Seasoned local hikers prepare to circle Mont Blanc – Monterey Herald

Their first date was a hike. Lawyer Frank Hespe was undergoing treatment by physiotherapist Amy Altshuler when he noticed, in addition to her expertise, that she seemed to have an innate ability to sense her patients’ level of tolerance and distract them from their own discomfort . Also aware of her athletic and outdoor energy, he realized that if he was going to have a chance to spend more time with her, he was going to have to take her on a hike.

“Amy is in such good shape and I was a skinny little lawyer,” Hespe said. “I was afraid she would kick me up that mountain, so I asked her questions all the way, so she would talk to herself and I could keep up.”

She says he is just modest. In fact, she says, she could never outrun this “mountain goat.”

Amy Altshuler and Frank Hespe. (Courtesy picture)

It was while hiking that Hespe proposed to Altshuler, on a mountain atop Garland Ranch, after stopping at a bench they had passed several times but never stopped enjoy.

“When I saw Frank stop on the bench,” she said, “I thought, ‘We never stop. Either he’s about to die or he’s giving me a ring.

Fortunately, he had the ring.

A dozen years and exponentially more hikes later, the couple are now gearing up for a ‘bucket list’ hike, as they train to circumnavigate Mont Blanc, which will take them to France, Italy and in Switzerland. They will cover more than 120 miles in two weeks, climbing a total of 30,000 feet. This trek supersedes their best laid plans for trekking Annapurna Mountain in Nepal, canceled by COVID. Located in north-central Nepal, Annapurna, at 26,545 feet above sea level, is considered the tenth highest mountain in the world, well known for the difficulty and danger of its ascent.

“I was concerned about the challenge,” admits Altshuler, “but we were also disappointed that we didn’t get to try it. A few years ago, we took a one-year sabbatical and traveled Europe on foot. We absolutely loved hiking in the Alps so after reading about the “Tour du Mont Blanc” we knew we had to do it.”

When Altshuler heard about hikers coming into a mountain town, strapping a wheel of cheese to their backs, and continuing on, she thought, “I’m in.”

“They also described a tartiflette, a creamy casserole of potatoes, cream, cheese, bacon and onions, served with fresh bread, as real French mountain cuisine. And they showed pictures of cows with bells and lovely neck decor and you just know they provide the milk for all that wonderful cheese. I thought, “We’re going to eat well on this trip,” she said.

Hikers will end each day of hiking by arriving at a small country inn, where they will receive their evening meal and a place to sleep −− sometimes in a room at the inn, and other times inside. of a small cabin. In the morning, they will be served a hearty country breakfast, as well as takeaway food for their lunch, which they will likely enjoy in an alpine meadow.

“It’s the kind of hike we love so much,” Altshuler said. “We meet people from all over the world, strangers to us until we share a common meal and talk about how we all climbed the same mountain to get there. Mostly in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, everyone is healthy and full of energy and has come all this way to do this crazy, wonderful thing.

Getting There

Although the “Tour du Mont Blanc” does not take place until the first two weeks of August, for Amy Altshuler and Frank Hespe, both 61, training, superimposed on a life of active life in full air, is already well under way.

Three or four days a week, Altshuler, a former triathlete, slips into the Carmel Valley Athletic Club pool for a rigorous workout. She also lifts weights at the club or at home, where she also meditates and focuses on breath work, using an “expand-a-lung” device. Apparently used by Navy SEALS, it is designed to improve endurance through better breathing and lung function.

Hespe gets on a club treadmill every morning, puts it on its highest incline, and walks as fast as he can. In the evening, the couple does yoga together, to stay mobile and flexible and work on their balance and agility. On busy days, when pressed for time, they simply head outside for a long run.

Over the weekend, the couple packed an increasing number of 3-pound sandbags into their backpacks, before setting off on a challenging local hike.

“All we do,” Altshuler said, “is training specific to our Mont Blanc hike. If we want to build strength, we walk with a load. Uphill hiking is about cardio capacity. But you have to have a lot of strength to control his descent. Above all, our goal is to walk and walk hard!”

The couple also invests in mental training for focus, stamina, logistics, and the ability to anticipate and face whatever comes our way.

“It’s a process of considering all the different eventualities that could happen while we’re on the track, both good and bad,” Altshuler said. “Frank is our great planner, so he often thinks several steps ahead of what may or may not happen in a day or the whole trip. I’m the gearhead, so I usually solve problems by regarding shoes, clothing, backpacks and first aid kit.

Local hikers Amy Altshuler and Frank Hespe have found romance on the hiking trails.  (Courtesy picture)
Local hikers Amy Altshuler and Frank Hespe have found romance on the hiking trails. (Courtesy picture)

Altshuler doesn’t like a lot of exposure in the terrain, like when the trail is cut 6 inches into an open hill or it’s covered in snow. Hespe is fine, fearless, she said. Aware of her discomfort, he walks ahead, blocking her view of what might be frightening. Otherwise, he walks behind, just to be sure of his well-being.

“I don’t really like heights,” she said, “but I deal with it a lot, so I just have to build muscle.”

“You are brave and courageous,” her husband said.

“You tell me that every time.”

“And each time, we both climbed the mountain and came back down.”

Their personalities also seem to complement each other when hiking. Hespe sees the world from the 30,000 foot level, Altshuler says, while she has micro-sight that focuses on tiny details. This means that he experiences the trek from his large internal map, while she remembers where the tiny blue flowers were.

“Travelling well together is a great skill set,” Hespe said. “We’re doing incredibly well, maybe because only one of us is allowed to melt at a time.”

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