After a few weeks based in Murren, Switzerland, where I explored the Bernese Oberland region, I headed back to Chamonix, France. The Chamonix Valley has no shortage of incredible hiking trails. After all, it’s home to the legendary TMB (Tour du Mont Blanc) route, which covers roughly 110 miles as it passes through Switzerland, Italy, and France. While the spirit of the TMB makes Chamonix an epicenter for anyone who loves trails, it also means that the more popular routes are routinely full of crowds. To escape the crazy-busyness of Chamonix in the late-August high-season, I decided to head over to Champex, Switzerland to do a full-day hike in the stunning mountains that surround this more secluded valley.
Here’s a recap of my incredible day on the trails of Champex:
This day hike seriously has a little bit of everything. A gradual but steady climb to get your heart pumping. Technical terrain (with a few sections of cables and ladders) to keep your mind engaged. Gorgeous glacial lakes around every corner. Vast views extending far into the horizon line, looking like a 3-D oil canvas painted into the sky. I know I keep saying that every new run or hiking route I explore in the Alps is my favorite one yet. But in all seriousness, the trails here just keep getting better.
I started by taking the Breya lift about 700 meters up from Champex. At the upper lift station, I followed trail-signs leading towards Cabane d’Orny. The section of hiking that followed was stunning: the trail expands along the side of the open ridge, weaving gradually uphill towards the Combe of Orny. As I trekked along, I could see the dirt single-track twisting away in front of me, cutting out dramatically against the green of the hillside. Looking across the valley, I had an expansive view of the Val de Bagnes. That morning’s mist even created a rainbow streak against the mountains.
As I climbed higher, the dirt singletrack turned to boulders and shale. Although this section is certainly more technical – and required more focus and time– it’s also a ton of fun. Scrambling over the boulders and hopping from one teetering rock to another, I made it up to Cabane d’Orny in about 2 hours.
Cabane d’Orny is perched on a ridge with an incredible view of the mountain ranges and the glacier below. The cabin was warm and smelled of pasta with olive oil and tomatoes. I sat down, ordered a coffee au lait and studied my map while eating a few fistfuls of the chocolate-almond trail-mix from my backpack.
I could have spent hours in the cozy Cabane d’Orny, but I was eager to keep exploring the technical trail, so I decided to carry on. From here, the route to Trient was clearly marked; I wandered past the blue glacial lake and started my climb up towards the top of the ridge. The path traced right along the glacier, amongst landscape that looks seriously other-worldly.
It was a little over an hour’s hike to the Cabane du Trient, which is nestled behind a giant mountain of boulders. As I approached, I checked out the eccentric stone sculptures that adore the cabin terrace: 2 half-human, half-mountain goat figures. Inside, I settled in for another cozy break, deciding to treat myself by ordering another milk coffee and a slice of their homemade apricot-plum almond tart. I had no idea what I was in for: this was hands-down the most delicious apricot tart I’ve tasted so far in the Alps. Juicy pieces of fresh fruit, slivered almonds, a flaky pastry crust: not bad for a virtually secluded mountain hut, perched at an altitude of well over 10,000 feet.
One of the best parts of this day out was that despite Champex’s close proximity to Chamonix, this trail has a quiet and secluded feeling. On my hike up the trail in the morning, I passed a total of three hikers during the entire 1 hour, 30 minute journey to the Cabane d’Orny. In the late afternoon, as I made my way back down the single-track back to the Breya lift, I passed just a few more climbers who had been scaling the sides of the valley’s rock-face.
This day hike illustrates one key aspect of the Alps that truly never gets old: the breadth of its incredible trails. In the States, any hike that offers winding single-track, technical terrain, views, lakes, glaciers, and cozy cabins (with amazing coffee and tart!) would be completely crowded and slick from overuse. Here in the Alps, the opportunities for a little-bit-of-everything day hikes like this are seemingly endless.