The Tour du Mont Blanc as a Gateway Hike

Posted on July 10, 2013. Filed under: Switzerland, Tour du Mont Blanc, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Travel - TMB as a Gateway HikeWriting this blog about our experience on the TMB last September has been a great way to relive the memory.  It has also been a great way to let the effect of the trip saturate my whole year producing a longing to get out into mountains again.  Be warned:  If the TMB is the first long hike you are doing, you may very well get hooked on this type of vacation!

So, the tickets are bought and the planning has been done.  We are going back to do one day of the TMB we missed last year, the Fenetre d’Arpette in Switzerland.  That day we did the easier Bovine route which was wonderful.  The Fenetre d’Arpette, though,  is more difficult and gets you to the second highest point on the trail at 2,665 m (the other being the Col des Fours at the same altitude which we did.)  We’re going to go back and conquer it.  We will be fresh, though, without all the other days of hiking behind us so it should go well if the weather cooperates.

Then we will be off to the Italian Lakes and then the Dolomites.  I have lots to report after this next trip, but I do believe I’m thoroughly hooked on mountain hiking due to the TMB!

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Tour du Mont Blanc – The Middle of Nowhere

Posted on June 29, 2013. Filed under: France, Health, Italy, Switzerland, Tour du Mont Blanc, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Travel - TMB Out in the Middle of Nowhere

One of the best parts of the Tour du Mont Blanc is getting out in the middle of nowhere.  This picture here shows you two really happy people because we have left our normal cares behind.  There is nothing like abandoning normal life to get out among giant mountains, fresh air and sunshine to get some perspective and a real break.  It was an arduous task we had set for ourselves, this 105 mile trek, but it was different work, environment, and people and just what we needed.  I loved the break myself and I was delighted to see my husband thoroughly enjoy himself as well.  If you are considering such an endeavor and you are under some stress in normal life, I would encourage you to do it.  The restoration a time like this provides to body and mind is priceless.

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Tour du Mont Blanc Snow Walking

Posted on June 26, 2013. Filed under: Tour du Mont Blanc, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Travel - TMB snow trekking 2

We walked the Tour du Mont Blanc in September so there was less chance of snow on our trek, but we did find it in a few places.  We trudged through some white stuff at the top of the spectacular Tête Nord des Fours (2756m), but only right at the top.

Travel - TMB snow trekking 3

It was strange walking in snow with shorts on!









Travel - TMB snow trekking 1And then there was this short stretch where the trail went right through a big patch of snow.  I think we could only tell it was truly the trail by all the footprints of others before us!

We didn’t have snow on our trip, but there were remnants, and others told us that just the week before our trip there were a few days of snow.  Make sure to be prepared for snow at any time on this trip.  The mountains are beautiful and also unpredictable.

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10 Enjoyment Tips for the Tour du Mont Blanc

Posted on May 28, 2013. Filed under: France, Italy, Switzerland, Tour du Mont Blanc, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Travel - TMB pie stop1.  Pace and progress are important, but don’t let them rule so much that you miss local delicacies, great photography shots, or a dip in a mountain lake!

2.  Don’t let someone else push you faster than you want to go or hold  you back.  Be ok with hiking alone some of the time in order to have the pace that is comfortable for you.

3.  Take a day off.  Plan for it and enjoy it.  Courmayeur is my vote for this one.  We ran into people doing double days, practically running the whole thing to get it done in 5 days.  Ok, if that’s what you like, but that would not be for me.  Our day off in Courmayeur was one of my best vacation days of all time because it felt so good.

4.  Make it your trip.  Whatever makes you happy, do.  Is it artwork, photography, local food, meeting new people?  Make time for it, be you, and make it your own.

5.  Expect unpleasantness and roll with it.  Stuff will happen or not happen as you planned.  Ok, try to find an enjoyable way in spite of it.  On our rain day when we took the bus to Argentière we weren’t happy to miss the day’s hike, but the warm fire in the lobby with big cushy chairs, coffee and books about the history of the mountains made for a very enjoyable morning!

6.  Appreciate the expansive beauty every day.  After a few days, it is possible to forget how amazing the views are!  Make sure to stop and really look, breathe the fresh air, and appreciate.Travel - TMB Issert

7.  Personal hygiene – don’t neglect it.  You will have more friends if you wash out that hiking shirt rather than wear it to breakfast and actually stink up the whole room.  Really.  You may not smell it but others will.

8.  If you have fears – ladders, water crossings, etc. – don’t dwell on them.  Just agree with yourself to handle it when it happens.  You will find nothing on the TMB turns out to be as scary as you think it will so don’t waste any energy worrying.

9.  The most dangerous thing I saw were the bicyclists.  Get out of their way early and stay put so they can maneuver around you!

10.  Relax, you are on vacation!

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10 Safety & Health Tips for the Tour du Mont Blanc

Posted on May 26, 2013. Filed under: France, Health, Italy, Safety, Switzerland, Tour du Mont Blanc, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Travel - TMB Safety

1.  Keep your valuables with you or your partner(s) at all times.  This would include passport (US or British passports are worth €1000-2000 each on the black market), cash, credit cards, camera, airline paperwork.  One would like to believe all the fellow hikers are just like you, but they may not be.  Acquaintances on our trip lost their British passports at a refuge when they left them in their packs to go to dinner.  They had discussed leaving them in the presence of a lot of other people too.  2 big mistakes.  This ended their trip because getting to an embassy and getting it all sorted out required a lot of time.  Take along some little bag that can hold your valuables when you don’t have your big pack and just keep everything in there so it’s easy to take with you at all times.

2.  Even non-valuables:  keep an eye on them.  At big stops along the trail with lots of hikers coming and going in both directions we assigned one of our group to stay with the packs/poles while others went for food/bathrooms, then we switched.  It’s just good common sense.

3.  Water.  Really, only get it from places that are clearly safe.  That hose hanging on the building right next to where the cows are standing, don’t fill your bottle.  3 days down with bacterial infection really takes a bite out of your trip.  I missed doing this by chance, but my friend paid for it.  Hind sight is 20-20, try to keep foresight in play and avoid problems.

4.  Think about daylight and how many hours you have left to get in.  You do not want to be out on the trail in the dark.  Get a move on if needed to get in before dusk.  The mountains become a lot colder, windier, and overall more dangerous in the dark.

5.  Pay attention to your pace.  You do need to do #4, but you don’t need to run the whole thing and miss the day just to get in super early!

6.  Address small health issues early.  A small irritation is felt in your foot?  Stop and inspect right away.  Treat and cover to avoid a blister or cover the blister to keep it from bursting and creating an open wound that is open for infection.  The sooner you address problems, the less likely you will experience a health emergency.

7.  Prepare for the unexpected.  Take extra cash, carry a first-aid kit and all-weather gear.  It will be fabulous if you don’t need any of it, and you will be congratulating yourself if you do.

8.  Be extra alert when you are tired.  Later in the day you are more apt to lose your footing, become forgetful, and less observant.  Know this and try to counteract it.  When stopping, look carefully around your pack before leaving to make sure you have everything.  Slow down a little to keep your footing sure.  Look carefully at signs to make sure of the way before you waste time down the wrong path.

9.  Watch your alcohol intake.  In the evening it can be tempting to celebrate too much.  Along with this is:  use a flashlight in the refuges.  Falling and hurting yourself isn’t worth wrecking your trip.

10.  Relax!  The TMB is fairly safe!

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10 Equipment Tips for the Tour du Mont Blanc

Posted on May 24, 2013. Filed under: Exercise, France, Italy, Photography, Switzerland, Tour du Mont Blanc, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Travel - TMB Equipment 1

1.  Get your boots early and start wearing them immediately.  If anything isn’t right about them abandon ship and get a pair that is supremely comfortable.  If using boots you already have, get out in them and double check they still work well.  You do not want brand new, untested boots on this trip.  Also make sure they are waterproof; put them on and walk into water to test.  You will be crossing water on the TMB and wet feet inside boots spells trouble.  Also, socks are obviously equally important.  Sort out what works best for you early on.

Travel - TMB Equipment 2

2.  Get a functional backpack that you can wear with 20-25 pounds in it for at least 6 hours.  Don’t assume you know how to fit a backpack.  Go to a qualified outfitter who can fit you and find pack choices that work for your body size and shape.  As soon as you have your boots and pack get out in them as often as possible even for a half hour.  It is wise to get your body accustomed to the equipment on it while moving.

3.  Check out the equipment list at REI and think carefully about everything listed.  We did not take gaiters because we did not go early in the season when snow would be more likely, but you should decide if each item would be important for you to take.  It is comforting to look at this list from people who did the hike and know that you didn’t overlook anything.

4.  Get a scale and start weighing everything that goes into the pack.  When deciding between two similar items because you only need one, weighing them can be the deciding factor.  If you are training regularly as described in #1 and #2 above the genius of this will be self-evident because even 20 pounds is dang heavy!  Ounces become very important because ounces turn into pounds.

5.  Realize that no matter what time of year you are going you must be prepared for emergencies.  Weather in mountains is often unpredictable and severe.  Cuts, scrapes, blisters and hurt joints can happen.  You will carry items for these possibilities even though you may not use them.  We didn’t use our rain gear at all.  Seeing a day-long downpour in the mountains, however, I’m glad we had it along in case we were up high and needed to hike to get in.  I threw in a cheap dollar-store knee brace as a last thought, however, and this item proved indispensable to my husband when he hurt his knee.  Prepare a small first aid kit and make sure that gets packed to come along.

6.  Memory foam.  Get a few small hunks (buy a cheap pillow and cut it up) and bring along.  Tucking these under your backpack straps can be a shoulder-saver!  I brought 4 hunks and the extra 2 went to a hiking mate who was eternally grateful!

7.  Get trekking poles, a set of 2.  Figure out how you will get them there.  When we went they were not allowed in carry on luggage.  So we got a bag long enough for them (even collapsed they were pretty long) and checked that one bag.  In Chamonix we left that bag at the first hotel and retrieved it right before leaving when we checked it again to get the poles home.  Hotels there are very used to this and have a place to store bags.  Go on the airline website to find out the current rules for items such as this.  That multi-tool you want to bring along probably isn’t allowed to be carried on either.  And if you buy any of the wonderful Opinel knives in Chamonix to bring home (great gifts) you will have to check them also.

8.  Consider your camera.  How important is photography to you?  If at all important, don’t rely on the camera in your phone.  This is some of the most beautiful scenery you will ever see.   My best camera which I would have loved to bring along is pretty bulky and weighed in at a whopping 2.5 pounds.  This was just unacceptable, but I didn’t want a tiny point-and-shoot either.  So I decided to invest in one of the more compact SLR-types, going with a Sony.  It saved me 1 whole pound and a lot of bulk.  I considered this well-worth the cost especially since this camera is now always my travel camera.

9.  Take time to pack everything in your backpack before you go.  How will you arrange it?  Once you have everything spend some time working out how to use the bag efficiently.  Put items used daily on top where they can be easily retrieved.  Plan to keep things used hourly on the outside of the bag.  My camera bag attached at my hip belt because it was out so frequently that made the most sense.  Find a good place for the guidebook and maps because you will want to refer to these often.  Temperatures and wind conditions change quickly in the mountains so having places to stow and retrieve jackets and fleece is something to plan for also.  It’s nice if you don’t have to actually take off the pack and open up the main compartment every time you want your jacket.

10.  Relax about the equipment!  You will not be totally away from civilization.  If you forget something or if a piece of equipment works really badly, you are not completely stuck.  The towns on the TMB cater to hikers with excellent equipment shops.   See my post about how I bought trekking poles in Champex.  It was fun and makes a great story, the hardships of a trip always make the best stories!

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From Turtle to Mountain Sheep: Trekking Poles on the TMB

Posted on May 21, 2013. Filed under: Exercise, Tour du Mont Blanc, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Travel - TMB Poles 1Not living in a mountainous region of the world, and planning a mountain hiking trip like the Tour du Mont Blanc, I relied on information about trekking poles on the web.  I found a lot of conflicting information.  Some sites said absolutely, get them, it makes you virtually a 4-legged creature instead of 2 which gives a lot of stability and eases the pressure on the knees.  This made sense, but then others said you don’t really need them.  Being a massage therapist I liked the idea of giving my hands and arms the fortnight off.  We did own 1 set of poles we got at a REI rummage sale of returned merchandise for a song.  We decided to take the one set along and share them.  This way we’d have a little help, but we wouldn’t have to use them.

Pretty rapidly I was given the nickname, “La Tortue” (the turtle) due to my slow progress.  Our friends had their poles and clipped along claiming I would be much faster with 2 poles.  I was very skeptical about this.

Then Bill hurt his knee.  Something sort of snapped and then he hobbled.  He took my pole,  my just-in-case knee brace, and some ibuprofen.  This worked for him, but now I had nothing and I really noticed the difference.  I was even slower.

Ok, I thought, a nice set of poles would be a great souvenir, my favorite kind, something really useful that I’d appreciate every time I’d use them.  We found a great outfitter in Champex, Switzerland.  The new poles are light, easy to change length (and the very helpful sales girl who had lived in the mountains all her life taught me the right length for flat, and then for uphill and downhill.  Changing the length for conditions makes a big difference and on the TMB it is easy to do because the terrain tends to stay up or down for awhile at a time.)

Travel - TMB Poles 2The result?  I became “La Mouton” the mountain sheep, sure-footed and swift!  I was put in the lead and didn’t hold anyone up!  I was amazed at the difference of having 2 poles.  It was significant.  I moved much more gracefully which, of course, saves energy and makes everything more comfortable.  Additionally, a nice extra is that my hands never swelled up like they often do hanging at my sides during hiking.  The straps on the handles are so well designed that I hardly have to grip at all so my hands and forearms are really still pretty much off-duty.

Bottom-line advice?  Get 2 poles, you will be glad you did!  The TMB is strenuous enough, anything that aids in your comfort while doing it is worth it.

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Wildflowers of the Tour du Mont Blanc

Posted on May 19, 2013. Filed under: France, Italy, Plants, Switzerland, Tour du Mont Blanc, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Travel - TMB Flowers 1      Travel - TMB Flowers 2

If you really want to see alpine wildflowers in all their glory you would hike the Tour du Mont Blanc in early summer, something like June.  You would be taking a bigger risk, however, with the weather and you might spend considerable time hiking through snow.  We opted for September, the very last 2 weeks in the hiking season which did provide us with magnificent weather.  One of the guides of a group (we did not hike with a group, but talked to everyone!) told us this is the time of year all the pictures for the guidebooks are taken.  We could believe this because every day except 1 day of rain in our 2 weeks was near perfect with blue skies and excellent temperatures for hiking.

The surprise, though, was that we did see a fair amount of wildflowers.  Sometimes, like above, they were in their end stages of seed development, but still quite beautiful.

Travel - TMB Flowers 3      Travel - TMB Flowers 4

Other times they were at peak bloom or about to bloom.  I think in September it’s just far fewer than earlier in the season.  That was ok with us.  It was nice to focus mainly on the mountains and valleys with their sweeping views of enormous pieces of landscape.  But then, a quiet little up-close miracle of a flower would catch the attention.  What a great contrast between the two, large and small, but all very interesting and always a feast for the eyes.

Travel - TMB Flowers 5      Travel - TMB Flowers 6

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Hiking the Cinque Terre – Vernazza to Riomaggiore

Posted on April 3, 2013. Filed under: Italy, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Travel - Cinque 1

Here is my second installment of Hiking the Cinque Terre as promised.  We did the 8 miles south from Vernazza to Riomaggiore on this second day.  It was the second week of November and the weather was perfect!  In the above photo we are down at the water.  We took a little side trail steeply down to get to it.

Travel - Cinque 2        Travel - Cinque 4

Above on the left we are leaving Vernazza in the morning with a stunning view of the town.  It is hard to believe all those buildings teeter on those rocks!  The picture at right is the beach at Manarola where we enjoyed rock hunting.  These are some of the smoothest stones I’ve ever felt and I rock hunt every time I can so I have a lot of beaches to compare this to.  For a massage therapist these stones are heaven!  Many of them have veins of the white carrara marble from which Michelangelo’s David is carved.  The marble quarries are not far away.

Travel - Cinque 3          Travel - Cinque 5

I’ve been asked about how wild is this trail and you can see from the picture at left that here it is an actual paved staircase winding down, down, down.  I would not call this much of a wilderness trail.  The towns are so close together and the last section is entirely paved and level.  This is more of a walking path to enjoy this beautiful coastline and these little towns.  The picture at right shows 3 local men chatting at the end of the day in Riomaggiore.  The townsfolk come out to enjoy the view and fresh air at the end of the day.  These are real Italian towns, but this hiking is quite civilized!

Travel - Cinque 6

Here is Bill at the end of our day with dinner.  That’s a pizza on the right with fresh arugula strewn on top and on the left is Farinata, a local specialty, a chickpea flour pancake-type thing.  I found out much later that you are supposed to put the farinata on top of the pizza and eat it together!!  Oh well, both hit a spot at the end of the day even if we ate them separately!

All in all we enjoyed our 2 days in the Cinque Terre very much.  We think we might go back some time to hike the higher trails.  We did go in November which meant the boats weren’t running, but other than that we were glad we came when it was so quiet.

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Hiking the Cinque Terre – Vernazza to Monterosso

Posted on April 2, 2013. Filed under: Italy, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , |

569          613

A few years back we hiked the Cinque Terre (literally 5 lands) in Italy.  These pictures are from our first day there.  We hiked from Vernazza, where we were staying, north to Monterosso and then took the little train back which connects all the towns.  This was the most challenging part of the trail being pretty hilly, but at a little over 2 miles, it was not really hard.  We had a little drizzle at one time, and we had a good chuckle at a few Germans who instantly outfitted themselves head-to-foot in rain gear, but we got to watch the sunset over Monterosso as we approached from up high.  Also, we got our first glimpse of all the tiny vinyards on the terraced hills.  These lands have been divided by so many family members over the years that now one might now own and manage the tiniest of plots!

623          618

The trail often wandered right along barriers to these plots.  Here is Bill near a fence and up above there is the cutest gate, I don’t think it will keep anyone out but it sure is picturesque!  Next up, tales from the rest of the 8 mile-trail from Vernazza south to Riomaggiore!

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