Baby's first... multi-day hike: the Tour du Mont Blanc
In 2014 I walked approximately 150 kilometres around the Mont Blanc Massif, over the course of a week and crossed by foot through France, Italy and Switzerland.
It. Was. Beautiful.
The day before we left for Geneva it was my Auntie's funeral, and quite a stressful time for my family due to the circumstances of her death. Looking back, I'm not exactly sure how this coloured my experience of walking the route, but it's hard to imagine that it didn't affect it in some way. I think being out in nature evokes an almost cleansing feeling, and there's nothing like a heart-bursting ascent to really clear your mind; it literally feels like there is no space in your head for thoughts other than concentrating on not having a heart attack and continuing to put one foot in front of the other. This can be a Really Good Thing.
My husband and I seem to have epic discussions when we're hiking- like suddenly when you're away from the city you have the freedom to let your mind wander to a more esoteric place, and properly define your own opinions and beliefs. I have never asked him if he feels the same- if it's merely a coincidence that we hash out debates when we're walking- perhaps it's simply because it's a long period of time together, uninterrupted by modern distractions- or whether there's something more to it, and the actual open vista of the landscape makes you feel you have more mental capacity. That's how it feels for me at least.
So, this trip was the first and so far only full week of hiking I've done. Was it what I expected? Yes, I suppose so. No big revelations here I'm afraid. At that time I was working for a travel company who operated the trip so I guess it's a good thing I knew what to expect. The Alps are beautiful, and you walk through so many different landscapes, usually also experiencing many different types of weather. From Alpine meadows, dappled sunlight through forests, high snowy cols and long rocky trails, you really do see a lot of the region.
There were moments when I found it really hard-going, such as a very icy section that had me in tears from vertigo and snow-fear (I think snow-fear is a good neologism). And a particularly tough 27.5km day (Refuge de Mottets to Courmayeur, 1200m/1800m altitude gain/loss) where the final descent killed me. We weren't anticipating having to walk down to the town as there is usually a cable car (I think we had initially intended to walk another route but changed our minds at the last minute so hadn't properly checked the opening dates) and it was a little demoralising to look down at the valley below and see the kilometre of height that you needed to lose.
My knees hurt afterwards, but I was still raring to get up the next day and keep going. And it's partly the wonder of it all, the clear blue skies and snow-capped mountains and whistling marmots and cow bells tinkling in the distance- but just as importantly it's the fact that you're achieving something every day. Every day you're getting up and hiking up a mountain and crossing a col and descending down and feeling like a total badass (just me?).
Or at least, you get to witness some real badasses, like the Scottish group who were hiking from Refuge Elisabetta up the Col de Fours at break-neck speed and continuing on to Les Contamines, or the group of runners who got up at 4am (quite loud in a dormitory...) and ran from Champex to Chamonix, or the lady who realised half-way to the Col de la Seigne that she had forgot her sunglasses at Refuge Mottets and so ran down the col, grabbed them and ended up overtaking us on the way back up the mountain. These people blew my mind, but just as often we'd be the ones doing the overtaking- there's a real mix of abilities and I remember clearly watching an elderly Japanese couple wearing wide-brimmed hats and floor-length cagoules in the hot sun, slowly but surely navigate across a river with their huge packs on, each foot deliberately placed on the surface of a rock poking out the water. This really is a walk that anyone with a basic level of fitness can enjoy- whether you want to push yourself to the extremes or pootle along marvelling at the mountain panoramas.
For some reason I got it in my head to do the hardest routes possible by choosing every tough variant, and dragged my husband up extra cols and even combined the last two days into one. I'm not really sure why this was so important to me, but I felt like I needed to challenge myself and see what it means when a guidebook describes a trail as 'hard'. Maybe it was stubbornness, or maybe I just needed the mental clarity at the time.
And the funny thing is, less than a year after walking the TMB we were living in Lyon and had a view of Mont Blanc from our window.
As one of the classic European routes, it's really worth doing if you have the time and like hiking. You can use specialist companies or book yourself if you don't mind sending out a fair few emails. You will need a guidebook, this one and this one are recommended and also IGN maps here and here. Or see below. If you have any questions about the route, or how to make reservations with the huts, just leave a message in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.