Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc Express (Video)

In August, my friends and I fulfilled a big dream together and hiked the world famous Tour du Mont Blanc. This trek had been on my to-do list for a while and I was scoping it out with REI Adventures when a friend suggested that I join their group. They were doing the express version of the hike in 6 days, so their trip was more budget-friendly.

REI’s trip was 13 days, so it was nearly double the price of what we paid, and that didn’t even include airfare. It’s a little bit crazy to take on this level of a hike in such a short period of time, but entirely doable. We saw a video of a couple that did it in the same amount of time, so that gave us more confidence.

The trip wasn’t without its challenges, though. However, this first day of the journey was relatively mellow and provided a good warmup for the rest of the trip. On this first day, we hiked from Les Houches, France via Col de Tricot and Le Truc into Les Contamines, France where we spent the night. It was a total of 11 miles with 4,728 ft elevation gain and 4,144 ft elevation loss.

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Tour du Mont Blanc on a Budget

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Photo Credit: National Geographic Expeditions

Whether you’re young, old, or in-between, chances are you’ve created a “bucket list” or some other type of list of things to do, places to see, etc. Maybe you’ve got a ton of things on your list, consisting mainly of things you know you won’t have the time, energy or money to do in your lifetime. Or maybe you’ve got a more practical short list of things that are attainable where you can actually envision checking things off one by one and being able to pat yourself on the back with a sense of accomplishment. Maybe you don’t have a list at all, but a dream that one day you will do X, Y, or Z. Whatever the case is for you, just know that it’s not impossible.

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.

-Susan Sontag

I have so many places on my list that I don’t think I’ll even get to put a dent in it before I “kick the bucket”. But I’ve decided to take it one destination at a time and see how far I can get. I have been wanting to visit Italy for at least the past fifteen years or so and year after year, I have purposed to do it, but a plan never fully came together. I saw a really great Italy adventure package offered by REI and set my sights on doing that someday. It’s expensive, but it’s REI, so I know it’s a quality experience. Their trips also don’t include airfare.

While perusing the REI adventure trips, I came across another trip to put on my list: the Tour du Mont Blanc. On this trip, I found that I could visit Italy, France and Switzerland all in one trip as I completed the trek around the base of the Mont Blanc. How exciting! Except that the trip costs more than $5,000 not including airfare. I decided I would need to put this one on my list for a couple of years or so down the road while I saved the money and vacation time needed for the 13-day trek.

I was so excited about adding this new trip to my ever-growing list that I shared the link to my Facebook page. A friend saw it and told me that he and a group of other friends were planning the trip for this year and he was going to add me to the group so I could get all the information. I was blown away when I saw that they were doing the same trip for a fraction of what the REI version was listed at. I read through all the details and then quickly signed up and paid my deposit. I couldn’t miss out on such a great deal and on the opportunity to share such a fun experience with amazing friends.

Many people end up with these extravagant bucket lists of places they’ll never go for one main reason. They think they can’t afford to travel. I used to believe that, too, and then a wonderful opportunity fell right into my lap. The best part of all is that it’s not going to break the bank.

Book Early

For a popular trip like Mont Blanc, it’s best to book at least a year in advance. The hotels and auberges along the route fill up quickly and late summer is their peak time, so to ensure that you can get all your accommodations, jump on it a year in advance. Also, tour companies have lower prices the farther out you book, so be sure to inquire about deadlines and deposits.

Be Low Maintenance

As opposed to taking a tour led by a guide, my friends and I are doing the self-guided tour offered by Macs Adventure. Self-guided basically means you’re on your own during the trek, but the company books all of your accommodations and luggage transfers in advance. All we have to do is take what we need for our day hike to the next village and our luggage (up to 30 lbs) will be waiting for us at each stop. Because we are doing the express version of this trek, we will accomplish in eight days what the REI trip and other trips do in 13 or more days. Yes, we’ll be hiking quite a few miles each day. The base cost for our tour is $1,245, plus $200 for a single supplement.

Sign Up for Flight Alerts

Once you’ve booked the tour itself, you’re over halfway there. Unfortunately, this isn’t an all-inclusive package (which would cost more) so you will need to shop for the best prices on flights. You can book flights a year in advance and there are advantages to doing that. You will most likely get your first choice of flight times and you won’t have to worry about trying to book later. The thing is, airline prices go up and down and are unpredictable. I wasn’t able to book my flights when the rest of the group did, so I signed up for Google Flight Alerts where I would receive alerts anytime there was a change in price for my selected flights. Due to a flight alert, I was able to book my round-trip flight to Switzerland from LAX for a total of $700. It was a steal! While I didn’t get the exact same flights as my friends booked, I did book on the same airline with a flight that arrives in Switzerland thirty minutes behind them. I will also be on the same return flight for one leg of the trip from Switzerland to Paris, France.

Those are just a few tidbits on how to cross a big trip off your list if you really want to make it happen. Don’t let financial limitations stop you from doing something extraordinary. Pay your bills and then do your research to determine what it will take to get one thing at a time crossed off your list. Be on the lookout for opportunities that may fall into your lap. Those things do exist, just look what happened to me. I’m able to do what I’m doing because an opportunity presented itself.

The next thing to work on is the physical preparation necessary to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc, which I’ll share more about later. 🙂

Hike on!

~J

Traveling. It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.

-IBN Battuta

Trekking in the Negev Desert

Back in April, I was blessed to organize and lead a trip to the beautiful country of Israel to go on a multi-day trek across the Negev Desert with a youth group.

Seffi leads the charge.

Seffi leads the charge.

Led by our guide, Seffi, we trekked across poritions of the Spice Route, one of the main trade routes of the ancient world that connected the Roman Empire with Asia. It crossed the Arabian and the Negev deserts through Petra, the Nabatean capital and continued to Gaza port on the Mediterranean shore. The Spice Route derives its name from the exotic spices like Frankenscene and Myrrh, that were traded there by the Nabateans. The Nabateans, the Desert Masters, ruled the entire region for about 1000 years. They built along the Spice Route service stations to the caravans, inns, water storage facilities, forts and a complete road system.

Seffi gives us a brief history lesson.

Seffi gives us a brief history lesson.

Seffi, a man of the desert, knew the terrain forwards and backwards and provided us a wealth of information ranging from the topography, to its historical roots and educated us on the plant and animal life. We Americans weren’t used to seeing free-range camels and were in total awe, but to Seffi, it was just another day at the office.

At times, the trail was pretty steep.

At times, the trail was pretty steep.

During our four days of camping in the desert, we only utilized shelter the first night where we stayed in a bedouin camp. The remainder of our time out there, we literally slept under the stars in nothing more than our sleeping bags. My Marmot Pinnacle 15 down sleeping bag served me well as the nights were fairly cool. I was very accustomed to camping, but before this trip I had never slept out in the open, only in a tent. It was quite an experience.

Campfire tales.

Campfire tales.

When camping under the stars, you don't miss men on camels passing under the moon.

When camping under the stars, you don’t miss men on camels passing under the moon.

These photos are from the second through fourth days at camp. I didn’t take any pics on the first day at the bedouin camp at their request.

Seffi knew how to keep the camels calm.

Seffi knew how to keep the camels calm.

We hiked down to a swimming hole that was popular with the locals.

We hiked down to a swimming hole that was popular with the locals.

A man sitting between the rocks meditating.

A man sitting between the rocks meditating.

We stopped to get water from a well and were joined by a herd of camels that had the same idea.

We stopped to get water from a well and were joined by a herd of camels that had the same idea.

Some of the ruins we explored on the way back.

Some of the ruins we explored on the way back.

Taylor’s Transcendent Trek

I had no idea what I was getting myself into on this one. All I knew was that it was an endurance trek. Thinking that it couldn’t be any worse than a Mt. Baldy snow hike, I saw it as a piece of cake. This ended up being 9 of the toughest miles that I’ve hiked on any trail. We started out on a real trail and then took a “use” trail shortly after that. This consisted of miles of bushwhacking while ascending and descending steep, rocky terrain. At times, we could feel the terrain collapsing beneath every step. I have learned to never trust the rocks in the Santa Monica Mountains. Most of them move. They move under your feet, and they break away when you grab them to try and keep your balance or prevent a fall. I witnessed quite a few falls during this adventure, and three of them were mine. Two of my falls were caught on video, which you will see here.