jane-thejourneyisthereward:

Rock climbing. Aiguille du Midi. 3842m. Chamonix. France.
Halfway to Heaven, a walk from France to Switzerland to Italy – June 2015

I was craving some adventure vacation therapy outside the norm on a motorcoach tour of Europe’s museums and churches; something that would challenge my entire body and spirit.  So I headed to “the ceiling of Europe” with Adventures For Singles on what Fodors considers the “world’s best hike.”

All 24 of us gathered in charming Chamonix where we were sandwiched between the alps 4 miles high in all directions.  On clear days, our views were breathtaking.  In 6 days we crossed the passes of 3 countries over the MB massif.  Most hikers here camp out in dorm style huts with all their luggage piled on their backs.  We did this in perfect ease and style with Alpine Treks.  My suitcase was bulging with new designer hiking gear.  Vans transferred our gear each day to await us in adorable alpine hotels. 

It’s an understatement to say our 4 professional mountain guides were “excellent.”  Each one was an ironman with the empathy and heart of a teddy bear.  They divided us by fitness level into 3 groups, “the fit to the slightly less fit” was how they kindly placed us.  But we labeled ourselves the Cheetahs and the Turtles.  I was with the latter as the slowest of the slow but no one made me feel less for such.

Day 1 was a 6-hour practice march in snow and sleet.  We used cable cars for our steep ascents.  This was where the guides could separate the men from the boys.  I whined some to Terry and yet sincerely deep down, I loved it.  Something in the pure air just energizes one’s soul.  Therefore, I assumed day 2 to be easy…not!  I lagged a mile behind as the others trudged up the paths to happy destiny.  The cheetahs ran up the mountains like billygoats humming RICOLA.  I was the old donkey pacing myself with tiny steps.  Huffing and puffing, my backpack holding only water, a camera and lipstick felt like 50lbs.  The weather changed its faces a dozen times this day, but we descended with a glorious blazing sun and peeled off layers of clothing.

Day 3 for me was a “death march” of 3 miles up the alps at 5700 meters in cold rain.  Zig zagging higher and higher, my quads burned, my core ached.  The rocky path was slippery so I dared not pause to look at cows, swollen rivers or crystal blue lakes.  We all looked like zombies from the Walking Dead until we finally crested the glorious peak.  There the clouds parted and the heavens opened.  Every vantage point was a Kodak moment.  Granite spires surrounded us in profound silence.  Glaciers to the left of me, glaciers to the right, here I am, right in the middle with God.  Down, down, down into fields exploding with wildflowers blue, yellow and white.  Down crossing carpets of pine and bubbling clear brooks, down past wooden chalets and tiny fairytale villages.  I paused for photos of the snow capped mountains high above me but my camera can’t interpret such scenic reality, nor can my words here convey how it made every step worth it. 

With poor lungs, I must confess I did not complete this alpine circuit and joyfully opted to ride the luggage van into Champex, Switzerland and Courmeyer, Italy.  In no way did I feel defeated.  There was much to do and see as I awaited my group.  With an attitude of gratitude, I marveled at their perseverance, high morale and endurance.

Reflecting back on a journey well done, I now miss our alpine picnics of crusty bread, eggs, fresh mountain meats, cheeses, organic fruits and vegetable and the omnipresent Swiss chocolate!  I miss the camaraderie formed within this perfect group of travelers who met as strangers, departed as friends and all the laughter over the world’s best pizzas, wines and coffees.  I miss our handsome mountain guides who humbly lead us onward with precision care.  Thank you Mark, Lewis, Blaise and Richard!

Engulfed in nature at her finest„ I discovered a lot about myself within a mere week.  I am more a peripatetic rambler than a hiker, yet this adventure experience revealed a youthful spirit of determination I still tuck deep in my heart.  For me, it wasn’t about athleticism but about embracing my inner explorer.  I had wandered the most beautiful region on earth and will never forget this amazing walk in the clouds.

 

 

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