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Published: August 18th 2016
Today I happened to get a good phone signal at one of the highest (and coldest) points on our walk, so it was too good an opportunity to miss. While the point of coming on a trip like this has been to get away from our phones and computers for a while, it has been tricky trying to connect with the children at exactly the right time on some days. The family is on three different continents at the moment. Hugo was quite impressed when I told him I was calling from the top of a snowy mountain pass, overlooking the glaciers, so I promised a photo. Here it is, Hugo! We had just picked our way through a patch of snow on the side of the hill and I was, unusually, at the front of the group with the super-fit Arnold and Jill, who power up the trails every day without even breaking a sweat. Sickening really, given that I am quite a bit younger than they are, but my lungs burn so badly when I climb the trails that I can barely speak! Anyway, true fitness is something to aspire to. Age doesn't seem to be a factor on
We have signal!
Talking to Hugo on the walk. Can be hard to time things sometimes!
this trip in terms of how people handle the hikes, and the lovely thing is that there's no pressure. We walk at the pace we want to walk, then meet up at the rest stops for a leisurely drink, perhaps some time listening to Mick read, or just to stop and admire the scenery. Actually, Mick's reading has been an unexpected pleasure. We've been waiting for him to bring out the second instalment of a diary written by Annette's father about his experiences hiding from the Germans in the Val d'Aosta after he escaped from a prisoner of war camp. The reason Annette is on this trip is to visit the places where he lived whilst in hiding, and to meet the families of the people who helped him. We are walking some of the actual terrain he travelled while trying to escape over the alps, which is quite amazing. It's one thing for us to do it and then go to eat and sleep in a hotel, but quite another to think of doing it with very little food and no boots! (Not to mention people shooting at you periodically)
Today though, the book was a very entertaining
account of Jacques Balmat's first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786. We kept ourselves amused for ages afterwards trying to imagine what is would have been like to be his climbing companion, Dr Paccard. He was suffering from snow blindness after the climb, but rather than helping him home, Balmat just steered him in the general direction of his house once they were back in town, and then he headed home to his wife! He sounded like a bit of a character so we decided we wouldn't have put it past him to have spun Paccard around 3 times beforehand!
At the morning tea break Frank and Mick spent some time looking at large contour maps - the first time I've seen anyone look at a map at all! It was purely because Frank had asked about something geographical and complicated and Mick's explanation was better with a map, but it was very interesting to look at. There were lovely mountain streams to cross on today's trek - one slightly tricky one involving picking the right rocks to step on - but Mick and Jackie just planted themselves in strategic places and grabbed elbows when anyone looked like going
in the drink. There were no disasters luckily, as wet feet and boot friction are not a good combination when you need to walk any distance. Jackie hiked in the picnic again and lunch was a typical gourmet affair. Her backpack on picnic days is always enormous and it's easy to understand why when she pulls out gourmet salads, cheeses, breads, meat platters, sweet treats, bottles of wine - and a tablecloth! I'm sure she enjoyed the walk down the mountain after lunch much more than the climb beforehand. We were up quite high at that point, and occasionally had a jacket on, which has been the exception rather than the rule so far on all the hikes, but as we began the descent the layers were quickly shed. The last part of the hike was almost flat, and followed the river along the valley. We stopped for drinks and ice-cream at a little cafe near the water and chatted for a while on the deck before making our way back to Courmayeur.
After arriving back in town the group went different ways but I finally got to try the cocktails at the Grand Hotel. We all stretched out
End of the day drink at the Grand Hotel!
A great spot outside to sit and enjoy the view
on the comfortable couches and chairs which are scattered around the lawn and enjoyed the sun for a while. Well-dressed waiters quickly brought platters of snacks and a huge drinks menu. The view of Mont Blanc in the distance was the perfect outlook while sipping Mojitos and a cocktail which seemed made for me - "The Hugo"! It was a delicious mix of prosecco, mint and elderflower syrup which I'll be trying to replicate when we get home. Frank and I wandered the main street for a while afterwards, browsing rather than doing any serious shopping, and were amused by a whole shop devoted to doggie accessories which looked a little like the American Girl doll boutiques - all pink and frilly and very glossy. Obviously only for well-heeled pooches.
Dinner tonight was in the hotel, which we all appreciated because we are a bit weary - it has been a big day. The food was delicious, and our favourite maitre'd (whose nickname Hector has stuck) oversaw everything with an eagle eye. We each took a gift of a 2017 Hedonistic Hiking calendar up to bed with us, which might be dangerous. I am wondering if we'll be joining
Lovely cocktails at the Grand Hotel in town. I chose the "Hugo". Yum.
the ranks of those who meet the Hedonistic Hiking crew every year for a new hike. Arnold and Jill are up to number nine! I'm very tempted by The Palio of Siena and the Slovenia walk, myself. We'll see.......
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