Avoiding altitude sickness and staying healthy on the Tour de Mont Blanc

Last September, my friend Julia and I completed a 4 day walk on the Tour de Mont Blanc, experiencing a few aching limbs, but no major mishaps. However, our walk the previous year on the earlier part of the route had been a lot more stressful, and it was only due to the kindness of strangers that we made it to our end point by nightfall – you can read the full story here.

We realised later, that Julia had been suffering badly from altitude sickness, also known as Altitude Mountain Sickness or AMS. Determined to have a better experience this year, Julia researched the condition and sought medical help, which meant that this year she was well prepared and was back to her normal fit self, forging ahead of me on the path, where last year she had been lagging behind. Here’s Julia’s advice on AMS and how to avoid it.

Walking on the Tour de Mont Blanc Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather and Julia walking on the Tour de Mont Blanc

The Symptoms of AMS

In retrospect it’s obvious why Julia was so badly affected by AMS last year, as we arrived in Chamonix at 1100M and the next day took the cable car up the mountain to 1875M at Flegere then proceeded to walk up to 2100 M in difficult terrain. The path descended to the valley at Tre-le-champs 1400M but then took us up again over the Aiguillette du Possette at 2200M, so we experienced large variations in altitude, combined with extremely strenuous walking.

Julia learned later that she was suffering from Ataxia, where you experience a loss of strength on your muscles. She described it as like walking on jelly and feeling that her legs would give way at any moment. The feeling was quite frightening, especially walking down hill with a rucksack. Combined with this was a feeling of extreme fatigue, being faint and dizzy with a feeling of heaviness. At one point on our descent Julia felt that she might not make it down to the cafe at the bottom of the valley without fainting. The only common symptom of Ataxia that Julia didn’t seem to suffer from was a headache. While we were walking together, I was aware that Julia was struggling, but not quite how bad she was feeling and in retrospect I should have stayed beside her or offered to carry some of her baggage.

The treatment for Altitude sickness

After our trip last year, Julia researched her symptoms on the Internet and was sure that she was suffering from AMS, which she had also experienced some years before in the Canadian Rockies. She sought medical advice from the nurse at a specialist travel clinic, who gave her an information leaflet about the drug Dimoxyl, which Julia was able to purchase through private prescription from her doctor.

Julia’s reading also told her that dehydration is a big contributing factor in AMS, combined with the fact that she had not always been wearing a sunhat and was only using one rather than two walking poles to support her legs. To address the hydration issues, Julia purchased a clear plastic water-pouch with a tube, which she was able to put in her rucksack, and take regular sips of water as she walked which she found really helped. She also tried to regulate her breathing, by taking deep breaths and then breathing out fully, to avoid a buildup of Carbon Dioxide.

Walking on the Tour de Mont Blanc Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Julia with her water pouch on the Tour de Mont Blanc

Knees, legs, twists and strains

Another hazard of walking a mountain trail, like the Tour de Mont Blanc, is the strains on your legs and knees. For the first two years that I walked on the Tour de Mont Blanc I had no problems at all with my legs and knees, but this third year one of my knees had was giving me a problem with an inflamed cartilage. My physiotherapist prescribed some anti-inflammatory medication – initially the strongest version of Ibuprofen that you can get over the counter in the UK and when that didn’t seem to be improving things I had a slightly stronger anti-inflammatory drug, which is available on prescription only. Although these helped calm down the inflammation and discomfort, I was still wary of putting my knee under any major strain, while walking on mountain terrain.

As an extra precaution, I continued to take Ibuprofen while we were on the walk, to dampen down inflammation and I also wore a neoprene knee support that you can buy at pharmacies, which helped to keep my knee warm and supported. Walking poles are essential on the Tour de Mont Blanc and even more essential if you have any knee problems, because they give tremendous support to the knees and legs, helping you to keep your balance on slippery, muddy and steep paths to prevent any twists and strains. Obviously if you are having joint problems, you should seek medical advice as your condition may be different to mine, but I would recommend keeping some over-the-counter ibuprofen in your medical kit as it is an anti-inflamatory as well as a pain killer.

What was in our medical kit?

Hearing about the fitness problems we suffered you may be surprised to hear that we both travelled with a very small medical kit. Mine was all contained in a clear plastic pencil case that I borrowed from my son. The key thing is that the Tour de Mont Blanc is a popular trail, and while you can get to some wild or remote places, there are normally other walkers on the trail and you are never more than a day’s walk down to the valley where you can get medical attention if you need it. With this in mind, the things in our medical kit were designed to alleviate minor ailments and discomfort, the sort of things that could spoil your holiday. Between us we were carrying; Antiseptic cream and wipes, plasters for blisters, nasal spray for blocked noses, lip sore cream for cold sores, antibiotic eye ointment, atheletes foot cream, a general antibiotic and diarrhea treatment (the strongest available over the counter). As many of the mountain refuges were pretty basic, some not having a shower, and you’ll be popping behind a bush for a call of nature, we both had a good supply of wipes to keep both body and hands clean.

Walking on the Tour de Mont Blanc Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Walking on the Tour de Mont Blanc

Major Medical Emergancies

Although there are parts of the Tour de Mont Blanc that are wild and take you well away from civilization, which is part of the attractions of the walk, you are never more than a few hours walk from a hut or a town or a village in the valley that you could get down to if you had a serious medical emergency. The Tour de Mont Blanc is a strenuous walk in parts, but nothing to put you off if you’re generally healthy and with a moderate level of fitness. Of course, you should have health insurance that covers you in case of a serious medical emergency that would require you to be evacuated from the mountain. If you already have a health insurance policy in place, make sure that you read the small print to check that it covers you for mountain walking and some policies have an exclusion when you go over a certain height, as you will be going over 2500m on the Tour de Mont Blanc.

Having said that, if this is something that concerns you, I would make sure that you follow the most popular way of walking which is clockwise, We did our tour anti-clockwise which meant that we were going against the flow and the clockwise direction is by far the most popular so you will get at all times during the walking season between May and September a steady flow of walkers who would help you get at least to the next refuge if you’re in trouble.

The Tour de Mont Blanc can be a strenuous walk, especially if you take the whole 12 days in one go, but if you are aware of the potential health hazards and take reasonable precautions, you should have an enjoyable trek as we did.

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Resources for walking the Tour de Mont Blanc

We used the Cicerone Tour of Mont Blanc guide by Kev Reynolds - we found it to be an excellent guide for both the clockwise and anti-clockwise route with detailed route guide, maps, accommodation information and points of interest along the route.

My jacket and walking trousers were provided by outdoor clothing specialist, Ellis Brigham who have a wide range of mountain clothing and walking gear you might need for a trek on the mountains, which are available both through their website and UK stores.

More adventures on the Tour de Mont Blanc

The TMB Diaries Day 3 – Mont Blanc from the Italian side – Rifugio Elena to Rifugio Bonatti
The Tour de Mont Blanc Diaries Day 2 – Ferret to Rifugio Elena and over the pass to Italy
The Tour de Mont Blanc Diaries Day 1 – Champex Lac to Ferret and a walk in the woods

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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

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The Tour de Mont Blanc Diaries Day 1 – Champex Lac to Ferret and a walk in the woods

Our train from Geneva airport skirted around Lake Lausanne heading for Martigny on a journey that would take us back to Champex Lac, where we had ended our Tour de Mont Blanc walk last year. There’ s a bit of history here, as my friend Julia and I had decided to hike this Alpine trail in stages of a few days at a time and we were back for a third year of what will probably be a four year journey for us both. An elderly man in the seat across the aisle beckoned to me confidentially and spoke first in German, then in English when I looked blank. “What are the three fastest ways to spread news? he asked, looking pleased at his riddle. The answer ; “Telegram, Telephone, Tell a woman”. Not quite knowing what to make of the joke, I smiled politely and gazed out of the window, as the medieval castle at Montreux sped by. Lake Lausaune was so big that we could only just make out the far shore and a haze hung over the water in the warm sunshine.

The St Bernard Express at Martigny, Switzerland Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The St Bernard Express at Martigny, Switzerland

The journey from Martigny

At Martigny we changed to the local line on the cheerful, red St Bernard Express with the dog on the side that was once used to rescue people in the mountains, although nowadays the helicopter is more in demand. A quick change at Sembrancher which I almost missed, in my desire to take just one more photo, and our train journey ended at Orsieres where we picked up our bus connection to take us up the winding hairpin bends to Champex Lac. The bus was full of primary school children heading home, who were creating a riot all around us, until a stern French aunty told them to pipe down. A long day of travel and we were back where we ended last year, pulling off our boots and putting on our Crocs at the Gite Bon Abri. Not much had changed in the year we’d been away; we had the same 6 bed bunk room to ourselves with red flanellette sheets and duvets and the same supper that started with an aperitif of sweet wine and some home-made cheese straws. The mules were grazing outside, ready for the next day when they might be carrying someone’s baggage up the mountain. The forecast was good and we were all set fair for our few days walking on the Tour de Mont Blanc.

Gite Bon Abri at Champex Lac, Switzerland Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Making a start on the Tour de Mont Blanc from Gite Bon Abri at Champex Lac

Setting off from Champex Lac

Our first day was planned to be our longest, although the terrain was gentle with not too many steep climbs in altitude. Julia had experienced serious problems with accute mountain sickness (AMS) during our walk the year before, and she had prepared herself to avoid it this year with a large water pouch which she could sip through a tube and some medication (Diamox). Our little joke was that she’d told all her friends that she was on Viagra, as I’d heard somewhere that they are in the same family of drugs and both work by increasing the blood supply!

As we came down the hill at 8.30 towards the lake, all the shops were shut but the fishermen were lined up along the bank. Being conscious of the etiquette of the Tour de Mont Blanc, I must have said about ten Bonjours as I passed them one by one along the path by the lake. I even spotted a few of those naughty children who were causing a riot in the bus out fishing with their dads. We nearly got lost before we had even started, but a little way down the road we picked up the yellow and black diamond TMB signs, and turned into the woods. The walk was cool and shady and the carved wooden sculptures that we’d spotted outside Gite Bon Abri and also on the lake continued with a menagerie of carved wooden animals and other sculptures along the route.

On the bridge at les Arlaches, on the Tour de Mont Blanc

Left: On the bridge at Issert Right: Les Arlaches on the Tour de Mont Blanc

The Sentier des Champignons

A forest sign told us that we were on the “Sentier des Champignons” but although we saw a wooden mushroom sculpture, it was too early for the autumn crop of real champignons. At a bend in the path, the clanging of cow bells warned us that there was a dairy farm in the building below the path, but thankfully no cows blocking the way as we had experienced last year. As the forest cleared, we walked down to the road at the village of Issert, which was full of pretty old houses and took some photos on the bridge that crossed the rushing mountain river. The path skirted along the open meadow and through the small hamlet of Les Arlaches where workmen were repairing the attractive old wooden barns and the houses were in various states of repair. Through gaps in the houses we could glimpse some fertile vegetable patches with orange home grown pumpkins and a large cross marked the end of the village.

A rest in the forest walking to La Fouly on the Tour de Mont Blanc Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

A rest in the forest walking to La Fouly on the Tour de Mont Blanc

A walk through the Alpine meadow

The path continued through an Alpine meadow and next we reached the somewhat larger village of Praz de Fort where we crossed the river again and stopped to have an early lunch on a fallen log overlooking the river, keeping a safe distance from a row of multicoloured bee hives. It was only 11.30 and although we had been walking three hours, the map showed us that we had only walked around a third of our walk for the day, so we couldn’t afford to linger too long. We nearly got lost again among the outskirts of the village where a lot of new houses seemed to have been built and then passed through the forest along a causeway created by moraine left by the retreating Glacier de Saleina, with the light dappling through the pines.

The river heading for La Fouly on the Tour de Mont Blanc Photo:Heatheronhertravels.com

The river heading for La Fouly on the Tour de Mont Blanc

A view of the glaciers at La Fouly

An hour or so later, we approached La Fouly, a larger village that looked as if it saw a lot of visitors in both summer and winter, judging by the numerous cafes, equipment shops and information centre. Had we been looking for a more lively location for our night’s stop this would probably have been it. The village has wonderful views of the hanging glaciers and we settled gratefully into the sunny outdoor terrace of the Auberge des Glacier for a reviving Orangina, surrounded by lean climbing types with wraparound sunglasses. The cafe was full of colour, with orange striped deck chairs set on green astroturf, electric blue sun umbrellas and window boxes full of pink geraniums framing the glacier in the bowl of the mountains.

Auberge de Glaciers at La Foully on the Tour de Mont Blanc Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Auberge de Glaciers at La Foully on the Tour de Mont Blanc

Eventually we prised ourselves from our deck chairs and mustered the energy to walk the final hour up the valley to Ferret, the last village before the road ran out. We had booked a room at Hotel Col de Fenetre, the only place in town, where we were thrilled by our en suite twin room, a real step up from some of the dorms where we had slept in previous years. The day ended with a cold beer, a meal of pork in mustard sauce, finished by a slice of ice-cream that had a red Swiss flag embedded in it – what a novelty. Today had been long but easy terrain through Alpine meadows and pretty villages. Tomorrow, we would get away from the road and up into the real mountains.

To be continued…..

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More Tour de Mont Blanc adventures from last year

Walking on the Tour de Mont Blanc – Podcast
My Tour de Mont Blanc diary Day 2 – Col de Balme to Champex
My second year on the Tour de Mont Blanc – video diary 2011

 

Resources for the Tour de Mont Blanc

We took the train from the station at Geneva Airport buying a combined ticket that covered all the changes and the integrated bus service to Champex Lac. The route was via Martigny where we changed to the St Bernard Express to Orsieres with a brief change at Sembrancher. At Orsieres we waited half an hour for the bus to Champex Lac. The whole journey took around 3 hrs 30 mins and cost 59 CHF one way.

On the first night we stayed at Gite Bon Abri at Champex-de’en-Haut, which we highly recommend, with private rooms and dorm rooms. The cost was around CHFR 76 per person including dinner and breakfast in a 6 bed dorm room and the Gite may be booked in advance by e-mail. The second night we stayed at Hotel Col de Fenetre at Ferret. The twin room with en suite bathroom cost 95 CHF per person including dinner and breakfast. The hotel does not have a website but reservations can be made by e-mailing bertrandmurisier@bluewin.ch Tel. 027 783 1188

For mountain clothing I recommend mountain sports specialist, Ellis Brigham who have a wide range of waterproof jackets, trousers and other walking gear you might need for a trek on the mountains, which are available both through their website and UK stores.

We used the Cicerone Tour of Mont Blanc guide by Kev Reynolds - we found it to be an excellent guide for both the clockwise and anti-clockwise route with detailed route guide, maps, accommodation information and points of interest along the route.

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This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

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My Tour De Mont Blanc in Instagram Photos

This September I was walking in the Alps on the Tour de Mont Blanc for the third year running with my friend Julia. This mountain trail makes a circuit around the Mont Blanc Massive, taking you through France, Switzerland and Italy and would normally take 12-14 days to complete the whole circular route. However, we decided that it would be too arduous and difficult to fit in so much time off work, if we did the TMB in one go, so we’re walking the trail in stages and hopefully will be back to complete the final stage of our Tour de Mont Blanc next year.

Our first year took us from Les Houches above the Chamonix valley to Lac Blanc and finished at Flegere. The second year we started at Flegere and walked into Switzeland, ending at Champex Lac and this year we started where we left off at Champex Lac to walk as far as Courmayeur in Italy.

Although I was away from any wifi, I was able to capture the journey in photos on my iPhone which I posted through Instagram onto my Twitter and Facebook feeds, as well as e-mailing to my family, to give a live stream of the journey, using the tag #tmbwalk. The pictures below are all my #tmbwalk photos and if you hover over each one you can see the commentary – bear in mind that the photos at the top are from the end of the journey. At the bottom of the photos, I’ve given some information in case you’d like to do the same – it’s certainly an activity I plan to use again on future trips. Follow my travels on Instagram

More Tales from the Tour de Mont Blanc

Off to the Alps – More adventure on the Tour de Mont Blanc
Walking on the Tour de Mont Blanc – Podcast
The Mountain Clothing you’ll need for treking the Tour de Mont Blanc

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Information about creating the photos above

    • I have been using Instagram for my last few trips to take photos on my iPhone – there is an app for both iPhone and Android.
    • The Instagram app enables you to take photos on your smartphone, resize them in a square format, add filters with different effects and then post to your Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr feeds, your Flickr account and e-mail them to anyone you wish as well as being visible on Instagram for your Instagram followers to see in their feed.
    • Although I used #tags on previous trips such as #loveguernsey #Houston #Texas with my Instagram photos, for this trip I decided to create a unique tag of #tmbwalk that no-one else was using which proved to be a good plan.
    • By creating a unique tag I could use the WordPress Plugin Instapress to create the effect above. Instapress enables you to create a photo montage like the one above or to add your Instagram photos in a sidebar widget to your blog. I’m still working out how to customise the widget as so far I haven’t found out how to include only photos with a #tag from my own stream – if others are using the same #tag it picks up their photos too – hence the importance of using a unique #tag
    • An alternative to Instapress is Snapwidget which can be used to generate code that you paste onto your blog that will create a similar photo montage to the one above.

 

Information for walking the Tour de Mont Blanc from Champex Lac to Courmayeur

  • We flew to Geneva and took the train/bus to Champex Lac. There is a station in Geneva Airport and you can buy tickets at either the machines or at the ticket booth. The combined ticket took us from Geneva Airport/Martigny, Martigny/Orsieres (Changing briefly at Sembrancher) Orsieres to Champex Lac by bus. The trains ran from Geneva about every 30 minutes and the whole journey took around 3 hours. The cost one way was about 59 CHF (€48 £39 $63) If Courmayeur is your starting point you could also look at flights to and from Turin which has good public transport connections to get to Courmayeur.
  • We stayed at at Champex Lac at Gite Bon Abri; Ferret at Hotel Col de Fenetre; Rifugio Elena; Rifugio Bonatti, at Courmayeur at Hotel Bouton d’Or. We reserved rooms by e-mail in advance for all of these but Rifugio Elena who did not answer our e-mails (we later found that their office is in the valley rather than at the Refuge) so we phoned to make a reservation when we arrived. Check for the best hotel prices in Switzerland and book here.
  • At the end of our walk we caught the SAT bus from Courmayeur to Chamonix through the Mont Blanc tunnel. The bus runs around 3-4 times a day and the journey takes around 45 minutes and costs €13 one way, €20 return. The bus leaves Courmayeur in front of the Tourism Office where you can buy tickets at the bus office and drops off at Chamonix station where there is also a booth to buy tickets.
  • Finally we took the efficient and reliable minibus transfer with ChamExpress from Chamonix to Geneva Airport for our flight home – the cost is €29 one way + tax

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This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

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

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