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Report 1047: Mt. Blanc Summer 2006

By Robert Rainey from California, Summer 2006

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Page 15 of 15: Preparing for the Hike - Information Page

photo by Robert Rainey

SHOES/BOOTS

One of the first things to think of is taking care to choose your hiking shoes or boots. I would not go without having a pair which I had field tested with at least one or two hikes that are similar to the length of a daily stage at Mt Blanc. That means hiking for let’s say eight hours with a pack and elevation gain if possible. Doing this you can eliminate any issues like blisters, sore areas, fit etc.

I used boots which were cut just above the ankle. My wife used hiking shoes, which were cut low. Neither of us had blisters or any issues related to shoes. Part of that may be that our feet are accustomed to doing all day runs and hikes. I wanted a little more stability as I was planning on carrying 2/3 of our combined pack weight. If you have weak ankles, flat feet or previous foot issues, go for boots with more protection and stability.

FOOD

We only had one day where we had a problem finding a place to stop for lunch. That was on the Les Houches to Flégère stage where we choose an alternate route that did not involve passing a refuge. When considering routes, plan where and when you are going to eat. If you think you will not be passing a refuge consider picking up food for a picnic. It would be much cheaper to buy food in markets but remember you will be carrying the weight.

HOW MANY DAYS?

According to the normal schedule the route is 10 days clockwise and 11 days counterclockwise. We did nine days of hiking and one rest day so we basically stuck to the clockwise schedule, with a long day added which we had to do to fit our time schedule.

To make it easier there are a few options

  • Break up the hike into smaller stages and take more days. The Kev Reynolds book has suggestions on places to stop. Take as many days as you like.
  • Take rest days. Do the regular distances of the daily stages but take days off. Good places to do that would be Courmayeur, Refugio Elizabeta, (and though off the route a bit) Chamonix.
  • Consider joining a group. Most groups skip sections of the hike, some use cable cars or busses. One group we talked to said that they were skipping the “flat, ugly parts” when I told them there weren’t any, they looked shocked. The benefit, packs will be portaged to your next location so it makes it much easier. A downside, it can be more than twice as expensive. We ended up spending just over $3,000 for the land portion of the two week trip, with days before and after in Geneva and Champex Lac including all lodging, transport, and all meals (with wine and beer) without airline tickets. Another downside to consider is group dynamics. You will be put together with several strangers. Tension and arguments are bound to happen.

HOW EASY TO NAVIGATE?

There were many, many markings on the trail from Champex on our first stage. There were a few places where you need to do a little map reading, or consult the Reynolds book. We never went more than 10 minutes one way out of the way, but we also were going at faster than normal speed. Counter-clockwise may be easier as 90% do it that way so it is likely that there will be someone just ahead. For me I would rather have the two hours plus in the morning where we normally did not encounter many folks.

TREKKING POLES

I never use them for daily hikes here but with the extra weight and back to back hiking days they help in both uphill and downhill hiking.

TRAINING

You need to take an honest assessment of your fitness. What you did in high school no longer counts. The regular schedule allows five to seven hours according to the Kev Reynolds’s book. That is if you go very fast, never stop Never take a photo etc. Six to ten hours of daily hiking, if you include time for lunch, rest, etc. is about right. If you feel this is too much take more days.

It also helps to carry as little as possible; we did laundry in the sink daily. Choose quick drying fabrics. Less is more.

DISTANCES/ALTITUDE GAIN

I think that the distances in the Kev Reynolds book may be a little short. I am basing this on 40 years of hiking experience, the normal speed we go etc. Altitude is not really a huge factor, the highest point is about 9000 feet. Also I think there may be more altitude gain than listed in the book. I base this on my altitude watch, which was reading altitudes accurately when checked against the map etc. I think there is 10-20% more gain than listed in some of the stages.

Resources

Auberge De La Nova-Les Chapieux

Hotel Beau Site

Hotel Berthod Courmayeur

Hotel Camille Bonaventure

Hotel Central-Geneva

Hotel Edelweiss

Hotel Glacier

Refugio Walter Bonatti

Relais Mont Blanc

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