Wednesday, August 15, 2018

TMB Day 3: Refuge des Mottets to Courmayeur

Day Three
July 19, 2018

Starting point: Refuge des Mottets
Ending point: Courmayeur
Distance: 17.6 miles
Height gain: 4170 feet
High point: Col de la Seigne (8255 feet)
Lunch: Rifugio Elisabetta
Accommodation: Hotel Edelweiss

Today was the unintended longest day of the trek for us. We would be leaving France behind and crossing into Italy at Col de la Seigne. Inspired by our dinner companions the night before, we made a last-minute decision to combine Day 3 and 4 in order to give ourselves a much-needed rest day in Courmayeur, a bustling small city in Italy that many trekkers use as a start/stop point.  It's informally known as the "Chamonix of Italy."  Many people manage to get all the way to Courmayeur at this stage of the trek by taking advantage of a cablecar ride leading down the mountaintop into the Aosta valley. Since we were doubling up on days, we decided that our tired joints could benefit from the cablecar ride, too. Plus, we were really looking forward to having Day 4 as purely a rest day. Little did we know that the last cablecar was to leave long before we could arrive, so we ended up walking the entire four miles down to Courmayeur on weak knees and burning thighs. Maybe it was the extended lunch at Rifugio Elisabetta (a side-hike in itself, and our first meal ever in Italy) that did us in, but that food was totally worth the stop. At the end of the day, we celebrated with two enormous pizza pies - undeniably the best pizza of our lives!

Friday, August 10, 2018

TMB Day 2: Refuge Nant Borrant to Refuge des Mottets

Day Two
July 18, 2018

Starting point: Refuge Nant Borrant
Ending point: Refuge des Mottets
Distance: 10.5 miles
Height gain: 4446 feet
High point: Col des Fours (8743 feet)
Lunch: Sack lunch from Refuge Nant Borrant
Accommodation: Refuge des Mottets

Apparently it never rained on Day 1, so when we looked at the forecast on the morning of our second day, we shrugged off whatever we saw and used our physical state to make the ultimate decision on what route to take. Going down the creaky wooden stairs to breakfast still felt like I was balancing on invisible rocks, and both of our thighs and calves were burning still, but we both knew that we were destined for the high route, anyway.  We came here to maximize our experience and we never shy away from a challenging hike back home, so since it was only Day 2, we figured we could stand for another beating.

The variante route would take us over three mountain passes and into the Valley of Glaciers.  This route also reached one of the highest points on the entire trek: Col des Fours. After that, it was a long, tiring descent into the Valley of Glaciers, eventually reaching the Refuge des Mottets. Coming down from the Col des Fours was even longer and steeper than coming down from the Col de Tricot the day before, and it also involved some waterfall crossings and some very rocky areas that would have been really difficult to do without trekking poles. We barely saw anybody else on this trail, but that was probably also because we had taken, as always, an extended lunch break in the middle of the day.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

TMB Day 1: Les Houches to Refuge Nant Borrant

Day One
July 17, 2018

Starting point: Les Houches
Ending point: Refuge Nant Borrant
Distance: 12.1 miles
Height gain: 3547 feet
High point: Col de Tricot (6955 feet)
Lunch: Refuge de Miage
Accommodation: Refuge Nant Borrant

"The bare statistics of height gain and loss, and the amount of time calculated to walk this stage, underline the fact that it's a demanding route for a first day.  But it's also a magnificent section, rich in high mountain views and a worthy introduction to the Tour of Mont Blanc." (Reynolds 43)

The nerves were prickling when I woke up this morning. The first thing we did was check the weather.   It had been nice and sunny the whole day before, with only a little rain at night, so it really surprised me that today it was forecasted to rain pretty much all day.  We continued to gape at the raincloud icons on our phones for a while longer, in disbelief, as if we had the power to will the predicted storm away just by staring at the screen.  Reservations tonight were at an isolated refuge twelve miles away on foot.  In fact, we were locked into reservations for the next nine nights at a variety of huts, hotels, and BNB’s in France, Italy, and Switzerland.  So, waiting another day to begin the trek was definitely not an option.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Day 0: What We Did Before the Tour du Mont Blanc

Day Zero. As we learned in Europe, everything seems to start at Zero. So, the first floor in Europe is actually the second floor. We even saw elevators with a negative-1 floor, but we won’t go into that. Maybe this is just a classic example of how Americans live in their own world, just like how we had to convert every measurement from the more universally-accepted metric system into feet and miles as a part of our preparation for this trek...

We went to Europe this summer solely to do the Tour Du Mont Blanc (TMB), a 105-mile trekking circuit with an accumulated height gain and loss of something like 32,800 feet. This route circles the Mont Blanc group of mountains in the Graian Alps, which is a section in the western part of the Alps that dips in and out of three countries: France, Italy, and Switzerland (specifically, between the regions of Aosta Valley, Italy, and Savoie and Haute-Savoie, France). This trek was something that we wanted to do for the challenge, the food, the alpine views, and the multiculturalism. Our expectations were surpassed in all categories. I faced my fear of cheese, Wes faced his fear of heights, and we both faced our fear of unpredictability. And I will flat-out state that this was without a doubt physically the hardest thing either of us has ever done, and hell, it was a lot harder than we thought it would be on the outset.  Because of this, it was the most rewarding, beautiful, and heart-fulfilling ten days together.