I'm consistently amazed at the ease of access in Europe. Rather last minute, I decided to take a long weekend and get out in the mountains. I chose the small ski town of Champery in Switzerland for its access to the Dents du Midi and Dents Blanches as well as quick transportation links to Geneva. Champery and the surrounding Portes du Soleil region are well known for the massive, interconnected ski resort in the winter, and world-class mountain biking in the summer. There's also a plethora of accessible day hikes, as well as the Tour Dents du Midi and Tour Dents Blanches loop hikes.
We decided to do an abbreviated version of the Tour Dents Blanches, covering about 21 miles and ~10k of elevation gain over two days. The full tour is 27 miles, with over 12k ft of elevation change. For more information on the official Tour Dents Blanches visit https://www.tour-dentsblanches.com/en/.
Getting to Champery
Champery is quite easy to access. From Geneva, it's a 2.5 hour train, with a short transfer in Aigle. Enjoy the views of Lake Geneva on the way to Aigle, and then the views of the mountains growing closer and closer as the train ascends to Champery.
Where to stay in Champery
Le Petit Barodeur is a backpackers hostel just steps from the train station in Champery. They have a few options for dorm beds or private rooms, although not particularly cheap, especially for a hostel (few things in Switzerland are).
On our last night, we stayed at Plein Ciel, an impeccably designed hotel reached via the Champery tram. The hotel sits perched on the mountainside with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. If you go for the half-board options (I recommend), you'll get an incredible 3 course meal for dinner.
Hiking from Champery to Refuge Vogealle
After a light breakfast in town, we walked out the main road towards the mountains. After passing the Gran Paradiso campground, the route alternates between dirt road and trail for a short time before becoming full singletrack. The trail switchbacks up for a bit before arriving at Refuge Bonavu, a popular day-hike destination. From here, the route begins climbing sharply up the canyon walls, with cables in several sections to assist.
Once over the top of this section, you'll reach a wide plateau. To the left lies Refuge Susanfe and the trail towards Haute Cime and Refuge Salanfe, part of the Tour Dents du Midi. We went right, traversing through the plateau towards the steep path to Col du Ottans. This section is a rather infamous portion of the route, ascending the mountainside on a series of near-vertical ladders, cables, and iron rungs. We were comfortable on this section without any sort of protection but I imaging ascending/descending this with a heavier pack would be a bit different. Most folks we saw were just taking it slow.
From the top of the ladders there's still few hundred feet to the top of the col and an incredible vista into France. If the weather is cooperative, you can see Mount Blanc from here.
The trail follows the ridge for a bit before dropping down towards Lac du Vogealle and Refuge Vogealle. This refuge sits on an idyllic patch of green below the lake, complete with lawn chairs, a ping pong table, and a dozen chickens running around.
Hiking from Refuge Vogealle to Champery
Our second day started by retracing our steps towards Lac du Vogealle and then taking the direct trail up to Pas au Taureau. The traditional Tour du Dents Blanche route winds down to Refuge Folly and back to then back to the pass, but the Folly Refuge was closed (plus we were cutting some distance/time). The descent off of the Pas au Taureau is quite steep but quickly passed with the help of convenient cables. Once we reached Col de Bostan, we dropped down into the valley towards Champery (the full Dents Blanches route descends to Refuges Bostan, Golese, and Chardionerre before crossing back over at Col de Coux).
Because we were a bit concerned about afternoon storms, we took a low route, rather than staying higher and losing less elevation. Our final destination for the day was Hotel Plein Ciel, near the top of the Chamepery tram. In retrospect, we should have just cruised back down to town and taken the tram up. Instead, we made the (questionable) decision to hike the whole way. It would have been palatable had we stayed high and approached from the plateau near Les Crosets, but instead we went down, up, down again, and then had to walk up a steep, swichbacking road to the hotel. I don't recommend this.
Regardless, Plein Ciel is a marvel. The food was amazing and the sunset was sublime.
Hiking the Galerie Defago
After a comfortable evening and relaxing breakfast at Plien Ciel, we took the tram back down to Champery. As our flight from Geneva wasn't until the evening, we decided to do a short hike near town. The Galerie Defago is a nice hike close to town which is carved right into the side of the cliffs nearby. To access the Galerie, head down the main road towards Gran Paradiso. Right on the edge of town, keep an eye out for signage to the Galerie. The path will drop under the road and towards the river. Cross the river and walk a short distance up the road before making a left turn towards the Galerie path. It's quite well signed, so enjoy the walk through the woods before being treated to views of Champery and the cliff-side path. You can return to the village by following the road down from the Cantine des Rives or take a free shuttle.
After walking back to town, it was time fo a quick beer and hopping on the train. Another easy train ride back to Geneva and we breezed through the airport all the way back to London. What a wild couple of days. Can't wait to get back and explore more of this region of the Alps.