Hike the Tour du Mont Blanc

Considered by many to be the most beautiful hike in western Europe (and some would argue the WORLD!), this epic hike takes you through three countries:  France, Italy and Switzerland on a magnificent 110 miles (170km).  You’ll walk through alpine meadows, historic villages and forests all while gazing at the stunning granite peaks of the European Alps of the Mont Blanc Massif (mountain range)!

One night you can splurge on a gourmet French meal and the next day, after a day’s hike, be relishing a fabulous pasta dish in Italy!  You’ll cross borders, encounter multiple languages (mostly French and Italian, and some German), and experience multiple cultures, food and customs.

Our guest today is Linda Cohen Dickens, who with her husband, Harry, hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc with Active Adventures (this is one of their signature tours).  In the podcast (there’s a link to listen at the top of the page), she describes the scenery, the challenges and the wonderful food she ate and the interesting people she met.

This is a difficult hike (ATA rating of 4-5) but IT IS DOABLE if you are in shape and you train (see my training schedule below)!  This is not a hike to ‘learn on the job’.  No technical skills are required, but there are some steep ascents and descents (bring your poles!!!).  Also, like most mountains, even in the summer, you need to always be prepared for extreme weather conditions and sudden changes.

One great thing about this trip is that you can tailor it to both your time AND budget!  You can do it on the cheap by backpacking or camping (forwarding your pack), you can stay in the mountain huts, or upgrade to pensions and hotels (some legs you will need to use the hut or skip ahead).  If you go with a guided tour like Linda and her husband did with Active Adventures–they make all the arrangements for you – see links on the free Travel Planner for guidance.

Our guest today, Linda, used my affiliate Active Adventures for her trip. In fact, she's the one who introduced me to this amazing company. Unlike traditional hiking tour companies, Active Adventures always adds a little twist to make it multi-sport. You'll often have the opportunity to kayak or cycle, or do other cool things as well as predominantly hiking. They make all the arrangements for you, so all you have to do is show up!

Typical

Itinerary

     

Avg 

 

Avg 

Ascent 

Descent 

 

Leg#

Start

Hours

Miles

 mph

KM

km/hr

meters

meters

% Killer

1

Les Houches

5:00

10

2.0

16 km

3.2

646

633

8%

2

Les Contamines

7:30

11

1.5

18 km

2.4

1316

929

13%

3

Les Chapieux

4:30

9

2.0

15 km

3.4

1004

258

9%

4

Rifugio Elisabetta

5:00

11

2.2

18 km

3.6

460

1560

11%

5

Courmayeur

4:30

8

1.8

12 km

2.7

860

101

8%

6

Rifugio Bonatti

6:30

12

1.9

20 km

3.1

895

1410

12%

7

La Fouly

4:00

9

2.3

15 km

3.8

420

565

7%

8

Champex

4:30

10

2.2

16 km

3.6

742

682

9%

9

Col de la Forclaz

5:30

8

1.5

13 km

2.4

1069

1178

18%

10

Tre-le-Champ

3:30

5

1.4

8 km

2.3

733

257

13%

11

Refuge Flegere

6:30

11

1.7

17 km

2.6

772

1546

14%

Total:

 

57h

110

2.0

168 km

2.9

8719

9119

 
 

Figures are rounded : use just to give you a general idea

       

1m = 3.3 feet

 

Typically started on Leg 1,2 or 8 above.  Note that if start at Leg 8, you get to the hardest part early.  Perhaps better to start at Leg 1 or 2, so your body is more acclimated and conditioned before the more killer sections.

   
             

Remember that you have ALL DAY to do it!  You can do this!!!  I’ve rounded up the daily time averages.  To use this chart, for example, Leg 1:  Les Houches, you would have all day to hike ten miles (16 km) , and during the course of the day, you will be climbing a total of  2120′ up (646 meters), and descending over the day 2075′ (633 meters ).  So of the 16 km (= 16000 meters) you are hiking that day, 646m + 633m = 1279m (1.3 km) of ascent or descent, which means about 8% of the hike you will be going up or down, and the rest of the time won’t be killer.  This does not tell you if you have sharp ascents or descents.  That’s where your guide book comes in handy.  The hours listed above can give you an idea, too.

‘When in Rome’…scratch that!  I mean France!  Linda explains about the tradition of drinking a special coffee with sugar, orange and lemon (often with Grand Marnier liquor) out of this unusual container called a Friendship Cup.   Coupe de l’amitié is the name of this unusual handcrafted cup used in the Aosta valley on the Italian/French border.  Your group MUST finish the cup, while toasting good health and happiness (or it’s bad luck!).  No complaints there!

The first person says this while passing the cup : “Le café valdotain dans la coupe de l’amitié “ [According to Google Translate: The Valdotain coffee in the cup of friendship.”]

The person receiving the cup responds, “Santé bonheur!  “Que grand bien te fasse” [Great health and happiness to you!].  And the cup continues to be passed around to ALL guests at the table counterclockwise until emptied.  The cup cannot rest on the table until it is finished to avoid “bad luck”.

This handcrafted cup is usually made from walnut or maple (I know:  I thought it was clay!) and the round top is often embellished with common alpine symbols such as ibex heads, snakes or edelweiss flowers.

One night, Linda saw this commendation hanging on the wall of her room.  Turns out a heroine once lived there.  This home she stayed in (now a hotel) has been in the family since the late 1800’s.  Now the granddaughter is the caretaker.  She explained to Linda that her grandmother risked her life to save Jews during the war.  One of the men she saved wrote a book about her grandmother and his story (author in the article above).

Here’s how I would train to hike the Mont Blanc circuit:

Ideally at least three months in advance (but really make sure that it’s at least two months), start taking walks or hikes with your pack two times per week for 30-60 minutes, and then on one day each week, hike 2-3 hours with your pack.  If you live where it’s flat like I do, you may need to do the short hikes on a treadmill on the incline and then find some hills for your longer hikes (or do more boring treadmills).

In addition, your body, especially your shoulders and feet, need to get used to carrying weight.  BUT DON’T ADD A LOT OF WEIGHT AT ONE TIME!!!  Ease into it.  Collect water bottles (I prefer the thicker walled juice containers with heavy caps because they are less likely to leak).  Fill the bottles with water.

I use a heavy duty trash compacter bag as a liner in my pack.  Put several of the filled water bottles to add some weight to your pack.  You may need to cushion them with a towel so they don’t poke you in the back.

Put the pack on and load with enough water bottles so that you FEEL the weight, but it doesn’t feel very heavy.  This is your start weight.  Then each week add no more than 10% more weight.  The goal is to build up and get used to carrying more weight than you’ll be carrying on the actual adventure so that when you are actually hiking the trail, your pack feels light.  This helps to compensate for not practicing with much elevation.

For example, if I find that my pack is going to weight about 20 pounds  (see my day pack packing guide), and I start feeling the weight at 15 pounds, here’s what my training weight might look like:

Training week

Pack weight

Pack weight

 

pounds

kg

1

15

7

2

16.5

7.5

3

18

8

4

20

9

5

22

10

6

24

11

7

26.5

12

8

29

13

DO NOT increase your weight more than 10% per week so your body can adapt easier.

Scroll past my shameless self-promotion to see the full transcript of this episode:)

Kit is Interviewed on the Zero to Travel podcast about Cruising the Alaskan Coastline on the cheap.  Listen to my interview here.  Newsletter subscribers will get my free Alaskan Cruise Travel Planner included with the newsletter (so sign up today!).

Here’s a transcript of the show (there's a Google Translate button below if you want this transcript in your native tongue):

 

Kit: 00:00 Considered by many to be the most beautiful hike in Western Europe (and some people would even argue the world) the Tour de Mont Blanc ,or the Mont Blanc circuit, travels through France, Switzerland and Italy through the majestic European Alps. You’re going to walk through Seven Valleys through cute little villages with various different cultures, different foods, and different languages, through forests and Alpine Meadows, while gazing up at massive granite peaks.

Kit: 00:23 You could be enjoying a gourmet French meal one night and then downing a fabulous Italian pasta the next. It generally takes 10 to 12 days to cover the entire 110 mile (or 170 kilometer) trail. Most folks hike it counter-clockwise from Chamonix in France so they come upon the view of Mont Blanc from its most scenic vista.

Kit: 00:42 However, like we learned from Episode 5 with Rosemary Burris, there are several advantages of hiking against the crowd. When you travel clockwise on this trail you’ll have the trail all to yourself in the morning and you get to meet new people each day. This adventure is more difficult than most the trips that we explore on the Active Travel Adventures podcast, but it’s such a stunning trail with such epic beauty that I had to cover it for you. This is a trail that you MUST train for so that you can enjoy your hike rather than getting on the job training. There are some steep uphills and downhills, and you’re going to be hiking five to eight hours a day. However if you’re fit and you do train, YOU CAN DO THIS HIKE! No mountain gets overly high. The highest is under 8000 feet which is 2700 meters, so altitude sickness shouldn’t be an issue. For the truly fit, you can even backpack this trail.

Kit: 01:28 However it is possible to day hike it from one village to the next or one hut to the next. There’s plenty of accommodations along the way including the mountain huts that you can reserve. And then you can change dates if you need to… if you have to change your pace a little bit. Again this is similar to the Swedish Kungsleden trail that we covered in Episode 5. This is a trail you can plan on your own or I’ve got a recommendation for a company that will affordably make the arrangements for you to do a self guided hike. They’ll transfer your main luggage every day so all you have to do is bring your daypack and it’s a slightly shorter hike. Or you can do like our guest today did and have the grand guided all inclusive tour that combines some kayaking and some biking along with a small guided group.

Kit: 02:10 One thing I love about this hike is you can truly make this your own hike. You can make it a short or as long as you’d like. You can do it on a dirt cheap budget. You can backpack. You can go hut to hut, you can go to pension to pension, a little bit step up, or you can go to nicer hotels. So you get the flexibility of both time and budget, and get to witness some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Europe.

Kit: 02:37 So let’s get this podcast going. You’re listening to the Active Travel Adventures podcast. I’m your host, Kit Parks. I’m happy to introduce to you Linda Cohen Dickens, who with her husband, did the Tour de Mont Blanc in the summer of 2017. Hey Linda, thanks for joining us. Could you please introduce yourself maybe tell us your age and a little bit about yourself.

Linda: 03:05 My name is Linda Dickens. I am 64. We just moved to California two years ago to be closer to the kids but we actually like it out here better than Florida because we’re hikers and outdoors people, and we have loads of opportunity between Taho, Yosemite. We have Napa ,San Francisco… so we live in an area where we can do a lot of outdoor activities.

Kit: 03:34 You recently did the famous Tour de Mont Blanc with your husband and that’s going to be our focus today. Can you give us a brief overview?

Linda: 03:41 So in June when we hooked up with Active Adventurers for the second time. We did Peru with them two years ago. It was hiking the Mont Blanc circuit for 12 days. We loved Active Adventures for the first tour and decided to go again with them for this year. They do multi activity, so you have mostly hiking but you have usually kayaking and biking for a day or so, and then an extra day to do whatever you want. The trip was well organized. They have you well-prepared. It was a reasonable price we felt for everything we got. The tour leaders were always amazing. And theMont Blanc basically you went through Italy, Switzerland and France. You hiked eight to 12 miles a day had great meals, and it lasted for 12 days with amazing people.

Kit: 04:45 And did you meet people from all over the world? Or tell us a little bit about the people that you traveled with.

Linda: 05:01 So this group, the demographics were about 58 to about 68. The majority from the west coast. More so from Colorodo, California and there were two people from the east coast. But they all were in those demographics. There were two couples, there were four solo women, there were a father and son, and then a couple of solo men. Very different from the Peru trip. This is what these demographics were. And everybody was basically the same activity level and was able to do everything that we did every day.

Kit: 05:33 And what the activity level, which on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being very difficult, not Everest difficult, but very difficult for an adventure. What would you put this at?

Linda: 05:48 I would say most days other then of course the hiking wise, the kayaking was was probably a one to two, but the hiking I would say between four maybe some fives. I mean we didn’t do any rock climbing, but there was some intense fields… snow fields that we climbed, snow bridges that we crossed, mountains that we went up, and it was eight to 12 miles of hiking. You know, you broke for lunch, but they kept the pace even so they were really none of us that hung behind or lagged. We pretty much came up with the guide who was from Chamonix and he was wonderful.

Kit: 06:33 And what would you, I know that you’re quite an athlete. Would you say that the other participants on this tour were as athletic as you or could somebody that’s not as ambitious as you do it.

Linda: 06:47 I actually think there they were more athletic than us because the Colorado and California people were all avid hikers and we just moved to California. So we’re not hiking as much, you know, maybe once every couple of weeks. But you know, we kept up with them. We were probably the least balanced with that activity level. I think they were above us. But you know we held our own and had no problems.

Kit: 07:17 Is it something that somebody like me who lives in the flatlands with no mountains could train for or is it something that might be too ambitious for somebody like me?

Linda: 07:27 I think absolutely anybody could do it. We you know we did Peru living in Florida. So I think it’s slow and steady gets you there. And you just have to have a positive attitude. I mean there were some tough parts but you just forge ahead with everybody else because you have to. You can’t lag behind and you don’t want to hold anybody out. And everybody helps each other.

Kit: 07:52 And that encouragement does help a little bit because you know it gives you that extra spurt doesn’t it?

Linda: 07:58 Absolutely. And when you know you’re ahead eight to 12 miles like the next day everybody was so supportive and we all just got along so well that we were like one big team climbing the mountains

Kit: 08:13 And you didn’t know any of these people before this trip right there just people that you got matched with because of this tour is that correct.?

Linda: 08:23 We actually knew a fellow that did Peru with us two years ago from, he was from Colorado, and he does probably at that at least two big trips a year. So we did know Phil. He was with us on this trip.

Kit: 08:37 And so at the end of the day, I mean this these are pretty grueling days, so how are you feeling at the end of the day? And then tell me how you feel in the morning.

Linda: 08:48 So in the morning we all got together for breakfast at the hotel that we were at, and they would, we would have picnic lunch every day so they would spread out little baggies with parts of our lunch. The women would usually take the bread because it was light but there was always cheese, fruit salads… We would pack our bags. They would either drive us to the starting point or we were hiked to the starting point. And then Jean Marc who was our leader, would say we’re going to have lunch up there, and we would be looking up there and saying, “It’s way up there we’re going to have lunch?” And then you start hiking. And the time goes so fast because the views were amazing. And then you keep looking back at the village that you hiked up from and you would be amazed that we got that far.

Linda: 09:48 Then they would spread out on lunch, and we had a beautiful picnic lunch every day. We’d sit, we’d chat, we’d rest a little bit, and then we would get up to finish the hike. The end of the day, we’d get back… meet for wine about an hour later. And had a great dinner and just talk about what we did, and what the next day was going to be like. But it was just an amazing feel of accomplishment when you are done. Because in the morning you had no idea how the day was going to go. But there was definitely a feeling of accomplishment between all of us at the end of the day

Kit: 10:30 And even though you hurt, and even though you’re exhausted and probably a little sweaty and dirty, why do you do trips like this instead of sitting on a chaise lounge in the Bahamas with a fruity drink or something?

Linda: 10:40 You know it’s really knowing that we did it. I mean when we did the Inca Trail in Peru, to tell everyone that you did that, when we told people we were hiking the Mont Blanc circuit they were amazed. And when we finished the Tour, we were already looking for what we’re going to do in 2018 because the tours themselves they made you feel that you were really capable of doing more than you ever thought you could. And we don’t want to stop! I mean were hooked! And I do marathons and some of these were harder than a marathon, but more satisfying because it’s such a different area that you’re going to. And the people you meet, even the people – not the people you’re hiking with – but the people you meet at the hotels, and the people that you meet on the streets or on the path… that’s what makes it amazing.

Kit: 11:46 I totally agree. I mean it’s like you’re mirroring my exact feelings. That’s amazing. Do you feel changed when you come back from these trips somehow?

Linda: 11:55 Well we never stopped talking about them. We definitely feel changed, yes. We’ve never really done this before and we’re both in our 60s. And the fact that now that we’re starting these adventures gives us a lot to look forward to in the future because it just shows us that there’s really no limit.

Kit: 12:19 I totally agree. What was it? What was the thing that made you take that first leap to say. “Hey I think I’d like to try that?” I mean it’s not a normal trip. Most people don’t do trips like this. They think we’re crazy. They’re excited for us but they think we’re nuts.

Linda: 12:31 I don’t really know how. I must’ve Googled Machu Picchu because we always wanted to do that and I looked at Active Adventures and — a lot of people we live in a 55 and over, and a lot of them do much less vigorous tours — and Active Adventures was more than, let’s say a Back Roads.

Linda: 12:55 It pushed you. It pushed your limits a little more. They told you exactly what you were in line for. They really explained everything and what the itinerary was. They seemed, where they had the kayaking and the biking, we like that mix, but we like hiking more. And a lot of them don’t offer you as much hiking in a trip as we wanted.

Linda: 13:22 And they answered every question. They were always available to answer any more questions we had up until the day we left, and they were very supportive. So we would like to go on all of them! You know that’s why I’m planning the next Activity Adventure trip.

Kit: 13:22 Do have a place planned in mind?

Linda: 13:45 Well, we’re thinking New Zealand… there were people on our trip: this was a very unusual trip from the last one. The last Active Adventure trip, only Phil had been on another one t. This trip everyone -we’d been on two of them – everyone else except one person (this was her first) had been on three to five Active Adventure trips. So some of them talked about, of course, New Zealand… Nepal. There was a girl there that did Nepal and was at the airport when they had the earthquake. She had stories about that. Phil has done Patagonia… some other one in South America. So it was an unusual trip where they had done many Active Adventure trips and talk to us about them.

Kit: 14:41 They did screen you to let you know physical wise… so they wouldn’t let, say a 10 year old kid do this trip… they had some kind of parameters to make sure somebody was suitable for the trip?

Linda: 14:52 They do ask you quite a few health and activity level questions. There was a family of four, and there was a daughter that was 15. I am not sure about the age parameters, because there was probably a 10 or 12 year old could do this trip and they do have some families but they do ask you a lot of questions so they know where you fit in the trip. And they’ll be very honest with you if they have any questions about if you will be capable of it. They don’t want anyone to have a bad trip.

Kit: 15:29 How would you describe the landscape? I’m sure the pictures I’ve seen don’t do it justice.

Linda: 15:34 We went in June. So there was still quite a bit of snow. And they said it would have been gone in two weeks. But June is a good time for us to go away. The mountains, you know that now that we’ve moved to California we have a Mount Diablo behind us. That’s it. These mountains were mind boggling. They were just spectacular. And because there was still a lot of snow on them, it made them even more beautiful. And the fact that you would hike into the valleys, climb the mountains… the terrain was completely different. I mean we slid down snowfields, we crossed snow bridges. We hiked through cow pastures and sheep pastures. But the scenery was always spectacular. And we were very lucky. We had 12 days of gorgeous weather. You know sometimes it does rain but we were really very fortunate. But we were prepared. I mean we had our rain gear if it did. We were never unprepared for what to expect.

Kit: 16:47 And they are transporting your luggage everyday right? You’re not backpacking: your’re day hiking correct?

Linda: 16:54 We were day hiking. We had a driver that was amazing. She took our suitcases to the next hotel. There was one hotel, I believe in Courmayeur, we stayed three nights. That was the longest, but she either picked us up if we had to get driven to the next hotel where we were done with our hiking or we hiked to the hotel and then our luggage would be there. And they were amazing as far as transporting everything, getting all the lunch stuff together for the next day. We never had to worry about anything.

Kit: 17:31 And how about the dinners? You said the lunches were good, were dinners?

Linda: 17:36 Dinners were great. I mean we went to everything from pubs to the restaurants that had dinner. At the last dinner, they really go all out. We had fois gras, we had duck, we had wine. It was amazing but the dinners, some of them were just pubs and some of them were just local restaurants that were just great to meet the locals.

Kit: 18:01 Any interaction with the locals stick in mind, mostly when you think,sort of like , “Oh I really remember so-and-so from this pub or somebody I met the street asking directions”? Do you have any local culture stories you could tell us?

Linda: 18:15 There was a dinner we had: one of the couples was having their 30th anniversary. And they wanted something where they cook for themselves and we were all… it was hot in the pub and they decided they were going to cook all their food. So just having that hot plate on the on the table itself made everyone really hot and we were just cackling… we were laughing because it took them a long time. Some of us moved to another table to have dessert and the waitress was just hysterical watching a bunch of Americans just goofing around in the pub. So when we went back to Chamonix… when we went back to Chamonix… about seven days later we saw the hostess. We saw the same waitress sitting at a table with her friend eating lunch and we went up, “How are you doing?” Of course she couldn’t forget us. And she looked at us and all she could say was, “Are you still here?” So that was great.

Linda: 19:17 But we also stayed in a very interesting hotel in Les Houches. And the caretaker was the grand daughter, it had been in the family since the late 1800’s, and we saw on the wall a paper that had a lot of Hebrew writing on it. And we are Jewish, so we asked her about it. Her grandmother had saved some Jews during the war and one of the fellows that she saved had written a book about the story of her saving the Jews. She had gotten recognized years later. And I actually said to the owner, “I’m going to order this book right now while we’re here!” I went on Amazon, and I said to her the book’s going to be waiting for me so I can read the story about your grandmother. And that was amazing.

Kit: 19:17 What an amazing story1

Linda: 19:17 Yeah it was amazing.

Kit: 20:20 Do you have any particularly funny memory of something that happened on the trip? Something that makes you laugh every time you think about it?

Linda: 20:29 They have a thing called a Freedom Cup… and it’s this big stone cup with a top on it and they put this liqueur in it. And the liqueur is on fire, and you have this saying — and I will find it when I do the recording — that you pass the cup… you take a sip… and it’s really, the first time you do it, it’s like, “Woah!” But you can’t stop passing it around because it’s bad luck until the liquor is all gone. So you say this thing: health to yo,u and peace, and then you would take a sip and then pass it to the next person. And we finished it. And we all, it was just the thought that we did it. But it’s something that they do they are for peace and friendship. And that was, I think, the second to last dinner we did it.

Kit: 21:27 I hope you took a photo or video you can share!

Linda: 21:30 I will send you that photo of one of the girls drinking from it.

Kit: 21:35 Oh did you have to use crampons or anything or is there anything technical? Or is this basic hiking if you know how to hike?

Linda: 21:43 Well I asked them ahead of time. We took our sticks. Of course we took our walking sticks with us to Peru. And I asked them ahead of time, “Do I need my walking sticks?” And they didn’t say emphatically, “Yes” but we took them anyway.

Linda: 22:00 And I said to them you need to tell people they need to bring walking sticks because you really did need them on this trip. All of us had them. One girl actually didn’t bring them and they lent her one which she used. But really just the walking sticks you would need. The give you a packing list. of what to take. We took every single thing on that packing list… not that we used everything. Thank God, we didn’t need rain gear but they had everything you could possibly need during those 12 days. And I would say definitely just hiking sticks, no crampons.

Kit: 22:39 I wasn’t sure if you needed any special supplies like crampons in case you did glacier walks or such.

Linda: 22:39 Well I slid down a couple of snow hills.

Kit: 22:50 That had to be thrilling!

Linda: 22:54 But not enough to not to stop before it went anywhere dangerous.

Kit: 22:56 If you run into somebody you haven’t seen in a while, but they know you went on this trip and they say, “Oh how was Mont Blanc?” What hit your mind first? What do you think of first?

Linda: 23:05 Oh the people and the scenery because everyone here thinks we’re out of our minds. I think just the fact… just telling them how beautiful the whole area is… and the mountains. I mean we still can’t forget that whole what it looked like. Harry is in the process of doing our book on it.

Linda: 23:29 And then we had the opportunity to go hang gliding. I went tandem, I think it was hang gliding, off the mountain. That was in our free day. So there were opportunities to do other things on your free day. Also probably that the hang gliding is pretty impressive that I did it and I may never do it again, but I did it.

Kit: 23:53 I’m not sure I can do that. I’m proud of you there! And that was in Chamonix?

Linda: 24:00 Yes, the free day was in Chamonix. So that was the last full day we had there.

Linda: 24:12 Some people hiked. Quite a few of us, I think there were seven of us, that went hang gliding. Some had done it before. Harry and I had never done it before. But that’s what we did on our free day. And they recommend the group that you go to, and they they arranged everything. We just met them and did it. But there were so many people hang gliding. When you see them against the mountains and the clouds, you you’re like, “Oh my God!” It’s pretty high up, and it was something to be seen.

Kit: 24:45 Yeah I’m not sure I’d have the courage to do that. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat about things like that. I feel comfortable hiking but I don’t know about that up in the air stuff.

Linda: 24:55 I don’t like heights. They said to me, “Oh you know you run up the mountain and then you’re up in the air. So I got hooked up with the guy that was tandem with me. I made sure he had a family that he loved. And I was the first one. He just said, “Stand up and take one step” and we weren’t even near the edge. And before we knew it, we were on the air and I was like, “Woah!” So I didn’t have time to anticipate to be scared. But it was amazing floating over the villages and seeing everything from that high. I mean, you were way above the mountains. I mean it was pretty spectacular.

Kit: 25:38 Now you’re up in the air and there’s no going back. Were you scared or it’s like, “OK, I’m just going to go with it and enjoy it?” Or how do you feel then?

Linda: 25:48 I wasn’t really scared. I was he was wonderful and we were chatting it up. And my stomach got a little queasy while we were up there. And at that point he said to me — before I told him my stomach didn’t feel well — he said, “Oh, do you like roller coasters?” And I said, “This is like not the good time to ask me that! Let’s just float like we are now.” But he was explaining everything. He actually let me steer a little bit, and then the landing was so easy. And then I watched Harry go next.

Kit: 26:20 There’s one common theme I’ve found with the people I’m talking to is about how quickly you bond with the people you meet. And in doing an adventure travel activity. Do you see that when you meet somebody… all of a sudden you just connect so quickly… much quicker than you do back at home for some reason. Do you find that at all, or what your experience with that?

Linda: 26:45 The people we had — actually on both trips — the people we had on this trip, we just bonded. There was one couple that had their anniversary. We’re planning to ski with them in Colorado. They were the kind of people that if you’re near where they live or they want to come visit you would just really have them over, and be able to go visit them again or travel with them again.

Linda: 27:13 We told Phil we were going on this, and he chose to come along with us and we just had a great time with him again. So you really do form a bond, and you get really get to know each other. You’re together 24/7 really, other than sleeping.

Kit: 27:32 And Phil you met in Peru? You weren’t friends before Peru?

Linda: 27:36 No we met in Peru.

Kit: 27:38 This is once again another example of that bonding I keep talking about how you’ll meet these people when your adventure traveling that the bonds are so quick and so deep that you end up traveling with people that you didn’t know previous to that trip. This is how I’ve been traveling in the last couple of years. I’ll meet somebody on one trip, and that arranges the next trip that I’m going, and I’ll meet somewhere in that trip, and then I’ll end up joining them on yet another trip. And I keep calling like this interwoven slinky that’s gotten all tangled because you get all these interconnected friendships. So cool.

Linda: 28:11 Absolutely!  Absolutely!

Kit: 28:13 Is there anything that I did not ask you that you wish that I had… that you would like our listeners to know about the Tour de Mont Blanc?

Linda: 28:21 I just think they’re very well organized. They’re very clear with their itineraries they’re very clear with packing and very clear with costs and very clear screening people to see if this trip is good for them. They answer all your questions, especially when you’re trying to pick which trip might be the best one to do. You know, they have one to the Galapagos. They said, “You may want to save that tour for when you are older.” They want to know what you’re interested in seeing. I just think I would really recommend Active Adventures. We had nothing critical to say about them or negative to say about them.

Linda: 29:09 And the fact that all these other people, even the girl that was in the earthquake in Nepal with Active, never thought twice about not repeating another trip with them. It really tells you something because she was in the with them during a catastrophe and she said they just handled it really well. And that says something about Active to be able to respond to something like that, so catastrophic, that you’re not expecting. I think the prices are fair and the fact that you do some kayaking and biking but the majority is hiking, which is really what we wanted (as opposed to other trips that do hiking but may have you know just as much biking or something else).

Kit: 29:59 Oh and I want to ask you: you had a local guide as well as an American guide, or how does that work?

Linda: 30:06 You had a local guide: he was amazing. He actually carried the torch when the Olympics were in Chamonix. He wasn’t American, and he was amazing. I mean he’s done this all his life. Him and Corin, who was the driver, we’re wonderful. We also had Andy who was from Active Adventures, but pretty much the local guide did all the guiding and answered all our questions. Andy was great as he helped everyone with whatever they needed as far as questions regarding the trip. But the local guides… we had another guy in Peru that actually was higher, that is an Active Adventure group leader, who is also amazing. Just respectful of the local people as well as all of us as well as anybody they run into. Which says something about their character.

Kit: 31:08 There’s a few more things I want to talk to you about about the Montblanc. You may have heard that this glacier covered mountain is the deadliest mountain in the Alps and this is true. However I want to emphasize that you’re not actually hiking Mont Blanc but you’re actually hiking AROUND it in the mountain range and looking at it to see its majesty. Montblanc, at just under 16000 feet or 4800 meters, is about twice as tall as the mountains you’ll be hiking on this tour. The Montblanc circuit is not a technical hike or a climb but it’s a walk. However there are times that it’s a difficult walk so you really need to train for it. I’ll put on the website how I would personally train for this hike. I’ll put the details on the ActiveTravelAdventures.com web site for this particular episode episode: number seven.

Kit: 31:51 I think the key to training is consistency. In a nutshell I basically, at least twice a week, I’ll use my backpack with a little bit of weight to get used to carrying some weight on my back. And then once a week I’ll do a little bit longer hike of two to three hours, and I’ll start that maybe month two — I try to do three, but at least two months beforehand I’ll do that, but that’s it in a nutshell. You’ll find more notes on the web site.

Kit: 32:15 Once a year usually late summer, or late August early September, ultra marathoners run the trail in about 21 hours. So you want to make sure to find out when they’re running so you can avoid them unless you want to go see them. But if you are going to be there on the day they’re running you want to make sure you book your accommodations in advance because everything is going to get booked.

Kit: 32:32 An interesting historical note is that in the late 1700’s hundreds Mont Blanc was finally climbed and created the sport of mountaineering. As part of the Montblanc massive mountain range, Montblanc is the highest point in Western Europe and the tallest in the EU. This beautiful region attracts over six million visitors per year: 20000 alone just hike the Mont Blanc trail. To avoid snow. It’s best to go in late June and finish up by early October… I would even say maybe make it a little bit earlier… I would try to finish by mid-September myself. That’s not to say you’re not going to have any snow because mountains can always be unpredictable, but you’re likely to have the best weather during this time frame. Remember it could be chilly and even cold even in the summer.

Kit: 33:09 Often 40 to 60 degrees during the day which is 5 to 15 degrees Celsius, and lower at nights. I would keep my thermal jacket and my rain gear with me at all times to be prepared for any sudden change of weather. The mountains can be unpredictable weather wise. I would figure your pack weight to be somewhere around 20 pounds (about 9 kilograms). You might want to pick up a copy of my personal packing list at www.ActiveTravelAdventures.com.

Kit: 33:32 On this hike you’re going to be walking in several different ecosystems from fields and pastures at the lower elevations to Arctic tundra and Alpine Meadows higher up. If you can, you want to allow some extra time to sight see, as you get to go through some really cool areas, especially Chamonix, which is the site of the first winter Olympics in 1924. It has one of the oldest ski resorts in France and it faces the north side of Mont Blanc Summit.

Kit: 33:55 I hope you’ve enjoyed the Tour du Mont Blanc. Please subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss a future episode. If you’re not sure how to, just go to the front page of the www.ActiveTravelAdventures.com web site and I’ll walk you through it. I’d ask you to please share this episode with some of your adventurous friends. Better yet, why don’t you grab your friend, and plan to hike the Montblanc together? While this trail is perfect for solo hikers, it’s also great to have companionship as well! And be sure to pop me an email and let me know how you did, and post some photos on the ATA Facebook group.

Kit: 34:23 Our thanks to Linda for sharing her adventure. If you want to connect with Linda you can find her on Facebook at Linda Cowen Dickens. I do want to mention too, if you’re interested, I was interviewed on the Zero To Travel podcast by Jason last week about an Alaskan adventure I did doing an Alaskan cruise… but not your typical cruise. I used the Alaskan ferry system which goes to the same ports as the fancy cruise lines but this is a way to do it on the cheap. It’s not an adventure trip the way I did on this trip but if you’re interested I’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well. And also I did do a travel planner that’s included in this month’s newsletter that you’re welcome to get. That’ll help you plan that trip pretty easily. I’ll see you next time. Until then, adventure on!