TMB3/4: A Clipped Wing Wont Stop This Bird

 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.

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Started from all the way back there now were here.

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. 

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View from Refugio Elisabetta

 

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.

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Looking back at Courmayeur

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. 

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Tour du Mont Blanc: Day 2

The first day of our mother-daughter trek was one for the books, little did we know things could get even more interesting than hitch hiking in France.

Day two was said to be the hardest by many other hikers. Partially because your body is still getting used to long days of physical effort, partially because it was covered in snow, and partially because it was just freaking hard. It was a 12 mile day of 4318ft of elevation gain, 3048ft of elevation loss, and 8 hours of hiking from Les Contamines to Les Chapieux. It was mentally and physically challenging, and I’m not sure i’ve ever cried and screamed profanities so much in one day in my entire life.

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The day started out picturesque, it was sunny and we were ready to redeem ourselves from the day before. We were engulfed in green, crossing over rushing water and stumbling upon the most charming cows that walked straight out of a children’s book, cowbell and all.

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Looking back at Les Contamines

Blisters were already forming and we had yet to reach the hardest part of our day. In front of us was the Col du Bonhomme. The Col of the Man. Col not even being the top, only the saddle between two peaks. Walking straight up a mountain that was ‘made for a man’, is hard enough, but when its covered in snow it is incredibly more strenuous. Good thing we had invested in some crampons specifically for this trip.

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Tiny dots (people) leading the way to Col du Bonhomme

We followed the beaten path of footprints from our fellow hikers in front of us. I can’t say I was thinking of much while hiking. I was overwhelmed of what was in front of me, but not hopeless. As I followed the path I was counting my footsteps to ten. Honestly this was a reoccurring theme of the trip, counting steps. Lord knew that if I could count to ten and take ten steps, I could surely take ten more.

As excruciating as it was, as I reached the top I was greeted by iridescent rainbow clouds and instantaneously forgot about all the sweat it took for me to get there. We took a quick stop to catch our breath at the top in an obscure little hut before we set of for the La Croix du Bonhomme, the ‘real’ top. Only one more hour of the proclaimed hardest day, and the rest was all downhill from there. Literally.

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Another hour of counting to ten. Thats all we had left. It was too late to turn back so we set forward, hiking on the side of a mountain in snow up to our knees at some points. If I had a dime for every time I counted to ten, surely I would have enough money that I could pay a helicopter to get dropped off at the top rather than walk up the side of a mountain. But boy, was it rewarding to reach the top.

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Many hikers sat at the top of the La Croix du Bonhomme to catch their breath and take in the view. We briefly enjoyed the scenery and ate a celebratory Toblerone before heading down the other side of the mountain, taking refuge from the wind. There was just as much snow on this side of the mountain but that didn’t bother us one bit. We were so thrilled to have accomplished the hardest part of the day and we were practically sprinting down the other side. My only thought was getting down and eating a hot dinner.

It quickly went from running to sliding down the mountain on our butts as we passed other hikers. I’ve never had so much fun sledding without a sled in my entire life. Why the other hikers didn’t follow our lead? Not sure. We were letting our inner child free and it was a blast.

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We were in such a hurry to get down the mountain that when the snow finally turned in to dirt, my mom still hadn’t taken her crampons off yet. We were moving at lightning speed practically racing along the edge of cliffs to the bottom. At one point behind me I heard my mom make an exclamatory yelp as she stumbled on rocks, fighting for traction with crampons still on her feet. I turned around whilst walking and warned my mom not to do that, took two more steps and suddenly my feet were in the air and my ass was on the ground and I knew instantly that our ten day excursion might be over, because I had just broken my wrist.

My mom, the angel she is, was instantly at my side feeding me ibuprofen and packing my wrist in ice as it hung in a makeshift sling. This is where the crying and a plethora of profanities began. Why me, why now, why here. It was only day two! I was infuriated, dismayed and defeated. But more than anything pissed off because I had only wanted a hot dinner.

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Although we could see the bottom it was still a long three hours of crying and yelling. I was throwing a full blown, adult temper tantrum in disbelief that there was no way my mom would let us continue our trek after this casualty. She was already talking about how relaxing it would be to spend the rest of our Europe trip at a spa. I was disappointed that this could be it, that the last 8 days of hiking might have to wait until next time I was back in Europe AND I might have to eat dinner in a hospital. Ugh. When we finally got to Les Chapieux the only thing on my mind was still the horror of having to eat dinner in a hospital, so I scarfed down the fastest meal as Frenchmen came to the rescue again, this time not in a truck but in an ambulance. The EMT’s were skeptical it was broken because of the lack of swelling which made me second guess shedding all those tears when I was in desperate need of staying hydrated, but I was nearly positive. So we got in the ambulance and rode 30 minutes to the nearest town.

We arrived in this dinky little town right as the hospital was closing. A quick x-ray revealed yes it was indeed broken. The doctor mumbled hardly two words to me as a nurse came in and started setting a cast that went from my hand all the way to mid bicep. Seemed like a little bit of overkill for a broken wrist. We stayed in a hotel for the night and I’m sure I fell asleep arguing that I could finish the hike with one arm.

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Tour du Mont Blanc

My year abroad in Florence Italy was coming to an end and I would soon have to return to the states and obtain realistic responsibilities and commitments that any functional member of society holds. It was bittersweet and I knew I wanted to end my time in Europe with a bang. The dreamer in me wanted to spend the whole summer backpacking Europe, and not the kind of backpacking that most people do in Europe; ya know, hop-on-a-train-with-a-backpack-and-go-from-one-country-to-another. I literally wanted to strap on my hiking boots and walk from Italy to Denmark. Maybe a trip for future me. What I did end up hiking I’m not sure if I really even chose, or if it chose me. One day it was just there, on my wall. Well matter of factly one of my good high school friends put it on my wall. Well my Facebook feed. Same difference.

National Geographic “These 10 Hiking Trails Will Blow Your Mind”, it might as well have been a BuzzFeed article or quiz. If I didn’t have a time or location restriction, I wouldn’t have been able to choose one. The Tour Du Mont Blanc was second on the list, and the only one in Europe. Boom, that was it. That was how I was going to end my time in Europe. 110 miles, 10 days, 3 countries, and about 32,800ft worth of elevation change.

Worrisome parents surely imagined every possibility of how things could go wrong without a companion by my side, so my mom flew out to join me for her first backpacking trip ever. Certainly my ambition comes from her. The only stipulation to her joining my trek was that it was mine, she was just along for the ride and would follow my plans (or lack of).

I purchased a book on the TMB, a sort of trail guide, and did a few google searches and mainly just looked at how beautiful the trek was, and that was it. My planning was finished. We would meet in Chamonix, stay the night and start early the next morning. Seemed flawless. I would just read the book as we needed it and follow the yellow signs that were usually visible.

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We started early that foggy morning, and we were being passed by so many people! Trail runners, hikers of all ages, some even in their 60’s. Everyone had on small day packs while my mom and I were lugging up all of our camping gear, and probably one too many changes of outfits. It was a  very foggy and somewhat discouraging five brutal hours till we reached the top of the mountain where we split the most delicious, bone-filled can of sardines. Anything tastes good when you’re exhausted.

We were basically sprinting down the other side of the mountain in the rain, just happy to be going downhill. Down a road we went, and maybe if I had read the book we wouldn’t have missed the turn off to the trail that would lead us to our next location. Oops. My bad. But my trip, right? We had probably made it three miles down the road and had no option except to turn around and find the trail. My mom wasn’t happy. It was raining, we were tired, and still had at least six more hours of hiking to get to our campsite.

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The blessing in disguise was being on a road. I hitch hiked for the very first time with my mom, in France, in the rain. I couldn’t tell you what the gentlemen who let us ride in the back of his truck looked like, but for the story, he was the hottest frenchman I ever did see.

The rest of the day went seamlessly, we made it just in time to set up our tent in the last few minutes of daylight left and enjoyed a hot dinner shared amongst all of the other hikers. We exchanged our trials and tribunes of the day, everyone laughed at the silly, lost american girls, and then we crawled in to our sopping wet tent and passed out in all of fifteen seconds. But this was only day one. Everyday of our 10 day trek would hold its own challenges, each one drastically different from the one before.