White Mountain

Kate and I have done a fair share of hiking in the past few years, or at least we thought so. We had spent seven days in Banff, Canada, six days in Glacier, Montana, and a couple of trips to the BWCA. So when we read our guide-book’s “moderate eight days on top of Europe” Haute Route hike we were optimistic. But further research showed we’d be hiking across snow fields, climbing 50-food vertical ladders, and using rescue lines to cross glacier crevasses. I guess Europeans have a different definition of “moderate.” So we found an altogether different route called the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB).

Mont Blanc is the highest point in Europe at a not-so-whopping 4,800 meters. (Alaska: 6,194m, Andes: 6,962m, Himalayas: 8,848m, Kilimanjaro: 5,895 m) And to lessen it’s majesty some more, a cable car takes anyone and everyone to 3,800 meters, leaving the last 1,000 an easy stroll, so I hear. None the less, it’s a beautiful winter wonderland up there all year round, which made a great centerpiece for our hike. We stashed our less-useful gear at a Couchsurfer’s place (thanks Katie!) in Les Houches and took off the next morning. The hike took eight days, 100 miles, between 1,000 and 2,600 meters elevation, and crossed into France, Italy and Switzerland!

A few interesting points: Day one we saw no fewer than 200 other hikers. Cows grazed just about everywhere, making music with their bells. We did end up using ladders, but only on the last day. Instant meals with cornstarch should never be added to hot water (didn’t we learn this one already?).

The route is so popular that at least two dozen “refuges” have been set up to provide meals and lodging along the way. We did enjoy a couple of bowls of hot chocolate at Refuge des Mottets, but didn’t enjoy the $50 per-person dorm beds. Instead we either found a campground, or more often just joined the cows, although we later heard that Italian police enforce the free-camping fine regularly. Funny story: as we entered the Swiss part of the trek we found the local campground offering a “TMB hiker special” for only $40 per tent. The nerve! We got a much better deal between some trees further down the trail.

Even though we passed through a tiny town almost every day, and most of the refuges had electricity and service roads, the trek felt pretty isolated from the outside world. I mean, that’s partly why we do these sorts of things. So imaging my frustration as we finally summit one of the high passes, after laboring for hours up switchbacks and scree, ready to feast on the reward of a morning’s ***RING*** ***RING*** “Yeah? I’m like checking out this mountain thing. You wanna hang out tonight or something? We should totally see a movie.” I don’t actually know what she was saying, but she was passing us, still talking on her phone, and I felt completely deflated. At the top there were a couple more people talking, and just as many texting; one man must have been running his brokerage from 2,000 meters. I hear they just gave the OK for AT&T to install cell phone coverage for parts of the BWCA. Hmmm…I guess I agree that the emergency options are good, but neighbors watching YouTube changes the mood for all of us. Portaging Knife Lake will be different when passing someone carrying a canoe and a mobile. Facebook status update: “Being in the wilderness is awesome right now!”

How was the hike? Absolutely wonderful. So wonderful that we needed a couple of days rest in Chamonix before hitchhiking our way into Italy, which was an experience in itself.

2 Comments

cj

September 14th, 2011

I was very glad to hear you did not take the “moderate climb” up the mountain. Yikes!!

recklesswonder

November 13th, 2011

We agree! We weren’t brave enough! But we were certainly content with our trek.

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