My Story: From Self-Guided Trek in Tour Du Mont Blanc to Racino

By Juliya Smith
Apr. 09, 2020

Most hikes, especially self-guided ones, are journeys of self-discovery. I first started getting into hiking when I was a young man in Colorado. The Rocky Mountains there are great for hiking, which is when I first took it up as a hobby. I also took up a bit of gambling once I was 21, but it’s good to have diverse hobbies, I imagine.

I had the opportunity to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc, and wanted to take it very badly. I originally started going into mountains with my dad, but later had a great hiking group that nonetheless didn’t have the scratch to get to Europe. I ended up betting on horse races to get enough cash together to make trip myself. What do you know, my gambling abilities let me hop pond and jump into the best adventure of my life!

Up until that point, I had never hiked anywhere but the Rockies in America, so I was totally unprepared for the grandeur and splendor of Europe’s Alps. Since that trip, I’ve been to the Ozarks in America, the Georgia Caucuses, and more.

But the formative period in my life was definitely the Mont Blanc trip. I went from hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc to becoming a huge fan of racinos. There are two totally separate things, I know, but it all boiled down to meeting right people on trail.

That’s what hiking does: open you to experiences. The month of September 2019 was such a crazy time in life. I had trained for the hike beforehand but couldn’t really understand the grandeur and difficulty of the experience. Even though it was tough, the views and people I met were more than worth the effort.

I ended up in a place where I hadn’t expected, but back home in New York nonetheless. When I look back on the entire thing, I’m glad it turned out the way it did. I ended up hiking the best mountains in Europe and finding a new way to bet on exciting races. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start back at the beginning when I was prepping for the self-guided tour.

Self-Guided Trek, Tour du Mont Blanc

As I prepared for the journey I studied up on weather I could expect and what I needed to pack for. Indeed, I experienced weather of all different varieties on my journey. Not surprisingly, the weather changed quite often as I was up very high in elevation for most of the trip.

As I went in September the weather was particularly cool. There was only a single thunderstorm to account for. This was apparently after traditional thunderstorm season, according to Mike, another hiker I met on the trail. The September trip also allowed me to enjoy cooler nights as I stayed at various rest spots along the path.

That path was superb. The Tour du Mont Blanc took me around 170 kilometers throughout the entire Mont Blanc mountain range. I eventually went up and down about 10,000 meters in total. My lungs certainly had a bit of a challenge!

It was during the first half of the Tour that I met Mike, another solo hiker that had started around the same time as me. He was a bit older, but I ended up hanging around since he had a bit more hiking experience.

The Tour du Mont Blanc, as I experienced it through its main route, took me through three major alpine regions across three countries: France, Switzerland, and Italy. This ended up in a circumnavigating route around Mont Blanc itself, a mountain that’s 4810 meters tall. The journey took me about 10 days, though I heard that you can take it at faster or slower speeds if you desire.

Terrain was a big visual highlight. The main route took me through lush mountainside meadows and forests. Doing the trek in September also allowed me to see plenty of green and other changing colors. Trees were shifting before my very eyes, it seemed.

Beyond foliage, I also experienced harsher rocky terrain, particularly for some slope-side walks. There were a number of bridges I needed to cross, included one over a weak river that was slowing down for the winter months. The variety of the terrain was actually a big highlight. It kept things from getting dull and made the quieter moments of the solo journey a more meditative experience.

I also spent more time going up and down than I did walking across flat ground.

I was reminded many times throughout the trip of the reason why I made the journey. The Tour du Mont Blanc is the best way to get a complete view of mainland Europe’s natural beauty without things getting too tough. The trails themselves are well-worn, and there are plenty of rest stops along the way.

If you’re like me and don’t make this a hobby, all these are big pluses. In essence, the trip can be completed both by experienced hikers or beginners. I got to see the natural splendor of Europe without feeling too overwhelmed.

Additionally, I was able to speak a bit of French here and English as well. Many of the locals I met, especially hospitality providers, could communicate capably in my mother tongue. This made my trip even easier.

The tour for me (and most) starts and ends in. You walk in an anticlockwise direction. Over the course of 6-14 days, you complete the route, staying at specific rest stops along the way. Alternatively, you can take the “Best of” route over 6 days and get the highlights of journey. Wanting full experience, I neglected to take that route.

The best times to do the tour are in September (like I did) or in the other summer months of June-August. This lets you experience the widest range of beautiful mountain flowers. Moreover, at this time the weather isn’t too cold even with the higher elevation you’ll be at.

The Tour du Mont Blanc guide was my best friend. It had plenty of great advice on where to stay, how to pace myself on the journey, and what to watch out for. I’d recommend him to anyone, especially to beginners.

When it came to rest I had plenty of options. All along the main route, there were hotels, huts, hostels, and even bed and breakfasts at every major stop, and even a few in between. Savvy hospitality providers know a good market when they see on. I stayed at several of these, including a few hostels.

I liked the hostel experience, as it let me get to know my fellow travelers before I went on my way. European culture, as it turned out, is a bit friendlier with travelers than I had experienced in America before.

Tour du Mont Blanc – Route Descriptions

Like I said before, I decided to follow the traditional Chamonix-Chamonix route that most folks also use. This is best since it got me through all three countries and it isn’t too taxing. I also really liked this route because I was able to stop at a hostel or a meetup place every 15 kilometers or so, with the largest gap being between Refugio Bonatti to La Fouly (20 km).

I have to say Mont Blanc itself is quite a wonder. Snow-capped peak really caught my attention and never ceased to amaze, even after I had been staring at it for ten days! It certainly deserves its “White Mountain” namesake!

Chamonix village itself was another idyllic spot. This alpine village has been around since before the 1700s and has several luxury hotels, along with plenty of excellent eateries. I was impressed with how well the locals blended together their personal architecture with modern innovations.

The third and final big thing I saw was the Mer de Glace, which is one of the biggest glaciers in all of Europe. This glacier (translated to the “Sea of Ice”) is close to Chamonix, so I got two opportunities to check it out. Even though it wasn’t in winter, it was still an impressive mountain of ice that, I knew, was slowly carving a path through the mountains.

Tour du Mont Blanc Maps, Kit List and Equipment

Using the guide I mentioned before, I considered what I’d pack before heading out on my journey. I settled on two bags: a small rucksack for my necessities plus an overnight bag. The rucksack had all my spare clothes, food, and other things. The overnight bag had my sleeping supplies and toiletries.

Below is the map of my route, which is also the main route most people take. It goes counterclockwise around Mont Blanc and ends up where it began in Chamonix.

This is a map showing where Mont Blanc is relative to the rest of Europe. You can see it’s in an ideal spot for great weather despite altitude, as it’s not too far north or too far from the sea.

Ultimately, you need both bags and several additional supplies, like great boots. Don’t underestimate the quality of your footwear! You’ll be walking everywhere, so combine a pair of top-tier boots with comfy and durable socks. Also, you’ll need to take several extra pairs, too, in case they get wet.

Even though you’ll be going in the summer, some additional layers are needed. Waterproof stuff is always best in case you get rained on.

In total, I ended up using:

● high-quality walking boots;

● four pairs of wool socks;

● three layers of clothes for most days;

● two pairs of high-quality pants;

● a hat;

● a pair of gloves;

● a waterproof jacket;

● warm nightwear;

● my phone and charger;

● a rucksack and night bag;

● a water bottle;

● sunglasses and sunscreen;

● toiletries like my toothbrush and deodorant;

● a first-aid kit;

● insect repellent;

● my camera for pictures;

● maps and the guide mentioned earlier;

● many, many snacks!

Preparing for the Tour du Mont Blanc this way helped me make the most out of the trip and really see all that it had to offer.

How Hard is the Tour du Mont Blanc?

The Tour du Mont Blanc is far from the hardest hike in the world, but it’s not easy! I trained for several months beforehand and still found myself taxed from time to time. Ultimately, the Tour du Mont Blanc is hard because of its length and reason you spend so much time going up and down.

To train for the Tour du Mont Blanc, I spent a lot of time doing cardio exercises. These helped me boost my endurance and trained my muscles for the biggest part of the hike: walking. I also ended up walking around outside for a month before the hike with my backpack fully loaded. This got my body used to the difficulty of carrying all that gear around for hours on end! I’d recommend doing both of these if you want to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc.

One other thing I did (and you may want to as well) is a purchase of travel insurance. This covers you in the event when you need to be rescued. You may not need it, but if you’re injured and need a helicopter ride out, you’ll be glad you had it!

You’ll also make things easier on yourself by going around in September. Anytime in the summer is great, although some locals said August could get particularly busy. Other months are a bit difficult, even for experienced hikers.

Racino

After the Tour, Mike and I ended up sticking together for the trip back to the states. It was there that he ended up showing me his favorite racino. I had never heard of these places, but wouldn’t you know it? I ended up having a great time there.

What’s the difference between a racino or casino? In a nutshell, it’s a combined casino and racetrack. It lets you enjoy more traditional gambling with the excitement of horse racing, which I had never really tried before.

Mike ended up showing me a racino in New York, where we’re both from. I put some money down on one of the races and actually won – I was very surprised! It was a great time through and through. I also found several slot machines on the racino property, plus a few versions I could play online. I do have to admit that I like whittling away time with online and offline slot machines, so this was another great bonus to my adventure. Platform that I prefer is the Pokieslab.

I was curious about racinos after we parted ways, especially since I had no idea they’d existed. It turns out that they’re legal in ten states:

● New York

● Delaware

● New Mexico

● Maine

● Louisiana

● Oklahoma

● Ohio

● Pennsylvania

● West Virginia

● Rhode Island

Pennsylvania was the first state to open a racino in 2006. Once I learned that racinos hadn’t been around for very long I suddenly understood why I hadn’t heard of them before.

Europe is only now starting to open its own racinos including one in the UK. I was excited by that prospect as I could enjoy another European tour and check out a racino next time without having to head home to the states!

I’ve heard since that racinos have reinvented horse racing and revitalized industry. They’re some of those only places where you can play slot machines and bet on horse races at the same time. They’re even bringing in other games like Blackjack and poker!

In the end, my journey started in New York and ended back there, too, although I’d picked up a fun racino side hobby along the way. I’ll definitely hike the Tour du Mont Blanc again, too. Both experiences made the best month of my life!