Friday 19 January 2024

Ice Climbing on Carrauntoohil...Curve Gully


After a stellar period of dry frosty weather, I guess it would have been remiss not to visit Carrauntoohil and have a look and see if ice had formed. On Thursday morning I arranged to meet with Connie Looney and we headed back to have a look at Curve Gully. The temperature was reading -6 as I drove back to meet him and promised to remain close to freezing through the day. We brought our axes and crampons and set off into the Hags Glen on a beautiful, calm, cold weather morning.

It was great to be out with Connie again and the chat flowed as we walked. I was surprised that there wasn't more people about as I thought the great weather might have tempted more people to get out. Still I guess ice wasn't quite as big a draw as snow. There had been a very slight dusting of the white stuff on the mountains that made the scene look even better as we entered the glen. Before long we crossed the stream and began the stiff pull up into the spectacular levels of Coumeenoughter. Once we reached the first level we were joined by another climber called Dave who was also heading for Curve. The waterfall between level 1 and 2 was completely frozen and would have offered good, if a little sketchy climbing. We weren't really tempted and continued up. Before we reached the bottom of the gully we passed the excellent ice climb called The Lick. It looked to be in good condition but, as today it consisted entirely of water ice, it would have been quite a tough outing and definitely have required gear.

Heading in.

What I think is the crux. Sporty with 1 axe.

Above the crux..easier ground

Right from the start Curve was fat with ice and offered great climbing. I took one axe off the bag, and after putting on the crampons we set off up. After the initial step over a rock the narrow steep section just beyond is I think the hardest section of the climb. The ice was a little sparse but good enough and it soon passed. Easy going follows up through more open ground until, a little below  where the gully deepens and cuts straight up towards the summit. Here some nice sections up through some slabby rock keep things interesting. From there all the way to the top, some great little sections of bulging fat toffy ice was a joy to climb. Things are never very steep but water ice deserves respect and a little care is required. I would say that the route offers a very very nice grade 2 climb in icy conditions. When banked out with snow it gives a grade 1 climb. It is a long climb and by the time we reached the summit we had been on ice for 300 metres. It was a joy to reach the top and enter a calm sunny wonderland. We enjoyed a bite to eat and descended the Heavenly Gates and back to the car. 
Dave cruising it..Entering the upper section

Fat with ice

What a day to be on the summit.

It had been a fabulous outing in wonderful company. Thank you Connie.

Wednesday 17 January 2024

The Knockmealdowns and Three Mountain Days on the DIngle Peninsula

Saturday January 6th;

After working from Christmas through the new year I was determined to try and make the most of my long weekend off. So with that in mind I headed to the Knockmealdowns on Saturday morning for a hike before continuing to Youghal where I fished till past midnight in the search for the illusive cod. The fishing was less than wonderful but my hike on the mountains was great and I enjoyed a nice circuit from The Vee to Knockshane. Then up along the broad ridge to reach Knockmoylan before a final push to reach the highest point in the range, Knockmealdown itself at 794 metres. The views were extensive and great. To the east lay the Comeraghs and beyond them Slievenamon and the Blackstairs could be seen. To the northwest, the Galtees stretched out and to the south the coastline of east Cork and Waterford gleamed like silver. It was a beautiful day but it was cold, and the strong biting wind on top made it no place to linger, so I wasted no time in turning for the final top of the day Sugarloaf 662 metres over three kilometres away. The climb to the top warmed me up again and it was a straightforward descent from the top directly to the car. It had been a short outing of just eleven kilometres and almost 900 metres of ascent in just less than three hours.

From Sugarloaf towards The Galtees

Looking east from Knockmoylan

Monday January 8th;

After my climb on the Knockmealdowns on Saturday I went to Youghal for a spot of fishing. I had limited success but stuck at it till half past midnight. I then camped by the beach at Caliso bay and while it was quite cold, it was worth it to rise at dawn on Sunday and enjoy the sunrise while I shook the ice from my tent.

On Monday morning I decided to head west and enjoy the delights of the Dingle Peninsula. I checked myself in to the excellent Mount Brandon Hostel in Cloghane and decided that a hike up Bartregaum and Caherconree would be ideal as they were the nearest hills to me and I could then settle into the hostel before another fishing session at Fermoyle beach. 

Looking towards Beenoskee and Brandon

As the hike wouldn't be too big I didn't have too early a start and it was a leisurely 11.40 when I started off from the car. There was a little cloud clinging to the top but I was confident of enjoying great views on the way round. The route climbs the  the broad spur that descends from Baurtregaum North East Top. The hardest part of this is the initial steep climb up through long heather until you finally reach the crest after a punishing couple of hundred hard won metres. Now the going is a bit easier, as the ground is less steep, until an easement is reached at Scregg up over the 600 metre mark. I should say at this point that it was quite cold. The ground was frozen solid and out of the wind the temps were probably hovering at freezing. Throw in the stiff wind and things felt quite wintry indeed. Unfortunately the cloud had actually increased by now, and by the 700 metre contour I was enveloped in the mist and all views were gone.

Add in the wind and it felt very wintry indeed.

Glad to be lower...looking towards Fenit.

I was still enjoying myself. By the time I reached the broad stony summit 850mtrs), things had taken on frozen look, as all the rocky were coated in hoare frost. The wind was quite strong by now so I didn't delay before setting off towards the next top of the round Caherconree at 837 metres. There is a drop of 150 metres to reach the wide col and down here I was briefly under the cloud. Dingle Bay could be seen below me, and it gleamed silver in the low sun. I was soon on the very nice ridge that rises towards Caherconree and before long I could see the cairn loom out of the mist. The wind was now very strong indeed and I was at times being blown sideways as I curved around the rim of the corrie. I suspect it was a combination of lack of concentration, the mist, and the very strong wind, but I somehow contrived to do a complete 180 turn, and walk in entirely the wrong direction back past the cairn, and down the wrong side of the mountain. I descended to about the 700 metre contour and once again emerged under the cloud and I knew that I had gone very wrong. I had of course neglected to bring a map and compass, but I knew the lay of the land, and I climbed to once again reach the summit of Caherconree, and this time I paid more attention to my route and descended correctly. The strong wind continued all the way down until I was back below the 300 metre contour. It was a super relief when it eased as I was getting quite cold, especially my hands as I only had light gloves on. All and all not my finest hour. 

12 kilometres; 1000 metres ascent in 4 hours. 

I returned to the car and continued west and a long warm shower and a change of clothes restored me. After having a bite to eat, I went and fished Fermoyle beach from 18.00 until 22.30. All I got was lumps of weed, one of which snapped my new rods tip section. Oh Dear.

Tuesday January 9th;

After a good nights sleep I emerged from the hostel to a beautiful crisp morning. Being ever the optimist, I went and spent an hour digging enough lugworm for another couple of fishing sessions, before returning to the hostel, and after another bite to eat I set off on my hike. I love being able to walk to the mountains from my accommodation, and when the views are as good as they are in Cloghane, even a few kilometres on the road is a pleasure.

Looking across to Beenoskee

If views like these don't entice then what will.

I decided that a climb up the steep spur that rises above Lough Avoonane and climbs to Gearhane, was the perfect way to reach the main ridge. This involves a four kilometre walk in along a quiet little lane, that extends to the end of the valley beneath Ballysitteragh. The views were just sublime as some wispy cloud played along the ridges and tops of the main ridge. Across the wide expanse of bog, the glories of the mountains from Slieveanea to Beenoskee we a delight. I was like a kid in a sweetshop.

Up the spur left of centre...Brandon Peak the highest point.

After leaving the road, a farm track rises to the lakeside, and once you cross the outflow, then the climbing begins. The next two kilometres are pretty unrelenting, and six hundred meters are gained. I was feeling strong and I kept up a nice steady pace. Once near the summit I was treated to the stunning scenery of the western side of the massif. There, Slea Head, the Blasket Islands, the Three Sisters and more, are laid out in a wonderful display that is rightly famous all over the world. There was also less wind today, and while it was still cold and breezy, it was easy to pause and take it all in. 

Towards Slea Head, The Blaskets and so much more.

Spectacular ridge to Brandon Peak

The ridge to Brandon..wearing its cap.

A nice airy walk from Gearhane and soon I reached Brandon Peak. This is a spectacular place and I enjoyed a couple of minutes here before setting off towards Mount Brandon itself. The next three kilometres were a delight and I kept to the rim of the ridge the whole way. This added a bit of climbing to the route but it was worth it. I was able to enjoy the views of the spectacular northeast face of the mountain the whole way. As is so often the case, a cap of cloud covered the summit, but this didn't take from the experience, and I was soon back under it as I continued past the top. The drop into the spectacular coum below the Faha Ridge was straightforward and soon I was walking along the track that shirts around the shoulder of Binn Faiche and descends easily back to the village. It was a simple joy for every step. Frozen frosted cliffs descended to icy little lakes and below and across the valley lay Cloghane bay and Beenoskee. The route ends literally across the road from the hostel and it was lovely to walk in and shower and change the clothes in the warmth. 

Down below the summit into the coum. Faha ridge on the left.

I went fishing once again later on to the beach near Brandon Pier. While there was no disaster like a broken rod, all that was on offer from the fishing was lots of tiny whiting. Still it kept me entertained for a few frigid hours.

The hike had been wonderful. I had covered about 18 kilometres, climbed 1400 metres in 5 hours 15 minutes.

Tuesday January 10th;

Beenoskee beckons

Well if I thought the previous morning was good then this morning was just about perfect. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and not a puff of breeze to disturb the perfection. The tide was out and even the shoreline seaweed was frosted. I decided to head to Beenoskee this morning. After checking out of the hostel I drove the few kilometres to the start of my chosen route, which started at the junction of the Cloghane-Connor Pass road. There is parking here for several cars and the route ends right there.

Glorious. In Glenahoo valley at the start of the climb. Beenbo beyond.

Leaving the car...The Brandon Massif.

It was 09.30 when I left the car and set off along the road for the almost three kilometre walk before I could exit and begin to climb towards the beautiful Glenahoo valley under the western slopes of the mountain. This road can be quite busy in the tourist season but on this frosty January Tuesday I only had a couple of cars to spoil the silence. After turning off the road you follow a farm track into the valley until just after a plantation of forestry you begin the climb to Binn an Tuair 592mtrs. This 500 metre climb is unremitting and only gets steeper until finally the broad summit slopes arrive. Despite it being minus 2 starting off I was sweating heavily before too long. My legs were feeling the effects of yesterdays outing, but I managed to keep up a decent pace but it was a big relief to the top. Now the going was easy across the frozen bog and before long I was on top of An Com Bán 610 metres. The view from here to the Maherees is great. After a short descent the remaining 250 metre climb to Beenoskee passes quite well. It was a delight to rest a little while on this excellent airy summit. Situated as it is in the heart of the peninsula, the views to both Caherconree and of course Brandon are superb. To the north the Maherees jut out into Tralee bay and to the south Dingle bay cuts inland and the mountains of the Iveragh peninsula stretch away.

Summit views....towards The Reeks

Towards Brandon

The Maherees

Towards Caherconree and the Slieve Mish

I didn't delay for long though, as up here the calm air of the valley was replaced by a frigid breeze, so I turned and headed down to the wide basin of bog that stretches for six kilometres towards Slievanea. After losing over 300 metres I reached somewhat flatter ground. Normally the pitted and rutted bog is very wet but today it was merely pitted and rutted so traversing the frozen ground was a little easier. Once I crossed the fledgling river called Abha Mhacha na Bó at the 300 metre contour somewhat easier ground is reached for the climb to reach Beenbo at 477 metres. This is an excellent spot to survey what you have done so far but I turned without delay and headed towards the nearby Slievenagower at 486 metres. Once down, a track that skirted the flanks of the mountain proved too tempting, so I forwent the summit and instead headed for my final top of the day, Slievenalecka at 458 metres. I crossed the river that flows from the triumvirate of lakes that nestle at the end of the valley and climbed the final 130 metres to the top. What a gorgeous eerie this place is. To the left the cliffs of Slievanea drop to the beautiful Loch Chom Callain, and nestled below and to the right Lough Adoon looked equally good. I sat here and ate a late-ish lunch before beginning my descent. One word of caution here. The initial forty or so metres are very steep and do require some caution. The ground is good but a slip would be very painful at best. The difficulties are soon over and thereafter easy ground stretches to beyond Lough Adoon and the going is easy. I dropped down to the outlet of the lake and there is a track that runs from there all the way to the road. When I reached the lake side I was surprised and delighted to see an eagle fly past me coming from the end of the lake. I watched its serene passage as it headed out the valley and it just put a wonderful seal on the day. The last kilometre and a half passed easily and I arrived back at the car before 3pm. 

Lunchtime view...towards Slievanea

Looking back over Lough Adoon

Balmy back near the car.

It had been another wonderful day out. I covered 19 kilometres, climbed 1350 metres in 5 hours 20 minutes.

So, over the three days I had covered much of the main mountain areas of the peninsula. Each had been different and challenging for different reasons but the one thing they had in common was the majesty and beauty of the scenery. The Dingle Peninsula is special.

Friday 22 December 2023

The Grand Traverse Of The Alps---Lake Geneva to Nice

The Grand Traverse Of The Alps

The hike through the Alps from the shores of Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea is a classic outing that attracts hikers from the world over. It extends to over 600 kilometres and crosses some of the most beautiful mountain terrain to be found anywhere. Work commitments meant I didn't have the opportunity to do the whole walk in one go. It normally takes 28 to 30 days to do the whole lot, so I did it in two separate trips. The arrival of the pandemic meant that there was a few years between trips and there was also a difference in seasons. The first segment was done in the second half of June and when I returned it was in the second half of October. Both occasions were outside the peak season and both trips presented their own difficulties. Later on I will try and compare and contrast the pros and cons of each occasion. I have written about each day with more of an emphasis on how I was feeling rather than a step by step guide to the route. I hope that you find the account somewhat informative and perhaps even entertaining. Enjoy.


JUNE 2019

I was off again on my travels for the second half of June. I intended to start the GR5 at Saint Gingolph on the Swiss / French border on the southern side of Lake Geneva and basically see how far I would get in the 13 days I had available. Another thing I had to bear in mind was the fact that I had to be able to return to Geneva for my flight home. Still, the logistics of the return could be resolved while I was en-route.

Monday June 17th;

A slightly late arrival in Geneva meant that an already tight schedule became a little fraught. It was therefore a big relief when I caught the train to Lausanne I had hoped to. I managed to buy my gas for cooking at the Yosemite store, which is quite nearby, and be back in the train station in time to get my connecting train to St Maurice with a couple of minutes to spare. It was then that the shocking and unbelievable happened....the 13.50 train was 10 minutes late 😨. This made getting the connecting train to St Gingolph very tight indeed. The inevitable happened and we passed the departing St Gingolph train as we entered the St Maurice station. Efficiency gone mad I say. It wasn't the end of the world but it meant another hour wait for the next train. This meant it was 16.15 by the time I finally started on my hike. It was a bit later than I had hoped but it was wonderful to be finally underway.

Approaching Novel

Already so wild and wonderful

It was a bright warm pleasant afternoon and the weather prospects were good for the next couple of days. This meant I would be nicely established on the route before I got any bad weather.
The route begins once you cross the torrent that forms the border between the two countries. After rising up through the sleepy village it isn't long before you enter the woods. The going is pretty straightforward and there isn't anywhere too steep. You pass a forest adventure park and the trail continues up. Before too long you reach a quiet road that rises to the village of Novel. This quaint little village is typically alpine and at nearly 1000 metres it offered good views back towards Lake Geneva. It also meant that I had already climbed 600 metres 👍. Ahead things opened up as the trail rose up through alpine pastures. Limestone peaks, soaring to over 2000 metres, were a delight, and of course the higher I got the better the view back also became. The trail rises to a point right beside the torrent where, several years ago I had crossed into Switzerland while on a short tour of the Chablais Alps. That time I had come from Thonon and climbed  Dent d'Oche before continuing all the way to Villeneuve.

Getting above the tree line

Nearing Chalets de Neuteu

I wouldn't have fancied crossing it today as it was is spate with snow-melt and snow had also filled the steep gully in places. Indeed it had come as something of a shock to see how much snow still lay on these relatively low mountains. It was clear that I would have to contend with a lot more as I progressed on the route. I continued on my way and the climbing gets steeper as you head for the Chalets du Neuteu. This collection of alpine huts is beautifully situated on a crest, with wonderful extensive views. There is a good water source and fine level places to pitch a tent. At 1700 metres it had already been a good climb, but it was only 19.15 and I had in my head doing a 4 hour shift on day one. so I continued on. There was lots of snow still covering the slopes above but I decided to continue as far as the nearby Lac de Neuteu. This meant another 100 metres of climbing but it wasn't long before I reached it. Immediately, I found a beautiful spot to pitch my tent which I couldn't pass up regardless of the time. It was just 19.45 so I could still enjoy a couple of hours daylight. I was thrilled to have found such a great spot. The views down to Lake Geneva was wonderful, while behind the small lake, snowfields reached up to the Col de Bise (1915 metres). This promised new adventures for tomorrow. Perhaps it was a good thing to have started that hour later because I fear I would have walked on by this place if I had arrived and hour earlier. Either way the fact is I enjoyed a beautiful couple of hours in my wonderful surroundings, watching the plentiful number of male Ibex that grazed nearby, before retiring to my bed at 22.00. A long peaceful sleep in beautiful alpine surroundings followed.

Day 1. 10 kilometres and 1400 metres ascent...3.5 hours

Nice spot for the first night

Tuesday June 18th;

I had needed a good sleep, and it was past 7am before I emerged from my tent to a glorious weather morning. Blue skies and no wind made for a very pleasurable breakfast. Even though I was at 1800 metres there wasn't a scintilla of dew on grass, or the tent, so everything packed up very nicely. I was on the move at 8 am.
A patch of flat grass was all I left behind

At Col de Bise

Looking down towards Refuge de Bise

Mont de Grange with Mont Blanc beyond

I almost immediately reached the first of the snow fields but thankfully progress was easy. The snow was firm enough that I didn't sink in too deep and there was no icy patches. Soon I reached the Col and wonderful new views spread out before me. Once I could drag my eyes down from the views that stretched as far as Mont Blanc, the next thing I noticed was how much less snow lay on this side of the Col. This was a bonus and the descent into the valley was therefore easy and rapid. At the bottom lay the Chalets and Refuge de Bise. My first cowbells of the trip resounded around the mountainsides as I headed for the little collection of alpages that clustered in the flat ground below.  It wasn't long before I reached them and started up towards the next col Pas de la Bosse at 1816 metres some 300 metres higher up. It was already quite warm even though it was just 8am and the mosquitoes were also wide awake and in a biting mood. I had been sampled a fair few times before I put on the insect repellent but thankfully this was the only time they attacked me on the whole trip. I reached the pass at 08.30 and then the long and easy descent all the way to La Chapelle d'Abóndance followed. Initially down through sunny meadows before reaching the woods and then emerging into the pretty alpine skiing resort. A wee rest here and a good draught of water and I set off on the next section of the trail.
Heading for Pas de la Bosse

First views of the Dents du Midi

In La Chapelle d'Abondance

 A kilometre or so on the road before a right turn saw me heading once again into the woods. It was certainly cooler in here, but I was climbing again, so things got hot. The long pull to the next pass entailed nearly 900 metres of ascent, but there then followed a delightful section where you traversed under the eastern flanks of Mont Grange. Next came a gentle drop to Lenlevay, and after following a dirt road gently downhill for a couple of kilometres, there was a final 100 metre climb to Col de Bassachaux at 1777 metres. I had already covered a nice bit of ground today and I started to turn my mind to finding somewhere to call home for the night. The GR traverses easily under the crest of the broad ridge until it reaches a farm and beyond passes under a ski lift. Not long after this I found a delightful spot for my tent and I called it a day.  It was just past 4pm so I was able to while away a lovely long afternoon and evening just chilling and basking in the warm sun and enjoy my surroundings.
Approaching the shoulder of Mont de Grange


Slightly menacing rain tho

Point de Chesery

Day 2...8.15 hours...27 kilometres...2150 metres climbing and 2100 metres descent.

Wednesday June 19th;

I didn't sleep as well as the night before, but I felt well rested nonetheless when I got up just after 5am. I was wide awake so there didn't seem to be much point in staying abed any longer. And why would you want to as it was such a beautiful weather morning. Mind you, the forecast was for things to deteriorate in the afternoon, so an early start seemed like a good idea anyway. I was fed and packed and on the move again for 6am. Today I had something of a quandary as I was entering Switzerland for a while before coming out at Col de Coux. I then hoped to get as far as the town of Samoens. My problem was, I didn't have a map for the Swiss section, or the section from the col to Samoens, so my timings and calculations were entirely based on guesswork. As I had camped at over 1800 metres, it was a very gentle start to the day to reach my first goal Col de Chessery 1995 mtrs. This I reached by 7am. Plenty of snow lay about and Lac Vert, which lay just beyond the delightfully quaint Refuge de Chessary, was almost entirely covered in snow. A dirt road led around the lake and up to the next pass Portes de l'Hiver which lay at 2096mtrs. It was probably the easiest 300 metres I gained in the whole trip.  Here the stunningly beautiful massif of the Dents de Midi was in full display across the deep wide valley. It is simply gorgeous. It is definitely one of my favourite massifs in the Alps. When I could tear my eyes back to the trail, it too was a delight. An easy descent to 1850 metres to a collection of chalets and small "fromageries" followed. Then the trail went on a long traverse on a quiet lane that took you all the way to the valleys end below Col de Coux. After passing a small dairy where the dozen or so cows were just being returned to pasture after milking, the trail drops down to the final farmstead at 1645 metres. This leaves just 274 metres of climbing to reach the col. It was still only 10.30am when I arrived at this wonderful viewpoint.
Easy walking

A mostly frozen Lac Verte
What a view The Dents du Midi .Le Tour Saliere and Mont Ruan

Col de Coux a long way ahead

Rucksack in no mans land..Switzerland on the left and France on the right.

Okay, so that was the Swiss section over with, now all I had to do was get to Samoens. The weather was showing no signs of deteriorating and it was again quite warm in the sun. From the col you drop down to 1400 metres before the next climb takes you to Col de la Golése at just over 1600 metres. There is a refuge nearby but it was still early (just 11am) and as I had just seen a sign that said Samoens was just three hours away I was confident I could reach it even if the weather turned bad. The Dents du Midi had been left behind but the new star of the show was the impressive rock walls of Les Dents Blanches. The going was super easy as the trail followed a dirt road for several kilometres. The dirt road eventually morphed into a tarred one and the heat increased as I got lower. Now, normally I get a bit pissed off if I have to spend too much time on tarmac, but the joy of the flower filled meadows which teemed with life and birdsong, the chirping of crickets and profusions of butterflies,  was simply intoxicating. Shortly before I entered the town of Samoens the trail cut between two lush high meadows and ran alongside a dry stone wall. Suddenly there was this commotion to my left and I was startled by two animals heading rapidly for me through the waist high meadow. My alarm (I initially thought they were dogs) turned to delight as I saw they were two roe deer. At about 5 metres from me they spotted me and the small stag veered away and jumped over the wall before stopping about 30 metres away to wait for his companion. She had instead retreated back whence she came and after several seconds pause he continued up the meadow. It had been a wonderful few moments.
Looking towards Col de la Golese

At col

Warm sunny

Entering the lovely Les Allamandes

A parapunter dwarfed by the landscape...what could be more alpine

Soon I entered the town and then I had to walk about another kilometre to reach the campsite. It was just 13.30 and the office was closed until 14.00 but it was no hardship to relax in the comfy chairs and wait in the shade for a while. I had my tent up and was brewing some tea by 14.30. After a suitable rest I went and explored the very pretty town and got myself some food supplies for the next few days. The sun baked down right into the evening and of the poor weather there was no sign. It had been a very good day.
Day 3...26 kilometres...930 metres climbing...2080 descent in 7.5 hours.

Wonderful views in Samoens

Nicely filled 😁

Thursday June 20th;

The sun was hidden behind a veil of cloud this morning. I got up at 7am and it was still dry, but it didn't stay that way for long. Things were a little damp by the time I left at 07.45. It was certainly not cold so I just put my lightweight rain gear on over the shorts and T shirt. It was only light rain and the trail initially ran alongside the powerful river all the way to the next village, Sixt, some five kilometres away. It was a nice atmospheric start to the day, and it got more interesting, when, after crossing the river, it thundered through a super narrow cleft of rock. Suddenly the trail climbed and entered an old dry river gorge. This was an enchanting place and a lovely bonus on the day. After exiting the gorge the trail climbed steeply for a short while before descending back to the river near Sixt. Now the nature of the outing changed again. The river was left behind and the trail followed a forest road and rose gently up into the woods. My solitary outing was also left behind and there was a surprisingly large number of people on the trail. One group were fascinated by some paw prints in the mud that looked possibly like Lynx tracks. Height was only very slowly being gained until finally the trail cut a more direct line up through the woods. It crossed the road that chicaned up the mountainside several times until it reached a large spectacular thunderous waterfall(Cascade du Rouget), the spray from which was the wettest part of the day.
A big river in a small place

Gorges des Tines

Still magical as I approached Sixt

The thunderous Cascade du rouget

After this a more normal trail followed and reached another lovely waterfall (Cascade de Sauffaz). By now blue skies were appearing and the waterproofs were able to be packed away for the rest of the day. There is always something lovely about a day that starts off gloomy and then clears to reveal the majesty of the mountains that surround you. My spirits matched the temperature and soared. By the time I reached Collet d'Anterne at 1790 metres it was another glorious weather day. Easy walking followed as the trail continued to the quaint Refuge d'Anterne. The wall of rock that stretched from Point d'Anterne (2733mtrs) to Point de Sales (2495mtrs) and formed the right hand abutment of the valley was huge, beautiful and more than a little awe inspiring. I stopped for a short rest here and soaked up the sun and the view before setting off on the next section. First up was getting across the swollen stream that the path crossed not far beyond the refuge. The bridge was missing so a little care was needed to cross. After this the track rises steeply up the hillside for 300 metres until you reach the crest and head for Lac d'Anterne, which was nestled in a snow filled basin. The snow covered lake and snow covered ground that rose to Col d'Anterne (2257mtrs), coupled with the impressive rock wall that filled the sky to the right, made it a very impressive alpine sight indeed.

Point de Sales and Col d'Anterne beyond

Clearing up nicely...looking down on Chalets d'Anterne

Reaching the snowline

Lac d'Anterne with the col beyond. I went on the right hand side

 Here in the snow covered ground, the way ahead wasn't clear, and I didn't know which side of the lake to take to reach the col. I opted for the right hand side (which wasn't the correct side) and this added maybe fifty metres extra climbing as I negotiated the many knolls that barred the way. It also added a little distance, as the lake stretched further to the right than I initially thought and I was quite relieved to find that the lake outlet was easily crossed by a "pont naturalle". I guess having a decent map would have been a good idea. All went well, and I soon reached the col. I could see the Refuge de Moede Anterne wasn't too far away and it was just a couple of hundred metres lower down. I resolved to stay there for the night. I soon reached the old fashioned but nice refuge and I was quickly sorted out with a bed. A shower and a change of clothes restored me and a very nice relaxing evening followed. I met a few other guys that were doing the GR5 and a nice atmosphere built up as the refuge gathered perhaps another twenty souls who stayed the night. I went out to take some pictures before dinner and suddenly the clouds beyond the Aiguilles Rouges parted and I got glimpses of the Aiguille de Midi and Tacul looking huge and wonderful. It came as something of a shock. One doesn't expect to see other mountains soaring skyward when you are already in a valley with big mountains all around. It really showed the scale of these ice clad giants. Anyway the rain returned after dinner and some rumbles of thunder growled and I was glad I had opted to stay in the refuge instead of bivouacking nearby as some others did. As an aside, those guys couldn't have picked a more uneven spot to pitch their tents. It must have been impossible to avoid sliding down to the tent walls in the night.
Day 4...21 kilometres...1900 metres ascent...670 metres descent...7 hours 45 mins.
Aiguille du Midi appears briefly

Some wall of rock

Getting near Refuge de Moede Anterne

Friday June 21st;

The rain had cleared up this morning but it was certainly not a blue sky day. I left the rain gear in the top of the rucksack and set off on the next leg of the journey.
I had intended to get what maps I needed for the next sections of the hike in Les Houches but one of the guys I met the previous evening showed me an app which he was using. This contained the IGN maps of France. It was called iPhiGéNie. I had downloaded it last night and I must say I was mightily impressed. Not only did it show a detailed map and have the trails marked but it also showed your exact location so you could see at a glance if you were actually on the correct trail. I used it for the remainder of the trip and it proved to be invaluable. 
Nearing Pont d'Arleve. The trail can be seen rising up the far hillside

The day starts nice and easy. The trail descends past the Chalets de Moede into the back of the deep valley until you reach the bridge that crosses the river at the 1600 metre contour. Next comes the long pull that heads for Col de Brevent which  was some 650 metres higher up. The trail contours up and across the slope so the going is actually quite easy. I was moving well and enjoying the day and the threat of rain seemed to be receding. At around the 2000metre contour the snow fields make an appearance once again and by the time the col came into view things were looking very alpine. The way ahead was now entirely on snow and I passed some people who were putting on crampons. To be fair even if I was carrying them I wouldn't have put them on as the snow was taking a good step and there was nowhere that the slopes were steeper than 40 degrees. The track cut left and right up the main slope but I just went straight up and it was quick and easy. What I thought was the col proved to be a gap some two hundred metres before, and fifty metres below, the actual col. Once I reached the col the track traversed to the right and headed for the Brevent peak itself. Once I reached the final slopes to the summit the trail heads further to the right and begins its descent towards Les Houches. I began to climb the final 40 metres to the summit but when I saw that it was also the top of the lift and held a large crowded viewing platform I decided it wasn't for me and turned instead and began the long descent.

Heading for the col

Back down the snow slope

Heading for Brevent

Finally a view to the "big boys"

The going was now mainly snow free once the southerly aspect was reached. The trail was also much busier, filled with the people that had used the lift from the Chamonix valley to Brevent, and of course, I was now also on the Tour the Mont Blanc. I stopped for a bite to eat once I reached a water source and enjoyed the view down to the valley floor far far below. The trail drops steeply down the mountainside and entered the woods. The giants across the valley kept their heads in the clouds but it was spectacular nonetheless. Once in the trees, the trail zig zagged relentlessly downwards and it takes a long time for the town to appear any nearer. I guess when you are dropping from nearly 2500 metres to just 1000 metres then it is going to take some time. I was delighted with how my body was coping though, and I revelled in the fact that I was injury free. Eventually I reached the road before the train station and I set off in search of somewhere to stay. Now I had usually stayed up near Argentiere when I camped in this area but Google maps told me there was a campsite on the far side of the town near Bellevue, so I headed for that. I passed a gite in the middle of the town and was briefly tempted, but I pushed on. To say that I was disappointed to find that no such campsite existed when I got there would be an understatement. Left with little choice, I returned to the town centre and checked into the Gite Michel Fagot. This was very pleasant and very full with the hoards doing the Tour de Mont Blanc. Not long after I settled in, the rain returned with some vigour and continued on and off into the night.
Day 5...20 kilometres...1300 metres ascent...2250 metres descent in 6 hours 45 minutes  (not including the search for the campsite)

Saturday June 22nd;

After breakfast in the hostel I was out and on my way by 07.10am. It was dry but the air was pregnant still with moisture and wispy clouds shrouded some of the lower slopes. Rain and storms were forecast for the afternoon so I was anxious to get a good effort done before that arrived. On the plus side the weather was to settle down completely for the next week and warnings of a heatwave flashed red on the websites. It was quite humid and still this morning and promised to be warm as the sun got higher. I soon exited the town and the trail rose up through the the woods initially and then on quiet roadways. Finally at La Friaz, it followed a steep piste road that led all the way to Col de Voza (1657mtrs). I was feeling good and moving well and I reached the col at 08.35. Now I had a choice to make. I could go up to Bellevue lift station and from there descend before climbing to Col de Tricot and reach the Chalets du Miage that way. Or, I could descend to the village of Bionassay and make a traverse around the western spur of the gorgeous Bionassay mountain and reach the Chalets that way. As I had never been down the latter way I opted for that. 
Leaving the Chamonix Valley

Approaching Col de Vosa and what a sight that is

Nearing the village of Bionassay

The views in the other direction weren't bad either

If I had thought there was little or no climbing on this route then I was somewhat mistaken. After dropping down through the tiny village the trail climbs steeply for 100 metres after passing over the river before an easy gradual descent to reach the delightful Le Champery that is situated in lovely meadows and enjoys sumptuous views to the busy valley and of course the mountains beyond. From here begins a long enjoyable rising traverse all the way to the Chalets. Bionassay loomed majestic above and the Domes de Miages formed an impressive mountain wall straight ahead as I headed deeper into the valley. I cast my mind back to over 10 years before when we had done a traverse of the Domes and enjoyed a torrid scary descent down the steep icy slopes from the Durier Refuge, before enjoying a well deserved beer at the Chalets. Today there was no adrenaline rush to get over, and I was really enjoying myself as I reached the refuge. I stopped for a bite to eat just beyond this busy spot and then climbed the 200mtrs to reach Chalets du Truc. Clouds had thickened again up around the summits, and I feared that the storms could arrive quite early so I pressed on to the village of Les Contamines-Montjoie. I briefly toyed with the idea of staying in the nearby campsite but it was still early so I continued on. A long almost flat section followed until I reached the pretty church Notre Dame de la Gorge. Now the trail climbs steeply up a stony rocky (old Roman) road that is used by the people up in the valley beyond. I met a quite elderly lady driving down towards me in a small battered 4x4. I'm sure my nerves would be singing if I was trying to drive down there. At one point there was a bridge over a raging torrent as it crashed through a narrow cleft in the rock. A viewing platform was situated right over the middle of this and was exciting and a little disconcerting. The refuge Nant Borrat came next an then after another climb I emerged into open ground with the beautiful valley stretched before me and the shapely Aiguilles de la Pennaz filling the sky beyond. I was feeling good, and it was still early. I had intended getting as far as the bivouac spot by the Refuge de Balme (at least) which was not too far ahead, but I could also see that the cloud build up was continuing and rain had started in the mountains. Fearing that the storms were imminent I decided to turn towards the nearby bivouac site and pitch my tent there. I just climbed into it as the rain arrived. I don't know if I was relieved or annoyed when the expected bad weather never materialised and by evening it was mostly clear skies. My little campsite became crowded by the evening by groups doing "the tour" but to be fair when darkness arrived they were quiet as mice. I slept well.
Nearing Chalets de Miages

Bionassay looking mighty

Don't fall in

Storms a comin

Definitely not

Day 6...21 kilometres...1550 metres ascent...1050 down...

Sunday June 23rd;

Hot weather was forecast to arrive today and stay for the duration of my trip so I was hoping to make up for cutting things short yesterday by having a longer day today . I was awake early so I got up just after 5am and was on the move at 6am. It took just half an hour to reach Refuge de Balme and I saw that the campsite there was much less crowded than below but that was history and today was brand new. After a climb you reach the Plan Jovet where plenty more bivouac sites could be found. Next comes the long pull up to Col du Bonhomme which at 2329 metres was predictably under snow. The climb up to it didn't present any problems with the snow being neither too hard or soft. It was lovely to relax a while and enjoy my surroundings and of course the views into all directions were wonderful. Next up came the rising traverse towards Col de la Croix du Bonhomme where the high point reached 2479 metres. This was still in the shade of the mountain and it came as no surprise to find that here the snow was quite icy. The track was at times narrow and the drops to the right quite steep and long. A couple of times I would have liked the security of crampons but with a little care it wasn't too bad and I soon was on the short slope down to the large refuge at the Col.
Col de Bonhomme

A brief stop here for some water and then I set off towards the Refuge du Plan de la Lai. First up was the crossing of the Crete des Gittes. This narrow crest rose to 2538 metres and the steep slope on the northern flanks were covered in snow. Thankfully it was possible to avoid these steep slopes by sticking to the narrow crest of the ridge. This made for exhilarating but safe passage as far as Col de la Sauce. The views back to Mont Blanc from this crest were wonderful. After the crest the going was easy and the trail left the snow behind and descended into green pastures once again. It then headed for a busy mountain road and the busy parking area near a refuge. When I reached it I wasted no time before heading onwards and leaving the noise and bustle behind. Lots of people were out and about enjoying the glorious sunshine with scenery to match. I stopped for lunch once I reached a relatively quiet spot and then re-joined the many who were heading up to one or other of various viewpoints ahead. It was a relief to once again find solitude after I passed Le Grand Berg.

The Crete des Gittes

Mont Blanc reigns supreme
Now the trail entered a new valley with multiple cascades at its end. Beyond them, the climb to the next pass, Col du Bresson (2469metres) began. It was a very pleasant trip into the back of the deep valley and at the lowest point of the trail was still up at 1800 metres. This still left nearly 700 metres of climbing to reach the pass, so I pressed on. The trail rises steeply until you have to ford the swollen torrents above the cascades. It was then easy for a bit before it turned and climbed in up into the snow covered, wild alpine ground above. In the heat the going was at times tough but finally I reached the col. A steep snow slope allowed quick access to the next valley, and before too long I was down and on the rough trail that headed to another Refuge de la Balme. I was enchanted by the beauty I was surrounded by and also delighted at how fit and well I felt. I had already covered a fair old distance by now, but the day was still relatively young, so I passed by the Refuge and continued my descent.
Easy going on a dirt road made reaching the farm in the valley and easy task. Any thoughts I might have had of camping there were vanquished when the large numbers of grazing cattle became evident. I knew by now that reaching Landry at the bottom of the Isere valley would perhaps be a stretch too far, so I decided that Valezan would be the target for today. After the farmstead the trail contoured through the woods along an old aqueduct so the going was easy. I kept an eye out for somewhere to camp, but in the end I decided to go all the way to the village. Before I got there I did a search online for somewhere to stay. I booked into an Auberge so I was all set. The meadows, hundreds of hectares of them, that flanked the trail were perhaps the most beautiful I have seen. Despite my growing fatigue it was joyous to walk through them. It isn't just the flowers but it is all that goes with them. The insects, butterfly's and birds that surrounded me lifted the spirit and yet I mourned the loss of these habitats at home.
To Refuge Plan de la Lai..The way ahead is up and around the shoulder beyond

Tiz a bit hot ladies

A subterranean river with fissures...Wouldn't it make for an interesting walk when snow covered??

Dr Who What?

Heading for Col du Bresson

Wonderful and wild near the col

Down by refuge de Balme

 I quickly found the Auberge after entering the village and it was bang on 5pm when I arrived. The elderly woman had very little English to match my very little French but I managed to convey that I had a reservation. She also informed me that there was a Gite so I opted for that. There was a restaurant there as well so I decided to take demi pension.  I had the dormitory to myself and the shower was excellent. While waiting for dinner another hiker arrived into the room looking overheated and tired. Himself and his wife returned for dinner shortly afterwards. They hailed from Denmark and he was doing the full distance of the Gr5 all the way to Nice. They made for excellent company over the excellent dinner and a couple of beers. We were all tired so it was early to bed.

View from the Gite..hard to believe the valley floor is over 400 metres lower.

Day 7...36 kilometres...2400 metres ascent...2750 down...11 hours.

Monday June 24th;

Crusty fresh bread, croissants, good coffee and preserves were served for breakfast which was enjoyed outside on the terrace. All was wonderful. I would return in a heartbeat and stay in the excellent accommodation.
It had been a good decision to stop at Valezan as it took me an hour and a half to reach Landry. As I hadn't started until 8.10, it was already quite hot by the time I reached the valley floor at just over 700 metres. A walk on the road up through the village follows before you are once again swallowed by the woods and climb upwards. A few hundred metres is gained fairly quickly before a level traverse into the village of Le Villaret. Next up comes the village of Le Moulin where you cross the torrent and climb steadily until you reach open ground in the hamlet of Les Lanches. The trail goes a little left here and runs easily through sweeping meadows to reach a parking and picnic area at Refuge de Rousel. Up here you are at 1555 metres so, though the going had been gradual and easy, you have still climbed over 800 metres above Landry. The mountains ahead and on the left rise to over 3500 metres and judging by the apparent popularity of the area it is a hotspot for climbing in both summer and winter.
Leaving Landry

Some wonderful winter climbing??

Three impressive waterfalls adorn the cliffs on the left and I guess that in the winter some serious ice climbing could be had. There was a temporary diversion on the Gr here as I was directed off to the left along a farm road for a kilometre until a track turned right and climbed up the slope to re-join the main trail again. Now the trail rises up through scrubby ground until it crests a rocky bluff at the narrowest point in the valley at 1916 metres. It then entered a higher valley that stretched far far ahead. It emphasized just how big these mountains are, as this valley was large and wide, yet it didn't start until you had climbed 1200 metres from the bottom of the previous one. This valley offered mostly easy walking, and for the next few kilometres height is gained very gradually. The trail sticks to the right hand side, until, after a short climb, you reach the private hut Cabane de Mindieres at 2224 metres. Below and beyond the lake the Refuge Entre la Lac could be seen but I was determined to try and find somewhere to camp. I continued on up until I was level with a small lake at point 2328 metres and here, where the pastures were mostly free from snow I found a quiet spot for my tent. It was sunny and warm and even though it was still quite early this place was just too good to pass up. I had some tea and set about the onerous task of relaxing for the rest of the evening.
Towards Refuge Entré de la Lac

What you doin on my patch?

I wasn't there too long before I spotted a marmot just a few feet beyond the tent. Normally these cuddly creatures are retiring and shy but this fella was very curious indeed. After a few seconds he came right up to me as if to say what are you doing in my patch?. He then decided that he was going to investigate the inside of my tent, at which point I had to intervene. A herbivore he might be but those incisors would make short work of anything that took his fancy. Mind you he took a bit of persuading to go away from the tent and was completely fearless. Eventually after much waving of walking poles, stamping and generally threatening behaviour, he ran to his burrow which was only twenty metres away. He stayed inside for all of 20 seconds before he re-emerged and headed straight back for the tent. More rushing and stamping etc made him retreat, but once again he returned. When I chased him away the next time I covered over the burrow with a stone. A few seconds later he popped up from another one which I duly covered. I had to cover another just a few minutes after. That seemed to do the trick and I didn't see him for the rest of the evening. Needless to say, I removed the stones in the morning.

Day 8...23 kilometres...2150 metres ascent...1000 metres down...7 hours

Tuesday June 25th;

It was a quiet night and I had slept very well. I emerged into another blue sky morning and after breakfast I was on the move at a leisurely 8am. I wasn't in any great hurry today as I just planned to go as far as Val d'Isere, so it promised not to be too taxing. The landscape in the crisp morning light looked amazing and initially the going was easy so it was a pleasure to gaze all about. It was already warm and promised to be hotter as the day went on when I returned to lower altitudes. Before that happened I had to cross Col du Palet which at 2652 metres would be the highest pass of the trip so far. I soon reached the snow line and a short while later I reached the pretty basin where the frozen lake nestled under the Refuge du Col du Palet . I stopped there for a quick nosey before climbing to the nearby col. What a beautiful spot it was on this warm sunny morning. It was still quite early so I relaxed a while before heading down towards the ski resorts of Tignes le Lac and Val Claret. I might as well get the rant over with early. The ski industry is of course hugely important to these areas but for me it is a blight on the landscape. Lifts criss crossed the slopes and access roads stretched upwards to the highest reaches. During the season when all is covered with a pristine blanket of snow then perhaps things look wonderful but now they are just plain ugly. I know I'm being selfish and that the Alps are far from a wilderness but that is how I feel about it.
Not bad to wake up to

Lac du Grattaleu

Anyway back to the journey. After an easy descent on mostly snow free trails the ski resorts come into view. Their scale emphasized once again how big an industry it is and I guess in its own way it made for a spectacular sight. It was an easy thing though to raise the eyes and delight instead at the spectacular peaks of the snow and ice capped giants that soared above the valley and formed the border between France and Italy. I eventually reached the concrete jungle and wasted no time in making my way out of it. Even though I was still up at 2100 metres it was hot in the baking sun. If I had thought it was all downhill from the col then I got a rude awakening on the town edge. A climb of almost 200mtrs got the blood pumping and soon I  left the resorts behind and I reached a wide alpine shoulder that offered delightful walking. I could imagine going for a hill run here sometime. I made a short detour to a viewing point and cross where there was a wonderful view down to the Lac de Chevril and in the distance the Mont Blanc massif stood imperiously. The undoubted queen of the Alps. After crossing the beautiful grassy shoulder the trail enters the woods and drops swiftly to the large ski town of Val d'Isere. It was very warm when I finally reached it. I was heading to the campsite on the far side of town so I skirted most of it until I exited the other end and found the small but perfectly formed campsite. I arrived at 1pm, and when I saw that the office was closed until 5pm, I reckoned I would have a long wait. I went and sat in the shade of a nearby tree and settled in to wait. Within a few minutes after friendly lady arrived and checked me in so I soon had my tent up and was enjoying a refreshing shower. A little later I went to explore the town and my disenchantment was only reinforced by the collection of huge faux chalets and apartments,  the usual collection of sports shops where everything was overpriced and groceries that matched Norway prices. I didn't linger and returned to the campsite and enjoyed a quiet , pleasant evening.

Day 9...17 kilometres...600 metres ascent...1100 metres down...6 hours

There she is again...head and shoulders above the rest

Val d'Isere

Wednesday June 26th;

Another stunning blue sky morning greeted me. A fella could get used to this. Packing up a crispy dry tent I re-joined the nearby GR. Today would take me over the highest pass of the GR 5, the Col de l'Iseran at 2762 metres.
Where does the time go. Day 10 already and now so close to the end of the journey. I was delighted that I was coping so well with the demands of the trail. I think I am finally getting the balance between comfort, supplies, and the weight I carry right. I know I had an easy day yesterday, but I feel that I could have stretched several of the days out by an hour or two. I was still pleased with the progress I'd made. The objective today was to reach the village of Bessans, where there was another campsite.


For some reason I was fascinated by the ridge on the right

Easy going to the col

The trail started to climb pretty much straight away and soon decent height gain was achieved. The views back towards the town were nice, but I wasn't sorry to be seeing the back of it. I hoped that the next section would prove nicer. Up up the trail went and soon I was back in open alpine scenery, where to my disappointment, much more ski infrastructure was to the fore. Add to this the fact that a road was also heading for the pass meant that wilderness feeling was decidedly absent. After the initial steep climb where you gain 500mtrs, things became more gradual when I crossed the road and the undulating slopes head for the distant col. This was for me the least enjoyable section of the whole trip because I guess I hadn't expected that the highest pass would be the most developed. When I arrived at the busy col it was still a delight to see vistas new and the scenery was amazing. After a short rest I once again followed the trail as it descended through snow and meadow towards a narrow gap where a bridge crossed over the river. The descent was fine except for one place where I had to cross a snow field that dropped steeply towards the road below. It came as something of a surprise to find that it was very firm and several firm kicks were required to make a step. I was relieved to reach better ground beyond.

New vistas open

I was able to drop to the trail just around the corner

As I neared the bridge the trail disappeared under snow, so I decided to walk on the road. When I reached the aptly named Pont de la Neige I could see the track approached the river some 50 metres beyond the bridge, but a big snow bridge covered the river which hid any footbridge, and I didn't fancy trusting my life to the snow over the swollen raging torrent. I stuck to the road and hoped that I would find somewhere that I could drop down to the trail, which was visible further down. It wasn't looking good for a while, as the drop was initially precipitous, but after a kilometre or so an opportunity presented itself and soon I was back on track...literally 😀. This section was lovely as it descended by the cascading river and this made the intrusion of the road less obvious. After reaching le Cueigne at 2142mtrs, the trail turned right and followed a farm track gently up and around the shoulder of the hillside. The views to the peaks of the Alberon group across the valley were wonderful. When I reached the shoulder I went across to a nearby knoll where I sat for a while and enjoyed a bite to eat. My navigational app proved invaluable after this as the correct track was fairly hard to find but the positioning arrow on the map soon had me right.
A thunderous river

Anyone got a flathead screwdriver??

One of several deep valleys


A bit different

If I thought all I had left to do was just a simple descent to the valley below then I was mistaken. The delightful trail traversed the mountain, going up and down and contouring in to several deep valleys that cut the hillside. In each of these, swollen streams raced down. At the last of these the footbridge had been swept away and judging by the deep groove cut into the ground it was probably done by an avalanche during the spring. Unfortunately it was also the biggest of the streams and it gave me some pause before I attempted to cross. I found a spot a little way below the trail and I was very glad to have my sticks to help balance as I stepped from submerged stone to stone. I breathed a sigh of relief once across then climbed the loose almost vertical far bank. It had been "entertaining". Not far beyond this the trail finally started its winding descent until I finally reached the valley floor at the sleepy hamlet at le Villaron. Wow it was warm, even though I was still above 1700 metres. How hot it must have been down in the lowlands. I walked alongside the river until a footbridge finally gave access to the village of Bessans. It too slumbered in the heat. I found the tourist office and asked if there was a gite or similar nearby. In the heat I didn't fancy walking the extra couple of kilometres to the campsite. She said that the gite was closed but the nearby Vanois hotel was reasonably priced, so I decided to stay there. The room was basic but good and blessedly cool. It even had a bath which I wasted no time in putting to good use. Once I was restored, I ventured up town to top up my supplies and then returned to my nice cool room which I didn't leave until the following morning.

Day 10...22 kilometres...1500 metres ascent...1650 down...8 hours

Thursday June 27th;

After an excellent breakfast in the company of a large group of Dutch pensioners I was once again underway by 07.30am. It had been 31 degrees in the village yesterday and today promised to be just as warm. Initially, the going is easy, and the first few kilometres is a stroll along near the river until, after a short few steps on the road it climbs to Col de Madelaine. From here the climbing begins and a swift 400 metres are gained. A long undulating traverse follows, where the going is never too hard. I stopped for a drink at the Refuge du Vallonbrun, where the friendly super helpful guardian showed me where another footbridge was missing and where I could cross down below the trail. A similar pattern to yesterday ensued, as the trail contoured along the mountainside, entering deep recesses and crossing shoulders. It was entertaining and I found it not too taxing. Perhaps it was because I had 10 mountain days behind me and I had gained fitness and strength. Whatever the reason, all I knew was that I was enjoying myself immensely. Eventually I reached the unmanned Refuge du Cuchet and shortly afterwards that awkward crossing I had been warned about. I found the way across and after that the trail dropped gently and re-entered the woods.

The unmanned Refuge du Cuchet

A steep climb up out of the woods and onto the crest of the spur at La Turra de Termignon saw the trail turn north and enter a new valley. I was now heading for the as yet unseen Refuge du Plan du Lac where I hoped to stay the night. The next few kilometres were easy as the trail contoured around the huge valley until finally after passing a few alpages it reached the road that cut through the narrow gap into the next valley. Now another little climb followed before easy walking past a small lake saw me arrive at the beautifully situated refuge. I settled in having just booked bed and breakfast as I carried enough for dinner. New mountain scenery lay revealed in true alpine splendour and later, as the sun was setting I sat alone outside on the terrace, enjoyed the view and listened to competing skylarks. I felt fortunate indeed.

Refuge Plan de la Lac

Day 11...26 kilometres...1700 metres ascent...1100 down...8 hours 30 minutes

Friday June 28th;

The penultimate day already, where does the time go?.
I was out from the refuge and on the move again at just after 7am. It was another stunning crystal clear morning.
Looking at the map, looked like it was just a matter of going in one side of a valley and coming back the other side. I had done one side so to be truthful I wasn't expecting a great deal from today. I couldn't have been more wrong.
First up after leaving the refuge you continue north and drop some 300 metres into the deep heart of the mountains to the junction of three valleys. Here the highest mountain of the Vanoise, the Grande Casse (3855 metres) looked huge and despite there being a small road here the area had a remote wild feel. At the lowest point you cross the river and climb up through pastures until after you reach 2300 metres you reach a large plateau that has a real high alpine feel to it. Here moraines sweep down from the glacier clad peaks above. Snow covered small lakes and large snowfields only added to the high alpine feel to the trail. On the right was the rocky face of Monte Pelve 3312mtrs and ahead the icy domes of Dome de Chasseforet 3586mtrs, Dome des Nants 3562 metres and Dome de l'Arpont 3599mtrs made a super alpine backdrop. Beyond this the rocky peak of La Dent Parrachee 3695mtrs formed the final peak of this side of the valley and around this todays route ultimately went. It was another world and one of the best sections of trail of the whole trip. After reaching a height over 2500 metres the most difficult section of the trail is left behind and easier ground follows for a while.

What a morning..the Grande Casse

Entering a new alpine landscape

Then the wide plateau is left behind and you are suddenly contouring steep ground where the drops to the left at long and required some concentration, especially where the trail held snow. Next came the rather palatial Refuge de l'Arpont, which more resembled a spa than a mountain refuge, with its large roof deck where people were basking in the warm sun. I had been on the move for over four hours by now so I had a bite to eat and a good drink of water before setting off on the next leg. You gradually lose height from the refuge until after rounding a shoulder you head back into a rocky coum where another climb is needed to get above some cliffs. After this more height is gradually gained until you are back over 2300 metres again. Ultimately you almost reach the 2500 metre mark as you continue to traverse the slopes of this large and complex mountain. Each time you round a shoulder you are treated to new facets of the peak. Eventually, after you round the shoulder of Pointe de Bellecote 3140 metres the nature of the trail changes somewhat. Here the ground is rockier and it is a crumbly yellowish type. Above the Roc De Corneilles an eagle soared and I paused a while to enjoy the sight. You lose around 100 metres as you round the shoulder of the roc and a crumbly path cuts into the riven rockscape, before you emerge onto pastures again. The trail then heads towards the chairlift near Hotel/Refuge de Montana. I thought about staying there but opted instead to continue, around yet another shoulder, and head towards Refuge de Plan Sec which wasn't too far away. En-route I kept an eye out for a good campsite but it was all overlooked by one building or other so I decided to stay at the refuge. The refuge is situated at just over 2300metres and has lovely views down to the lakes below . Across the valley the mountains rose to over 3000 metres. I arrived at 15.50 so I had lots of time to relax and enjoy the excellent facilities of this slightly quirky refuge. I just booked a bed for the night as I was determined to use up the last of the food I carried. The bag would be at its lightest tomorrow 😀.

Day 12...29 kilometres...1750 metres ascent...1820 metres down..8 hours 50 minutes

Fuselage rock

A truly enormous scree field

Refuge de Plan Sec

Saturday June 29th;

Another beautiful weather day greeted me as I set off on the final leg of this trip at 07.15. I knew that today wasn't going to be too long but I was still keen to allow plenty of time so as to avoid any unnecessary stress. I was heading to the town of Modane, from where I could catch a train to Geneva, before my return home, first thing on Sunday morning. As luck would have it, the app that I had been using had stopped working, as apparently me free seven day trial was up. It didn't matter though as I had bought a map of the Vanoise national park while I was in Bessans, so I sorted for today. I set off into the valley and after a short while I reached a junction in the path. I followed the one that led to Refuge de la Dent Parrachee, which was a couple of hundred metres higher up. When I reached the refuge I realized that I was after going off trail, so I dropped down to the valley floor. I followed the trail that lay there and I soon re-joined the main route. I guess the app would have been handy today after all 😏.
Another stunning morning

It had added a couple of kilometres and 200 metres to the day, but as I said, I had plenty of time and today wouldn't be too taxing anyway. After crossing the river the trail climbs over 200 metres as it heads towards the wild ground under Col de la Masse. At a junction of trails at 2400 metres the trail contours first southeast and then south above the twin turquoise reservoirs and offered a great chance to enjoy the vast array of peaks that form the border between Italy and France. Some cloud rolled in over some of the passes from Italy, but on this side it was blue skies all the way.  It was easy and wonderful going all the way to Col du Barbier. I climbed up to the top of the wide knoll on the left and from here I got a fine view of the Ecrin mountains and also my first look at journeys end, Modane. After this the trail continues to contour the slopes of La Rateau de Aussois before gently dropping into the woods as it heads for the next refuge at Orgére. It was warm again and I was glad of the shade of the woods. A short climb after reaching some chalets, where people were enjoying a nice al fresco weekend party, saw me reach the Refuge de l'Orgére. Here at just over 1900 metres , the refuge was a beautiful haven set in glorious meadows, and when you could raise your eyes from the flowers, the sight of 3000 metre peaks soaring behind was inspiring as well. Perhaps it was because I knew that soon I would be leaving all this behind but I felt a reluctance to leave this lovely spot but I eventually turned and re-entered the woods and headed down.

The descent was pretty swift and easy, and an hour later I was entering Modane. It was really warm now that I was down at just over 1000 metres. Modane itself is one of the most charmless French towns I have ever seen and I saw nothing there to attract me back. After a pit stop in the local supermarket, I continued on for the 1.5 kilometres to the train station where I caught a train as far as Chambery. At Chambery I had a three hour wait until my connection to Geneva so when I alighted I went for a bite to eat in the town. My goodness the wave of heat that hit me as I left the station was shocking. I learned something that day...I do not like 40 degree heat. It is draining. Thankfully the train when it arrived was cool and before long I was alighting in the clean streets of Geneva. Normally when I have a early flight I stay in the airport but in the heat I decided to stay in a hotel.
First view of Modane with the Ecrins beyond

Day 13...19 kilometres...800 metres climbing...1850 metres descent...6 hours

So, after 13 days (or 12.5 since day one was so short) I had covered approx 320 kilometres and climbed over 20000 metres. It had been a wonderful experience and confirmed my deep love for long distance hiking. 


They say a lot can happen in a few years and boy are they right. Little did I imagine that when I did the first half of the GR 5 in June 2019, that a world wide pandemic would happen, and that it would take until 2022 before things returned to something approaching normal.

As someone who used to go on several trips a year, this trip would be my first in over thirty months. It's fair to say that I had gotten over the travel bug and I was finding it hard to motivate myself. Things weren't helped by contracting COVID (for the first time) just a month before departure. I was okay but the effects were still lingering as I left. 

So, on the 15th of October I headed for Dublin for an afternoon flight to Geneva. My hope was to follow the GR 5  from Modane and get as close as possible to Nice in the 12 days I had available to me. I wasn't overly confident as I hadn't been very active over the previous couple of months and I had put on a bit of extra poundage. Ah well, I would give it a go. My lack of travel practice became evident when I boarded the wrong train in Geneva and wasn't able to reach my starting point of until midday October 16th. Oh dear.

 Sunday October 16th;

I got off the train on a sleepy sunny Sunday lunchtime. Now that I had finally arrived I was keen to get underway. I had downloaded and subscribed to the Iphigenie app and this is what I would use for all my mapping needs. The target for today was to reach the Mont Thabor refuge, which lay some 1400 metres higher-up. I stowed everything away in my rucksack and set off. I soon found the trail and before too long I had left the town behind. Once I had climbed up above the motorway and became enveloped in the woods, it was like putting on a comfortable old jumper. I was back in a familiar world. That's not to say it was comfortable. Previous lack of training, extra weight and especially the after effects of COVID, all made it pretty tough going. 

I managed to keep up a slow and steady pace and, as is usually the way, height is steadily gained. The trail is initially fairly steep but after around 300 metres of height gain, things ease back and a very enjoyable section follows until you reach the ski town of Valfréjus. Now the trail follows a track gently uphill. The weather was perfect. Sunny and calm and warm enough to hike in a tee shirt. Mind you, my earlier misgivings about my fitness were proving well founded. It was becoming clear that I was far from over the effects of COVID. My breathing was laboured and I was coughing and clearing regularly. I just hoped that things would improve as the days passed. Once I passed the imposing Fort du Lavoir I entered open mountain pastures and the more expansive scenery was a joy. The relatively easy going continued but my struggles remained. At one stage my vision became quite blurry and I was forced to stop and take a break. Ten minutes and some food and water helped, and it was okay once I set out again.

Onwards and ever upwards was the only way, and before too long I was wandering through wilder, less pastoral ground. Eventually the pass and the refuge came into view and I knew that I didn't have far to go. Up here at 2500 metres it was starting to feel quite chilly but I decided to press on to the refuge before stopping. Finally I reached the Col de la Valee Edroite and I turned and followed the track that headed for the nearby refuge. After a final climb I finally dropped the rucksack on the covered porch of the quite large imposing timber building. The guardian was finished for the season so accommodation was limited to the winter room. There was a few others milling about, but it transpired that they had earlier climbed Mont Thabor, and soon left. In the end there was just one other person besides myself staying. There was a plentiful supply of chopped wood in the refuge and we soon had a good fire going in the stove. This was very welcome as I hadn't been able to get gas on the journey. Now I was able to cook my dinner on the hot plate. It made for a warm comfortable evening and was well worth the 12euro fee. I whiled away some time outside soaking in the views before retiring to bed.

All in all it had been a good day. Great weather, 15 kilometres and a substantial 1500 metres of climbing in four and a half hours. Welcome to the Alps.

Monday October 17th;

I didn't sleep well. In fact I didn't sleep at all. I don't know if it was the altitude or the chest infection but I tossed and turned and generally my breathing felt tight all night. That said I wasn't feeling bad this morning and I was looking forward to seeing what today would bring. It promised to be another fine weather day, and it was mostly blue skies when I exited the refuge. There was some cloud drifting over the nearby col but I didn't mind as I expected that to burn off quickly. Once moving I could certainly feel yesterday's exertions in my legs. Thankfully today wasn't going to be an overly big day and there wasn't a lot of climbing. Choices lay ahead for later today and tomorrow. For the hike to Briancon I wanted to take the GR 5 C variant, so I wanted to get to Nevache today. I was also toying with the idea of including Mont Thabor in the day. At 3178 metres it is a big old lump, and it would add over 700 metres climbing to the day. I reckoned that once I was unencumbered with the big bag, I could fit it in okay. I was thinking that I could get to the summit and back in two and a half hours. Alas, once I reached the Col, I saw the signpost pointing to the mountain suggested that the summit was four hours away. That would suggest (being optimistic) that it would entail a five hour round trip, and I just didn't have that sort of time. It would also make for an eleven hour day. I reluctantly turned away from it and stuck to the GR 5.

Once down at the Col, I entered the cloud, which filled the Vallee de la Edroite. Basically, I was then in the mist until I got below 2000 metres. However it was easy and gentle going. Despite the lack of views I was loving the trek. Open grassy pastures gave way to sparse spruce woodland before finally, where the trail dropped sharply to the right into a deep wooded valley, I emerged under the cloud. It was a lovely sight as the spruce trees were aglow in their autumn finery. This valley was, until after the second world war, part of Italy and the signposts and names were still in Italian. Once I got down to the down to the hamlet that contained the refugios i Re Magi and Terzo Alpini the only meaningful climbing of the day lay ahead. Oh boy did my legs protest when I started climbing. The trail cuts straight up the slope across pastures until, when it enters the forest it goes on a rising traverse through the trees. I coped a little better after a bit, and before too long I reached the gentle Col des Thures at 2194 metres. I stopped for a little rest here and also took delight in the fact that finally the cloud seemed to be burning off and some sunshine appeared. By the time I was finished my rest it was a mostly blue sky day, and once again I was treated to glorious scenery. 

Easy walking, gently downhill, follows, until you reach the solitary Cabane Pastoral des Thures at 2080 metres. Here the path splits. The right hand one takes a more or less direct line to the valley floor and Nevache, while the left hand one climbs two hundred metres, crosses the shoulder of l'Aguille Rouge, before dropping down towards the Col de l'Echelle. I took the left hand one and almost immediately was struggling on the uphill section. The views however were ample compensation for any fatigue I felt, and it was great to be once again enjoying a sunny day. Once over the shoulder the trail dropped through the woods towards the Col. I somehow managed to contrive to follow the GR 57 at the Col, and this led directly down towards Pamplinet. The proper route goes left at the col and turns north before going around and over the Roches de la Sueur, briefly entering Italy, and returning to Pamplinet from the northeast. It was just as well I didn't do that section, as I fear it would have been brutal on me, given my ever increasing fatigue. It would have meant an extra 8 kilometres and over 500 metres extra ascent. Anyway, I arrived into the sleepy little village of Pamplinet and decided to continue as far as Nevache which was the logical starting point for tomorrows hike. It was quite warm and I rested and enjoyed a long drink from the fountain before heading along the good trail that leads gently over the next few kilometres to Roubion, a place where there was a restaurant and a shop. Needless to say, when I arrived all were closed and so was the nearby campsite. As there was an easy water supply and seating and benches in the field near the facilities I decided to camp there anyway. It was a huge relief to drop the bag and get the tent up. I wasted no time in getting into my sleeping bag and I crashed for a couple of hours.

It had taken me just shy of seven hours to cover the 23 kilometres with a modest 700 metres of ascent.

Tuesday October 18th;

I must confess I was somewhat nervous about today. It promised to be the biggest day so far, and involved a fair bit of climbing. I was pretty sure that I would struggle, given my unfit state. It was all a question of how much.

Where I was camping was right beside the river Le Claree. As the valley was pretty flat here there were some nice slow pools, in which some ducks had made there home. I emerged at dawn from the tent to a calm, clear, chilly morning. About nine campervans had also made the campground their home for the night. As I set about readying myself for the day, I was surprised to see a few walk past in shorts and with towels etc. I thought they had been using the showers of the campsite (which were locked up yesterday) but a few moments later I saw them gingerly immerse themselves in the river. Now that would certainly get rid of any morning sleepiness. As I had no gas to make tea or coffee, breakfast was a brief affair and I was all packed up and on the move by 8am. When confidence is low then take it slow. Well that is what I told myself.

A very easy first kilometre allowed me to enjoy walking alongside the river until I reached a footbridge. Now the GR turns and headed once again for the woods. On these hikes this is a recurring theme. From a valley base the normal sequence is to climb up through the woods until you reach open alpine pastures, then cross over a col, before repeating the process in reverse. Today was no different. I steady climb up through the forest, saw me gain 600 metres before I emerged into lovely open ground that rose gently towards the first col of the day Porte de Cristol at 2531 metres. I won't say that I wasn't struggling once again, but overall I was pleased that I was able to make steady progress. Once up at the wild col the views opened up even further. I got my first glimpses of the glorious snow and ice capped Ecrins massif. What a treat it was to see these giants that rise to over 4000 metres. I could also see in the distant hazy valley floor, my destination for today, Briancon.

By now I had climbed almost 1000 metres, but the next section is an almost level traverse of the mountainside on a good track to reach first, Col de Granon (2404 metres), and then Col de Barteaux (2382 metres), almost five kilometres away. I enjoyed this section and it was lovely to see the Ecrins reveal themselves more and more as I progressed. The highlight of todays walk was to be a traverse of the Crete de Peyrolle. This was supposed to give an airy, exhilarating hike, along the ridge between a few 2600 metre tops before a steep descent to Briancon. I was debating whether to do this section or not, as I had the choice of bypassing it and staying on a lower path. Despite my fatigue, I found myself spurning the easier option and heading for the base of the climb. The climb itself gained 200 metres, and I was delighted to find it wasn't as bad as I feared. Soon I found myself enjoying easy walking and I reached the first top, Le Croix de la Cime at 2606 metres. The views were wonderful and I was so glad I decided to take this option. The next two and a half kilometres promised to be special. The path actually bypasses the highest top Le Grand Peyrolle  at 2645 metres, but it still visits the ridge line and gives some airy views of the spectacular cliffs on the north-eastern side of the mountain. Further along, the trail sticks faithfully to the crest, and in a couple of places it requires a little care and concentration. All the while, the view across to the Ecrins was particularly spectacular.
Heading for Crete de Peyrolle

All good things come to an end, and eventually I reached the end of the crest and began the descent. Once again a little care is needed as the trail twists and winds its way down the steep mountainside until you reach the woods and an old military fort, spectacularly situated at l'Enrouye. The going is pretty straightforward from now on and the trail twists and turns until you reach a road at the Croix de Toulouse. Now the trail drops steeply through the woods, and before too long you reach an old fort, (one of several) guarding the narrows of the valley floor. Soon after, you enter the spectacular walled old town, which looked delightful. My hotel was situated about a kilometre from the old town, further down in the valley. I wasted no time in heading for it and to say I was looking forward to a long shower would be an understatement. Once I was checked in and refreshed I went about trying to get some gas so that I could cook for the rest of the trip. I was a little disappointed to discover that the nearest place I could get some was a Decathlon store which was nearly three kilometres away on the edge of town. Ah well, needs must, and I set off. On the plus side I also managed to get a couple of dehydrated dinners and breakfasts and these would prove necessary on the following  days.

It had been a good day. 25 kilometres, 1500 metres ascent, 1800 metres descent in 8.5 hours.

Wednesday October 19th;

The weather was once again excellent today but bad weather was promised for the following couple of days before an improvement was due to arrive once again. I was in good spirits this morning. While I still felt tired, I was now becoming more confident that I could manage a relatively big outing and hopefully get my fitness back. Not that I planned a very big day today and it was gone 09.30 when I set off.  The plan was to reach Brunissard, some twenty two kilometres away and this would mean  climbing over fourteen hundred metres. 

Using the Iphigeni app I had no difficulty in finding my way out of town and before long I was walking along the quiet lane above Villar St Pancrace. It was nice to pause and look back at the town and the mountains of yesterday before I once again entered the woods and climbed towards places new. After gaining a nice bit of height on the forest trail I reached a forestry roadway and this is followed easily for about four kilometres, until you reach the hamlet at Chalets des Ayes. Here the air was filled with the noise of cow bells. I was also up at over 1700 metres so a nice bit of height had been gained already. The trail once again entered the woods and more or less ran alongside the stream that foamed in the glen floor. It was never too steep, but it gained height steadily, until I reached a track near the junction of the tree line and open alpine pastures. By now I had covered over ten kilometres and gained over eight hundred metres, so it was nice to rest a while and enjoy a cool drink in the sun.

Soon I passed the few alpages at Chalets de vers le Col and I could see the trail headed easily up to the col on the left side of the valley. I waited until I was a long way towards the col before dropping to the fledgling stream in the beginnings of a gully, so I could replenish my water. I waited until now because there were still a lot of cattle grazing up here. Before too long I reached the col and I rested a while and enjoyed wonderful new vistas. I looked back and enjoyed my last views of the Ecrin Massif. Ahead lay new horizons and wonderful mountains stretched into the distant haze. I was particularly smitten by the stunning landscape that draped the slopes of Pic de Balart, Pic de la Rousse and Pic du Cros. They weren't particularly high, or even particularly jagged, but there was something about the entire juxtaposition of rocky mountain, undulating pastures and colourful forest that had me thinking of it as somewhere from a Tolkien novel. After I was rested, I headed down into the beautiful valley below. The descent went well and before long I was over the worst and reached easier ground near some chalets. The trail now rounds the shoulder of the southern spur of Pic de Deaudouis and what was was a steep scree slope, becomes an impressive cliff face, that is a rock climbing site. A track winds down to the flat valley floor and then the GR more or less follows the road, until, after passing a campsite (closed) you reach the village of Brunissard. With no obvious place to camp nearby I continued until I reached la Chalp just a kilometre further on. A few people were chatting outside a restaurant and I tentatively asked if they knew of a good spot to pitch my tent for the evening. They were very nice, and, while they said they didn't know, they went into the restaurant and asked the owner. He, very kindly said I could pitch up in the paddock alongside his place and I readily agreed. It didn't take long to set up camp on the nice level ground and I whiled away a nice couple of hours in the afternoon sun.

About 20 kilometres and 1300 metres climbing in just six hours.

Thursday October 20th,

I exited the tent in the dawn light to another calm dry morning. Some rain was due to arrive in the afternoon and already there was quite a bit of cloud in the skies. Indeed as I was starting to get some breakfast ready at the nearby seating area, I was spattered by a sudden spit of rain that led to a hasty retreat back into my tent. Thankfully it was short lived and I was able to get packed up in the dry. Away to the south the impressive collection of snow clad peaks called Pics De La Font Sancte, which rose to over 3400 metres, looked moody and already some rain had arrived there. I made sure to put my rain gear within easy reach and I set off at 08.20.

The going is pretty easy as the trail follows a track up along the hillside after La Chalp. After about five kilometres I arrived at the Lac de Roue which would actually have made an ideal camping spot the previous evening. Lots of picnic tables, a good water source and plenty of shelter make it a great place to camp. Ah well, I had enjoyed the previous evening too much for regrets. The day couldn't make up its mind whether to rain or not. Whenever it decided to start I would quickly don the waterproofs and it would stop almost immediately. I didn't complain though, it could be worse. The trail dropped through the woods and soon reached Chateau Queyras where an impressive fort sits atop a rock outcrop that guards the narrow valley. The fort originally dated back over 1000 years. It was quite spectacular. Another spectacular sight was the large articulated truck that was firmly stuck on a sharp bend in the narrow lane that led to the lower village. The main road was blocked by roadworks and the driver obviously thought that he could use this road. A decision he deeply regretted I'm guessing. How he extricated himself I will never know.

 I climbed around the truck and soon reached the trail that headed for the main pass of the day, the rather curiously named, Col de Fromage, which was still about eight kilometres away. The weather was becoming wetter and the clouds started to become lower and the day became more atmospheric. The trail itself was never very steep and overall the going was easy. Once up at around 1800 metres the valley opened out and the spruce trees became sparse and the spectacular twin peaks of Roche de Clot and Point de la Selle were framed at the head of the valley. Eventually I crossed over the shoulder of Point de la Selle and a long easy traverse of the mountain follows until the col is reached. One oddity was when I passed what appeared to be a place where gypsum was mined and below this a steep white ravine dropped for several hundred metres to the right. At the col I was delighted to see some blue skies appear and an eagle soared over the nearby Crete des Chambrettes some 300 metres higher up. I made the mistake of following a trail that was signposted for Ceillac which was my destination for today. It climbed up towards the ridge but after a while I noticed the lack of red and white markers so I retraced my steps to the col and thankfully discovered that the GR took a more direct downhill route.

The descent went nicely and before too long I reached a lane at le Villard. It was an easy couple of kilometres to reach the compact village but, as I was learning to expect on this trip, most everything seemed to be closed. I had resigned myself to staying in my tent once again, so it was a pleasant surprise to see the door to the Gite open and a light on in the office. My delight was short lived however when I was informed that they were closed. They did tell me that the Refuge de Melezet was open and that it was about four kilometres further up the valley. I decided to head for it. I walked alongside the river but had to climb one hundred and fifty metres to reach the little collection of houses in which the old refuge stood. As I arrived a woman was getting into her car. She asked if I wanted the refuge, but when I said I did, she informed me that since I hadn't booked she was closing for the evening so I couldn't stay. I was a bit pissed off but I had no choice but to turn around and head back down to the river. I found a spot for my tent near a ski lift and settled down for the night. The weather continued to disimprove through the evening into the night. I could have really used a long shower and comfy bed but thems the breaks.

It had been a fairly taxing day. 27 kilometres covered with over 1400 metres climbed in 8 hours.

Friday October 21st;

It had rain all night and at times it was quite heavy. I hadn't slept well at all and I spent much of the night having something of a crisis of confidence. At one stage I spent some time looking at possible ways to abandon the trip. I had visions of flooded trails, rockfall and hardship and all without the safety net of somewhere other than the tent to stay. 

This morning there was no debate as to whether to put on the waterproofs from the get go. It was raining steadily and it didn't look likely to stop anytime soon. That said, I was pleased to find that the trail was not flooded and the wind was quite light. I have often been out in a lot worse. My spirits were improving. As is often the case, once I was on the move things seemed better. I had camped quite close to where the GR climbs up into the forest and begins its journey for Col Girardin, which at just a metre short of 2700 metres is one of the highest on the entire route.  I actually like walking in the rain. The world becomes a little smaller and quieter and the woods adopt a mysterious hue. So it was this morning, and it was just the ticket to re establish my commitment to the trip. Starting at 1700 metres meant that it wasn't too long before I started to leave the shelter of the trees at around the 2100 metre mark. Now the nature of the outing began to change. Here the rain was being blown by a stiff wind and it began to feel like a wet day on Carrauntoohil. As I got higher things only got worse. When I reached Chappelle Ste-Anne, which stood above the azure Lac Ste Anne, I was very glad to avail of some shelter and try and warm up a bit. Here at 2400 metres the rain was turning to hail and I had to guard my face from its sting.

Despite everything, I was enjoying myself. One of my biggest fears had been that all the rain would have fallen as snow up this high, but thankfully that wasn't the case and the pass remained clear. Another joy was the snow clad rugged mountains that formed the backdrop of the hike. The Pics de la Font Sancte, which had seemed so distant just yesterday morning, now loomed large and moody above me and in a way only looked better in these conditions. The path twisted it way up a scree slope and eventually I stood in the col. Not that I lingered, as the weather was foul. The path zig zags steeply down the slope on the other side but before too long a flat grassy area is reached. Thankfully the wind seemed less strong on this side and the rain started to ease as well. The trail splits at around 2350 metres. One branch goes directly down to Maljasset while the one I wanted traverses airely above a cliff before it begins to descend towards Le Barge. The long deep valley made a spectacular sight, backed as it was by jagged 3000 metre peaks on the other side. 

I had decided to try and get as far as Fouillouse today so I still had a long way to go. Once I was down in the valley the trail spent the next seven or more kilometres in either sheltered woodlands or for short periods on the quiet road. I stopped about half way along the valley for a bite to eat and I found myself standing and shivering while I ate. Once I had put some fuel in me things got better. When I passed a little place called St Antoine I could see the river pass through a deep cleft in the rock with what appeared to be a bridge crossing it. It looked spectacular. Another thing that looked equally spectacular was the stunning autumnal colour on display in the valley beyond. Eventually I passed the cleft and I was delighted to find that the way to Fouillouse actually went over the bridge. Wowzer, what a spectacular place to stand. Looking over the walls of the bridge at the 300 ft drop to the torrent below certainly got the heart racing. It was a lovely bonus. Shortly after this the trail leaves the road and climbs up through the woods again. All in all you climb over 300 metres before a gradual descent arrives and you reach Fouillouse. I had hoped that the gite in this curious village would be open but alas it would be the tent again tonight. Mind you things weren't all bad. The weather was actually showing signs of improvement and by the time I reached a spot where I could camp about 500 metres beyond the village it was dry. Fouillouse itself was an odd collection of chalets and farm buildings with mostly tin roofs and a mucky dirt track serving as the street through it. That said it was in a beautiful setting.

23 kilometres covered today with once again 1400 metres of climbing in 7 hours 40 minutes.

Saturday October 22nd;

There had been some rain overnight but it had dried up and it was quite a pleasant morning when I emerged from my tent. I enjoyed a nice breakfast and it was good to be able to pack up in dry weather. I was hopeful that the rain was behind me. Today the plan was to cross, first the Col du Vallonet at 2524 metres, before next crossing Col de Mallemort at 2558 metres, and then descending to Larche. After that I would play it by ear.

The trail rose quite gradually along a track and was never steep. That said, I was struggling a lot this morning, and I felt like I had regressed a few days in fitness. I had thought that I was over the lingering effects of Covid but my chest and breathing was tight, even on easy gradients, I found the going tough. Before long I reached Fort de Plat Lombarde. This was a quite large buried fortification with only the gunwales showing above ground. Here the trail splits, with one heading up to the Refuge du Chambeyron and the GR 5 continueing towards the col, which could be seen a few kilometres further on. There was still a fair bit of cloud about but the views were still wonderful and despite my fatigue I was enjoying the day. Once I reached the col the trail descends gently as it heads towards the valley that rises to Col de Mallemort. Around two hundred metres are lost until you reach an old military road that rises towards the col. The cloud started to clear and by the time I was up at the col the impressive rocky ramparts of the surrounding tops could be seen. An impressive ruined barracks stood just below the col and there were two further fortifications on the tops of the peaks either side. Further evidence of the turbulent past of the area.

The views were excellent from the col and I rested a while and enjoyed a bite to eat. It was a little disappointing to see that across the valley some rain was once again falling. The descent takes a fairly direct line towards the little village of Larche. It was quite straightforward and before too long I reached it. As I said it is a small place and once again everything was closed. I didn't linger and I set off along the lane that stretched for five kilometres to a parking area. Just two hundred metres of height is gained on this stretch so the going is easy. The rain had arrived once again but I was hopeful that it would clear. When I reached the end of the lane at a large parking area, I had reached Val Fourane and the Mercantour National Park. Alongside the empty carpark, there was a timber building which was open. I reckoned that it would make a good spot to stay for the night, so I dropped my bag and relaxed. The rain had stopped however and the valley ahead looked tempting, so I decided to continue for another bit. After a further kilometre up the valley I spied an ideal place to pitch the tent that was too good to pass, so I had found my home for the night. I whiled away the remaining daylight in quiet relaxation and pondered what the coming days would bring. My crisis of confidence was over and I was really looking forward to discovering what lay ahead. 

It hadn't been an overly taxing day..20 kilometres covered and 1100 metres ascent in 7 hours.

Sunday October 23rd;

Thankfully the fatigue of yesterday was absent this morning and so was the rain. I was really looking forward to entering once again the Mercantour Park. It is renowned as one of the wildest, most unspoiled areas of the western alps. One thing that I was becoming concerned about was the fact that this would be my fifth day wild camping after Briancon and my phone and battery pack, not to mention food, needed to be topped up. I was using wipes to refresh myself but it is fair to say that a shower would have been welcome. The next town of any consequence I would reach was Saint Etienne de Tinee which was still a fair way off. I kind of hoped that I might reach it today but it would be a big effort and I would just see what developed. The view to the north from the tent looked at the Tete de Moise and other peaks that formed the border between France and Italy. The sky looked menacing and some rain was misting the peaks. To the south, my direction of travel, the sky looked much clearer and I hoped that blue skies would win the day. The Pas de la Cavale at 2671 metres could be seen in the distance and it was flanked by wild and rocky peaks. It all looked very inviting.

What a lovely morning.

Once packed up and on the move, I followed the track until it became a trail and climbed towards Lac de Lauzanier at 2284 metres, which wasn't too much of a climb, as I had camped at 1950 metres. I was delighted by the wildness of the scenery when I got up to the lake, and things only got better as I headed for the col. I guess it is no coincidence that the wildness of the place was matched by the wildlife. This morning I saw deer, male Ibex butted heads and eagles soared. I was also feeling fairly strong and I hoped the finally I was getting over the chest infection. What a delightful view greeted me at the wild pass. The fledgling Tinee Valley began below me and it basically ran all the way to the Mediterranean. Not that I could see the sea from here, it was still a long way away, but  there was much to delight the eye. The trail drops steeply through the brittle rocky headwall, before easier ground is reached. A rather chaotic melange of rock strata sweeps away to the west, with the most spectacular being the huge band of black shale called Les Roubines Negres. Lower down the trail descends easily across grass slopes before crossing a wide rubbly, avalanche or water scoured stream bed. A refuge/bothy is passed, before another 200 metre climb, sees you reach the altogether tamer Col des Fourches at 2261 metres. Here there are some more gunwales guarding the valley below.

North from Pas de la Cavale

Looking South

As I neared the col the air was filled with the sound of high powered cars screaming up a roadway. After leaving the col I soon reached the road that rises to the Col de la Bonette which is the highest road pass in western Europe. Alas I missed seeing the type of cars that had caused the earlier racket and instead I saw a few, lets just say less skilled and less powerful stragglers as they spluttered and slid up the slopes. A short walk on the road follows before you reach the nearby Camp de Fourches. Now the trail dropped through the grassy slopes and headed for the hamlet of Bousieyas at 1900 metres. The weather was turning out very nice and I was really enjoying my day. I enjoyed a long cool drink and bite to eat at the deserted hamlet, before beginning the next climb to the Col de la Colombiere at 2237 metres. The trail followed a vehicle track, so it was never steep but it did add another 400 metres ascent to the day. Once up here I rested and since I had a good phone signal I went online and searched for somewhere to stay in Saint Etienne. Miraculously there was one property available, a studio apartment, and I immediately booked myself in for that night. Now all I had to do was get there.

The trail crossed some steep slopes as it headed towards Vallon de St Dalmas. Here I noticed a marked difference in the flora on this side of the col. Now, things had a much more arid, scrubby feel and look. The Mediterranean clearly had a big influence here. The trail dropped and contoured around some deep ravines, before eventually, the village of St Dalmas le Selvage came into view not too far away. The compact cluster of houses, arranged in a somewhat chaotic jumble of narrow alleys was a shabby delight. Ordinarily I would have delighted in spending a little time wandering and exploring, but I was struck by shower fever. I wanted to reach Saint Etienne as soon a possible. It was also a surprise to fine that the Gite in the village was actually open. Once I was down below the pretty painted church, I began the final climb of the day and headed for Col d'Anelle which at 1731 was another 200 metres higher up. Before too long I reached the pass, and after a traverse through the woods, I finally began the steep descent to Saint Etienne, which nestled in the valley below. The surrounding woods were a riot of colour, and now that I knew I would reach the town in reasonable time, I relaxed and enjoyed the descent. I was also very pleased with how my body had held up to the rigours of a long day. It was an enormous relief to finally reach the town and find my accommodation. Once settled in, I wasted no time in enjoying a long hot soothing shower. Bliss. It being a Sunday evening I wasn't hopeful of finding anywhere open for a bite to eat, so it was a particular delight to find a pizza place open. I enjoyed a delicious pizza and some wine for dinner. A great end to a great day.

31 kilometres with 1600 metres ascent, 2100 metres descent, in 9 hours 30 minutes. I slept well.

Monday October 24th;

It had rained yesterday evening but the forecast for the reminder of the trip was great. Considering that yesterday had been a pretty big day I was pleased with how good I felt this morning. Having spent some time studying the reminder of the route, it was clear to me that a big effort would be required to get anywhere near Nice in the four days I had left. Well I suppose I could have done a short day on Friday morning, as my flight wasn't until 15.30, but I didn't really want to be under too much pressure on that day. I would just see how things developed.

I had been looking forward to getting some nice fresh baguettes in the bakery before setting off, but I was to be disappointed, as it was closed on Mondays. The little shop didn't stock any bread, so I had to make do with brioche and some biscuits. The trail followed a quiet road out of the town until after a couple of kilometres it started to climb. As I left the town the hillside opposite echoed with the bellows of stags. A small flock of sheep in a roadside paddock were all fixated by the sound, and silently stared in that direction. Soon the main road is reach and after a couple of hundred metres walk along it, you climb up through the forest until you reach the ski town of Auron. This sits at 1650 metres, so already nearly 500 metres of climbing was done. Auron is quite large and to my eyes quite charmless. It consists of a jumble of large, no doubt expensive, chalets and apartments with the usual collection of restaurants and ski stores. Everything was closed now, but during the season, I guess there would be a buzz. Anyway, I was glad to leave it behind and once I was across the valley with it's car parks and ski runs, I once again entered the woods, and the trail headed for Col de Blainon at 2008 metres. Once I reached the Col I had done 1000 metres of climbing and the day was still young.

Leaving St Etienne..those colours

Next comes the pleasant descent to the little hamlet of Roya. The trail crosses open pastures and I was struck by the unusual proliferation of timber and stone barns that were in varying states of disrepair and ruin. Very few were still being used and I found the area looked little eerie. Roya itself had something of an old timeless feel. It was an interesting section of the hike. I stopped for some lunch by the river in the valley floor, before I began the long climb to Col de Crousette at 2480 metres. After an initial steep section the trail rises gently through the Vallon de la Mairis. Once through a narrows where the trail is menaced by a crumbling overhanging cliff, things open up. You cross the river and rise up through open, ever wilder ground. At the end of Vallon de Sallevieille the climbs steeply up through some rocky ground before reaching another surprisingly large valley at Les Laces. It was yet another demonstration of the scale of these mountains. A further two kilometres and two hundred metres of climbing saw me reach the wild col. There was a stiff breeze up here and it was decidedly chilly, especially since I was still just in my tee shirt. I was looking forward to losing height and reaching a more sheltered position. I was surprised to see the trail continued to climb to the left until it reached the crest of Le Petite Mounier. All in all a further one hundred metres is climbed before the trail heads for Mont Demant. I had to give in, and stop and don some clothes, but once that was done I was toasty warm and able to enjoy the next absolutely delightful section as I headed for Col des Moulines.

I had been on the move for a long time now and finding somewhere to camp for the night was the next priority. There was no chance before the col, as the trail went along the broad crest of Mont Démant all the way to the col. After the col the route dropped steeply into the wide valley under Mont Mounier, and even from a distance, I could see that camping opportunities would be found there. Once I reached the stream in the floor of the valley, a likely spot was available just nearby. I dropped my bag and spent some time scouting around for the best spot. I spotted another place a couple of hundred metres further on, and once I gave had a look, it was clearly an even better spot, so I opted for there. It is well worth spending a little time deciding on the best spot for the tent as small differences can make for a much more comfortable night. I whiled away the remaining daylight in the calm pleasant evening in solitude and quiet. It had been a good day.

27 kilometres covered, 2200 metres of ascent, 1600 metres descent, in 9 hours. A long rest was most welcome.

Tuesday October 25th;

Today I hoped to reach the village of Saint Dalmas de Valdeblore. It would be another pretty big day so I was packed up and on the move by 8am. It was a lovely morning and the weather promised to be great all the way to Nice. A nice easy start was just the ticket and the trail contoured around the hillside before entering a ravine above the hamlet of Vignols. The ravine was quite spectacular as it was overlooked by a a spectacular hillside covered in outcrops and spires of crumbly rock. An added bonus was the sudden appearance of two eagles between two nearby spires who were being chased off by an angry crow. Lovely. Next up comes the near 200 metre climb up and through the Portes des Lognon. Once through the gap I entered a beautiful, wide, alpine meadowed valley, and delightful easy walking ensued until you reach the vacherie and refuge nearly three kilometres further on. Now the nature of the outing changed as the trail dropped into the forest and dropped steeply until you reach a forest road. This is followed gently downhill most of the way to the delightful hilltop village of Roure.

One thing that happened on the steep section not long after passing the Refuge de Lognon, was when I felt an odd sensation in the sole of my right boot. I had literally been thinking just how excellent they were, and how I hadn't had a blister or even a sore spot for the entire hike. Anyway, it felt like something had gotten stuck in the sole but after a few steps it seemed to literally click back into place. I began to get a horrible suspicion that the sole was after splitting and I wondered if they would last the day, never mind the rest of the trek. I continued on without checking, as I reckoned that there wasn't much I could do about it anyway. I was glad to discover that things weren't getting any worse. There was also a definite sensation of leaving the high mountains behind as I headed inexorably towards the coast. 


Roure sits on a rocky outcrop at an elevation of over 1000 metres some 500 metres above the Tinee Valley floor. It was sunny and quite warm and promised to get warmer still as I progressed. Down down into the deep valley until I reached the village of St Sauveur sur Tinee. It didn't take long to pass through it and another 500 metre climb awaited as I headed for the still hidden village of Rimplas. The climb was mostly on a forest road and wasn't too taxing. Some delightful views were offered back to Roure and Mont Munier, which now looked a long way back, and the deep forested valleys offered delightful interest nearby. At the 860 metre contour I could finally see Rimplas ahead at the end of a long traverse of the Ravine de l'Esclose. I had now covered twenty three kilometres but there was still a fair way to go so I didn't delay before leaving the undoubtedly pretty village. After Rimplas, height is gradually lost and I could see the twin villages of La Bolline and La Roche some four kilometres ahead. I had feared that the trail would drop right down to the valley floor on the right but thankfully it only dropped a couple of hundred metres, which left a 250 metre drag to reach them. The trail actually skirts each village and passes through lanes that were home to lots of modern homes. The wild remote feel to the villages was gradually being lost the nearer I got to the coast.

La Bolline

 The climb up through the woods to Bolline went okay and thereafter the trail follows a series of lanes that skirted most of the houses. I pushed on and before long I was out in the open countryside and heading for St Dalmas and todays end. It wasn't as long as I feared to reach the village and there wasn't much of a climb either. That said I was mightily relieved to reach the shop in the village and get some bread fresh from the oven. It was glorious later on. I walked the extra kilometre to the quite busy campsite and before long I was settled for the evening.

I had been another substantial day with 32 kilometres covered, 1500 metres ascent, 1800 metres descent, in almost nine hours.

Wednesday October 26th;

It was another lovely weather morning as I left a sleepy St Dalmas. I went down to the shop to stock up on more bread and another couple of bits but was disappointed to find it was closed until 12.00. They do like their time off in this neck of the world. I was a bit peeved but I still had enough for dinner and breakfast tomorrow so all was okay. Still, that fresh baked baguette would have been nice. I soon found the trail out of the village and began the climb towards Col des Deux Claire's which at over 1900 metres gave a 700 metre climb to start the day. It was never steep and I guess it is fair to say that I had gained some fitness over the course of the trek so it is no surprise that I felt good. Once up at the Col I had my first encounter with one of the guard dogs that protect flocks of sheep or goats from predators. It didn't come very close to me but let me know it was watching me and followed me along the trail until I was well away from its charges.

Once again up at around 2000 metres.  The flock of sheep at the col

The trail stayed just below the mountain crest and instead traversed the grassy slopes from col to col. It continued in this way for five or six kilometres, giving excellent views. Eventually near Col du Fort the trail dropped into the woods. Three hundred metres lower I reached les Granges de la Brasque where cattle grazed an old army barracks and a ruined church clustered by a road. The trail followed the road horizontally for another few kilometres before at Col d'Andrion it dropped through the woods again until it reached Col des Fournes at 1350 metres. It undulated its way through the forest as it headed towards the rocky limestone outcrop called le Brec d'Utelle. One thing of note was the amount of rooting that wild boar had done. Large areas either side of the trail had been ploughed up, most of it looked recently done too. I began to pay more attention to the scrubby undergrowth either side of the trail and I fully expected to see some boar. As it transpired I didn't and I was just as glad.

The Med is away there somewhere

Mont Mounier. Hard to believe I camped under it only yesterday. Making progress

Towards Vesubie and the 3000 metre tops of the French Italian border

Once I reached the quite spectacular Brec they trail climbed its narrow flank before crossing to the other side where a superb well constructed track contoured through the steep rocky ramparts of the mountain. Eventually,after reaching the Col du Castle Gineste the trail enters the woods again and drops gradually towards the hilltop village of Utelle. As I entered the village I spotted a possible spot to pitch my tent but I continued into the village as there a gite there that might be open. I entered the pretty square where there was a water source and some seating and dropped the bag. The gite was in the square but it was indeed closed. I relaxed a while in the warm sunshine and chatted to the man, who had excellent English and was originally from Belgium. After a while I went to look at the rather large church for such a small place and when I went to a higher area just beyond it I was delighted to discover a small grassy viewing platform that wasn't overlooked by anything. I had found my home for the night.
A great spot for the tent

It had been another good day. 28 kilometres covered, 1200 metres ascent, 1700 metres descent, in 8 hours.

Thursday October 27th;

Day twelve had arrived and journeys end was near. Well not really that near as it was well over thirty kilometres to Nice. I had a decision to make later, whether to stop at the final village before Nice, Aspremont, or try and reach Nice itself. It was another glorious morning and I was feeling good as I left the still sleeping village. Utelle sits at around 800 metres and overlooks the Gorges de Vesubie. The route descends and crosses the river in the valley floor way down at 190 metres so a lot of height is lost. The trail leaves the village and contours the Vallon de l'Aclap, descending gently all the while. A delightful little chapel and refuge is reached called called Chapelle St Antoine. Inside there is a little bench, a table and chair, a wood burner and some religious iconography and a little altar. It felt like a magical little spot. Further on the trail contours under the rocky ramparts of Crete de la Pallu before it starts to descend in earnest to the valley floor. It passed through the cluster of houses at le Cros d'Utelle and soon after the busy road and the river are reached.

Leaving Utelle

And the villages become towns

After crossing the fine stone footbridge you climb once again towards the next village, Levens, which lay almost 400 metres higher up. After passing the Canal de Vesubie, which was built to provide Nice with a more reliable supply of water, the climb rises through the woods once again. It was really quite warm and when I reached the large village/town the sunshine made it feel like a really good summers day at home. The old village could be seen on the right but the trail skirted this along some busy modern streets before it eventually reached a large area of parkland. As I had covered fourteen kilometres and been on the move for four hours, I rested awhile and enjoyed some of the last of my supplies. Just beyond the park the urban setting was left behind and the trail once again entered the woods. It seemed that the easiest way to guage progress today would be by ticking off the villages en route. Next up was Ste Claire. After a steep drop where 100 metres was swiftly lost, I feared that I would be facing another stiff climb to reach the village. Thankfully the trail levelled out and only a one hundred metres of ascent was needed. It was very noticeable how much more developed all the hillsides now were. Before it seemed like everywhere was virgin woodland and only the occasional hamlet or village was to be found. Now the hillsides were liberally sprinkled with villas and the sound of traffic began to intrude. In truth I was glad that the hike was ending.

 A long walk on a quiet lane followed before I reached Colla Partida. Here the trail contoured under a rocky outcrop and then began a long contour under Mont Cima. Eventually I reached another roadway and before long I was walking down into Aspremont. I debated with myself whether to call it a day here or push on to Nice. It really was an easy choice. It wouldn't seem right to stop here. There was a stiff climb out of the village and before long a stony scrubby trail was contouring under the final mountain of the trek, Mont Chauve d'Aspremont. Having reached a high point at about the 700 metre contour, a long almost level stretch followed along Crete de Graus. Suddenly the metropolis of Nice could be seen ahead. It made a fine sight in the hazy sunshine. Indeed it was so hazy that the Mediterranean could only barely be seen. In the valley floor to the right a huge flat expanse of ground was covered in industrial and residential areas. Now there was a constant buzz from the motorway that ran through it.

Nearing Nice

Finally the increasingly busy trail dropped into the woods and very shortly thereafter I reached the paved streets of Gairaut, which basically marked the start of the urban area. Walking downhill for a long time on tarmac isn't my favourite thing, but any misgivings were overshadowed by the fact that I had reached journeys end. All in all about 300 metres was lost while descending the increasingly busy streets so it was a relief, not long after crossing over a motorway, to finally reach St Maurice on the northern side of the city centre. Now I know that the route goes all the way to the Promenade des Anglais but I was completely satisfied to end my hike here. The rather dubious delights of another three kilometres through the busy streets wasn't for me. I made my way to the tram line and after a short ride I alighted by the train station. I checked into my hotel and enjoyed the evening in comfort and quiet reflection. 

Nice morning for a swim

So the final day totalled 34 kilometres, with 1300 metres ascent, 1900 metres descent, in just nine hours.

Overall I was very pleased. A tough start had made it all sweeter to feel stronger in the latter stages, and it is fair to say, that by the final few days I was in as good a hiking fettle as I have ever been. It was also nice to finally complete the GR. The spruce trees were a variety of golden yellows, and depending on the light, and they can set the mountainsides afire. Lower down, especially further south, deciduous shrubs and trees fill the valleys with a cacophony of colour. But it was the reddish amber of the naked hillsides, whose every hump and hollow was laid bare in the soft light, that captured my heart. At times the landscape took on a mystical look, that seemed to be straight out of a Tolkien novel, and seemed the stuff of fairy tales. It is fair to say I was smitten.  

In total I had over 300 kilometres and climbed almost 17000 metres in twelve days.


I guess the big question is, if I had to do it again,  which season I would prefer to do the entire hike. Each has their plusses and minuses. The biggest plus of early in the season is that all the accommodation and shops are open so it is an easy thing to plan and adapt each day to suit your needs or preferences. If the weather is rubbish or you are feeling tired or sore then it is easy to cut a day short and book into one of the many huts or hotels that are available en-route. On the minus side there could well be snow covering the higher passes and this can pose its own difficulties. Another plus is that everywhere is full of life. Alpine meadows are covered in herbs and wild flowers and insects of all varieties flitter about. It is a real treat to become immersed in this abundance and it is a constant delight.

 In the second half of October almost everything is closed and supplies and accommodation options are limited. As I discovered, you could have several days when there is simply nothing open so it is necessary to carry enough food and shelter to be self sufficient. This means a heavy load on the back and demands a slightly higher level of fitness. The big plus for me of this time of year is how quiet everything is. It is possible to walk for an entire day or more and not see another person on the trail. This splendid isolation is thrilling for me but it may be less so for some. Another big plus is the wonderful colour the forests bring in the autumn. The golden hues of the trees was at times mesmerising and more than compensated for the lack of flowers in the meadows.

So which would I prefer??. The  simple answer is I don't know. One time I think I prefer the autumn and another day I lean towards the spring. I think the one thing I can be sure of is that high season would not be for me personally. We each have our own needs when on these hikes and I would suggest that you give some thought about what it is that you need. The GR 5 has something for everybody.