The Via Alpina: A Modern Day Adventure
January 8, 2021
Geography teacher, mountain guide and Whympr ambassador, Vincent looks back on his incredible experience : 119 days alone (or almost) on the longest route in Europe.
The Via Alpina in a few words for you?
The Via Alpina has two aspects for me: institutional and symbolic.
First of all institutional because it is the first route that crosses the entire Alpine Arc, the 8 countries of the Alpine convention (Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco , Slovenia and Switzerland). Then, the Via Alpina traces a symbolic route from the Adriatic to the Mediterranean: it goes in the direction of globalization.
I was seduced by the idea of long-distance roaming next to the house, I wanted to show that it was possible to go on an adventure close to home: you can reach the Via in just a few hours by train from Geneva.
What is it like to go alone for 119 days?
It’s hard. Until then, all my trekking and expeditions were done in teams.
I wanted to find myself facing myself. I didn’t want to be confronted with notions of time or feats. My stages were prepared beforehand but I progressed mainly according to my physical form.
The loneliness was very hard to deal with: both in difficulty and in joy, both internally and geographically. I spent a maximum of 6 days without meeting anyone.
It was not totally confined solitude as friends sometimes joined for a few days on the way.
Physically and mentally, how to properly prepare for the Via Alpina?
It is not possible to prepare for a project like this. The real training? The 20 years of experience in the mountains is what provided the techniques, the little things that make the difference. I was of course meticulous with the gear and took a minimum of it.
What do you remember from this adventure?
It was an initiatory adventure: I needed to find myself alone in the mountains and heal my mourning. Finishing the Via Alpina gave me confidence in the events of life.
I drooled over it and said to myself “ never again ” but barely 2 months later, I wanted to leave again. This journey was extended by writing and compiling video in order to document the journey.
I was able to take a step back from the events, realize what I really need in life.
If you had to redo the Via Alpina, what would you change?
I wouldn’t do it again like I did because I have a lot of other projects. Why not do it in winter?
The Via is a symbolic red thread, I will remake pieces of it separately: for example, ten days in the Dolomites instead of 2-3 days. I would often be frustrated to leave a massif too early without taking full advantage of it.
A budget ?
In 2007, I had planned 5,000 to 6,000 euros, counting absolutely while being very large: that is to say about sixty euros per day. Sometimes I spent time without spending: I slept in a tent or was sometimes graciously invited by the guardian of the refuge.
Talk about disconnection / reconnection. What do we disconnect from and what do we reconnect with?
I am very sensitive to the effervescent side of life so going to nature is essential for me. With young people, it should be part of a compulsory course because it helps them gain confidence. I see it when I take a class every year for a few days. They are no longer the same! One of them told me: no need for discipline here because nature imposes it itself.
As a guide, I have met all the profiles! Retirees, working people… Belgian customers at 75 adore trekking like my 16-year-old students. They all have the same desire to “slow down the movement of the head”.
It is said of the mountain that it is neither good nor bad, that it quite simply is. What place does fear occupy for you during your most demanding climbs?
I am more and more afraid but it is a healthy fear, which makes you think. Anticipation, take the parameters. My races are more and more prepared.
Today, we are afraid of the unforeseen, because society no longer accepts it in the same way that it rejects the random.
With the years of practice that you have behind you, what has the mountain allowed you to learn about yourself?
In my opinion, this is the best school of life. It has built me, rebuilt me, given me confidence in myself, in others. The mountains gave me a discipline and a framework in life that I would not have found elsewhere. I learned there respect for nature and wonder as well as confidence in life.
You walk it during the day, you dream of it at night.
Find the detailed topos of the Via Alpina by Vincent on the application.