Hiking one of Europe’s most beloved trails, the Tour du Mont Blanc exceeded our hopes of being an epic adventure for our family. The trip was booked to celebrate the last of our four kids graduating from high school, and an annual convening of the family to let the good times roll. Training hikes around home in California built up strength and expectations. With packs filled with the recommended gear, of which we used every single piece, we hit classic Chamonix. The town had a great energy exuding from the huge population of hikers who take over during the summer season. It was at our first dinner, over rustic French country fare and local wines, that we began to absorb the legend of the revered Tour from our guides, each of whom brought an exclusive mastery to the trek.
360-degree breathtaking views unveiled themselves from day 1, a day complete with an adrenaline-rush 100 vertical feet of ladders and a swinging bridge crossing alpine whitewater. Every day the tour supplied different vistas, from the Anguilles du Midi, to the majestic imposing glaciers, to quintessential Swiss pastures all entwined by fantastic views of the Mt. Blanc massif.
Hours and whole days flew by hiking, everyone at his or her own speed. Our daughter who guided us through sun salutations to get a morning stretch led the best start to the day. Most days we had mountainside picnics, hiking to a col and rewarding ourselves on the other side with hearty baguettes.
On day 5, energetic Tanya dared the willing to race to the top of the col, and within minutes of marking a starting line the boys were pounding toward the peak!
Our favorite daily ritual was a pit stop in a mountain refuge (old farm house turned hikers’ welcome hut) to refuel. Each refuge was unique, usually a hip vibe with the backpacking crowd in the majority, a great place to chill out, grab a beer and a snack or a cup of luxurious hot chocolate.
We trekked through hot sun, chilly winds on the cols, and occasional rain, which gave us a reason to wear ponchos and use those backpack rain-covers. We decided hiking in the rain is actually enjoyable in an inner-kid like way. It’s not something you’re going to do normally, but definitely fun.
Nothing wraps up a perfect day of hiking like an (extended) family dinner. Great food, local wine and beer, and with our family, there is always music. We brought a guitar and a mandolin, (the didgeridoo was left behind; at the last minute we weren’t sure it would fit in the overhead bin). We had several great dinners, one of which was at the family run hiker’s lodge at Les Chapieux. After an amazing day of hiking, we dropped off our boots in the “boot-cellar” (a small room off the kitchen where every hiker staying at the inn stored their boots on pegs to dry overnight), and were seduced by savory aromas coming from the rustic kitchen. Our guides pulled out all the stops for a birthday party for one of our group, complete with a sea of balloons and a decadent cake. The night was full of toasts and sing-a-longs and finished with Clive’s classic Irish ballads to close.
Generally, the hiking was strenuous enough for everyone, but on day 5, Tanya offered the option of a more intense hike to the Col de la Forclaz. Four of our crew took the bait and had the hike of a lifetime, scaling large boulders and shimmying along steep walls for the ultimate payoff at the top alongside the Trient glacier.
While they hiked up, the rest of us opted for a gentler stroll through bovine pastures, actually named “The Bovine Route.” It’s funny to say the cows were pretty, but they actually were, and the giant melodic cowbells clanging will forever remind us of our brush with this part of the world. We even brought home a giant cowbell! Several of us actually recorded that sound on iPhones.
As the suspense built up in the afternoon, we waited for the Col group to make their way back down. We commandeered a couple of tables at the patio bar of our hotel, provisioned ourselves with pitchers of Rose and waited for the return of the mountaineers.
Their stories were impressive and grew bigger over our hours-long dinner into a late night guitar gig complete with cute French girls form the hotel staff joining in the party. Our son, the family wine authority, led the rally cry of the evening “plus vin” (more wine)!
Our guides were the best: Clive with his sense of history and soulful ballads, Tanya with her technical skills, love of mountain flora, and boundless happiness factor, and Sergio with his flexible, personable style, great Italian laugh, and love for all things food and wine. To say we had TMB withdrawal in the days following our tour puts our experience into proper perspective.
-Text and photos by WT adventurer Michelle Edmunds, Tour du Mont Blanc