Optimising Nutrition in the Back Country

WARNING Strictly for hiking geeks only – So yup, I am a freak!  I really care about what I eat even when in the bush for days on end (even if I don’t care how I smell).  I am always amazed/impressed/jealous at the young guys I see doing long distance hikes surviving on snickers, oatmeal, cheap ramen noodles, peanut butter and not much else.     I can’t do that, not only do I like food too much, but a diet with too many carbs makes me grumpy, gives me terrible sugar lows and normally means I eat too much.

the optimisation conditions

So, for those of you who are interested in getting the best nutritional options you can when you are in the bush, here is my view on what works for me.  Broadly I aim for 2500-3000 calories a day spread out over breakfast, lunch, dinner, two snacks and a good dessert.  This means I run a c. 500 cal deficit every day (as I typically hike 40-50k), which I make up for when I hit a town and then I make sure to eat a lot (burgers and icecream as well as lots of vegetables and fruit).

I need a lot of protein to keep my muscles recovered and in good shape, so I generally aim for a minimum 30 grams of protein and about 15 grams of fat in each meal (these are the ratios which optimise fullness and muscle recovery apparently – for more info see Georgie Fear’s Lean Habits).  I also try to keep the junk sugars to a minimum.    It is a myth that you need tonnes of carbs, when I am hiking 80% of the calories I burn are from my ample fat stores not from my glycogen stores, so you don’t need to ‘carb load like crazy’.  Worse, for me, highly refined carbs don’t make me full so I end up having too carry too much food if I over rely on carbs.

Finally, obviously weight of the food is a priority and I try to optimise the calories per gram.  I cap my food weight at 600 grams per day maximum.  Andrew Skurka has a good website outlining optimal foods based on ounces per calorie which will be interesting for camping nerds (I loved it)

So, my meal staples based on the above constraints and my food preferences…

breakfast

I like a bit of savoury, some variety, and also to make sure there is protein, so my standard breakfast options are:

  • Instant porridge or cream of wheat with coconut or normal milk powder and some dried fruit or nuts (I like goji berries).  To balance this out and add some protein, either add protein powder or also have a protein bar at breakfast (I eat a double chocolate chunk quest bar as well as the porridge).  497 calories, 13g fat, 29g protein (including the protein bar)
  • Instant savoury grits (cheese polenta) with powdered eggs and pork jerky or dried ham.   Alternatively if you don’t like grits, then you can use instant mash potato.   462 calories, 17g fat, 37g protein grits-variety-detail-sflb083355418cb46e438643ff2300547e50
  • If I am feeling flush, I will buy a few Mountain House scrambled egg, ham and potato breakfasts.  These are quite high in sodium and have more fat than I need but are actually very nice 508 calories, 31g fat, 29g protein
Lunch

If I am in NZ I will buy vitawheats, dried venison salami (very lean and yummy) and some hard cheese.  I struggle to find equivalents for these in the UK.  I am also going to experiment with a slightly different walking style on my next trip and take lunch breaks during the heat of the day.  So my food options for lunch will be hot meals –  these can also work for dinner, but are slightly lower in calories and don’t sit too heavy on the stomach when you have another 25km to go

  • Mug shot instant pasta (single serve), supplemented with either an epic bar (dried chicken protein – sounds gross but is pretty good) or a pouch of tuna 393 calories, 9 fat, 23 protein82495011_0_640x640
  • Instant couscous (I like Ainsley Harriot), supplemented with either beef or ostrich biltong from Raging Bull.  Note you should avoid buying Jerky which has loads of sugar in it, like Jacks. Also you can make your own instant couscous easily by adding herbs, salt a bit of oil, and some dried onions, but I quite like the premade ones 494 calories, 6g fat, 38g protein 51tkspvvY7L._AC_UL320_SR240,320_
  • A weird one, but one I like, dehydrated refried beans, a Sriracha  epic chicken bar and half a tube of primula instant cheese.  If you really want to make it like nachos, add some doritos which aren’t that heavy 464 calories, 16g fat, 36g proteinEBR-00265-351KxO3C8SgL._AC_UL320_SR222,320_

Note that when I am doing tougher long days and aiming to hit a refuge in time for dinner I am quite comfortable skipping lunch all together and just eating more snacks as I walk, and I pack accordingly

dinner

I love a big dinner followed by dessert with lots of tea.   I quite like to splash out on dinner, and some of my favourites are

  • Mountain House – potato salmon and dill – its good 609 calories, 40g fat, 18g protein1460465588-96367900
  • Mountain House – Macaroni cheese with some parma ham added in – also good 632 calories, 28g fat, 38g protein
  • More couscous with dehydrated ground beef from Back Country Cuisine or dehydrated chicken.  I have struggled to get good plain dehydrated protein made in the UK, so if you have a source let me know. 672 calories, 21g fat, 45g protein
desserts

Dinner isn’t complete without dessert!  I change what i eat quite often, but my current favourites are

  • Homemade rice pudding – using rice flakes, cinnamon, coconut milk powder, and sultanas – just add hot water 253 calories, 0g fat, 6g protein.  (normally served with a couple of pieces of dark chocolate or an ombarPACKS_0002_Porridge-Edit.psd_
  • Homemade chia, coconut and berry pudding – made with chia seeds, coconut milk powder and freeze dried berries, just add cold water 30 minutes before eating – 236 calories, 16g fat, 6g protein  (normally served with a couple of pieces of dark chocolate)
  • Chocolate covered salted almonds (a real treat) served with some dried figs – these ones are the best
snacks

Everyone recommends versions of nuts and dried fruit as trail mix to eat when hiking.  I think I must be a total weirdo as I don’t find nuts at all satiating, and they dry my mouth out.  Also, while I love dried fruit, the more I eat, the more I want to eat.  So trail mix doesn’t work for me at all.

Also, lots of people eat candy bars! Snickers, Mars, Moro, Milky Way.   These don’t work for me either as they only keep me full for about a nano second, and I have a big sugar crash afterwards.

So, I tend to eat the following snacks in combinations which mean I am getting some carbs and some protein.  Note that I am aware these aren’t the best nutritional options as the protein bars have artificial sweeteners in them and the clif bars have a bit too much sugar, but combined they do a good job keeping me full

  • Mornings I will typically eat an Oats/Whey bars from Myprotein –  316 calories, 8g fat, 22g protein
  • Afternoons I will eat a Clif bar (chocolate chip or white chocolate macadamia are two favourites) 240 calories, 5g fat, 10g protein combined with either a Quest double chunk bars  180 calories, 8g fat, 20g protein or some biltong – 138 calories, 3g fat, 25g protein
drinks

I can survive on water for cold drinks, though sometimes take some Nuun or High5 zero calorie electrolyte tabs on shorter trips.  However, I drink a lot of coffee, decaf coffee (after lunch), herbal tea and cacao, so I make sure I have plenty of powder.

preparation

The one thing I would recommend is that you repack everything before you go into lighter ziplock bags, making sure to note how much water you need in everything.  The original packaging on most of these things is actually pretty heavy, so you will save a lot of weight repacking everything in ziplock bags.  Also the ziplock are easier to pack out as waste.

Also, for people like me who will eat anything in front of them, I always recommend portioning food out for individuals days and meals.  If I have a bag of something which is supposed to last over 2-3 meals or days, I always eat more than my fair share on the first day – I just can’t help it.

I tend to do a few big shops on line and then spend a day at the dining table with scales, a marker and ziplock bags.  Good stockists are

eating

Note, to keep weight down I only carry a cup and my jet boil, and also just a spoon and a small knife.  I often just add water to the bag and eat out of the bag so I don’t have to wash the dishes.  If you want to put it in a bowl go ahead but then you have to clean it.

 

*****

Any other ideas gratefully received!  It is much easier in the US where there are more dehydrated options available.  Note, that if you start ordering a lot of dehydrated food online you do start getting lots of weird advertising on your YouTube feed targeted at survivalists who are building bunkers (actually pretty amusing)

So, thats it.  There are plenty of hikers who swear by not cooking at all and just take bars.  I met one guy who only had oatmeal and sugar for a ten day hike.  I have met other people who are dedicated enough to dehydrate their own meals (I worry I would poison myself with poor food prep).   And I have met some people who carry bottles of wine (or decant wine into their camelbacks). Whatever works for you, you should embrace it.

Happy hiking!

Packing for 450km in Lapland

The idea of hiking in Swedish lapland has always appealed.  There is tonnes of drinkable water everywhere, you can camp anywhere you like (provided not too close to someone’s house), the daylight goes on until early morning, and in some places there are well equipped huts to sleep in if you are too lazy to pitch your tent.  Hence my next adventure is a solo jaunt along the full length of the Kungsleden (the King’s Way), 450km from Hemavan to Abisko.  Apparently it is supposed to take a month, I reckon it will take 8-
10 days.  Most people don’t walk the whole thing, they just do the 25% of the trail near Abisko, so hopefully it will be quiet for much of the trail.

Kungsleden_trailMy logic for hiking towards the people (versus away from them) is actually pretty simple.  Most people hike southwards.  Why does that matter?  Well there are quite a few lakes you need to traverse in a rowboat.  This being Sweden there is a wonderful honour system where every lake has three boats.  If you arrive at the lake edge and there is only one boat on your side, you need to traverse the lake (some of which are up to 4km across) THREE times.  Why? well you need to make sure there is ALWAYS a boat on each side of the lake so no-one gets stranded.  So if there is a single boat, you need to row to the other side, tow a boat back, leave it at your original starting point and row back to the other side again.  I don’t want to do that, as I am a completely inept rower who will end up going around in circles on one crossing let alone three.  Hence am hedging my bets that I will avoid this problem by going North.

I will be posting as I go, but given the response to earlier packing posts, I thought I would do an update on what I am taking on this trip.  Obviously this is a fully self sufficient trip without the benefit of french refuges and mountain cheese shops.  There are huts in some parts of the trail where you can buy dehydrated food, but I am a pretty fussy eater so am packing my own in, and sending myself a resupply package to the a mountain hut half way.  You can also stay in huts for about 60% of the trail, but there is a long stretch from Ammarnus to Kvikjokk without huts so I will need a tent, bedroll and cooker.

Core camping kit
  • My beloved compact lightweight tent is from ZPacks – the soloplex.  Used by the holder of the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trail fastest known time records – Heather Anish, it is a great tent weighing in at 440 grams (including pegs, and instead of poles you use your hiking poles).  Her review herelightest-backpacking-tent-solplex-angle_l
  • Thermarest sleeping mat – the original and in my view the best.  These are expensive but very comfortable.  I know fast packers who go without, but I love my sleep, so always take a mat!TR NeoAir_XLite
  • ZPacks sleeping bag.  This was custom made for my height and weight specifications.  I love it so much I slept in it at home for a few days when I got it.  I love it so much I bought another one so I have two for different temperature ratings.  On this one I will take the lighter version.
  • Sea to summit pillow – weights 30g, stops me getting neck ache, enough said
  • Jetboil stove – the personal titanium one.  There is an endless debate about alcohol stoves (easier to get fuel, less waste of gas canisters) versus the new generation of gas stoves (lighter and able to boil half a litre of water in under 60 seconds).  For me the jetboil is a no brainer, it is so easy to use, and so fast.  I have properly embraced the french way of living, and unless I am on a tight deadline, I eat hot food 3 times a day if I am in the back country.  With the jetfoil, I can get a cup of tea ready in a minute.  813621Together with the stove I only take a light spoon and my deejo knife and one sea to summit expandable cup (500ml)ANC62RR0J8V_smallI don’t need a fork or a plate!
  • Mosquito headnet – apparently the mozzies are vicious, and one area is called the bloody peninsular because of the mozzies.  While I look like a complete dork in a mozzie headnet it really works
  • I will be using Fizan adjustable hiking poles, so I can also use them as tent poles.
  • I am still taking my Gossamer Gear pack, but am tweaking the set up to enable me to get all my gear into it, so instead of taking a camelback I will add to raid light bottles to the shoulder straps1460727819-55167300
MANDATORY MARRIAGE CONCESSIONS

Out of deference to my darling husband I will also be weighing myself down with an extra 600g that I wouldn’t normally bother with, principally as there is a 100k stretch with no huts or comms, and he is worried I will break a leg (a not unfounded concern given how clumsy I am).  So I am also taking a

  • Delorme in reach so I can text via satellite if I break a leg, andInReach1
  • an outrageously heavy 300g solar battery to charge the delorme.   such is the price you pay for a happy husband 🙂

The rest of my kit is pretty much the same as I took on the GR5 which you can see here

I have to carry 7 days worth of food with me.  That is about 4 kg worth at 600grams per day.  While I am pretty basic, I won’t compromise on what I eat, and am pretty good about optimising my calories and macronutrients when out on the trail.   Unlike some hikers, I cannot survive on carbs alone, so need to make sure I get plenty of fat and protein in all my meals and that is actually harder than you might think.  I burn about 3000 – 4000 calories a day when doing hard long days in the hills, but only take about 2500 with me as make up the deficit when I hit a town and eat big burgers and icecream.  I will post separately on my food strategy for anyone super technical.

For more information on the Kungsleden check out the STF page or this pdf Kungsleden_eng.  Note that if you wanted to only do a shorter section of the trail, you could probably do without the full camping kit – this is only necessary on the section between Ammarnas and Kvikjokk.  And the full gear list is –  201608 Kungsleden gear list

Ps.  Things I would not have taken/ did not use – sunscreen, sun hat, Smartwool leggings, ultra lightweight waterproof 

Things I bought/would take – one pair heavy waterproof pants

Places to return to – Sossusvlei Namibia

One of the memorable highlights of my global travels was spending a weekend in Namibia in the desert at Sossusvlei.  I never really understood the appeal of the desert being a child of the mountains and the bush from NZ.  But there is nothing like the sunset and sunrise in the desert – the crisp air, the morning chill, the sun slowly warming up the colours of the sand.   I haven’t found another desert with the same rich hues as the Sossusvlei.

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Big Mama Dune

I have nothing more to say on the topic, apart from make sure you go there!

Dead Vlei
Dead Vlei

Go hiking, see dead vlei, climb the dunes (big daddy and big mama),  get up early to watch the sun come up and enjoy the sunrise.

Hiking up on top of Big Daddy dune at dawn

Hiking up on top of Big Daddy dune at dawn

And hunt out some of the desert flora – there are beautiful flowers with extraordinary colours

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Desert flowers

Enjoy it for every second that you can, as once you leave you will wish you were back there!

Additional tips
  • Sossusvlei is a long way by road from Windhoek – the very laid back capital of Namibia, and the drivers are not fantastic.  I took a small plane flight to get there, and although the pilot didn’t look old enough to be out of high school, we arrived just fine.  The views en route were pretty stunning too

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    My private plane from windhoek
  • There is lots of good accommodation around the park, I stayed at Sossus Dune Lodge as it was owned by locals and one of the few operations which was actually inside the park, so getting to the dunes was easier in the morning
  • You can take a hot air balloon up for sunrise if you have the time, money and inclination

Off the Beaten Track – Kiribati

Kiribati – one of the least visited countries in the world, less than 5,000 tourists a year!!!!  It definitely felt like it as only 8 of us got off the plane and everyone else was an aid worker.

Just to clear up the obvious – it is pronounced Kiribass….  the ‘ti’ is pronounced as ‘ss’, so the Kiritimati part is pronounced almost exactly like Christmas (as that was what it was called when the anglos colonised it).

Kiribati has a land mass of 811 square  kms, spread out over 3.5 million square kms of ocean.  And that land mass is likely to be under water in the next 30 years.  The government apparently have bought some land in Fiji for when that might happen, but no-one wants to go!

So Kiribati is picture perfect, so much so that the Huffington post wrote an article about how beautiful it is.  However, i question whether the reporter has ever been to Tarawa Atoll!  Yes it is beautiful, the lagoon is stunning!  but you can’t swim in it under any circumstances, at least not any where near anyone lives.  Why?  very few people in Tarawa have running water, let alone a flushing toilet, so the lagoon is basically one large, exceptionally pretty, open sewer!  Everyone craps on the beach and then it floats out to sea.  I have never been anywhere so nice and not gone in the water, especially in 35 degree heat with 80% humidity.   Kiribati is really really poor!

I stayed in Tarawa for a 6 days, due entirely to the vagaries of flight timetables.  There just aren’t that many people coming and going to justify much traffic.  The people were lovely, and I met almost every foreigner on the island and probably half the locals, so if you feel like it you could just sit in Bairiki square and chat to the people going by.  If you want some other things to do, here is my list:

Attend all the events associated with domestic violence week

Not kidding!  Kiribati apparently has the highest rates of domestic homicide in the world!  Really!  I met three NZ policeman who visited twice a year to work with the local police and they told me that if you were a Kiribati woman it was a very common way to die.  They also told me under no circumstances to leave the motel after dark.  They were confident I would be fine wandering anywhere during day light, but that the local guys were insensible once drinking, and drinking started promptly at 6.30pm when the sun went down.   Given it was such a big deal there was a four day event at the local police station where local kids sang, weird middle aged guys did karaoke, someone else did a home made rap, and some kids acted out what looked like a play about violence in the home.  I didn’t understand anything that was going on, but there was genuinely nothing else to do, so I hung out and watched.  The highlight was these young boys doing a local dance

Local Dance
Local Dance
Kids doing Gangnam Kiribati style
Kids doing Gangnam Kiribati style
see the guns at betio

Its an easy walk from Bairiki across the causeway to Betio (pronounced Besso).  Betio has some ruined guns and bunkers from WW2 (things were pretty ugly here at that time) and if you look carefully you can find them falling apart on the beaches.  Betio is probably the poorest and most densely populated part of Tarawa, but I felt very safe wandering around.

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Betio
go fishing or head out to the Northern atolls

I tried to go fishing or at least head out on a boat to the North island!  Renting a boat was going to cost $300 and as I was by myself it isn’t worth it.  You can also take a ferry, but I took one look at the ferry and didn’t fancy it – a combination of questionable seaworthiness, amazing over-crowding and no shelter from the sun.   I don’t dive, but if you do, I suspect the outer islands would be paradise

Visit parliament

Not really!  but the building was quite interesting

Parliament building
Parliament building
GO running

I ran every day! Option 1 is the causeway, but take care as the drivers don’t give a crap about you, and they have to veer all over the road to avoid the potholes.  I didn’t take it personally as size matters – the trucks pushed the vans off the road, the vans did it to the cars, the cars pushing the motorbikes off the road and everyone trampled over me.  You also suck in a lot of dust on the causeway.

Causeway between Betio and Bairiki
Causeway between Betio and Bairiki

 

Option 2 is the ‘stadium’, which is a pot holed asphalted track.  I would recommend Option 2 as it is quite entertaining in the late afternoon.  The local guys gather to play football in the middle of the stadium and the women all play a pretty fierce volleyball.  Once night the local running club ran with me (or ran past me), most of them were shoeless, but we managed to get some good sprint intervals in.

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The Olympic Stadium of Kiribati
Additional tips
  • Stay at Mary’s, eat at Marys.  If you have a car, stay somewhere else and then eat at Mary’s.  Everyone ate at Mary’s every day, there isn’t really anywhere else between Betio and the airport to go.  They were nice to me and got me fresh fish and steamed veg every days as I couldn’t bear the battery chicken and the fried rice.  Note that the steamed veg consists mostly of cabbage.  On a good day you might get some frozen carrots and corn.   I did try to go to the grocery store to top up on vegetables and fruit, but there wasn’t really anything that wasn’t rotten.  Honest!
  • When you leave, you ‘clear immigration’ and then go outside again to wait.  There is a spectacular banana cake for sale at one of the huts selling coffee across the car park.  Ok, well spectacular might be pushing it a bit far, but I hadn’t had any cake fore weeks.
  • I walked everywhere, clocking up 20-25 k per day.  I tried to rent a bike but no-one had any.  I suspect there is a taxi service.  There were local buses too….
  • For some ideas check out kiribatitourism.gov.ki, but don’t expect any of the tourism operators to actually help you.  I tried to book stuff but no-one was interested
  • You can get there with Air Nauru (connecting through to the Marshalls and Pohnpei, from Nauru and Brisbane) and Fiji Airways

Visited November 2015

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Gr5 Day 15 (Last Day!) – My knees say enough now!!!!

Today was the last day!  No need for an alarm as I was wide awake by 4.45.  We set off at 5.45 to get as much of the distance done as possible before it got too hot and also to avoid the storms that were meant to come later.  Honestly, it was a brutal day!  A long distance with some rough descents and the sun pounding down on our heads.

Italian Border
The first four hours took us along the Italian border to the pretty town of Sospel, we climbed a few hundred metres and there was a long descent of about 1700m down to 300m.  The boys made an exception to their usual practice and we stopped for lunch and stretching.  A croque Monsieur, eclair and fruit tart for me.   I also like that my two scouts now know me well enough to give me their leftover flan/custard tart that they couldn’t eat

Ben and Manu multi-tasking – stretching and eating
We filled up on water and started up another 800 m climb mostly without shade with the sun pounding relentlessly on our heads. Happily there was a small water trough about half way up and I submerged my head in it! The climb continued after a wee drop with another 400m up.

Ben and I following Papa Scout
This sign aptly captured the pace I needed to go in the sun
And then we finally crested the hill above Menton.  It looked close but my watch was pretty clear it was 1000m of descent over not much distance.  Brutal!  I think the boys took pity on me as they didn’t go as fast as usual.  I had Manu’s voice in my head saying ‘gros cailloux’, literally big rocks, which is the best way to bomb down a hill, by concentrating and planting your feet on the more stable rocks at a fast pace.   Sadly there weren’t quite enough big rocks so I did slide a few times.   It was one of the most challenging paths of the whole hike, steep and rocky, and it was sweltering.  And they both kicked my butt on the descent.

Looking down into Menton
We were all out of water by about half way down and just knackered!  We hit the road about 2/3 of the way down and were depressed to see the autoroute.  After an endless 2km through roads and pavement we finally found a shop and refilled our water – I consumed a litre of water, two cans of Diet Coke (which I haven’t drunk for over a year) and a large icecream in approximately 8 minutes.  I felt like a whole new woman, albeit I didn’t smell like one.  And my knees are feeling like they need a week off!
Inhaling liquid
Feeling replete, we wandered down to the sea front to take a few pics, and then walked the three km to the train station.    We were all feeling somewhat shell shocked by the presence of all the people!

Happily finished after an icecream and some fruit tart
I managed to get on a flight home this evening, though honestly how I am going to stay awake until we leave at 10pm is bewildering me, given my usual bed time of 8.30.   I said goodbye to my two boy scouts on the train, and made them promise to take me hiking again. I was mildly amused when the boys were replaced by two women on the train who complained loudly that it smelled of sweat and then they moved seats. Hopefully it wasn’t just me, but also the lingering odours of the Boy Scouts.

I can’t quite believe I have finished!  What an adventure!  I have met some amazing people and been totally blessed and surprised by the unending generosity of strangers.  I have faced some fears, got used to the boring monologue in my own head from hiking solo for 13 days, and have markedly and unintentionally improved my French.  I have roughed it in the dormitories, endured way too much snoring, hitched rides, peed behind countless bushes and consumed way too many refined carbs.  I have worn the same walking clothes for 15 days (albeit washed most nights and put on still wet in the morning) and haven’t shaved my legs or brushed my hair during that time.   I saw my life flash before my eyes, have about 20 cuts and bruises, and fell on my butt on a daily basis.   I can’t wait to get home and see my lovely husband, but, honestly, I will probably be planning my next mad adventure before the week is out.

Thanks to all of you who have supported me with donations for Beat, and also for the tonnes of messages of encouragement and support that I have received.  It’s been quite overwhelming and I am enormously grateful (tears in my eyes grateful!!!).

Special thanks to Benoit and Emmanuel for picking me up on the side of the trail and helping me smash the last 90km in two days rather than three I had planned, and to Stephane from Tignes guides who got me back on track when the snow threatened to ruin my plans.  And of course biggest thanks to my husband for letting me be bonkers and go and do stuff like this, and being hugely supportive, even though I know he really worries that I am going to fall off a cliff.

Big kisses to you all!  Arohanui!

Day 15

Distance covered =47km

Ascent/descent = 1620/3450

Highest temperature = 39 degrees in the shade

Time on feet = 9 hours

Overall- Total distance covered was 602 km with 33,250m of ascent (the equivalent of going from sea level to the top of Everest 3.75 times) in 15 days!

Its not too late to donate – at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Mel-Smith9

Gr5 – Merci Le Francais

Je dois poster au moins une fois en français pour mes compatriotes adoptés!  J’ai passé un moment extraordinaire sur le gr5 /55/52, non seulement parce que les Alpes sont extraordinaires, mais aussi parce que je suis bénie à chaque tournant par la bonté des inconnus.

Remerciements spéciaux à :

– Manu et Ben qui m’ont « récupérée en train de pleurer sur le chemin » …. Ou du mois c’est ce qu’ils se plaisaient à dire… Ils m’ont divertie, m’ont donné des leçons de descente, et m’ont aidé à abattre les derniers 90km en deux jours plutôt que les trois que j’avais prévu

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– Stephane de Guides Tignes qui m’a remis sur la bonne route après ma frayeur sur le Col d’Anterne

– Francoise qui m’a invité à passer un moment avec elle et les deux anglaises à Roya, un jour où j’avais vraiment besoin me remonter le moral

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– Regis pour s’occuper de moi au Mont Thabor, me donner quelques conseils formidable ainsi que son dessert

– Ines et Odilan pour me donner le meilleur repas et pique-nique, que j’ai eu sur la route depuis Fouillouse

– Eric et ses voisins pour m’avoir divertie au Refuge Plan de Sec

– Les nombreux gîtes et refuges qui ont organisé le café et le petit déjeuner pour moi à 5h du matin

– Les innombrables personnes qui m’ont invitée dans leurs conversations au dîner dans les gîtes et refuges et d’avoir parlé plus lentement afin que je puisse comprendre

– Les nombreuses personnes qui m’ont pris en stop quand j’en ai eu besoin

Je suis si heureuse d’être française, même si j’ai encore beaucoup à apprendre du savoir-faire français

Merci à tous

Mel

merci à mon mari pour son aide avec la traduction!

Gr5 Day 14 – the hairy passes and the boy scouts

The plan today was to cross the hairy passes with my two young hiking buddies and stop at the refuge de merveilles.  But I was having so much fun chasing them down the hills that I kept walking with them until camp d’argent, an extra 15km which took an extra four hours.  Today was one of the most stunning days of the whole two weeks

Pas de Ladres

We started at five am, walking with our headlamps into the black.  Eventually the sun came up and we started up the ascent to Pas de Ladres.  We were lucky and saw lots of chamois and bouquetin.

Les Dents (the teeth) in the Pas de Ladre valley


After that an easy descent down to Madonne la fenestre, followed swiftly by another steep rocky and tortuous uphill climb up the Pas Mont Colomb.

At the top of Pas De Ladres
At the top of Pas De Ladres
Pas de Mont Colomb – described as the gendarme/policeman of the valley

I had checked with the refuge that the path was clear, and it was, but the climb was tough and involved a lot of jumping from rock to rock. I kept pace with the boys pretty well, Manu is a mountain goat and is normally up front setting a brisk pace (Papa Scout) and Benoit is the youngest and normally comes up behind (Junior Scout), and I am in the middle. All well and good. And then we reached and peeked through the narrow gap down the other side.

The Tiny Gap to traverse on the side of Pas de Mont Colomb to head down to the next valley
The 400 m bouldery descent down from the Pas

Holy crap – no path, lots of boulders! The boys bombed down that hill like it was nothing! They were bloody antelopes. It was a great challenge for me as normally I descend like an 80 year old who has had her knees replaced. Today I tried to replicate how they did it! I wasn’t bad, and I was hopping from rock and rock doing my best antelope impression and I made it down the hill the quickest I ever have, albeit with my heart beating like a rocket!  The boys still beat me down the hill by about ten minutes and were specks in the distance when I hit the bottom. Happily they kept walking as they were respectful enough to know that I would catch them on the uphills!

The 500m climb up to Baisse du Basto in the distance passed lots of gorgeous alpine lakes

After that we passed the lovely refuge de Nice, and started the climb (again) to the Baisse du Basto.  The path was steep and rocky and we lost it several times.  There were a few patches of snow and I made it over them fine as they weren’t steep.   We hopped up like goats and overtook lots of hikers.  A stunning view from the top.  And then down again and up again to enter into the valley de merveilles (valley of marvels).  It was gorgeous, lots of lakes and lots of pink rocks.

DSC07156
Climbing up the Baisse Du Basto

We stopped at the refuge de merveilles for coke for the boys and water and blueberry tart for me, and then headed out for the extra 6 hours they had planned.

Papa Scout and I at the summit of Baisse du Basto
Vallée du Merveilles

The weather packed in about then and it was cloudy for most of the way.   We were all feeling a bit knackered, especially for the last 2km which were entirely in the mist.   They entertained me during the last few hours by pointing out my more amusing mistakes in French – notably that I had been telling passing hikers to ‘have a good shag’ ‘Bon root’, when I thought I had been telling them to have a good hike ie ‘bonne route’.

Benoit in the Mist at Lac du Diable

Happily we arrived at camp d’argent before the storm and they had a room for me.  Luxury as I have my own bathroom and am not sharing a dorm!!!!!  It is amazing how I appreciate the small things in life after a two weeks in the mountains.  And we had done what the guide book said would take at least 16 hours in 11.

I inhaled a few litres of water, quite a bit of chocolate and some ham.  And now we are ready for dinner – sausages, lentilles, and panna cotta!

Tomorrow should be my last day, 44km to the sea.

Big kisses to my two Boy Scouts who let me take a vacation from the map reading and the navigation which made this tough day so much easier, and for entertaining me and teaching me some terrific lessons in bombing down hills.

Distance = 44km

Ascent/descent = 3525/3300

Its not too late to donate – at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Mel-Smith9

 

A common sight for my two days with the Boy Scouts – I am sure you can figure out what they are doing

Gr5 day 13 – the grand detour de mercantour

I tried to sleep in this morning!  The next town is two hours away and is the last grocery stop for three days so I there was no point arriving before they opened at 8.  But of course my eyes were wide open with the birds at 4.45am.   So I had a delightful slow stroll up to St Dalmas in the blissful cool air.

Tinee Valley at Dawn
I could smell baking as I walked into town so I stopped off to pick up some quiche and blueberry tart for later and a pain au chocolate for now.

I hung out in front of the proxi superette until it opened and then bought as much food as I thought I needed for the next three days and then doubled that!  I am a bit fed up of being hungry so have made sure to stock up with as much protein and fat as I can, albeit not in the ideal form of nuts and chocolate.  I have also discovered this weird French hiking food called chestnut spread.  It’s basically sugar in a tube but it is pretty tasty.   And I bought some saucisson, cheese, Parma ham (it survives OK in the pack)….2 kilos of food!It really is the hikers obsession to think about food all day – I am already planning big meals of vegetables when I get home.  And I am really missing Greek yogurt.  And I can’t wait to eat a steak.   And yes I have already booked a nice restaurant for the first night I get home

French Hiker Fuel – Chestnut spread, totally delicious with bread, cheese or yogurt!
From St Dalmas to Nice is a pretty straight shot day and a half walk through relatively flat terrain.   As I am a bit ahead of schedule I am going to take the longer, harder more mountainous route to Menton through the valley of the Marvels.

So I headed north to climb the Col du Barn, and had a very lazy stroll up the hill.  Given the relatively short distance today I was cruising and taking photos.

Lac du Barn
Two young French guys caught up with me as I was having morning tea and they tried to keep up with me as I went up the hill but they had the worlds largest packs on.

How not to pack
After a gentle descent down the other side, I stopped for lunch.  Yes a very lazy day, as I never stop for anything.

 

Picnic of Champions – Quiche and blueberry tart
Just as I finished lunch two other ‘young guys’ came wandering past at a ‘bonne rhythme’ (a good pace).

I have never been overtaken by hikers before, and thankfully that didn’t happen today, but Benoit (Ben) and Emmanuel (Manu) walk at a fabulous pace so we walked together to Boreon. My first time ever finding people who walk the perfect rhythm. Manu is a Boy Scout extraordinaire who has all his maps laminated and annotated so I lazily followed him into town. They come from Picardy, so for the non French among you, I would recommend watching bienvenue chez le ch’ti, which is about their region and is my fave French film

Lovely men that they are we have agreed to tackle the big passes together tomorrow so I don’t have to do them by myself, and we are meeting at five to head off.  Again am very grateful for the fabulous French people I keep meeting around every corner.

I had a lovely dinner (quiche and lasagne) followed by a disappointing dessert (fromage Blanc and apple purée) with 11 Flemish hikers who were very entertaining.  In bed by 8.30 🙂

Gite Le Boreon dinner with the Flemish Hiking Club
Distance covered = 32

Ascent/descent = 1750/1265

Time on feet = 7 hours

Its not too late to donate – at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Mel-Smith9

This picture made me laugh….

Gr5 Day 12 – Into the Inferno

A lovely 6am still start after a rough night with snoring bunkmates and loud neighbours!

I climbed the 1000 metres up to Col de Crousette in blissful solitude, interrupted only by five curious sheepdogs who came to check I wasn’t trying to steal a sheep.

After the Col there was a challenging path up the side of a scree slope that got my heart racing, but the views from the top were amazing, I felt like I was on top of the world

And I continued my solitary morning for another couple of hours checking out the limestone cliffs in the Vallons de la Gourgette (photos don’t do it justice) and arrived at the refuge de longon by 11am.

Vallee du Gorgettes

I procured a large piece of brebis, some bread and a coffee and enjoyed a peaceful lunch with some nice French day hikers who fed me up on saucisson

Refuge de Longon


And then it was off into the inferno!  The guidebook had said the 1600m descent into the valley de tinee was like going into a furnace, and that was probably an understatement.  In the shade it was ok, but in the sun it was like being smacked on the head with a hot iron hammer.   And it got hotter the lower I went.

I passed the lovely town of Roure after two hours, hanging precariously off the cliff.  It would have been lovelier if it had an icecream shop


And then down into St Saveur sur Tinee where I resisted my impulse to submerge myself in the town fountain.  Only a solitary restaurant was open, and they weren’t selling food.     I did manage to procure one of their personal supply of magnums to help fuel me for the unshaded 600m climb up to Rimplas.

Looking down into the inferno valley at St Saveur sur Tinee

I made it to Rimplas, hot, sweaty and stinky at 4pm

The hotel doesn’t open reception until 5pm, but another guest let me in and I lay on the floor stretching and generally making the place look untidy.  The hotel is fully booked with a tour of butterfly watchers – who knew?  They think I am weird and vice versa – it takes all sorts!

Dinner was at the ridiculously late hour of 7.30, goats cheese salad, pasta and profiteroles.   Delicious!  And they made me a fabulous picnic and breakfast tray for the next day
Distance = 43km

Ascent/descent = 1900/2300

Time on feet = 10 hours

Times wished it would rain = 15

Gr5 Day 11 – Hiking poles!

Hiking poles are useful in the mountains for a variety of things – today including being my lip sync mike, my drumsticks and my dancing batons, and maybe lightening catchers 

Up and out of the Gite by 6am but I really wasn’t feeling the groove.  My body is holding up ok, although I am having some knee, shin and ankle issues. What I hadn’t realised is that I am a bit mentally done in.   I am sleeping ok, but am definitely not getting decent nutrition – the French seem to think bread and jam is a good enough breakfast.  It’s not!  I need protein and some good fats for fuel in the morning, and the diet of morning sugar is making me a bit exhausted.  I’m tired.  And I didn’t really mentally steel myself for today as it is  the easiest day I am doing on the whole hike (35k and not too much up and down).

I powered grumpily through the first two hours of the trail, including a section where I just wanted to sit down and cry as there was about 100m of ‘goat path’ across a crumbling ravine. I arrived in st Delmas, hoping a coffee would make it all better but all four of the town’s cafes were closed.  Crap!  The next town was two hours away.

St delmas – lovely town, no coffee 


So, for the first time on this whole hike, I resorted to listening to music to pep me up.  It worked.  I danced up the mountain side flipping between singing and lip syncing (depending how steep the gradient was), and grooved out with my poles – drumming, twirling, dancing and lip syncing like a queen.   I was mildly worried some French farmer might see me, but then I decided I really didn’t give a crap.

I got to the top of the hill and looked down to St Etienne where I was hoping for coffee and proper food.  It was a long way down and my knees were not psyched!  But for some reason I broke into a run, and I scampered the 2k down the hill like a puppy dog.  The pain in my ankle at the bottom would suggest it wasn’t the best idea, but it did wonders for my soul.  Thanks to Pink, Adele, Def Leppard, ACDC, Nickelbak and friends for the encouragement.

St Etienne was lovely – and I procured peaches, bananas, Parma ham, cheese and good brown bread, and had two coffees.  I also got a lovely email from justgiving telling me I had a donation of £100 from one of my fave families.  Feeling better!

Up a big hill to the horrid town of auron which was overrun with VTT- ists (mountain bikers) and lots of ugly buildings, and I lost the trail a few times getting out of town and climbing up the ski piste to the pass.Once at the Col de blagnon, it was all downhill to Roya!  And then the thunder and lightening rolled in.  It was a sodden last hour and I spent much of it trying to remember enough science to figure out if my hiking poles were likely to attract lightening.  If anyone knows, send me a message.


Finally made it to the Gite where I am sharing a two bunk room with a 70 year old solo hiker who has given me his excess muesli (yay – I have no pride, I will take free food :-)).  The hot shower restored my spirits, followed by two sandwiches, three pieces of fruit, a pack of Parma ham and some tea.

And then I had a mediocre dinner with spectacular company – some fellow female hikers – two retired groovsters from Hackney and a cool chick from Nice.  It was nice to finally see some women and also to speak english


Distance covered = 36km
Ascent/descent = 1965/2235

Time on feet = 8 hours (for the first time I came in at only 80% of the guidebook time versus my usual 60-70%)

Hiker boots drying in the sun