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on 22 July 2008
I read this short and useful book when our party of four had already decided to walk round Mont Blanc, and I re-read it after a hugely enjoyable tour.
What caught my eye at first was author Gareth McCormack's outstanding illustrations. Post-walk, I was equally impressed by the sound advice in the Planning & Preparation section. Yes, I thought, how right he is to tell people what they will be taking on!
McCormack doesn't labour his prose. Read him slowly, carefully noting such points as:
- assess your fitness objectively before you leave;
- start early each day for the best weather;
- check which cable cars are running.
Once you've mentally applied such wisdom to the context of the UK mainland, you'll realise that you need to be certain you can climb and descend a Munro on at least three successive days. You need to ask yourself when you last really did that.
The book makes clear that the TMB isn't a single line on a map. Forget about the official routes of England's national trails. Distance yourself from any anally-retentive bleating for clarification of exactly which stile Wainwright climbed four decades ago. The TMB is an experience, and there are many options that you can adapt to suit your party.
Don't rely solely on this or any other guidebook to get you round, nor indeed on way-marking alone. You'll need a compass as well as the maps listed in the Reference section.
The Packing Checklist is generally good, though I regard the whistle and survival bag as "essential" rather than "desirable". The Background Information on history, geology and glaciers, habitats and wildlife, and climbing Mont Blanc itself, are concise and well presented.
If taking a rest day in Courmayeur or Chamonix, don't miss out on the sequence of cable cars that raise you up to 3800m and carry you on a 5km traverse high above the permanent snowfield. The Italians modestly refer to this as the eighth wonder of the world!
When you come home you'll read this book again and compare McCormack's photographs with your own, and then you'll start thinking how you'll vary the route next time you visit the highest Alps. That's what I'm doing now.
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