The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is a ~170km hiking circuit around Mont Blanc (4,807m), the highest mountain in Western Europe. The trail passes through alpine scenery in Switzerland, Italy and France with an accumulated ascent and descent of approx 10,000m (my knees hurt just thinking about it!).
As a circuit, it’s possible to hike in either direction, although as most guidebooks describe the anti-clockwise route, this tends to be the most popular. (We’re using the Cicerone, ‘Trekking the Tour of Mont Blanc‘ guide by Kev Reynolds which has full route descriptions for both directions.)
My dad’s a keen hiker and it’s always been a dream of mine for us to go hiking together somewhere in the world, but the logistics have been tricky (he lives in Australia and has only recently retired and I live in England).
I never gave up hope (or asking persistently), just like when we were on a family holiday in Queensland when I was 14. On the day we arrived, we passed a bunjy jumping tower. I asked dad if I could do it and he said no, probably saying I was too young. I asked repeatedly everyday of that two week holiday until he got fed up and changed his mind. He drove me back to the bunjy jumping tower, signed the form on my behalf, paid, and shouted out from down below that he would come up and push me off if I chickened out!
So in my quest to get dad to agree to hike the TMB together, I tried the following 5-step program:
4 January 2017, I sent him an email describing the TMB and asked if he was interested (no reply)
5 January 2017, I sent the link to the autourdumontblanc website (no reply)
6 January 2017, I sent a link to a Guardian newspaper article about the TMB (no reply)
7 January 2017, I sent the elevation profile and a link to a YouTube video from REI (no reply)
8 January 2017, I told him there were lakes he could swim in along the hike (still no reply)
And then, ten months later, on 18 November 2017, I received the following message,
“plan the alps walk for next year”
And now began the lengthy discussions regarding how to hike the TMB:
Which direction to hike? After reading that the most popular direction is anti-clockwise, we decided on clockwise, hoping for a quieter experience.
When to go? The hiking season is June to September with July and August the most popular months. I started to look at accommodation options in February this year and many of the hotels were already booked so we knew we had to make a decision fast. We just didn’t want to be hiking during the UTMB ultra race that starts on 27 August, so we decided on 15-24 August.
Do we camp? My first thought was to camp, but I’m glad he talked me out of it so we can carry lighter packs.
Should we book a tour? We then looked at different tour companies for a self-guided tour, but decided it would be cheaper to book independently. We agreed luggage transfers wouldn’t be required as we could pack light knowing we were staying in accommodation each night.
Huts vs hotels? We compromised, and booked two huts for the experience and 7 hotels/auberges. I booked the hotels through booking.com and the huts through the autourdumontblanc website.
Over the past 9 months we’ve become even closer, speaking weekly about gear choices – rain jacket vs poncho, shoes vs boots, how much or little to carry, how to get there etc (sorry to our family members for talking about nothing else for so long!) and now it’s really happening!
As mentioned above, we’re using the Cicerone, ‘Trekking the Tour of Mont Blanc‘ guide by Kev Reynolds and following his suggestion of starting in Champex when hiking the route clockwise. So we are going to:
FLY: London to Geneva
TRAIN: Geneva airport to Martigny
TRAIN: Martigny to Sembrancher
TRAIN: Sembrancher to Orsieres
BUS: Orsieres to Champex Lac
then stay the night in Champex and begin the following morning.
After the hike
Dad told me about the scenic Glacier Express train which I’d never heard of, but it passes near Champex (where we start and finish), so we booked onto the middle part of this train journey from Brig to Chur and will then fly out from Zurich.
How I’m feeling (the week before we start)
I’ve never planned something for so long before (I started the PCT four months after deciding to do it and even my wedding was planned within a year), and have never had such high hopes and dreams riding on a hike, but I really want this to be an incredible once in a lifetime experience for my dad who’s just turned 69. I left Australia 17 years ago and since then we’ve only seen each other for a week or two every three or four years and I’m really starting to regret having lived away for so long. I guess every child wants to please their parents, no matter how old they are, so all I’m really hoping is that this is the best father-daughter experience ever. That’s all! (I’m very very nervous!)