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Happiness is Only Real When Shared: Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc with My Parents

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At 25 years old, I still love spending time with my parents. I intentionally go out of my way to visit them, whether it be for a quick stop-in or a big family meal (let’s be honest, I always show up when food is involved). Family dinners aside, my favourite way to spend time with my parents is by doing something outdoors. 

Growing up, my family and I were known for going on yearly camping adventures, long road trips throughout the US, and hiking trails across our home province of Ontario. My love for the outdoors was instilled in me at an early age, which only blossomed into a full-out obsession for hiking and outdoor activities when I had the opportunity to pursue solo adventures. I’ve gone on grand hiking trips across the world and have seen some of the most beautiful and remote places I could have only dreamed of as a child. 

Over a handful of years, much of my time was spent jetting off to a new country and being away from home for months on end. Though I loved to travel and experience parts of the world that were incredibly distinct from my own little pocket in Hamilton, I started to realize that my time away slowly disconnected me from my community back home. I would share stories of my travels and time spent on the trails, though no one could truly understand the full impact these moments had on my life. I realized the joy that comes from solo dream-like experiences spent abroad soon melted into a distant and sometimes hollow memory. 

It wasn’t until I started adventuring alongside my parents again that I realized that memories live on when they are a shared experience. I completed my first ever thru-hike with my dad in October 2020, when we took on the Bruce Trail(Opens in a new window) in Ontario, Canada. We collectively experienced something new and challenging alongside each other, allowing us to forever reminisce on moments that altered the way we see and move about life. 

Since we completed the Bruce Trail, we’ve been chasing similar adventures and have crushed other long-distance trails together(Opens in a new window). My dad is now my go-to backpacking partner, a listening ear when I feel the inevitable pits of “post-trail depression,” and someone I can share my happiest memories with. 

A man and woman sitting outside at a table, holding and sipping coffee cups Image via Kendra Slagter

The Trio 

While we were seeking out a trail to hike for the summer of 2022, we landed on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB): A European trail that was completely different from other trails we’ve hiked in the past. As we were planning our trip, my mom sat next to us on the couch and watched as we became giddy over the opportunity to hike in Europe. As envy rushed through her veins, she came to the firm conclusion that she wanted to join us. 

I’ll admit, we were rather unsure about the idea of letting mom join us on such a grand hiking adventure. She’s never hiked more than 10 kilometers at a time and her extravagant lifestyle didn’t seem to fit into the typical routine of a thru-hike. However, she was adamant. And how can you say no to someone wanting to experience something so incredible like the TMB? The hiking duo turned into a trio and soon after we began training and preparing for our adventure in the mountains. 

A man standing between two women, all wearing backpacking gear, with grassy fields behind them and snow-peaked mountains in the distance The Slagter Family - Image via Kendra Slagter

 

The Tour du Mont Blanc

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a popular hiking trail, located in the European Alps. It spans 170 kilometers around Mont Blanc massif, leading hikers through three different countries: France, Italy, and Switzerland. It felt like speed-dating three countries, as each had something new to offer. The landscape of each country had unique differences, as well as a different cultural flare. 

The trail weaves up and down ancient mountains, over and across gushing glacier rivers, through quaint mountain towns, and around acres of farmland. Each day consisted of a massive climb, followed by a steep descent. The trail ascends and descends over 35,000 feet, which is actually more than if you were to hike from Basecamp 1 to the summit of Everest(Opens in a new window). It’s an incredible feat that hikers can revel in for the rest of their lives, knowing they completed something both incredibly challenging and rewarding.

A woman hiking along a trail wearing backpacking gear and holding trekking poles, with mountains in the background Image via Kendra Slagter

Unlike other popular hiking trails in the US, the TMB was a perfect mix of backcountry ruggedness and classic European charm. Several hotels and refugios line the trail, offering hikers ample opportunity to rest, eat, drink, and soak in their accomplishments for the day. My parents and I always looked forward to summiting a mountain, knowing that there would be a refugio at the top where we could enjoy an espresso, a glass of wine, and a fresh cheese plate. 

Two hands extended, holding small, decorative coffee mugs Image via Kendra Slagter

The TMB caters to all levels of experience. Depending on fitness levels and the experience hikers want to have along the TMB, the flexible itinerary can accommodate just about any person. Hikers have the option of camping, staying in refugios, or doing a mix of both (which is what we chose to do). The TMB perfectly catered to dad’s love for backcountry camping and “roughing it,” while mom was still able to enjoy her regularly scheduled evening glass of wine, paired with a fresh charcuterie board prepared with local ingredients. 

A woman drinking a glass of wine, a bottle in the foreground Image via Kendra Slagter

A Shared Experience 

They say you’re only as fast as your slowest hiker (*cough* mom). And thank goodness she went at a slower pace than me and dad! Her pace forced us to slow down and soak in the wonder of the TMB. Rather than pushing for long days and cranking out big miles, we rested at almost every refugio and enjoyed a hot cappuccino. We’d sit at the top of mountains and marvel at the vastness of the landscape that surrounded us, feeling proud of what we had accomplished. With a slower pace, we were able to not only soak in the moment, but we were also able to enjoy each other’s company. We’d sit in the grass around our stoves and cook our meals at the end of our daily hike, reflecting on what we saw, felt, and thought throughout the day. We were collectively experiencing an incredibly unique hike. Rather than taking on a hike like this solo as I would have wanted to in the past, I found myself feeling thankful for sharing my TMB adventure with my parents. I now have two people I love most in life who can forever connect with me on a deeper level, specifically because we shared in our highs, lows, and everything in between for 10 days in the European wilderness. 

Two women wearing hiking gear, coats and glasses posing on a bridge above a river, with grass along each side and a mountain in the background Image via Kendra Slagter

I learned invaluable lessons from my parents over the 10 days we spent in the mountains. Mom taught me about perseverance, resilience, and living past the boundaries of comfort. Dad taught me the importance of teamwork, being okay with changing expectations, and forever chasing the “high” that comes from spending an extended amount of time outdoors. These are lessons I will carry with me for the rest of my life: lessons I would not have learned if I didn’t take on this adventure alongside my parents. 

A man and woman posing with housing structures and a mountain in the background Image via Kendra Slagter

Just as Christopher McCandless once said, “Happiness is only real when shared.”

 

 

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