The final day of the hike. On paper this day looks rough, but I was so convinced that we would be totally conditioned and so anxious to finish that we’d fly right through it. I was wrong.
The first cable car up the 5,000 feet to the trail wasn’t until 8:15, getting us back on the trial where we left off much later than any other big hiking day. The first two miles was relatively flat, but then the last incline of the hike began. It was steep. I know. I know. But it really was. And Ellie, who I typically follow, had decided on day 11 to move uphill at a speed faster than molasses. She stated that she was ready to be done, so just decided to move faster. We’ve spent the entirety of the hike trying to encourage her to take slightly bigger steps and move just a bit faster. If she had moved at her new speed the whole hike, we would have been done in three days. Her new speed was faaasssst. And it was haaaarrrrd to keep up with her.
Our ascent took us to the last col and we found ourselves in another cloud, surrounding by its whipping wind and near zero visibility. The last of the incline of the whole hike was miserable. It was intensely steep, we found ourselves on more ladders and balancing on tiny ledges of rock. It was cold, we still couldn’t see, and the rain started to fall. But, just like every other incline, one step at a time.
At the top we stopped for our last midhike snack: bowls of frites, blueberry pie, and cafe au lait. Then we started down. This was our greatest loss in a single day, over 5,500 feet down, over a mile in descent. It didn’t end. Each step had to be so carefully planned and executed. It was mentally and physically draining. And we were soooo close to the end. The excitement of finishing gave way to the realization of the physical pain. You can’t walk down that far, each step harshly landing on rock, without your knees aching to the extreme. Unless you’re Ellie, who kept proclaiming, “My knees don’t hurt. I still got those young ones!” It took several hours to get down to Les Houches, the official start and end, but we did.
We were all so proud of ourselves and each other when we finished. We knew we would the whole time, but to actually complete such a feat is emotionally charging.
The girls were among the very youngest on the trail and Zak and I were among the oldest. Nearly everyone moved faster than we did. But we stopped for every blueberry tart, cafe au lait, watching every herd of sheep, and spent hours just in awe of where we were. We hiked every section of the TMB. No cable cars, ski lifts, busses, or taxis, unlike the vast majority of people. We didn’t use a luggage transfer service, unlike most. We did it all ourselves. I’m so proud.
You can’t complete something like this and not change. I know I’m a better person now, you become one when talking with and learning from people from all across the world. I’m stronger, mentally and physically. When you put your body and mind through such challenges you gain strength.
Ellie would tell you she hated every second of it (she didn’t.) Zoe would tell you she’d do it all over again right now. (She would.) I’m so proud of each of them. Ellie danced throughout all the down hills. She never gave up, even when that’s all she wanted. Zoe found the beauty in every step, always pointing out a butterfly, a flower, and waterfall. She was ridiculously positive, always shouting encouraging words to the rest of us. I get choked up thinking about how fortunate I am that I got to witness this event in their lives.
And then Zak. He brought a joy to the trail that couldn’t be found in nature. He made up hilarious songs and would get them stuck in our heads. His humor made all the crappy parts bearable. But best of all, he truly, with all his energy, believed we could do it. He never had doubt and to have someone with such a confidence in your corner makes everything easier.
So that’s that. Our dream of so many years came true. And it was way better than I ever could have imagined.