Hik­ing the stren­u­ous Tour du Mont Blanc was the high­light of his year

Our Canada - - Features | Departments - By An­drew Wil­son, Kam­loops, B. C.

Ihave al­ways en­joyed 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.

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 kilo­me­tres, the trail of­fers about 30,000 cu­mu­la­tive feet of as­cent and de­scent as it winds its way through nu­mer­ous moun­tain passes.

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 snows. Each an­i­mal wears its own bell, so from far away, you can hear a joy­ous sym­phony as they munch their way along. 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!

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. n

From top left: An­drew (right) and his cousin Ralph at Col des Fours in France along the TMB; An­drew with Mont Blanc in the back­ground; Rifu­gio Elis­a­betta, a hos­tel in the Ital­ian Alps along the TMB; a typ­i­cal val­ley scene along the route; a Swiss...

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