Teaching and Learning in a Net-Centric World

Detailed account and Lessons from a Seniors´ Tour de Mt Blanc

During September 2017, my brothers Dennis and Craig, and I (-all over 65 years old) spent 10 days hiking on the Tour de Mt. Blanc (TMB).  The Mount Blanc Massif is a series of adjoining peaks, one off which is the highest in the Alps. The massive valleys and glaciers flow down – in the NE to Switzerland, to the south into Italy and North and west into France.  Europeans have been hiking on and around the massive since the 1700´s and today the TMB is the most popular hike in Europe -not counting the Camino de Santiago, which technically is not a hike but a pilgrimage.

Tour De Mt Blanc Map Credit BestHike.com

Sprinkled along the TMB are a series of Refuge´s which offer a variety of mostly dorm-like accomodations, usually wonderful 3-4 course meals and a breakfast for around 50 Euros /night ($70 Canadian). The Tour also passes through a number of small towns where much more sophisticated (and more costly accommodation) is available. Like most of the hikers we travelled with our copies Kev Reynolds text Tour de Mt Blanc:Complete two way Trecking Guide. This guide book describes routes between various refuges, provides optional side trips, gives both topographic and elevation maps for each of the 10 suggested daily legs of the Tour.

For the month proceeding this adventure I had been practicing hiking (mostly from our home in Edmonton in the North Saskatchewan river valley) with my 20 pound pack and I became reasonably confident that I could manage the 16-18 km daily treks.  However, I spent only 1 day hiking in the Rockies near Jasper, and decided to forgo a hike listed as the most challenging day hike in Jasper National Park – challenging in that it had a height gain of 700 metres – big mistake that! As you can see elevations gains (and losses) were up to 1500 Metres/day.

Brothers on the Trail

To make a long story short, we had a great trip, however we didn´t succeed in doing the whole circular trek – leaving a couple of legs for when and if, I return with my wife Susan! My brother Dennis (eldest, purser and chief organizer) has a more detailed account of each leg of the trek which I insert below.

 

 

 

In this post I provide a list of personal recommendations.

  1. Pack Right Of course, beginning hikers always complain (usually with justification) that they brought too much in the pack. I was also doing a talk at the Open University of Catalonia and a week on the beaches of Majorca and Ibiza on the way back, so had to bring some extra clothes. As it turns out I had a few too many short sleeved shirts and too many socks as we were able to wash clothes in a few hotels we stayed at.  Bringing a Kindle (and no paper books) and leaving my computer behind for the first time in decades were both good packing decisions.
  2. Go at the right season The timing of the trip is crucial. The trail doesn´t really open until June, as snow plugs higher passes. July and August can be busy, making reservations more complicated at Refuges. September was generally a good time, except that it can get chilly and more layers are required. Secondly and especially for seniors the TMB offers a number of ski lifts which can be very useful in reducing the elevation gains. However, these were almost all closed between the summer and winter seasons beginning around the first week in September.
  3. Keep Dry We all carried rain gear, but we curtailed one leg to a very short day when we encountered hikers from the other direction reporting snow, sleet and rain driving horizontally and making visibility and even finding the trail challenging, up ahead. We heard the following day that a hiker from Indonesia on this leg had to be rescued and flown out by helicopter suffering from extreme hypothermia, with a not good prognosis for recovery!  Thus, travelling at this time requires attention to the weather and willingness to skip very high sections, or wait for better weather.
  4. Follow the Herd?? Given that the trail is circular one can start at any place desired. We choose to begin at  Champex de Lac in Switzerland – largely because we thought it might be less crowded than the usual start from Chamonix in France. However this necessitated a 4 hour trip on 4 trains and a bus from Geneva Airport (85 Euro cost). A faster and cheaper option is the 75 minute shuttle bus to Chamonix for 20 Euros. We also choose to walk clockwise, rather than the more common anti-clockwise tour -again mostly to avoid crowds, but it didn´t seem to make much difference.
  5. Take Care of your feet. My biggest fear was that I would be hobbling after my brothers on blistered feet. Through the wisdom of others I found that wrapping clapping toes with tape or ‘mole skin’ helped but what really worked for me was investing in two pairs of toe socks. These enveloped each toe in cosy covering and totally solved the abrasion problems for me. None of this would have been discovered without my “training hikes” before the trip.
  6. Use hiking poles.  Poles serve three important functions.  They are great at restoring balance when occasionally just a pound or two of thrust can avert a slip, a slide or a  tumble. I also used them uphill to provide a bit of thrust, which may feel like as useful as just pushing the earth away, but it seemed to get me going up hill and provided a workout for my arms as well as my often tired legs. I also used them coming down hill when my knees started feeling ‘wobbly’ to cushion the shock of stepping down in uneven terrain.  Highly recommended.
  7. Don’t camp.  We were surprised to see a significant number of hikers packing full camping gear. There are a few designated camping spots and certainly could be done, but I didn’t regret NOT carrying food and camping gear and NOT climbing into cold rainy tents!
  8. Bring along Mr Google with a data plan.  We didn’t always have cell phone connection, but usually did.  I bought a Sim card in Spain for my IPhone with 4 gigs of data and on more than a few occasions Google maps, hotel room searches and general argument settling proved invaluable.
  9. Bring enough ‘layers’.  Since I was packing for presentation at Open University of Catalonia, as well as 8 days holiday in the sun afterwards AND was trying to keep the pack weight down, I was often wearing every stitch of warm clothing I brought.  This of course until the sun came out and we had 5 or 600 meters of climb behind us!  Both brothers had small down jackets, that I lacked, and nearly rectified (but resisted) at the trendy ski shops that we passed  by in in Courmayeur Italy.
  10. Don’t be over ambitious.  Just because the guide book says that the day’s 18 km jaunt takes 5.5-6 hours, doesn’t mean it takes 3 seniors (with a lunch stop at a refuge for soup) less than 8 hours of hiking. I think we were all relieved when we realized that we likely wouldn’t make the whole circular tour, but it didn’t really matter!
  11. Have enough money. A tally of total costs (food lodging, museums, transportation, etc.) saw the 12 days in refuges or small hotels, and 3 nights in Geneva (one of the most expensive cities in Europe) cost us each $1590 each (not counting airfare). This relatively low was by sharing hotel rooms with the 3 of us and using the Refuges with often dorm type accommodation. Many of the Refuges did not take credit cards but there was enough ATM machines to gather necessary cash. I also bought a nylon wallet with a cord that attached to my belt. I’ve been pick-pocketed of both wallet and passport in London and just managed to save my wallet as it was lifted and sliding down my leg in Rome this spring, so having valuables attached and passport in a zippered pocket was a wonderful travelling addition to my outfit.
  12. Take the Lifts up to and/or over Mt Blanc.  We spent a wonderful day in Chamonix, taking the two lifts and final elevator (around E. 50 for seniors!) to a pinnacle (aiguille du midi) high up on the massive. This obviously is the easy way to climb mountains and the resulting views are spectacular. You get 360 degree views out over the ice fields, see a number of glaciers begin their slide down the valley and the towns hugging the valley bottom. You can take addition lifts and then descend into Cormayeur on the Italian side. Obviously at the height of these lifts, many days the viewers are looking down and into heavy clouds – so pick a good day to go.

Detailed Account by Dennis Anderson

Tour de Mont Blanc

September 2017

The Anderson TMB Experience

The big day arrived and after coming to terms with the fact that we would be doing this adventure without Kent, we were ready to go. Craig and I met at the gate for Geneva in the Montreal airport. Our trip to Geneva was uneventful however we waited apprehensively as everyone else on the flight picked up their bags and then finally, the last 2 pieces to come down the conveyor belt were our plastic wrapped packs!

We re-shuffled our stuff and used the ticket machine to get train tickets for Lausanne (where we neglected to get off), but with the assistance of a helpful conductor we enjoyed a trip into the agricultural rich area between the Alps and Lake Geneva. Once back in Lausanne we got the correct train to Montigny and then the St Bernard Express to Orsieres and a bus up to Lac Champex and the Plien Air Pension where we enjoyed a 6 bed dorm room for the 2 of us. Half board dinner was a wonderful three course meal (amazing salad, chicken in polenta, and a dessert). Our meal was shared with 2 young women who were Vets from England and they were camping their way around Mount Blanc – except for the fact that it had been raining all day and they decided to treat themselves and dry out.

The night wasn’t too restful as our bio clocks hadn’t had time to adjust but we sure weren’t complaining about our situation.

Travel Angel #1 The conductor checking our tickets told us we were on the wrong train – but not to worry, just sit still, as we were on the next train that would be going back to Lausanne anyway!

Day 2 Lac Champex to Ferret

The day began with a very nice breakfast. No cheese, eggs or meat but yogurt, excellent bread and jam, and of course musili, various granolas, and according to Craig, great coffee. At 8:00 we headed out the door and enjoyed a 3 hour hike with a nice Israeli couple and our 2 British Vets up to Alp Bovine – a farm Refugio that serves great apple strudel and where the Israeli woman showed me that we had come the wrong way!!! What was supposed to be, according to our planning, a nice introductory walk, had become a killer. We looked at our options and decided it was a bit longer but more of a sure thing to head back to Champex and take the bus to Ferret to meet Terry.

We made the bus connections and arrived at the Fenetre de Ferret at 5:00 where we met Terry, showered and had another hearty dinner – salad a bit plain (just lettuce!!!) but a healthy beef stew and potato casserole and a fantastic chocolate cream dessert. Our accommodation was not quite up to the last night’s standard – a 12 bunk room with most bunks occupied. We were definitely the oldest folks staying the night and the fact that we were all old and brothers seemed to be of a fair amount of interest to folks.

Our ‘easy’ intro day included:

  • Walk of 20.45KM in 6.5 hours
  • Elevation gain of 1467m / elevation loss of -1456 m
  • Min Elevation 1309M / Max Elevation 1982M

Travel Angel #2 Our young Israeli friend asked us a number of times where we were staying but we really couldn’t remember the specifics but finally she pinned us down (as I sat enjoying our strudel), and she told me politely that she thought that we had come the wrong way! Craig said that I had a sick smile on my face as he approached our table after a washroom break!. It is amazing that even though we had the Guide Book and referred to it a number of times at the beginning, we were making things that weren’t really there fit into our supposed path. Everyone else seemed to know where they were going so we just went with the flow – in the wrong direction, until the top of the pass and at coffee break.

Day 3 Ferret to Refugio Bonatti

Up for a minimalist breakfast and out the door at just about 8:00AM for Terry’s first day on the trail. We were amazed to see glacier vistas all around and above us – this wasn’t a feature of our arrival as the valley was socked in with low clouds. The weather was spectacular and we began with a modest ascent to a coffee break at Alpage La Peule – another farm refuge that has yurts and simple rooms in a farm building for accommodation, and where the owners were cutting up home-made cheese as we drank our coffee. After enjoying the sun on their deck we hoisted our packs for a gradual ascent to 2542 meters and the Grand Col de Ferret which is the pass between Switzerland and Italy. At the saddle we were treated to amazing views all around (peaks, valleys, and glaciers). The descent was precarious, however undoubtedly not as daunting for us heading down as what folks were facing going up. We made the Chalet Val Ferret for lunch (a nice bowl of soup with wonderful bread) after a steep downhill walk and then headed for another minor ascent in and out of the Alpine, to the Refugio Bonatti – a huge Italian Alpine Club Hut (lodge).

Our walk was a bit of a killer but we all agreed that it would have been worse heading in the opposite direction (we were now heading in the right direction!!!). Upon arrival we were informed that a passport had been found in Ferret and after checking it was determined that it was Craig’s – he had taken it out and put it on a shelf but not wishing to disturb our roommates in the early morning, and therefore leaving in the dark, he had not noticed it on the way out. After a beer on the outdoor patio we contemplated a plan for its retrieval.

Bonatti was an exceptional venue. It was full and had first class facilities (even a bank of about 20 charging spots for phones!) and they served all of us (about 60 folks) a wonderful 5 course meal (salad; pasta; meat cake with potatoes; cheese; dessert). We weren’t the obvious elders in the crowd and fit right in with this group. Our dinner partners were a group from Minnesota and their leader had lots of commonalities (hike, ski, sail, family history etc.) with the Anderson boys. There seemed to be a variety of accommodation options in the ‘Hut’ but ours was in the attic on pallets of about 10 folks to a section. There was probably lots of snoring going on but it sure didn’t bother us as we were all out for the duration as soon as dinner was over.

  • Walk of 18.73KM in 9.5 hours
  • Elevation gain of 1342m / elevation loss of -1007 m
  • Min Elevation 1680M / Max Elevation 2542M

Travel Angel #3 A young woman out for a jog notices us walking in the wrong direction (even after we had just consulted the Guide Book!) and straightened us out!

Travel Angel #4 It is amazing that we knew where the passport was. How did the guy in Ferret know where we were going to be staying??? What would we have done if it had been three days later? Or even a week later when we needed it to check into a hotel? The Travel Angel at work on our behalf once again!

The Anderson (Marx Bro’s) TMB Experience

  • 1 year in thinking and 4 months in preparation
    • Terry – gets the start date mixed up and arrives a day late
    • Kent – slips in the kitchen a day before departure and has to cancel
    • Dennis and Craig – start the hike in the wrong direction for ½ a day! -Oh well!!

Day 4 Bonatti to Courmayeur

After a night’s sleep we each had second thoughts on the strategy for the recovery of the passport and we determined that the best option was to rent a car and drive back to Ferret to pick it up. Our host called Ferret and asked them to hold the passport and we headed down into Courmayeur. The weather had changed overnight and we started out in snow and sleet but we were very quickly under the moisture line – we felt sorry for folks heading the other way and the fact that they had a horrendous hill with lots of big rocks to scramble over in the snow. We took “the old TMB route” straight down into Courmayeur and were quite thrilled to see a bus pull into the parking lot for a ski hill and that for a Euro it would take us right into downtown. The day cleared off as we make arrangements for a rental car for the next day. We enjoyed a tour of the downtown and a late pizza lunch and even later pasta dinner at a little patio restaurant. Our accommodation (from Booking.com) was the 2 star floor in a supposed 4 star hotel! (Maybe we didn’t look or smell too great!!) It did however, have a quite wonderful breakfast and for the three of us the one bedroom unit was more than adequate.

Travel Angel #5 We got the wrong info about rental cars in Courmayeur (not available) but Craig and Terry saw a rental car office on the bus coming into town so we headed back only to find it closed. However a woman was just getting out of her car and she phoned the owner on our behalf. Terry managed to use his French/English to book us a car for 9:00AM tomorrow morning.

  • Walk of 9.63KM in 3.25 hours
  • Elevation gain of 224m / elevation loss of -846 m
  • Min Elevation 1396M / Max Elevation 2038M

Day 5 Courmayeur

We all enjoyed a wonderful sleep (they are improving each night) and great breakfast with hot and cold options as well as freshly squeezed orange juice. Our rental car arrived right on time and we headed off for a wonderful drive from Italy, through France, and back into Switzerland. It is 28km by foot back to Ferret however it is 2 ½ hours and 135 KM by car! We also got to go through the 17KM Mont Blanc Tunnel. During our drive of 270KM we passed through at least 4 or 5 major weather systems depending on which face of the mountain we were approaching. We were amazed at the pristine villages, story book farms, ski resort/lodges/chalets and the mountain architecture. The views were spectacular and the roads wonderful but unbelievably steep and a wee bit of a challenge for our little Subaru Justy. After picking up the passport and enjoying a coffee on a restaurant deck overlooking the valley, Terry’s phone located us an alternative route down from Ferret via Lac Champex (which Terry hadn’t seen). This was probably one of the steepest paved roads that I have ever driven on – yet we saw two guys riding bicycles up it! We took our lunch at a mountain restaurant overlooking Martingy which was located directly underneath Bovine – which we could see high up on the side of the mountain behind us and was where Craig and I determined, along with the assistance of our Israeli friend, that we were walking in the wrong direction!

Craig says that this was the first time in his life that he can remember crossing 4 international borders in under 4 hours without a passport. I am sure that it is some sort of a record for us as well. All in all, quite an experience. Lesson: Always know where your passport is (and as Terry suggests, enjoy patting it on a regular basis)

Day 6: Courmayeur to Refugio Maison Vieille

The weather was forecasted to change – and it did. We began walking in high overcast but very quickly put on our rain gear for a tramp in a heavy down pour, however we were fairly well protected in a thick alpine forest. We ducked into the Maison Vieille – a very quaint Italian ski lodge – where over a latte we met and talked with folks coming down from their walks who told us of driving sleet/hail, winds that were tearing clothes off their backs, visibility of under 10 feet, and all sorts of horror stories. After checking the forecast we decided that it might be in our best interests to try and wait out the storm. As it didn’t let up we decided to spend the night and had our very own quaint 12 bed dorm for the three of us in the wonderful little stone mountain hut/restaurant. We set-up camp and had a great afternoon snooze in our cozy dorm listening to the sounds of classical tunes (music thanks to brother ‘Technology Terry’) as we heard in the background the rain pelting against the slate roof of our dorm. At 3:00 we went down for a bowl of soup and a lively discussion with a very articulate young Israeli woman about the future of Israel/Palestine. At 4:00 the wind died down, the rain stopped, and the sun exploded into view and we realized that we were actually in a valley that was surrounded by mountain peaks and glaciers of various types and configurations. We took a one hour walk around the Lodge and then were joined by 4 others for a very nice 4 course meal (pasta; meat and vegetable, apple; dessert) and the best hot chocolate ever! The pasta also rated highly.

  • Walk of 7.32KM in 3.01 hours
  • Elevation gain of +1117m / elevation loss of -399 m
  • Min Elevation 1172M / Max Elevation 1962M

Day 7 Refugio Maison Vieille to Refugio Elisabetta

It was a very cold night; however we were warm and cozy in our nice little dorm. The breakfast was quite plain but overall it was a fine place to stay. The ground was frozen solid when we left at 8:00 and in fact it stayed that way until noon. This was actually a blessing as it definitely made the trail easier to walk. The sun was shining and the views got more spectacular with each meter of height gained and around every corner we came to. The Grande Col de Ferret and the ridge walk offered one of the most spectacular visual experiences of our walk. It was all above the tree line and circling the Mt Blanc range with its tributaries of glacier toes.

Elisabetta is another Italian Alpine Club Hut that sits just above WW 2 military ruins on the border between Italy and France. After another not strenuous elevation gain we enjoyed our experience at Elisabetta IAC Refugio with great food and good company. They served us a nice meal and we shared a four bunk room with a fellow from Serbia. Sunshine and fantastic scenery, no wind, and a great path – what a day! We felt sorry for the poor folks that we met yesterday who hiked this part of the TMB not being able to see 10 feet in front of them. We also heard that the authorities had to helicopter rescue a young guy who was suffering from hypothermia and that as of the morning of our arrival here he had not yet regained consciousness. We all seemed to feel chilled at the end of the day until we climbed under our duvets for the night. This is not a hike for the unprepared!

  • Walk of 13.04KM in 5.22 hours
  • Elevation gain of 2176m / elevation loss of -1934 m
  • Min Elevation 1935M / Max Elevation 2450M

Day 8 Refugio Elisabetta to Les Chapieux

Once again we were treated to a bright, clear, and cold morning. The trail was frozen right up to the summit and over the other side – once again a blessing as it would have been quite muddy for us had it not been frozen. We enjoyed a breather on the deck of a restored Italian custom house (museum now but closed for the season) and after the break completed a short up-hill section to the saddle with its stunning views of the valley and the glaciers below the Col de la Seigne. There was a very stiff breeze so we didn’t linger and we quickly popped down into France. The weather was deteriorating and offered us a mixed bag where we were constantly taking our wind jackets on and off – but it wasn’t raining or snowing! We enjoyed our traditional soup lunch at the Refuge Des Mottets (a repurposed dairy farm) where there was also a Memorial to an American B-17 and its crew that crashed on the glacier near the mountain top in WW 2 and began to emerge from the glacier in 1974.

We then completed the very scenic downhill run to Les Chapieux and the Auberge de la Notra where we enjoyed a beer before we showered (one of the nicest showers on the trip). We shared our evening meal with 2 couples from England and thoroughly enjoyed the conversations. Our first French meal was soup, pork with pan fried potatoes, cheese and bread, and a berry mousse for dessert. We then retired to our own private room for the night.

  • Walk of 16.26KM in 7.36 hours
  • Elevation gain of +675m / elevation loss of -1297 m
  • Min Elevation 1534M / Max Elevation 2523M

Day 9 Les Chapieux to Contamines

This ended up being the longest day of our trek. From Les Chapieux it was an immediate climb up to Refuge Du Bonhomme, a high alpine chalet, and then over the Col des Fours. Our ascent had been long and steady and on a fairly nice and consistent trail, however when we hit the top and started down the other side we had to work our way through a huge rock field (navigating the toughest 50 meters of the trip along a narrow ledge that crossed a rock face and gurgling stream). This was then followed by about an hour of picking our way through a large boulder field before we hit the lower saddle and were blown around by a very strong (and cold) wind. We didn’t linger as the weather, which had been fine going up, turned, the clouds rolled in, and before the day ended it was raining hard. Once again we could only think of the folks who we passed who were heading up as we went down and contemplated what they had ahead of them, especially if the rain turned to snow (and that was not unlikely). We stopped at the Refuge Nant Borrant for our traditional lunchtime meal of hot soup and from then on we were walking in the rain. Our trip into Contamine was fairly easy but long. When we finally arrived in Contamine the Auberge where we had hoped to find shelter was shuttered for the season and the rest of the town was basically closed (Sunday afternoon at 5:00 PM). Terry, using Booking.com, found us a suite in a private home but it was another 1.5 KM and we couldn’t raise a cab. However, Google Maps led us to a walking path and once we found it, the place ended up being a very nice find.

We unloaded our stuff and then returned to town for dinner but all of the restaurants looked closed. The local grocery store was open however and it provided us with a bag of salad, bread, pasta, and a piece of salmon. Terry whipped us up a wonderful concoction of salmon pasta delight (along with a better salad than we had in Ferret). The weather forecast for the next day was iffy and we once again were thankful that we were where we were and that we didn’t have to contemplate heading in the direction that we had just come, especially if the weather was bad.

In retrospect we decided that we probably should have called it a day at Refuge Nant Borrant. 20/20 hind sight!

  • Walk of 22.75KM in 9.06 hours
  • Elevation gain of +1558m / elevation loss of -1954 m
  • Min Elevation 1558M / Max Elevation 2494M

Day 10 Contamine to La Houches

We had our own homemade breakfast and were out the door at 7:30 for the walk back into Contamine where we arranged to get a bus to Les Houches. While waiting we popped into a local coffee bar for a latte and to soak up some local atmosphere as a steady flow of ‘regulars’ stopped in for their morning Jo. It felt quite quaint to be sitting amongst the locals and listening to their French chatter. From the local tourist info office we learned that all of the cable cars, the Alpine train, and most of the ski lifts stopped running yesterday (Sunday) for the season. This caused us to re-evaluate our final few days as we were relying upon these modes of transport to make our lives significantly easier on the hoof by lifting us up and over a number of significant elevation challenges. We took the bus into St Gervais and then hopped a train to Les Houches, which is the most common starting point for the counter clockwise approach to the TMB. Terry, using Booking.com, found us another great place 1.2km from the station. When we checked-in we discovered that our room also included a bus pass that enabled us to go into Chamonix. The weather was good but scheduled to change and we could actually see the cable car making the final approach to the top station on Mount Blanc so we hustled into Chamonix. We caught the 11:30 cable car to the top and for the next 90 minutes enjoyed spectacular changing views as the clouds rolled past and over Mont Blanc, its glaciers, and associated peaks. We managed to see all of the listed highlights from the Aiguille Du Midi Mt Blanc at 3842M. We then toured the photo exhibit of the construction of the lift and station followed by the museum of ascending and most recently descending Mont Blanc, the tallest peak in Europe. By the time we headed down at 2:00 the top of the mountain was totally socked in.

We then enjoyed some traditional French Onion soup in downtown Chamonix – a mixture of Banff/Whistler on steroids – the major difference being that the mountains are right there with the glaciers literally hanging over the city. We enjoyed a rubbernecking stroll through this pretty high-end tourist Mecca and later that evening walked to a very nice little Indian restaurant in Les Houches where we were the only tourists, and enjoyed a very nice meal.

Day 11            Les Houches

This was to be our last day on the trail, however as our cable cars and mountain train weren’t running, rather than a full day we opted to take the one remaining cable car (Bellevue) to the Col du Voza and then walk back down to town. Our window of opportunity weather wise was from 11 to 2 (and the weather forecasts for us have been just about right on). We began the day in another local café with a baguette and coffee and then we rode the cable car up to the pass. On the walk down we were treated to numerous “sucker holes” where we were offered quick glimpses of the high mountains above the city that occasionally poked through in the middle of the clouds. Really quite amazing and spectacular. We had a picnic lunch (the remainder of our foodstuffs from Contamine) in a road side park and then returned to Chamonix for dinner in a local haunt which we had spied the day before. French cuisine/menus are not as appealing as Italian – and are more expensive. However, we did enjoy the cheese plate of 3 local cheeses, crackers, and fig preserves for dessert. We just missed the last convenient bus back to Les Houches so shared a cab with another couple of hikers back up the valley.

  • Walk of 4.5KM in 2.25 hours
  • Elevation gain of 1086m / elevation loss of -1105 m
  • Min Elevation 968M / Max Elevation 1802M

Day 12 Les Houches to Geneva

We opted to take advantage of the wonderful – and expensive – buffet breakfast offered by the hotel (not in the room cost but probably the best breakfast option thus far) and then hopped the shuttle bus into the Geneva airport. We arrived into a sun bathed Geneva and with the assistance of Terry’s Google Map we found our hotel via a bus and street car. We dropped our bags at the Hotel Carmen (a definitely more than adequate 2 star with three beds in a large room which included a writing table and three chairs). We enjoyed a walk (again with the assistance of Google Maps) to the Museum of the Reformation with presentations on:

  • The Bible
  • 12 minute A-V presentation on the history of the Reformation
  • The wars of religion (St Barts Day Massacre)
  • Calvin and Geneva
  • Music Room
  • Huguenot dispersion
  • Good works train (institutions designed to assist the underprivileged – amazing the organizations mentioned!)
  • 20th Century – American story; Pentecostalism; Mega Church
  • 21st Century – Pentecostalism in Africa, Asia, Latin America and traditional Protestantism as an alternative
  • 2000 years under the St Peters Cathedral – amazing story and presentation of historical archeology located under the actual Cathedral!
  • Tour of St Peters – Calvin’s Protestant Cathedral (very plain, simple and austere)

We climbed to the top of the towers for views out over Geneva and the lake

Day 13 Geneva

We enjoyed a restful night in our more than adequate Hotel Carmen with a not bad 10E breakfast. We began our day at the Plaza of Nations and the Museum of the Red Cross/Red Crescent. It included a very high tech presentation of the organizations history and major programs:

  • Family links (prisoners and refugees)
  • Reducing Natural Risks
  • Defending Human Dignity

There were also sections exhibits on

  • Organizational soul searching over its failure re the Holocaust
  • And a special section on Aids in the developed world from the 70’s until today (however the bigger story in my book is Aids in Africa today).

All in all, one of the better high tech museum presentations for sure – right up there with the Smithsonian efforts.

For the afternoon we went sailing with Veronica and Harvey on a Beneteau 21. We had fantastic weather (but very light winds) and great views of the city centre and Mont Blanc in the distance. We also enjoyed seeing some Swiss competitive Cats ‘flying’ for brief periods (behind a boat as the winds were not even strong enough for those guys to be lifted out of the water).

After our great afternoon we enjoyed a wonderful farewell dinner of pumpkin soup, cheese fondue, fried potatoes and onions in ham (cordon blue style), hosted by Terry from his China funds. (Thanks Ter!) Once again we just about screwed up following directions – in this case meeting Veronica at the dock. It was amazing how good we were at making our present situation/location fit the directions/info in the book, and yet we were actually in the totally wrong place! (Again!!!!)

Day 14 Geneva

We had an early breakfast with Craig and then walked him to the street car. Later in the morning while on a street car going to the UN headquarters we saw Paul and Catherine Scambler walking along the street! I texted him and found out that he was going to be at the airport at about the same time as we were the next morning.

We joined the 90 minute tour of the UN Geneva offices – the old League of Nations site which now serves as the home of the UN’s humanitarian initiatives. Our tour guide (from Berlin) was excellent and he spoke 5.5 of the 6 official UN languages (English, French, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, and Arabic). The tour is a nice history lesson and features quite spectacular art from the League of Nations era. Interesting Fact: The UN’s budget is less than that of the NYPD! The cafeteria also has the cheapest coffee in Geneva along with an excellent book store. Both Terry and I noted a number of interesting titles.

After an afternoon snooze we headed out to the burbs for dinner and a wonderful Mendelsohn concert. The meal was at an outdoor cafe just off the main drag and was very good and reasonably priced! The venue for the concert was a round Protestant Church built in 1748 that housed a huge pipe organ. This was the first time that we had ever actually ‘seen’ an organ being played in a concert. The organist was projected onto the wall above the heads of a 25 member chorus. We were actually able to see what ‘Pull out all the stops’ really means. It is actually a musical reference and when all the stops are pulled open it gives the instrument maximum sound. And could that baby hum!!! We were able to watch the organist play 3 keyboards and the foot petals along with an assistant turning pages and pushing/pulling stops. Just a tad up on the level that Grace Thompson used to handle the key board in the back at Altadore Baptist!

Day 15 Geneva and Onward!

Both Terry and I had early morning flights out of Geneva at about the same time. We had no difficulty making it to the airport early on the Saturday morning and I was able to touch base with Paul Scambler – who had been doing some lobbying on behalf of the Canadian/American couple and their children who were being held by a Taliban faction in Afghanistan. – for about 20 minutes before he flew home to Victoria and I continued on to Dublin – the old small world!!!

Interesting Note: The couple and their kids were released about a month later.

The Trip Stats:

Total hike: 112.68KM

Our walk also included:

Elevation gain: 8559M           Elevation loss: 9998M       (Mt Everest is 8848!!)

The elevation gains/losses were something about the walk that I don’t think we had factored into our minds, although our Guide Book had very clearly outlined a walking profile! And we definitely did learn to rely upon this benign looking little graph!

Trip completed without one slip/fall and over some pretty treacherous terrain with no significant blisters or health issues (aside from a pre-trip slip in the kitchen). Pretty darned impressive for three guys all over the age of 65!

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