Tour Du Mont Blanc alternatives
This is the third post in a series by Bogong owner Neil about the Why, Where and How of hiking in the European Alps. See also:
The Tour of Mont Blanc is a magnificent and extremely popular 11 day walking circuit of the Mont Blanc Massif. And that is just the problem - it is so popular that huts are crowded and the authentic European walking experience is somewhat diluted by the number of fellow English speaking hikers. So if you have already done the Tour Du Mont Blanc (TMB) and are wondering where to next, or perhaps are just looking for an alternative here are some suggestions.
1. Tour of the Vanoise
A short distance south of Mont Blanc is the equally magnificent Vanoise region which contains the Tour Du Vanoise. Wholly in France this is also a circuit walk taking approximately 10 to 12 days with accommodation in European style serviced mountain huts. It also circumnavigates a mountain massif, in this case the Vanoise which contains more than one hundred 3,000m peaks. The standard of walking on this tour is equivalent to the Tour Du Mont Blanc. It can be easily adapted to shorter 5 to 6 day walks and some of these variations are discussed in the guide.
So why consider doing the Tour Du Vanoise?
If walking past glaciated mountain peaks, through beautiful valleys with delightful mountain streams all with only a light pack sets your pulse racing this is the place to be. And the Vanoise is the only national park in France adjoining the Gran Paradiso NP across the border in Italy. This means in my experience of extensive walking in the european alps that this is the best region for spotting wildlife such as the magnificent Ibex. I have also seen chamois and many marmots in this area. Here are just a few more reasons to hike the Vanoise:
→ There is an excellent English language guidebook that describes the tour
→ Superb high level walking around glaciated mountain peaks
→ Beautiful valleys, waterfalls and streams
→ Atmospheric mountain huts, with spectacular locations, are spaced at good daily intervals throughout
→ Whilst any walking in Europe is not a wilderness experience as we know it your fellow walkers on this trip are likely to be a mix of continental Europeans. This enhances the cultural experience enormously. On the TMB you will meet Australians, New Zealanders, Brits and Americans but as soon as you move away from the iconic walks these nationalities vanish. You are more likely to meet French, Swiss, German and Dutch walkers.
The Vanoise is well covered by the guidebook but I would like to add a few personal comments. The extreme northern section of the circuit as described goes through the ski resorts of Tignes and Val Claret and nearby to Val D'Isere. I strongly advise taking the alternate route briefly described, going over Col de Fresse from Val D'Isere to Refuge Leisse. Also the guide suggests descending into Pralognan from Refuge du Col de la Vanoise which seems totally unnecessary. If travelling anti clockwise from the Refuge keep to the high level track heading south-east. This route goes via the magnificent Col Du Grand Marchet. This is a demanding route but no significant difficulties are encountered and is a highlight of the entire circuit.
You will of course need a map. The entire walk is on the Carte de Randonnees A3 Vanoise 1:50,000 sheet.
All in all I cannot recommend the Vanoise more highly as an alternative or follow up to the TMB.
2. Zillertal High Route in Austria.
This is also an 8 day circuit, certainly more demanding than the Tour Du Mont Blanc. If you have done the TMB and are ready to take the next step this tour is ideal. No technical skills are required but a head for heights is. Rough, rugged and with virtually all the walking on foot paths as opposed to vehicular tracks this is a fantastic walk. The tour is covered in more detail in my blog Walking In Austria. Bogong stocks the guide book and also the 1:50,000 map.
3. Tour of the Matterhorn
The Matterhorn is of course Europe's most iconic peak and this tour is simply magnificent. However it is much more demanding and complex than the Tour Du Mont Blanc and is certainly more difficult than the Zillertal High route also. Once again this walk is covered by an excellent English language guidebook The Tour of the Matterhorn. Despite the difficulties it offers dramatic walking at the highest standard and is certainly a walk to aspire to.
This tour crosses three 3,000m cols and two glaciers. A pair of lightweight crampons are a must. The glaciers are at the lowest possible standard in terms of technical skills required. In the months of August and September they are generally snow free and will not require ropes and technical difficulties will be minimal. However of course at this height snow falls can occur at any time covering the crevasses and technical equipment will then be required so it is necessary to either have the gear and skills or the knowledge and willingness to turn back and pursue other objectives. The topic of glacier travel is covered in some detail in the guide book. Australian walkers understandably generally find glacier walking intimidating and this is a pity. This tour also involves significant climbs and long sections of rock hopping across endless boulder fields so you need to have strong climbing legs and good fitness levels.
Alternatively it is possible to just walk the Arolla to Zermatt section which totally eliminates the requirement for technical glacier skills and equipment. I personally would suggest a clockwise direction of travel which is opposite to the guide notes. The stunning section along the Europaweg travelling south from Grächen to Zermatt is particularly exhilarating as the view of the Matterhorn gradually unfolds in front of you as you travel along this spectacular route. However please note that this route south from the Europa Hut crosses dangerously unstable terrain bedevilled by rock fall and has been closed and rerouted at various times over the last few years. It can be bypassed by descending to the valley and climbing back up again which for any walker attempting the entire Tour of the Matterhorn should be no more than a passing irritant. There will be much harder climbs than this. It would be wise to seek current information if planning to walk this section. I have included a small slideshow of Europaweg shots. These were all taken in 2006.
AUGUST 2017. IMPORTANT UPDATE. After a long period of closure a spectacular 494 metre long suspension bridge has been opened which bypasses the unstable section of the Europaweg and thus the full route is now back available. You can see a video of the new bridge here.
There are of course many other stunning walks across the European alps and an excellent collection of the best of them can be found in the books Walking in the Alps and Trekking In The Alps covering walks from France in the west to Slovenia in the east.
See also the blog:
The European Alps - A long walk
European walking is much more than the Tour Du Mont Blanc so go out and discover it!