The Chamonix Valley can be divided into several sections. At the top end, or the northern part, is the hamlet of Vallorcine and the Aiguilles Rouges Range, with many trails which take you away from the more crowded Chamonix Valley. The Col de Balme and the Refuge Albert 1st (mountain hut) can be accessed from the Vallorcine side of the valley or directly from Le Tour, a village 15km from Chamonix. This area boasts a large quantity of quality hikes which will get your lungs and legs burning, perfect for a pre-climb training session.

Argentière, another small village, mid-way up the Chamonix Valley, is home to the world-famous, Grands Montets  cable-car lift station. There are several excellent hikes which can be accessed from Argentière and are easily reached by both bus and train.

Chamonix itself offers three cable-cars to choose from in order to plan an interesting day in the hills, getting ready for your Mont Blanc ascent. The Aiguille du Midi, the most iconic of all lifts in the Alps whisks you right from Chamonix to nearly 4000 m, (13,200 feet) in a matter of minutes.  The Flégère cable car, in Les Praz, a 15-minute walk from Chamonix, opens up the southern side of the valley with hikes to Lac Blanc, the Aiguille du Belvedère and many more remote hikes, again, away from the crowded valley floor. The Brévant cable car which links to the Flégère lift system allows for great hikes towards Les Houches and the back side of the valley.

The southern-most section of the Chamonix Valley would be the small town of Les Houches and the Bellevue cable car and its surrounding trail system. Well worth the money, the Bellevue cable-car takes you toward the Col de Voza and the Col de Tricot, both equally stunning hikes with a different view of Mont Blanc and the Dômes de Miages and Aiguille de Bionnassay.

Ascent of Le Buet

Vallorcine, also known as the Valley of the Bear from its Latin origins, is an interesting hamlet spread out over several kilometres. Originally settled by the Walser people, a Germanic tribe which moved into parts of Switzerland and northern Italy, Vallorcine reflects this heritage with unique architecture and a long tradition of wood working. Surrounded by high peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges, the Pérons Range and the Possettes Ridge, Vallorcine offers fairly remote hiking opportunities not seen in other parts of the Chamonix Valley.

It’s most climbed peak is the Mont Buet, also called the “Ladies’ Mont Blanc” as many climbers from the Golden Age of Mountaineering sent their spouses to climb the Buet and observe their progress with field glasses as they climbed Mont Blanc.

Topping out at just over 3000 metres (10,000 feet), the Buet offers a panoramic view of the surrounding peaks, as far as the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa and also, on a clear day, the Jura and ranges close to Grenoble in the Dauphiné Alps. Considered by many as the toughest non-technical climb in the valley, the Buet requires excellent fitness as the climb from Vallorcine is a nearly 2000 metre (6000 feet) vertical ascent. The ideal starting point if from the hamlet of the Buet train station which is a 20-minute, scenic train ride from Chamonix.

Caution is advised when climbing this peak as bad weather, particularly in the form of thunderstorms can have nasty consequences for hikers. Please check the Chamonix weather forecast at:http://chamonix-meteo.com/chamonix-mont-blanc/weather/forecast/morning/5_days_weather_forecast.php

The Buet is a serious undertaking and plenty of snacks and water should be taken. There are no water sources on the mountain except for snowmelt. Ideally, a very early start is advisable as the return journey could take up to 8 hours. The temperatures will also vary between the valley floor and 2000 metres higher up so gloves, wool hat and warm layers are essential. Early season, late June and early July can see several metres of snow on the higher trails turning a difficult walk into something altogether different. Please contact the Maison de la Montagne in Chamonix for trail conditions and helpful information.https://www.chamonix.com/office-de-haute-montagne,4-492959,en.html

Begin the hike by crossing the parking lot of the train station and cross the street to the Hôtel du Buet and follow  the signs to the Cascade de Bérard, passing the tiny Poya tow lift. At first, the trail meanders gently upwards past the Cascade de Bérard on a narrow single track crossing the mountain stream Eau de Bérard several times with the help of wooden bridges. As the trail climbs steeply upwards, you will begin to leave the dense Larch forest behind and enter an obvious avalanche path which has stripped the mountain of trees and vegetation. In the distance, you will begin  to see the tiny refuge which is often used as a base to climb the Buet in 2 days.

 

The refuge Pierre a Bérard is a tiny structure built against a large boulder, hence the name. This is  great opportunity to buy a cold/warm drink and then begin the real climb. From this point onwards, the trail is very steep, with few trail markers other than cairns, large piles of stones and the occasional trail blaze. That said, the trail is obvious in good weather and you will not be alone in making this ascent. A short distance above the refuge, you will come across the Col de Salenton, a low pass that gives access to the back side (South side) of the Aiguilles Rouges and the Brévent and Flégère cable cars. From the pass, you begin to see where the summit is but it is a fair distance away, possible another 2 hours depending on trail conditions.

You will begin to feel the effects of diminished barometric pressure as you make the final push to the summit of the Mont Buet. There are several stone shelters which are ideal for getting out of the wind but if you are fortunate, you will have unobstructed 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains.

If you would like to avoid retracing your steps all the way back to the Buet parking lot, there is always the option of taking the Col de Salenton and dropping into the north slopes of the Aiguilles Rouges before making your way to the Refuge du Cold D’Anterne and then the Col du Brévent and return via cable-car down to Chamonix. Vertical gain 1970 metres, 18.9 kilometres 

Le Tour to Refuge Albert 1st

Another popular and easily accessible mountain refuge is the Albert 1st, named after the famed Belgian monarch. The hut, perched high above the valley floor, is perfect for an over-night stay aiding in acclimatization for for peaks such as the Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. Sitting at about 10,000 feet or 2702 meters, the hut offers fully catered meals, drinks and bunk-style accommodation. You should reserve this accommodation well in advance as it is popular with mountaineers who are climbing the Aiguille du Tour.

https://refugealbert1er.ffcam.fr/

In order to access the refuge, you can either take a bus, train or private vehicle to  the parking lot in the hamlet of Le Tour, situated north of Chamonix. If you are feeling strong, hiking right from the lift station is a great way to get ready for the ascent of the Mont Blanc or Matterhorn. If you prefer to use the lift, you can purchase a one-way or return journey right at the parking lot and walk up the stairs to the small gondolas.

The trail up follows the ski lift and downhill mountain biking trail, but once you reach the mid-station lift, you can then veer east and make you ascent on a well-marked trail with signs for the Albert 1st refuge. The climb is very scenic with about 1300 vertical metres of ascent, getting your legs burning for the days ahead. A day pack with toiletries is sufficient as the hut provides bedding, meals and drinks. Vertical gain 990 metres 9.2 kilometres roundtrip.

Aiguille du Midi, Plan de l’Aiguille to the Montenvers train station

If you arrive in Chamonix a few days early, please consider taking the Aiguille du Midi cable-car. Located in the heart of Chamonix, the two-stage gondola takes you to nearly 4000m or 12,000 feet right from town. It is still considered the longest single span of cable in the world and was inaugurated in 1955 after nearly 25 years of construction, hampered by the WWII and many technical difficulties.

https://www.chamonix.com/aiguille-du-midi-step-into-the-void,80,en.html

There are several hikes which can be taken from the mid-station, called the Plan de L’Aiguille. The Compagnie du Mont Blanc which operates this lift offers passes for hikers during the summer months  allowing you to ride to the top and then return to the mid-station for the hike to the Montenvers cog train. Your ticket will also include the ride down for the train. As the Aiguille du Midi is at 3842 metres, take it easy at first at the top as you will certainly feel the altitude. About an hour is enough to take in the surrounding peaks, particularly Mont Blanc, the Grandes Jorasses and in the distant Valais, the mighty Matterhorn.

The hike itself begins from the mid-station where you have to walk down to the Refuge du Plan de L’Aiguille and follow the signs to the Montenvers. The trail is amazing as you walk right under the towering Chamonix Needles, the tall, jagged granite spires which have made Chamonix so famous.With little more than 400 vertical metres of ascent, this hike is relatively easy but rewarding. One of the highlights is the Signal Forbes, a rocky outcrop named after a famous Scottish Glaciologist and explorer who pioneering work on glacial advance which was cutting edge for the time.

https://www.google.ca/search?q=signal+forbes&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiE4dOg_KneAhXlqFQKHU_ED5wQ_AUIDigB&biw=1680&bih=929

After about 3 hours of meandering trails, there is the option to hike down to the Alpage de la Blaitière, a small, working farm which offers meals, beverages and an insight into what life was like for the local shepherds who spent their summers high above the valley floor.

Once you reach the Montenvers train station, you have the option to eat lunch in the restaurant located adjacent to the train station. Built during the Golden Age of Mountaineering, the restaurant and hotel offer local fare, an excellent wine list and stunning views out to the Drus and Mer de Glace glacier.

https://montenvers.terminal-neige.com/en/#!chamonix-hotel/mont-blanc-montenvers

If you have had too much lunch, just use your cable-car and train ticket to board the train down to Chamonix. Vertical gain 194 metres, distance 7.5 kilometres

Chamonix to Courmayeur/ Mont de la Saxe Ridge and Rifugio Bonatti

The south side of the Mont Blanc is home to some of the most demanding routes of the entire massif, with classic routes such as the Brouillard Ridge, the Brenva Spur and the Innominata Ridge. But more than that, the south side is in Italy and with a 11.6 km tunnel right under the Mont Blanc itself, it takes roughly 40 minutes to drive to Italy from Chamonix. Once in Courmayeur, you have any number of options for hiking but one of the best is certainly the Mont de la Saxe Ridge, an ancient moraine which towers above the Val Ferret and the town itself. With great coffee shops and excellent eateries, Courmayeur is a far quieter than Chamonix.

 

If you have time, a night in the Rifugio Walter Bonatti is well worth it. The rifugio is at the end of the Saxe ridge and is one of the more arduous hikes in the Val Ferret. Named after one of Italy’s greatest climbers, the refuge is more of a hotel than hut. It offers double rooms, 3-course meals and an excellent bar. Reservations are absolutely required well in advance of your stay.

Getting an early start is essential as the hike will take at least 8 hours if you opt to hike the entire ridge. Ideally, a night in Courmayeur before the hike will make things easier. There are many hotels in Courmayeur to choose from, the Hotel Walser being our favourite.http://www.walserhotel.com/

 

The hike starts right in town and takes you past the Guide’s Office and the main church before heading up to Villair Supérieur and then the steep climb (about 700 vertical metres) to the Rifugio Bertone. Bertone opens at 12:00 for lunch but you can stop in for a pastry and coffee fuelling up for the long hike ahead. http://www.rifugiobertone.it/wp/en/home-en/

https://www.summitpost.org/mont-de-la-saxe/947321

The path is obvious and there are no objective hazards but this walk is only advisable when the weather is good. The views are outstanding and the south side of the range is steeper and far more rugged than the Chamonix side. Roughly 8 hours of hiking with vertical gain of about 1500 m. No water is available after the Bertone Refuge so plan on taking at least 3 litres if the weather forecast calls for a warm day. There are several options to cut the walk short if you feel that this is too much but the trail is relatively easy, with ample opportunities for snack breaks and rest stops.

In order to avoid retracing your steps, a short 45-minute walk below the refuge will lead you to the  to the main road in the Val Ferret and the bus stop, allowing you to catch the public bus back to Courmayeur. The hut staff can assist you in looking up the bus timetables. Vertical gain 1600 metres and 16 kilometres distance.

https://www.rifugiobonatti.it/