“If we haven’t reached the col in 30 minutes, I’m turning around.” That’s the voice of my hiking partner. I ignore the threat, knowing that heading back would mean a much, much longer walk to the next hut. But I get her point. We’re somewhere in Italy on a ridge way off the regular trail, it’s snowing and thick clouds are rapidly rolling in. The Tour du Mont Blanc trail doesn’t go here. No, it’s down along a river and dirt road, winding away in the valley far below.
We’re doing our best to avoid the traditional path—adding more than a few alternate routes to lengthen the 100-mile looping trek through the Alps.
We eventually reach the col, make the treacherous descent back to the main trail, and get to the hut just in time for dinner. The first thing I do after waking the next morning: find an alternate route for the day. For us, these side trips really feel like they make the journey complete.
After 10 days of lakes, valleys, cols, ridges, jagged rocky peaks, glaciers—and the sad evidence of their melt—quaint villages, views of the Mont Blanc and great food, Chamonix is within sight again. We descend on a trail that becomes a dirt road and eventually a paved road that leads straight into downtown. The trek is over, but the Alps will see my face again.