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.
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.
Michael Tyler and his wife walked more than 40 times as far as Dan Karmi, but distance is not necessarily the defining measure of their accomplishments.
In Walking Thru, Tyler recreates his journey of more than 2,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. I am pulled to the PCT because of its incredible challenges in the desert of Southern California, over peaks more than 13,000 feet high in the Sierra Nevada, and through two more states, Oregon and Washington. Sue and I have walked five European distance treks, but none compare to the length and difficulty of the PCT.
Karmi, from Israel, walked 60 miles of the 110-mile Tour du Mont Blanc, but I have to give him credit for attempting something unlike anything he had ever done. Sue and I had done two other treks by the time we walked around Mont Blanc, something we could not have done without experience. Karmi’s story, My Journey Around Mont Blanc, is an honest sharing of his unusual experience.
Neither book was a gripping account, but I was drawn to their stories. Their adventures were so unalike, but distance walkers will find value in their words.