Back in 2009 I remember how, at the beginning of our Alpine Pass Route hike, we met a middle-aged French hiker who had just completed the APR in the opposite direction. The man was muddy and his face, behind an unshaven beard, looked tired. We assumed he had had a rough time because of the unstable weather. Unlike us, back then, he was a camper. Our backpacks were heavy with unsuitable gear and so, to us, it seemed incredible that someone could have camped out for the whole three weeks. I decided that one day I would be like that man, who seemed like a real hero, and do a similar hike alone with a tent.
In July 2013 I became like that man, and did a solo crossing through the Alps, along the spectacular Grand Traverse of the Alps – GR5. Here’s a summary of my thoughts about the route, how I prepared for it and what to consider. I hope this will help you to plan your own hike along the Alpine part of the GR5.
THE BOOK – ALONE THROUGH THE ALPS
How to order the English version of my GR5 travelogue – HERE.
How to order the Finnish version of my GR5 travelogue – HERE.
Some last minute preparations, chocolate bar tasting and packing, and then the ready trip video:
Here’s my original plan. I thought four extra days would be sufficient:
And this is how it went. I ended up doubling up couple of stages and keeping only one rest day:
You’ll find all the daily accounts on December 2013 in the blog archive, but here are the shortcuts to each day:
Day 0 – La Planche
Day 1 – Les Crottes
Day 2 – Chésery refuge
Day 3 – Samoêns
Day 4 – Moêde Anterne
Day 5 – Les Houches (via Servoz)
Day 6 – Rest day at Les Houches
Day 7 – Les Contamines
Day 8 – Grande Berge (Plan de la Lai)
Day 9 – Landry
Day 10 – Valclaret (GR55)
Day 11 – Pralognan (GR55)
Day 12 – Modane (GR55)
Day 13 – du Thabor
Day 14 – Nevache
Day 15 – Vachette
Day 16 – Brunissard
Day 17 – Ceillac
Day 18 – Fouillouse
Day 19 – Larche
Day 20 – Bousieyas
Day 21 – Auron
Day 22 – de Longon refuge
Day 23 – St. Dalmas
Day 24 – St Antoine chapel (Utelle)
Day 25 – Nice airport
* The weather was very nice in July and fortunately, it didn’t rain too much. It was too hot only during the last few days, near the scorching Mediterranean sun.
* It’s hard to hope for any better landscapes than this. Good thing is that the scenery changes along the trail so you’ll feel the progress and won’t feel numb about the constant line of mountains.
* For me worked well the combination of wild camping and campsites.
* To hike one month solo is unbelievably rich experience.
* Plenty of services throughout the hike.
* Easy to navigate, good paths and signposts.
* My walking felt strong and I avoided any blisters or injuries.
* The trail wasn’t too crowded. Some sections were more popular, especially at weekends but several days passed by without seeing much people at all. And in the morning it was always very quiet to walk (between 6-9 am).
* Lot of wildlife; marmots, chamoix, bouquetins and even a golden eagle.
* I don’t like to deal with the sheep dogs.
* I would have liked to meet more like minded long distance hikers.
* The huge amount of snow this year.
* My shoes got broken in the end.
* Nuisance of the language barrier (French).
My basic three were (about 3,5 kilos in total) Vaude Power Lizard tent, Osprey Exos 58 and RAB Alpine 400 down sleeping bag with a Thermarest cell foam mattress. Then rain gear and warm clothes as the wind and rain can be cold together. During the night the temps went sometimes down to +5C so my warm sleeping bag was quite alright.
I’m not using electronic devices such as smart phones or gps, but Suunto Core watch, which has a very nice altimeter. It was useful to monitor how much there was still to climb or to go down.
No crampons, ropes or other mountaneering equipment is needed along the GR5 but I advice to have walking poles. I bought the gas after landing in Geneva. There was an Athleticum sports store just a half an hour walk from the airport.
MAPS FOR GR5:
With the guidebook of Paddy Dillon (Cicerone Press) one manages well but as I was going alone and not speaking French I decided to have some maps as well. I ordered online (stanfords.co.uk) four IGN 1:100 000 maps, that will cover the whole route (144, 151, 158 and 165). Even if I cut off the extra halfs, they were useful to see more around the narrow corridor of the guidebook map, and to plan possible detours. I also printed from Gmpas maps of bigger urban areas, as they tend to be tricky to navigate.
Beforehand I marked all the possible campsites and wild camping spots in to my maps. I tried to gather the info by reading other peoples trip reports. For campers I have compiled information where are the campsites and where could be possible to wild camp. Just download the GR5 camping guide for FREE.
I knew from the previous trips how the days will be and what condition I needed to be to cope with my planned schedule. Good basic fitness is enough if you plan your daily schedule according to it.
During the previous winter I tried to cross country ski as much as possible, at least once a week a long half a day exercise.
In spring I biked to work daily for couple of months, one hour per way.
After the snow had melt I did few longer day hikes at the weekends with a full backpack. I also went several times to a local ski hill to hike it up and down so that I made at least 500 vertical meters per exercise.
Just before the trip I went three times to see a masseur because my thigh muscles felt quite tight. (Best decision ever!)
For me starting the day early comes natural but in my opinion all the factors speak for it too. It’s very quiet in the morning, even until 9 am, when the people have finished their breakfast at refuges and are beginning their days. It was fantastic to be alone with the mountains, plus one sees much more wildlife during the early hours.
For me the most important factor was, however, to avoid the typical Alpine afternoon thunderstorms. More than once the storm hit just when I had my tent up.
I like walking fast and as I had no one to chat with, I kept quite fast pace. Only few times I was very exhausted and close to my reasonable limits. I streched well every night and massaged my feet and muscles.
I ate only fresh bananas or a muesli bar at the camp in the morning and kept my real breakfast break after walking an hour or two. I then ate plenty of choko muesli, some cookies and buns.
For lunch I usually had some bread, cheese and sausages. I kept the lunch break when my body began to ask for it.
I tried to snack all the time; raisins, bars and a lot of chokolate. In the afternoon I might keep a second lunch break too.
If I arrived early to camp, I boiled noodles or fast porridge to get a quick warm meal. Then I waited until seven to be served at a restaurant. If I was wild camping I ate either adventure food or fast rice with dried premade soup ingredients or similar, resupplied from grocery stores. I was carrying five adventure meals from home and tried to have all the time food for three days with me. From the supermarkets I tried to buy always something fresh, fruits and juices.
I carried 1,75 liters of water, which was sufficient for me. There is plenty of water available and I didn’t need to drink from the streams at all. Not very advisable either as there are plenty of animals in great heights. I didn’t use any purification as the undrinkable water taps are marked so.
During the hike it went like this:
Accommodation 213 euros (1 night in a hotel for 90 eur, 2 nights in a refuge for 17 + 18 euros, and 13 nights at campsites averaging 6,8 eur/night)
Food 374 euros ( eating in restaurants and groceries both 187 eur)
So in total 587 eur (23,5 eur / day)
If you’re going early in the season, you might want to check the current trail and mountain conditions. As the Chamonix is close to the beginning, these websites are useful:
Please feel free to contact me if any advice needed: a.rantsu at hotmail.com