Canadians Abroad: An Alpine Adventure

Hiking the strenuous Tour du Mont Blanc was the highlight of this year.

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Andrew Wilson and his cousin Ralph at the Tour du Mont Blanc
Photo: Andrew Wilson

Trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc

I have always enjoying hiking and have taken many trips to different parts of Canada, including the Rockies, Mount Robson and the West Coast trail. So when my cousin Ralph asked me if I wanted to join him on a 12-day hike through the alpine area that surrounds Mont Blanc—known as the Tour du Mont Blanc, or TMB—I jumped at the chance.

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Andrew Wilson at the European Alps
Photo: Andrew Wilson

Widely known in Europe, the TMB is a 170-kilometre hike that encircles the Mont Blanc massif, which at 14,500 feet is the highest peak in the European Alps. The hike begins in Chamonix, France (among other starting points), and then continues over 12 days through alpine areas of France, Italy and Switzerland before ending back in Chamonix. Throughout the course of the 170 kiloemetres, the trail offers about 30,000 cumulative feet of ascent and descent as it winds its way through numerous mountain passes.

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Mountain pass in Mont Blanc
Photo: Andrew Wilson

With a strenuous route like this, having the right gear is important. Good, sturdy hiking boots, gaiters and hiking poles are essential, as is a strong but lightweight pack. The weather in the mountains can be unpredictable, and one must be prepared for snow, rain and high winds, as well as high-altitude sun exposure. The terrain ranges from flower-filled valleys, like in the movie Heidi, to high mountain passes with snow up to your waist. In between are chalets for skiing in winter, and summer homes for the other times of the year. The movie The Sound of Music often came to mind as we strolled through lovely villages in valley areas. Also, along the way, you are likely to encounter herds of contented cows, goats and sheep. They happily eat the rich grasses that spring up after the winter snow. Each animal wears its own bell, so from far away, you can hear a joyous symphony as they munch their way along.

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Hostel in Mont Blanc
Photo: Andrew Wilson

Fortunately, aside from proper clothing, snacks and water, there is no need to pack a lot of other gear such as tents, cooking gear and so on. All through the Tour are numerous hostels (called refuges in France, rifugios in Italy) that offer accommodation and meals, all for a set price. It was wonderful to know that after a 15-kilometre, 4,000-vertical-foot hike (the average distance we did), there would be a bed, a hot meal and a cool drink to enjoy!

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Green field in Mont Blanc
Photo: Andrew Wilson

The scenery on the TMB is fabulous, and so are the many people that you encounter. Over the course of our hike, we met people who came there from all over the world. We met many Europeans, as well as hikers from the U.S., China, Korea and even a few fellow British Columbians. On several occasions, hikers from other parts of the world would be surprised to hear that we were from Canada. “Canada is so beautiful! Why do you come here?” they would exclaim. While we know that our own country is indeed blessed with many beautiful and diverse areas, it is always wonderful to experience new parts of the world. Travelling away from Canada only makes us appreciate our own country all the more. The Tour du Mont Blanc was certainly a highlight of my year.

Originally Published in Our Canada

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