Monday 5 October 2020

Book & Map Review: Tour Du Mont Blanc Guidebook & Guidemap


Last spring Vertebrate published a guidebook and a map to the most famous and popular walk in the Alps, the Tour Du Mont Blanc. With the pandemic it wasn't the best time for new guides to walks abroad though some people did make it to the Alps in the summer. Now though is the time for planning for next summer, when hopefully travel will be back to normal or close to it, and if you're thinking of the Tour Du Mont Blanc both these items are worth a look.

The guidebook is by International Mountain Leader Kingsley Jones, who has guided walking and running groups on the Tour over fifty times, and raced it many times, spending well over a year in total on the trails round Mont Blanc. The book is illustrated with his excellent photographs taken on these trips.

The book has all the usual information and advice for walking the Tour plus clear route descriptions along with 1:40,000 maps. As a standard guidebook it's fine. There's one big addition though that makes it different and special and that's personalised timings using something called the Jones-Ross formula. Now timings are one of my bugbears with guidebooks, especially those that give times but not distances. In the guidebooks I've written I've either only given distances or, when the publishers have insisted, approximate broad times such as 8-10 hours as well. 

With this new formula Kingsley Jones has worked out timings for four different groups - walkers, trekkers, fastpackers, and trail runners. The route has been split into 165 waypoints, 34 of which are also timing points. A chart gives suggested times for the different groups between the timing points along with the distance. Looking at the timings for the section of the Tour I have walked (the bit that coincides with the GR5 trail) I did them a bit faster than a walker and a bit slower than a trekker. I think this timing method is useful and should be easy to adapt to actual experience. No more cursing the guidebook writer for being superfit or wondering if they ever stopped.

Most guidebooks split treks like this into days between places with accommodation, which doesn't always fit with how you want to do the walk (it certainly didn't for me on the GR5 as I was camping and didn't want to reach an alpine hut or a village every night). This guidebook doesn't do that. Instead you can use the timing points to work out where you want to reach each day and how many days the walk will take. There is a list of accommodation at the back with the nearest timing point to each. 

The guidebook is compact and weighs 182 grams so it can easily be carried in a pocket. 

The guidemap contains much of the same information and advice as the guidebook, including the personalised timings and the timing points, plus a link to download a TMB GPX file. What you don't get is the detailed route description. What you do get are five 1:40,000 map sections, each of which shows far more of the route than the many little maps in the guidebook. I prefer this as it's easier to see the overall picture of the landscape but the guidebook maps are perfectly adequate.

The guidemap is printed on tough waterproof material and weighs 45 grams. 

Given the combined weight of 227 grams I'd probably carry both book and map. They're both excellent.

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