‘Am I fit enough?’ is perhaps the most frequently asked question when thinking about going trekking with Mont Blanc Treks. It’s also the most difficult question to answer…
So, with this in mind, Mont Blanc Treks clients were asked four questions off the back of their most amazing late summer adventure in Italy. The guided Alta Via 1. Alta Via 1 is a stunning, historic journey through dramatic limestone peaks and spires of the Dolomites National Park. The guided AV1 with MBT is an eight-day adventure. The stats suggest 120km (75 miles) of hiking. More significantly than the distance is the 7,000m (23,000 feet) of ups and downs from Lago di Brais to Belluno.
How would you describe the trek grade for Alta Via 1, how does it compare to Tour of Mont Blanc or other Mont Blanc Treks multiday treks?
What fitness level, technical and mental abilities do you believe you need?
How did you prepare for the trek?
What were the challenges for you?
You might find our client’s answers useful if you’re contemplating an AV1 adventure.
Cheri 50, USA
I would say the AV1 was very similar in difficulty to the TMB. I think maybe the AV1 is a little rockier (but it's been 9 years since I did the TMB so maybe I'm not remembering correctly). Eight straight days without a rest day may tip the AV1 to being a little harder.
Fitness level, technical and mental ability: This is definitely not an off-the-couch activity! Need to be in pretty good shape. Most importantly, either need to have done a long-ish trek before, or have done quite a bit of hiking. This is not the trek for you to discover for the first time what you feel like after walking on rocks for 7 hours. So, definitely some solid experience with hiking. I'm not saying that some people can't just show up and knock out this trek; but for most people, it will be extremely uncomfortable if they haven't spent some time training, including hiking in varying terrain (roots, rocks, mud), being able to comfortably walk 6-8 miles, and doing steep hikes. With physical hiking experience comes mental experience: need to be able to happily hike in the rain, or snow in September, or adapt to the fact that you are tired on a hill that seems to be never ending and you just need to keep going. If at all possible, hiking at similar altitude to the trek seems to be very helpful; I think Bert, Wendy, and I had the least trouble with the altitude of our group. Didn't bother me at all. I guess I would say the requirement would be "seasoned hiker."
My Preparation: I live at 1100 meters elevation in an outdoor capital so am very regularly hiking/skiing at elevations of 1500-2000 meters. Full time work is office based. My typical physical activity: walk the dog 2x/day for 20-30 min during the week. Lift weights 2x/week; usually run 3-5 miles 2-3 times a week (but didn't before the AV1, as I was rehabbing a sore hip). At least one hike (5-10 miles) or cross-country ski almost every weekend throughout the year. There aren't that many hikes that are very steep AND long in our area (and our dog is not fond of temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius, so that limited us a bit too becase we had to be done pretty early in the day). We usually either did short and steep (1-2 hours up with ~500-600 meters gain) or did longer hikes (8+miles). We did do one hike that was similar in elevation gain and distance to the 2nd day of hiking on the AV1 - Pederu to Lagazuoi. Once we did that with no ill effects, we knew we were ready!
I also did a strength workout that was specifically designed for me doing this trek. LOTS of step ups (and step downs) with a 20-pound weight vest. So many step ups. Also a lot of single leg work.
Challenges: I didn't really have any, it was hard, but nothing I couldn't handle, especially surrounded by the wonderful people in our group and that amazing scenery. It will be hard to top this trip!
Chris 67, USA
The was my first MBT trek, I will say this was definitely much tougher than treks I have taken with Eurohike due to the fact that the daily elevation gains and losses were much greater, even when distances were similar. MBT guided Alta Via 1 was eight days with no rest day and no ‘easy’ day.
The hike was not technical, so I was not lacking in skill or experience, in that regard. I think I was a bit mentally intimidated at the beginning, but I found that my fellow hikers were very supportive, and that really made a difference—there was a very positive energy to the group, and that really goes a long way. I was the second oldest person on the hike but I think I was generally able to keep up with the group, even if I was not the strongest.
My Preparation: I am generally an active person, I do a lot of walking and hiking, also cycling. I work out at gym regularly and also work with a personal trainer. I did have covid two months before the hike, so lost a full month of training and activity. In the four weeks just before the hike, I really tried to up my game—I added some outside hikes with a bit of climbing, and also added in the old-fashioned stair master at the gym to make sure my leg muscles were not “ambushed” on the hike.
Challenges: The hike was tough, no question. There were a few days (especially the second and third days) when I really felt “spent” at the end of the day. Hiking in the thunderstorms and driving rain on day 7 was also tough. There were times when you just had to dig down and put one foot in front of the other. On the other hand, I wanted a challenge. I have been on trips where you end up being “coddled” and where the guides underestimate participant skill — so it was good to be on something where I was really tested, and still lived up to the task. This makes the hike a more valuable personal accomplishment, when all was said and done.
I would say a key feature to the hike was that I felt supported. Yes, you have to dig down and get the work done, but there was a sense of being in a team, and that made a big difference. I realized that the advantage of doing a guided trek with small group and good guide is the same as doing a sport on your own versus with a coach and team. One will always perform better with a coach and team mates. I don’t think I could or would have done the trek on my own but the guided format made it possible.
Terri 72, USA
I’ve retired from work and done 9 multi day trekking trips in the last seven years. I would grade AV1 as more demanding than TMB, maybe a 5/5 grade for AV1 and 4/5 for TMB? Mental toughness and a good support system is a must when doing the AV1. There are no rest days or easy days on AV1.
My own routine for keeping fit is running three times a week and weights three times a week. I practice yoga twice a week and play golf frequently. Hiking comes in one or two times a month.
Challenges: For the AV1 I came as a solo trekker and for the first time felt that I didn’t have a support system of a partner or friend. When you are soloing and the slowest the combination does not go well. AV1 was the first trek that I did not finish willingly. I have to say that I totally enjoyed the days I was on the Trek, even the four person or ten-person dorm was fine. I would recommend this trek for people that are really fit and can keep up the pace.
Editor’s Note: Terri completed six days of the eight days on AV1 but made a decision to finish the AV1 trek early with two days remaining.
Myself, Janet 62, UK
I love outdoor challenges and retired at 60 from an active job to have more time to trek, bike and row new places with those closest to me and fun people. Being in nature and trying to identify mountain flora and fauna are a plus. Hiking gives you time for that. Some highlights of AV1 were the sight of a herd of Ibex licking salt from a super high rock wall, really close Marmots and an Alpine Salamander.
My trekking experience includes TMB, Kilimanjaro, multiday hikes in the English Lake District and Cotswolds, in all honesty though I’ve done more on two wheels than two feet and sometimes this shows. I would grade AV1 as harder than TMB – there were some steep climbs where the refuge at the top looked unachievable (Laguzoi day two!). The social support of our Alta Via1 group of eight was outstanding. Most importantly were quite like minded about prioritising ‘a beer with a view’ before we checked in at the end of every day’s hiking.
We had six days of perfect weather and two days stormy to finish. The Dolomites commonly have afternoon thunderstorms, so we needed to be moving at pace. Route finding on AV1 is all very well when weather is fine (I got better at following the route markers), but having a guide really takes the pressure off making route, timing and weather decisions. As well as leading us through the mountains on this historic trail, our guide got us located in the best lunch spots and quickly checked in to refugios overnight. There were some slickly managed taxi transfers at either end of the trek.
My preparation for trekking is cross training with a few day hikes thrown in, some days off to recover. Cycling, rowing, running and swimming form the basis of this, along with strength and conditioning. At home I follow a resistance programme with six key lifts including squats and lunges; yoga stretches, box jumps, glute bridges and abdominals. When I’m away I do an online HIIT class, timed road bike rides and try and up the pace on steep dog walk – runs
Challenges: for me its picking my feet up on uneven ground, staying healthy and keeping lower body strong, sometimes holding my nerve in mountains that are higher than any in the UK. There were some long tricky and slippery descents needing full concentration. Looking up at the towering limestone pillars with the odd climber perched high can make my head spin so I try to keep my head on the trail and get on with it.
One big thing is being rested for the next day; I have a neurological issue which can make me a restless sleeper. Getting a good night of unbroken sleep doesn’t happen often and I was nervous about being recovered for the eight days. I like my own bed in my own room with bathroom close by – don’t we all! The refugios on AV1 were spot on, with amazing cuisine. The refugio experience is something to be embraced on a multi-day trek. In retrospect I was fine with that and shouldn’t have worried.