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Hiking trail

Les Contamines to Refuge des Mottets via Col des Fours

Hiking trail · Rhône-Alpes
Responsible for this content
Macs Adventure Verified partner  Explorers Choice 
  • Notre Dame de la Gorge
    / Notre Dame de la Gorge
    Photo: Josiah Skeats, Macs Adventure
  • / Upper Slopes of Val Montjoie
    Photo: Josiah Skeats, Macs Adventure
  • / Looking Back Through Val Montjoie
    Photo: Josiah Skeats, Macs Adventure
  • / Col du Bonhomme
    Photo: Josiah Skeats, Macs Adventure
  • / Traversing a Snow Patch
    Photo: Josiah Skeats, Macs Adventure
m 3000 2500 2000 1500 1000 20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 km Ville Des Glaciers Refuge de la Nova Notre Dame de la Gorge Col du Fours Col du Bonhomme Information Center

This path is the high route alternative between Les Contamines and Refuge des Mottets crossing over three cols, each slightly higher than the one before, followed by a long descent into the Vallée des Glacieres. Early in the season, or in poor weather or as a solo walker, it is not recommended to take the high route, in bad weather follow the route via Les Chapieux (see entry: Les Contamines to Mottets via Les Chapieux.

difficult
20.7 km
7:00 h
1615 m
911 m

Today starts gently with a pleasant stretch heading south through the wooded Montjoie Valley beside the rushing Bon Nant Torrent. As the valley begins to constrict around you the only way out is up and over, and thus begins the long climb up to the first col (saddle between two mountains) of the day, Col du Bonhomme.

After Col du Bonhomme the climbing continues up to Col de la Croix du Bonhomme, and from there up to Col des Fours, with no descent to allow you to catch your breath in between. However, from each col you can expect your efforts to be rewarded with splendid views; take a moment to look behind and trace how far you have come and how much height you have gained, before gazing into the next valley which unfurls tantalisingly before you. From Col des Fours, the long-awaited descent will bring you into the Vallée des Glacieres, finishing at the enchanting setting of Refuge des Mottets.

Snow tends to remain late in the spring season on the upper slopes of the Col des Fours, and when it melts a torrent of water crashes down the valley which can be hard to cross. In poor weather or during spring it may be wise to seek advice regarding conditions from other hikers or the nearby refuges. The traditional and lower Tour du Mont Blanc route continues from Col de la Croix to Les Chapieux, from where a transfer is possible to Refuge des Mottets.

Author’s recommendation

Vallée des Glacieres is a wild, secluded and inhospitable valley and yet farmers manage to carve out a living with dairy cows. You can sample some of their delicious and fresh cheese (fromage) directly from the farmhouses in the valley.

The Col des Fours route should NOT be attempted in poor weather, if you are a solo walker or if you are staying at Refuge La Nova in Les Chapieux

outdooractive.com User
Author
Josiah Skeats
Updated: February 14, 2020

Difficulty
difficult
Technique
Stamina
Experience
Landscape
Highest point
2667 m
Lowest point
1151 m

Rest Stop

Refuge de la Balme
Chalet Refuge de Nant Borrant
Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme
Ville Des Glaciers
Refuge de Mottets

Safety information

Early in the season, or in poor weather, it is not recommended to take the high route, in bad weather follow the route via Les Chapieux (see entry: Les Contamines to Mottets via Les Chapieux.

There are several river crossings. There are always stepping-stones available but these may be slippery, and especially when wet. Take extra caution on these crossings.

Some of the path is along rocky steps; be careful as these may be slippery, especially when wet.

There are some exposed edges; be sure to read instructions carefully, stick to the main path, and don’t wander close to the edge. Use handrails where provided.

In early spring/summer there may still be patches of snow. Walk around where it is possible, and otherwise place your feet carefully and use walking poles if you have them.

This route is above 2,500 metres so bear in mind you may feel a shortness of breath and additional muscle fatigue associated with the altitude.

Equipment

Such is the way of Alpine hiking that you need to be prepared for all seasons and weathers; sturdy hiking boots, warm clothes and a waterproof/wind-break layer are all required, as is plenty of sun-cream and a healthy respect for the sun.

Walking poles will be a big advantage on some of these ascents and descents.

Ensure your phone is fully charged; if you doubt the battery will last throughout the hike, it might be beneficial to bring a power bank.

This walk is isolated with few opportunities to buy food or water so be sure to bring enough with you.

Tips, hints and links

Points of Interest

Notre Dame de la Gorge

Since 1699 this small chapel with an ornate painted façade has marked the end of the road and the start of the mountain trails. Over the years many travellers have entered to pray for a safe passage over the Col du Bonhomme. Why not pop in yourself; who knows what fortune it may bring?

 

Pont Naturel and Pont Romain

Walking south from Les Contamines the Bon-Nant Torrent is a constant presence beside you. After 5 kilometres you will pass Pont Naturel, a bizarre rock formation where the river rushes through an arch and you could, in theory, cross to the other side. A short while later you will come to the actual bridge, Pont Romain, which was built by the Romans.

 

Refuge des Mottets

Like many buildings in the Vallée des Glacieres, Refuge des Mottets was once a dairy farm; the long, thin dormitory building which is today crowded with walkers would once have been filled with cows. The dining room is filled with relics of its agricultural past, the refuge is set against the stunning backdrop of the Aguille de Glacieres, and they also serve a nice beer!

 

Transport 

Optional Shuttle Bus from Les Contamines to Notre Dame de la Gorge - A free shuttle operates between The Office de Tourisme in Les Contamines and Notre Dame de la Gorge, with several stops between including Le Lay. The summer shuttle operates approximately between the end of June and the beginning of September. In the morning, it runs about every 45 mins to 1 hour from about 09:00. Timetables are usually published just before the Summer season, check the following link for a pdf titled ‘Horaires Navette été’ http://www.lescontamines.com/plans-ski-bus.html   or ask at your hotel.

This shuttle cuts 5km and about 1 hour of walking from the day.

 

Food and Drink

Between Les Contamines and Refuge des Mottets there are few opportunities to buy food or drink, so be sure to bring enough provisions with you.

There is a café at Notre Dame de la Gorge after 3.7km. You will also pass Refuge Nant Borrant, Refuge de la Balme and Refuge du Bonhomme, after 5.4, 7.9, and 13.3kilometres, respectively.

Refuge des Mottets serve a set menu at 7pm so be sure to arrive in time.

Start

Les Contamines (1162 m)
Coordinates:
Geographic
45.821179, 6.727348
UTM
32T 323458 5076691

Destination

Refuge des Mottets

Turn-by-turn directions

Early in the season, or in poor weather, it is not recommended to take the high route, in bad weather follow the route via Les Chapieux (see entry: Les Contamines to Mottets via Les Chapieux.

Start walking south of Les Contamines on the flat footpath beside the river, following signs to Notre Dame de la Gorge. As you head further upriver the valley begins to constrict around you. After 3.7km you will pass the charming chapel and pilgrimage site of Notre Dame de la Gorge, after which the path begins to climb steeply towards Col du Bonhomme with the sound of the river fading away on your right.

At 5km you cross over the Roman bridge and continue climbing. The striking figure of Aiguilles de la Pennaz soon appears, jutting into the head of the valley and with the Col du Bonhomme visible on its left, still high above you. At 5.4km you will pass Chalet du Nant Borrant, and at 7.9km you will reach Chalet de la Balme. After passing Chalet de le Balme, bear left as the path forks, still following signs to Col du Bonhomme.

At 11.5km the fantastic views from Col du Bonhomme will reward your uphill efforts, however further climbing still awaits to reach Col de la Croix du Bonhomme, as you ignore the downhill path ahead and bear left to walk along the rocky flank of Rocher du Bonhomme; this is the mountain with the distinctive natural rock tower on its peak. Some of this path may be more tricky to hike and requires you to use your hands to assist you.

After enjoying the view from Col de la Croix du Bonhomme at 13.3km, the path splits with the traditional Mont Blanc trail continuing downhill towards Les Chapieux, and the high route alternative turning left to head uphill towards a pylon and following the sign for Col des Fours.

From the rocky saddle of the Col des Fours, the stunning image of Aiguilles des Glacieres greets you. Having broached the three cols of the day, the hardest part is over and the path drops into the valley ahead. Meltwater streams gush alongside the path beside you. Take care on a steep rocky section at 15.5km, and then at 15.7km the path crosses over a stream on stepping-stones; bear in mind these stones may be slippery when wet. At 16.2km turn right to continue downhill, following the sign to Refuge Les Mottets.

As you emerge onto gravel tracks beside derelict buildings at 17.8km you must turn right to continue heading downhill. This section is not signposted and can be confusing, therefore check the map regularly to ensure you remain on the correct path. Before passing the final derelict building on your left, turn right onto a very vague grassy path downhill. At 18.2km, just after passing a stream that runs through a pipe under the path, turn right to continue heading downhill, then after 100 metres, you can either walk on the gravel road or the footpath to reach the farm buildings in the bottom of the valley.

After passing through the farm at 19km you must cross the paved road, cross a wooden bridge over the river, and then turn left to walk along the gravel road towards Refuge des Mottets, walking upriver towards the formidable Aiguille de Glaciere. You will finish in the converted dairy farm of Refuge des Mottets.

Note


all notes on protected areas

Arrival by train, car, foot or bike


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Difficulty
difficult
Distance
20.7 km
Duration
7:00h
Ascent
1615 m
Descent
911 m

Statistics

: h
 km
 m
 m
Highest point
 m
Lowest point
 m
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