Hike to Lac Blanc, Chamonix, France

Unforgettable Hikes along the Tour de Mont Blanc: Hike from Col des Montets to Lac Blanc

Sometimes in life, the best comes last. Serendipitously, this proved true with our very last hike on our intergenerational do it ourselves Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB). After ten glorious days of hiking the TMB – from the stunning Val Ferret and Val Vény in Courmayeur to our hike above the gorgeous Champex-Lac in Switzerland and finally to a variety of different hikes in Chamonix-  our hike to Lac Blanc proved to be the one hike that had us wondering when on earth we’d ever be able to come back to this magical place. The hike to Lac Blanc reminded me exactly why I hike in the first place: To feel utterly, insanely alive. And, there is nowhere I feel more alive than outside. The pure, raw beauty of the Alps and the Tour de Mont Blanc itself can all be captured in this one hike. It is a must-do for anyone in Chamonix and anyone hiking the TMB.

We had heard about Lac Blanc from our hotel and had desperately wanted to hike there earlier but the gondola lift to La Flégère was closed. So instead, we filled our first two days with a hike to the top of Le Brévent that affords stunning panoramic views of Mont Blanc, and we did an incredible hike along the Grand Balcon on Mont Blanc to the Mer de Glace. While both hikes are exceptionally stunning for some reason I had to see Lac Blanc. I had this nagging, unexplainable urge to do this hike so I persisted. Our hotel manager told us we could reach Lac Blanc a different way – albeit a bit longer of a hike – if we drove past Argentière and parked at the Col des Montets located in the Réserve naturelle des Aiguilles-Rouges. It was rated a difficult hike but was doable in anywhere from 4-7 hours depending on level of fitness. I got my dad and son to agree and on our last day in Chamonix we set off for what would be the greatest hike of the entire trip.

We arrived at the trailhead shortly after ten. There were plenty of parking spots remaining which was of course a good sign that this beloved hike was not too busy yet. It was an absolutely perfect day for hiking with a few scattered powderpuff clouds, brilliant sun and glorious blue sky. We could not have asked for a better day for our last hike.

Reserve Naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges, France

The start of the trail is right behind the Reserve Naturelle del Aiguilles Rouges, France

Reserve Naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges, France

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Mer de Glace, Chamonix

A Panoramic Hike Along the Grand Balcon Nord to the Mer de Glace in Chamonix

After our sensational ride up to the top of Aiguille du Midi, it was time to board the gondola and head back down to the Plan de l’Aiguille (2317 m/7,602 ft) for our afternoon hike. The day before we had hiked to the top of Le Brévent across the valley from Mont Blanc, we wanted to spend our second day hiking in Chamonix along the stunning panoramic Grand Balcon Nord on Mont Blanc. This high alpine trail can either start at the top of Montenvers (you can take a train ride up) or you can begin as we did at the Plan de l’Aiguille (the first gondola stop on the way up to the top of Aiguille du Midi. The 6.1 kilometer hike zigzags along the side of Mont Blanc affording stunning views of the surrounding Alps and even Mont Blanc if you begin from the Montenvers/Mer de Glace direction.

We boarded the gondola at Aiguille du Midi and were taken down in roughly ten minutes to a much more pleasant temperature. It was freezing up top at Aiguille du Midi as we were mostly covered in the clouds with a fierce wind blowing off the peak of Mont Blanc. I am glad we weren’t strapping on a pair of crampons and hiking up there!

Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix

Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix

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Mont Blanc Aiguille du Midi

Take a ride with me to the top of Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix

Getting to the top of Aiguille du Midi to catch a glimpse of Mont Blanc was without a question a must do experience when we were hiking in Chamonix this past summer. Roughly 21 years ago, my own dad summited this mighty beast being one of the thousands who attempt to climb Mont Blanc every year. Given the three-generational trip, it seemed fitting to show my 14-year-old son the top of the peak his grandfather conquered and I was equally as curious to see it for myself.

After hiking to the top of Le Brévent across the valley from Mont Blanc, we decided to spend our second day hiking in Chamonix along the stunning panoramic Grand Balcon Nord on Mont Blanc. This high alpine trail can either start at the top of Montenvers (you can take a train ride up) or you can begin as we did at the Plan de l’Aiguille (the first gondola stop on the way up to the top of Aiguille du Midi. The 6.1 kilometer hike zigzags along the side of Mont Blanc affording stunning views of the surrounding Alps and even Mont Blanc if you begin from the Montenvers/Mer de Glace direction.

After we purchased our gondola tickets, we learned that it is most economical to purchase a multi-day gondola pass. You can purchase 1,2, 3 or 6 day passes on the Mont Blanc MultiPass which covers all 8 areas in the Mont Blanc Massif (even including the train ride up to Montenvers). It is a great deal and a must-have as you will certainly want to ride as many gondolas as possible to get all of the incredible views. Best of all, it is unlimited so you can hop on and off taking time off your hike or else just ride the gondola up to get some photos if the weather is nice. Despite our mistake in not purchasing the multi-day pass from the start, we did get our money’s worth over the next two days in Chamonix.

Map of Mont Blanc. Map credit: Mont Blanc Natural Resort

Our plan of attack for the day was to first ride the gondola all the way to the top of Aiguille du Midi (3842 m/12,605 ft) for magnificent high alpine views of Mont Blanc, and then to continue back down to the midway point at Plan de l’Aiguille (2317 m) where we would get off and begin our hike along the Grand Balcon Nord to Montenvers.

As we began our ascent, the sky was a robin’s egg blue with a few white fluffy clouds hovering about. The day seemed to be much better than the day before when we were hiking at Le Brévent in a thick layer of irritating fog. Since this was the prized view we were desperately waiting to see we hoped the fog wasn’t going to jeopardize our chance of seeing Mont Blanc up close.

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Roman Theater in Amman

Arriving in Amman, Jordan: Jetlag, Culture Shock and Fascination

Walking through the hot, sultry streets of Al Balad in the heart of Amman, feels like an assault again the senses. The smell of a potpourri of spices tickled my nose while my eyes danced around the endless array of shops in every direction. Colorful handmade embroidered dresses called thobes dangled from the open storefront walls. Plastic China-made toys scrambled across the already congested sidewalk pavement. Giant fabric buckets of frankincense, dates, olives, and figs baked in the hot afternoon sun while cars sped by stopping abruptly if a pedestrian dared to cross the street in a city without any noticeable crosswalks. The sound of cars honking, the dance of Arabic words and the distant call to prayer by the Muezzin reminded me that I was in a place unlike anywhere I’d ever been before.  It was my first day in Jordan and I was struck with some serious culture shock.

I had arrived at the ultra-modern newly renovated Queen Alia International Airport only eight hours earlier after almost 24 hours of travel from my home in Minnesota to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I recall landing at almost midnight in the blackness of the night wondering where on earth I was. I had never been to the Middle East before and the suspense would have to wait a few more hours until sunrise to see what it was all about.

I was met by a driver from my hotel and was instantly welcomed into the Jordanian culture of warmth and hospitality. Despite my fatigue, we talked the entire thirty-minute drive to the hotel and I received my first introduction to the welcoming, open culture of Jordan. I checked in at the Grand Palace Hotel close to one in the morning, fell into a deep, luxurious sleep and rose with a start by seven. It was my first day in Jordan and I didn’t want to waste a minute sleeping (even though my body would have preferred it).

By nine o’clock I was met at the hotel by my hired local driver and guide for the day, Mustafa. Although I could have done the tour of Amman by myself, I preferred to hire a local to bring me around and introduce me to Amman. As a middle-aged solo Western woman traveler, I felt more comfortable traveling with a guide, even though Jordan is an extremely safe country.  Whether or not it mattered was hard to say as a few other women in my group had done the exact same itinerary as me on their own without ever feeling uncomfortable. Since I tend to be directionally challenged at times and often get lost, it just felt more relaxed to have a local showing me the way.

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2019 Gifts that Give Back Guide for the Holidays

For the past five years, I have curated an ever-growing list of amazing Gifts that Give Back. My guide has become so popular that I have devoted an entire page on my blog that is updated frequently and features these wonderful organizations and the causes they support. Whether it be fighting hunger, gender inequality or providing educational or income opportunities, there are a ton of ways you can use your buying power as a consumer to do good and make a difference in someone’s life.

Every holiday season, I gather up a list of my most favorite gifts that give back to inspire you to purchase something more meaningful this holiday season and put your money towards a fabulous present that supports a good cause. The products and organizations listed below are just a few that these amazing organizations have to offer. Please visit their website to browse the entire collection. You can also view my extended list of Gifts that Give Back on my blog which also has links to past guides as well.

As you look through the post, you will notice that I included a brief description of each product in the caption. To read it in full or view the image at a larger size, click on the image and it will enlarge. You may also find more detailed information on the organization’s website. I hope you enjoy this year’s guide! If so, please share!

Happy Shopping!

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If only the sun had come out.

Chamonix, France: Hike to the glorious Le Brévent

On our first full day in Chamonix, we opted for a shorter hike as the weather was unfortunately overcast and foggy. Despite knowing that the views would not be perfect, we decided to take the gondola lift up to Planpraz and then follow the steep hike up to the top of Le Brévent, which affords stunning views of the glaciers surrounding Mont Blanc. If only the weather had cooperated, this would have been an absolutely stellar hike and I deeply regret not taking the cable car back up for some photos on a clear day before we left Chamonix. Regardless, if you have three days in Chamonix, visiting the top of Le Brévent is a must as it gives you an incredible appreciation and perspective of not only the entire Chamonix Valley but of the Tour de Mont Blanc itself. On top of Le Brévent, you will delight in panoramic 360-degree views of it all and it will truly blow you away, even in the clouds.

To reach the start of the hike, you have a few options. You can hike the entire thing which would take roughly five hours one way or you can ride the cable car to Planpraz  (the station is located walking distance from town) up to 2000 m/6,562 feet, and then begin your hike up to Le Brévent at 2525 m/8284 feet. Once on top of Le Brévent, the options are endless as you connect up with the Tour de Mont Blanc and can hike from there toward Lac Blanc or Les Houches. For us, we simply went to admire the incredible panoramic view of Mont Blanc.

Chamonix, France

We purchased our tickets and learned after the fact that it is most economical to purchase a multi-day gondola pass. You can purchase 1,2, 3 or 6 day passes on the Mont Blanc MultiPass which covers all 8 areas in the Mont Blanc Massif. It is a great deal and a must-have as you will certainly want to visit the famous Mer de Glace and the Aiguille du Midi while you are in Chamonix. Best of all, it is unlimited so you can hop on and off taking time off your hike or else just ride the gondola up to get some photos if the weather is nice.

For our hike, we chose to do the route on the lefthand side of the map. Some hikers go behind Le Brévent to continue along the Tour de Month Blanc while others continue on towards La Flégère and Lac Blanc. Unfortunately, our timing was off as they were updating the Flégère gondola so we were not able to easily reach Lac Blanc from Chamonix. Instead, it was a full day of hiking (which ended up being the best hike of our entire trip).

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Highlights of an Extraordinary Week in the Magical Kingdom of Jordan

You’re going where”? I often got from confused friends and family when I told them I had booked a week-long adventure to Jordan this past October. “Do you mean Jordan, Minnesota or Jordan the country” was another bemused response to my statement. “I’m going to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”, I proclaimed with excitement and pride at how adventurous those words sounded as they escaped my mouth. “You know, the royal kingdom located in the Middle East who became famous for its American-born Queen Noor, Lawrence of Arabia, Wadi Rum, and of course the ancient city of Petra which is now one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. That is the Jordan I’m visiting, and I’m going with an adventure travel company called Intrepid” I finished to either silence or awkward stares. “Is it safe” was another common question I received.

Telling my family and friends that I was going to Jordan was a huge awakening for me as I realized at that very moment how little people know about this mystical place, including myself. After a week’s adventure spent camping with the Bedouins in the desert of the Wadi Rum, exploring the incredible treasures of Petra, wandering through the ancient Roman ruins of Amman and Jerash, questioning my religion (or lack thereof) at Madaba and the Spring of Moses, and floating in the Dead Sea, I realized that there is so much more to Jordan than I ever dreamed of and wondered when I could ever get back to see more.

Jordan is simply extraordinary and trying to experience it all in a week’s time is truly difficult. However, if you plan your time wisely it can be done. It also helps to have an experienced, sustainable adventure travel company like Intrepid Travel plan it for you. Regardless of which way you choose to see Jordan, there are several “must-see and must-do” experiences that you need to add to your visit. Here is a list of my top highlights of what to do in one spellbinding week in Jordan.

My Bedouin Friend

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Wadi Rum

The Best Sustainable Travel and Adventure Companies

Grab a cup of coffee or tea! This post is going to be a long one but I’m hoping it will be greatly appreciated. You may want to bookmark it for later as I’m certain that this constantly evolving list of the best sustainable and travel adventure companies in the industry will be an invaluable resource for future trip planning!  Enjoy!

The Treasury at Petra.

Love at first sight. The Treasury at Petra.

Although I have traveled all my life, sometime in my late twenties I became a traveler. For most of my life, I had been more of a tourist trying to rush around the world seeing as much as I could possibly see, never fully understanding what it all meant. It was in my twenties that I went on my first truly eye-opening trip to Peru. Within the first half-hour of being on the ground, I was mugged inside a taxi and it was at that point I realized that the world is not a giant playground for me to explore yet a place for me to search for answers and try to understand. Since then, I have continued to follow my promise to be a good, responsible traveler as best as I can.

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Saddle Skedaddle

Saddle Skedaddle celebrates a landmark 25 years with exclusive new cycling trips

As the demand to explore the world in a unique and sustainable way increases, there is terrific news for cycling enthusiasts who seek adventure. Saddle Skedaddle, a world-class cycling operator with nearly 25 years of experience curating diverse itineraries and cycling tours, has launched its new 2020 tours, exploring far-flung corners of the world by bike. Ranging from such off the beaten path destinations like Jordan, Ethiopia, and Borneo, Saddle Skedaddle is bound to stir up those who seek to see the world a little differently.

Biking trips offer a unique way to explore pockets of a destination that can often be off the common tourist route, and also provide a way to travel and do good by being environmentally-friendly and supporting local communities. Better yet, by traveling in a small-group on two wheels you truly have the freedom to experience and get to know a destination, its people and culture intimately. While I have not yet had the opportunity to do a cycling trip myself, it is something I would love to experience someday especially given my love of hiking trips.

In my quest to feature different sustainable adventure travel outfitters, I reached out to Paul Snedker, Director and Co-Founder, of Saddle Skedaddle to learn more about their mission and of course their amazing trips.  Here is what Paul had to say. 

When were you founded, by who and why?

My friend, Andrew Straw, and I founded Saddle Skedaddle nearly 25 years ago after our own cycling adventure in Chile. One night, while trapped on a mountain pass during a snowstorm, we got to talking about how much we had been able to see and experience while traveling the country on a bike. We hatched an idea about bringing this kind of travel to other people—pedaling through, not passing by, as they say—and with that, Saddle Skedaddle was born!

Today, Saddle Skedaddle is the UK’s leading independent cycling vacation specialist that is all about doing something wonderful on two wheels. Our team of experts has searched far and wide for nearly 25 years to bring you some of the world’s most incredible locations and enchanting cultures to enjoy at the speed of the bike. It’s time to really meet a place, and its people, you’ll never want to forget.

Saddle Skedaddle

Travel in Morocco

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Smile Network International: Kim Valentini’s Quest to Change Lives Around the World, One Smile at a Time

It was early May of 2003, Kim Valentini, an accomplished marketing and public relations executive and a mother of two had just quit her career after 25 years of moving up the ranks. She got her kids off to school and was lounging around the house in her pajamas when she heard Oprah say on TV, “If you are a woman in your forties, put down everything you are doing, grab a pen and paper, and listen to my show. This show is for you”. Little did Kim know, that that show would change her life forever and lead her to a greater purpose in her life.

Almost like a bit of fate, Oprah’s show featured author Po Bronson who just released his new book titled “What Should I Do with My Life”. Kim was wondering this exact same question.  Kim wanted to make a difference, be a voice for the people who didn’t have one. Immediately following the show, Kim launched a five-hour a week service project called the Smile Network. Little did she know, this five-hour a week service project would become a major global nonprofit organization.

Smile Network International is a nonprofit humanitarian organization that provides life-altering reconstructive surgeries to impoverished children and young adults around the world. Their mission is “to reconstruct lives, one bright, smiling face at a time”. Since 2003, Smile Network has become a truly global operation, performing over 4,000 life-changing surgeries in 11 countries across five continents.

I read about Kim’s story in a local magazine and I was so incredibly inspired by her story and her mission in life that I decided to meet with her in person and learn more. Over the next hour together we laughed, cried and bonded over what it means to be a woman, a mother and most of all, to find a deeper meaning and purpose in our lives. I realized that I had come to meet with Kim at a pivotal time in my own life where I have been searching myself for what I want to do with the rest of my life.

Here is Kim’s inspiring story of how she has transformed thousands of lives including her own.

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Chamonix: The Most Beautiful Town at the Heart of Mont Blanc

It was perhaps a bit serendipitous that we chose to spend the last four days of our Tour de Mont Blanc in the glorious mountain town of Chamonix in France. For it was here, back in the summer of 1966 that my dad made that fateful call to my mother, resulting in their marriage a few weeks later in Switzerland. My dad had been backpacking through Europe with a fraternity brother and was only a month or so into the trip when he arrived in Chamonix, saw the stunning beauty of Mont Blanc and realized that he couldn’t be there without his favorite girl. My mother flew to Europe with all the money she had which wasn’t much, met my dad and they were married at the town hall in St. Gallen, Switzerland.

That story had been told to me over and over again throughout the years, and I finally got to see Chamonix and Mont Blanc for myself when I was thirteen years old on our first family trip to Europe. I don’t remember much about Chamonix however I do remember riding the train up to see the Mer de Glace and being absolutely taken away by its beauty and scale.

I returned to Chamonix again in my late 20s on a ski trip with my family and a few years later brought with my husband to show him this special place. My father even scaled Mont Blanc when he was about my age which after seeing it in person is quite an impressive feat. Fondue dinners, stunning vistas of glaciers and of course Mont Blanc are always the nostalgic memories that come to mind when dreaming about Chamonix. So you can imagine the utter joy I felt at ending our Tour de Mont Blanc in this glorious place and for introducing my son to Mont Blanc. I could hardly wait to see if he would be as smitten by its beauty and mystique as the rest of my family.

The Alps in flight

Flying over the Alps on our flight to Geneva

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Champex-Lac, Switzerland

Our Black Diamond Hike to the Top of La Breya in Champex-Lac, Switzerland

After our beautiful drive through the Grand-Saint-Bernard Pass in Switzerland, we headed to the traditional Swiss town of Champex-Lac to meet up again with the Tour de Mont Blanc. Champex-Lac is one of the most idyllic Swiss mountain villages I’ve ever seen as it is surrounded by a beautiful lake with the magnificent Alps towering above in nearly every direction. Nestled in the French-speaking Canton of Valais, Champex-Lac is the perfect place to linger and spend a day or two soaking in its beauty and taking a hike.

Champex-Lac, Switzerland

We arrived in the early afternoon with a few hours to spare before continuing on to spend the night in neighboring Martigny. Had we known how special it was in Champex-Lax, we would have definitely preferred to stay there. We found Champex-Lac to be quite stunning and charming. Set at an altitude of 4,921 feet (1,500 m) with the peak of La Breya (7,198 feet/2194 m) rising high above, this traditional mountain village has a lot to offer in addition to being one of the starting and ending points for the clockwise circuit of the Tour de Mont Blanc.

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