Chamonix Walk from Tre-le-champ to Lac Blanc

From lush meadow meadow to larch forest, up through carpets of flowers and into the high Alpine above the treeline, with the constantly shifting backdrop of magnificent mountains… this is a perennial favourite Chamonix walk of ours.

There’s extra legwork in getting to Lac Blanc this way, but the reward is a classic Chamonix walk with jaw-dropping scenery in far more idyllic and peaceful surroundings than the route from the cable car.

Ibex against the Aiguilles
Ibex against the Aiguilles

You’ll find more details on access and so on at the bottom of the page but let’s go straight into…

The walk:

After the initial easy ascent through an idyllic area of wood and meadow pasture, with a brook running through it, the walk winds up through a lovely old larch forest. It’s particularly spectacular in spring when the bright lime green needles come out, and autumn when they turn a lovely warm gold and softly carpet the path.
Above the larches and into the high alpine, myrtilles, juniper and alpine rhododendrons cover the mountainside.

The Dru & Verte in the background as the larch forest gives way to high alpine rhododendrons

You can walk via two routes, and the division is clearly signed.

1. Via the Aiguillette d’Argentiere.

This is a spectacular climbing crag which is worth a visit in its own right. Since it has a winning combination of dramatic exposure, spectacular location and relatively straightforward climbing on some routes (starting at 4a and going up to 6b), pretty much every mountaineer of note has stood on top of this spire of rock in the early part of their career, and it remains equally popular today.

Climbing on the Aiguillette d'Argentiere
Climbing on the Aiguillette d’Argentiere

It has great photo opportunities, and is a good place to see ibex and marmots. I suspect the reason is that they know quite well that cereal bars and bits of sandwich are sometimes dropped by the climbers, though this isn’t to be encouraged.

Curious baby ibex at the Aiguilette
Curious baby ibex at the Aiguilette

This is my preferred route for walking, but you need to be agile and fit. There are some quite technical sections including some vertiginous steel ladders, visible immediately after the Aiguillette, which lead on to a very steep path through the rocks. If you can do the the lowest ladder, which you can see clearly from the path, you should have no problems.

A different perspective on the Aiguilette, from near the top of the ladders with Le Tour behind:

From the top of the ladders
From the top of the ladders

2. Via the Chalets de Cheserys

If you don’t fancy the ladders, this route is more straightforward. I prefer it for trail running as there is a rather more even gradient upwards and an easier, less technical path. The junction for this route is not a huge distance to backtrack, so if you don’t like the look of the ladders you can always change to this one.

 

The routes rejoin at the Tete aux vents

…and wind steadily upwards. Whichever way you go, there are really wonderful views of the valley.

Cairn near Tête aux Vents
Cairn near Tête aux Vents

Above here is very much the ibex’s habitat. They aren’t bothered by people, though they will usually move away if you get too close.

There’s a short section of easy wooden ladders, and then you arrive at the beautiful Lacs de Cheserys.

If the weather is fine and air is still, there are lovely reflections of the mountains in the water. They’re a nice place to explore, and generally much more peaceful than Lac Blanc which can be something of a circus in high season, especially at the weekends.

Finally you arrive at Lac Blanc. I really recommend exploring and getting away from the crowds around the refuge – the views are lovely from all around the lower and higher lakes. Snow levels vary hugely from year to year – this is late June.

Lac Blanc, surreally snowy and lunar in early summer

Lac Blanc in the summer snow
Lac Blanc in the summer snow

Descending

After Lac Blanc, you can either take the straightforward trail down to the Flegere mid station, or the more interesting one over to the higher Index chairlift. It’s best to ask about the state of this route before setting off on it as it can have dangerous hard snow (névé) in the couloirs well into summer. Either check with staff at the refuge, or before you set off  at the Office de Haute Montagne.

You could, of course, do it as a loop but I usually use the cable car for the descent to Les Praz. If you prefer, you could take one of the descent paths to Les Praz, for a different panorama. These are pretty tough on the knees but if you go for it, I would recommend the balcon via Chalet Floria, which is a lovely walk in its own right.

For a really special experience, you can stay in the refuge at Lac Blanc, and enjoy the serenity after the crowds have disappeared, and before they arrive. Reservations essential, half board only. You can book online, in theory, but it’s best to call.
Booking for the refuge –  details here
There’s no camping but it’s permitted to bivouac from sunset to sunrise – Lac Cheserys is a lovely place to do this.

Sun on Lac Cheserys in the early morning
Sun on Lac Cheserys in the early morning

Ascent & descent

Approximately 1000m ascent, 500m descent back to Flegere cable car
Or, of course, it can be done in reverse with 500m uphill to Lac Blanc, and downhill to Trelechamp.
This assumes at least one journey on the gondola between Les Praz & Flegere. Out of season (early June or late September) you need to add 700m ascent or descent between Les Praz & Flegere

When to go

Generally, the lifts open from mid-June to mid-September, and these are the best times to go. Early to mid July is perhaps the best of all for flowers, but the altitude variance is so much that you’ll almost always see them for some of the route, and later there are lovely autumn colours too. August weekends, as always, are to be avoided if possible, but if you set off early you shouldn’t find it too busy until the final section to Lac Blanc.
The last section to Lac Blanc can be impassable and dangerous in June & September due to snow, and you would be advised to check with the OHM before setting off. Do not hesitate to turn back rather than cross dangerous couloirs full of snow. If conditions are bad, you can just complete the walk at Flegere, or even walk only as far as the Aiguillette d’Argentiere – it’s still very beautiful and well worth it.

Access:

As the start and finish points are different, this one is ideally done with public transport.
The best way is to take a bus to Tre-le-champ. Alternatively it can be started a little further on at Col des Montets which has better car parking facilities.
You can also shuttle with two cars, if available, and leave one at the Flegere car park (or whatever your chosen finish point is).
Or alternatively, bus or train to Argentiere and walk up to Tré-le-champ

A note on safety & maps
These walks are all ones that I’ve enjoyed myself, and they are here to help you with inspiration and planning. It’s not intended to be a full guide to each walk and I really recommend a book such as Mont Blanc Walks: 50 best walks and 4 short treks (Cicerone Guides)  or Mont Blanc Trails (with accompanying map). If you’re staying with us, we have copies which you are welcome to borrow. If not, they are easily available from bookshops in Chamonix.
These are summer walks only – and conditions can vary wildly through throughout the summer. Please read my accompanying post on walking safety, and happy trails!

More detail

This is a very good site in French with excellent maps and photos.
http://www.randos-montblanc.com/difficile/lac-blanc-montets.html