awe inspiring view of my trek.
Not only that, we reached the top at the same time as a pack of mountain goats.
It felt like something out of the Discovery channel, well before it turned into reality shows.
Anyways, the TMB variant calls for a return from where we came up to the Col des Fours. Not having the guide book, equip with my still novice map reading skills at the time, and the awe of the moment lead us to continue along the ridge.
There is an actual trail this way, a high mountain trail with cairns here and there. But not the actual trail we thought we were on. It should have been more clear when we started to hit some snow fields.
The trail continued over a bit more difficult terrain and didn’t seem to go down to the valley as we had thought. Joshi decided to run a head while I trying to figure out where on the map I actually was. The route on the map I thought we were on, was actually much lower than I actually was. I continued on the trail for a while until I saw Joshi all the way down on a dead end dirt road way below me. We yelled back and forth for a few minutes trying to get my bearings and he said he had bushwhacked down to the dirt road and he was going to go ahead.
At the time, I was a bit shocked as I felt like my trust was being betrayed. That aspect hit be pretty hard and stayed with me that entire day. Perhaps it was a growing up moment with the lesson of self sufficiency at the time as I ruminated on the events. Looking back in hind sight, I think the effect on me was really understanding the value of my true friends and those you trust and trust you back. This trip happened during a time of transition and the year of events leading up to that made me take for granted some of the people in my life. Understanding that and being able to reflect on it really spoke to the overall theme of the trip.
Anyways, I don’t blame Joshi now for going ahead and I did see him again. The main thing is that everyone walks their own walk and we were both worried about getting covering the entire distance, so I understand why he went ahead. I back tracked a few steps to an area of boulder field that I though gave me the best chance to scrambled down. It took me about half hour to an hour before getting the dead end dirt road where I had last seen Joshi. From there it was a set of switchbacks until I reached the bridge at the bottom of the valley.
Talking about lessons I hadn’t learned from the day before, I should have stopped here for lunch and refill my water. However being worried about the time and still full of rumination, I decided to head up and have lunch where there is a view. That next uphill was probably the most mentally and physically difficult thing of the entire trek. I was going at a snail’s pace and drank all my water by the time I was at Col de la Seigne.
I didn’t spend much time at the pass separating France and Italy as the wind was very fierce and heavy clouds were starting to form. Not to mention, I was out of water.
As headed into Italy, I passed a welcome center that didn’t have an facilities or water. That was bit disappointing, but dragged on until I reached the hill at the bottom of Rifugio Elisabetta Soldini. I could see why it was such a popular hut. At that point I was able to refill my water and found my second wind as I continued on.
That energy was probably because I briefly stopped to eat and drank a good amount of water. Though I’d like to say the awesome glaciers in this section pushed me forward.
After crossing a lagoon, it was uphills again with views of moraines and glaciers.
It was blue skies still ahead of me, but the clouds were coming over the mountains at this point.
I new I would be racing the rain.
I arrived at Rifugio Maison Vieille around 7pm as the rain started, the sun went down, and dinner had just begun. That dinner was one of the best I’ve ever had in my life with really good homemade Italian dinner. I was probably just exhausted.
I had caught up with Joshi at the hut and I was at peace at that point so it was nice to hang out with him and others. It was a day with the highest of highs and lowest of lows, but I survived it. It was also exactly the type of memorable day you’d hope to have on a trip like this. This was a section I would return to with Meg and I’m sure part of it has to do the experience of this day.
Below is a map of my best guess of my actual trek that day (again in purple). The marked yellow trail is the actual Col des Fours variant while the orange trail is the actual TMB. Also looking at the map afterwards, I kinda wish I stayed on the route I was one since it get pretty close to Glacier des Lanchettes and an alpine lake before meeting up with the TMB at Col de la Seigne. However, there is a couple sections on the map that looks like it would be quiet hairy with plenty of exposure. Not something I probably could do myself at that point of my trekking experience.
The rain poured through the night and by the time I was ready to get on the way, it was a combination of downpour and fog. I was soaked within a minute. I started the day with Joshi and another trekker, but had all sorts of problems on the down hill with the mud. I told them to go ahead as I would eventually slip and slide down the switchbacks into Courmayeur.
At the bottom of hill, I met a German couple from Hamburg. Elka and Sascha were graduate students and headed into town together. Courmayeur was their destination and they were planning to bus ahead to Lac Champex because they were limited on time. With the rain and at the midway point, I thought it was a good idea to call it a day at Courmayeur as well.
The information center pointed us to a cheap hotel called Venezia Camere. Here is a picture of it the next day.
It was simple, but was good. There was a heater so I could hang everything in my pack up to dry. I also had a nice view of the mountain I had slide down too.
I ventured outside into the rain to the local grocer and cheese shop for an amazing lunch.
After a nap, the weather outside cleared up in the evenings. I was able to walk around town and even found a wifi spot to check the complete backlog of my emails.
For dinner, I met up with Elka and Sascha for a nice pizza dinner.
Day 4 wasn’t a long day, but it provided a nice needed break at the half way point.
day 5: Courmayeur to Tête de la Tronche to Rifugio Bonatti
The skys stayed clear the following morning. Before I started my walk, I asked the hotel to hold onto a few extra things I had been carrying around like my tent and sleeping pad. I probably dropped my pack by half the weight. I knew I would be back this way because I was planning to continue on through Italy after my trek since my flight was out of Rome.
My day 5 was actually a short distance since I wanted to stay at Rifugio Bonatti, one of the best huts on the trek. It was going to be my destination on day 4. So I decided to go for another variant, Tête de la Tronche via Mont de la Saxe. A little issue at this point was that this section ran off the maps I had (as you will see below), so my route was a good amount of guess after the top.
Anyways, the trail heads gradually up through a forest with view of Courmayeur behind you.
As the train continues to ascend, views of the snow covered peaks, moraines, and the previous pass can be seen.
The variant climbs up on Mont de la Saxe, the trail takes you across a meadow of wild flowers, ponds filled with tadpoles, and sneak peaks of Mont Blanc.
The view from Tête de la Tronche is a 360 view. From down the valley toward Switzerland
and back from where you came from.
From the Tête de la Tronche, it’s a relatively sharp and steep down among the wildflowers through Col Sapin until
you reach the next valley called Vallon d’Armina. I mistaken this valley as the route to the hut, where the actual variant heads up again toward Pas Entre-Deux-Sauts.
I followed the trail in that valley until I met up with the normal TMB. From there it was a short half hour walk until Rifugio Bonatti.
Bonatti was definitely a first class hut, with amazing views from the dormitories.
I found a few friends at dinner that I had met along the way at previous huts. The social aspect of the trek was an understated highlight on the trek.
Day 5 was a very nice day and the actual last of my sunny days on the trek. If I had known that, I might have pushed ahead further. Again, my map is a bit incomplete on this section, so I’ve supplemented it with Kev Reynold’s figure for this leg from his TMB book.
day 6: Rifugio Bonatti to La Fouly to Champex d’en Haut
Day 6 was going to be a long day for me. I planned to combine 2 legs together since the latter one has pretty minimal elevation gain and a section many people bus rather than walk. Since I was determined to walked the entire circle, this was a good place to knock out an extra day.
The day started nicely,
but the clouds would continue to build as I continued through the valley with views of couple different glaciers.
As I reached Rifugio Elena, the clouds were on me.
My trek up to Grand Col Ferret on the border of Italy and Switzerland was a complete white out.
It wasn’t until I reached a couple farm houses did the fog lift a little. It was replaced by rain though.
I continued down the trail toward La Fouley crossing several pastures with electric fences. The first of which gave me a jolt. It was also a challenge to avoid all the cow pies while trying not to slip in the mud. I was pretty sure at one point, the bull of a heard was keeping a pretty close tab on me.
After reaching La Fouley, I decided I deserved a hot meal and visited a local restaurant. After a egg, cheese, and bread goodness, it was on toward Lac Champex. Right after La Fouley, the trail is pretty flat though an area of alpine forests.
Through the clouds, there are cascades running down rock faces here and there. I’m pretty sure there are glaciers up there somewhere.
The trail continues along the river la Drance de Forret
before crossing to the other side and continuing through a couple of alpine villages.
Scenes like this can get anyone humming the sound of music as they walk.
The rain started again as I headed up a final ascend into Champex. Along the way there were some interesting carved figures along the way and some cool caves. I didn’t explore the caves much as it was getting late.
Lac de Champex was so clear I rounded it toward the town center. The tourist information center was closed already as I arrived and the couple hotels I talked to were full already. So it was onward for another 30 or so minutes to the next hut.
By the time I reached the hut Gite Bon Abri, dinner had passed. It was ok since I still have some bread and prosciutto. She did make me a nice warm pea soup that helped to warm me up.
Day 6 as a long 12 hour day and I wish I would have been able to see more other than the fog. However, it was pretty tranquil overall with some nice glaciers in the beginning. Overall though, I probably would go for the bus the next time. I think the completeness aspect of looping the TMB is something you’d have to decide for yourself along the lines of walk your own walk. No one will care if you took a bus as long as you are happy with what you got out of it.
day 7: Champex d’en Haut to Fenêtre d’Arpette to Refuge Du Col de Balme
There is another variant for this section of the TMB. The normal route goes around the Bovine Alps, which the variant heads up high toward Fenêtre d’Arpette. Fenêtre d’Arpette is the other highest point of elevation on the TMB in comparison to the Col des Fours and should only be attempted in good weather. My forecast was mostly cloudy and seemed decent as I started out. So I attempted the pass.
After a half hour or so, I reached another hut and met one of the most badass people I knew then, Franck. He was heading over the Fenêtre d’Arpette as well so we decided to head over together. Franck spoke only broken English but we were able to communicate enough.
As we headed upwards, we met up with the clouds once again.
We continued through the valley as it became steeper and steeper. While I was stopping to catch my breath, Franck was stopping for cigarettes. It wasn’t long before we caught up with another group.
A little further up, we were met with some snow cover.
I was guzzling down my water through the ascension to the pass, while Franck never touched his.
When we reached the pass, Franck and the other guys celebrated with a cigarette. I was frozen stiff from the high winds and my sweat soaked clothing. I had to continue on.
A few minutes below the pass, we were through the clouds and I was warm again.
That’s when we first saw the Glacier du Trient. A bit further down, we found a nice rock for lunch and enjoy the crack of the glacier.
The trail then continues down into the valley as we can see the uphill on the other side we’ll be taking.
Toward the bottom of the valley, we were able to get a pretty awesome view of the glacier head on.
There is a little store once we reached the bottom of the valley by the river. However, they said didn’t have potable water. Being the cheap me, I didn’t want to pay for water, which I should have. Franck was nice enough to lend me some on the last up.
While at the store, we were visited by a fox.
It was a pretty good day.
We continued up the other side of the valley getting more views of the glacier until reaching an unmanned (sometimes) hut, Refuge Les Grands. It would have been a fine stopping place for me, but I didn’t have enough food for the night so we continued on.
As we rounded the side of the mountain, we could see the pass toward Trient, the typical stop on the TMB.
We continued to climb until finally reaching Col de Balme, the boarder of Switzerland and France.
Here on this windy and foggy path, there is a hut called Refuge du Col de Balme. It is known as the worst on the circuit and has been called lifeless. However for me this night, it was home. I said goodbye to Franck as he was continuing on and check into the hut. There was only one other person there and the place was cozy. So I was happy after another long day.
Day 7 was definitely one of the highlights of the trek despite the constant fog. It was the closest I came to the glacier and the fox (one of my favorite animals) was majestic and awesome.
I hadn’t planned day 8 to be my last, but a full day of downpours changed my mind. When I woke up, it was still foggy and windy at the pass.
There seemed to be a possible break as I rounded the ridge toward Aiguillette des Possettes.
But the clouds never really lifted fully.
The views into the valley was pretty cool when the clouds did open a little.
It was a mix of drizzle and clouds most of the way down.
It started to rain as I headed down toward Tré-le-Champ.
I found a restaurant for a brief shelter and lunch, but the rain never stopped. The next section I had read involved some metal ladders on the side of rock faces. With the rain continuing for most of the day, I opted to finish the TMB on a lower trail, the Petit Balcon Sud.
It was mostly a trail through the alpine forest through the Chamonix Valley with openings here and there with views of the large glaciers.
At the last viewpoint of my trek, Le Christ Roi
overlooking Les Houches, the sun finally broke through.
It was quite a feeling to be walking back into Les Houches after 8 days.
Day 8 was a wet end to my TMB. With the continuous rain, I didn’t want to attempt the metal rungs heading up to Lac Blanc and Col du Brévent. Being rained on for a 3rd day in a roll is pretty demoralizing. A bit of me does regret not having gone up there as the sun opened up at the end of the day. It is a section I will have to return to do. The map below shows my route and the official TMB and variants.
I checked into the same hotel after finishing on day 8 and ended up staying another night after that. I was pretty exhausted and did absolutely nothing the next day.
After my day of nothingness, I packed up and headed toward the bus station in Chamonix. I took a bus under Mont Blanc back to Courmayeur, where I picked up the rest of my things. Another bus got me to the nearest train station where I continued on to Venice via Milan and then finally to Rome. By that time, I’d reached my limit of my trip and was glad to be heading home.
Through the many places I saw and the many experience I had, the TMB was the defining portion of the trip for me and it set my travel focus as reflected by this blog.
Tour du Mont Blanc was my first hut to hut trekking experience and my first trek over 3 days. Despite the amount of rain that dropped on me, it is one of the most memorable treks out there. Of course, I have very high sentimental feelings associated with the trip, so I might be a little biased. I would recommend this to anyone that wants to get into trekking and want to see a lot of cool shit without much preparation (I didn’t have much).
Not only is this an amazing trek for the aesthetics as I’ve shown in my trip report, but also for the social aspect and the food. When you trek hut to hut, you meet many others that are doing the same thing and it allows you to meet many new people with their own stories. It is the same sense of the social hostel, where everyone is in the same situation looking to experience new things. You also end up seeing the same friends at the different huts allowing the development of a group bond through shared adventures. If you are a solo traveler, this is a pretty good trek to do.
As for the food, it was a lot of delicious French, Italian, and Swiss food with multiple courses. I read somewhere that a big misnomer of the trek is that you’ll lose weight. Ofcourse, the food in some huts were better than others, but they are all great homemade goodness. Walking a lot probably also improves the taste of the food too. Oh, there is also amazing bread, cheese, and prosciutto you can get from the stores for lunch that compare very favorably to the States. The cost of their prosciutto is as much as our boring cold turkey.
view: 4.5. No doubt, Mont Blanc is a place I would travel back for. In fact, I’ve gone back once with Meg for part of the TMB as a prelude to our segmented Walkers Haute Route trek. Even more, I still want to go back to trek the Lac Blanc portion. Glaciers, mountains, and water are my thing and the TMB has it all. Even the mountain houses and towns fit so nicely aesthetically in. The unfortunate thing is that many of the glaciers here, like elsewhere, are receding. There is definite possibility to fall off in rating without them. One additional caveat is that my rating here may be slightly biased as I have a lot of sentimental memories attached to this trek. It was my first solo trip and I grew up a lot from it. I can see it being a solid 4 without it.
difficulty: 2-3. There is definitely a bit of range in term of difficulty depending on the variants that you take or the number of days you plan to trek. For the main TMB, endurance and weather are the main components. The passes don’t ever get that high in elevation, so you don’t have the same issues as other places like Peru or Colorado. The hut to hut aspect of the trip also makes it much easier as you are carrying much less weight.
technical: 1-2. Depending on what variant you do, there may be steeper parts. Ofcourse, the season you go (such as mid-June) during will also determine possible snow crossings. I’ll talk about it in a future trip report on my segmented Walker’s Haute Route trek. For the main season, that shouldn’t be a worry. In terms of navigation, following Kev Reynolds’ Ciccerone’s guide and following the TMB marks will be all you need. There are plenty of people to ask as well. If you do take the variants, the trail markers may not be a clear as the main TMB and you’ll need to have an idea in regards to what you are looking for.
tips and thoughts
The setup of the TMB is mainly for the European 2-week holiday, however there are so many more trails in the area that you can make all sorts of week long hut to hut hike. The sentiment is much stronger regarding the Walker’s Haute Route and I’ll talk about in the future.
The variants are worth it if the weather is good, but you aren’t really missing too much without them.
You mainly only need a day pack for the TMB. Main gear should include a layering set of hiking cloth and indoor cloth. Layering is important as it does get very cold up in the mountains. A sleeping bag liner is recommended as there are no sheets in some refuges.
All the huts have Klogs you can use, so no worry about sandals.
Some of the huts even have wifi.
Most refuges have a heat room you can hang up your gear to dry.
Huts can call ahead and make reservations for you at the next hut. However during the high season, you may want to plan it out more and ask them to call ahead a couple of days in advance.
Milan Malpensa (MPX) is probably the cheapest hub to fly into (we did when we returned to do the Walker’s Haute route. There are also a couple smaller airports in Milan that budget airlines will service. Geneva, Lyons, and Bern are some other options. Zurich is probably the next closest hub.
It’s pretty easy to use public transportation to get to any starting point on the TMB in all 3 countries. There are relatively cheap (~40 euros) buses from Milan to Courmayeur, but you’ll have to connect to the bus station from the airports (~5 to 15 euros). It is another ~10 euros to go through the tunnel to Chamonix. The train seem to be much better French side connecting Switzerland and other areas of France to Les Houches and Chamonix. In Switzerland, you have the Post buses that can take you to Lac de Champex from Martigny if you want to start there.
It’s a loop, so you can start at any of the towns.
I would budget around 50 to 75 euros a day for the trek. The huts at the time ran from mid 30 euros to 50 euros for a half board that includes all but lunch. If you have the British trekking association, you can get a discount at the publicly ran huts. Most of the refuges have wine or other items you can buy, so having a bit extra euros are nice for that. Hotels in cities start around 50 euros, so that may increase the costs. Lunch and snacks are the last bit of expenses you should account for.
Keep in mind that Switzerland doesn’t use the euro, so you may need to stop at an ATM on the way for that portion. Some of the refuges were able to take credit cards, but don’t count on it due to remoteness. My information here is a bit dated.