By Riley C
Over the summer of 2017, I hiked through the alps for three weeks with a program called Overland on their Alps Explorer hiking trip. We stopped and camped along the Tour du Mont Blanc, as well as in four towns in the area: Chamonix, France; Champex, Italy; Zermatt, Switzerland; and Courmayeur, Italy.
Overland, the program, was absolutely amazing and perfect for my age, fourteen. The atmosphere was always lively, inclusive, and fun. I highly recommend it if you have a positive attitude and are looking for a place to meet new and different people while getting in some serious hiking. The leaders were supportive, kind, and worked hard to make the trip so amazing, and I became close with everyone in my group.
I will never forget the breathtaking views or tire of telling about my novel, epic experiences. My trip had so much extreme adventure and definitely pushed me, especially because it was my first time in a foreign country without electronics and my parents. The extra challenge made it much different than a teen tour, but I still felt I made similar bonds with the other kids on the trip. We also didn’t spend much time shopping and touring the towns we stopped in, so if that is what you’re most interested in, an Overland hiking trip might not be right.
If you do choose to go on an Overland trip (please do!), definitely bring a book, a journal, some energy bars if you’re in a foreign country, and a good headlamp. I journaled everyday while on the trip, and it is wonderful to have my memories documented. I would say bring a frisbee as I did, because we did had a lot of fun playing frisbee during the trip, but it turned out my leaders had one also, so I don’t think a frisbee is necessary to bring.
If you’re not looking to go on a trip with a summer program, please consider going into the same area of the Alps and the Tour du Mont Blanc that I visited. My favorite town to visit was Chamonix, France. We started and ended our trip in this same French hiker’s town, and our first camp site was stunning, with a view of Mont Blanc, the largest mountain of the Alps. I take french in school, and I definitely used it there. I remember how the overwhelmingly tall circle of mountains surrounding the campsite turned pink and gold at sunset. The bathrooms and showers there were the nicest of the entire trip, which is always a plus. The day hikes in Chamonix were also some of my favorites, ranging in difficulty and natural environment (all breathtaking). The town of Chamonix is alive and feels honest, with its beige infrastructure, crazy turquoise river running through the center and rusty green statues pointing towards the mountains.
It would have been impossible not to enjoy my time in Zermatt, Switzerland also, but it definitely felt more touristy there, which I personally found less attractive than summertime in Chamonix. However, if you’re looking to experience the Alps but are not necessarily in a place to hike, Zermatt might be better than Chamonix because of the elevators, cable cars, and chairlifts provided for tourists on the mountains for those who want to appreciate the same gorgeous views of the Alps without hiking.
Champex, Italy, was also more on the touristy side, but the lake, Lac-Champex, is so great to hang out around and trekking to Champex along the Tour du Mont Blanc trails was challenging, beautiful, and absolutely rewarding. While hiking to Champex we carried our clothes, gear, food and tents on our backs. We crossed the Swiss-Italian border on the second day of the trek, and when we finally reached Champex we had been going for three days.
In each place we hiked, we met so many interesting people either in towns, or on the trails. We made friends with some fellow Americans, but also with people from Australia. In each country we visited we found kind and helpful people with interesting stories. I’ll never forget the Celtic festival that drew enthusiastic partiers from all over to our campsite, and how cool it was to learn and experience that sort of culture directly from participants.
Finally, if you find yourself in the area over summer, do the glacier hike in Chamonix. The hard work and cold temperatures payoff in wild adventure and views that seem straight out of a survival movie. The hut my group stayed in was adorable and we had a blast hanging out in it and playing cards while a mid-July hail storm raged outside. The guides who led us up the glacier were patient and knowledgable natives.
This trip is the kind I will remember forever. I hope that if anyone decides to follow the Tour du Mont Blanc or visit the towns that we stopped in, that they will enjoy it as much as I did.