By Michael Lanza

Our bus winds up a narrow road in the Vallée des Glaciers, below snowy peaks of the French Alps. We boarded it with about 10 other trekkers after a late-afternoon thunderstorm ripped the sky open while we enjoyed a café and tea with chocolate mousse and a slice of blueberry pie at the Auberge de la Nova in les Chapieux, a speck of a village along the Tour du Mont Blanc. As the bus rumbles into Ville des Glaciers, a cluster of old farm buildings, I ask the driver to stop.

My 80-year-old mother wants to get off and hike.

The rain has ceased, so my mom suggests—since we’ve only hiked about five miles so far today—that we hike the final 30 minutes uphill to our destination, a one-time dairy farm turned mountain hut, the Rifugio des Mottets. I glance around at the other trekkers on the bus—all of them somewhere between one-third and one-fourth my mother’s age. None are getting off with us. They are all content to ride the bus to the hut. As they all silently watch the old lady get off to walk the rest of the way, I’m pretty sure I see some sheepish expressions.

We are on day two of a nine-day trek on one of the most popular and majestic trails on the planet, the Tour du Mont Blanc. A roughly 106-mile (170k) footpath encircling the “Monarch of the Alps,” 15,771-foot (4807m) Mont Blanc, the TMB passes through three countries—France, Italy, and Switzerland. The trek normally takes at least 10 to 11 days and entails a demanding 32,800 feet (10,000m) of elevation gain and loss while crossing—depending on which route variants one takes—10 or 11 mountain passes, the highest approaching 9,000 feet (over 2600m).

My mother, Joanne Lanza, hiking to the Col de la Seigne, Tour du Mont Blanc, France.
” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ width=”640″ height=”427″ src=”″ alt=”Hiking to the Col de la Seigne, Tour du Mont Blanc, France.” class=”wp-image-25605″ srcset=” 640w, 300w, 200w” sizes=”(max-width: 640px) 100vw, 640px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Joanne Lanza, 80, hiking to the Col de la Seigne, Tour du Mont Blanc, France.

My mom, Joanne Lanza, and I are hiking alone only today; eight others in our group took a longer and more arduous route to tonight’s hut, and two more will join us in two days, in Courmayeur, Italy. And those two facts illustrate a prime attraction of the TMB.

Although the genesis for this trip was my desire to help my mother realize her dream of hiking in the Alps, my wife and two teenage kids, strong and experienced hikers and backpackers, would never hear of me going without them. Plus, I invited along some extended family and friends with a range of comfort levels and stamina in the mountains (but fortuitously including people who speak two of the three languages we will use on the TMB). Our group comprises a dozen people—we could field a soccer team.