Tour des Aiguilles Rouges, Chamonix
Chamonix ‘Tour des Aiguilles Rouges’ ↔ 81,3 km ↑ 5304 m ↓5275 m GPX
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Day I Chamonix Le Brévent – Lac d’Anterne
↔ 12.9 km ↑ 676 m ↓ 995 m GPX
Outside the world still seems to stand still in the scorching heat. It is three o’clock at night and twenty degrees Celsius, when in my chamber the familiar squeak sound from my clock radio echoes true the room. While I curse a few times, I get out of bed. Fortunately, there is nothing that a steaming cup of coffee and an refreshing shower can’t solve. An half hour later I am sitting with my brother-in-law with full enthusiasm in the car towards the national airport.
After the familiar and always boring check-in routine and the obligatory waiting we rise around 6:20 in the direction of Geneva. Just an hour later we put our hiking boots on Swiss soil. We have some time before we take the bright orange bus from Easybus in the direction of Chamonix around 9:30 am for our trail around the peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges.
Start at Le Brévent
In Chamonix we head for the cable car on the eastern side of the busy valley. After a short stopover on the Plan Praz plateau, a colorful gondola takes us to Le Brévent at 2525 meters. The easiest altitude of the entire trail. On the chilly high plateau of Brévent the rain clothes go on immediately, the view of Mont Blanc in the clouds is breathtakingly beautiful.
Once armed against the precipitation, it is time to start at the ‘Tour des Aiguilles Rouges’. It’s a hike around the peaks with the same name that we have adjusted a little to make it a five-day trip. A trail through wild landscapes and protected valleys, past reflective glacial lakes, shady mist-filled couloirs and bare rocky mountain ridges. Capricorns and shy mountain marmots are on the ‘rendezvous’ and nimble walkers tackle the altimeters each at their own pace. The Aiguilles Rouges nature reserve in full glory.
Chalet of Moëde-Anterne
With a gentle step we stroll in the direction of the valley. Walking zombies come up the steep hill, victorious making their last meters on one of the many multi-day hikes in this region. We descend a few kilometres over the green flanks. Thin clouds come from nowhere, put us completely in the cool mist and then disappear as quickly as they came. When we are in the valley we get ready for the first climb. With a steady pace we rise towards the wooden Chalet of Moëde-Anterne.
First fresh beer earned, make it a double to start this beautiful trip. The host has some trouble with the small tap and the right pressure at this height. But after six attempts we can drink. With some wobbly legs we tackle the last two hundred meters in height towards the Col d’Anterne. After which we arrive at the reflecting Lake ‘d’Anterne’. We put the tarp on a green grass meadow next to the steep granite rock wall and enjoy the falling evening. By about nine o’clock we’re going to sleep together with the disappearing sun.
Day II Lac d’Anterne – Le Grenairon chalet du Buet
↔ 20.2 km ↑ 1192 m ↓ 1317m GPX
The turbulent morning sun quickly stands out against the steep rock formation. We wait for a bit, but after a while the heat also flows into the bowl-shaped plateau. After that we eat crispy granola and then descend to the refuge of Anterne. Apparently there is a trail run in progress, we encourage the first titans and then say a few hundred times ‘bonjour’ and ‘courage’. At the cozy Chalet d’Anterne we take a coffee break while a lady next to us cuts vegetables for a fresh broth soup.
Afterwards we climb to the ‘Cirque des Fonts’ where we see five golden eagles or vultures. I can’t see it very well and our ornithological knowledge is somewhat limited. The animals are circling high above the rocky valley. A long descent brings us to a summer alp with wooden houses and mottled cows whose bells are tinkling while the bulls are fighting each other.
Cabin of Le Grenairon
We drink a fresh pint and eat a bag of dried food. After some rest we descend further and take a small road that we found on the map. The forest path has fallen into disuse and we have to bush walk for a few kilometres through the overgrown road. It is only a harbinger for the longer climb over a wide track to the cabin of Le Grenairon. After nine hundred altitude meters of boring climbing we arrive. Tired but satisfied, we plop down on the long wooden benches of the terrace.
We drink a few local beers and fraternize with the thirteen year old Boaz and his father and a sympathetic Dutch couple who have been exploring the region for thirty years. Together we take a delicious filling meal that the hut host has made. Solid lentil soup with semi-soft goat cheese, tender stew with gratin dumpling and a firm chocolate mousse to fill the last holes. We set the tarp, enjoyed the sunset and went to sleep.
Day III Le Grenairon chalet du Buet – Les Bettes
↔ 15.1 km ↑ 1238 m ↓ 1262 m GPX
We’re awakened early by the persistent jingling of the goats that are being driven to lower flanks of the alp and a column of woolly sheep that cross the ridge and pass our tent. Everyone seems to be up and running early, we take it easy and by the time of ten we are on our way too.
Yesterday we deviated quite a bit from the ‘Tours des Aiguilles Rouges’ and we hardly meet anyone today. From the now abandoned hut it is immediately uphill until we reach a long rocky ridge. The Frêtes du Grenier. After the passage of some turquoise glacial lakes, the hardest part, however, still has to come. A firm climb to Mont Buet at 3096 meters altitude.
The first piece rises steeply over flaky loose stone soil. We sweep our way up the path as the sweat moves down from our red face. Once we have conquered the bare mountainside, we arrive at a narrow ridge. Named the ‘Crête de la Montagne des Éves’. The most difficult part on the ridge, however, is still ahead of us. Two hundred vertical meters along slack stretched steel cables and narrow rock passages with deep abysses on both sides give us some fear sweat. A via ferrata set might have made the tricky passage a bit more comfortable.
Refuge de la Pierre à Bérard
As we literally climb upwards, the thickly swollen sweat drops glide painfully slowly over our forehead. Once uphill, the trail continues towards the summit of Mont Buet. We enjoy an hour and a half of the wide view of the peak peaks of Aiguilles Rouges, Mont Blanc, Aiguilles Vertes and the surrounding snowy mountains and peaks.
We descend one thousand five hundred meters over steep gravel slopes in a desolate moon landscape. Traversing over long soft snowfields and afterwards jumping from one yellow rock to the other before descending to the ‘Refuge de la Pierre à Bérard’ on a narrow path strewn with loose stones. After the long exhausting descent we drink a beer at the busy but cozy hut and set up the tarp a mile away in the valley next to a babbling river.
Day IV Les Bettes – Lac Blanc
↔ 19.4 km ↑ 1149 m ↓ 755 m GPX
In the morning we continue through cool shady forests along sloshing rivers. We have a chat with KBF mountain guides Bob and Jean-Pierre, accompanying a group of Belgian hikers. After a while we arrive at the mountain village of Buet where a bright red mountain train regularly blows a shrill whistle through the valley. We enjoy a refreshing coke, cross the busy asphalt road and walk for a while parallel to the motorway on a track lined with colorful flowers. At the somewhat old visitors center of the ‘Tour des Aiguilles Rouges’ we make some food and watch the stuffed mountain animals behind glas.
With full stomach we start the climb towards Lac Blanc. The first part zigzags steeply upwards in the burning afternoon sun. It is a hard climb until we arrive at a flatter plateau at some small lakes. Lac Blanc is still a lot higher up. We pass the many day walkers finding their way back to the valley. Over rusty metal ladders and dry wooden steps we arrive at Lac Blanc and the mountain hut of the same name.
The refuge is closed after a legal dispute, so not many visitors in the evening. From our tightly stretched tarp on the flanks of the Aiguilles Rouges peaks we have a fantastic view of the sun-drenched Mont Blanc massif. A dazzling site to spend the night. I havean encounter with an Alpine ibex with huge, slightly bent horns that suddenly pops behind my back, we wash ourselves at the clear blue lake and eat some chili from a bag before going to sleep in the cold night.
Day V Lac Blanc – Le Brévent
↔ 13.7km ↑ 1049m ↓ 946 m GPX
When the bright orange sun appears behind the whitewashed ridge on the other side of the valley it shines through the opening of our tarp on our brown-burned faces. With a cup of hot coffee, we enjoy the spectacle that the rising sun plays with the white mountain sides. The glow changes the white snowy tops in different shades of red and orange.
We walk on and do some technical passages after we chose to take a higher path to avoid the one-day tourists to Lac Blanc. Via ‘Lac Noir’ on the flanks on the other side of the red massif we finally arrive back in Plan Praz. We drink something on the sheltered terrace and we could go back down here with the cable car to the busy Chamonix.
But of course we would’nt have rounded the looped route then. So we decide to take the steep climb towards Le Brévent, another firm climb to close the trail. After a hour and a half we are at the top where we started our trip. After one last meal of dry food we go back to Chamonix where we enjoy fresh clothes, greasy hamburgers with cheese, crispy fries, cold soda and foamy beer before taking the bus to Géneva.
Praktical Info ‘Tour des Aiguilles Rouges’
Transport to and from Chamonix
Chamonix is easily accessible by car and public transport. The closest airport is Geneva but also Lyon or Turin are at a reasonable distance from the mountain town. At all airports there are shuttle services with private vans, minibuses or regular buses. We took a bus from low cost company Easybus, which cost us only € 19 per person. Chamonix is also one to reach by train in 8 to 10 hours from Brussels. Perhaps flying is faster and cheaper.
Signage & supplying Aiguilles Rouges
The Tour des Aiguilles Rouges itself is not a fixed trail with signage. But with a good topo map, book and local signposts it is easy to orient yourself. The tour itself runs through some nature reserves. La Reserve Naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges, Reserve Naturelle de Passy and Reserve Naturelle Vallon-Berard. The route sometimes runs parallel with parts of the Tour du Pays du Mont Blanc, the Tour du Mont Blanc and the GR5 from Hoek van Holland to Nice.
We left at Le Brévent but it is also possible to start the loop-shaped walk in other places. Argentière, Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval, Buet, Les Houches, … We used the topographical map 3630OT Mont-Blanc, Massif du Mont Blanc and map IGN 3530ET Samoëns Haut-Giffre. We used the Cicerone book Mont Blanc Walks from Hilary Sharp to prepare our trip.
To make it a five-day event, we have done an extra piece along the cabin of Le Grenairon to take the climb to Mont Buet and then descend towards Buet. This ensures extra mileage and altitude.
There is food and drink in the cabins on the way, you will find water on the many streams, lakes and rivers. We had a supply of granola for breakfast and bags of freeze-dried meals.
We slept in our tarp, but there is also the possibility to stay in one of the numerous mountain huts in the region. Reservation is the message in high season!
Weather Chamonix and mountains
We had nice weather with occasional rainfall. The weather in the high mountains can be very unpredictable, so always see that you are equipped for all weather conditions. It is not because the sunny weather indicates that you do not have to provide rain or warm clothing on a multi-day trip. Mountain-forecast.com gives a good indication of what you can expect and gives predictions for different heights.
Books & Maps
The Aiguilles Rouges trail and the spacious surroundings are a very beautiful trip with landscapes that vary greatly. Green valleys, narrow passages over mountain ridges, snow passages, lakes, … In the Alps you are never alone in the summer and some times there are a lot of people on the trail, especially the stretch to Lac Blanc was quite busy with day toerists. On other pieces that were more technical or further away from Chamonix and the lifts we did not meet anyone.
English is not my native language, spelled something wrong, error found? Let me know!