Tag Archives: tour de mont blanc

A Walk Around Mont Blanc

Exactly one year after I started the walk, the book is published. We began September 1st 2018, and on September 2nd we hung around in the lovely village of Les Contamines, since we goofed up and started a day early. I did not plan that, but it was amusing to write about. I had planned to write about the trip before I went, so I took 2 notebooks and filled them with my observations and thoughts along the way, as well as filling an entire sketchbook journal before I left. There are lots of guidebooks about the Tour de Mont Blanc, and blogs of course, but few paperbacks. My research only came up with one book about hiking the TMB that was not a guidebook. Now there are at least two books on the subject (in English that is). The price is $19.95 (USD). Black and white would have been much cheaper, but in looking at a draft I realized that much of the enjoyment would be lost without the colour photos. So, if you don’t want to spend that much, the E-book is only $2.99!

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Sluggo the Smug Slug

I am pleased to announce that Sluggo the Smug Slug is now available. Click the picture to see the listing. I was originally going to append this story to my upcoming book A Walk Around Mont Blanc, but I decided to keep those books separate entities after all. I am publishing both books in colour, in order to fully appreciate the illustrations and photographs, which black and white printing could not do justice to.

Exactly one year ago today I flew to Germany to hike the Tour de Mont Blanc with my son, Terry. While on the trail in Switzerland, we passed a series of carvings made from tree trunks. This excerpt from A Walk Around Mont Blanc explains where the whole Sluggo thing started:

All day long we walked through woods along easy trails not far above the valley. Sometimes the trail went down to the road or followed a dirt track. We met several guided tours, both British. Usually we stopped and allowed groups to pass us, but this day we actually had to pass them, a rare event. We encountered several interesting physical features where the trail followed a narrow ridge in a straight line, with steep banks on each side that dropped far down into the forest below. They looked like manmade dykes, but otherwise appeared to be natural.

We soon encountered a series of signs indicating we were on a ‘mushroom trail’, and apparently as well, a carved stump trail. Some talented wood carver had sculpted a series of lifelike animals from tree stumps. The first was a deer, followed by a squirrel, marmot, eagle, giant rabbit, wild boar and something we could only think of as a slug, although it was standing up and seemed to have arms. We named this Sluggo the Smug Slug. Following Sluggo we came upon a snail, which we named Aaron the Arrogant Escargot, Sluggo’s best friend. Terry suggested this should be the basis of my next book.

I recorded the day in my journal, and we continued on. I knew that I was going to write about the Tour, but I had no idea that afterwards I would write a book about a slug. After I had written it, I decided to illustrate it too, so I painted many watercolor sketches spawning yet another project – three picture books for toddlers. I therefore take this opportunity to remind you of the first book in the series, which can be found here:

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Les Houches to Chamonix

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a place mat from one of the refuges

Those who have set foot on the trail that circumnavigates Mont Blanc – the TMB – will no doubt recognize the name of the otherwise obscure village of Les Houches, France, where the vast majority of TMB hikers begin their journey. We heard it mentioned most every day when we talked to fellow TMB hikers. There is a very excellent shop there by the way, across from the Bellevue cable car station, where you would be well advised to buy some cheese, bread and a few sausages to carry in your bag. You will need them for energy, I can guarantee it!

The TMB is the most famous hike in the Alps, and thousands do the circuit yearly. It is next to impossible short of a book length post here to adequately describe the experience. I survived; but it was much tougher than I expected. Let no one kid you that trails in the Alps are just long gentle strolls along valleys and over soft rounded hills and cols. Not a chance! They are rugged, steep, slippery, narrow, muddy, rocky and full of roots, stones, water, twists, turns, high steps, no steps, scrambles and muck. But there are some very special rewards. After a few days of walking in the mountains you begin to stop thinking about anything much except the path in front of you, and the scenery all around. In my experience there is really nothing that can compare to this peacefulness. Part of it is due to the sheer effort it takes to keep going, and part to the lack of the usual stimuli or distractions. Refuges, also called gites or auberges, have internet for the most part, so one can keep in touch if necessary; but I simply used this to dispatch emails each night to update our progress and report that we were still alive. News out there is of no value whatsoever, which makes you wonder what value it has in the first place.

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some passable scenery

There are signs, maps and guidebooks that will show you the way and inform you as to how long it takes from here to there. The maps and guidebooks are useful, if you actually read them, something we should have done more often. We might not have gotten lost then. The signs are also very useful, if you add 30 minutes to every hour they purport to advise. Of course this applies to me, who merely trained one summer which was not nearly enough, but was sufficient to keep me moving at least. A year would have been much better, if I had concentrated on getting my legs ready for climbing and descending 1000 metres on steep mountains every day. Maybe 5 hours on the stairmaster with a pack would have helped, but who has time for that? Not  me. So I hiked around the paltry hills in the neighbourhood, hoping to strengthen the old leg muscles enough to get by. I suppose it did, as I made it with injury, but not without suffering!

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somewhere in Switzerland, or Italy…

I had forgotten what it takes to climb 1000 metres straight up, a typical day; as it is well understood that humans have a great capacity to remember pleasant things and forget pain. By now I have even begun to forget how my legs and body felt as I climbed the Fenetre d’Arpete in Switzerland less than 2 weeks ago, all the while thinking that whoever made this trail was crazy to think anyone would use it, since there was a much easier alternate route. However, we were not the only ones punishing our legs that day – there were others, and many of them, all looking pretty much the same as us; exhausted, and sullen. Briefly, at the col we rested and looked back on our achievement, only to be dampened by looking down the other side at the same sort of slope that would soon dole out punishing knee strain over 1000 metres of descent, and for what? The right to say you climbed the Fenetre d’Arpete, that’s what! Also, for a nice view – enjoyed for 15 minutes. No beer up here, unlike some other notable cols along the trail.

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Refuge des Mottets, La Ville des Glaciers, France

40 years back I hiked northernmost 100 miles of the AT to Mt. Katahdin in Maine – with a 50 lb backpack and no resupply points. I would never attempt to do that one again, for good reason. One – I hate carrying 50 lbs, and two; it was dull compared to the Alps. So if you can afford it, and you fancy a long hike somewhere, try the TMB. At the end, when you are done or you are certain you will make it, buy one of those lime green t-shirts with the TMB logo. We bought ours at the last refuge, but we didn’t don them until we had completed the trek. Then we immediately put them on and went out for a nice dinner and some Brasserie Mont Blanc beer.

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my son Terry, and his beer of choice

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my preferred Mont Blanc brew – La Rousse (red ale)

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Alpine Fantasy

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imaginary alpine scene

That could be me coming to a bridge over an idyllic mountain stream, but I just made this scene up while testing some new paints. One of those peaks could be Mont Blanc, too! In less than 2 weeks I will see for myself when I arrive in Chamonix to hike the  trail known as the Tour de Mont Blanc, or TMB. Training with a pack is one thing, but trying to decide on what to bring is another. The perfect is the enemy of the good, yet I waste hours of thought and time dabbling with various paints, brushes, papers and so on, until I almost feel like forgetting about sketching altogether! However, that would be dumb, because I know that when I get there I’ll be itching to do a sketch – so around it goes. This fantasy was done on heavy watercolour paper using cheap acrylic paints that came in a set. The tubes hold 10ml each, and as soon as I squeezed some out I knew that 10ml would not be enough. For one thing the paint is too thin, and doesn’t cover anywhere nearly as well as high quality paint does.  Regular size tubes hold 60ml, which is way too much, but there aren’t any good paints sold in smaller tubes. Winsor Newton makes sets of  20ml tubes however, so I may try those. No doubt it’s decent paint. On any hiking trip you one should keep the gear down to a minimum, thus my sweating over the size of the paint tubes. It seems ridiculous, but ounces add up to pounds, as they say. Two more weeks to get it all sorted…

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what to take?

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