Conquering the Mont Blanc Trail

Glenn enjoying the scenery above Chamonix, France, one of the typical starting points for the TMB hike.
Glenn enjoying the scenery above Chamonix, France, one of the typical starting points for the TMB hike.

Sure, Glenn Martinson picks up the phone when people have questions about their membership at the OFJCC. But did you know he is also a dedicated hiking enthusiast? Despite an appreciation for the sport, he had never hiked a long trail before. That all changed last year when Glenn and his wife were invited by friends to hike the Mont Blanc Trail across France, Italy and Switzerland together.

Initially what I thought was a far-off, pie-in-the-sky dream vacation actually came to pass this past August. My wife Ellen and I joined our long-time friends George, Meredith, Mike, and Jan for an 11-day, 100+ mile hike on the world-famous Tour du Mont Blanc (a.k.a. TMB) hiking trail which circles Mont Blanc through France, Italy, and Switzerland. I’ll let my photos tell much of the story below, and the hike is much of what you see in the photos – snowcapped mountains and glaciers in full view almost every day.

Refuge La Flegere above Chamonix, France. Spartan, dormitory-style accommodations for our final night on the trail. (Photo Glenn Martinson).

Refuge La Flegere above Chamonix, France. Spartan, dormitory-style accommodations for our final night on the trail. (Photo Glenn Martinson).

I’m not much of a backpacker and I had not done much hiking in the past, but as I prepared for the long days of hiking for almost two weeks, I kept the following thought in mind:

“You’re tougher than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can.” –Ken Chlouber, Race Director, Leadville Colorado 100 Mile Trail Ultramarathon

While our plan wasn’t to run the TMB trail like an ultramarathoner, we did want to walk the 100+ mile TMB trail as it has been the site of many historic races in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) trail ultramarathon. Some might say the UTMB race is the pinnacle of events in the ultramarathon world. It’s also based in Chamonix, France which is considered to be one of the premiere mountain sport cities in the world.

How would I go about preparing myself for such a high alpine hike? Well, you start by walking, a lot. My preparation was comprised of 8-12 mile hikes in our local Santa Cruz Mountains and a weekend trip to South Lake Tahoe for some higher altitude hikes.

I will say that the actual trails on the TMB were more challenging than I thought. You have to deal with elevation, and several of the TMB hiking trails over the higher mountain passes are straight-up-the-hill without so many switchbacks to ease the effort. We had to carry all of our own packs and gear the entire route. Keeping to smaller packs at 20-25 pounds total was a constant goal throughout the trip.

These trails wind around the mountain range overlooking Chamonix, France and in constant view of Mont Blanc. This environment makes one feel small – can you see the hikers on the trail?

These trails wind around the mountain range overlooking Chamonix, France and in constant view of Mont Blanc. This environment makes one feel small – can you see the hikers on the trail?

However, the pain and effort was eased by the never-ending alpine scenery and sharing the experience with friends we’ve known for many years. George and Meredith were soon to depart for a one-year work assignment in Ghana and this was an excellent opportunity to spend some time with them in the great outdoors. George was the French-speaker in our group and booked all the accommodations for the entire trip. Perhaps the most experienced hiker in our group was our friend Mike, who is an ultramarathoner. Everyone brought a positive, can-do attitude which helped the days flow over the longs slogs in the mountains. Ultimately, the most satisfying aspect of the trip was the shared camaraderie on the trail and at rest – sharing après-hike beers each day, hanging out in the mountain huts, going to dinner together in the larger cities, and learning new sides of your old friends.

View from our final day on the trail.

View from our final day on the trail.

Mountain scenery on the trail from France into Italy. (Glenn Martinson)

Mountain scenery on the trail from France into Italy. (Glenn Martinson)

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Glenn Martinson

Written by Glenn Martinson

Glenn joined the Member Services department in 2014 supporting the needs of current OFJCC members in the Goldman Sports and Wellness Complex. He also supports the management teams with membership database reporting and data auditing. Glenn is a Bay Area native and received a degree in information systems management from Cal State East Bay. His prior work background includes technical writing, software support and software testing. Glenn’s favorite weekend activity is chasing his wife Ellen around the local running trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

1 Comment

  1. Bonnie says:

    Wow!!! Such a cool story Glenn. You inspired me!
    Bonnie

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