When we decided to take a hike lasting for a little less than 2 years, of course, we were expecting those 10,000 km (6,200+ miles) to have an impact on how we see the world and how we see ourselves, but none of us could really grasp just of how intense and difficult crossing the Alps would be.
After six months of hiking in Portugal, Spain and France, we thought we were ready for the Alps, physically wise. Hopefully we started with an easy terrain in Portugal, but anyway, those first weeks were tough. We had to get used to our new lifestyle, to the different pains that appeared, to our gear and to be hiking everyday. In Spain we started to experience self-sufficiency crossing through no man’s lands for several days. By mid-July when we reached the Mercantour, all of this was already familiar, a part of us, and we felt ready for the next stage. However we understood quite fast that the game had changed here, we had to unlearn what we knew, to no longer focus on distances, to take into account the elevation gain, the exact type of terrain and the fast changing weather.
From the National Park of the Mercantour in France to the National Park of the Triglav in Slovenia, we’ve crossed the Alpine arch during a little less than 4 months passing through Switzerland and mostly Italy.
From valleys to passes, from national parks to mythical summits, we have drawn our own way through the Alps. It does not look exactly like the one we had drawn on the map or the one we had in mind, it was actually much better!
Some of the wonders we got to discover were initially not planned but when passing by them we got attracted like magnets. We pushed ourselves and reached summits as high as 4400+m and discovered the majesty of mountain ranges like the Gran Paradiso, the Monte Rosa and the Bernina among others. The difficulty of accessing those places greatly contributed to underlining their beauty, spicing up everything and revealing the mighty power of life.
We knew it would take time to cross the Alps… But we did not realise how long it would actually feel. We understood the need of taking the best care of our bodies, the importance of recuperation, stretching, we saw our legs changing and felt more and more at ease with any kind of terrain.
Those mountains were also the ultimate test for our gear. Of course, before starting our journey, we spent hours, days, weeks… checking what would allow us to cross Europe on foot and through 4 seasons in the best conditions. Knowing that, aside from being hikers, we are also a small and ultralight video production team, you can imagine that the content of our backpacks is not really the typical thru-hiker gear. Not only at least. Progress of the outdoor industry regarding the weight/sturdiness ratio allow us to wear these two hats.
On the way, we crossed some stunning glaciers, particularly the Aletsch glacier which is the biggest of the Alps. This icy giant is 900+ meters (2950+ ft) deep and long of almost 25 km (15.5 miles) long. A place where we experienced another time and space dimension. Something we could not picture from a television or a photo, something you need to sense.
We knew the Dolomites were not mythical for no reason but you have to see it to believe it. Those rock formations are unique, they have not much in common with the rest of the Alps. In the solitude of the off-season, the Dolomites were an amazing surprise to us and offered us some of the most impressive views of the entire journey so far.
Often alone, we enjoyed warm moments in countless small shelters, making our home for the night in some of the cosiests spots of the Alps, pitching our tent in scenic places and waking up with the feeling that nothing could ever be wrong again.
We came out of those mountains blown away and knowing a little more about ourselves as well. Getting out of your comfort zone, confronting yourself with something that seems impossible at first and then getting through it … Yes it changed us, for the best.
About the Author
Marie Couderc makes up one half of the French hiking power couple Deux Pas Vers l'Autre. They are currently 6,000km into their cross European thru-hike which has taken them from Portugal to the Balkans. When they finish their 10,000+km hike in Istanbul, Turkey they will have crossed through 17 different countries and 120 parks and reserves.
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