GR5: Tick-borne Encephalitis


I must admit that I may have previously missed the fact that there is Tick-borne Encephalitis (TBE) within the Mont Blanc region but for Judy Armstrong mentioning it on her excellent site.

Edit 01 October 2011: TBE is apparently now endemic to some areas of Switzerland (though not around the TJR by the looks of it). As it happens, LB’s cousin got it last year. He’s a very fit, healthy thirty-something but it’s severely affected him for months so far. Very unpleasant!

However she says that you need to have the first vaccination at least six months in advance of your trip which doesn’t tally with the information in The Green Book from the UK Department Of Health.

Unfortunately, the highest risk factor is thought to be hiking in infected areas.

If contracted, between 1 and 2 people in 10 will have brain damage and 1 in a 100 will die.

We’ve had vaccinations for it since we spend so much time in Sweden, where it is far more prevalent. But even without that, the possible consequences of getting it are so serious that I think we’d have had them anyway.

You need two jabs to start. The first confers some protection but if the second is given only a fortnight later it will confer around 90% protection. But a fortnight is the very earliest that you can have the second. Ideally, the second jab should come between one and six months after the first. That second jab should then bring you up to full immunity.

The third comes after a year, and gives immunity for a further three years. Although the UK advice is to renew three yearly the Swedish advice states that it can be renewed every three to five years (and here).

In Austria TBE jabs are apparently part of the standard set of vaccinations that everyone receives but they’re not generally available from your GP in the UK.

Instead you’ll need to go to a private travel clinic. Your GP’s surgery will be able to tell you where the nearest is.

GR5: Tetanus

mini-tmb-sep-2008-46-small I’ve been amazed at how much thought has gone into vaccinations for this trip. Especially since at first I hadn’t thought we’d need any at all – It’s only Southern France!

But there are a couple of things well worth considering: Tetanus and Tick-borne Encephalitis (which is the subject of the next posting).

Judy Armstrong mentions Hep A but my own GP‘s Practice Nurse said there was no particular risk and she therefore couldn’t justify giving it financially.

So; tetanus.

Everyone knows you should make sure that your booster vaccinations are “up to date” but how do you know if you need one? Well, obviously, ask your doctor. Don’t listen to some bloke on the internet!

But this is what I’ve been able to gather from the MASTA Travel Clinic Nurse, my own GP and The Greeen Book from the UK Department of Health:

If you are in the UK, more than five vaccinations in your lifetime and you’re considered to be covered.

If you plan to travel abroad, where there may be an increased risk of exposure to Tetanus or medical facilities may be harder to reach quickly (that includes walking hut to hut in the Alps), MASTA advise ensuring that you keep up the “every ten years” boosters (which they also say to get free from your GP so they’re not trying to rake in more cash!).

If you grew up in the UK, unless your parents opted-out of it, you should have received four vaccinations by the time you reached adulthood (three when very young and one booster pre-school). By simply having one booster in early adulthood you should be up to the magic figure of five in total.

A check of your medical records should establish how many you have had and when the last one was. That should make it simple to decide whether one is required for a trip.

However, just being up-to-date with your Tetanus vaccination doesn’t guarantee that you won’t need further preventative treatment if you have a deep wound, particularly one involving soil getting into it.

So for me, the real question is; What kind of injury “in the field” would require me to walk out to medical aid and get a jab?

I don’t think that this is as hard as it might seem to answer. If I fell and put a gash in myself that I thought I could reasonably clean up, as long as I had the above mentioned level of vaccination I might well decide to walk on.

However, if the wound was very deep, especially a puncture (tetanus thrives without oxygen), or if there was soil ground into it I would probably be making a decision as to whether to get to proper medical aid based on the more immediate “mechanical” effects of the injury.

My current vaccination status probably wouldn’t be at the forefront of my mind!

Once I’d got myself to a doctor I could therefore consult them as to the necessity of any further jabs against anything that wound may have exposed me to. For example tetanus immunoglobulin. (Which is not what is in a normal booster vaccination but something that is given if you are thought likely to have been exposed to tetanus).

It’s impossible to make absolute rules around this, every situation is different. And it’s impossible to be sure you’re making the best decision taking all the factors into account (like, is it worth hiking out for two days and getting a bus to the hospital!).

To reduce the risk as far as possible, you’d have to attend a doctor for anything other than a paper-cut. So I think it’s best to arm yourself with as much information as possible, and the relevant vaccination level, before you go.

I also think it’s worth carrying a record of when you were last vaccinated and for what. Just a tiny piece of paper with the names and dates of your vaccinations could be very helpful for a doctor treating you.

I was lucky enough to have LB with me in France a couple of years ago when an errant ski gave me a new duelling scar. She speaks enough French to let them know I was up to date with my Tetanus jabs. Without any paperwork I may have had an unnecessary and possibly expensive jab!

GR5: Changes To The Itinerary And A TN Laser Comp For Two


We’ve been having a bit of a think.

All things considered, we really won’t want to stay in huts for the whole trip.

And, we won’t want to come home at the end of it.

So as a solution, we’ve decided to take a tent and to stay for seven weeks!

The decision to go from five to six weeks took quite some discussion and planning and weighing up of variables.

The decision to go from six to seven weeks was more along the lines of “Oh… b**ks to it! Why not?”

We’re both freelance and don’t have any more ties than a mortgage at the moment. Not even cats to milk or goldfish to shave.

We’ve been looking at what we might do as Variantes along the way.

The Vanoise National Park looks particularly good and was on the list of potential Big Walks already. We’re thinking about going down through it, back up, and down again all on different routes!

But at our proposed pace, that would put the trip beyond seven weeks without any rest days. Though if we stick to the days in Paddy’s guide it would actually fit… it all depends on how much we speed up…

Enough of all the waffle – what about the main raison d’être for this blog; the kit?

We’d been itching to camp but the thought of lugging camping kit around when we plan to stay in huts for most of the trip had put us off.

But this isn’t 1975. We don’t have to carry a canvas ridge tent and wooden stakes.

So I made up the list of what we’d need to carry:

Tent – Terra Nova Laser Competition (extra weight is “proper” stakes – 4 Ti Nails, 2 Y stakes and 5 Ti skewers) 1,094
Sleeping bag – XL PHD Minimus 560
Sleeping mat (torso) – halved Gossamer Gear NightLight 3/4 112
Sleep mat (legs) – cut-down Gossamer Gear ThinLight 68
Stove – Whitebox + wind shield and stand 68
1.5L Saucepan (MSR) 112
1.5L Saucepan lid (MSR) 62
Pot grab – MSR 28
Mini Firesteel – Light My Fire 10
Knife – Spyrderco Ladybug (three revisions old now) 18
Sporks – Alpkit X2 26
Fuel bottle – 500ml Platy Bottle+FireLite Red Spot Cap 22
Meths (half litre) 400
Subtotal (grams) 2,590
Sleeping bag – PHD Minimus 496
Sleeping mat (torso) – halved Gossamer Gear NightLight 3/4 112
Sleep mat (legs) – cut-down Gossamer Gear ThinLight 52
Food Flavourings (curry powder, herbs, salt, pepper) 80
Subtotal (grams) 740
Total (grams) 3,330

For a whisker over 3.3 kilos, including fuel, we can go from whatever our base pack-weight for hut-to-hut will be, to being able to heat water and sleep in a bag on a comfy mat in a tent. It’s a no-brainer.

Ah now the tent…north-wales-aran-fawddwy-may-09-7-small

The more knowledgeable might spot that a tent rated as “1+” by the manufacturer is being used by two people.

Well with LB being on the petite side and despite me being 6’2″ (187cm) ish I’m not exactly carrying any extra poundage, we can “snuggle” quite nicely into the Laser Comp‘.

The porch is surprisingly generous. There’s at least as much as in the Voyager Superlite taking into account the fact that with the Voyager you have to traverse the length of the porch to get in and out and therefore can’t really use a lot of it as storage. With the vertical room it’s quite suitable for cooking under as well.

We’ve tried it for a weekend of camp-site camping and for three days on the hill in some pretty nasty weather on a couple of exposed sites.

We’ve found that we can adapt our usual routine quite easily and the extra 900 grams knocked off the pack-weight is well worth any extra faff.

And to justify all this spending on new kit, we only have to avoid staying in a few huts over the trip and it’s paid for itself!