Thursday, May 2, 2019

Tour Du Mont Blanc Self-Guided Trek: Survival Tips & Recap

If you have an insatiable appetite for mountain views, the energy and willpower to trek for 100 miles, and a passion for great food, the Tour du Mont Blanc is for you!  The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is the name of the 105-mile loop trek (or, "tour") that circumvents 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 is a highly variegated geographical area that has around 400 summits and more than 40 glaciers, carved out by 7 distinct swooping valleys.  The accumulated elevation gain over the course of the trek is something like 32,000 feet, with an equally large elevation loss, and 10 or 11 passes to cross as the trek progresses from one valley to the next.  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.

The thing that was most unnerving to us was venturing into the unknown on our own.  We researched as much as possible, but we still had no idea what it would all be like since we weren't going with an expert guide or an organized group.  Physically, the trek was demanding, but combining that with being on our own and not knowing what the trail conditions would be like was another beast to defeat.  Did I also mention that we also each have our share of joint issues? To be honest, though, that pesky patellar subluxation and threatening ankle tendonitis were far less of an obstacle than the volatility of the weather.  Fortunately, we totally lucked out with the weather, but we felt like we were gambling every day!  The upsides to DIY-ing this thing outweighed our insecurities, though.  Significantly lower costs, the freedom to go at our own pace, getting to stay where we wanted, and stopping to eat as much and as often as we wanted--that's how we wanted to roll.

We were exhausted and dripping in sweat by the end of each day.  But, much to our surprise, the ten days flew by.  Our packs felt lighter and lighter by the day, and there was more pep in each step, even as we approached those long, rocky descents.  Going through the three different countries and various types of terrain kept us on our toes mentally, and we never knew what to expect visually after cresting a hill or rounding a bend.  Socially, we were also constantly meeting fun fellow humans, who mostly were doing the trek on their own as well.  This trek has so many amazing things to offer, though what I can say for sure is that being prepared is the best way to guarantee a safe, and fun self-guided experience.

Like most, we had a lot of questions and uncertainty going into it, so I thought it would be good to put together a post like this to clear some things up that we hadn't known going in.  It's also another excuse to take a walk down memory lane!  I also wrote up little 3-sentence snapshots of each of the 10 days for a little taste of how it all went, before you go and tediously read all of the actual posts from each day.