Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or info? (PICS)

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Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or info? (PICS)

Postby OtrekkerZ » Tue 01 Nov, 2011 3:15 pm

Hiya,
Am heading to Mont Blanc in late June 2012 to do the circuit and then onto the Dolomites via Switzerland in early July - wonder if anyone has any tips, suggestions or previous experience in either of these 2 regions to pass on. Itinerary is follows: fly to Geneva > Mont Blanc (Chamonix) > train to Zermatt (Switzerland) via Martigny > Glacier Express (from Zermatt) to St. Moritz > overland (some how) Dolomites (Trento) > Venice > Florence > Rome > Melbourne.
Cheers, Kevin
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby Jaxter » Tue 01 Nov, 2011 3:42 pm

I've done day walks in the Dolomites in the Cortina area in the last couple of years when I was visiting my ancestral village nearby. I used the guidebook "Shorter Walks in the Dolomites" by Gillian Price (published by Cicerone) - it has very good descriptions and directions to the starts of walks, but you still need proper maps (Tabacco brand are good). She's also written a guide for multi-day walks called "Walking in the Dolomites". I got mine on Amazon (only because the local bookshop was out of them!).

I loved the 3 or 4 walks that we did. I found the track markers mostly very good, although we did miss one turn and ended up in a snow filled gully! The rifugi are very civilized and enjoyable places to stop for a meal or a drink.

Cortina is a biggish town, with lots of shops and restaurants, but a bit pricey. You can stay much cheaper in the smaller towns down the Boite valley. If you're not planning to rent a car there are bus services to Cortina and along the valley. The guide book I used describes how to get to the walks via public transport.
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby OtrekkerZ » Tue 01 Nov, 2011 3:51 pm

Hi & thanks for your info. Trying to put together a dolomite hike that's around 5 days, is not too exposed (as my wife doesn't like heights), not too crowded & yet being able to visit the more 'beautiful' areas is testing my research abilities - ha ha. Though, it all sounds fabulous & we can't wait to be there, amongst it. Cheers
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby Jellybean » Tue 01 Nov, 2011 6:01 pm

Hi,

Some friends did the Tour du Mont Blanc in August and their rave reviews and stunning photos have convinced me to do it - also in late June next year. Also planning to start in Chamonix, not sure what date yet, some time around 25th June. We may cross paths.

They recommended this book and map: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Tour-Mo ... 1852845322 and http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Mont-Bl ... 2847990843. I've just bought them.

There's also a stack of information on various sites on the 'net.

Cheers,

JB
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby OtrekkerZ » Tue 01 Nov, 2011 10:10 pm

Hi JB & thanks for your help. I bought the map your recommended, but I already have the book. I have checked out quite a few websites & these been able to answer most questions thus far. The Cicerone 'Mont Blanc' book suggests 10-11 days, but due to time constraints for some in the group, we are hoping to do the circuit in 7 days. However, I'm not sure if this is feasable or at a pace that's not too rushed - no use sacrificing the journey for the end result. Oh well, more to read & do. Cheers Kevin
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby Jellybean » Wed 02 Nov, 2011 6:23 am

OtrekkerZ wrote:Hi JB & thanks for your help. I bought the map your recommended, but I already have the book. I have checked out quite a few websites & these been able to answer most questions thus far. The Cicerone 'Mont Blanc' book suggests 10-11 days, but due to time constraints for some in the group, we are hoping to do the circuit in 7 days. However, I'm not sure if this is feasable or at a pace that's not too rushed - no use sacrificing the journey for the end result. Oh well, more to read & do. Cheers Kevin


Hi Kevin,

This site might help you out in terms of your route planning - http://www.chamonix.net/english/trek/to ... routes.htm . I guess it really comes back to: how fit you are; what your objective is; and whether you plan to return again. If all of you are pretty fit and not necessarily interested in exploring side paths it seems that it's easily doable in 7 days. Alternatively, if you are likely to be back that way again, you could do half the circuit this time and the other half another time (which is what my friends did). You can also apparently take alternative transport over some legs if there are any problems (poor weather and no bad weather days up your sleeve; injury, illness, tiredness). I'm planning to be very fit before I leave for Europe but then have a month there working before the walk where I won't get much time for long walks (maybe some cycling), I also haven't had a holiday for ages so I'm planning to take my time and smell the roses. If I finish early I'll go exploring elsewhere or go and visit some friends before the flight back.

'Hope that helps a little? I've also only just started researching this - just got permission to stay on after the work trip - there's still much to consider, but I'm really looking forward to it!

Cheers,

JB
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby OtrekkerZ » Wed 02 Nov, 2011 5:33 pm

Hi JB, once again thanks for your tips & info - much to ponder. All the best for your own planning. Kevin
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby rwfox » Thu 03 Nov, 2011 1:30 pm

Hi
I walked the TMB with my wife in 2009 we used the Cicerone Press guide by Kev Reynolds highly recommended. (Cicerone have there own web page.)

We started at Les Houches 1st week of July (it does have a railway stn close to town) and took 10 days in total. Taking one rest day in Courmayeur, Italy. On that day we took the cable cars up the mountain and had a fantastic return trip across the glaciers to the Aguille du midi (France).

The walk is not difficult but should not be rushed.
If you have some friends that can join you, it is a lot of fun. But you will meets lots of folk along the way.

The Refugio’s had great food, wine and hot showers.
Even though they were crowded after a glass of wine you slept like a log.
:D
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby Jellybean » Thu 03 Nov, 2011 4:29 pm

Hi,

Thanks for that info. It seems like the Cicerone guide is the "go to" guide for the TMB!

'Sounds like a very civilised way of doing a walk!

Did you encounter any snow on your trip?

Cheers,

JB
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby rwfox » Thu 03 Nov, 2011 7:11 pm

JB
The Cicerone guide actually has the walk describe in both directions but the common way is anti-clockwise, and I think is the best.
If you go the other way you meet different people every day, but not quite as much fun as sharing your experiences with familiar folk.

Snow, that's why they suggest in the book you start in July but in 2009 we probably could have started mid June.
But getting up to date weather information on the passes from a far is difficult.
One person maybe happy with knee deep snow another would prefer none. It could fall over night?

When to do the walk? I think the French all go on holiday from the 3rd week of July. So we went early before the rush.
If you have to go latter then its worth booking the accommodation so you are not disappointed.

There are only two high passes you have to go over. The other high routes are options and are better suited to July onwards. 8)
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby OtrekkerZ » Thu 03 Nov, 2011 8:35 pm

Hi rw,
ditto as per JB for your info. As my wife gets a bit 'hut crazy' at times, we plan to camp near the refugio's. As such, do many or any people camp and is it welcomed by the refugio's of frowned upon? Also, for budgeting purposes, what would be a ball-park amount for non-drinkers to stay in the refugio's? OR ,if that is too hard to work-out, how much did you normally pay and for what? Would you recommend Les Houches as a starting/finishing point as opposed to Chamonix? Cheers Oz
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby rwfox » Thu 03 Nov, 2011 9:10 pm

I am not sure if you have walked in Europe but the huts are a little different to Aus and NZ.

On the TMB most huts are privately owned and have full time staff.
They usually have two types of sleeping arrangements all together on long platforms or in small dorms that have separate beds.
They provide blankets and pillows, you just need a sheet liner.

The bit that makes walking in Europe "fun" is that you only need a 45lt pack with about 8-9kg of gear.
For that luxury you have to pay, but its worth it, Its a Holiday not a tick on the board.

It cost us about 50 euros a night each. in 2009 it was $2 to a euro, but its much better now.
For that you got a bed, hot shower, three course evening meal and breakfast you could order a lunch as an extra.
However, there is often a refuge were you can buy a bowl of soup for lunch.

Camping..............There is a camp site in LES Houches at the start. we left our lease car there for a fee. You may find one or two in the valleys.
In the small villages you can get a BB for about the same price as the refugio. :)
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby OtrekkerZ » Thu 03 Nov, 2011 9:26 pm

This will be our first time in Europe & wow you make it sound oh so cosy - I may not want to come home. The 'camping thing' is something we'll have to literally weigh up over the coming months - to be lighter, faster & committed to using available accomm or slightly heavier, slower & independent. Sorry to labour the question - but is it OK to camp? Thanks for the $ exchange info - the dollar is looking better. Oz
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby Jellybean » Fri 04 Nov, 2011 7:25 am

Thanks for the additional info rwfox. I was aware that the TMB "season" doesn't really start until 1st July but that the huts are generally open from mid June. 'Will need to keep an eye on the weather updates immediately prior to determine how much snow is likely to be around at the end of June next year (I appreciate it varies year to year). Hopefully the fact that we will already be in Europe may make accessing weather information easier. I'm actually keen to go late June rather than July to avoid the masses, but it also works in with my other commitments (they should be completed by 24th or 25th June).

Def looking at doing the TMB anti-clockwise and am also tossing up whether to take a lightweight shelter, mat and sleeping bag as another, occasional accommodation option (would only add 1.5kg to my pack).

Kevin, there's lots of information about camping on the TMB if you Google "camping Tour du Mont Blanc". It seems that as long as you do it in legitimate camping areas/gain permission you're ok. It looks like a number of the huts (refugios) allow camping nearby for a fee (approx. 10 Euro). They seem to, understandably, frown upon people camping on their grounds and using their facilities (bathrooms, water) for free.

Agree that the current exchange rate is very kind! When I previously used to spend a lot of time in Europe we used to get around 56 Euro cents to the Aussie dollar, now we get around 75 Euro cents to the dollar, makes things much cheaper!

Cheers,

JB
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby OtrekkerZ » Sat 05 Nov, 2011 12:57 am

Hi & thanks RW & JB, sorry for slow reply - just busy! I guess between us JB & our combined questionning we should cover all the bases. Just had a glance at a website www.walkingthetmb.com which looks quite good. As for camping on the route, I'm quite happy to pay the refuges props' for a plot to pitch. It just that I prefer to stay in a tent than the experience the communal humb of other people snoring, farting, coming in late etc; PLUS, I just can't wait to open my tent of a morning to such an amazing vista - manifique. As for the AUD, I'm just hoping that Greece can suck up some pride & doesn't pull the pin on the Euro, as this will see our dollar drop. It sounds conceited, but I don't earn big dollars & like you JB, it's been awhile since my my last BIG trip. Happy planning Oz
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby Mark F » Sat 05 Nov, 2011 9:13 am

Do take your tent, you will find some amazing places to pitch it away from the refuges and it gives you so much more flexibility. You will find that everybody goes to the refuge each night so you end up walking continually with vast numbers of other people. Get out of sync with the standard itinerary and you will enjoy it far more. I have only walked the section of the TMB which coincides with the GR5 (Col du Brevent to col de la Croix du Bonhomme) as part of a full GR5 walk. I found a good system was to walk towards a col on the route. If you get an afternoon thunderstorm then camp at the last water, otherwise walk up to the col and camp there if conditions are good or descend to the first water on the other side. If you avoid refuges then your entire cost can be 5 Euros per day for food.
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby rwfox » Sat 05 Nov, 2011 9:27 am

I have just checked my guide book regards camping it states that:
There are several authorized campsites on the route indicated in the book.
Off-site camping is not permitted in the Vallee des Glaciers or in any of the Swiss valleys on the TMB.
Although in practice the occasional tent discreetly pitched appears to go unremarked.

Once you get the mind set that this is not a wilderness walk. It is very popular with a lot of tour groups doing some sections of it (The Japanese are very keen walkers).
However, it still has spectacular views and did I mention the food. :D
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby Mark F » Sat 05 Nov, 2011 10:51 am

The section I walked was in France camping outside refuge Bel Achat (no cost, good spot for ibex), then above Contamines (discrete - no cost) and finally I used the refuge in col de la Croix du Bonhomme - the weather was foul. The general rule in France is that you can bivouac anywhere that is an hour from the nearest road. The French differentiate camping from bivouacing. Bivouacing is setting up camp in the evening (usually after 1900) and moving on early the next day (usually by 9). There are a few exceptions such as in the Parc National de Vanoise and cirque de Gavarnie (Pyrenees) and the times vary from place to place. I am not surprised that the Swiss are a bit more anal about it but it is usually not a problem as long as you are discrete.
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby OtrekkerZ » Sat 05 Nov, 2011 6:37 pm

Hi mark, thanks heaps for your tips, especially about walking out of sync of the masses. However, some questions:
- when did you hike this area?
- are there refuges at regular intervals (i.e. half a day's walk) to make a 'non-sync' itinerary an option if we want to camp by them & rely on them for dinner & brekkie?
- if you bivo' nearby the refuges (20-30mins walk) are the props' still happy for you to eat there?
- can you buy supplies from the refuges?
- can you get fresh water / if so is guardia etc a problem; or is bottled water the go?
cheers Oz
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby mtbarney » Sun 06 Nov, 2011 12:05 am

Well this is fortuitous. I was just tonight starting to look at the possibility of doing the TMB next year with my wife when I thought to myself "I wonder if Bushwalk Australa has any info ?" and voila, this current thread. So far I have seen a few sites that advertise self guided walks. They arrange all hut bookings etc and for 14 days charge around £900 sterling. Is this a good deal? Is it better and more flexible to do it yourself? How far ahead do you have to book? Can you just rock up and have a reasonable chance of getting a bed?
Thanks in advance.
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby Mark F » Sun 06 Nov, 2011 3:48 pm

I should qualify my answers by stating that my walking experiences in Europe are largely confined to France/Spain/Netherlands/Belgium, not Switzerland/Italy. To answer your questions:
I walked the GR5 in 2004 but have just come back from the Alps (just day walks) and the Pyrenees (HRP Hendaye to Garvarnie) and things don't seem to have changed although I was not near Mont Blanc on this trip.
Refuges are scattered all over the place. You need to check the maps to see where they are.

DSCN0492a.JPG
Mt Blanc from col du Brévent


The gardiens are almost always happy to sell you a meal. If France many refuges are run by the French Alpine Club (CAF) or by the National Park if so situated. Each season these organisations appoint a gardien (usually the same one each year). The deal seems to be that the CAF/parks service gets the money from the accommodation while the gardien gets the money from catering so there is an incentive to feed you. Private refuges are the same but tend to be more territorial about collecting money for camping nearby; but once you are out of sight line a km or 2 then no problem.

The bigger ones may have some very limited supplies - usually only confectionery. If planning to use refuges for meals ensure you carry a couple of lunches as a minimum.

Water is a variable. In many places there are capped springs which are piped to a nearby trough or maybe just a pipe with water flowing out of it. You will find them in many places along the trails and in towns and villages. If there is no sign saying "eau non-potable" or similar then no treatment is necessary. Other water sources you need to deal with on a case by case basis - animals, upstream habitation etc - treat, where you can identify the source then it most probably OK. This is a fancy one in Saint Veran - Note - no sign so safe to drink.
walking 501a.JPG
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby OtrekkerZ » Sun 06 Nov, 2011 10:31 pm

Hi, and once again Mark thanks for your info. The pic of the water trough at Sanit Veran is very quaint, however the pic of the col du Bre'vent is quite breath-taking - reminds somewhat of times spent in Nepal; and it just further inpsires me to travel rather than buy a house. Oz
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby durks » Mon 07 Nov, 2011 8:47 pm

OtrekkerZ wrote:... the pic of the col du Bre'vent is quite breath-taking - reminds somewhat of times spent in Nepal ...


From left to right, the summits in that photo are Mont Blanc du Tacul, Mont Maudit, and Mont Blanc itself. Your reference to Nepal is appropriate: Mont Blanc is a huge, complex peak, and truly is of Himalayan scale.
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby Jellybean » Tue 08 Nov, 2011 7:19 am

mtbarney wrote:Well this is fortuitous. I was just tonight starting to look at the possibility of doing the TMB next year with my wife when I thought to myself "I wonder if Bushwalk Australa has any info ?" and voila, this current thread. So far I have seen a few sites that advertise self guided walks. They arrange all hut bookings etc and for 14 days charge around £900 sterling. Is this a good deal? Is it better and more flexible to do it yourself? How far ahead do you have to book? Can you just rock up and have a reasonable chance of getting a bed?
Thanks in advance.


Hi,

It seems that it costs approx 50-60 Euro per day (accommodation and 3 meals) if you self-guide and stay in the huts (less if you tent it). Obviously if you go on an organised and guided walk you pay an additional premium to the relevant company for the organisation and guiding and any additional support that they offer (some use donkeys to transport gear!). If you prefer someone else to do the "legwork" in terms of the organisation and guiding then that is obviously a good option. It would pay to shop around to see who offers the best deal/sort of walk that you'd prefer - for example, some vary in the standards of accommodation they provide at different stages.

My personal preference is to organise it and guide myself. The TMB seems very straight forward and I'd prefer to have the flexibility to vary my itinerary and schedule as I feel. (N.B. While I believe that the paths are mostly well marked it is advised that you carry a map and compass - and have the ability to use them! This is obviously even more important if there is significant snow cover at any point).

Cheers,

JB
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby Jellybean » Tue 08 Nov, 2011 7:31 am

Thanks for all of the tips and info everyone and you're right Kevin ... with our combined questioning we should cover all bases!

Based on the information that has been provided, I will definitely be throwing in a lightweight shelter, mat and sleeping bag to add another "accommodation option" where so desired. Will also carry some "emergency food" but aim to eat at the huts as much as possible to minimise my pack load (and for the social element! :D). Will get onto considering the itinerary when I have a little more time, lots of work travel at the moment, plus organising a move from Sydney back to Perth in early December. Will be happy when that is done!

Cheers,

JB
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby OtrekkerZ » Tue 08 Nov, 2011 8:14 am

Hi & thanks to all, lets keep it going,
Like JB, after all the fabulous info that's been mentioned thus far, I'm still keen to camp. The potential for independance, the flexibility of schedule, solitude from the masses and yet have the refuges there if needed is just fantastic. At this stage I'm still thinking of a late'ish June start from Les Houches, anti-clockwise over 10 days & 'out-of-sync' with the standard itinerary, with a rest day possibly at Courmayeur and then finish at Chamonix. Oz
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby mtbarney » Tue 08 Nov, 2011 9:18 am

Thanks everybody. Since my first post, I have done more research, and JB, you are right.....it is straightforward. I have purchased the cicerone guide and it is just about all you need. Here's a link to all the refugios on the TMB http://www.ohm-chamonix.com/ It lists the refugios, close dates, fees, and the website for each hut, and whether they allow bivouacs (a lot do).
We are looking at the first two weeks of September 2012. Apparently late August is very crowded, as that's when they run the TMB marathon.
I'm still not sure whether to take a tent or not. Without the camping gear and food, we should be able to keep our pack weight well below 5 kg, which would make the climbs a lot less arduous. Water seems plentiful, and it looks possible to have no need to carry more than 1 litre, but I am open to correction on that.
The key phrase for me from this thread is "You need to get your head around the idea that this is not a wilderness walk and adjust accordingly" or something like that.
If a thing is worth doing its worth doing to excess.
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby mtbarney » Tue 08 Nov, 2011 1:24 pm

I have discovered a fantastic side trip on the TMB. Take a rest day at Courmayeur (Stage 4) and proceed by cable car to the AIGUILLE du Midi.

http://www.authorstream.com/Presentatio ... x-francia/

It takes you to the top of a 3842m Aiguille (needle). The photos are amazing, and the engineering is extraordinary. Well worth an extra day.
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby Mark F » Tue 08 Nov, 2011 6:45 pm

There are cable car running to Aiguille du Midi from Chamonix and Courmayeur so you can do it from either side or cross over.

In early September the French go back to work and study (called the re-entrée) so things quieten down a lot although the Italians tend to take their holidays a bit later than the French. You will see a lot bus and train timetables change at this time. It is still worth ringing ahead to ensure a bed if you want to use a refuge but not as essential as late July August.
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Re: Mont Blanc & Dolomites - Any tips or suggestions?

Postby rwfox » Wed 09 Nov, 2011 8:07 pm

A couple of pictures of the trip across the mountains. It was about 30 euros for the crossing + the cable cars up.

[The rest day in Courmayeur, Italy. On that day we took the cable cars up the mountain and had a fantastic return trip across the glaciers to the Aiguilel du midi (France)].

There are many walks in Europe where a small tent could save you some money and give you a better nights sleep. ie. the GR5 trail (Lake Geneva to Nice).
However, the TMB is one walk that I would dig deep in your pocket and spoil yourself. ( Unless you are a young backpacker with plenty of energy and no money)
Save carrying all that gear for a trip were it is actually required.

Tour groups don't always do the whole walk they just do the interesting sections and get a lift between.

What would be handy is a few words of French / Italian so you can book the accommodation over the phone, or at least get someone to do it for you..
Attachments
Europe0920073.jpg
The must do trip between Courmayeur and Aiguille Du Midi.
Europe0920073.jpg (153.7 KiB) Viewed 18845 times
Europe09Q.jpg
The dots in the distance are the cable cars
Europe09Q.jpg (98.84 KiB) Viewed 18845 times
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rwfox
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