By Tejinder Dhillon, Wilderness Training Committee Instructor
A few years ago I read a New York Times travel article titled “100 miles, 10 days, three countries and a lot of cheese.” It sounded like exactly what I wanted to do
to take my love for the outdoors international. I didn’t just want to hike; I also wanted to experience the local culture. Last year, I hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), which circles Europe’s highest mountain, passing through parts of Switzerland, Italy and France. Ascending to 15,771 feet, Mont Blanc (“white mountain”), is named for the 40 square miles of glaciers that cover it. Numerous climbers lose their lives each year attempting to scale it, but circumambulating it was challenging enough. The route is about 110 miles with more than 32,000 ft. elevation gain/loss over the entire trek, the equivalent of ascending Mt. Everest—with a little more oxygen.
Although as Gideon Lewis-Kraus, the New York Times writer, said, Mont Blanc doesn’t present one iconic silhouette, but rather “a jumbled pile of massive snow-covered domes, tonguelike glaciers of mottled gray gutter snow and, here and there, jagged spires of granite,” the vista from each pass offers a section of a grand panorama. It didn’t disappoint.
I had to make some decisions when planning this trek: Should I go with a guide or do everything myself? If I did it on my own should I stay in hotels or “refuges” (huts)? Or camp? Carry my luggage or have someone carry it from location to location? Snow accumulation compresses the hiking season, generally to June – mid-September. I decided to go with a guided group at the beginning of Sept 2018 to avoid the crowds and it worked. The late-season timing made my group unusually small: two British hikers, the guide and me. Lodging was a mix of hotels and huts. I shared a room with the female hiker; the other hiker and the guide were male and they shared. In the huts we had two-person rooms but everyone shared the bathroom. We carried only daypacks.
Each day started with a hearty breakfast. We hit the trail about 8 or 9 a.m., enjoyed a picnic lunch along the way, ended our trek around 4 or 5 p.m., and relaxed over dinner (and a glass of wine) at our lodgings. I wouldn’t call this an easy trip; the average hiking day was 10 to 13 miles with 2,000 to 3,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. We hiked for four days, took a well-needed rest one day in Italy, then spent another four days making our way back to Chamonix, where we started.
TMB is only one of the hiking routes in the European Alps. These two are on my immediate list: Haute Route (Switzerland and France) and Dolomites / Alta Via (Italy).
Find Sierra Club trips in the Alps and throughout the world at https://content.sierraclub.org/outings/search