Aug 9, 2007 at 4:19 am #1224489
Finally arrived in France, now Chamonix, right at the base of the Alps. Had a big scare yesterday when my credit card PIN number wouldn't register and I couldn't get any money. Thought I was going to have to head back to Zurich Switzerland to find an American Express office to get some cash. WIth diabetes and the possibility of not being able to buy food in the mountains that meant my whole trip would have been over. Luckily a really kind woman at a backpacker's lodge took pity on me and allowed me to stay without paying for one night. And I found a bank today that took my credit card.
The Alps overlook the town and now I can very well imagine why people before the mountaineers started up the peaks in the 1800's believed that evil spirits and gods lived up there. It's been raining straight and hard for four days now throughout the region and Chamonix is freezing. Made me glad that the other day while in Lucern in Switzerland I decided to buy a new, small tent instead of the GG SpinnShelter I had eventually brought. No way I'm going up there with just a tarp! These are by far the most massive mountains I've ever seen up close and it's quite scary, though I'm sure ignorance is part of that. Two room mates at the backpacker's lodge told me I don't have to worry about snow on the Tour de Mont Blanc route. Hopefully I can be ready to start walking the day after tomorrow.
I'll check in with you guys again soon.Aug 9, 2007 at 7:50 am #1397882
I can't believe you bought a new Tent! You should have taken your Rainbow. The mountains around Chamonix are world class but don't be intimidated for the TMB..you don't have to climb them!
I wish you the best of luck and enjoy all that great scenery and hopefully some good weather too.
JeroenAug 10, 2007 at 1:51 am #1398003
Jeroen, yeah, I can't believe I bought a new tent either. It was out of necessity, though. Back in Japan I was still sewing the modifications for the tent five minutes before I was supposed to take off for the airport. In the end I was so stressed out that I just took the GG SpinnShelter. When I arrived here though and looked at the mountains and spent four days in the pouring rain, I realized that the SpinnShelter was just not enough. I found a Jack Wolfskin Last Resort 1 on bargain sale and quite light, so I went ahead and bought it. Don't feel too good about it, but it brings peace of mind. REALLY wish I had brought my Akto, after all. It is all I would have needed.
The mountains are intimidating, but I think I am ready for them now. Tomorrow morning I take off. The sun is out at last! Hope it lasts!Aug 10, 2007 at 2:48 am #1398004
Miguel, the most important thing is that you are in Chamonix and the weather is improving so go out and enjoy.
Remember, it is better to be out in questionable weather than sitting behind a computer in your office next to a highway (me!).
Do take your Spinnshelter as well so you can use it when the weather is fine, it is not much weight to take extra.
There is a really good ice cream shop in Courmayeur, don't miss out on that (and the great pizza's)!
Are you going to start in Le Tour?
Enjoy (and post some pictures when you get home)Aug 11, 2007 at 1:34 pm #1398159
carlos fernandez rivasParticipant
@pitagorinLocale: Galicia -Spain
Miguel …. remember … the rainbowwwww I advised you almost three times…. :-(Aug 24, 2007 at 1:00 am #1399802
Hello everyone. Finished the TMB the day before yesterday, after nine days walking, eleven days if you include two side days I took. It was an absolutely wonderful trip and will be one of the most memorable I have taken. The views of the Mont Blanc massif really live up to their reputation and since only two days rained during the whole time, I had a chance to enjoy them as I had hoped. I'm going back to Japan completely satisfied.
In terms of gear and preparation I would really say that I was way too cautious and that my SilShelter, which I left back at Chamonix, would have been more than sufficient, even on the third day of camping at Refugio Elena when a freezing wind really blew through the campsite. It didn't snow at the altitudes that I camped, though there was one night when the higher passes had light snow. Compared to the walking I have done in the Japan Alps the TMB was actually very easy, no dangerous scrambling or any place where you had to be overly careful. As you advised many times, Carlos, the Rainbow would have been just right (though I didn't bring it because I hadn't finished the modifications I was working on before I left Japan). My MontBell down jacket was great for warmth, but on the days that it rained getting it wet was something I really worried about as I sat cooking dinner. Next time I'll bring a synthetic jacket.
One thing that was hard to do was keep the pack light because nearly all the food I bought in the towns along the way was fresh and very heavy. I did use couscous and dried milk and such to try to lighten up (couscous is a fantastic lightweight food with a lot of energy and great volume for its weight), but most everything else was bought daily in the small hamlets I passed through. Also walking about in bigger towns with hiking tights and tight fitting undershirt made for some funny looks, so I bought a pair of regular lightweight pants to fit in a bit better. I'll go with zip off pants next time.
The North Face Arnuva shoes I used were generally great for the trip, but the middle front portion of the sole was so soft that when going downhill on rocks after many hours my feet really hurt and swelled. I wouldn't use these particular shoes for walking in rocky environments again.
The best part of the trip were all the interesting people I met along the way. I made some good friends and had some memorable experiences with them.
If anyone here has the chance, give the TMB a try; it's truly worth it.
When I get back to Japan I will write a proper report about the trip. See you all then!
MiguelAug 24, 2007 at 5:33 pm #1399902
> Had a big scare yesterday when my credit card PIN number wouldn't register and I couldn't get any money.
Yeah, we know! Some of the card readers in Europe are hopeless, we had a scare at the start too.
> Two room mates at the backpacker's lodge told me I don't have to worry about snow on the Tour de Mont Blanc route.
ROTFLMAO! This will teach you not to take much notice of the novices you meet on the more popular tracks in Europe.
We went over the Col du Bonhomme twice on our 3 month walking trip: once for the GR5 and once for the TMB. I was using a Helix ice axe each time. I was wearing a lot of my clothing each time. It was snowing each time. We could not see the track around the Col each time.
ALWAYS allow for snow in the European Alps.
Roger CaffinAug 24, 2007 at 5:36 pm #1399903
> even on the third day of camping at Refugio Elena when a freezing wind really blew through the campsite.
Yeah? Camping at Elena? A month earlier they had 'No Camping' signs everywhere, and the room charges there are outrageous! What happened? Full up and overflowing?
Roger CaffinAug 26, 2007 at 11:02 am #1400016
Roger, I'm in Zermatt now and again I'm having problems with the credit card… Makes life…"interesting".
The Col du Bonhomme was one of the better parts of the walk… no snow when I was there, just glorious sunny weather. Hot, in fact. I liked the Col du Bonhomme and the Col de la Seign; of the trip they were the wildest. There were lots of Ibex around the Refuge de la Bonhomme.
Camping at the Refugio Elena is not usually allowed, but by the time I got there (I put in a two leg portion of the journey that day) there was no place else to stay and the proprietor, with a lot of hemming and hawing in that Italian way, said, "Why not. Toss your tent up out back." In the ruinous cow field, of course, with cow patties all over the place. Eight tents ended up back there, right in the full force of the wind from the glacier. And you are right, the refugio was outrageously expensive, the most expensive on the trip.Aug 26, 2007 at 1:42 pm #1400032
Ben 2 WorldParticipant
@ben2worldLocale: So Cal
Fun reading your posts… thanks for posting! So, which new tent did you buy?Aug 27, 2007 at 7:02 pm #1400168
> I'm in Zermatt now and again I'm having problems with the credit card… Makes life…"interesting".
Grotty card readers! They happen.
Everyone, please note the following three points:
* Many times the problem is simply that they are passing the card through the reader too SLOWLY. Do it faster.
* If the card reader still won't read your credit card, have the shop assistant type the numbers off the card into the reader touch pad. They CAN do this, but are sometimes too lazy to bother. If they don't know how, have them call for the boss.
* If you have purchased something and they are having trouble reading the card, remember that this is THEIR problem, not yours. Let them sort it out if they want the money. Your card works on other readers: tell them this. Don't go running around looking for an ATM to get cash to solve their problem. :-)
RogerSep 17, 2007 at 1:01 pm #1402532
Roger or Miguel
I am planning a TMB hike for 2008 spring or summer with my family. I have a couple of Big Agnes Seedhouse. I can unload some significant weight if I leave the tent and just go with the fast setup (fly+groundsheet+poles). Are bugs a problem around the TMB circuit?
ShahSep 18, 2007 at 12:08 am #1402606
Any idea if attempting the TMB in mid-October will be too cold?Sep 18, 2007 at 3:11 am #1402613
> I am planning a TMB hike for 2008 spring or summer with my family. I have a couple of Big Agnes Seedhouse. I can unload some significant weight if I leave the tent and just go with the fast setup (fly+groundsheet+poles). Are bugs a problem around the TMB circuit?
This spring saw the highest Col – Bonhomme, covered in snow when we went over it on 27-June, and covered in snow about 10 days later too. 'Covered': up to 2 feet deep, fog, sleet, wind … the whole gungy works. Hard to see the track – quite hard in places. ANYTIME in the Alps you have to be able to handle snow above 2,500 metres say.
Bugs – never saw any. Guess there could be some, but the weather was not bug-friendly while we were there.
Tenting: most of the TMB has strict NO Camping rules. The locals prefer you stay in their Gites and Refuges and pay them money. As they own the land you do not have many legal options – especially with a family in tow. We had a tent because we were tenting elsewhere, but I think we were the only ones carrying a tent and other camping gear on the TMB.
If you 'go local', all you need to carry is a towel and a change of clothing and a water bottle. Talk about SUL! The accomodation places all provide dinner and breakfast, and usually a cut lunch to go as well.
But your family will have a great time – especially if they don't have to carry lots of gear!Sep 18, 2007 at 4:27 am #1402616
@hikingharryLocale: Tyrol - Austria
This year between July 16th and August 15th I hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc and further on to Zermatt/Switzerland on the Walker´s Haute Route. But also at this time there are also lots and lots of people on the trails.
I slept happily under my tarp all the time, and had never a problem with moskitoes. No snow at all. Sometimes I searched a nice place for my tarp for quite a long time, not wanting to get caught.
Also I met a few french and belgian hikers, who used their tents.
HaraldSep 18, 2007 at 9:52 am #1402638
I was actually surprised by the complete lack of insects throughuot the entire walk. I only got bitten twice during a short day hike around Chamonix, but never anywhere else. You don't need any bug netting.
There were a few days in August which were really quite cold, the ground and my water froze some nights. Snow fell quite often at around 2,000 meters, so if you were planning to camp along the higher, alternative trails in October I would definitely say that you need to bring warm gear. October is probably still walkable, but you can probably expect snow quite often.
I wouldn't say that camping is really difficult along the TMB, though the Italian section I found to be the most strict about enforcing the rules. Lots of helicopters flying around constantly, watching the trails. I do agree with Roger about people preferring that you stay at the gites and refuges. I camped about 3/4 of the time, and everywhere I camped I always found others in camp with me. So the camping is possible. The only big problem you will have in October is being able to find food and water supplies, because a lot of the mountain huts will be closed.
Technically, unless you take the alternative routes, the TMB is a really easy trail to walk (much easier than walking here in the Japan Alps) with only a very few sections that are actually potentially dangerous (in terms of rock fall or uncertain footing). Trail signs are for the most part extremely clear and most of the trail is so wide and well-trodden that ultra-marathoners run the trail at night. A few sections follow paved roads.
If I would do the trail again in August I would definitely go with a tarp and bivy, instead of the tunnel tent I used (though I occasionally appreciated the extra warmth it provided). I wouldn't go with a tarp and bivy in October. There were some sections (notable the stretch between the Col du Bonhomme and Rifugio Elena) that were quite exposed and very windy so they would tax a tarp unless you have experience and confidence with using a tarp in very adverse conditions. Also, though I don't know about weather conditions for the Alps in October, the very common afternoon violent and cold thunderstorms must surely have a counterpart in autumn. I would say be careful with your shelter.
As Roger suggested if you really want to go light you can completely forego camping and stay in the small towns or mountain huts along the way. You will reach some settlement at the end of each day; this is not real wilderness. Most Europeans go this way, so you rarely see anyone with a big pack.Sep 22, 2007 at 8:09 am #1403099
Miguel, thanks for the feedback.
On the suggestion of staying at mountain huts, it will be ideal except for the cost of paying for a family of 6 everyday for 11 days. I will also need advanced planning/booking.
Anyway, I will take the family to Chamonix in mid-Oct for a recce trip. (It will be off-season and I got a great deal for one-week accommodation in the valley) I will take the kids on a couple of day hikes or overnighters. Hopefully, the views will motivate them to take on the TMB next spring or summer. Otherwise I will just do the trip with my wife.
I will post a gear-list in the Gear List forum to get some suggestions.
ThanksSep 22, 2007 at 2:30 pm #1403147
> On the suggestion of staying at mountain huts, it will be ideal except for the cost of paying for a family of 6 everyday for 11 days.
Bit difficult to avoid on the TMB, with a large group.
But look at it this way: it's a LOT cheaper than staying in hotels for that length of time!Nov 25, 2007 at 12:48 pm #1410142
@einsteinxLocale: The Netherlands
>>Also walking about in bigger towns with hiking tights and tight fitting undershirt made for some funny looks, so I bought a pair of regular lightweight pants to fit in a bit better.<<
That's the main problem I have with leight weight hiking in Europe (where I live). When hiking I don't care if other hikers think I look funny in thights, but you pass many town and you already look funny with the backpack. That's why I also carry a Montane Featherlight pants. It adss warmths and when it rains it keeps your legs a bit dryer and you look decent in towns.
Where can I find your extensive trip report Miguel? Love to read it.
EinsNov 25, 2007 at 3:55 pm #1410157
I'm in the midst of very busy university teaching schedule and just haven't had the time to work on the report, but believe me I'll get it out soon. I'm also working on about 850 photographs so that is taking time to whittle down and then process. I want to put time into the report, so I guess it will be just a bit longer. Hope you can wait that long!
MiguelNov 26, 2007 at 9:51 am #1410202
@einsteinxLocale: The Netherlands
>>Hope you can wait that long!<<
I'll try ;)
EinsNov 29, 2007 at 4:33 pm #1410723
>> I'm also working on about 850 photographs so that is taking time to whittle down and then process.
Miguel, BTW did you bite the bullet and carried your Nikon D70 & 18-200mm on the TMB walk? How did you protect it from the elements? How did you carry it to always be ready to capture images? As a photographer, was it worth the weight?
I am trying to justify to myself to take the D40+same lens instead of a smaller camera (6 oz Canon IXUS).Jan 22, 2008 at 4:04 pm #1417249
I'm going to be Geneva in late May for work and am looking into hiking TMB . Any thoughts on conditions / temperatures? Would many hikers go this early?Feb 26, 2008 at 2:59 pm #1422155
–Feb 26, 2008 at 4:19 pm #1422163
Shah, I don't know how I missed this, but I only now came across your question to me! Sorry!
I did take my Nikon D70s and the 18-200mm lens. It was heavy and sometimes I wished for something lighter, but as a semi-professional photographer I never regretted once taking it. It just has the control I need and the instant on convenience (which allowed me to get images the moment they happened) and the through-the-lens immediacy of viewing a scene (usually I dislike holding the camera away from my face to view the monitor, though sometimes that is just the thing for macro shots).
I protected the camera with a waterproof MontBell camera cover that you wrap around the camera and carry attached to the camera strap at all times. It can instantly be opened when the camera is needed. This cover also helped to protect the camera when I put the camera in my backpack. Not much cushioning, but enough to prevent scratches. I was able to walk in the rain with this setup and not worry about the camera getting wet.
I looked around everywhere for a waistbelt camera bag big enough for an SLR camera and a medium length lens, but everything I found stuck out too much from my abdomen and got in the way of walking and the backpack hipbelt. I just happened to come across the MontBell Trail Lumbar Pack 6.5, which is just a regular lumbar pack, but big enough for both the camera and the lens, plus extra camera accessories like the remote control, extra batteries and flash cards, cleaning fluid and cloth (plus some extra space for my passport and travel documents). I stuck in a closed cell padding to protect the camera and pack walls. What is great about this pack for photography is that it cinches around my waist very snugly and unobtrusively and has a profile that doesn't get in the way of climbing. Also the zipper opening on top opens wide enough that stuffing in and pulling out the camera is smooth and hassle free, unlike any other regular lumbar pack I've used. It is the camera bag I use all the time now when I'm only carrying one lens.
Hope that was of some help. BY the way, are you still hanging out here? Haven't seen you post in quite a while!
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