Trip Updates

Chamonix Alps : 2A • July 7-July 29, 2016

Pyrenees Mountains!

July 28, 2016

We awoke on day twelve in Costa Brava, Spain prepared for the travel day that laid ahead of us. After a quick breakfast of croissants and yogurt we said goodbye to our bungalows for one last time and headed to the train station. It was now time to go to the Pyrenees mountains, which meant the trains today would be taking us to the beautiful city of Lourdes, France situated just on the outskirts of the mountains. After an easy day of train hopping we had arrived at our destination and began preparing for the week of trekking that was ahead of ourselves. After we packed and got situated we treated ourselves to a pizza dinner, which everyone enjoyed. After dinner we retreated back to our hotel and went to sleep, dreaming of the peaks and mountains to come.

As day thirteen began we all knew that it would be a good day. After a quick breakfast we loaded up into our vans that would shuttle us into the heart of the Pyrenees. After an hour of weaving through mountain rides we arrived at our destination ready to begin the week long trek. Before we began we were to by our bus driver that today was the hottest day of the year and he guaranteed us nothing but blue skies and sun to come, which we all rejoiced in. Soon enough the vans drove off and now we were on our own. After about fifteen minutes we arrived at our first spectacular view that overlooked the valley of Torla, where we all took pictures and ate a snack. As we pressed forwards Ella trail blazed for us and led us out of the French Pyrenees and down into the Spanish section. Where we decided to stop and have lunch just next to a river. Seeing as it was the hottest day of the year Ryan Hartman, Dave, and Kate all decided to go for a dip in the river to cool off. After lunch it was time to lace our boots back up and we pressed forty eager to see what was ahead of us. After about an hour we came upon another spot to take a break and swim. This time Claudia, Ryan Hartman, Ryan Suddath, Sarah, Shelby, Emily, Andrew, and Katherine all decided to go for a swim, this time treating the river like a lazy river at a water park and floating down it for about twenty yards. This was a much needed break for everyone to relax and enjoy the mountains because before long it was time to press onwards down to the village of Torla, Spain. Here we bedded down for the night at our refuge and we treated to a sit down dinner unlike any other we had experienced so far in the mountains. We were able to order off the menu and were served a four course meal something that is rare for hostels and refugees to do. After everyone was satisfied and fed we decided to wander around the village for a little bit to see what it had to offer. It was here that everyone was able to practice their Spanish and especially Chris who took it upon himself to communicate for the group. After walking around for a little bit it was time to go back to the refuge and sleep.

Day fourteen began bright and early at six am as we had one of our biggest days in the Pyrenees ahead of us. After bellies had been filled and packs packed we said goodbye to Torla and hopped into a bus that would take us into the Ordessa canyon where we would begin our trekking for the day. The day started off with sunshine and clear skies so spirits were high as we eagerly pushed up the canyon. We started off at the bottom of the canyon under the tree line and after about two hours we emerged into the heart of the canyon above the canyon. It felt like we were standing inside the middle of the Grand Canyon it was so wide and deep with towering walls on every side. It was here that Claudia and Kate decided to cash in on our good weather and went for a swim in a the river we were following in order to cool off before the hard part of the day began. As we continued to trek through the canyon we were now gaining more and more elevation as we were climbing up the canyon side attempting to reach a high alpine refuge for lunch. Katherine led us up this part, switch back after switch back as we pushed together as a group up the canyon side. Once we reached the top and could see the refuge off in the distance the weather decided to turn on us and it began to drizzle. But this did not dampen our spirits only our clothes because we were now all used too and accustomed to the rain the sprinkled down on us. After about thirty minutes we finally made it to the refuge and ate lunch inside the refuge, sheltered from the rain. It was here that several members of our group including Chris, David, Shelby, and Ella all managed to catch a couple of zzzzs, as we waited for the rain to stop before we continued. After about an hour inside the refuge the weather finally cleared and we were able to push forward up towards the Breche, the opening in the mountains the splits France and Spain.  Our trek continued on a high mountain trail where we weaved in and around different alpine rivers until we finally came to a wide open valley that was filled with sheep and cattle, but we were the only other humans. It was a breathtaking sight, and Ryan Hartman, Chris, and Andrew went and got a closer look at the sheep that surrounded us on all sides. As we continued we began rising even more and more towards the cliffs of the high peaks until we finally saw it, the Breche. The cut in the mountain that split the two countries that we would soon be walking through. We began traversing upwards over snow now because we had gained so much altitude. Finally, we were through no border patrol or customs present we simply walked right through, leaving Spanish thoughts behind and thinking now in French again. What a sight it was through the Breche! We continued on, as it was late in the day and everybody was beginning to think about dinner, and our refuge was only thirty minutes beyond the Breche. It was a quick thirty minutes, and an accomplished thirty minutes for everyone after we had completed the hardest task that we would face in the Pyrenees mountains. Soon enough we arrived at our refuge, Sarradettes, a high alpine refuge that welcomed us with open arms. We feasted like kings and queens tonight after one of our hardest days of trekking and it was not hard for anyone to fall asleep tonight after a hard days work.

Day fifteen we awoke deep inside the heart of the Pyrenees elevated in the mountains. This morning we awoke to blue bird skies and not a cloud in sight a welcomed reward from the previous day. After breakfast was consumed and we were packed we began our trek down the mountainside in France towards the town of Gavernie. As we left the safety of our refuge we traversed across snow and down until we were low enough and there was no more snow, just our old friend grass and dirt. We came down the side of the mountain switch backing around the cliff faces, which we viewed from the safety of the trail. We pressed on and landed in the middle of the valley with towering mountain on all sides of us except down towards the village of Gavarnie. We continued down the trail all the way to our lunch spot, which overlooked the entire valley below us, including the highest waterfall in Europe! We pressed on now all the way to the heart of the village, where we swam happily in the river, lunch, and ice cream before continuing on. Now it was time for our final push up to Esspugettes another refuge situated deep in the mountains at altitude. We were now seasoned hikers and it only took us two hours to reach the refuge, which was situated atop the valley overlooking everything we had seen the all day long. At dinner tonight, we watched as a wave of clouds rolled into the valley below us and formed a blanket atop the mountains. With us just above the cloud line, similar to flying in an airplane above the cloud level looking down into them.

Day sixteen, we awoke to hail and thunderstorms in the heart of the night. This was no bother because we were happily asleep inside the shelter of our refuge. By the time we awoke in the morning the weather has cleared and it was safe to continue or journey. Today was different there were two different options for the group. The first being the original plan, which was trek back down to Gavarnie and up to or refuge Grange de Holle, or summit Pimene mountain and then go down to the refuge. Everyone but Claudia, Ryan Hartman, Kate, and Ryan Suddath chose option one, thus making them the member of the summit team. However, sadly upon reaching the top of Petite Pimene we were forced to turn around due to inclement weather. This was no bother as we had accomplished enough by summiting the petite section of the mountain and we continued down to La Grange de Holle to meet up with the rest of the group. Who were happily napping by the time we made it to the refuge, after an easy days hike back down what we had come up the day before. As the afternoon settled in, Kat and her crew were trekking to the infamous cirque. Kat’s group enjoyed a brisk trek down the, plateau de Paillha, balcony path leading to the famous cirque de Gavarnie. The cirque is visited by over 1 million people each summer and houses Europe’s highest waterfall standing at 432meters. After a waterfront snack, the group chatted about the solar system all the way into town. Chris,Kat, Sarah and Andrew dove into a thrift shop in Gavarnie scoring some sweet new mountain gear! The crew gathered at a small restaurant to enjoy some French cuisine for lunch, some even swung by the oh so temping candy shop!
After a brief town visit, the group swung on there packs and headed up hill for a quick hike to the refuge Grange de Holle. That evening as the clouds were breaking, the mountain plague (stomach bug) began to slowly strike members of our group. One by one, began to feel a bit fishy after dinner, the “plague,” we jokingly referred to it, was here for roughly 24 hours! We had caught the mountain plague it felt like, a harmless 24 hour stomach bug, but nonetheless it was 24hour! A kind man from our refuge took Sam and a few members up the street to the local mountain doc to receive medicine, luckily that evening we were only minutes from town. The next morning we decided to take a rest and recovery day for those still not felling 100%. The day was filled with long naps, board games and crackers. We phoned our Pyrenees mountain guides who helped us arrange our future route and appropriate hiking plan moving forward. It was apparent our extra day of rest was greatly appreciated. We closed the evening with a balcony sunset moon-up session to get things back on track!
Day eighteen: We laced up our boots and headed to the hills. Our hike began above tree line in an wide open valley filled with wild flowers and mooooo-cows! We would be following the GR10 trail the entire day up and into the French mountains. As we passed a pasture of white cows; we spotted the cow warden and his tiny house hidden above the hills. The group moved steady and moral picked up quickly after our first snack break near a stone mountain hut. The valley was vast and wide. Sarah, Kat and Claudia stormed ahead chatting about their siblings and families back home. A beautiful turquoise alpine lake was spotted, Barrage d Ossoue where the group decided to break for lunch. Always up to a challenge, Ryan H. Was dared to swim across the lake and back for treats bet by his fellow teammates! The deal was done and the demand accomplished by Mr. Meat himself! After the lunch festivities, the group set out for an afternoon of uphill! Dave and Chris in the lead, propelling the group up and down the mountainside. The group maintained a mental toughness only achieved after there trek through the Alps. The Barrage d Ossoue sat at 1634m and our afternoon goal was to reach Baysselance, a refuge sitting atop 2651meters high. Step and step we arrived at the top! Everyone rewarded themselves with some cold soda pops and chocolate bars! After a much deserved sugar stop, the crew was not yet at their final destination, it would be 2 hours more to Oulettes refuge, tucked in the valley of Vignemale. We stopped at the top mountain pass called Horquette d Ossoue(2734m) to have a quick photo shoot! The boys took a blue man group picture in all their blue Moondance gear, while the girls took group and solo shots. The large refuge lay under the receding glaciers Oulettes and Vignemale. Vignemale is the highest peak in the Pyrenees mountain range soaring over us at 3296 meters. Dinner was filled with rowdy Italians and some much deserved lasagne!
Day nineteen would be our final day of trekking! Today we would be following the GR10 down to the lac de Gaube to our last and final destination of refuge de Clot. Spirits were high as you could spot the massive shimmering lake from our last refuge. We geared up and headed down the valley towards the alpine mountain lake. Ryan S. agreed to the challenge of swimming across an even larger lake for a prize of Prince Chocolate, his favorite French cookie snacks. He swam with pride and grace all the way across as the crew cheered him along by the shoreline! Ryan would be rewarded by Andrew with not one not two by three packages of his prized chocolate cookies. After the water race, it was full steam ahead towards the red umbrellas at the waterfront Hotelier. For lunch, The crew chowed down countless ham &cheese baguettes with some real French fries. Ella, Emily and Shelby enjoyed some waterside reading that afternoon, while Katherine,Ryan, Claudia and Sam played cards. Some students even jumped into the turquoise abyss after a few hours of fun in the sun. Sarah and Kat embraced their inner flower power, designing floral hair up-dos for Kate and Claudia!
After our alpine beach relaxation session, we threw our packs back onto our backs and headed down the road to our final refuge de Clot, which laid on the valley floor of a winter mountain ski resort. While our rooms were being prepared by the refuge guardian, aka Dumbledor, we reminisced our adventures outside on the patio. We all threw out our favorite day down to our specific favorite moments of the trip! That evening Dumbledor did not disappoint the dinner was 5 stars- top notch! “Best bread of the trip” some chatted around the dinner table.
The morning of day 19, we hiked down to the bottom of the resort, where the Pyrenees mountain tour busses would shuttle us back to Lourdes. Our eight-day trek in the Pyrenees had sadly come to a close. Once we arrived back to Hotel Lutetia the crew showered up and got ready for one of our final picnics in the park. Everyone was pumped to have a delicious buttery croissant back in hand! After lunch, we were off to the churches for some Lourdes culture and scenery. The group enjoyed the rest of the afternoon gathering train snacks and packing up their packs for one final adventure in Paris! We celebrated our final night in the holy city with a roof top dinner. Paris, the city of lights, was on all the minds as they awaited our final travel day to the big city.
Can you believe it – Only 2 more days left of our European excursion, where did the time go!
We are off to the city of lights and love! Paris here we come!

Thanks to all for an unforgettable adventure!

Kat & Sam

Final shout outs from across the sea:

SARAH: Hiking was beautiful- can’t wait to tell y’all about it. Off to Paris, love y’all!
KATE: Hey family! After an incredible Pyrenees experience, we’re headed to Paris! Love y’all and see you soon!
ELLA: I survived!
EM: The Pyrenees were so incredible and flew by so fast. I’m stoked for Paris and will see you guys so soon. Prepare the IN N OUT, Ella and I have been dreaming of it all trip..love you!!
RYAN S: Off to Paris! Hopefully, there is a cool Nike store. See everyone soon!
KATHERINE: The Pyrenees were BEAUTIFUL, hopefully the Bayern Munich game was fun! Still need to pack for Sandblast, but see you soon!
CHRIS: Going wild child style, stay frosty!
SHELBY: Somehow survived the Pyrenees! Can’t wait to see everyone and I can’t wait for seaside!
DAVID: Sup Dad?
ANDREW: The trip has been awesome, see you soon. Love you.
RYAN H: Love you all. Headed to Paris, I’ll be home soon.
CLAUDIA: The Pyrenees was amazing! Can’t wait to see you and tell you all about it!


Bravo, Brava!

July 18, 2016

On day ten we awoke to our first sunrise in Costa Brava on the beautiful Spanish coast. Today was different than any day that we had hiking so far because we were able to sleep in deep into the morning sunshine all the way to nine am, which was much welcomed throughout the group. For the sea kayaking section we traded in sleeping in hostels to sleeping in bungalows, and this also meant that we would now be cooking our own food. Each bungalow turned on their fryers and greased up their pans and we prepared eggs and bacon for breakfast. As the morning flew by, it was now time to go down to the beach to meet up with our sea kayaking guides and prepare to enter the cool turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea! After a short bus ride with our guides, we were now at our beachhead where we would raise anchor and cast ourselves out to sea for a three hour tour. Before we set sail Shelby, Chris, Andrew, Emily, and Ella all buried Ryan H. under the sand in order to scare the other van when they arrived. The plan worked to perfection as Ryan emerged from the sand like a hidden mummy scaring the socks off of everyone that surrounded him unaware and unprepared. Our guide Manu lead the charge off the beach, as we sped away from shore weaving inside and out of luxury yachts that were anchored around the white sandy beachside. Soon we were off, out on the sea no more boats surrounding us, just the towering cliffs that overlooked us from shore. As we paddled, Ryan S. took the lead up with Manu, grasping at the chance to listen to him talk and teach about the landscape and surrounding environment. The weather today was unparalleled to any previous day that we had experienced, full of sunshine and blue skies and not one cloud in the sky. Soon the terrain we were kayaking in suddenly changed from open space to channels or a rugged rock race course, where we were weaving inside and out of rock walls. It was the equivalent of running an obstacle course, like any obstacle course there are stumbles. Both Kate and Chris joined the Costa Brava swim team, meaning they flipped their kayaks, but this was not an issue as Manu was right there and helped them get back into their vessels and press forward. Like nascar drivers we pressed onwards passing each other at any and every opportunity we could trying to win the coveted checkered flag, which was stopping for lunch. We paddled a little longer and finally arrived at the beach where we would stop for lunch. Like the previous days, lunch consisted of different meats and cheeses with a kicker option today of peanut butter and jelly, which both Ryan S. and Ryan H. eagerly dove into. After lunch most of us decided to take a nap, during the inevitable post lunch lull. Whereas, David, Andrew, Ella, and Katherine all decided to go for a dip in the Mediterranean and cool off. While they were swimming, Claudia and Kate both went exploring around the rock ledges that surrounded the cove where we stopped to eat. Now reenergized and refueled we began our post lunch paddle pack to the beach where we began. As we passed the landscape we looked and laughed at the gullied that we had used for our race track and joked about people running into each other and the rocks. However, the day was not done yet we had one more surprise in store and this was the best part of the day. Ten minutes from our beachhead Manu took us to a cliff jump where everyone eagerly hurled themselves off the edge, plummeting deep into the cool blue waters of the Med. After the jump we finally finished our first day out on the water but just before we pulled out, David noticed a mega yacht off in the distance that we all dreamed of owning and sailing on. Just like that, our day of kayaking was over the only thing left to do was drive back to our campground and relax. Before we loaded up into the vans Chris, David, and Ryan all found stalks of bamboo and attempted to pole vault over a three foot high mound. Soon enough we were in the vans listening to the sweet sounds of Spanish radio, asking each what different words meant. Having arrived back at our campground we returned to the comfort of our bungalows ready to cook dinner and seek some shade from the sun. Dinner tonight was prepared by everyone with each bungalow preparing a different asset of the meal for the group. The boys made the pasta and sautéed vegetables. Emily, Katherine, Ella, and Shelby cooked pork and sausage to put into the pasta. Finally the last house consisting of Kate, Claudia, and Sarah prepared a salad and the pasta sauces both a meat and veggie. After about an hour the feast was prepared and we sat down family style and dove right into to everything. After dinner had been consumed sleep was now the only thing on everybody’s agenda, and we happily laid down after a satisfying first day in España.

 

Day 11 started almost similar to the prior day. We got to sleep in, but today for breakfast we had eggs and bacon, but also a yogurt and fruit option, which was welcomed by everyone. Similar to yesterday we walked down to the beach, however we did not have to worry about busing anywhere today as we were starting right from the beachfront we had been sleeping at. As we sat in the cove Manu discussed the origin of the Eskimo roll and even demonstrated how it was done! Then he showed us the Eskimo cool down, which is flipping your boat on purpose and using your buddy’s boat to flip yourself right side up. Ryan S. happily tried and completed the Eskimo cool off. Whereas, Andrew attempted it but flipped before anyone was around him so he had to bail out of his kayak, thus making him the new captain of the swim team. Once everyone was situated we were off paddling out into the abyss of the Med. After a short while we came across a cliff jump that we all eagerly again flung ourselves off of. As we continued after the jump we began to notice things floating in the water. At first we thought they were plastic bags that had blown off somebody’s vessel, then we soon realized they were jelly fish! We were paddling in fields and fields of jellies of all different sizes and shapes. Andrew even managed to pick one up by its hat so we could only admire and get a better view of what floated beneath us. Today we paddled next to cliffs that towered at least one hundred feet over us and everyone so often there was a cave inside the cliffs that Manu would take us into. One of these caves even had a hidden compartment that Ryan H., Andrew, and Kate all ventured into. These caves required a headlamp to see in because they went so deep into the cliff sides. After the caves we sought the refuge of a beach in order to sit down outside of the boats and enjoy lunch, which we soon found. Once our bellies were filled and our siesta had been taken we were back on the water searching for one more cave till it was time to turn round. We found the cave and Ryan H., Chris, Shelby, Katherine, and Kate all went in. This cave was had multiple sections in it which you had to weave around different stalagmites until you reached the heart of the cave that was pitch black! After that we stayed in the sunshine for the rest of the day. No more caves instead we just headed back to home base for some r and r on the beach. On the beach we played an assortment of beach games from paddleball, to volleyball, and soccer. Ryan S. and David set the record in paddleball at one hundred and twenty one hits without the ball touching the ground! Once the sand became too hot we decided it was time to leave the beach behind and traded in beach vibes for the pool and the snack bar. Soon enough it was time for dinner and unlike the past two nights it was the kids turn to pick and decide dinner. It was boys vs girls a cool off, to see who could make the better meal. The girls inevitably won but the boys were a close second. The girls made a shrimp salad that could rival any Italian or Spanish kitchen. Were as the boys decided to stick to the stick and did shush kabob burritos with scrambled eggs and assorted sauces. Once dinner was complete it was time to clean the bungalows and pack our bags up because it was time to leave the beach and head back to the mountains for one more time.


Amazing Alpine Adventures

July 16, 2016

Hello and greetings to all that are reading this from both Kat and Sam, words cannot even begin to explain the amazing adventures that we have embarked on so far, including the ones that we have yet to experience. We will do all we can to paint a picture of the trip with each update we post.

It is hard to believe that the first action-packed section of our European adventure has already drawn to a close.  After five days of hiking and trekking on the Tour du Mont Blanc, our tough, ever-enthusiastic team of twelve is making its preparations for our second big  adventure: sea kayaking deep into the heart of the Mediterranean Sea.

Day 2 started as any new adventure must start at the airport in Geneva, Switzerland. After everyone finally arrived we left the airport and hopped in the bus that would take us to the beginning of our first section: Chamonix and the beautiful Alps. Today was essentially a rest day after a long day of travel and flying for everybody, no hiking today just the chance to explore the city of Chamonix in France. At dinner we got our first taste of European cuisine, which we all enjoyed knowing now the trip had truly started. Finally, after dinner we all laid down to rest and recover in order to prepare ourselves for our travels to come.

On day three we all awoke for the first time together as a group in Europe, the first of many mornings to come. We got lucky this morning because it was a beautiful day and not a single cloud could be seen in the sky. Similar to yesterday today was a preparation day for trekking, which meant that we would get to spend one more day in the heart of Chamonix. After we ate breakfast at our hostel Chamonaird we went into the city square to see what we could find. We were not left disappointed as there was a farmers market set up right in the main strip that we got to explore. Everybody eagerly went through each vendors stand looking at the different fruits, meats, and cheeses that Europe had to offer. Here was where we learned of Ryan Suddath’s love of raspberries and he quickly earned the nickname raspberries after eating an entire box! As we explored deeper and deeper into the city we came across a basketball court and even managed to find a ball. It was here that David, Chris, Claudia, and Ryan Suddath all showcased their abilities and talents. We played basketball up until lunch, and we ate different meats and cheeses that we had gotten at the farmer’s market. Having eaten and been into to town to grab one or two items that somebody had forgotten, we were left with a free day where we could do anything. Seeing as we were about to spend a week in the mountains we decided to take some leisure time and went to the Chamonix water park. Here there were multiple different pools and games, but most importantly there was a water slide, which everyone jumped at the opportunity to slide down. After the slide Ryan Hartman, Andrew, Sarah, and Kate all played an improvised version of cross pool (tag in the water). Once we had our fill of the pool and the sun we finally retreated back to the shelter of our hostel and began to prepare and pack for our days of trekking to come.

Day 4 started bright and early as it was our first day of trekking and excitement was high. After a quick breakfast we departed our hostel for the last time and loaded up into the buses that would take us to our starting point. It was here that we meet up with our French guide Michael who would be with us for the extent of our stay on the tour. Finally, after an hour long bus ride we were standing face to face with the Giants (the Alps) that we would soon be climbing and traveling through. Claudia and Katherine both took charge and lead the group as we began our trek to our first summit. The Alps were like nothing most of us had ever seen before, towering over everything around us and even snow covered in July! The snow allowed us to play throughout the day even when we were hiking. Ryan Hartman and Ella broke out into an impromptu snowball fight in which the rest of the group joined. Until it was time to keep moving forward and reach the mountain pass that we were moving towards. At the top the view was incredible! Then the fun truly began because we were now moving downhill next to snow, which meant that we could sled down the hillside and rest our legs, which we all eagerly did. Emily and Shelby managed to slide down the hill with the most grace as we all slipped and skid down the snow. After sledding we moved a little bit farther down the trail and it was now time for lunch, which consisted of French meats, cheeses, and breads. Once refueled and ready to go again we prepped ourselves for the next summit that we would tackle. After a long climb we all rejoiced together at the top staring down into the abyss of the valley below us, marveling at the view that we could see. We took picture after picture as everyone stood in pure joy at our triumph of reaching the top, our first great feat, with many more to come in the future. Now it was time to get down the mountain side and into the village of La Fouly. How better to do that than to sled down the mountain side. Every chance we got we skied down the hill pretending we were alpine racers. Chris and David even managed to drag race down one of the slopes. Soon there was no more snow as we descended deeper and deeper into the valley and closer to the town. We traded in mountain views for trees and the forest as we began to reach our destination. Finally, our first day was complete as we reached our hotel for the night and we eagerly lay down before dinner giving our weary legs and minds the chance to rest. Dinner tonight did not disappoint us, it was a lavish meal of chicken curry, which we all guzzled down after a hard days work. Soon after we watched the sun slowly creep down the mountain sides as it dipped below each peak and into the abyss of the night sky. After a challenging but exciting first day, we laid down to sleep and dream of the wonders that would come.

Just like that it day 5 began! We awoke bright and early rested from the day before ready for any new challenge that the mountains had for us. After breakfast we strapped our packs back on and began our trek. Unlike yesterday we were not heading towards a mountain pass, instead we were staying below the tree line today and in the forest. We began the day hiking next to a river that was sourced by the enormous glaciers that rested at the peaks of the mountains. We all took a minute to stop and marvel at the giant fields of ice and listened to Micheal describe how they were formed and created. After gaining the knowledge that we sought, we continued on down the trail weaving in and around trees, sputtering up and down different hills. After an easy morning of hiking, laughter, and beauty we stopped on a hillside overlooking a mountain village and ate lunch. Like the prior days lunch consisted of different local meats and cheeses. We could not have asked for better weather today similar to the first day. Only a few clouds in sight that provided much needed shade from the heat of the sun. After lunch we continued to push toward our final destination, which was the village of Champex. After a relatively easy trek after lunch we came to the town and discovered that there was a lake just in the heart of the town. Ryan Hartman did not hesitate and was the first of us to jump in and leisurely float around. After the group saw him do this we all through caution to the wind and jumped in, and happily frolicked and splashed about. What a treat it was to end a day of trekking with a relaxing swim! We arrived early to our hotel today and some of us slept were as others decided to treaty themselves after a long day of hiking. The boys (Ryan Hartman, Ryan Suddath, Chris, Andrew, and David) as well as Claudia, Sarah, and Katherine all went out for an ice cream a deserved reward after a long day of hiking. As the day began to draw to an end we all marveled at the different mountains the surrounded us and wondered about what the treks ahead of us would bring. Before long it was time for dinner, which was a four course meal, with the main dish containing chicken and rice! After dinner we all went out as a big group one more time for ice cream. Before we sank happily back to our hotel for a good night of sleep.

Day 6 – Our planned route was brisk trek of 9 miles into the ghost town of Trient, once one of the most famous towns for the rich and famous in the 1800’s, Michael explained to us. Today we would gain an elevation of 2,250ft and descend down the Col de Forclaz 2,450ft towards the abandoned pink chapel.

Before we left the shores of Champex, Andrew and Sarah led the group in a pre trek stretch warm up! We were headed for the hills, our crew followed an old jeep track up to the trail head, where Sarah stepped up as LOD, forming a fit hiking line for the day. Chatting all the way up the mountain Claudia helped motivate her teammates to keep on trudging even though the weather was turning from a drizzle to the real deal. Persistent the group pressed on without complaints all the way to the refuge atop the Rhone valley. Although the valley was filled with fog, we took refuge in a tea and coffee hut with quiet the welcome party! Thanks to our guide Michael, who fought for us to get 2 long tables to sit and eat our packed picnic. Many students enjoyed a cup of hot tea and chocolate to warm up before we continued forward with our trek to Trient. As Andrew stood in line to order pie, we all looked and realized he still had his LOD chef hat on- RAIN OR SHINE!! He was a trooper, representing the group and the chef all afternoon.  After lunch Ryan and Kat took off down into the forest below full of “MOOOOOS MOOS”

Once the crew had all landed at the cow farm, Ryan even gave one of the thirsty cows a refreshing sip!

The evening was filled with cheese fondue and an epic ghost story told by Ryan H. He paced back and forth in the darkness speaking his spooky tale with the pink church illuminated up in his backdrop, as the peanut gallery listened intently.

Day seven began with the crew packed up, geared up and ready to Trek out of Switzerland and back into France. That evening we would land in the small mountain town of Argentiere, where the infamous stone pizza bar resides. As LOD, Emily led the group into the clouds and up to the Col de Balme 7,186ft border of Switzerland and France. Although the group was in high spirits, the weather was headed for us. We hiked down 30 minutes more to a cozy ski lodge where we would take our lunch and get warm! The Charamillon ski lodge had an incredible pesto panini the students indulged in due to our mysterious meat thief! Some would like to have believed it was Ryan the infamous Missourian meat lover!! “Meat in the morning, meat in the evening and meat at supper time”

Due to sticky weather and cloud coverage we took our most direct route into the town of Le Tour. Michael led us into the quant town filled of chapels and flowers. We even visited the residence of Michel Croz, one of the most world famous alpinist of France, the home was spectacular; overflowing with red roses. Michael educated the group about the different types of snow and avalanches, later bringing us to a stone cross in the memory of the deaths from avalanches in the valley during 1999. We finally made it to our final turn of the TMB(Tour Mont Blanc), Argentiere.  Hotel de la Couronne, yes it was a hotel, the kids were overjoyed- what a treat! Truly fitting for the lush TMB, one of the most popular long distance walks in Europe, housing the highest peak in Europe, Mont Blanc.

We ventured out to the stone bar for some much awaited for scrumptious pizza. Although we were in France, it sure tasted like Italy! Our guide Michael informed us that it was the evening before Bastille day (the French 4th of July equivalent) and there may be a small festival in our village. From our porch balconies we could hear the music starting to kick up. Kat peeked her head out the window to find the boys grooving in the town square, she and the girls flooded down stairs to follow. The band was cranking out American hits that we all sang and danced to into the evening. Our students started the revolution as French students soon followed suite, hands in the air clapping to the beat of the music. Dave, Chris, Andrew and Shelby were digging the concert vibes. Ryan H. even got a chance to go up on stage with Diezel, the band, pumping up the entire crowd that was filled of locals, fellow TMB trekkers and French students. It was incredible to watch the how truly equal and similar the students from all backgrounds came together and unified in the music. It was an unforgettable cultural experience for all. Some even said, it was the most fun they have had all summer, for sure the highlight of our entire trip! A beautiful cap on our Tour of the Mont Blanc!

Day 8 began with a lavish 5-star breakfast spread. Due to a sufficient amount of snow fall overnight our plans were halted. After a fierce game of ninja, the crew headed up valley to a natural reserve that Michael had worked in as a high school student to explore the animals of the Alps. We then took the Chamonix train back down to Argentiere to gather our bags and hike back to Chamonix. The afternoon was filled with souvenirs, snacks and sugar! Spirits were high through our shopping excursion on Bastille day, sales all around! The crew decided to embrace the rain and even run through it all the way back to Chamonarid, where our favorite lovely lady would serve us up some delicious chicken pasta.

The crew all packed into one small bunk room to play games and tell ghost stories into the night. Tomorrow it was out of the rain and into the Spanish sun for some much deserved beach time!

4:30AM came early that next morning and in walked Sam to the breakfast dining room with candles lit all around the strawberry cake for Emily!

Emily rang in her birthday in style and in true fashion on a Moondance trip! Although the day was filled with trains, buses and automobiles we made it a fiesta tacos for dinner and tres-chocolate cake for the final celebration! The crew headed down to the pool for some local tri-lingual karaoke offered in Spanish, French and English, a pretty amazing experience.

Excitement was high for our sea kayaking adventure in the morning and off to sleep we went. ” The beach life is the good life” ” I reallllly like Spain! ” Andrew A.

Adios amigos!

Kat and Sam

SHOUT OUTS back home:

KATHERINE- We have a boy band, thanks for sending me on this trip 10x! I want Mr. Beef. Miss you! Have fun in DC while I’m off hiking in the Pyrenees!

EMILY- Hi everyone! We’ve been to a French rock concert, a water park, ate a lot of cheese, ridden on many trains and have hiked a ton! I love you and miss you guys. Pet Muff and LU for me, I’ll see you soon!

KATE- Bonjour family! I miss you all but don’t worry because I’m having lots of fun! The cheese is 11/10 and I can’t wait for more hiking! <3 Kate

ANDREW- Hey mom, dad, and Caroline. I’m having fun, pet Brock and Belle for me. Love you.

DAVID- SUP MOM

CHRIS- Hey Dad! This is the best trip of my life. Everyone is awesome and it’s so beautiful. Luh you homie.

RYAN S. – Hi Mom and Dad and Tucker:) I’m having so much fun exploring Europe and getting to know everyone. Miss you guys! Tell everyone hello (especially Tucker)

RYAN H.-  Hiked Chamonix and such… Started a mash pit – Love Ryan

SHELBY- Hey fam! I’m having lots of fun and have eaten lots of bread. Hiking is hard but French rock concerts make up for it. Hope you had a rad time in Cali and I love and miss you.

CLAUDIA- Bonjour! I miss you guys but I’m having so much fun! The hiking has been great, except the low hiking boots. Have fun at the beach, see you soon!

ELLA- Hi Mom, Dad and Georgia! I’ve been having a great time in the Alps and now headed to Pyrenees. Tell all the WGL staff I said hello! Happy Birthday mom! Love Ella

SARAH- Hey fam, miss y’all, but having the time of my life. Hope y’all are great. Pray for me in the Pyranees. Can’t wait to kiss your faces. Lurve, your favorite child.

SAM- Hey Mom and Dad, Love your Little Angel xoxoxoxoxxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Until next time:)