MONT BLANC CIRCUIT
What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
Impossible to single out: the whole experience was great - the sheer sweep and size of the Alps, with pristine snow slopes [usually] above, jagged 'needles' jutting into the heavens, lovely Alpine meadows and flowers, and tracts of Alpenrose; my first close encounter with an ibex; my triumph at getting a half way decent photo of a marmot with my little 'point and shoot' camera; the 'extra' climb up to the tete [head] of a high pass [Grand Col Ferret] with 3 of the more energetic of the group, with of course 'extra' views of the fabulous Grandes Jorasses; the exhilarating, hurtling 'races' down to the valley floors, with the reward of a refreshing beer in a garden full of flowers ...
What did you think of your group leader?
Graham Hickman - first rate. You might reckon an ex-Formula One racing driver might have a narrow focus. Not Graham: not only was he a superb 'track' guide - reading the weather; being sensitive to how every one of a big [13 strong] group was travelling on a particular day, encouraging the weary, judging just when we could do with a break, cautioning us when the track was a bit tricky [not that there was any real exposure] etc. - he was also a fount of knowledge on the history of the area, the geology, and not bad on the vegetation. But the bottom line is the safety and comfort of the party. We had, with one small exception, benign weather, and there were no spills or damaged limbs. But had it been otherwise, I have not a skerrick of doubt that Graham would have known exactly what to do to cope with any emergency, whether an injury or severe weather. He exudes professionalism. Not to leave 'young' Lewis out of the picture. It was his first trip, and he was terrific. Didn't put a foot wrong. Cheerful and accommodating at all times, and super efficient. A pretty good cook for a Pom, and a wizard at getting everything ready for us: if he had time, he'd even put up our tents, a great boon for the weary walker. Behind the scenes Mark was there to organise everything - a relief vehicle, or extra supplies. It's a very efficient outfit all round.
Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Get as fit as you can before the trip - it's easier than doing it as you go! You're up and down 1000 m. or more each day. But you don't have to be a tiger walker: the guide judges the pace to accommodate the group. There are some options to cope with the conditions, or any disparity in fitness within the group [see above; our group was pretty cohesive,though]. Listen to the guide's advice. Graham's best tip to me was to buy a couple of walking poles in Chamonix on the first afternoon [I never use them in Oz, but they were absolutely invaluable on this trip]. If he recommends, extra clothing, say, get it! And put it in your day pack!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
The only criticism I can think of, apart perhaps from the quality of the [cheap] beer in the brewery at Chamonix [Micro Brasserie Chamonix], was that, contrary to the advertisement, there was no adaptor which fitted my Australian plug to charge my camera. Happily there were a couple of fellow-Aussies with adaptors on the trip, otherwise I would have been a very disappointed man. Naturally, the quality of the restaurant meals varied, and I understand that sometimes there is no alternative in a hamlet or camp ground. The best restaurant meal was at Planpincieux; for the record, the worst was at Frasserands.