An outstanding and challenging trip. The mix of day walking and light backpacking, and the slow transition from France, French Switzerland to German Switzerland meant every day was subtly different and interesting. The reward of the Matterhorn on the last day was mesmerising.
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
For me, there were several. Finally getting to see the Matterhorn was superb. I don't know who Exodus pays to do the weather, but they pay well - it was bathed in shining sun and was a worthy end to the trip.
The challenge of getting up the Fenetre d'Arpette, Col du Reidmatten and Col du Torrent was immense. It was hard work, no doubt, but the views and feeling of elation was worth it.
The best of all was chatting to a fellow tripper Mike, an engineer, experienced alpiniste, mountain walker and an inspiration. More of one of life's adventurers really, who had some amazing tales, like pushing a pram from London to Leicester in under 12 hours! It goes to show that the group really make the holiday and in this case, ours was excellent.
- What did you think of your group leader?
I felt Simon was an excellent guide. His hands off style really suited me as I felt I could try and walk on his (very fit) heels if I wanted to push myself, but equally, I could stroll at the back in my own time and not feel under pressure to be in sight at all times. It was quite refreshing to be "off the leash" a little as some Exodus trip-notes describe how a leader might allow everyone to walk at their own pace, but I'd yet to experience it. Again, it underlines how having a sensible, fit and smart group can really be the making of the holiday.
Simon dealt well with the variable walking styles in the group too. Some wanted to walk and stop, have a paddle or take photos, others just wanted to push on, so it was nice to see trust from him to allow people to come on in their own time while he steered the diesel engines who just ploughed on relentlessly up front.
I suffered with an ongoing injury that mean I had to sit out two days of walking (hence the ish), but I communicated with Simon each night as required to get an idea of what was coming, how I was feeling and so on and always felt looked after. In the end it came down to this for me - I had total faith that if there was a problem, Simon would deal with it perfectly.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Go for it. It's a great route, and don't be put off by it sharing some of the TMB route at the start, if you've done that before. Even a month apart, the hillsides are totally different.
If you're new to alpine dorms be aware, you might get a bunk bed, but equally, you might end up in an eight person wide mega-bunk. There's plenty of room and your own pillow and duvet (plus your liner) but private it ain't. It pays to get in early and bag a tidy spot, preferably next to a good friend. Earplugs and something to cover your eyes, like a Buff, really help too.
Eat many rostis. With cheese, egg, bacon, ham, whatever. They're such good fuel and super tasty.
If you're thinking of saving money by bringing your own chocolate bars in, this works really well, until they all melt horribly and you have to put them in a stream to make them solid again. Maybe muesli bars are the way to go?
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
The only minor grumble in a five star trip is the lunch rations were a little meagre. Not even the fillings - there was always plenty of filling, just never quite enough bread. It got better in the second half of the trip, but no one wants to be a hungry little soldier!
Otherwise, in my deeply biased view, this is an excellent trip. Some of this is based on luck - I got great weather, a great guide and best of all, a fit, fun and great group - but much is simply due to the stunning terrain over which you walk each day, from high alpage, hot valley floor, picturesque Swiss villages, past clanking cattle, up thigh-screamingly steep cols with chains to pull you skywards and glacial streams to cool your feet (and more) off.
Book it. Now. It's worth it.