When 55-year old Patricia from Argentina proposed to her group of hiking-loving friends to cross the Atlantic to do the Tour du Mont Blanc, she wasn’t expecting such an enthusiastic response. Almost immediately, 8 of them said yes and in no time the group was organizing their trip to France.
Some of them thought it’d be a good opportunity to also spend some time in Europe with their husbands and kids; others traveled just for the hike. But they were all just as excited! With different fitness levels, Patricia warned the group that they had to start training right away.
A fan of adventure races and trail-running, Patricia had set eyes on the Mont Blanc a while ago. She had even considered participating in one of the shorter races of the Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc, but the possibility of visiting with 8 of her friends now seemed unbeatable.
Through Explore-Share.com, she contacted UIMLA-certified mountain leader Anja, originally from Germany but currently living in the Chamonix area. Anja adjusted her 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc program to the 7 days that the Argentine group of friends were hoping for. “It was basically the same itinerary, except that you do two sections by car,” Patricia says.
A resident of Buenos Aires — a huge city of more than 10 million people — Patricia and her husband have a second home in the northern province of Salta. They fell in love with the area a couple of years ago and bought a small piece of land in Chicoana, 50 km south of its capital city. It was in Salta that Patricia started hiking regularly and met the group of friends that would travel with her to do the Tour du Mont Blanc.
“It’s a great group of women. When somebody comes up with an idea, the rest is always in,” says Patricia of her newly-found friends. The women, from 30 to 60 years old, regularly get together to hike around Salta.
Last year, they also traveled to Peru, where they did the Salkantay trek. It was a great experience that left very fond memories, so nobody hesitated when Patricia proposed Mont Blanc as their next destination.
“For the treks, it’s a women-only group, but we do try to include our husbands and boyfriends for some other outdoor stuff we do together,” says Patricia with a laugh. “It’s great to share this with the girls. Other women go shopping together; we hike”, says Patricia.
Hiring a guide to do the TMB
Regarding their experience with their guide Anja, Patricia says: “She was very quick to understand the group. She knew she could push us a little so she would propose to climb a little further or take a more difficult path.”
Everybody had trained well for the 7-day trek and all nine of them were able to enjoy it immensely, despite the program being quite demanding.
“We were progressing at a good pace so sometimes we enjoyed a longer lunch and stopped all the time to admire the flowers and take pictures. You didn’t know if it was the Tour du Mont Blanc or the Tour du Jardin!,” she says.
The group particularly enjoyed how varied the hike was and how different to the treks they do back home. “We would walk into a little village and visit a local producer to buy some French cheese. It was so different to what we can do in Salta,” Patricia says. “And Anja was great at taking care of the logistics. She would stop along the way to buy groceries and then hand out wonderful picnic lunches every day.”
For many of the girls in the group, it was the first time in a mountain refuge. “We were the loudest in the huts. A British lady nicknamed us the “rainbow girls” because we were all wearing jackets of different colors, we drew attention to ourselves! We kept running into the same people along the way; that was really fun too,” Patricia recalls.
One truly special moment stayed engraved in her memory: “We were traversing Val Ferret, leaving Italy to enter Switzerland, and were finishing a particularly difficult climb. As we arrived to the top, we all looked at each other and got really emotional. The weather and the views were incredible and I couldn’t help but look back to the whole journey: all the emails, reservations, all the decisions. It was a really beautiful moment.”
The Tour du Mont Blanc
One of the most popular long-distance walks in the world, the classic Tour du Mont Blanc covers roughly 170 kilometers and takes around 10 days to complete. It circles the Mont Blanc Massif and passes through parts of France, Switzerland and Italy.
It is also the route of the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, a mountain marathon in which the winner generally covers the entire circuit in 24 hours. Over the years, the official route has suffered some changes and there are now many alternatives to the standard route.
The huts along the way are among the best in the Alps and at many points there’s the option of staying at comfortable B&Bs, including in Courmayeur in Italy and Champex in Switzerland. You’ll also enjoy great food, from classic French to Italian cuisine.
Although you would need 10 or 11 days to complete the classic Tour du Mont Blanc, several variants exist: from the 7 days that Patricia and her friends did to a 5-day hiking tour from Courmayeur to Chamonix, which is basically a half tour. You could also choose to combine it with the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, another great classic in the Alps.
Want to read some more about how women are claiming their place in the mountaineering world? Read our post on the subject here.