Mountain landscapes from the Tour de Mont Blanc – Nature Photographer of the Year Competition

The breathtaking mountain landscapes of the Alps have drawn travellers, walkers and climbers since Monsieur Saussaure arrived in Chamonix in 1760 to make a botanical study of the area and offered a reward for the first man to scale Mont Blanc. I’ve been lucky enough to experience these mountain peaks and even get close to the top of them during my walks on the Tour de Mont Blanc, so I’m taking advantage of the Nature Photographer of the Year competition, being run by Sanctuary Retreats to share some of my photos with you from these trips.

Below is the photo of Lac Blanc I chose to enter into the competition – if you’re feeling kind you might like to go and vote for my entry here . But because one photo is never enough to tell the story of my walk through the Alps, I’ve included a few more for your enjoyment, together with the story behind each photo.

Lac Blanc is a milky blue glacial lake that sits high above the Chamonix Valley and while we reached it on our Tour de Mont Blanc Walk, it also makes an ideal day walk up from the valley. Most walkers miss out the hard work on the lower slopes and take the cable car up to Flegere, from where a couple of hours walking will bring you up to Lac Blanc, passing small pools on the way to reach this large, milky blue glacial lake that’s backed by mountains. Surprisingly for a place so remote, there’s a very nice mountain refuge there where you can stay the night, although we just had a coffee on the terrace with a slice of Tarte aux Mytilles that still remains in my memory. Read more about our walk to Lac Blanc.

Lac Blanc above the Chamonix Valley Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Lac Blanc above the Chamonix Valley, a milky blue glacial lake

The very first day on the first year that we walked part of the Tour de Mont Blanc we ended up at Refuge Bellechat sitting on the crest above the Chamonix Valley. Looking back, the walk up from Les Houches seems pretty tame but at the time it seemed like the longest uphill walk in the world. Waking up the next morning, we took our cafe au lait out onto the terrace and took in the glorious views of Mont Blanc – we were hooked!

View from the terrace of Refuge Bellechat above Chamonix Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View from the terrace of Refuge Bellechat above Chamonix

Chamonix is a town that we got to know pretty well, as it was often the start or end of our walk. On our first year we took the small mountain railway ‘Chemin de fer du Montenvers’ up to the Mer de Glace which was my first experience of getting close up to a glacier. Part of me was slightly disappointed that the glacier looked so grubby and grey with all the morraine that it carries along with it as it grinds through the valley. Every year they carve an ice cave into the glacier which you can walk into and admire the coloured lights and ice sculptures – pretty cool.

The Mer de Glace glacier above Chamonix Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Mer de Glace glacier above Chamonix

Champex Lac was where we ended one year and started again the next and this high altitude lakeside village makes a great base if you’d like to do some day walks around the area. There’s a path that runs right around the lake which only takes about 30 minutes to walk and if you do, you’ll get this same view of the lake reflecting like a mirror the wooded slopes and peaks in the distance.

Champex Lac in Switzerland Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Champex Lac in Switzerland – the lake is a mirror for the landscape

One of the nicest mountain refuges we stayed at on our Tour de Mont Blanc circuit was Rifugio Bonatti, on the Italian side, named for the famous Italian climber Walter Bonatti. After dinner we went outside on the terrace to watch as the setting sun bathed the peak of Mont Blanc in the distance, turning it white and gold, until the sun slipped behind the mountain and it was if someone had suddenly switched off the light.

Sunset over Mont Blanc seen from Rifugio Bonatti on the Italian side Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Sunset over Mont Blanc seen from Rifugio Bonatti on the Italian side

In the Alps, when the sun’s shining and the sky is blue, it’s the mountain peaks that are the showstoppers in the landscape. However as you walk hour after hour (with more and more frequent stops if you’re me) your eye becomes tuned in to the more subtle beauty of the alpine flowers beside the path. In September there weren’t so many of them, so when I spotted a spot of colour I would take the time to capture it in a photo. Growing on the meagre soil of the Alps there is nothing showy about these plants, they take their chance and snatch their time in the sun ….

Alpine Flowers on the Tour de Mont Blanc Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Alpine Flowers on the Tour de Mont Blanc

… I don’t know what these plants were called but they made a soft, fluffy cotton ball in the meadow. There must have been something that suited them in the soil as there were whole swathes of them across the hillside …

Cotton Flowers on the Tour de Mont Blanc Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cotton Flowers on the Tour de Mont Blanc

… and here are the pretty purple flowers that we saw growing everywhere in the autumn. In this case they frame the view back towards Courmayeur down in the valley from where we climbed up at the start of this year’s walk.

View toward Courmayeur on the Tour de Mont Blanc Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View toward Courmayeur on the Tour de Mont Blanc

What is a beautiful landscape if you have no time to sit and enjoy it? This was one of the reasons that my friend Julia and I decided to take the Tour de Mont Blanc in stages, walking for 3 or 4 days each year, rather than trying to complete it in one exhausting circuit of 12 days. We also planned the distances carefully for each day so that we didn’t have to walk for more than about 6 hours, leaving us time to have a leisurely lunch, take lots of photos (in my case) or just stop to admire the view. The picture below is one of my favourite from the whole trip, taken at the top of the high pass of Grand Col Ferret that forms the border between Switzerland and Italy. While I was busy taking photos, Julia was just soaking up the sun and mountain scenery, storing it away as a memory to bring out on dull days back in Bristol.

Julia soaks in the landscape at Grand Col Ferret Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Julia soaks in the landscape at Grand Col Ferret

The counterpart of Grand Col Ferret is the high pass of Col de la Seigne which at over 2500m takes you from Italy into France and gives another fantastic viewpoint down the valley. The rock cairn marks the perfect point to sit and admire the view back from the route that we’d just climbed up from Rifugio Elizabetta. I learned later that this area had been the scene of fighting between the Alpiniste troops on the Italian and French sides during the Second World War, while now we can walk from one country to the next with not even a border post.

Col de la Seigne on the Tour de Mont Blanc Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Col de la Seigne on the Tour de Mont Blanc

I hope you’ve enjoyed my tour of the mountain landscapes on the Tour de Mont Blanc. If you have some wonderful landscape or wildlife photos to share, you may like to enter the Nature Photographer of the Year Facebook Competition and you could win a Go-Pro Hero3 White edition camera - you can enter here . If you’re keen on wildlife, do take a look at the Sanctuary Retreats Galapagos Page for inspiration – a destination that I’d love to visit.

Once again I thank you for your vote .

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

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How my Leki Micro Vario walking poles saved my legs on the Tour de Mont Blanc

When my friend Julia and I started walking the Tour de Mont Blanc three years ago, we weren’t convinced that we needed walking poles at all. We’d done plenty of walks around Britain without them and couldn’t really see the point. In fact I remember that Julia had to hire one pole from the local ski hire shop in Les Houches, while I had one and borrowed another from Hotel Slalom, which I managed to break before the end of the trip.

Viewpoint at Col de Bonhomme on the Tour de Mont Blanc Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

With my Leki Micro Vario walking poles at Col de Bonhomme on the Tour de Mont Blanc

Three years on and we are both totally convinced that walking poles are essential on a mountain hike that is as arduous as the Tour de Mont Blanc. In the second year of our walk Julia suffered from altitude sickness and we had to cut short one of our days walking because of it, so she really regretted only having one pole to support her on that trip. Last year I had some inexpensive telescopic poles, but they managed to get wedged together, so that I couldn’t pack them down small, and they had to go. This year I was convinced that I needed some quality walking poles that would stay the course and see me a through a few mountain treks in years to come, so I checked out what my local Ellis Brigham store in Bristol had to offer. My eye was caught by a pair of Leki Micro Vario carbon poles which admittedly weren’t cheap at around £145 but which had the great advantage of packing down much smaller than anything else I’d seen.

Leki Micro Vario Walking Poles Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Leki Micro Vario Walking Poles break down to only 38cm

Why do you need walking poles?

Perhaps you’re planning a long mountain trek like the Tour de Mont Blanc and are undecided on whether you need walking poles, so let me tell explain why they are essential. Firstly, if you are walking for up to 10 hours a day, carrying a backpack that is 10kg or more, your legs deserve all the support you can give them. The poles spread the load on your knees, legs and ankles through your whole body, so you’ll be less exhausted at the end of the day and with less risk of twists and sprains. Secondly, the walking poles help you balance on uneven ground and sleep slopes, when your rucksack makes you top heavy, or you’re picking your way across a slippery stream.

Trudge up the mountain for 3 hours or more as we did regularly on the Tour de Mont Blanc and the poles will help propel you up the hill, steadying you on the climb. I remember that when I went Nordic Walking on Dartmoor, it was described as “like walking in 4 wheel drive”, which is just the traction you want on an uneven mountain trail. You might think that once you’re over that mountain crest, the walk downhill will be a breeze in comparison, but in fact that can be just as tough, if not more so on your knees. The path may be quite slippery with shale or mud and there could be stones or boulders along the way, so you are just as much in need to poles to support your legs on the downhill run.

Tete Nord de Fours on the Tour de Mont Blanc Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

With my Leki poles at Tete Nord de Fours on the Tour de Mont Blanc

Why I chose the Leki Micro Vario walking poles

When I looked around the range of walking poles in Ellis Brigham, I knew that Leki were one of the leading manufacturers of high quality walking poles, so I shouldn’t have any of the mishaps with breaking or locking poles as I’d experienced in previous years. I decided to try the Leki Micro Vario poles because they have a unique design and fold up into sections for storage, making them some of the smallest and lightest poles I’d seen. We were travelling to Geneva on cabin baggage only, keeping our packs as small as possible, so this was a big bonus, as my poles could easily fit easily into the side pocket of my rucksack. The fold-up design also meant that I could pack up my poles and store them in my  room in the mountain refuges, rather than leaving them in the communal boot area. Although I’d met the most friendly people on the mountain, I did have a mysterious experience one year when I discovered a piece of my pole had gone missing, so I was a little wary.

Walking down from Col de Bonhomme on the Tour de Mont Blanc Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Walking down from Col de Bonhomme on the Tour de Mont Blanc

How to assemble your Leki Micro Vario Poles

You may think that it would be completely obvious how to assemble a pair of walking poles, but I found that my Leki micro vario poles had a locking button that was hidden when the poles were broken down, and I puzzled for quite a while to work it out, so I’ve made the video below to show you how.

  1. First fit the two lower sections that are joined by cord together
  2. Next extend the third section until a small metal button clicks into place to secure the whole pole firmly
  3. Extend the fourth upper section until you have it at the correct height, marked by the rings on the pole, then push the locking lever down against the pole to secure
  4. Finally adjust the wrist straps by pulling the top strap upwards to flip up the locking mechanism, adjust the strap length from the underneath and then flip the locking mechanism back down to secure.

I hope you find the video below useful, about how to assemble your Leki Micro Vario Walking Poles

 

If you can’t see the video above about the Leki Micro Vario walking poles, watch it on my blog here or on Youtube here and you can subscribe using the button above.

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Another great feature of these poles is the grip handle which was extremely comfortable with an egg shaped top that fitted into the palm of your hand and an equally comfortable shaped grip with soft wrist supports.

Who are these poles good for?

I should mention that at around £145 the Leki Micro Vario poles are at the expensive end of the range of poles stocked by Ellis Brigham. There are plenty of options for poles from Leki and other manufacturers, but none that pack so small and light. If you are not a regular hiker and plan to do the Tour de Mont Blanc or a similar mountain trek as a one-off, then I would probably buy some walking poles at the cheaper end of the range. However, for frequent walkers and those who like to travel light, the Leki Micro Vario poles are an excellent investment, the sort of kit that is always a pleasure to use. These poles are also great for those who combine hiking with climbing and need poles that will pack away easily into a rucksack pocket when they need their hands free. Whatever your budget,do make sure that you have walking poles of some sort on the Tour de Mont Blanc as it’s an arduous trek and you really do need them.

The Leki Micro Vario poles are made from carbon for minimum weight with maximum strength. They pack down to around 38cm and extend from 110cm to 130 cm in height. The poles feature the Leki Aergon grip which allows a range of gripping options, with a wrist strap adjustment that is easy to use, even when wearing gloves. The speedlock, external locking mechanism allows the height of the poles to be adjusted easily and securely. The poles also have replaceable metal tips in case one gets caught or breaks. These poles retail at around £145 for the pair, but other walking poles are on sale from £50 per pair.  Thanks to Ellis Brigham who gave me a pair of Leki Micro Vario Carbon Poles to try for this review and specialise in all kinds of Mountain clothing and equipment.

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More great gear for the Tour de Mont Blanc

How to choose the perfect hiking boots for the Tour de Mont Blanc
The mountain clothing you’ll need for treking on the Tour de Mont Blanc - video
What I packed for my mini Tour de Mont Blanc – video

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

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How to choose the perfect hiking boots for the Tour de Mont Blanc (and other mountain trails)

Sometimes on the Tour de Mont Blanc I felt like a mountain goat, leaping from rock to rock down a steep path made up of glacial moraine. At other times, my feet felt like lead weights as I toiled up a never-ending zig-zagging path to reach the mountain refuge at the end of a 10 hour day. Either way, I was very glad to have a decent pair of walking boots like my new Berghaus Explorer Light boots from Blacks to keep me company on the trail.

My last pair of hiking boots had certainly earned their keep. Over the last few years they’d taken me around three-quarters of the Tour de Mont Blanc circuit and were still looking fine on the outside, but inside the heel lining was wearing thin and the bones of the boot were starting to poke through the padding with an increasing risk of blisters. My boots made it through last year’s walk mainly because I covered up the sharp edges with plasters, but this year I didn’t dare risk that again. It was definitely time for a new pair of walking boots. Fortunately Blacks, the UK specialist in outdoor clothing, came to the rescue with an offer of a new pair of boots to help me finish my Tour de Mont Blanc, but now I needed to choose which of the many options would be perfect for the Alpine trail.

My Berghaus Explorer Light boots from Blacks on the Tour de Mont Blanc Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

My Berghaus Explorer Light boots from Blacks on the Tour de Mont Blanc

Boots with ankle support

Fortunately I’d had the benefit of three previous years walking in the Alps so I knew what my boots would have to cope with; Dusty dry paths that wind uphill through the forest; Boulders and stones of glacial moraine; Stony paths with rough steps leading steadily upwards; stepping stones to cross fast flowing mountain streams; Slippery shale, uneven turf, bare rock, even occasionally patches of snow! My boots would have to cope with all these different mountain terrains,

To protect against twisted ankles on uneven paths, I knew I’d need boots that had some good ankle support. I’ve read people questioning whether you can get away with trail shoes on mountain walks like this and of course the TMB Ultramarathon runners do the whole thing in lightweight trail shoes. I also think that a tough pair of trail shoes or walking shoes with minimal ankle support are fine if you’re on holiday in the Alps and just want to do the odd day ‘s walking, perhaps getting a cable car up to the top and walking for a few hours down to the valley. However, for those doing the whole Tour de Mont Blanc which is a 10-12 day trail, I would strongly advise a robust pair of boots with ankle support. When you’re walking for up to 10 hours a day, for many days in a row, on all terrains and in all weathers, your feet will thank you for it.

Viewpoint at Col de Bonhomme on the Tour de Mont Blanc Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Viewpoint at Col de Bonhomme on the Tour de Mont Blanc

Boots that are light-weight

When you’re carrying a 10kg pack for long walking days, the last thing you want is to feel that you’re carrying heavy weights on the end of your legs. When I was trying on boots, I was conscious of weight, going for boots that were a combination of leather and mesh fabric, lined with Gore-Tex. If you are going in for serious mountaineering you may need something heavier weight such as an all leather boot,  but my Berghaus Explorer Light boots were the ideal combination of robust support without weighing me down. The combination of leather and fabric was also ideal for summer walking as your feet can get pretty hot and sweaty, especially when the sun is shining (as you hope it will be).

Boots that are waterproof

We’d had fantastic sunny weather on our previous walks on the Tour de Mont Blanc, so my boots had not been heavily tested on the waterproof front. However, if we’d experienced several days in a row of rain which can easily happen, I’d have been very glad to have a pair of boots lined with Gore-Tex or other breathable, waterproof membrane. The nearest my boots came to getting soaked was when I slipped crossing one of the shallow streams, but as I jumped out the water ran off my boots in a very satisfying way. My daughter when treking in Nepal on a school trip during the monsoon, found that the only parts of her body that stayed dry were her feet encased in Gore-Tex lined boots. She was most scathing about the so called waterproof jacket I lent her, but that’s another story. You will pay a premium for Gore-Tex branded boots, but look out for boots that use similar unbranded waterproof membranes that can be more affordable. The key thing is that you need your feet to stay dry.

Refuge Maison Vieille above Courmayeur Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Taking a well earned rest at Refuge Maison Vieille above Courmayeur

Finding a hiking boot that fits your feet

It’s important, when choosing a new pair of walking boots, to try on as many different pairs as you can before making a choice. Make sure you take a pair of walking socks when trying on in the shop (who wants to share socks with a stranger’s sweaty feet?) In my local Blacks store in Bristol,  I tried on as many different styles and sizes as were available and found that different brands had different fits – some seemed narrow in the toe while others were roomy. My normal size 6 was fine in some styles of hiking boot, while in others it was too tight and I had to move up a size. I would not even consider any boot that you can feel rubbing or is uncomfortable in any way when you first try it on – life is just too short. If you can feel it in the shop, believe me it will be ten times worse after a long day on the trail. By trying on lots of different styles you will find a boot that feels instantly comfortable when you put it on, and for me these were the Berghaus Explorer Light Gore-Tex boot.

My feet at the end of our Tour de Mont Blanc Walk Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

My feet at the end of our Tour de Mont Blanc Walk

How did I get on?

My boots felt comfortable from day one, but I have to admit that by day 2 and 3 I was starting to feel areas on my toes and heel that were starting to rub. I think that this was probably not the boot’s fault as I should have allowed some more time to wear them in and let them mould to my feet by wearing them on my walk to work, or even around the house. I managed to stop the blisters developing by wrapping all the sore areas in plasters, especially the specialist Compeed padded heel plasters that I’d brought with me and were worth every (expensive) penny. By taking this action I was able to prevent painful feet and my boots and I are still the best of friends and ready for the next mountain adventure.

A good pair of hiking boots will typically cost between £80-150 and if you’re doing a long distance hike like the Tour de Mont Blanc, this is one item of kit where I wouldn’t economise. If the boots that feel most comfortable to your feet are at the higher end of the price scale, I would buy them and scale down the costs in other areas. After 10 days walking your feet will be thanking you for choosing the best you can afford and your boots should last for years.

My Berghaus Women’s Explorer Light Gore-Tex boots cost £100 at Blacks, the UK online and high street retailer who specialise in Outdoor Clothing for walking and hiking. The boots have a substantial rubber sole for good grip, suede and mesh fabric upper and are lined with a waterproof Gore-Tex membrane. As the name suggests, the boots are lightweight, yet provide good ankle and foot support and are ideal for walking in warmer climates. Thanks to Blacks for providing me with a pair of boots for this review.

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More tales from the Tour de Mont Blanc

Tour de Mont Blanc Diaries – Courmayeur to Chamonix and over the pass into France
Tour de Mont Blanc Diaries – Champex Lac to Ferret and a walk in the woods
The mountain clothing you’ll need for treking the Tour de Mont Blanc – video

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Subscribe to Heatheronhertravels Don’t miss out – subscribe to Heather on her travels

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