For guests on our Chamonix based mountaineering courses, we recommend, if possible, arriving at least a day or two early prior to starting a guided programme to allow for some initial acclimatisation to the thin mountain air. This can be done whilst also relaxing and doing some brilliant scenic mountain walks using the remarkable lift accessed terrain around the Mont Blanc Massif. Whilst Chamonix itself is not very high (1035m), many folk coming from sea level will notice the difference straight away and this combined with some time to enjoy the superb walking in the lift accessed middle mountains offers a great progression for your high altitude trip in to the mountains.
Here we describe a variety of enjoyable mountain walks providing both a great experience and useful acclimatisation plus some tougher routes to add a physical training element. Conversely there are also strategies for using the high mountain lifts and staying in mountain huts to offer quality acclimatisation without getting too tired prior to your trip.
Chamonix Acclimatisation – Walks
Grand Balcon Nord, Montenvers (1913m) to Plan de l’Aiguille (2310m)
This is a classic lift accessed half day walk through great scenery culminating at the relatively low altitude of 2310m at the Plan de l’Aiguille, so it’s a good one to get started with. Or you can go the other way around if you prefer to go downhill for a lighter stroll! Either way this is a classic Chamonix mountain half day walk on rough rocky paths with a little exposure on the lower path near Montenvers and the optional addition of taking the higher and harder but more scenic route via the Signal Forbes. There is also the option to start from Chamonix and climb up via the Buvette des Mottets & Montenvers, but this adds a couple of hours and takes away the easy pleasant ambiance of this otherwise short and not too strenuous acclimatisation walk. Make sure the route is clear of snow as in all seasons other than high summer the path can be buried in snow thus making for a more serious mountaineering expedition. Also check the lift times for both Montenvers and Plan de l’Aiguille.
A good option is to walk from Montenvers to the Refuge Plan de l’Aiguille where you can have a great lunch with fine views around the Mont Blanc Massif. Then a 10 minute walk takes you up to the lift station from where you can carry on via the telecabine for some high altitude acclimatisation, but with little effort, at the Aiguille du Midi, or just descend to Chamonix.
The walk to Chamonix from here is a brutally sustained 1300m descent via a narrow path plunging through many hair pins. Only recommended if you are in training for tough descents!
Grand Balcon Sud, Brevent (2525m)
The south facing side of the Chamonix Valley is the lovely Aiguilles Rouges side offering brilliant middle altitude mountain walking and great views across to the glittering glaciers of the higher Mont Blanc Massif. There is an impressively extensive network of trails which form part of the famous Tour du Mont Blanc long distance walk. There are many options for building your own itinerary here according to how long and hard and how high you want your walk. One easy and popular option is to take the telecabine to the Brevent for the brilliant sightseeing and acclimatisation above 2500m there, before descending back in the lift to Plan Praz and walking across to the Flegere lift, followed by the scenic walk to Lac Blanc with it’s refuge. From there you can return to Flegere and descend via the lift back to Les Praz with paths taking you back to Chamonix town.
A tougher, longer variant route through the Aiguilles Rouges would be to walk from Brevent and use the higher mountain paths which criss cross the watershed ridge and offer some brilliant rough and scenic walking with some exposure in places and the odd rocky step or ladders. There is the option to visit the superb Lac Cornu and carry on through the Rouges to join the Chamonix Valley higher up near Tre le Champs for example where there is the excellent valley hut café La Boerne from where you can walk to the Montroc train station to return to Chamonix. A full days walk which also passes the fine rock climbers needle of l’Aiguillette:
Col du Balme (2199m) & Refuge Albert Premier (2702m)
The Col du Balme gives a great view down the Chamonix Valley and is an interesting point geographically as it’s not only the French – Swiss border, it’s also around here where the river Arve rises below flowing down through Chamonix to join the Rhone in Geneva and carrying on it’s long journey south to the Med! In high summer the Col itself is very easily and quickly gained from the top of the lifts above Le Tour. It’s a nice continuation up the Tete de Balme which has great views not only down the Chamonix Valley and up to the Mont Blanc Massif but also across to the Swiss Valais Alps. La Croix de Fer and l’Arollette also give nice little extensions to the Tete de Balme walk and thus give some pleasant sightseeing and easy walking whilst acclimatising in the 2-2300m range.
From the top of the chairlift a bigger and better acclimatisation walk is to make the ascent to the Refuge Albert Premiere. Whilst this is a sign posted path it’s a rough trail with some exposure and often has too much snow well in to the early summer for teams not geared up for mountaineering across steep exposed snow slopes. In high summer however it’s a great trail and around 2 hours up to the hut. Again the last section below the hut often has steep snow right through to the end of the summer season.
You can have a good lunch at the hut or even stay there overnight if you want to further benefit from the good acclimatisation at 2700m. You can book in advance on their website here.
A much tougher walk from the Col de Balme is to ascend the ridge above on the SE side to climb up to the Grandes Autannes 2680m. This is steep, exposed and contains some scrambling on loose rock so is only for those with loads of experience and skills with rough mountain walking and scrambling.
Easier Cafe Walks!
There are a multitude of brilliant little mountain cafés (buvettes) around the Chamonix Valley and many have pleasant approach paths leading from the valley floor or for some you can even start from one of the many mountain lifts as a major head start! Try these to get going with…
- Buvette les Mottets 1638m, on the path leading to Montenvers from the valley floor. Run by the lovely Katie, you can climb up to here for a great view of the Mer de Glace and Les Drus, have lunch or even stay the night if you reserve one of the tented base camp spots.
- Chalet Floria 1350m, a classic little ‘ballade’ along the paths above Les Praz for coffee and cake with a great view across to the main Mont Blanc Massif.
- Chalet Glacier du Bossons 1425m. You have the choice to walk up the pleasant but sustained path from Les Bossons or, for a very short walk, and pleasant easy scenic ride, take the chairlift. Great views over the Glacier du Bossons and good spot for café or lunch, worth booking in advance. You can also do a harder walk from the Bossons chair lift up to the Chalet des Pyramides 1895m.
Chamonix Mountain Training Walks
Mont Buet 3098m
This is a much more physical walk than many others described on this page as it has a relatively low starting altitude from the pretty village of Buet (1375m) over the Col des Montets and thus just out of the Chamonix Valley. Mont Buet itself is also by far the highest point in the Aiguilles Rouges above the Chamonix Valley and the only peak over 3000m. The resulting 5-7 hour climb thus gives a stern 1700m+ ascent. The considerable effort however is amply rewarded with magnificent views not only of the mighty north faces of the Mont Blanc Massif but also the surrounding massifs of the Chablais, Fizz, Aravis and over to the Swiss Valais.
During the main summer season, the ascent can be split with a night at the Refuge Pierre à Bérard, which at 1924m would be a good starting altitude to sleep at for most folk acclimatising for a higher mountain programme later in their trip. Whilst the ascent to here is mainly wooded and mellow, with some impressive cascades early on the path above Buet, from above the Refuge things get steep and sustained and are also on a very sunny southerly aspect, so a very early start is highly recommended on hot summer days (or on spring days if you don’t want to be sinking in rotten snow).
Despite the sunny aspect, snow lies late here well in to the summer season and folk climbing in spring are usually on skis. The wonderful views from the summit ridge and summit itself are only slightly tempered by the knees thinking about the length of the descent, so be sure to save plenty of energy for that although there are good options for pit stops once lower down on the mountain at the Refuge, Chalet Berard and montagnarde hotel in Buet itself.
Looking East from the summit of Buet will take the view over the Eastern end of the Chamonix Valley and across the border in to the far western Swiss Valais. One nearby peak which might catch your eye is the Pointe Ronde, 2700m which can be climbed via paths leading from the Col de la Forclaz which gives a good high starting altitude from the car of 1526m.
Other Chamonix Mountain Training Walks
Other classic big walks around the Chamonix Valley include the ascent to La Jonction (2589m) from Les Bossons which is still over 1000m of ascent even if the chairlift is taken and has some exposed section of path and is only for seasoned mountain walkers.
The ascent to the Tete Rousse is another solid high mountain walk on rough terrain with some exposure and awareness of conditions required. In high summer there is usually a rough and rocky path leading all the way from the Nid d’Aigle 2372m (top of the tramway du Mont Blanc) to the Refuge Tete Rousse (3167m) where you can have an omelette etc before making the return journey, or, if you are lucky in getting a reservation, even spend the night at the hut for an overnight sleeping altitude over 3000m.
Chamonix Acclimatisation – Mountain Lifts & Huts
One of the reasons that Chamonix and the Mont Blanc Massif can lay claim to being the capital of world mountaineering is the amazing terrain that is accessible very rapidly via the impressive network of high mountain lifts which massively reduce both the physical effort & time required to get up to these higher altitudes for acclimatising. The flip side of this of course is that care is required to not go too high too fast, especially if you are planning to sleep in one of the high mountain huts.
At 3842m this is the jewel in the crown of Chamonix’s high altitude ski lift and world famous for the remarkable position and views accessed via the 2 stage telecabine ride from Chamonix. As discussed in the walking section above, the Plan de l’Aiguille mid station is also a great stopping point to enjoy the views and walks and a worthwhile altitude to start acclimatising itself at over 2300m. The Midi however is another level! Unless you are already an experienced mountaineer however, you will need to stay around the top station area itself as the departure from here is very exposed and requires mountaineering skills and equipment. But the views, pottering about and café & restaurant are sufficient attraction in themselves and time spent pottering around up here is still a useful part of an acclimatisation strategy and could form part of a good day including a walk from the Plan de l’Aiguille to Montenvers for example, see above.
Another very famous rocky and lift accessed pinnacle above the Chamonix Valley is the Brevent and this also has an excellent half way station at Plan Praz at 2000m. There are superb views and a café at the top so it’s a great place to hang out whilst breathing some relatively thin air. As mentioned in our Chamonix acclimatisation walks section above, there are some great walks from both Brevent and Plan Praz and also, for rock climbers, some fine rock climbing up here too which is another good way to spend some time in the middle mountains whilst getting ready for high mountain trips ahead.
Flegere 2385m can be reached via paths from Plan Praz or you can ascend the new telecabine from Les Praz to Flegere and walk up to Lac Blanc and along the Grand Balcon Sud to catch the train back from Montroc at the upper eastern end of the Chamonix Valley, see walks section above.
This is a superb area to rapidly access Punta Hellbronner, 3462m, using the superb new Skyway lift above Courmayeur. There are interesting stations both at Pavillon 2173m, the top station which both have great views and good café options. Even just pottering about these stations is worthwhile acclimatisation and from the top it’s possible to take a lift down into the mountain and exit via a short walk to the Rifugio Torino. This has a great viewing terrace with superb panoramas including the wild Italian side of Mont Blanc, South to Gran Paradiso & South and East to Val d’Aosta and the Swiss border with the giants of Grand Combin, Matterhorn & Monte Rosa straddling this border. Some teams will want to spend a night at the hut here, bearing in mind it’s quite a high sleeping altitude at 3375m but is easy and safe to access from the lift so does provide a good option to spend a night at high altitude without any mountaineering skill, equipment or commitment!
Good options for easy to tough acclimatisation walks from around 2000-2700m using the lifts above Le Tour or Vallorcine which are open in the high summer season from mid June to early September. Great views both down the Chamonix Valley, up in to the higher Mont Blanc Massif and across to the Swiss Valais. More details on our Chamonix walks section above.
Mont Blanc Massif & Surrounding Areas Mountain Walking
Most of the walks and acclimatisation options above are easily accessed from Chamonix either on foot or using public transport but for those with some personal transport and a desire to explore a bit further afield, here are some great options for walking in the superb nearby ranges of the Aravis, Fizz, Beaufortin, Val d’Aosta and nearby Swiss Valais…
Mountain Walks In The Aravis
Just down the Arve Valley from Chamonix above the pleasant town of Sallanches lie the wonderful hills of Les Aravis and here there are many option for both easy lower level walks plus robust & tough middle mountain itineraries with some good scrambles and options to stay in mountain huts. Pointe Percée 2752m is the highest peak of the area and a real classic rough walk and scramble depending on the route taken. Easier options include the Croise Baulet above Cordon and, in high summer, the lifts of Megeve or St. Gervais can be used for an easier ride towards 2000m and then an ascent of Mont Joly gives great views and acclimatisation up to 2500m and even a fine long connecting ridge over towards the Contamines Valley.
Mountain Walks In The Contamines Valley
Les Contamines on the West side of the Mont Blanc Massif is a superb valley with lots of mountain paths including a section of the Tour du Mont Blanc and great options to get in to the hills including a 2 hour walk to the refuge Tre la Tete and a tough 5-6 hour walk to the refuge Conscrits. More mellow options exist lower down the Contamines Valley to the lovely Chalets de Miage & Mont Truc with again, a big extension to reach the Refuge Plan Glacier.
Mountain Walks In Massif des Fizz
The lovely little ski resort of Plaine Joux lies about an hours drive from Chamonix and in summer offers a great launching point for walks in to the Massif des Fizz including up to the Col d’Anterne 2257m and nearby Refuge Moëde Anterne 2002 which provide a fine initial acclimatisation walk and can be linked with a tour of this classic middle mountain walking area with various other refuges offering the possibility to create a multi day walk as per the Tour de Fizz. There is also a nice little via ferrata in Plateau d’Assy and this can be linked with a walk up to the Refuge Varan for lunch etc.
Mountain Walks In Val d’Aosta
Chamonix is not only the capital of world mountaineering but is also spoilt in terms of its location to other great mountain areas and, just a short drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel, there is a fantastic array of mountain walking and acclimatisation options in the upper Val d’Aosta with the superb Val Feret and Val Veny just on the other side of Mont Blanc. Both of these offer great valley and middle mountain walks with options to stay in mountain huts. The Rifugio Bonatti is particularly recommended as an easy walk and great base camp at around 2000m for a very comfortable first night acclimatising. For a much tougher walk with some scrambling and technical via ferrata section, the Rifugio Monzino 2590m offers an interesting journey to get there and very atmospheric place to spend a night in a high mountain hut on the lower slopes of the enormous and wild south side of Monte Bianco.