MONT BLANC HIGHLIGHTS
What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
Day 3 that took us past the "Spencer Tracey" hut. Best views on the whole trip in my opinion. All the wildflowers: I grow many of the same in my own alpine gardens at home and it was a delight to see them in their natural environs.
What did you think of your group leader?
I have to agree with some of the comments made by a previous reviewer. Oliver was more than a little cranky at times and certainly overbearing in his admonishments and lectures to a few members of the group. There were wide variances in ability levels and some folks walked ahead of the group at times. This turned out to be unacceptable for safety and liability reasons but I'm not sure that the resultant very public and lengthy dressing down was appropriate. It created some hard feelings and then confusion when the leader's pace abruptly changed part way through the tour. Clearly, it is very important to follow his advice and his lead at all times both for your own safety and that of the group. and to keep things harmonious. Despite his cranky outbusts, Oliver took his job seriously. He was very safety-conscious and always made sure that group members were properly outfitted and equipped. He was a fount of information about the wildflowers, although I found it difficult to engage him in additional conversation on this topic. He obviously knows the routes extremely well and is very fit and capable. Some of the primary routes were off-limits due to remaining snow and rain-related washouts but Oliver chose some alternatives to avoid these hazards. Last but certainly not least, I was extremely grateful that he waited for my delayed flight at the airport in Geneva. I was last to arrive and I think some of the group had been waiting for some time. I appreciated his consideration knowing that alternate transport to the chalet would have been inconvenient and expensive to arrange last-minute. He has a rather eccentric taste in movies which he made available to us in the evenings in the lounge. Good for a few laughs.
Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Take all the mandatory equipment listed. You will need and use all of it. A bandana worked better than a hat for me (and a couple of others). I found my binoculars to be a useless addition and abandoned carrying them after the first day. Be quick on the shutter button if you like to take lots of pics. There wasn't ample opportunity to do so unless during the two daily breaks. If you're not a regular hill walker, be prepared for the effects of steep and long ascents. It took me a couple of days to get my "legs". On the last day, be sure to take more water at the signposted stream on the way up. It's a longer walk than the others and one of our party ended up dehydrated despite relatively cool conditions. The walk into Chamonix on the day off takes longer than suggested and doesn't really follow the river as advertised. But it's popular with locals and certainly very safe. Don't get too concerned if Oliver's directions for getting to and from the chalet, seem vague. You'll find that it's quite easy to get around either walking or by bus. You will receive a free bus pass at the beginning of the trip which comes in very handy. I found the chalet meals to be hearty and filling but I noticed a couple of the bigger, more active chaps, could have used a little extra food. The servings are set so if you're bringing a big appetite, you may want to consider packing or purchasing some snacks.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I thought the the cable car ride up the Aguille du Midi was over-priced and over-rated. But being a resident of the Rockies has probably spoiled me for mountain views. It is much cooler at the top, so be sure to take a sweater or fleece. Generally speaking, I found the service people in both les Houches and Chamonix, and on the bus routes to be friendly and polite. My French is just passable and although there's no need to be fluent, it is well received if you try the lingua franca.