The Mont Blanc Circuit Tour

The Mont Blanc Circuit Tour

Hiking around the base and through the passes of Mont Blanc, Europe's highest peak
(except for those who count Elbrus as being in Europe). The hike takes you through
France, Switzerland, and Italy, since Mont Blanc sits near the point where all three meet.

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Our flight was into Geneva, but we immediately took a pair of small vans over
to the French town of Chamonix, where our hiking tour was to begin and end.

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Maps of the Chamonix Valley and Chamonix itself
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Chamonix is very much a resort town, attracting skiers in the winter and hikers in the summer. We got there right at the end of the hiking season. I would compare it to sort of a French version of Aspen.
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Hiking France (out of Chamonix)

Our hike began out of Chamonix actually on the north side of the valley
heading counter-clockwise around the circuit. Along the way we would pass
many small villages or isolated rest-houses that catered to hikers.

Melting snow makes many milky rivers
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The usual reward after a long day's hike!
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A carved water spout at a trough
Asking directions

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Hiking Italy

We are hiking through one of the many mountain passes along our way.
This one is along the border of France and Italy. The huts are from
World War II, and were used by the Italians to guard the pass. Now
they can be rented by vacationers (not us... we passed there around noon).

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Hiking Switzerland

After Italy, we hiked into Switzerland. We were only in that country for
a short while (two nights, I think). The "Glacier Lake" in one of the
photos below was the scene of a disaster sometime in the 1990's. It is
a popular picnic area, but the lake is bordered by a glacier on the far
side of the photo. One day, a huge hunk of ice broke off the glacier and
caused an enormous wave that killed something like 15 people.

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A big glacier that forks
Just kind of a cool bridge
They use very thick slate on the roofs. We saw this in Italy, as well.
From the front door of our hotel, the nicest one on our tour.
Snow on the trees above a certain altitude
High up in a pass
The glacier lake
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Int'l sign for "Don't Fall Off!"
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Martigny, Switzerland

Martigny (pronounced like "martini") was a small city in Swizterland.
We spent a large part of one day there, staying up in the hills at a
small inn. I took the bus down into town to explore.

Martigny as seen from our inn.
Looking back up into the hills. Those are vineyards.
I went to small museum, with a sculpture garden.
These 3 are scenes from the sculpture garden
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I think they paid this old lady to sit on the bench with the statue :-)
These 3 are Roman ruins, a small arena excavated in the 1970's
They use it to stage outdoor events, plays, etc

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Hiking back into France

Fairly heavy snow in the pass
Looking down into the valley, our destination. It was just a little cool there, as opposed to the snowy pass
A typical small hotel
Beatrice (the main guide) and Phillipe, an assistant. More on Beatrice below.
The wind was strong enough when these icicles formed they were horizontal
20000716-073-1.jpg 20000716-053-4.jpg Since there two Jo(h)n's on the hike, we had to have nicknames to tell us apart. John Wolfe was "Kathy's John". At left is how I got my nickname, "Shorts Jon". They couldn't believe I was hiking in the snow in shorts... but, hey, sometimes blubber comes in handy!

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Return to Chamonix

At the end of the hike, we had a few days to spend back in Chamonix

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Mer de Glace

French for "River of Ice", this was a large glacier that runs down
Mont Blanc. They have cog trains (see below) that take you to a point
about halfway up the "river". Every year they cut an ice cave into the side
of it so you can literally walk around inside of a glacier! They have to
cut a new cave each year, since it moves about 200 feet annually

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The view of the glacier at the top of the track
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Hotel at the top of the track
The modern cog trains
At right is an old version of a cog train. They climb steep grades by actually pulling themselves up along a rail that has gear teeth. You can see the rail in the previous photo 20000716-058-2.jpg 20000716-060-1.jpg
Cable cars down to the glacier itself
The ice cave

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Aiguille du Midi

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The brochures above are a little hard to read, but pictures show the general layout. The ice field to right is the source of the "Mer De Glace" 20000716-066-2.jpg 20000716-066-3.jpg
Looking back down toward the valley and Chamonix
A set of smaller cable cars took you across the ice field to the Italian side of the summit
That's the peak of Mont Blanc in the background
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At the end of the trip we got to spend an evening and
a day in Geneva. We spent the time exploring a little bit.
Our hotel is at left

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The old church at right occupied a site that had been built on again and again since the Romans were in the area. They were excavating underneath, uncovering tilework from Roman times. 20000716-072-3.jpg 20000716-071a.jpg 20000716-071b.jpg

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The usual "core" group was myself, the Kierspe's, and the Wolfes. You
can see more of us five on the Mt. Whitney, Kilimanjaro, and Sea of Cortez
photo pages. We were combined with others to make up the full tour complement.

Our group. I look like a big bumblebee in that yellow jacket.
Phillipe, an assistant guide is in the middle
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Our lead guide, Beatrice, is shown at right. Her grandfather was a famous Alpinist, and they were currently shooting a TV movie about his life. She was going to get a cameo in the film, doing some climbing shots as stunt double for one of actresses. Highly recommended, even if she did yell at us for drinking too much beer. 20000716-035-1.jpg

her card

Nicolas, the other assistant guide. He also came from a family of alpinists.