Four Treks, Four Adventures, Four Tests

The Camino Frances inspired Sue and me to backpack four more European distance treks, each with a unique personality. A closed sign greeted us at an ancient aqueduct as we left Spoleto, Italy on the Way of St. Francis in 2018. Part of the official path, the aqueduct was closed after a 2016 earthquake, forcing us to turn around and walk a lengthy detour. How many stairs are there on England’s South West Coast Path? We climbed and descended many of the 30,000 steps in 2019. Glaciers on the Mont Blanc massif frame our favorite accommodation on the Tour du Mont Blanc, Rifugio Elisabetta, in 2016. An ingenious drying rack was a godsend at the Lander Bed and Breakfast in Drymen on the West Highland Way in 2014. Our adventures on the four treks are featured in my second book, coming soon.

Via Alpina: Don’t Look If Heights Scare You

The Via Alpina boasts numbers that would intimidate even the most ardent long-distance trekkers.

The walk, which begins in Triest, Italy on the Adriatic Sea and ends in Monaco on the Mediterranean, spans 1,200 miles, travels through eight countries, and (close your eyes if you are scared of heights) ascends and descends nearly 700,000 feet. It also takes trekkers through the best the Alps offers on a path shaped like a giant, rounded mountain.

Before you cross it off your list, you could consider choosing a section or one country (Switzerland?) and save the rest for later.

Brandon Wilson and his wife Cheryl, though, wanted it all, and in Over the Top and Back Again: Hiking X the Alps, Brandon narrates their 110 days of walking through Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, France, and Monaco. They stay mostly in huts or albergues. Most of the time, they travel on the red trail, rated the toughest, even though Cheryl battles knee problems. She takes a couple of breaks to rest her knee and meets up with Brandon later.

Brandon and Cheryl are no ordinary couple, having completed other tough treks, including a walk across Tibet. Longtime Hawaii residents, they secured a one-year visa in Italy to allow time for the Alpine walk. The Via Alpina offers accommodations, but Brandon complains about accessibility; some were closed or full when they arrived. He was also unhappy when accommodation hosts complained that he had not called ahead. But, he was intent on living in the moment, easier to do on a walk like the Camino de Santiago, another trek Brandon completed–twice.

I was drawn to Over the Top and Back Again because Sue and I are always looking for our next adventure. Brandon’s descriptions and honesty helped me gain insight about the Via Alpina and I compared it to our Alpine walk on the Tour du Mont Blanc, which travels 110 miles with 60,000 feet of elevation change, slightly less climbing and descending per mile.

Brandon describes a host of problems he and his wife endured on the trek, but, in the end, he is proud (as he should be) that they completed it. And, it reminded him why he walks. The self-discovery, simplicity, and rhythm of walking with an up-close view of Earth’s raw beauty.

Could we do it? Ten times the mileage of the Tour du Mont Blanc, 11 times the elevation. But, it is not a race, so with breaks, we could take even more than ten times the days. But that presents an issue: Linger too long in the Alps, and weather will end your trek, like it or not. Distance trekking is never easy, but that’s why Brandon and Cheryl (as well as Sue and I) love it.

Should we try it? Or, you could go first and let us know how you like it.

The West Highland Way: A Scottish Treasure

Scotland’s West Highland Way has become one of the world’s most popular long-distance treks. Sue and I used Charlie Loram’s guidebook to plan our 96-mile walk from Milngavie (Mul-guy) to Fort William. We started in Glasgow, adding 10 miles to the official path.

Loram’s 53 hand-drawn maps were our favorite feature and the guide goes well beyond the usual narrative with many pages of information about accommodation (including camping), food, weather, and much more.

Paul Bissett’s journal of his Highlands walk, From Milngavie to Midges, would work well as a companion to Loram’s guidebook. Bissett completed the walk in just six days and admits he should have taken longer. He offers alternative itineraries and websites that would help hikers plan their walk. His narrative is an easy and quick read.

If you are as fortunate as we were with Scotland’s unpredictable weather, the Highlands walk will unveil spectacular scenery unlike any other. And, if you want to keep going, the Great Glen Way extends the trek to Inverness along the Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness.