God, isn’t the world such an insanely beautiful place? It’s a place forever wafted in front of us from the pages of magazines, the overwhelming onslaught of spring travel adverts and Other People’s Instagrams.
I have a list of places to go. It started small, no point in putting ‘Everywhere, duh’. That’s no way to write a list. So it started small. Atlas mountains. Mostar. Svalbard. Patagonia. Y’know. Then it escalated, quickly. It dealt with entire nations and tiny local woodlands. It skewed off into specific activities, dawdled into national parks and parked its arse on Kinder Scout.
I’m a fan of the Long Journey. Ever since I was a 13 year old with rainy Saturdays reading the entire Josie Dew canon followed by the entire Ffiona Campbell canon, I’ve liked the idea of the Long Journey.
Starting small, I spent two months travelling from Chicago to LA via Greyhound, Amtrak and the odd hitch. Eight states, much farm work, only a few mountains. America was very much foreign, regardless of its suffocating presence here.
Then came the voyage, five years later. 20,000 miles sailing from England to Panama and back. Three years long, that was more of a life change than a single journey. Too big for a Long Journey perhaps.
And now? At the time of writing (Lockdown Spring 2020), the farthest I can legitimately travel is the local supermarket via a lovely canal path, and it’s time again to consider the Long Journey. Not long in months or years, but proper solid journeys. Namely, walks.
The Long Walk
I’ve travelled great distances by bicycle, car, plane, train and sailboat. Each afford a different way of living, travelling, seeing and experiencing and yet I’ve never travelled particularly far on foot.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent the last few weeks writing hiking guides for an amazing company during the day and reading narrative walking stories the rest of the time, but the idea of going for a hefty walk has set up camp in my brain.
Cue the Tour Du Mont Blanc book and guidemap thumping through my postbox.
Vertebrate Publishing got in touch with me back in April to ask if I fancied a copy to drool over and review. I mean, they didn’t use the word ‘drool’ but I’m assuming that was what they meant because I have never, ever seen such a perfectly put together hiking guide.
The Tour Du Mont Blanc Hiking Guide and Map — by Kingsley Jones
What is it? A walking guidebook and guidemap
What’s it about? How to complete the famous Tour Du Mont Blanc circular trail in the Alps
Who wrote it? Kingsley Jones (check out his website here) a.k.a the ultra-marathon-running-trail-guiding-Mont-Blanc-expert
Who’s it for? Walkers, trekkers, fastpackers, trail runners and people who want to be those people
What’s the jam? Keep reading, you won’t regret it
I’ve never been to the French/Swiss/Italian Alps in summer and the closest I’ve got to Mont Blanc is standing on the top of the Aiguille Rouge and gazing wistfully across at it. I’m not an expert on Mont Blanc but I do know a reasonable amount about hiking guides. And they usually weigh more than their fair share of trail bar equivalence.
The Tour Du Mont Blanc guidebook, in comparison, is thin and absurdly lightweight (178g) given it’s got plenty of photographs and maps in its modest volume.
Not only is it light and slender, it’s been so well thought out the only reason I’m not writing this from a Mont Blanc hut is because, y’know, global pandemic. Kingsley Jones has weaved some serious magic in this little book and made it as easy and straightforward as humanly possible to show how to do this famous loop trail.
Firstly, Jones is a trail runner and mountain guide who knows the Tour du Mont Blanc route almost as well as Mont Blanc knows it, and he’s a considerably better writer. He’s created in-depth timings for the 169-kilometre (105-mile) trail broken down into four types; walkers, trekkers, fastpackers and trail runners (and describes what those terms mean in regards to speed). This makes it absurdly easy to get an idea of how long the trail might take you.
The book is written for an anticlockwise expedition which, he says, is better on multiple levels than the reverse. This cuts down on excess pages and helps keep the book so slimline too.
There’s a section at the beginning that details, amongst other things:
- Weather and seasons
- Safety and mountain rescue
- What to expect
- What to pack
- Mountain skills
- Whether to use a guide
- How to get there
- Accommodation (inc. hotels, campsites, mountain huts and wild camping)
- Food and drink
- Route overview
Succinct and easy to read, by the time you’re at the beginning of the route directions, you’re only on page 28. Jones has managed what, as you’ve probably already realised, I seldom am able to. He gets all the information you need on the page without rambling. It’s wonderful.
For the rest of the book, you’ll find incredibly clear, detailed directions for the main trail as well as some possible variations. Throughout are 1:40,000 maps (with variations marked on) and photographs. He also litters the directions with tips about points of interest, from historic buildings to natural wonders.
Considering this trail takes between four and ten days to complete, it’s almost ludicrous that so much information and guidance can fit into a guide 1cm thick. But there you go.
Sold separately, the folding map weighs so little your scales will hardly register (45g). It’s waterproof yet not laminated and almost has the feel of the new £5 and £10 notes. The kind of material that looks like you should be able to rip it but, when you try, you can’t (reader: I tried, for you).
It’s a 1:40,000 map of the entire route and yet, at the same time, manages to fit a comprehensive accommodation list, elevation profile, timing breakdown, variation list, food and drink info and more onto the double sided sheet. It’s the TARDIS in map form.
Are you ready to go yet?
Vertebrate Publishing are hardly inexperienced when it comes to producing phenomenal books on the great outdoors and the people who hang out there, but this Mont Blanc duo has got to be one of the most impressive guidebooks/maps I’ve ever had the pleasure of pouring over.
Frankly, if the Tour du Mont Blanc is anywhere as good as Jones’ guide, we’re all in for a banging adventure. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m going to shimmy this trail up to the top of my To Go list.
You can buy the book and map from anywhere that sells books but you can support the little guys by getting yours straight from the publisher, Vertebrate. I’d like to thank them for sending me this copy to review, it’s brightened up my lockdown and threatens to reduce my bank balance, which is acceptable if it involves mountains.