This is a wonderful hike which provides beautiful views of mountain scenery, vast fields of alpine flowers, and diverse surroundings from lush green valleys to desolate high mountain passes. It can be done comfortably in 3 days and 2 nights. Unlike hiking in the United States, you sleep and eat in alpine huts, which means you can simply carry a light day pack, leaving your tent, sleeping bag, stove, and other heavy camping gear behind.
The trip starts at the town of Le Buet, which can be reached by train from Chamonix. Get off at Le Buet, cross the rail road tracks, cross the road, turn left, and follow the road up for about 100 yards then bear right up the trail which leads to the cascade de Berard. This trail winds up an easy, wooded path up to a waterfall, where there is a store that sells food and drinks. Follow the trail past this little store uphill as it rises gently up the beautiful valley. After a while, the path rises above tree line, and the going gets a bit steeper and the views more expansive. Eventually, (about 2 hours from the cascade at a leisurely pace) you reach the refuge pierre a Berard, a rustic little hut nestled under a giant rock. The hut sits in a large cirque with nice views of the valley which you have just climbed. At the hut, you can purchase meals, snacks, water and drinks. This is also a good place to spend the night.
The next leg of the trip is a bit more strenuous, and takes you up and over the mountain pass called the Col de Salenton. The trail up to the pass is steep, and the top has snowfields which necessitate good, solid footwear, and under some circumstances, even an ice axe.
The terrain through this section is the most beautiful of the entire trip. Gorgeous green valleys and hillsides covered with grass and wild flowers. There are occasional small herds of cows and goats, complete with bells. Views of Mont Blanc and the other mountains are amazing. Water is plentiful.
Spend the night at the Chalet-hotel Moede d'Anterne, a rather luxurious hut with good food and comfortable, clean facilities (hot showers can even be purchased if required.)
Next morning, head off South East, down the GR5 Mont Blanc trail toward the Pont d'Arleve bridge. The going here is down hill for the most part all the way to the bridge. Past the bridge, the path rises up a gently graded but continuous track up to the col du Brevent. This is a great viewpoint and a good place to stop and rest. From here, it is downhill through some switchbacks to the Plan Praz tram back down to Chamonix.
Some useful information:
Map: The excellent IGN Map # 3530 et Samoens covers all but a tiny section of this hike. The section it doesn't cover is the first mile or so from the start at le Buet.
Guidebook: Chamonix Mont Blanc; a walking guide by Martin Collins 1988, 1992 Cicerone Press. This is a great guidebook to the region that covers not only this hike but many variations thereof, and many others too. Well worth the investment.
Hut information (current as of 1998)
Pierre A Berard Telephone 04 50 54 62 08 Open 13 June, Closed 30 September
Moede Anterne Telephone 04 50 93 60 43 Open 27 May, Closed ????
It is advisable to call ahead and make reservations if you wish to spend the night at these huts.
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