Tour de Mont Blanc
The towering, snow-capped Alpine peaks that soar above the lush green European valleys are a world away from the red rocks of Sedona, but with two groups of Sedona Westerners tackling the Tour De Mont Blanc in the late summer, it almost seemed like home.
The first group of Westerners began the, nine-day, 105-mile trek through France, Italy and Switzerland in Les Houches in the Chamonix Valley, France in late August. Our group of 10 opted for a guided hike with UK-based Sherpa Expeditions and we were glad that we did as it included baggage transportation meaning we only had to carry a day pack, rain gear lunch and water.
Our group included Cy and Phyllis Elliott, Robert Paterson and Stefka Regelous, Maureen Mathieu and John Schleich, Rudy and Liz Pauls – Canadians who join the Westerners when they visit Sedona - and my husband John and I.
The mountain path that circles the Mont Blanc massif is constantly challenging as it ascends up onto high mountain passes and dips down into seven different valleys, but hiking with the Westerners in Sedona had been a good training for the daily demands of such a hike that included a cumulative elevation gain of more than 31,000 feet. On some days the height loss and gain was equivalent to hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back to the rim in one day.
The bonds of friendship forged hiking in the red rocks of Sedona and the Westerner culture of helping each other, gave us confidence as we hung onto chains as we navigated hair-raising sections of exposed rock beneath spectacular glaciers and scaled ladders pegged into sheer rock faces.
Our route, which also took us across mountain meadows carpeted in brilliant wild flowers, ended most days at delightful small hotels, booked for us by Sherpa Expeditions, where we enjoyed hot showers or baths before sharing a bottle of wine or two as we talked about the day's adventures. On two nights we “roughed” it staying at mountain refuges, but even there we had private rooms although we shared bathrooms with dozens of other hikers.
The path is well marked and maps are very detailed so there was no doubt that the regular Westerner hike leaders in our group could have found the way with no difficulty. However, we enjoyed the luxury of having our guide, Malcolm Gregory, lead us to lunch spots with stunning views, advise on what kind of terrain to expect each day and best of all tell us about the wonderful places to eat. We ate fresh raspberry tarts from patisseries (pastry stores) in quaint villages, enjoyed fondues in mountain refuges and ate gourmet meals in restaurants known only to local residents.
Malcolm, also knew which alternative routes were worth the extra effort including a detour to see the stunningly beautiful Lac Blanc on our penultimate day. It was shortly after visiting this glacial-fed lake that our paths crossed with some of the second group of Sedona Westerners. The members of the second group, including club President Marion Hadji-Agha, were just about to start their hike as ours was drawing to a close.
Although neither group was on an official Westerner hike, it was through the club that we all found like-minded people to share the incredible experience of completing one of the world's classic hikes.
The Westerners always welcome new members. If you are interested in joining the club, log onto our website: www.sedonawesterners.org. You may also join by attending a monthly meeting, our next one will be on Thursday, November 14th at the Sedona Elks Club, 110 Airport Road, Sedona.