Highlights of the Tour du Mont Blanc: Col du Bonhomme

The Col du Bonhomme is one of the major Cols (mountain passes) that you will cross on the Tour du Mont Blanc. At 2329m (7,641ft), it isn’t the highest Col on the tour, but it is the most physically demanding stage with the largest total ascent in one day (4300ft). Whilst the hike is achievable by any fit and well-prepared hiker, it is important to note that it is a committing trail. On this stage, there are no alternatives or escape routes and navigation can be tricky in bad weather. If storms are threatening in the afternoon, set out early so that you are off the high ground before the bad weather hits.

If you are not an experienced hiker, you may want to consider a guided Tour du Mont Blanc trip.

The Trailhead

Most groups hike the Tour du Mont Blanc in a counter clockwise direction and so will approach the Col du Bonhomme from Les Contamines, a small ski village in the French Alps. The hike begins in Les Contamines and heads southward alongside a river to an old baroque church called Chapelle Notre Dam de La Gorge. The church was built in around 1700 and was used as a stable during the French Revolution. It’s well worth a look inside to enjoy the lavish baroque decoration (and to pray for good weather for the day!) Don’t forget to look up and admire the beautiful fresco painted underneath the eaves of the wooden roof.

The trail head proper begins near the church up a 4 x 4 track to an old roman bridge (Pont Roman) which crosses a narrow rocky canyon. A short while later the trail leaves the forest and the hike continues along a flat, wide valley overlooked by the dramatic Aiguilles de la Pennaz mountains.

Enjoy the flat while you can, because after the Refuge de Balme, the climb starts in earnest!

Enjoying some rare flat walking on the approach to the climb up to the Col du Bonhomme. Photo by Jennifer Stretton

Up, up, up!

It’s a tough ascent to the Col du Bonhomme, but don’t forget to look back now and again for fantastic views of the Dome de Miage and the valley you walked along earlier in the day. On a clear day, the Col du Bonhomme is a lovely place to stop for lunch. If the weather is bad then there is a small wooden hut you can huddle into, or if you have the energy it’s worth pushing on to the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme.

Snow between the Col du Bonhomme and Col de la Croix du Bonhomme in July 2018. The trail was safe as it was well tracked out but earlier in the season this section of trail can be very dangerous if snow covered. If you are crossing the Col du Bonhomme in spring then it’s important to check the trail conditions before you head out. Photo by Jennifer Stretton.

One more Col to go!

The ascent isn’t quite over at the Col du Bonhomme, as there is still one more Col to climb before the long descent into Le Chapieux. The Col de Croix du Bonhomme is roughly an hour walking distance away and is reached by an undulating trail to the South East. At this point of the Tour du Mont Blanc you are at the most Westerly point of the loop and are beginning to ‘turn the corner’ to come back around the South side of the Mont Blanc Massif.

col du bonhomme
All smiles on the Col de Croix du Bonhomme. Alpenwild Trip in July 2018.

A welcome break

The Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme is just after the second Col and is a good place to stop to enjoy the views, use the toilet and refill your water. Whilst it isn’t the most charming refuge in the Alps, the terrace is a lovely place to relax on a sunny day. And on a bad weather day, the wood fired stove is a great place to huddle round with a hot drink.

Now all the hard work is done, it’s time for a descent into Le Chapieux and a well-deserved rest before tomorrow’s hike which will take you into Italy!

descent from Col du Bonhomme
The long descent into Le Chapieux
Jennifer Stretton
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