The Mont Blanc Circuit with
by Olivia Balsinger
Our personal reasons for deciding to circumnavigate Mont Blanc were as diverse as the hiking group itself. One was using the physical challenge of the hike as a reminder he is more than a successful entrepreneur. Two were already best friends but wanted their girl-time bonding in the pristine wilderness. And me? For me, it has been an especially draining year–physically, mentally, and especially emotionally. My best friend had died in a gory car accident just months prior. I knew that in order to fully digest the complex emotions surrounding such a sudden tragedy, I needed to escape the noise pollution of society and think clearly once again. And so to the mountains, I fled.
Whatever our reasons for signing up, one thing was clear: We all hoped the crisp late August air of the Alps would be therapeutic on our circuit of Mont Blanc, Europe’s largest mountain at 15,770 feet, with tour operator Boundless Journeys.
Little did we know it would provide much more. The journey of our motley crew of five strangers began in the quaint French ski town and official base of Mont Blanc, Chamonix, where we first shared our goals and inspirations for the journey over cheese fondue. Our guide, Irene, assured us that no matter personal abilities, we would succeed and complete the circuit as a group. And before we had time to second guess our strength, the next morning, we were off.
The Tour de Mont Blanc, a stunning circuit through Switzerland, France, and Italy, is one of the world’s greatest inn-to-inn hikes and adventures. I knew it would be a challenging physical journey, but I had underestimated the incredible melange of culture we would be immersed in as well. As we meandered through dramatic landscapes shaped by hillsides and carved by river, as we snaked our way from village to village, we noticed changes in language, cuisine, architecture and culture. In Switzerland, our hiking was often in rhythm to cowbells noisily dinging in the field. In the medieval town of Courmayeur, Italy, we enjoyed gelato and pizza as our rewards for the day, meandering the stone streets of the city. France, of course, meant cheese aplenty–Raclette, Reblochon, and Beaufort cheese, oh my! We seldom had connections to the outside world as cell data and WiFi were scarce. Instead, our group bonded through the literal highs and lows, through moments where we couldn’t imagine hiking that foreboding hill in the distance to those where we looked back in awe of what we had accomplished.
Though I was initially apprehensive about joining a tour group for the adventure (in my head, I’m much more Bear Grylls-esque than reality), I soon understood why joining a tour group was beneficial. Even before the hike commenced, Boundless Journeys was preparing me with packing lists, exercise suggestions, and reading materials. Our leader, a Mont Blanc veteran and environmentalist, was an encyclopedia of information–from the villages, we would hike through to various types of vegetation, Irene’s knowledge was a constant aid.
A bittersweet end to our communal journey nine days later as we arrived back to Chamonix, with sore muscles, expanded perspectives, and lifelong memories. The challenge and the beauty of the mountain was now a part of each of us–and no matter the reason for joining the program, we all arrived back changed. Mission accomplished.