Alpenwild’s Tour du Mont Blanc: Part 3 – Champex Lac to Chamonix

Hike to Lac Blanc

This is the final post of our three part Tour du Mont Blanc Trip series. In part one we hiked from Chamonix to Courmayeur and in part two we hiked from Courmayeur to Champex Lac.

In part three, we travel from Champex Lac in Switzerland, back to Chamonix in France:

Tour du Mont Blanc Day 7: Champex Lac (Switzerland) to Col de la Forclaz (Switzerland)

The walk from Champex Lac begins with a pleasant walk through the village past a bakery to pick up fresh bread for today’s picnic. Once outside of the village, we continue along a forested trail for an hour or so until we begin our ascent. Today’s ascent is short and steep, but thankfully forest-covered to save us from the heat of the summer sun.

After a couple of hours of climbing we emerge from the trees to fantastic views down onto the Rhone Valley and the Swiss city of Martigny. In the distance we can see the Bernese Alps, Verbier ski resort and a small part of Lake Geneva. The Rhone Valley is one of the chief wine-producing regions of Switzerland and grapes have been grown in this valley since Roman times.

We contour along above the valley until we reach a mountain refuge called Bovine (aptly named due to its herd of cows). The cows here aren’t the dairy-producing Abundance cattle we have met along our way, but Hérens cattle which are bred for beef. Although they are one of the smallest cattle breeds, they are extremely muscular, and the females are known for their aggression. In spring, the females vie for dominance and the successful female becomes the herd matriarch. An unusual, but popular tradition in the Alps is cow fighting. Prize females from each farm are pitted against each other to see which is dominant. Winners are sold for a high price and it’s a popular tourist attraction in the Valais.  

Heren cattle
A herd of Herens cattle overlooking the Rhone Valley in Switzerland. Photo by Jennifer Stretton

We stop at the refuge for a picnic on the benches outside and order some nice cool drinks and home-baked cakes from the refuge guardian. From here there’s just a short 10-minute ascent to gain the high point for the day and then we descend through the forest to the Col de La Forclaz. Usually the Tour du Mont Blanc continues from the Col de La Forclaz to Trient. However, Trient is a very small hamlet with only basic accommodation, and so we take a short private transfer to the nearby village of Argentiere to stay in a luxury spa hotel.

Tour du Mont Blanc Day 8: Trient (Switzerland) to Argentiere (France)

Today is our third and final border crossing of the Tour du Mont Blanc as we make our way back into France from Switzerland. Our transfer picks us up and drives us to the trail head in the hamlet of Trient. Ahead of us the Trient Glacier hangs down towards the valley, scarred rocky slopes bearing evidence of its former extent. The majority of today’s ascent is also in the forest and we climb steadily to some ruined farm buildings where we stop for a snack with views back down into Trient and up to the Col de Balme.

Tour du Mont Blanc - Col de Balme Refuge
The Cole de Balme Refuge with the Aiguille Verte and Dru behind. Photo by Jennifer Stretton

The final ascent up to the Col de Balme is gradual and allows the mountains of the Chamonix Valley to come steadily into view. The sight of the Col de Balme Refuge set against the backdrop of the Aiguille Verte and Mont Blanc is possibly the best view on the Tour du Mont Blanc. It’s a fantastic feeling of accomplishment to look back down on the Chamonix Valley after leaving it a week ago. We all pose for a photo and then walk down to the Charmillon Refuge for a delicious lunch.

It’s a struggle to tear ourselves away from the comfortable sun deck of the Refuge but the descent to Argentiere is beautiful, passing through the charming village of Le Tour and along a forested river side trail.

Trail to Col de Balme
In Spring Rhodendrun flowers line the trail that descends from the Col de Balme to Le Tour Village. Photo by Jennifer Stretton

Day 9: Argentiere to Chamonix 

Today is our last day of hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc together as we complete the full loop back to Chamonix. The Tour du Mont Blanc finishes with a hike along the world famous Grand Balcon Sud trail to visit Lac Blanc. We take a short bus ride from our Hotel to the village of Mont Roc and pick up the trail to the Col de Montets. The first half hour of our day is flat and a good way to warm up our legs for our final big ascent of the trip!

Tour du Mont Blanc - Grand Balcon Sud
Hiking on the Grand Balcon Sud with the Aiguille Verte in the background. Photo by Jennifer Stretton.

Although the ascent to Lac Blanc is tough, spirits are always high, and we have legs of steel from a week of hiking to power us up the switch backs. The trail passes through the Aiguille Rouge Nature reserve and it’s not unusual to spot an ibex or two high up on the rocks above us.  

The Aiguille Verte and the Dru look incredible from the trail and as we climb higher, we are able to see down onto the Mer de Glace Glacier. As the ascent becomes steadier, the path begins to curve around a wide rocky plateau which gives unobstructed views of the Mont Blanc Massif.

We pass the pristine Lac des Cheserys before the last push up to Lac Blanc. There are a couple of ladders to navigate and some steep sections, adding a sense of adventure to the day. We arrive at Lac Blanc in time for lunch and have plenty of time to really enjoy the spectacular setting. On a clear day the Mont Blanc massif is perfectly reflected in the Alpine Lake.

Tour du Mont Blanc - Lac de Cheserys
Lac de Cheserys on the way to Lac Blanc. Photo by Jennifer Stretton

From Lac Blanc the descent starts steeply down a rocky trail and levels out again as it makes its way to the Flégère cable car where the Tour du Mont Blanc officially finishes. Arriving at the cable car, it’s high fives all round as we celebrate our achievement. The lift takes us down to Les Praz and then it’s a half hour walk along the river back to Chamonix where we all met for the first time just over a week ago! We get back to our hotel in time to relax before our victory meal in one of Chamonix’s top restaurants.

Tour du Mont Blanc Day 10: Day in Chamonix

After hiking every day for five days it’s nice to wake up a bit later than usual and not have to pack our bags. We spend the morning by taking a ride up the Aiguille du Midi cable car then the afternoon is free to explore Chamonix.

On the evening we all meet up again for a farewell dinner in Chamonix with new found friends.

Tour du Mont Blanc - Aiguille du Midi
View from the Aiguille du Midi with the Cosmiques Arete in the foreground and Mont Blanc in the background. Photo by Jennifer Stretton

More in this Tour du Mont Blanc article series:

Part 1 – Chamonix to Courmayeur

Part 2 – Courmayeur to Champex Lac

Part 3 – Champex Lac to Chamonix  (this article)

Jennifer Stretton
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