Day 6: Rifugio Elisabetta to La Fouly (Switzerland)
Alternate routes: There are none really, but when you get to the Col du Grand Ferret, the boundary between Italy and Switzerland, you can summit a sub-peak to the south that will offer a view of a lake. There are also a few peaks to the north that are rather easily summited. You can then walk on a ridge to make your way back to the main trail. There are no trees here, so finding one’s way is quite easy as the final destination is very obvious. It’s even possible to add the Col du Petit Ferret with enough motivation. On the way to La Fouly, start getting mentally ready for Switzerland’s steep prices.
Mileage: 22.7 km (14.1 miles)
Elevation gain: 1,142 m (3,750 ft)
Day 7: La Fouly to Arpette
Alternate routes: None really. This section goes through 3 villages and Champex, an up-scale resort town, before heading to Arpette, the gateway to the Fenêtre d’Arpette. Enjoy the quaint villages and the Swiss architecture along the way before resting by the lake in Champex. Apparently, the side-trip to Saleina is well worth the effort, but it’s rather far from the trail, so a night at Saleina would be ideal.
Mileage: 20.2 km (12.6 miles)
Elevation gain: 932 m (3,060 ft)
Day 8: Arpette to Trient
Alternate routes: There are 2 options here and both can be done in a day. If you’re staying at the Relais d’Arpette, it’s because you want to hike the Fenêtre d’Arpette, which is well worth it. Otherwise, don’t bother with this refuge, it’s not great. There’s a snack bar in the middle of the forest on the way down so you can treat yourself to a cold brew! The next option is to head up L’Arpille when you get to Trient. This mountain adds a few kilometers to this otherwise short day.
Mileage: 14.8 km (9.2 miles)
Elevation gain: 1,044 m (3,425 ft)
Day 9: Trient to Tré-le-Champ (France)
Alternate routes: From the col de Balme, the border between France and Switzerland, several peaks can be reached on the Swiss side: Croix de Bois, Croix de Fer, L’Arpolette and Tête de Balme. Summit them all, especially Croix de Fer, which has a nice exposed ridge leading to its summit. From Tête de Balme, the last peak, make your way to the main trail and head to l’Aiguillette des Posettes, from where you will reach Tré-le-Champ quickly. There’s no reason not to continue, except if it’s low season, when many refuges close. In high season, enjoy a glass of Génépy at the refuge in Tré-le-Champ and continue to the Lac Blanc refuge.
Mileage: 21.8 km (13.6 miles)
Elevation gain: 1,481 m (4,860 ft)
Day 10: Tré-le-Champ to Les Houches
Alternate routes: The Lacs de Chéserys and Lac Blanc are a must. They don’t add much mileage, but do add a bit of elevation. The weather wasn’t great and going to Les Houches involves a viewless section in the woods, so we descended just before the Brévent summit. I’ll finish this last bit next time I’m in the area.
Mileage: 23.7 km (14.7 miles)
Elevation gain: 1,463 m (4,800 ft)
And just like that, on day 10, the city could be seen quite clearly from the ridge. The trail started descending. It descended into the woods and it kept descending until it merged with a street along which there were houses. A few hundred feet later, what had been the outskirts was now downtown Chamonix. The TMB was over. One last post is coming up with the “awards” as well as pics from l’Aiguille du Midi and a quick report on the Parc national de la Vanoise and the Parc national des Écrins.