Viajar a pie

"Viajar a pie" is Spanish for "Travelling on foot"

Category: Europe (Page 1 of 2)

GR 5 Alpine Traverse

Making friends at the Combe de Crousette

There’s lots of user information about the Alps already, yet traversing a significant section of the range while camping out most nights, packing several days worth of food at a time or not climbing any peaks is probably not the most typical activity people do in these mountains.

During the GR 5 traverse, I was never more than a couple hours hike from some kind of civilization and if I count on the stuffed huts that couple of hours happened very few times, if any. The Alps are no wilderness and the GR 5 is certainly not the most remote you can get in these mountains. It’s dead easy and requires no big planning effort to hike the GR 5 and get lodging every night.

In my very limited experience, lots of people use the GR 5 trail system but it seems not many try to hike it all and even less attempt any kind of extended self sufficiency. It will be odd to leave the last village only to climb up to some alpine meadow for camping but once there you’ll quickly forget the taverns you missed. It’s beautiful up in the alpine and these mountains are famous for a reason or two.

Conflicts with the wildlife

The Alps don’t stand out for the wildness and there are no big mammals to worry about. The goat-like chamois and bouquetin seem the most ubiquitous among the sizeable ones, relatively easy to spot and I never seem to remember which one is each.

Another common trail companion is the shy marmot, bound to be the main character in this comment.

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Maps and Guidebooks

The GR 5 is well documented. As any GR trail in France, it’s got its own set of guidebooks, consistently edited by the FFRP (Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre which approximately stands for French Hiking Federation). These books are in French and due to the popularity of this route among English speaking (or, in general, non-French speaking) people, UK publisher Cicerone released a guidebook that covers just the Alpine Traverse.

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Gear Review

Most of the stuff is just as usual. I’ll comment on those new or somehow relevant items.

Shoes

Inov8 Terroc 330

Maybe the most comfortable shoes I’ve worn on the trail, surely the lightest and probably the less durable. The Terrocs performed well and were very gentle on my feet but barely made it to trip end. The shoe body was still ok but the soles suffered; one of them got a crack under the ball of the foot that turned into an alpine glacier crevasse exposing the midsole which eventually also cracked.

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Villages

Going through villages is something that happens almost everyday on the GR 5; usually, more than once a day so it’s a key part of the experience. With recreation being such a big part of the scene in the Alps, it’s taken over a lot of the rural environment and some locations have more lodges and restaurants than farms and sheds. I tried to not spend much time in the urban but still feel a quick overview of what can be expected might be of interest. North to south:

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Information

Is there anything I can write about the Alps that’s not already been said? Probably not except my own take at one of the most spectacular, long distance traverses along the western arm of one the most spectacular mountain ranges. A bit of blah, blah, blah too…

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Preparations

The word alpine comes obviously from the Alps even though it’s evolved into a kind of generic term for everything alpine. But strictly speaking an alpine something should take place in some alps. There are actually a few mountain groups in the world named alps but it all began where the European plains rise several thousand meters to become a world of rocky, ice-covered big walls that define the line between north and south; east and west, too.

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Nordkalottleden

Baugevatnet, arctic Norway

WhereLapland
WhenAugust/September
Distance800 km / 500 miles
Length24 days

Hiking beyond the arctic circle may sound like a very extreme thing to do. I’d had pictured a world of summer under freezing temps and windswept barrens.

There’s such conditions north of the circle but Lapland has a weather of its own thanks to the Gulf Stream. There’s human activity up there. There’s even hiking trails.

Planning for this route wasn’t easy. At the time, there was little information, either on the net or in print, and only little bits could be found in English or any other language I could understand. In the following pages, I’ll try to fill that gap from the (necessarily limited) perspective of a one time hiker. Don’t expect a deep knowledge from the area here but I’ll try to stick to the facts as I perceived them and not make assumptions. Or say so when I do.

Slide Show

Telling stories with words is easy. Without them it’s a different language. This is about Nordkalottleden.

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Ultralight in the arctic

Handy scale in Alesjaure

At nearly max weight for the trip with 11 days worth of food

One of the issues with ultralight or lightweight hiking is overcoming the fear of being unprepared for the conditions. It’s something you learn with practice but that fear comes back when you face a new set of conditions. This is particularly true when you’re about to travel to an isolated place with potentially severe weather.

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