By BOB FOULKES

I like adventures because they take me out of my comfort zone, and they force me into a challenge that mixes fear with hope.

My latest adventure is an eight-day trek called the Tour de Mont Blanc, an iconic 135-km trail through France, Italy and Switzerland around the Mont Blanc massif of glaciers, valleys and villages. Mont Blanc, at 4,810 metres, dominates the Haute Savoie region. Fortunately, we are not required to climb Mont Blanc only to circle it, with the highest traverse at 2,537 metres.

I like GAP  trips; they are well organized with good leaders, I meet interesting people and get good value. I booked my flight to Paris and train to Chamonix, then got down to the business of getting fit.

For me, training for these adventures works only if I choose an adventure that involves fear. Fear is a powerful motivator.  ‘Train or die’ works for me every time.

Preparing for an adventure is about honoring the challenge. It is more fun to do any trek with relative ease than to slog it out, head downcast, legs burning, hoping for the end. Training allows me to enjoy the moment, cherish the scenery and relax with the group. So I stayed in Vancouver for the summer. I hiked the Grouse Grind (a 90-minute stairmaster climb up 853 metres of Grouse Mountain) a dozen times, I charged around the city on foot, I went to yoga and I carried my knapsack to get used to the extra weight.

This trip does not require a big pack; we are travelling hut-to-hut — no tents, no sleeping bags, just rain gear, minimal personal grooming aids and enough clothes to last without offending others. I bought some walking poles — guaranteed to make me as agile as a mountain goat.

We meet in Chamonix the night before at the orientation meeting. We are nine: six women and three men. Our leader is Jose Miguel. He is Spanish; he has done this circuit five times this year and he gives solid no-nonsense advice, mostly about keeping our packs light.

The group is young, fit, wonderfully diverse and looks to be full of fun. Gary and Kate, recently married, are our only couple. Both were born in eastern Europe, grew up in New York and have recently moved to Canada. Chris is about 50, she is here visiting one of her children and decided to join a hike. She is a powerful hiker. Michael is a PhD auto engineer/designer and a serious hiker from Germany. He’ s my roommate and has brought ear plugs — smart man.

Kate No. 2 is from Washington D.C. a PhD economist with an adventurous streak. Charlotte is a financial planning analyst from San Francisco who signed up for the hike just two weeks earlier. Helen is from Vancouver and just finished qualifying for the Boston marathon. Lisa is an Ontario police officer with a ready smile and a great laugh. I’m the eldest by 25 to 30 years. I claim the back of the pack.

The weather is expected to be unsettled, a reminder that weather becomes crucial in such adventures. I have a new waterproof and windproof French jacket and a toque and mittens just in case.

DAY 1  starts in Chamonix and heads south around the Mont Blanc massif. In this leg, we cross many ridges coming off the Mont Blanc range. It takes us up and over cols into several valleys across the western and southern end of the ellipse; we end in Courmayeur, the Italian terminus of the 15-km Mont Blanc tunnel.

Our first day is my test, starting with a tough climb of about 600 metres. I struggle; whether from jet lag, elevation or anxiety, it is the toughest part of the hike. The weather isn’t very accommodating: clouds, drizzle, and a downpour at the end of the day.

The author tries to figure out which way to go.

We stop in a village for a double espresso, track an ancient Roman road, cross a 2,000-year-old Roman bridge and reach our first refuge. Our reward is a hot shower, a bunk bed, and a tasty, restorative three course meal.

DAY 2 includes a 1,000-metre uphill hike over 14 kilometres to the col du Croix du Bonhomme before lunch. The weather clears on our descent, a relative lark and we have a great evening in les Chapieux, which consists of  10 buildings, one of them a cheese shop. Welcome to France.

DAY 3 is a hiker’s dream. Clear and crisp, we summit the 2,580-metre col de Seigne, by noon. This col, the gateway to Courmayeur, offers an amazing vista of the Mont Blanc range, the southern valley, and the Matterhorn off in the distance, a view for the most amazing lunch imaginable. A long downhill hike, a bus ride into Courmayeur and the first leg is over. I am still upright, smiling and in full control of my bodily functions. In my running career, two out of those three was okay; today I can claim all three.

We are tired, happy, full of joie de vivre and in the company of fellow travellers who don’t need an explanation for why we do this. We all know. Dinner at the pension is superb: pasta, salad and veal meatballs.

Courmayeur, in the shadow of Mont Blanc.

DAY 4 is a break, we relax and explore Courmayeur, a fashionable Italian ski town — trendy, stylish, laid back, even more than the French, even if things don’t run on time.

DAY 5: We start the second leg of our journey, a two-hour, 800-metre climb ending with a lunch break and a panoramic view of the Mont Blanc massif. Weather is ideal, sunny with a few clouds.

After lunch we traverse the south side of the valley — when you gain elevation, you don’t give it up. Rifugio Bonatti is a true oasis in the middle of the mountainous nowhere, owned by Walter Bonatti, a famous alpinist, adventurer, author and photographer. We have slippers in the boot room, a separate room for our group, a dining room with a bar and a cappuccino machine and showers with hot water. This is my kind of hiking. Dinner is superb; whether it is the mountain air, the strenuous hikes or the accomplished chefs, we eat like champions.

Lisa and Michael are the most energetic members of our group, usually first in line. Today, Lisa is in the lead but, as they approach the rifugio, Michael seems to be catching up to her. Unbeknownst to him, Lisa considered this to be a race. As she later described it to me: “He was catching up so I decided to run for a while. Michael, mystified, resists the temptation to run too. He has lost a race he never entered.

I am incredulous; “You ran?”

“Oh yeah. Besides, I needed to get my heart rate up for a while, so it was good for me.”

These are the kind of people I’m hiking with.

At the rifugio: tasty meals, hot showers.

If you’ve done back-country hiking, you know that simple pleasures are just that. You can go five or six days with no showers, tents have to be carried, are cramped and usually wet. Toilets are non-existent and food is lightweight and non-perishable — flavor is not a consideration in planning the menu. Everything carried in is carried out. I’ve known folks who’ve cut the ends off their toothbrushes to save an ounce on a backpacking trip.

But this trip is more civilized. Breakfast at our refuge is hot coffee, bread, jam, Nutella. Croissants and yogurt are commonplace. We buy lunch or eat at a refuge along the way. Dinners at the refuges are nutritious and tasty.

We are consuming 10 times our daily requirement of cheese. The only thing not topped with cheese is the cheese course. The chocolate is the best in the world. This is hiking that I’m liking.

DAY 6: We cross into Switzerland at the col de Fours and begin a major descent into Val Ferret, ending at our refuge at Champex. Jose suggests a diversion, a tough climb across a high mountain pass with  a great view of two valleys. We are going to hike our butts off for a great view? I vote yes to make the decision unanimous, but with trepidation.

I have been dumping stuff out of my knapsack at an alarming rate. Every time Jose scares me, I try to lighten my load. I may make it to Chamonix with an empty pack. This night upon hearing of our small optional route change, I dump some more; an extra pair of socks, a T-shirt and a flashlight.

Our hike through the Fenetre d’Arpette, requires a climb of 1,200 metres to the summit at 2,665. My legs are spaghetti long after the al dente had been cooked out of them, but I must admit, the view at the top is indescribable. We are on top of the world. A powerful sense of accomplishment and wonder reward my summit effort. The hike is always worth it.

At the end, a team picture.

On the last day, we whip through a 950-metre climb out of Switzerland and back into France, down to the local bus depot, have a quick celebratory lunch and head for Chamonix. The hike is officially over. Elated and sad, we conclude with a celebratory dinner. Cheese fondue, of course.

My hiking boots have climbed their last mountain. I’ll speak well of them as they hit the dumpster floor. Like Chamonix and the tour de Mont Blanc, they were full of great memories.

In eight days we hiked 120 km, climbed at least a kilometre of elevation every day and wandered in and out of three countries. I made it and, more importantly, I had the time of my life.

Adventures fulfill my need to explore, test my limits, challenge myself and engage with strangers. This was a great adventure.

Bob Foulkes is a business consultant and writer with extensive experience handling business, energy policy, government, politics and media issues as an executive with major Canadian energy companies and as an independent consultant. He served on the staff of several federal cabinet ministers. He has several degrees including a MSc in Management from the Sloan School at MIT. He has run a number of marathons, many triathlons and now road-bikes for fun. His first book, Adventures with Knives  chronicles his six-month chef’s training program at Vancouver’s Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, where he was judged best graduating student in the culinary program.