Taking on my first solo hiking adventure in the Alps, by Emily Tennant
Planting the seed
I’d just finished hiking the Coast-to-Coast long-distance walk in the UK with my partner and I was sat in my long-awaited B&B room when I googled ‘The best long-distance hiking routes in Europe’.
I was feeling completely lost after my trip and experiencing serious post trail blues and desperate for another adventure. When the Tour du Mont Blanc route popped up on my phone I knew immediately, it’s the one!
When a few weeks later, I saw the Adventure Queens grant advertised, I thought ‘oh why not…’ I’d never considered actually hiking the route alone but seeing some of the previous winner’s stories I thought it’d be one hell of a challenge to do that. Except I never actually thought that I would win the grant and have to go through with my crazy idea of solo hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc!
The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is a 103-mile walk circling the Mont Blanc massif in the Alps through the alpine regions of France, Italy and Switzerland. It is known as one of the most popular long distance walking routes in Europe and it is easy to see why.
Why on earth would you do that? So many people ask!
It had been a challenging couple of years with a global pandemic to get through. I had worked in Critical Care as a nurse throughout the whole pandemic, seeing some seriously traumatising things and battling silently with my mental health ever since. The outdoors has always been therapy for me for a very long time but now I was trying to introduce many of my friends and colleagues to the places that I love.
I’d never hiked in the Alps and I am lucky that I have a supportive partner who also loves to adventure with me, so I never need to go alone. But here’s me trying to encourage my friends and colleagues to go walking outside and yet I rely on the company and support of my partner when I’m out there myself. I need to prove to myself that I had it in me to be self-sufficient and hike abroad with just myself to deal with whatever difficulties came along.
The trip itself
After months of planning and preparing, I caught a flight (for my first ever time alone) and hopped on a bus to head to Chamonix where my adventure would begin.
It is safe to say, I felt completely overwhelmed on the first couple of days. I wondered why on earth I had taken on this challenge and what I was thinking! The first day was difficult getting used to the extreme humidity, the rain, the lack of English speakers, the loneliness, the sweatiness and the exhaustion! I was so thankful to reach the refuge at the end of my first day and receive some incredible home cooked food from the refuge staff. I just didn’t realise how little people would speak English and I started to feel the loneliness quickly. It was on my second day when I distinctly remember sitting on my bed in one of the refuges, eating a plain baguette out of the packet and wanting to cry. Not my finest moment for sure.
By the third day, the rain and humidity cleared to beautiful blue skies and hot weather! I could finally enjoy the stunning mountainous scenery around me as I reached the Col du Bonhomme.
On the fourth day, I headed over the border from France into Italy. This was a momentous moment after an exhausting uphill climb over the Col de Seigne. The views of Mont Blanc itself got better as we headed closer and the views were astonishing. I was in my absolute element as I got used to the early starts, the constant walking, the heat and the lingering tiredness. This was exactly what I was here for as I walked through the Italian Alps surrounded by rocky, breath-taking mountain ranges and glaciers. I wanted to cry with happiness as the feelings of pure elation flooded through.
After a few more days in Italy enjoying the staggering landscape around me and enjoying the company of several other people who I walked with for a while, I headed over to Switzerland via the Grand Col Ferret, the highest point of the route at an elevation of 2537m. The scenery around me quickly changed from rocky, jagged mountains to rolling, green mountains and forests as I entered the Swiss Alps.
After several further days of hiking in Switzerland, I headed back over into France via the Col de Balme. This was a momentous moment for me as I completed my longest and hardest day, ascending and descending three times and completing 2000m of elevation. It was made even more special as there was incredible wildlife this day with marmots scampering in the rocks and the majestic Ibex walking the mountain paths. The view of Mont Blanc also became even more spectacular and it was hard to take my eyes off of it.
The last day of walking was difficult with a massive downhill slog back down into the valley and yet at the same time, I didn’t want it to end. Was it possible to just hike forever!? I met some incredible people on my trip and one of those people walked with me till the end when we reached the sign to say we had finished. I felt so incredibly strong and capable at the end of my walk. I phoned my partner and was like ‘I ACTUALLY did it!’
It was a very strange moment when it was over, I wasn’t totally sure what my purpose was and although in this instant I was on an extreme high having completed the most amazing experience of my life, I knew the post trail blues would come back as before. But for now, I was going to enjoy the freedom and elation that came with the end.
I completed the TMB over 10 days, 114 miles and with a whopping 39,850 feet of ascent! I ate approximately 6 baguettes, cheese every single day, I had a few minor mental health breakdowns, but zero blisters, made many trail friends, saw too many mountains to count, took hundreds of photos and most importantly, experienced moments I will never forget and memories that will stay with me forever.
Whatever you think is holding you back, it isn’t. You are scared, you don’t have any money, you don’t have time, you don’t have experience, you can’t do things with your children, you’re unfit, you’re alone. None of these things should stop you doing what you want to do and achieving what you are meant to achieve. Don’t waste your time wishing you could do things and not doing them. Shine bright for whatever time you have on this Earth! Most of all, ENJOY.
Shropshire based AQ, Emily loves to hike, climb, swim and drink cups of tea taking in as much of the outdoors as she can when she isn’t working as a Critical Care nurse in the NHS. She is a big advocate of getting out in nature to support your mental health.