Mont Blanc: Camino Lessons Travel to the Alps

See that speck of a building below the glacier? It is Refugio Elisabetta, one of a collection of remote hostels on the 110-mile Tour du Mont Blanc.

I would never have stayed there if it had not been for my hiking adventure on the Camino de Santiago.

Perched on a spur in the Italian Alps, Refugio Elisabetta offered triple bunks in a crowded coed dorm and bright orange clogs for walking around an outdoor setting that left me gobsmacked. I showered in minimal privacy, shared a sink with other men, and waited to use the only toilet with a seat. We had lucked out with a private room with barely enough room for one set of bunks, but its tiny window opened to a view of the glacier. The dirty duvet made me wish I had packed my sleeping liner, but I was grateful for the bed after several exhausting days of climbs and descents.

Refugio Elisabetta was a highlight of our two-week trip around the Alps’ tallest mountain. The delicious communal dinner came with quick-binding friendships with trekkers who had traveled from throughout Europe. Some were sleeping in tents in the campground down the slope from the building.

In Camino Sunrise: Walking With My Shadows, I describe the restless night in my first albergue in Spain and how I had ruminated about the lack of privacy in coed dorms and bathrooms. Our first long-distance backpacking adventure eventually guided me to come to terms with ghosts that had haunted me since childhood.

And, oh, so thankfully, the Camino lessons led me to Refugio Elisabetta.

Mont Blanc: What a Sight

Patience. Sue and I had learned during our pilgrimage across Spain that our perseverance would be rewarded, eventually. I chronicled our trials in Camino Sunrise: Walking With My Shadows.

Mont Blanc had stood tall, 15,771 feet, for the first several days of our 110-mile adventure around the Alps’ highest member. But it had hid from our view.

On the morning after the toughest climbing day of our lives, our patience was tested again as we inched up 3,100 feet toward Col de Seigne. The aches from day three worsened, making us wonder how much more we could take. We didn’t say it, but the Tour du Mont Blanc had made us question why we had attempted such a trek.

Then, at the mountain pass, Mont Blanc’s grand pose was the best pain killer I have ever felt. It graciously posed for photographs with us before we stepped from France into Italy, where we picnicked at nearly 8,300 feet in the crisp, blue air and gawked at one of Earth’s wonders.

Patience. Indeed.