Tour du Mont Blanc Difficulty – Can You Manage the Ladders?

by Mags Nixon
tour de mont blanc

If you’re worrying about the Tour du Mont Blanc difficulty, it could be down to fitness or it could be down to the notorious metal ladders on Stage 10 of the Tour du Mont Blanc between Tré-le-Champ and La Flégère.

Don’t worry, many potential trekkers worry about these series of ladders and so this post is solely dedicated to giving you more information and photos on them so you can decide whether they are for you or not.

Those with an aversion to heights may wish to take the alternative route which avoids them completely. This alternative route sets off from the Aiguille Rouges National Park Information Centre, further up the Col du Montets, and is described in detail in both the Cicerone guide Trekking The Tour of Mont Blanc by Kev Reynolds and the Trailblazer Tour du Mont Blanc by Jim Manthorpe.

(most trekkers seem to have the Cicerone guide but we also found Trailblazer very good with excellent maps. If you’re trekking in a group I would suggest getting both guide books to share)

tmb ladders

 

So, where exactly are the ladders?

The famous Tour du Mont Blanc ladders are reached around an hour and a half from setting off from the start point at Col du Montets.

The ladders are immediately after the Aiguillette d’Argentiere, a huge pinnacle of rock popular with climbers under the Aiguille Rouge range. It’s an iconic landmark and it’s fun to watch the climbers if there’s a queue for the ladders.

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This famous pinnacle (left in the photo below) looks insignificant on the approach as the trail winds under the crag, but becomes much more pronounced the nearer you get.

As you draw nearer, it’s clear why it’s an iconic climbing spot.

 

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Read our full guide to 

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Can you spot two hikers in the photo below to the right of the pinnacle, on the ridge line? They’ve climbed the first set of ladders.

The pinnacle marks the beginning of the notorious series of metal ladders.

There’s plenty of talk of the TMB forums about these ladders, however many Tour du Mont Blanc trekkers also seem to have no idea about them. We’ve seen plenty of hikers re-tracing their steps after checking out the ladders and deciding they couldn’t face them.

You can avoid the ladders completely by taking an alternative route 10 minutes further up the Col du Montets, by the National Park Information Centre, but it’s much better to decide beforehand than on the day otherwise you add at least another 2.5-3 hours to your day.

The TMB Ladders

There are 9 sets of metal ladders set into the rock. At no time did I feel my 10 year old was unsafe, and she was very excited to climb them. 

Most of the series of ladders are quite short. There’s only one half way through, that is around double the length of the others. I would imagine most trekkers are capable of climbing them and only those with real vertigo issues would struggle.

All the ladders and metal ware are sturdy and well built so don’t worry about the safety aspect of them. They are not going to come off in your hand.

The first ladders are the ones above. It’s a series of two medium ladders and a tiny short one. The ladders are not sheer vertical – the gradient slopes inwards towards the rock face so it’s not so scary, and the rungs are nicely spaced out.

 

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The photo above is looking down on the first set of two ladders.

Sometimes there can be a little bit of a queue as people wait for trekkers coming the other way to descend. If you’re nervous about the ladders and don’t want any pressure or people watching you, just sit it out and wait for the crowd to go ahead so you can concentrate without an audience and climb in your own time. If you’re not so confident, make sure you clip your trekking poles to your backpack so you have two hands free.

 

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The trail is then a little exposed as it tapers over the top of some rocks for 15 metres to the next short ladder (see photo above).

The photo below shows the most exposed ledge on scaling this crag. It’s pretty narrow but there are metal bannisters to help you and it didn’t worry us too much.

The ladder below is the longest ladder on the series. As long as you keep looking up and not down, it doesn’t feel too scary. 

My ten year old still talks about these ladders as being one of her most memorable and exciting parts of her Tour du Mont Blanc.

Obviously in bad weather these ladders are going to be more problematic. In rainy conditions, they will be slippery and in foggy, cloudy conditions it may be difficult on the exposed ridge areas. In this case, I would suggest taking the alternative route.

 

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As well as ladders there are various metal bannisters and foot holds such as in the photo below. All of these are to scale a rocky crag to just under the Tête aux Vents (2132m), a cairn where the path divides into many different directions, and where the alternative route comes up to.

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Nearly there!

This ladder bridge in the photo below is one of the last ladders on the series. They become more gradual and less scary as you get to the top.

Have you climbed the TMB ladders? Let us know how you got on! Did you love them or did you hate them? Let us know in the comments section below so that other potential TMB trekkers can assess if they can manage them.

 

Related TMB content

Read day 1 (stage 10) Tré-le-Champ to La Flégère

Read day 2 (stage 11)  La Flégère to Les Houches

Read day 3 (stage 1) Les Houches to Les Contamines (& onto Nant Borrant refuge)

Read day 4 (stage 2) Nant Borrant Refuge to Les Chapieux

Read day 5 (stage 3) Les Chapieux to Refugio Elisabetta

Read day 6 – Tour du Mont Blanc – Stage 4 – Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur

Tour du Mont Blanc Packing List

Ultimate guide to your self guided Tour du Mont Blanc

Tour du Mont Blanc Refuges – the good, the bad & the ugly

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6 Day Tour du Mont Blanc Itinerary (half circuit)

 

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6 comments

Trevor 13th May 2019 - 10:17 pm

Best depiction of ladders I have found – thanks ( I now think they won’t be a problem for me in July)

Reply
Mags Nixon 1st June 2019 - 6:39 pm

Glad to hear it Trevor 🙂 – there’s always a lot of talk about these ladders and I thought it would be useful to detail them as much as possible. They weren’t as bad as we were led to believe as well! Enjoy the trek!

Reply
Lorena 10th July 2019 - 7:18 pm

Great information, thanks a lot! I was not sure whether the ladder was going to be an option for us but having read your description and seeing your photos, I think it will be fine.

Reply
Mags Nixon 10th July 2019 - 10:20 pm

Hi Lorena. I’m so glad our post helped you! Yes in the guide the ladders are made out to be quite challenging. I think they’re absolutely fine if you don’t suffer from vertigo! Most of them are quite short and are not super vertical. Enjoy your TMB. I’d love to hear how it went. Happy hiking 🙂

Reply
Henrik 25th July 2019 - 9:19 pm

Hi Mags

Thanx for a thorough description of the ladders of Tour du Mont Blanc – it really helped me a lot.

I just finished the tour this week and have certain vertigo issues – or rather a “fear of falling” issues. But I managed the ladders with no problem at all.

And to others with the same thoughts: if you’ve managed to walk around the mountain sides this far you will certainly manage the ladders as well. Most of them are really short so if you can manage stepping up a ladder at home this will be even easier. The pictures actually looks scarier than the real thing.

A good advice to the ladder section is to take your time and always let the person in front of you finish a certain ladder before you start so you wont end up hanging there waiting. And take your time on the paths between the ladders as it’s a quite steep climb which most likely will get to your legs.

Reply
Mags Nixon 5th August 2019 - 11:59 am

Hi Henrik. Thanks so much for your insightful comments. I’m sure it will encourage more readers to take the ladders route. Yes, they look scarier than they are and great advice to let the person in front of you finish. We’re going to hike that section again this week as we live in Chamonix and my daughter thinks the ladders are so much fun! We’re in training for our second half of the TMB (from Courmayeur to Chamonix) starting on Sunday!

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