After two weeks, three countries, 115 miles, and more than a Mount Everest of total elevation gain, my parents and I officially completed the loop around the Mont Blanc massif. Our trekking guide was very adamant about calling the trip A Tour of Mont Blanc instead of THE Tour of Mont Blanc because we did so many variations that I don’t think we were on the official trail more than half of the time. We did, however, make it all the way around the mountain, or more accurately, set of mountains, so it definitely counts.

The official trail is only 103 miles long and takes about 10-12 days of walking to complete at a steady pace. For our trip, we trekked for 11 days total with a day off in the middle, and our mileage was slightly higher than the official number due to taking several alternate trails. We took out some climbing (i.e. altitude gain) by taking a few buses and cable cars up to a high point to avoid the most boring parts of the trail (mostly roads in the valley), and we hiked a little faster by staying in huts and hotels and using a luggage transfer service instead of real backpacking which involves carrying all your heavy stuff up the mountain passes. I officially blame the lack of tents during this particular trip on my parents who do not like to camp, but truth be told it was a very enjoyable way to hike in a beautiful place and also get a hot shower and a comfortable bed every night. I have no complaints whatsoever.

By “we”, I mean our group from the Appalachian Mountain Club, which consisted of a 68-year-old crotchety and lovely and very comical English guide, an American trip leader, and 11 trekkers out of which only two of us were younger than 59. For those of you that are less math-inclined, that means that every person there except for one was more than double my age. But I definitely didn’t notice the age difference very much on the trail, except that I was perhaps slightly less tired than others after the steeper sections. Overall it was an incredibly great group and I was very humbled by their hiking ability and fascinated by their stories and experiences. I would love to be as well-traveled and as physically capable as my fellow trekkers when I grow up.

Highlights of our Tour du Mont Blanc include:

  • Mountains behind mountains and then more mountains behind those mountains
  • Seeing fresh snow on the peak of Mont Blanc itself
  • Walking across three country borders (France-Italy, Italy-Switzerland, and Switzerland-France). From the border between Italy and Switzerland, you can actually see the mountain pass that you walked over two days prior from France into Italy
  • Hanging out with my parents for two weeks very close to the place in Switzerland where my father went to boarding school for five years from ages 8-12, and hearing stories of his (mis)adventures during that time
  • French bread and Italian gelato (although there was a distinct lack of apfelstrudel on the trip)
  • A small museum in the middle of nowhere on the border between France and Italy with a huge 3D model of the mountains with the huts and valleys and rivers and all the trails mapped out and a very lively Italian guide ready to explain the whole thing to us
  • Small mountain huts/cafés in the middle of nowhere with hot soup and/or homemade pastries
  • Very varied terrain, including some metal ladders to get up some particularly steep and slippery rocks
  • Walking through herds of sheep and cows
  • Old churches in every town, no matter how small

This was only my second group trip as an adult (the first one was Kilimanjaro), but I really enjoyed getting to share the experience with others and having all kinds of people to chat with during the course of the trek. And, of course, there’s the bonus of not having to do any of the planning, so I will definitely be doing more of these types of trips in the future. Dolomites anyone?