Some time last year, 2009, my hillwalking compatriot and I, whilst quaffing an ale or three in local hostelry in London after work, concluded (perhaps as a consequence of the ale) that a walk along the Hadrian’s Wall Path in Northumberland would be a good way to combine a long-distance path and a mutual passing interest in military and ancient history. So it was, that in October of last year, we walked the path over 5 days and, profoundly enjoying it, promptly began to plan our next long-distance jaunt.
Initially, I pondered the Alpine Haute Route. I had long yearned to walk in the Alps, but when contrasting it to the 100 mile (160km) Tour du Mont Blanc, I was, in the twinkling of an eye, seduced by the latter. So, we booked our time off in mid-August and I commenced some research.
There are a few first-rate websites and the Cicerone “Tour of Mont Blanc” Guide, by Kev Reynolds, is detailed and comprehensive (as well as small enough to pack). As a consequence of my ensuing fact-finding, it seems clear to me that, at our level of fitness, 15km coupled with 1000m of ascent and descent, on average, each day, is eminently tolerable but the walk will, at that pace, take 11 days. We’ve been typically hitting the gym once a week and I am running 5km, every other week, in preparation. I’d expect that to increase shortly, work permitting, but in order to enjoy the walk we both feel a certain level of fitness is required.
We’ve decided to stay in refuges rather than camp but we’ll take the Vaude Power Lizard UL with us in any event as it is a perfect emergency shelter for two should the need arise. The advantage of billeting ourselves thus is that we’ll need to carry only one of the big three each - a rucksack - and Lizzie between us. No Sleeping bag required or, consequently, sleeping mat. Immediately, our pack weights drop considerably. Further, food is conveniently available en route, and at each refuge, so that, again, reduces our pack weights. I am always astonished at the amount people carry on trips like this - even the authors of the excellent TMB website carried something like 13kg each. Not quite sure why they needed that much kit, but there you go - I’m looking at a base weight of 6-6.5kg as we’ll need to carry some items you’d not normally take hillwalking. Additionally, it will be a more stimulating venture if the opportunity to meet and get to know others presents itself - far more plausible in refuges.
My proposed Gear List is on my Gear List page (but, of course) however, I also link it here. I was thinking about taking my Osprey Aether 60, but when you analyse exactly what is necessary by way of kit, the Gossamer Gear Gorilla, at 45 litres, will inevitably be sufficient. One thing that I will have to shell out for, which is not something I think I’ll be using otherwise, is a pair of Integral Designs Hot Socks for wearing within the refuges. I know some people use them in sleeping bags when wild camping but, until winter hits, a spare pair of Smartwool socks performs double duty for my purposes. There is some suggestion that each refuge may provide a pair but that’s not a risk I’m willing to take (or pay for).
We will start from Les Houches, which we’ll reach by flying to Grenoble and catching a bus, and take the anti-clockwise route. This is the route Mr. Reynolds suggests and I am all for heeding an expert. We found Hadrian’s Wall a challenging route in 5 days (typically covering about 20km each day) but we had slightly heavier packs because we were camping. Conversely, there was not much in the way of ascent each day although the terrain was relentlessly undulating. There is no real way of ascertaining how tough a particular trek is going to be until you’re in it so I am adopting the approach of assuming it be as hard as possible and packing and training accordingly. That said, we’ll be staying in refuges overnight which is slightly more comfortable than camping so it will likely be an easier proposition than if we were wild camping each night, in addition to the obvious weight advantages.
Anyway, I’ll leave it there for now and update nearer the time. It is my intention, if I can, to update this journal during the trip. If I cannot, I’ll take notes in the iPhone and upload them when I get back, along with pictures.