A few weeks ago we started what could be called a small training for the Via Alpina: a 6-day hike around the Massif des Dents Blanches.
We had already come to the region last year to do the “tour des dents du midi” and already at the time, we promised ourselves to come back to attack the dents blanches. This itinerary is roughly the same distance as the one of the dents du midi but it does reserve some additional challenges. 😉
The tour des dents blanches: Our stages and practical information
Before telling you more about our favorites on the tour, the challenges and small rewards, we will go through the theoretical part first! 😉
Les Dents Blanches where is it?
The dents blanches are a mountainous chain that lies between Switzerland and France. On the Swiss side, the dents blanches dominate the Val d’Illiez while on the French side they are found in the Giffre massif in Haute Savoie.
The tour des dents blanches: distance et elevation changes
This tour has been in existence since 1983 and it was born from the collaboration between the different regions and huts to draw a route, set the markings and secure some more delicate passages. In all, the itinerary is 44,4km (with several possibilities of shortcuts or detours) with a positive altitude difference of 4200m (it goes without saying that the negative altitude difference is also 4200m since it is a tour) 😉
For trail runners and big athletes it is theoretically possible to do the tour in 1 day (I still can’t explain how this is humanly possible, but believe me it’s done by some). For the average person, it is also possible to make the tour in several days by sleeping in huts and refuges on the way.
The map of our itinerary on the tour des dents blanches
Day 1: From Barmaz to Susanfe
Elevation +: 939m / Elevation –: 336m
Hiking time: 4h
Day 2: From Susanfe to the Vogealle
Elevation +: 783m /Elevation –: 1151m
Hiking time: 5h30 (that’s actually a lot, but it took me a while to pass the ladders at the Ottans pass…)
Day 3: From the Vogealle to the Folly hut
Elevation +: 713m / Elevation –: 1117m
Notre temps de marche: 5h
Day 4: From Folly to Bostan
Elevation +: 1151m / Elevation –: 730m
Hiking time: 6h30 (The descent from the “pas au taureau” took me longer than expected… 😉 more details below)
Day 5: From Bostan to Chardonnière
Elevation +: 93m / Elevation –: 495m
Hiking time: 2h
Day 6: From Chardonnière to Barmaz
Elevation +: 672m / Elevation –: 528m
Hiking time: 3h30
IAlternative routes of the tour des dents blanches
If you look at our stages above, you will notice that our last 2 days have been extremely light in terms of walking. The reason for this is that we had a lot of pictures to take (we explain below why). 😉
In short, all this to say that this tour can be done without any problem in 5 days by walking between 4 and 6 hours a day (pure walking time).
Afterwards it is quite possible to make the tour by taking a few shortcuts or avoiding some so-called “delicate” passages.
To help you to imagine all this, we have prepared a diagram of the hike. The thicker line is the “classic” path and also the one we followed (clockwise).
Some remarks on this diagram:
- Not everything is to scale (we did the best we could)
- The walking times are the official times and we are talking about actual walking times (so it doesn’t include breaks or pictures) and they are indicated for a clockwise tour.
- We found that the theoretical times were relatively short. For our part, we tended to be slightly above that. (It must be said that we were carrying a lot of equipement 🙂 )
- The tour is extremely well marked along the route. Impossible to get lost according to us…. We didn’t have a map with us, we only followed the signs, cairns and markings on the stones.
Le tour des dents blanches: Our highlights
Rather than giving you a story day by day, we thought that for once we would rather break down the article into a section dedicated to the difficulties of the tour and then the different alternatives.
The Susanfe circus (Day 1)
Just after passing through Encel’s passage, we reach the Gietro dam. At that moment we are a little between 2 mountains but we still have the imposing Ruan glacier facing us. From this point on, we continue to climb a little further and suddenly the landscape widens and we find ourselves in this impressive circus. Judge for yourself:
The view from the Ottans pass (Day 2)
It’s not a scoop, but it’s usually after warming up the calves a little on the way up that you’re rewarded with the most beautiful views. So certainly, our legs had to go through a lot on this ascent (and the arms also in the ladders), but once on top of the Ottans we immediately forget the few pains in the legs and it is just a big WOUAHHHH!!!!
Facing the great Ruan with waterfalls from everywhere that come out of the rock and a crazy panorama as far as the eye can see: the ridge between the Col des Ottans and the Col de Sageroux is just a pure delight for the eyes!
The “col des Chambres” and its lake (Day 3)
The 3rd day we started our day with a good climb from the Vogealle refuge to the Col des Chambres. When we arrived at the pass, we immediately had the impression that we had landed on the moon. The landscape is rocky and we progress in the last snow (which are present almost all summer due to the lack of sunshine in this passage) before reaching the superb Lac des Chambres. Pfiouuuu a day during which we probably stopped a good fifteen times on the way to just look at ourselves and say something like:
Damn, but it’s too beautiful! Did you take a picture here? And there? Oh, wait, look here! And here! 🙂
The flowered rise from the Folly refuge to the pointe droite (Day 4)
On the 3rd evening, from the terrace of the refuge we could already see our objective for the next day at the top of the valley. It seemed damn high and damn far away to me…. Fortunately, Charlotte and Tendi, the guards of the refuge, immediately reassured me by telling me that this climb was quite easy because it was regular, but above all magnificent because it was very flowery.
So one thing is certain, they clearly hadn’t lied to me! We left early in the morning to enjoy a little more shade before the sun came out over the mountains.
Berroi’s Ridge (Day 6)
The weather was not very good that morning and it was under the rain that we reached the last pass of this tour: the Col de Coux. Fortunately for us the rain quickly stopped once we reached the summit and we were back on Swiss territory (Benoit would probably say it’s because the weather in Valais is always nice).
Anyway, with the clouds and the little threatening sky, it gave a very particular atmosphere to this Berroi ridge. This part of the itinerary is really beautiful! One because the descent is not too steep for once, but also because the path runs along the ridge almost entirely with a crazy panorama on the white teeth that are right in front! A nice way to close this loop.
The main difficulties on the tour des Dents Blanches
The Dents Blanches tour is a signposted hiking trail aimed at a wide audience of mountain lovers. However, the level of difficulty is higher than on the Dents du Midi tour. A brief overview of the main difficulties of the tour:
The Pas d’Encel (T3)
We already knew this passage because it is also part of the dents du midi tour we did last year. It’s funny because this passage is reputed to be steep and not easy for people with vertigo, but I have never really found it difficult. There are chains all the way along and the void is, in my opinion, quite relative (in fact it’s high, but not enough to have this strange feeling that you could die in case of a fall… In short, a passage called “technical” but which is really easily passed!
Then I don’t hide from you that I’m playing it like it’s easy, but I would like to point out that I’ve always done it on the way up. I’m not sure I’d appreciate it that much when I go down. Well, yes, it’s much easier to have the void in your back than in front of you.
The Ottans pass (T4)
Oh, my God, that one was my pet peeve before the start! I had read so many horrible things on this passage equipped with ladders! Being quite afraid of heights, I could already see myself hanging in tears in the middle of these ladders calling my husband to the rescue! 🙂 In the end, it will not have been so!
We went on the tour with the via ferrata equipment (harness and lanyard) and quite honestly, the fact of being secured with a harness took away all my fears. I will go even further by telling you that I found this passage very “fun” in the end. We hang in there, we climb, we watch where we put our feets and everything goes very well.
The only thing I found tricky was the exit. At the end of the ladders you have to go through a kind of hole that is not really big. With our 60 and 70 L bags on our back I explain that it didn’t really work.
Benoit climbed out first and then stood over the hole to literally pull me out. A great moment of grace and elegance! Hahahaha
After that, as I said, we were secured with harnesses. Honestly, knowing me, I know that I probably wouldn’t have been relaxed at all without the harness… It was “useless” in the sense that I never had to rely on it for my safety, but psychologically it took away a lot of pressure!
The pas de l’Ours – Col des Chambres (T3)
This passage is funny because in my study of the route I had not spotted it (the rascal!). In fact, it was the second day, just before arriving at La Vogealle, that I saw a sign warning hikers on the route to go to the Folly refuge via the Col des Chambres. Naively I said to Benoit, “Oh, look at that sign, it’s funny, it’s a good thing we’re not going through that way, isn’t it?”
Mouahahaha I don’t explain my face when the guard of the Vogealle told us that it was indeed this path that we had to take….
So the Pas de l’Ours is indeed a very steep (VERY) screer with quite friable rock and no belay or chain in sight. It would be a lie if I told you I was 100% comfortable….But in the end we had a little incident with ibexes that had the merit of keeping our minds busy. Let me explain…. We were starting to climb when we saw a group of ibexes in the rocks. A young male was drinking only a few meters from us and did not seem to be disturbed in the least by our presence. Benoit started taking pictures while I was trying not to slip.
Suddenly, 2 young males above us stared at us and took a decided step in our direction. For a moment we thought they were charging us to protect their little one. I explain to you that we didn’t hesitate for a second to run down all the way down to where we initially came from.
We reassure you right away that this “attack” was not actually a real attack! It’s just us who are not experts in ibex behavior. In reality these 2 males were simply thirsty and came to drink less than 10m from us.
In short, after the laugh of realizing that these poor animals simply didn’t care about our presence, we got back on the trail. The path is steep, not very wide and there is void… So no, I wouldn’t settle there for a picnic, but by being careful and using the hiking poles well to secure our steps, it all went well.
The pas au Taureau (T3)
Benoit’s sister did this same tour the previous year and she had warned me about this pass…. So I’ll tell you something, at the top I laughed… But I must admit that it was more of a nervous laugh where I was wondering what the ex-city girl I was, was doing up here! Sitting on a rock looking at the void in front and behind me, only 200m from the top of the dents blanches…. I was really not feeling that well….
Arriving from the pointe droite, the ascent to the pas au taureau is done in a really steep rocker where it is important to use your hiking poles to secure your steps. I admit I wasn’t comfortable….
Once at the top the descent on the other side starts with a very steep first bit without possible belay. My steps were all small and not very reassuring. After about 50m you arrive in the more rocky part where you will also find chains and an anchor cable.
We took out our harnesses and once the psychological factor was in place, it took effect again and the descent continued much more serenely. Once at the bottom of the rock face, we continue in a rock on a zig-zag path that becomes (finally) a little less steep.
The pas de la Bide (T4)
This passage is a kind of “shortcut” for those who would like to return directly to Barme without necessarily going through Chardonnière or the Mines d’Or. So we didn’t do this part, but honestly I think it would have been a little too much for me. In view of my “performance” at the pas au taureau, I think that the pas de la Bide is a little too steep and vertiginous for my taste.
The tour des dents Blanches: its refuges and huts
We talk a lot about hiking but sometimes we tend to omit a little bit the huts and refuges… However, if we enjoyed this tour so much, it was not only for the magnificent landscapes we saw on the way, but also for the incredible welcome we received every evening.
The quality of the cabins on this tour is really top notch! The meals, the smiles of the guards, the cosy little beds and the atmosphere with the other hikers made each evening unique and magnificent! A brief overview of the huts and refuges where we slept:
The Cantine de Barmaz
Our starting and arrival point during this tour (it is here that we left our car for the week), the Barmaz canteen is not so much a refuge but more a mountain pasture canteen that offers a great menu with traditional dishes as well as rooms and a dormitory on the first floor for people who want to spend the night there.
Held by Olivier and Valérie, the Barmaz canteen is a small 100% Swiss and authentic treasure dating back to 1891. A neat decoration, a divine cuisine! The dish not to be missed? The Cholera! 🙂 (we let you go there to discover the recipe)
Price of the double room with breakfast: 47 CHF per person (72 CHF half board)
Price per night in dormitory with breakfast: 34 CHF per person (59 CHF half board)
More information: cantine de Barmaz
The Susanfe hut
We were already talking about it in our article dedicated to our favourites in Valais, so we might as well explain to you that we were just too happy to come back to spend a night here. “The Happiness Hut” as we like to call it, has not changed since our last visit… Fabienne, the gardian still has a smile on her face, the food is still as good as ever and the Italian coffee served on the terrace is a pure moment of happiness!
Night in half board: 65 CHF per person (dormitory only)
Price of the super picnic for the next day: 15 CHF
More information: cabane de Susanfe
The Vogealle Refuge
When we arrived at the refuge we were immediately greeted by Dominique and Doriane’s wide smile (and the best blueberry pie ever tasted);)
That evening we spent an excellent evening at the table in the refectory with about ten other hikers before going out for a ping-pong evening in the garden.
Night including half-board: 44€
Picnic basket: 10€
More infos: refuge de la Vogealle
The Folly Refuge
The Folly refuge is probably the refuge with the most exceptional view on this tour! It is literally suspended in the mountains with a balcony that offers a view to fall for on the valley… The little something extra? In good weather the dinner is served outside just before sunset with lots of colourful Tibetan flags flying over the refuge. Just heaven if you want my opinion (and I’m not saying that because we ended the evening with the homemade plum liquor!) 😉
Night with half-board: 43€ (in the dorm) and 50€ (in a private room)
More infos: refuge du Folly
The Bostan refuge
In Bostan too, we had the chance to enjoy a dream weather to eat on the terrace. The view is less panoramic than in Folly, however, the terrace overlooks a large meadow where dozens of marmots seem to have made a habit of meeting the refuge’s guests. Curious they come to stand on the rocks as if they were trying to see if the guests wouldn’t have left a little Croziflette on their plate! 😉
For those who might wonder, the Croziflette is the speciality of the place…. The recipe follows that of the tartiflette but the potatoes are replaced by Crozets. I explain to you that after this menu we have destroyed any chance of losing weight on the tour, but it is soooooo good that we finished the dish without worry (sorry marmots).
night including half-board: 43€
More infos: refuge de Bostan
The Chardonnière Refuge
Now I’m going to give you the impression that we’ve only eaten on this tour, but I can’t really talk to you about Chardonnière without mentioning the great cuisine! 🙂 For the light side it is also necessary to come again clearly, but for the cheese lovers that we are it was just paradise on earth!
We took advantage of this pretty setting to have a drink to the health of our wedding (it was our cotton anniversary that night), and nice coincidence, that night a whole group was there to celebrate a bachelor party. Needless to say, the atmosphere was quite festive!
Night including half board: 41€
More information: refuge de Chardonnière
Equipment to bring for the tour des dents blanches
We are often asked what we take with us when we go hiking. On the blog there is already an article on our equipment to go on a round the world trip, or an article on the equipment of our via alpina (a 4-weeks hike with tent), but for multi-day hikes with a night in a cabin the situation is obviously not the same! 😉
Each hike is different, but for an “alpine” hike like the tour des dents blanches there are some “basic items” to be planned. Overview….
Clothes and shoes to take with you
In terms of clothing we each had 2 light hiking pants, 3 T-shirts, underwear as well as a light down jacket and a waterproof windbreaker in case of rain. There is nothing special to report or to take with you when you sleep in a hut.
We were happy that we brought proper hiking boots. Basically we bought them for our Via Alpina project and took advantage of this tour to test them a little… 😉
The tour des dents blanches is a fairly alpine itinerary with many passages in rocky outcrops. If it is in theory possible to walk with trail running shoes (which we have always done before), it is still much more pleasant to have something more robust for terrains like this.
After this tour we have to say that we are both delighted with our shoes: no blisters on our feet even though they were new. 🙂 But 5 days may not be enough to judge… In short, we’re going to use them over 400km during our via alpina and we’ll talk about it again! 🙂
For me it has become a real necessity to walk long distances, especially if we have a load on our back. Having poles helps to unload the knees and better distribute the effort.
We have already used a few pairs of them since then, and have decided to opt for a pair that has the external fixation system (this avoids the oxidation problems that models “to rotate” can sometimes have). We opted for a model from Décathlon, an equivalent available online would be this one. (Same price range and technology)
A filter bottle:
In recent months, it has been decided to replace the many water bottles and purification tablets that go with them with a Lifestraw filter bottle. We are really delighted because we can immediately drink any water. The price of the bottle is quickly amortized and to have more water on us during the hike we usually fill 1-2 more standard bottles with the water available and then we fill our lifestraw with the water from these bottles during the hike.
silk sleeping bag:
When you sleep in a cabin or refuge you can of course take your sleeping bag with you, but if you don’t want to take up too much space it’s more than enough to take with you a silk sleeping bag. Blankets and pillows are always available in the huts.
Not all shelters have electricity. It is therefore good to have a small headlamp with you to go to bed at night or to go out at night to use the toilet. There are ultra high-tech models, but let’s be honest, to find the way to the WC an entry-level model like this is more than enough;)
Harness and via ferrata lanyard:
Not mandatory in itself, but as mentioned before I was much more comfortable having them. We don’t own this equipment but we were able to borrow it from Benoit’s sister and her darling.
Photo equipment and electronic accessories
Solar charger / External battery
We usually hike with a lot of electronic equipment and so we started using external batteries qne a small solar panel to attach to the bag to recharge all this. We will probably talk about it again because we only used them once during the tour des dents blanches but for the moment we are delighted! Then, it’s obvious that if you say solar, you depend on the weather. 😉 But with the dream weather we had, we were really able to charge our gear well along the way. We have a model which integrates a 10’000 maH battery as well as a model which only allows to charge (without storing) like this one.
If like us you have Swiss plugs, think about taking a universal adapter to connect your devices once you cross the border (I let you guess who ran out of power once we crossed the border) 😉
Tour des Dents Blanche: A brand new website
The Tour des Dents Blanches was quite a physical challenge (especially for me I grant you);) but it was also an opportunity for us to have a wonderful professional project. Since we left our jobs, we have been developing 100% customized websites by founding our small business.
Our favorite? Working on projects from A to Z, where we develop the architecture of the site, we create the texts, we make the photos ourselves, we do the translations, the design, in short a complete service.
I must admit that after sneaking into the small hole at the exit of the Ottans pass or when we were climbing up the rocks towards the pas au taureau we had a little thought for our “job”. We were there with our almost 10kg of photo and computer equipment hiking to bring back a lot of beautiful pictures of the tour.
These last few months we’ve been working on a lot of projects that we’ll certainly talk about here again, but for now we’re letting you discover our latest little baby.: The new website for the tour des dents blanches
On the way to a new challenge: The Via Alpina
Well, we’ll leave you to it, we still have a bag to pack. 😉 In a few days it is the big departure for the Via Alpina. In a few days we will take the train to Vaduz, east of Switzerland, and we will walk back via the Alps to Lake Geneva (more information on the project).
Are you looking for other hike ideas in Switzerland? Have a look on this page for more suggestions
We look forward to seeing you soon on the blog for live news from our hike!
Well yes, the white teeth trick with all our photo and computer equipment on your back was just a training…. Now the serious business begins!
NB: This article contains affiliate links to partner sites. By buying a product through our links you obviously don’t pay a penny more but we will get a small commission to help us keep this site alive. Thank you! 🙂
We would also like to warmly thank the International Association of the Tour des dents blanches for trusting us for the realization of their new website and the presentation of their tour on our blog.