I thought the hardest thing I would do in life was to go to school, or get a job, and be a functioning member of society. I was wrong. One of the hardest triumphs I’ve ever underwent was convincing my mom that I could finish the Tour du Mont Blanc in a full arm cast.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and for as many great personality traits I inherited from my mom, I also received her stubbornness—arguably, a great trait. We both dug in our heels and argued about the feasibility of continuing and finally came to the agreement that if we were to continue, I would have to send my backpack back to Chamonix and we would continue with only daypacks. So that’s what we did.
It took half the day to figure out where to find saran wrap in the dinky town we were left in, but where there’s a will there’s a way. We wrapped my pack up and sent it in the post, it would have been easy to take a bus to the next town to make up for the lost day, but I was determined to hike every last mile of the TMB. So we grabbed our day packs and took a taxi to the exact spot that the ambulance picked us up. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and drinking beer with the hikers who had just finished their day of trekking.
The next morning, I stretched the sleeve of my shirt to fit over my cast, hung a makeshift sling around my neck, and we set off for our third day of hiking.
We passed through herds of the softest, most docile looking cows and sheep as we made our way up to the top of the mountain. We went over with ease as we crossed the border from France into Italy. Refugio Elisabetta, which ended up being one of my favorite refuges, was nearly in sight. Once there we enjoyed the view and a Birra Moretti. There, I learned my arm would now be the topic of all conversations with my fellow hikers.
On day four, we hiked from Refugio Elisabetta to Refugio Bertone, which would leave us halfway through our trek in Italy. It was an excruciating hot day with little tree coverage and lots of elevation gain. The day consisted of ice bridges, snow crossings—where if you slipped, you would fall off to who knows where—water crossings, steep cliffs, and amazing views! Pictures did not capture the slickness nor steepness of the snow and water crossings.
By the time we reached the bottom where Courmayeur was located, the heat had gotten to us, our feet were killing us, and we were arguing about whether we had gone the right way. Things aren’t always sunshine and happiness when you’re hiking, especially with someone else. By this point in time I had become short with my mom. I was frustrated that she, who had never done a multi-day hike and was extremely new to hiking, was in pain, though she was doing phenomenal for her first time hiking more than a couple miles and multiple days in a row. It was hard for me to comprehend how her feet had not grown as strong as mine and how hard she was really pushing herself, physically and mentality.
An inevitable argument broke out between us while walking through town. We were both so ready to be at our refuge relaxing and it was frustrating that we couldn’t find out way through Courmayeur. We still had three miles and lots of elevation to the refuge. While we walked miserably in silence, we passed our last chances to refill our water and under estimated the distance ahead.
Tree coverage was sparse and it was all uphill switchbacks to Refugio Bertone. The sun was beating down and there wasn’t a single breeze, we were only halfway up and nearly out of water. We rationed the last few sips, only drinking enough water to wet our dry mouths. It was a rookie mistake to not fill up all our reservoirs in town, but I had my sassy pants on and didn’t want to stop to get it out of my pack and fill it up. When we reached the top, there was running water spilling into a trough. It was our light at the end of the tunnel, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. No, more like the water at the end of an excruciating, dehydrating, soul-crushing day. Nonetheless, I think this struggle was needed. It helped us work as a team and motivate one another to get to the top, even if we weren’t seeing eye to eye a few hundred steps before.
We immediately put our heads under the running water, drank, and filled up our water bottles. I’ve never been so thirsty in my life and water has never tasted so good. We sat down at a picnic table and took our shoes off, high-fived at our success, and checked to see if Refugio Bertone had any rooms available that night. Luckily, we were hiking early enough in the season that rooms were not completely booked, otherwise we would have been hiking to the next refuge. If we began later in the season, everything would have been completely booked months in advance.
We basked in the sun in our dry clothes as we tried to dry our wet socks and pants from the water crossings. Before dinner, my Mom helped me wrap my cast in plastic bags and I took a one armed shower and washed away all the sweat and frustration of the day.
As painful as it was to get there that day, when you’ve reached the top, you only feel success, enlightenment, and astonishment for what your body can endure.