ALL ALONE IN THE ALPS

(Written for the Iowa State Study Abroad Center)

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Before I left for Italy, I was told to take a trip on my own while abroad. After a summer backpacking trip in Washington, I had the ultimate mountain high (like usual), so I began spending a lot of time researching the best hiking trails in Europe. I read countless blogs and websites and tried to narrow down my top choices. That research paired with the fact that the Alps had always been on the very top of my bucket list, made it easy for the French Alps to become my solo destination. When talking about the French Alps, Mont Blanc, one of the tallest mountains in Europe, may come to mind. Unfortunately, summiting Mont Blanc was not on my itinerary due to my lack of climbing experience and gear, but I’ll be back one day. I decided to hike the Grand Balcon and the Lac Blanc trails that would give me a view of the mountain range where Mont Blanc stands.

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Three buses, three trains, an airplane, and a lot of walking put me in the beautiful (dark) town of Chamonix, France. After a bus delay, I arrived in Chamonix a little later than expected looking for any open restaurants or grocery stores. After a quick bite and Q and A with my waitress, I headed to my post for the weekend. 6am came fast as I packed my gear and headed out into a brisk fall morning. I started my trek back to the small ski town of Chamonix in search of any open stores where I might find fuel for my 10 hour hike. In luck, the only open grocery store lit up like a Christmas tree at the end of the street. After I found some nuts, fruit and a Cliff bar for the day I pulled out my compass and headed west to the trailhead.

Starting my hike in pants and a jacket, it wasn’t long before I stripped down to my shorts and tank top. Covered in cobwebs from the untouched trail, I came face to face with a whistling Chamois that I had never seen before. I encountered more animals than people that morning. Hiking alone brought a whole new perspective - no distractions and no one else to worry about. Just you, the mountain, and your thoughts. It was beautiful.

After a three hour continuous ascend along the side of the mountain, I reached PlanPraz where I sat and took in the view. At that moment, I realized just how small of a person I am in comparison to such a big world. I was all alone on a mountain in France. There, I was reminded again how extraordinary this planet is. But, I couldn’t help but wonder why I deserved to stand in such an amazing place when I am not doing anything to protect it?

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With Lac Blanc next on my agenda, I continued toward La Flegere refuge with the towering Mont Blanc in my rearview. I reached La Flegere refuge in about two hours where I was rudely awakened by tram cars full of tourists coming to the top. Not expecting to see more than a handful of people on my fall hike, my alone time with the mountain was quickly interrupted. Tons of people dressed in winter gear stood starring at me as I emerged out of the trees in shorts and a tank top. Minnesota grown I guess (haha). It appeared that Lac Blanc is quickly turning into a major tourist destination. Still grateful to be in the Alps, I couldn’t help but want to be alone up there again. I take pride in finding uncommon and unknown areas to hike. But, I shrugged off my selfish thought and continued my trek to Lac Blanc. A one and a half hour hike lead me to the breathtaking reflection of Mont Blanc in the lake at the top. Avoiding the area of tourists, I found my way to my lunch spot overlooking a crowd of people surrounding the lake. I sat and took in the remarkable view before the clouds began to cover the mountain tops. Sitting in the calm before the storm, I watched droplets of water fall and bounce off Lac Blanc before I started my descent. Breaking away from the heavy foot traffic, I found myself alone again. Just me and the mountain. I was surrounded by beautiful fall colors as I found my way to the bottom. I ended my 10 hour projected hike in 7.5 hours instead. I wish I would have lingered longer at the top, but I was unsure of what the rest of the trail held and did not want to risk missing my bus back to Chamonix. 

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Returning to the town of Chamonix just before sunset, I grabbed some food to cook and headed home. Legs exhausted, I hopped in bed to rest. I planned to take a cable car to the top of Aiguille du Midi the next day but awoke to a cloud covered sky. You couldn’t see a single mountain. With the poor visibility and 60 euro fee, I decided to wait till next time to reach the top of Mont Blanc. Maybe I’ll just have to climb it instead. My first solo trip was truly unforgettable. Trips like this remind me just how thankful I am for another day and for the countless blessings of this beautiful world. 

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As the sun sets and rises, new thoughts constantly rush through my head and with that, a constant need to write them all down. Each day, I feel I am becoming more like the person I have always wished I could be. After reminiscing on another amazing weekend in Europe though, I was hit by a ton of bricks. I have been researching statistics for a sustainability project I am working on and came across some life-altering documentaries. The future of life as we know it on earth is hanging in the balance of our actions. If we don’t make a change now, we will not be able to save our ecosystems, we will not have enough food to feed the populations, and ultimately, we will not be able to stop this world from crashing and burning. We are continuously choosing to remain in the dark about our impact on this planet despite access to so much information. The truth is we do need to recycle, we do need to buy only necessary goods and we need to be conscious of what we put in our bodies. A simple step in the right direction can help change the future for humanity. It can save the world for our future children. It can save our future backpacking destinations. It can save this beautiful place we call home. Living a more informed and sustainable lifestyle will not only save the planet, but it will put the value back - the compassion, the integrity, and the kindness that comes so natural to human beings. Selfless is a nice way to live. Worrying about the planet and other people instead of just looking inward? What a beautiful way to be. We can do it, but we have to make the choice and make it today. We can change the world. We must change the world.

“Do what you can do, as well as you can do it, everyday of your life. And you will end up dying one of the happiest individuals that ever died.” -Howard Lyman (CowSpiracy)

-T