GR5 Day 6 – Entre dans Le Vallee Etroite

Up at 5.30 and the lovely folks at the refuge de plan sec had left out an early breakfast for me.   

It is a fairly repetitive routine when through hiking!  Get up, eat, down as much coffee as you can and get walking within 30 minutes of waking.  The first hour or two of any day is making sure that the body is still working ok and warming up the muscles.  My first hour was a 300m descent straight down a hill followed by a 300m climb up the other side.  Happily the standard aches and pains were no more than normal.   It is a fact of hiking life that something will be in pain at any point of the day.   In the morning my shins hurt, my glutes yelp when I go up too many hills and my knees begin to groan when I have been descending for too long.  My shoulders start to hurt from my pack by the end of the day and my feet are usually troublesome at some point – whatever the pain is, the upside is that it will probably move somewhere else at some point.  

After traversing the side of a misty hill for several kms, I began the knee crushing 1500m descent to Modane.  Ouch! Enough said.  It was odd to be in a town, so I stocked up on nuts and babybels (my standard eat as I walk lunch), sent a couple of things I didn’t need home from the post office, called home, and had two espressos!  

The view down into Modane

I really needed those two espressos, as the rest of the day was pretty much an unrelenting steep uphill climb of 1400m to the refuge at mont thabor.   I was running out of caffeine propulsion by the end. At least there is very little snow up here, even at 2500m, and apparently it is all clear to the south.  I met Martine and Francois up here who have detoured all the way from Contamines to Modane to avoid the snow, so I am not the only one who is being flexible and at least I got to see more than they did!  

The refuge barely visible on the mountain 

Felt like I needed some carbs so I tried the local specialty of blueberry tart and felt somewhat restored.

The view up the mountain with my tea and tart   

And then I had to attend to the routine hiking chores – wash stinky clothes, figure out how feet are doing, sort blisters, stretch everything you can, and grab a good bunk.
Had a robust French communal mountain dinner with plentiful stew, soup, bread and cheese.  A side benefit of this trip is my French must be improving as there are no anglais here!  I had a delightful chat with Regis, who was kind enough to give me his dessert (yup I ate two).

Distance = 34km

Ascent/descent =  2125/1675

GR5 Day 5 – High in the Vanoise

Another amazing day in the mountains!  Up at 5.30 for apple cake, cereal and coffee strong enough to put hairs on my chest!   A lovely walk down the valley to the refuge entre deux eaux, through a bit of snow but not much! 

Then I headed up the hill traversing a series of tricky high ‘neves’ (snow blocks) and some incredible paths through the boulders (that’s the track below), for 3 hours without seeing a single soul, and mostly being in the fog with less than 50metres of visibility, although I saw tonnes of cute marmot butts hopping away from me and a lovely antelope of some sort.  

I arrived at the refuge arpont around 11, it was extremely flash and even had power plugs.  After two coffees I headed off along the ‘balcony’ for the long walk to the next refuge (which was supposed to be six hours away).  

The gr5 runs through the Vanoise, and for some reason they have adopted much more patriotic trail marking than the standard white and red.  The tricolour kept me on track more or less. and I arrived four hours later to the lovely refuge plan sec to a cold shower and a hot tea.  I washed my stinky clothes – they don’t smell great now so I can’t imagine how bad they will be in another few hundred kms.

 I sat by the fire to warm up and then had the usual refuge communal dinner of soup, polenta, chicken, veg, cheese and creme brûlée.  I was entertained by my 7 French dinner companions – all male, all having left their wives at home.   They were a bit surprised my husband let me out by myself!  I love the French.  

Again to bed at 8.30 – hiker midnight 

Distance = 35 km

Ascent/descent = 1350/2270

GR5 Day 4 – Going with the flow

Today was an excellent lesson in going with the flow!   So, I was planning to traverse the Crete des Gittes – a high exposed ridge – but it was covered in clouds!  So I sensibly descended to Chapieux through the most and walked into the nearest main town by road (a boring 15km). 

I stopped by the tourist office who told me to avoid the next two big passes and instead head due east to pick up a lower variant of the GR5 in Bonneval. I felt OK with this option as the distance I would cover to the Mediterranean would be the same! She said there wasn’t a bus until Monday so I should ‘faire le stop’ ie hitchhike.

So I waited out a violent unexpected thunderstorm in the supermarket for an hour (lucky I wasn’t on the ridge for that) and started hitching to val d’isere. I got a ride in two minutes to halfway and then a second ride within five minutes! The mountain gods were smiling on me as the driver was a mountain guide and told me a better and more beautiful option to get back on track and go through the high passes. He rang the refuge at Col de le Laisse to make sure I could get there safely and that other hikers had cut a path through the snow and then he drove me to the trail head.  (If anyone ever needs a guide – Stephane from Tignes guides)

 It was a big climb and a lot of snow but as he told me it was perfectly safe as anywhere I fell I wouldn’t fall off a cliff! 
 I arrived at the intimate refuge which had a 32 bed dorm to find only two other hikers – Swiss guys making a film about the GR5. A note on French alpine refuges – I highly recommend them. For 40 euros you get a dorm bed (OK, complete with snoring), a big dinner (typically soup, stew and polenta, cheese and dessert) and breakfast. Given the food is helicoptered in it is terrific value! You can also buy wine and beer! 

I was in bed by hiker midnight (8.30pm) and didn’t even get vexed by the harmonious Swiss snoring!

Distance traveled = 32km *

Ascent/descent = 1600/800 *

Rides hitched =2 

Toenails lost = 1 (with a likelihood of at least two more)

*estimated as my garmin battery is struggling and most refuges have no electricity to charge it

GR5 Day 3 – Snow with friends

So, today was a happy day!  The gr5 trail intersects with the deservedly famous TMB trail for the duration of my day.  So while I had to endure lots of sunburnt people walking slowly with heavy packs, they had conveniently left me lots of tracks to follow through the snow!!!   

I walked from Les Houches to the lovely village of Contamines, where I stopped to buy crampons and sunglasses.  The guidebook said it was a six hour walk, but I managed it in 3.5.  I also had two coffees as no one was up when I left Les Houches at 6am.
And then continued up the river to start the climb up to the Col du Bonhomme.   It is a lovely easy climb for most of the day passing multiple refuges selling cake.  As we got up to 2000m, the snow was back.  

There were about 50 or so hikers making the traverse, a stark contrast to my lonesome traverse yesterday.  Some had amusing clothing choices – the French (and I) were in shorts and tshirts, but there were about 30 Chinese hikers who were covered from head to toe, including buffs on their faces!  I asked the guide what that was about and apparently no one wanted a tan!!!  

I stopped early today after a mere 7 hours on my feet as my next leg is over the exposed Crete de Gittes, and there was a thunderstorm forecast for this afternoon.   So am enjoying the delights of a mixed dorm in the refuge to Col du croix du bonhomme at 2450metres.

The Crete de Gittes

The plans are shifting for the next few days as I had originally intended to climb multiple passes higher than 2200 metres and these are now all snowed in and inadvisable for a lone hiker (especially one who doesn’t understand snow and is scared of heights).   I still plan to walk to the Mediterranean, it just might require a few days pounding the tarmac.  I am treating this as an exercise in flexibility!

Distance travelled = 32km

Ascent/descent = 2316/894

Coffees = 4

Times fell on butt = zero!!! (Though I almost fell up the stairs to the refuge) 

No. of hikers overtaken ascending from Contamines to the Col = 78

**note I am now on day 6 but have very limited 3G, will upload photos and additional posts when I reach civilisation 🙂

GR5 Day 2 – My life flashing before my eyes!

So today was not my day!  Snow – my nemesis – almost got the better of me!  More on that later…..

But first  – a beautiful start to the day in Samoens, with a beautiful river walk up to the Gorge du Tines which was stunning with the sun coming up through the trees 

The path up the gorge du tines with the ladder to climb

And then it was a beautiful ascent up to the collets du anterne!   (The view with the ubiquitous gr5 marker in the foreground)

And then after a lovely coffee at the refuge, it all went pear shaped.   Climbing up the hill to the Col du Anterne I passed over some very hairy parts of the trail where it was covered in snow.  Traversing the snow was terrifying as one foot wrong and I would have tumbled down a big slope.  (The photo below – the path is horizontal, and it is steeper than it looks)

 I naively thought it would get better – big mistake!   I got to lac anterne and there was no path to the Col – and it was about two k away and 200m up.  And it was all snow and some of it was quite steep!  I tried a couple of attempts to get around the lake and eventually figured it out!  It took me two hours to reach the Col including multiple slides and several falls through the snow (in normal conditions it would be 30 minutes).  I thought the view when I got to the top was worth it 

The view back the way I came – that’s a crapload of snow 

The view of Mont Blanc and Le Brevent from the Col

Or I thought it was worth it until I looked down the other side – a steep snow covered slope with no discernible path, but a view of the refuge moede anterne at the bottom.  I skied on my butt down most of it – not on purpose, but I couldn’t stay on my feet.   The highlight of the day was an uncontrollable 100m slide down the slope, where I finally manage to stop myself with my poles 5m before a waterfall!   It was terrifying!

I finally got to the refuge after many more falls, and the nice man there dissuaded me from continuing on the gr5 route given the unprecedented levels of snow, my lack of crampons, the numerous bluffs and the absence of any other hikers, and suggested I descend to Les Houches by another path. I felt guilty for about taking a shortcut for a nanosecond (given I am fundraising), and then remembered how it felt with my life flashing before my eyes sliding down the cliff.   I hope my donors will forgive me!  The shortcut was still a brutal 1000m descent through the woods 

Am now safely in Les Houches, fortified with a big dinner, and have adjusted tomorrow’s route to avoid the highest pass which is still covered in snow!

Still smiling!

Distance covered = 33km

Ascent = 1797

GR5 Day 1 – what happened to the path

It was always going to be a long day – 46k, more than 2000m of climbing and a guide book estimate of 14.5 hours of non stop walking.  I was (overly) confident I could do it in much less.  

On the bright side it was a stunning stunning day in the Alps!  Total perfection.  I set off at 6am filled with optimism for the day.  And then I started climbing up the first ascent and all of the paths were like this 

Today’s soundtrack was clearly going to be ‘mud, glorious mud’.   It was a challenging first few hours of mud.  

Then we met my other nemesis – snow.   I am not a fan of snow! I go out of my way to avoid winter entirely and succeed most years.  And I am ok with snow in the Alps – it makes the mountains look pretty – but am less thrilled with it when it covers the trail and markings and you haven’t the foggiest where to go.  It’s ok if it is a small bit, but I encountered this monster around 10am, and did the only sensible thing a girl who is scared of heights could do – I crawled up the side of it on my hands and knees on the rock face – it’s steeper than it looks.  

The snow was also responsible for some major navigational booboos…. It is hard to follow the trail when you can’t find it – and I lost it a few times today.  

The day got better once I finally found an open cafe – at 11.30 am when I got my first coffee of the day and inhaled a huge croque Monsieur.  I didn’t see many hikers apart from a large group of French strollers who were taking a day walk to Lac Vert with more gear than I have for 18 days, and the tutted at my lack of walking boots

The views were stunning and it was a wonderful days walk, in spite of the quad busting/knee crushing final descent into samoens. I was on my feet for a total of 10.5 hours with only a brief lunch stop – I was too scared to stop in case everything seized up.  Am now lying on floor with legs in air trying to sort my calves out!

Up at 5.30 again tomorrow
Distance covered = 47km

Ascent/descent = +2184m/-2466m

Times fell over = 3 (twice on butt and once on knees)

Times lost the trail = 4

Cake inhaled = none 🙁 

Times wished I had taken a navigation course = 5

Time I remembered to put sunscreen on = 2pm 

Fundsraised = £4864.66 🙂

GR5 Day zero – singing in the rain

So today I only did half a day on the GR5 given logistics of getting to the trailhead! It was only 19k so I thought that would be a piece of cake and couldn’t understand why the guide book said it would take 8 hours and 45 minutes.   Hmmm, well the following elevation profile probably explains it, they don’t mess about with easy introductions on the GR5!  If this elevation keeps up I will have buns of steel by the time I reach Menton

In the end it took me five hours!  The uphills were ok but the downhills were like skiing through mud!  Really claggy mud.  Oh, and it rained the whole time.

I am sure the views would have been magnificent but it was a bit cloudy.   I had a lot of songs going in my head to keep me moving uphill, but honestly mostly it was poi e (the kiwis know that one,) and I heard it before I left home so it is cemented in my brain and was a pretty good rhythm for getting up those hills

I arrived in Chapelle d’abondance and had a very long hot shower and cleaned my filthy socks.  Then I popped down to the local superette for supplies for tomorrow.  It was closed!  So I asked a local where the nearest supermarket was and she said ’10 minutes down the road’, I clarified that I was walking and she said ‘yes, 10 minutes’.  That lady must have been a world record speed walker as the inter marche was 3.5km away!!!  So I did a bonus 7k not counted in today’s distance.  

Sun is finally out!  Will be in bed by 8.30 for a 6am start tomorrow

Distance = 19km

Elevation gain/lost = 1829m/1210m

Bars consumed = 4

Times trail lost = 3

Times fell in butt = 1 (a new record for me)

Pieces of cake inhaled = 0 🙁

Funds raised =£4899.66 from the amazingly generous donors plus another £4899.66 as I am matching all donations. There’s still plenty of time to donate if you haven’t already at