A TYPICAL DAY ON THE TMB
If you’ve never hiked a long-distance route, such as the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), Alta Via 1 (AV1) or the Haute Route, you might not know what to expect. Likewise, if you’ve never hiked in Europe, you might not know what the trails will be like, or the weather. To help you prepare, we’ve put together this short description of a typical day on TMB. We hope this reassures you, and gets you excited for your hiking holiday!
Author : Grant is a guide, and has lived in the Chamonix valley for ten years. He has done the TMB route many times!
A typical day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) starts with breakfast at around 6.30am – 7am. The breakfast is set out, and you can arrive whenever suits you. Breakfast in a refuge is simple. It’s typically heavy on the bread, and there’s usually cereal, yoghurt and fruit (read this post to learn more about mountain refuges). You should have organised your bag the night before, so after breakfast and a briefing with your guide about the route, you’ll set off hiking. Normally, we start hiking at around 8am. Sometimes we start a bit earlier, if the route is long or if thunderstorms are forecast.
In general, the mornings on the TMB are more strenuous than the afternoons. This is because the route usually takes you over a mountain pass (also called a “col”), so you’ll climb to the pass in the morning, then descend the other side in the afternoon. Thankfully, the mornings are usually quite chilly, even in late summer.
At some point on the route, you’ll stop for lunch. Normally this will be around half-way through the day, at around 12 or 1pm. Sometimes you’ll stop earlier or later… the exact time will be determined by that day’s route. We always try to find you the best picnic spot! Of course, if you get hungry before then, you can take some snacks from your bag, and we can stop off at a mountain refuge for drinks and cake. Likewise, if you’re feeling tired, it’s possible to have a short rest before lunch, and there are usually places to use the toilet (see more details about toilets below).
The afternoons are usually a bit easier than the mornings, as in the afternoons you will normally be descending from a mountain pass. It’s important to be below the tree line by about 3pm, because there are often showers and thunderstorms in the late afternoon. We aim to arrive at the next accommodation with some time to spare before dinner, often around 4 or 5pm. This is a nice time to have a shower, take a nap, or relax on the terrace with a beer! This is also the time that you should prepare your bag for the next day. Pack spare cloths, waterproofs, snacks and sunscreen at the top of your bag, so that they will be assessable. You should also refill your water bottles, so that you’ll be ready to go in the morning.
Dinner is normally served at around 7pm. After dinner, people are usually tired and head to sleep at around 9pm (you will find your bed time gets a few hours earlier when hiking!). The evening meal is usually simple but filling. There are normally 3 courses : a soup starter, a main course, and a dessert. For more information about dinners in mountain refuges, read this post.
An average day on the TMB is between 15-20km, with around 1000 metres of climbing. We’re often out for up to 8 hours, which includes the breaks and lunch. You will experience a variety of landscapes; passing through shady forests, bright alpine meadows, and over rough, rocky passes. Climbing from the valleys to the high altitudes, you’ll experience fluctuating temperatures.
The technicality of the Tour du Mont Blanc trails varies, but in general they are quite easy. Most of the time they are wide, so you can walk together rather than in single-file. That said, it’s good practise to walk in no more than twos, so that other hikers, runners or bikers can get past. Most of the trails are smooth underfoot, but as you get higher up, they become more rocky. For this reason, it can be useful to use hiking poles, to help keep balanced. It’s also essential to wear shoes with a good sole.
You’ll experience a range of temperatures on the Tour du Mont Blanc! In the mornings, the temperatures are often chilly, even during July and August. You’ll normally start in a shady forest, but then you’ll climb above the tree line. You will pass through alpine meadows, which can sometimes be very warm and bright, especially in the afternoons! As you reach the mountain passes, the temperatures can be quite low again. Additionally, there’s often a strong wind on these passes. It’s tiring to experience these fluctuations; regulating our body temperatures uses a lot of energy. Pack additional layers of clothes, and put them on if you start to get cold. Likewise, if you start sweating, stop and remove a layer.
Guided TMB with a group
Your guide will usually lead the way. Periodically through the day, they will drop back to make sure everyone is okay, and to make sure they are spending time with all members of the group. When the guide drops back, they will brief the hikers at the front where to stop, so that everyone can re-group. We understand that everyone has a different pace. Some guide companies like their clients to walk at the same pace in a line. However, at Happy Tracks, we like to give our clients the freedom to hike at their own pace. We cater for all abilities, so nobody should feel rushed. On some sections (e.g. where there is technical terrain, or there are patches of snow), it’s important that the guide leads the group to find the safest path.
Animals on the TMB
You should see lots of animals on the Tour du Mont Blanc. In the forests, look out for black squirrels, and you’ll notice mouse holes dug into the earth. You’ll probably hear woodpeckers, and you’ll see where they have pecked the tree trunks. If you’re lucky, you might also see deer or chamois in the forests. As you get above the tree line, you’ll hear the distinctive sound of marmots calling. Marmots live in the alpine meadows and in the moorland areas. Higher up, on the rocky mountain passes, look out for ibex. These are a unique type of mountain goat with long, curved horns. They typically hang out around cliffs, or in sunny, rocky meadows. If you’re keen to spot an animal, ask your guide for advice! Guides are experts at spotting alpine animals, because they know where to look!
Weather on the TMB
Thankfully, the weather in the Alps is generally very good. In Chamonix, we have on average 8 hours of sunshine each day. In the valleys, the weather can be hot, but higher up on the mountains there is usually a nice breeze to keep us cool whilst hiking. That said, in a mountain environment, the weather can change quickly. We do get rainy days, thunderstorms and sometimes even snow. Being prepared for every eventuality is best practice, even though the weather will likely be good for your hike.
Below are some tips to cope with the different weather conditions you may experience during your hike. For more information about the best time to do the TMB, read this post.
Typically mornings are quite cool (around 10 Celsius), but they quickly become warm as the sun rises. Midday temperatures can be around 25 Celsius in the valleys, or 15-20 on the higher trails. Normally there is a light breeze that will increase as the day goes on. With warm weather, physical exertion and a bit of altitude, it’s important to stay hydrated and protected throughout the day. We recommend wearing a cap, sunglasses and high factor suncream. The mountain sun is strong! For a more detailed, month-by-month look at TMB weather, read this post.
During hot summer weather, typically in August, there can be afternoon showers or thunderstorms. They often arrive late in the afternoon, when you are off the mountain, but you must be prepared to get your waterproof clothes on quickly. On guided tours, your guide will plan your day accordingly, to help avoid storms. It’s best to get an early start, so you can finish early and watch the storm from the safety of you accommodation.
Sometimes we get a drizzly day. Often the rain is not persistent, but sometimes we’re just unlucky. Most of the trails are safe to hike in the rain, but it is important to have good waterproof clothing and footwear with good grip. Some of the steeper variants become dangerous in the rain, so generally we will stick to the lower trails in bad weather. The biggest danger on a rainy day is getting seriously cold. This can be mitigated by having good quality waterproofs (jacket and pants), gloves and a hat – yes, even in summer it gets cold! It is important to have a rain cover or dry bags for your backpack too! Most places we stay have drying rooms so you can dry your clothes after a wet day on the trail.
Sometimes at the end of September we get snowfall on the trail. This is usually just a cosmetic dusting, and you can simply continue hiking and enjoy the snowy scenery! The main snow hazard is from old snow patches at the start of the season. You will often find snow patches on the passes that can be easily navigated once many people have crossed. Again you need boots with good grip to avoid skidding or falling off the trail. Walking poles are very helpful, too.
A big hazard with snow is falling through a snow bridge, or hollow patch of snow. There are often hidden holes over streams or rivers that have hidden holes under the snow. If you step here, you could fall many metres into a stream below. Thankfully, these form in known areas on the trail each year, so with good knowledge they can be avoided on alternative trails. Your guide will advise where is safest to cross a snowy section, you must not cross snow patches without checking in with your guide. If you are doing the TMB self-guided, you can use our conditions reports to help avoid hazards. Read our TMB 2023 report here.
What if I need the toilet?
What if I need to use a toilet? This is a good question, and something that lots of people worry about. If this is something you’re worrying about, don’t be embarrassed – it’s very normal! There are a number of reasons why this might be a concern… for menstruating women, the idea of getting your period while hiking the TMB can be stressful, and some people just have difficulties when they’re eating different food. Don’t worry, we get it!
Are there toilets?
Are there toilets on the Tour du Mont Blanc? A typical TMB day will pass at least one mountain refuge, and sometimes more than one. If you need to use a bathroom, you can stop off at one of these refuges. Buy a snack or drink, and then you can use their bathroom. Don’t be embarrassed to ask your guide for information. If you’re far from the next refuge and you need a wee, or if you need to change a menstrual product, it’s perfectly acceptable to go behind a rock or a tree. You can always find somewhere secluded off the trail.
Trail toilet etiquette!
If you need to use paper, or if you need to change a menstrual product, please do not leave it behind on the trail. Carry a small bin bag or equivalent, so that you can take your litter with you and put it in a bin when you arrive at your evening accommodation. If you’re far away from a facility and you need to poo, then you might need to go outside. Try your best to avoid doing this! But sometimes it might happen… if it’s necessary, please take your paper with you, and cover your traces with some rocks!