GR11 – Homecoming

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After couple of weeks of walking, my hike through the Pyrenees faced an unexpected end as for the first time, a trail “beat me”. Nothing too dramatic happened, it was more a sum of several things but when reaching Benasque near the half-way of the GR11, I didn’t want to push any further. Simply, I wasn’t enjoying enough. But don’t get me wrong here, the experience was great and blister-free, landscape beautiful and fellow hikers super nice. I was just missing that something to justify the upcoming weeks.

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To be honest, I was afraid too. After reaching the high Pyrenees, heavy thunderstorms started frequently to roll in. Slow to build, they erupted late at night and were hard to anticipate. Most of them were flickering far enough to cause any real danger, but one night me and one Irish hiker got caught right in the middle of a long and furious double storm. Through the night silent flashing illuminated the sky, keeping me half awake until around four in the morning, it was there. A dark beast came unseen from behind the col of Collata las Coronetas and suddenly, I was far off my comfort zone. Camping high up in the mountains we were dangerously close, feeling exposed and vulnerable, lightnings banging all around us for hours. I think for me this, probably the scariest night of my life, was finally the last drop.

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The upper part of the Ordesa sector and the long descent to the Anisclo canyon were the real highlights of the trail. After passing through such a beautiful places, it was a hard call to make and for a moment, felt like a massive, embarrassing failure. In the end it was the right thing to do, though, to follow how I was feeling and to transform myself from a thru-hiker to a section hiker!

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As usual, full summary, photos and video will be added later on. In the meantime, I recommend to read wildpilgrims’ awesome GR1 journal.

Gear for GR11: Cooking, food and water

Updated 9.6.2016

Previously, I’ve been carrying 1,75 litres of water with two Nalgene bottles but for the hot GR11, I decided to extend my capacity with two ~0,5 litre water pouches. In addition to that, I’ll take with me Sawyer Mini water filter but I might leave its cleaning syringe out as I believe the need of filtering water to be rare (passing by enough good water points). For cooking nothing has changed during the years. I still use my 0,7 litre Evernew UL titanium pot, which is just enough for one person, and Primus Express stove.

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The Sawyer Mini feels perfect for water filtering needs; no pumping, no movable (brokable) parts, light and versatile. The only drawback that I’ve found so far is the slow flow rate but hey, are we so in a hurry?

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Already on GR5 I got seriously fed up with the “adventure meals”, even if I had only few of them with me, and found cheap pasta meals (knorr, maggi.. those types) from supermarkets much better value for money. Back then, I also decided to improve my trail diet in the future by taking dehydrated veggies with me. That future is now here after my tries have been succesful.

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1kg of carrots shrinks nicely to 50 grams after pre-boiling a bit and keeping in the oven (50 celcius, lid slightly open for air-flow) for plus eight hours. Zucchinis worked out the same way but no need for pre-boiling.

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A test meal of 1 dl of couscous, couple of spoons of veggies, herbs and cashews made it quite nice trail meal. Before boiling for few minutes, I kept the veggies in water for 30 minutes to regain their shape. Unfortunately, the Kupilka bowl won’t have space in the GR11 gear list and I’ll eat directly from the titanium pot.

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I’ll take at least 3kg of carrots and zucchinis with me, dehydrated into few hundred grams. The rest of my trail diet, couscous, noodles, pasta meals, instant rice, instant porridge, muesli, nuts, chocolate bars, bread, sausages, cheese etc. I believe I can find along the trail from village stores.¬† Some of the stuff I’ll take already from home but in general I’ll use the same strategy as on the GR5; having all the time food for 3-5 days with me, resupplying whenever possible and eating well when overnighting near restaurants.

Updated 9.6.2016

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So, my dry food bag includes 2kg of carrots (dehydrated), 1kg mix of zucchinis, champs, peppers and tomatoes (dehydrated), 8dl of fast porridge mixed with cinnamon and two big apples (dehydrated), 6 rolls of noodles, 7dl of fast rice and 6dl of couscous. Weighing 2kg in total, these will give me a feeling of security for wild camping but I prefer not to carry more food at a time. How long these will last then depend on how often I’ll be eating in a restaurant and the stores found along the trail.

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Finnish chocolate is the best, so I have to take at least something with me. Those bags of dried soup ingredients I’ll mix with the fast rice and it’ll make a tasty portion. My chocolate bag weighs 1kg in total and unfortunately, knowing my chocolate consumption, it won’t last very long. But choko bars are easy to find along the trail.

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Still missing and bought local are fresh bread, cheese, some sausage, cashews and breakfast muesli. I don’t count the calories intake but try to listen my body and follow one principle – eat as much as possible!

Gear for GR11: Electronics

First things first: I’m a relic from the past as I don’t have gps or smart phone. To find my way, I prefer to be battery-free and to rely on my navigation skills with a map, compass and guidebook. I can’t deny it would be handy to have a gps but I feel safer the old way, being more focused of my whereabouts. Of course, different type of adventures might require different type of devices. What comes to smart phones, I stand in the last front, fighting against overwhelming digital noise and a society where everything happens through a device. For me one of the great rewards of a long hike is NOT to be connected. And I’m weak, I know if having a smart phone, I would be obsessed and sucked back into depths of the internet and social media. Besides, I find smart phones clumsy, vulnerable, expensive and in general, not really trail worthy. Okay, so how does my electronics set-up look like then?

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For communication I have Nokia 215 basic phone (costs 29 eur, weighs 80 grams, gives up to 20h talk time and 50h music play). Even if listening music or podcasts for a while in the evenings and sending long and longing text messages to home, the need to recharge might not occur even once a week. Sony RX100 with one extra battery have a place of honour in my gear list and comes along without a question.

The latest addition is the Ventura Snooper PB60 power bank (10400 mAh, weighs 140 grams. Updated 14.6, as discussed in the comments, the weight the manufacturer announces might be far from truth). The five lithium-ion cells are in rubberized, weather- and shockproof casing and you can roll up the whole thing. Even the typical 70% actual capacity out of 10400 mAh gives plenty of power to charge the phone battery (1100mAh) and the camera battery (1240mAh). On GR11, I’m expecting the longest gaps between a night at a campsite (and electricity) to be 3-4 nights. I might not even need the Ventura but I think I’m gonna give a try, to see how it works and have more freedom to listen music and shoot video.

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The phone and camera charges from the power bank with a usb-cable, and the power bank from a wall with the usb-cable and wall-charger plug. Alternatively, and as a back-up option, all can be charged from a computer with the usb, but this seems more unlikely (maybe at some campsites could be possible). In this setup the need of cables is down to bare minimum.

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Suunto Core is the outdoor watch of my choice. It hasn’t been perfect but good enough. The altimeter is really handy to monitor the progress of ascents and descents on those long, never-ending mountain sides. I use the compass of the watch mainly to confirm the general directions but for more precise work, I have a real compass. The original silicon strap just got broken and when checking the prices of a new one, I decided to give a try to the do-it-yourself paracord strap. After few attemps I think I got it decent enoughūüôā

Next post: Cooking and water