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Croix de Fer de Balme, Le Tour

A challenging but rewarding hike to a remote viewpoint

This route takes you through the high altitude grazing pastures of the Col de Balme and along a vertiginous ridge up to a pinnacle that looks out over both the Chamonix valley and over the back into Switzerland.

This route takes you through the high altitude grazing pastures of the Col de Balme and along a vertiginous ridge up to a pinnacle that looks out over both the Chamonix valley and over the back into Switzerland.

Starting from Le Tour car park you can either hike up from the bottom following the trail behind the lift station, or skip the first bit and hop on a gondola followed by a chairlift.

At the top of the chairlift turn left and follow the stony track towards the Col de Balme. You’ll see the grey stone building of the Refuge de Balme on your right and the Swiss border lies just beyond.

Don’t be tempted to follow the trails to the right or left, carry straight on towards the Croix de Fer. When you reach a fork in the path, bear right to follow a narrow ridge that climbs higher and higher all the way to the Croix de Fer at 2343m. You’ll need steady feet and a head for heights, as there are some sheer drops to the side and the occasional bit of scrambling required to get past a few rocky sections. It’s a very fun path though and the scenery along the way is breathtaking.

Once you’re at the top you can perch on what feels like the top of the world and take in the sweeping view of Valais and the Col de Forclaz over in Switzerland and the Rhone Valley. "Croix de Fer" translates as iron cross, and this is exactly what you'll find at the summit; a cross dated 1984.

The route back can either be by the same way you came up or you can make a circuit of it by looping round the cow fields. Descend the ridge and when you reach the Col de Balme follow the Plan des Reines towards Autanne. This will take you round in a big circle through beautiful pastures to reach the top station of the gondola. You can now either take the gondola back down, or follow the hiking trail that juts off from the left on the first bend of the 4x4 track.

We’ve given the distances and timings as if you’ve walked the whole route, obviously it will be significantly less if you use the lift system in either or both directions.

Worth knowing...

If you are planning on using the lift system then be sure to check the timetable first, as the Le Tour lifts are only open during the peak summer months.

Who should go...

This is a great hike for adventurous ramblers who don't mind a bit of easy scrambling. Children love it because of the daredevil aspect, but keep a very close eye on them as it is easy to fall in some parts.

What to bring

Hiking poles might be useful for the lower parts of the hike, but put them away once you get to the ridge as they'll just be in the way and may even trip you up. It can be chilly up at Le Tour, it is one of the windiest parts of the valley, so bring extra layers that you can take on and off as needed.

What to see

As well as views of both the French and Swiss Alps, you'll probably also come across herds of gentle cows grazing in the mountains. If you're lucky you might see wildlife such as marmots or ibex.

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Where to lunch

There is a large restaurant at the top of the Charamillon cable car but it is canteen style and not very appealing. For a more authentic Savoyard experience you should try the Refuge de Balme, known to locals as the "dragon lady hut" due to the unique approach to customer service that the owner has! The food and the views make up for it though and her rudeness can actually be quite entertaining...

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Directions

You can get to Le Tour directly by bus, if you want to get the train then you should alight at Montroc and walk for 5 minutes or so up the road to Le Tour.

Also see: Maps of Chamonix, France


Location: Chamonix - Le Tour


Style

Level: Intermediate | Advanced


Stats

Typical Duration: 4 hours

Distance

15km

Highest Point

2343m

Vertical Gain

900m