This is not as clear-cut as it seems, as obviously we can see many cows in the fields without horns, and what you see can be misleading: In general, horns on cattle is not just a male characteristic, but found in both male and female cattle.
However, many of the horned cows have had their horns removed (called “dehorning”) when they were calves in order to minimize injury to other cattle, the handler, and damaging equipment. This is especially true for dairy cows, not so much with beef cows. Not all producers (or “farmers”) dehorn all their cows. However, dehorning can be done genetically, as many of the horned breeds have cattle that also come naturally hornless or polled. Breeding a horned cow or bull to a polled bull or cow, respectively, will often “take the horns off” the calves.
Other cows from heritage or “older” breeds are naturally born with horns, and don’t come in the polled variety like other modern-type breeds that were historically primarily polled. The horns from these breeds may curve up, down or grow sideways, and come in various lengths, depending on the breed.
On ranches outside of Europe many cows have kept their horns, especially since they provide some form of defense against predators that may threaten their calves. (There are no predators left in Europe to speak of except for wolves and stray dogs.)
Then there are those breeds that are naturally polled. These cattle breeds (cows, bulls, steers, and heifers) do not have horns. Such breeds include Angus, Red Poll, Red Angus, Speckle Park, British White and American White Park.
We get this question regularly, as many people are not aware that the Mont Blanc Range is glaciated, and Mont Blanc is snow-covered all year round. Therefore, one cannot just go and ‘hike’ up in the summer. However, hundreds of people do go to the summit every year. The Mont Blanc is at nearly 5000 metres in altitude.
The equipment needed in general includes a harness, a rope, crampons (and mountaineering shoes to go with it), one non-technical ice axe (straight shaft, not for ice climbing purposes), a trekking pole, and a helmet. Inexperienced mountaineers should hire a guide, and the ascent takes in general two days. (First day, up to a mountain refuge, then leave at about 2am in the morning for the summit, back down to the valley floor in the afternoon).
Mont Blanc is not a technical difficult mountain, anyone fit enough with some training on how to use the equipment can do it, although there are some objective dangers such as rockfall, serac fall, avalanches, etc.
In general, yes it is. Many alpine countries in Europe (Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Switzerland) do not put chlorine in their drinking water, or just very minor amounts. Therefore, the water does NOT taste like chlorine (although this is starting to change slowly). This does not mean that the drinking water isn’t safe. Drinking water is one of the most highly regulated commodities in Europe. What comes out of the tap, is safe to drink. Remember, you are in Europe. These are not developing countries with failing infrastructure, poor health care and dangerous cities and towns.
You will see that many Europeans do buy bottled water, however. Quite often it is because the water is carbonated.
So if you want to buy bottled water (carbonated or not), you can do so, but filling up your water bottle at ANY tap is recommended, and a lot cheaper and better for the environment.
We also fill up our bottles sometimes in alpine streams. There may be giardia, an amoeba that can cause GI issues. One obviously has to be careful in case there are cattle or sheep herds above your drinking water. That said, we have always filled up our bottles and have never gotten sick. If you REALLY want to be sure when taking water out of a stream, bring some purification tablets or a small water filter such as the one made by MSR.
As a matter of fact, people with asthma should in general feel better in higher altitude than worse, as there are fewer allergens higher up. The higher you go, the less pollen, pollution, or other irritating things are in the air. That said, pollution is also growing in higher altitude, as snow samples from the summit of Mont Blanc show.
In general, European restaurants normally have the gratuity built into the bill, so there is often no need to add another 10%-15% on top of what you are being charged. Most waiters in Europe are professionals, this is what they do for a living and are paid a living wage. That said, they would certainly appreciate a small gratuity if the service was exceptional. In most coffee shops, loose change will be left as a gratuity as is the case in pubs and bars.
In general, Alpine Interface does not pay for drinks on any of our guided trips. Our guides will sometimes buy the group drinks before dinner or a bottle of wine with the meal but not coffees, digestives or teas.
We ask our guests to pay all of the ‘extras’ the night before checking out as we are often leaving early the next morning.
Generally speaking, trails in Europe are free of detritus. However, due to the fact that most trail systems have no dry toilets often found in North America, finding a place for a bathroom stop can be a challenge. Most huts will allow hikers to use toilets but there is sometimes no running water in the out houses, and sometimes not even toilet paper if it has been a busy day. Therefore, we strongly recommend that hikers carry toilet paper, a ziplock bag and hand sanitizer at all times.
In general you won’t encounter many mosquitoes while hiking in the Alps, or in the huts or hotels during the evenings, so there’s no need to bring any bug spray. There are no other flying pests to speak of (no see’ems, midges), and only the occasional horse fly.
In regards to ticks, they do exist, and they do carry diseases, with the most well known these days being Lyme disease.
Lyme disease, caused by bacteria transmitted by several species of ticks can be fatal in some cases and if left untreated, can cause life long debilitating conditions which mimic MS or other neurological diseases.
The word Alp means pasture, hence the large number of sheep, goats and cattle in the Alps during the summer months. Guess what ticks feed on? Blood and that of ungulates in particular. Lyme can be treated with antibiotics but it is certainly better to avoid contracting this disease so some precautions are necessary. Ideally, after a day on the trail, you should check yourself for ticks. Their bite is painless and you will only see the tick once it has begun to gorge itself. If you do find a tick, the best way to have it removed is professionally by a pharmacist or doctor. If you do remove it yourself, it is best to keep the insect and have it tested for Lyme. Large doses of antibiotics are not really something your body needs so it is best to know what you are dealing with. As climate change heats up the mountains, insects such as ticks will move to higher and higher elevations as temperatures warm.
On how to remove ticks and Lyme disease, read our blog article that deals with this subject matter.
Ideally, you should have at least a copy of your passport with you at all times. A passport weighs but a few grams, and tucked into a ziplock bag inside your pack, you will always have it with you. Ideally, you should also carry your medical and travel insurance policy and contact information for your insurance provider, a list of prescription drugs included dosage and list any conditions you may have. In the event that you have a medical emergency, having this information in one place will save time and could even save your life.
No, please do not as you will most likely injure your feet during the trek and will have wasted hundreds of dollars on shoes you will never wear again. Depending on the trek you are signed up for, trail running shoes such as the Salomon Speed Cross is a great shoe for most of our treks.
That said, trail runners require careful footwork to avoid injury. If you do not feel confident enough to wear something this light, look for a mid weight hiking boot with or without Gore-Tex, a “breathable” membrane that is waterproof. I personally avoid wearing Gore-Tex shoes as they tend to be too hot and do not let the perspiration escape but this is just a personal preference.