Recently, I learned about a Backwoods hiking trek through the Mont Blanc mountain range of the Alps. Some friends of ours, an energetic and fit couple, went on this trek as one of their many adventurous and challenging trips. The Kona marathon on their destination wedding trip to Hawaii is also part of their adventurous trip “resume”. I interviewed my dynamic and stunning friend about the Mont Blanc trek with Backwoods.
How did you choose this trip?
We considered Kilimanjaro but Mont Blanc looked like a perfect start for us. It seemed more luxurious. Backwoods trips are a lot of climbing and fishing. Their theory is that it’s a “step above camping” by using hostels or simple hotels on the side of the mountain.
There is a price for the excursion, food and lodging outside of airfare. You get 3 meals a day. It was all fresh foods, (hardly any beef,) cheese, ham, prosciutto, fresh vegetables and fruit, Italian wine, pasta, chicken, pork, and lamb. We encountered huge bovines on the mountain but those were used for their milk. There was a full variety of breakfast items.
Describe the program. Did you find it on the internet or use a travel agent?
I researched it all through Backwoods but used a travel agent for the flights and hotels that we stayed at before the trek started. We went a couple of days early to acclimate to the altitude because it’s so high above sea level.
Tell me about the sherpas.
The sherpas used mules to transport our things. The mules are used to rugged terrain. They walk with you but they go at a much slower pace behind you. They also used a car. We had to carry our own gear, too. They allowed packing of separate bags and there is one bag they transport from hut to hut on the mountain for you via car or sherpa.
Describe the climb.
On our climb, we could hear and feel the shaking of an avalanche on a nearby mountain several feet away. We were separated by a valley. We did a climb to an ice cave. You go up the mountain by train and have lunch on the glacier. People also hiked on the glacier. Just as you see on the movie, “Everest”, the air is so thin, the helicopter can’t stay–they drop the rescuer. Helicopter pilots only work 4 hour shifts because the helicopter can’t handle the thin air. The highest point was 12,000 feet. We always slept in hostels or buildings with a roof. That’s why we chose it–it wasn’t a tent in Kilimanjaro.
How did you physically prepare for this trek?
It was recommended that I start doing aerobic activity 1 hour at a time for 4 to 5 times a week, which I usually do anyway. I did a ton of stairs on the stair machine with an oxygen mask that you can adjust to 3,000, 6,000 or 12, 000 feet of altitude. It was ordered off the internet by my trainer. I wore in my hiking boots by running in them 3 miles at a time, power walking 6 miles a day and doing the Stairmaster in them. I had no problems with my hiking boots or blisters because of this. If you don’t do this, you’ll experience problems; especially knee and shoe problems. You use hiking poles, too because they pull you up when you’re tired. My trainer built up my bicep and tricep strength. One woman quit after the first day. She sat out one day because the guide made her. She hadn’t really prepared. She caught up with us later by car.
What brand hiking boots did you use?
What was your route?
We started in Chamonix, France, then went onto Italy and Switzerland and looped back through France. Mont Blanc mountain range covered France, Italy and Switzerland. The day started at 7 -8 am. and we were done at 5:30-6:00 pm. The only way to summit up to it is through ice rappelling because it’s solid ice up top at approximately 15,781 feet. Guides are a must! 3 or more people use guides. You spend a couple of days in each country. The French Alps and Graian Alps are some of the 10 most dangerous mountains to climb. There was a group of people who weren’t on our trek but were following us and our guide. The French military helicopter came and the police questioned them because they are not supposed to do that.
What did you learn about yourself?
I learned to trust other people. When crossing a waterfall, I looked down on an 8,000 foot drop…..I learned to trust our guide because I was shaking with fear. In the movie, “Everest”, they show a scene where they use ladders across certain points. I am so glad we didn’t do the ladders. They anchor down the ladders over a 6,000 foot drop and we were going to do one but the terrain got washed out so we didn’t end up doing ladders and took another route instead.
What did this adventure do for you mentally and emotionally?
It was a victory for myself. It’s adventurous and a lot of people don’t do it. It pushed me. The scenery was so beautiful and it was something I shared with my husband.