You’ll never get lonely on Le Tour du Mont Blanc, a hut-to-hut hike through France, Italy, and Switzerland.
Sport Hostel Chamonix was closed—its windows were shuttered and all doors locked. I checked my confirmation email and there it was in the fine print: “no arrivals after 20:00.” It was 23:00, or 11 p.m. Too stubborn to check into an expensive lodge and too embarrassed to ask for help, I wandered aimlessly through Chamonix wishing I wasn’t traveling alone.
Just days before, I had thought I would be embarking on this adventure—a 110-mile hike through the Alps—with my best friend. The previous year, a 60-mile trek through the Sierra Nevadas had left us craving another alpine adventure. We settled on le Tour du Mont Blanc. We had picked dates, mapped routes, and booked flights. Then I received a message a week before our scheduled departure: She was not going to make it.
I had wanted this hike to be a girls’ backcountry camping trip—a re-creation of what my friend and I had done in the Sierra Nevadas. But le Tour du Mont Blanc was an adventure of its own—and as I would eventually learn, one that’s perfectly suited for the solo traveler.
I pushed these doubts aside and wandered back to town to purchase a headlamp, a map, and the English guidebook my research had pointed me to: Kev Reynolds’s Tour of Mont Blanc: Complete two-way trekking guide. I shoved this new gear into my half-empty 65-liter Osprey pack and set off. Without proper camping gear, I’d have to depend on the refuges, or alpine lodges, along my route. The first, a place called Gîte Michel Fagot in Les Houches, was just a quick (free) bus ride from Chamonix.
Then another hiker at our table—a Parisian man—interjected to express his amazement and congratulate us on our bravery. He did “not know any girl who would do a thing like this.” Dorothee didn’t seem bothered by the comments, but his disbelief resurfaced my fear of inadequacy. If no other girl would do a thing like this, who was I to attempt it?
Dorothee and I traveled together for five days. Sometimes we’d walk separately, as she was faster than I was on the inclines. Other times we’d hike side by side, stopping to dip our toes in frigid creeks, pet grazing cattle, or sled down a snowy stretch on our rain covers.
For the next six days, it was as if the training wheels had come off—I was finally a solo traveler.
Staying in refuges each night relieved me of the responsibility of carrying 11 days’ worth of food and shelter through the mountains; better yet, it allowed me to connect with other travelers. Instead of diving deep into uncharted backcountry, I walked along safe, well-marked, well-traveled trails that weaved past quaint hamlets and chalets, never far from civilization. And what the three-country trek lacked in challenging wilderness, it more than made up for in panoramic views of the snow-capped Mont Blanc massif.
Le Tour du Mont Blanc treated me so well that when it came time to part ways with the last of my new friends as they slowed down, sped up, or completed their itineraries, I was no longer afraid or embarrassed to hike alone. For the next six days, it was as if the training wheels had come off—I was finally a solo traveler. I welcomed conversations with the new people I met over dinner, but came to relish waking up with the sun and, without a word to anyone, slipping out of the refuge to immerse myself in the beauty of the Alps. Now when people would ask whether I was traveling alone, I could reply with confidence.