Although the Matterhorn is the most famous peak in Switzerland, we were closer to Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps. This majestic peak is 4,810 meters (15,781 ft.) above sea level in the Graian Alps that border both Italy and France. It’s nestled among several other impressive mountains that are only a one hour and forty-five minute drive from Morges. While walking our boardwalk along Lake Geneva, we can often spot Mont Blanc, across the lake behind Èvian-les-Bains, France. So, we were watching the weather reports for a perfect day to get up there for a hike.
We found an opportunity Monday afternoon and drove to the Arve Valley, where there are several great base towns for exploring this area. The most popular town is the ski resort of Chamonix, but we opted to stay in the smaller town of Les Houches, which provided a perfect start for our hike the next day.
It was great to get up into the woods, smell the fresh scents of the fir trees and be surrounded by other hikers from all over the world.
There were day hikers like us, young people with their heavy backpacks in search of a camp site and serious climbers with thick ropes, picks and all sorts of fancy gear to make the summit of Mont Blanc. There were also several organized groups that hike the area for a week or more with guides, such as the Vermont Walkers. But even families with young children can take a ski-lift and explore the beautiful alpine valleys with close-up views of the snow-covered peaks above.
Tuesday morning was a sunny and clear day—a perfect day for a hike. We caught an early ride on the Les-Houches-Bellevue lift to 1,786 meters. At the Bellevue area, there are several nice hikes. We chose the Randonnée au glacier de Bionnassay, a hike that’s rated difficult due to some steep climbing on narrow and rocky cliffs. Luckily, we hadn’t seen the rating for the hike, but we knew it would be a climb. The hike is supposed to take about 2.5 hours and we finished in that time while stopping a lot to take pictures and enjoy the views.
The trail starts off just past the train tracks for the cog-wheel train that travels up higher into the mountains. We crossed the tracks and headed to a nice green valley. Besides a peaceful herd of horses, we didn’t see any other animals. But we had plenty of nice views of the mountains all around us. As we started our incline we could admire the Aiguilles Rouges, a beautiful and rugged mountain range west of Mont Blanc and the beautiful glaciers.
There is a section near the end where the trail gets very steep. Often, there are some steel cables fixed to the rock walls that help one scale the most dangerous sections of the trail. I tried not to look down at the very steep drop offs. In a few places, there are steel stairs to help with the ascent.
By the time we reached the top, we had climbed over 3,000 feet (938 m) to reach some great views of the Bionnassay Glacier and Mont Blanc.
The hike ends at the final station for the Mont Blanc Tramway, one of France’s last rack-rail trains and the highest railway in the Haute-Savoie region of France. We were able to take the scenic ride back down to Bellevue where we started our hike. Another option would have been to take the train a bit further to the Voza Pass for more hikes.
Since we had to return to our home base that day, we took the ski-lift back down for a leisurely lunch in Les Houches. We know we must return to this amazing valley again.
There are lots of ways to reach this paradise for hikers and those who love the outdoors. It’s a pleasant drive on the freeway from Geneva. But this area is also accessible by train. For the scenic Mont Blanc Express, one must take a standard train to Martigny, in Switzerland. Then, at the main train station, you transfer to the smaller Mont Blanc Express, for a steep ride up to the mountains. The name is misleading because this is a slow little train that makes several stops on the way to Chamonix and several other villages in the Arve Valley. This trip used to require a bus ride, but since June, 2014, the trip involves only one change of trains and is a much faster trip.
Whatever way you go, be sure to give yourself more time than we did. You could stay here for a week and have plenty of hiking and exploring to do.
For more detailed information on activities in the area, use the Chamonix-Mont Blanc Official Website.