GR5: And We’re Back…


We’re back, and this time we have less photos than we might expect as we were more careful to delete some of the duds as we went. But there are still over 1600 RAW images of mine and 900 JPEGs of LB’s to sort through.

As I did with Iceland, I’ve written up a few memories that really stood out along the way.

Many people have asked us such things as “What was the nicest place?”, “The most spectacular?”, “The best XYZ?” to which we’ve not been able to give a straight answer. There was hardly a “best” anything. So many beautiful and spectacular places and so much excellent French food!

In fact we wondered aloud if we would ever become jaded by by breasting yet another col to find yet another vista of spectacular peaks that we were about to walk through.

Well, when we breasted a col to see larch trees clinging to slopes made fiery red by bilberry in autumn garb, below freshly snow-capped peaks that towered into deep blue skies, we knew that even after six weeks we were still a long, long way from being jaded.

I recorded a lot of these memories as I thought of them, as audio-snippets into my phone. I’d highly recommend it.

I’d also highly recommend keeping your phone in an Ortlieb A6 Document Wallet as they are utterly bombproof waterproofing but importantly they also completely cut out the wind-noise that can otherwise make any recording or phone conversation utterly unintelligible. Which might be life-saving in an emergency.

I also recorded an audio diary though with no intention of publishing it. We are both slowly ploughing through transcribing it. I did plan to have it transcribed by a service I’ve used before but at 250 minutes it would be quite expensive!

Besides, I’d have to heavily edit it and we find that listening to it evokes memories so that a six minute file might take thirty or forty minutes to write-up.

I may then publish it. Though even our parents probably don’t want to read all that!

On the other hand it was the Towner’s account of an Iceland trip that inspired us to go there and next year’s big walk might well be the GR20 that Peewiglet’s excellent write up has partly encouraged us to do. So who knows, someone might like it…

So, here are some memories of the GR5, GR55 and GR52 from Geneva to Menton that we walked for seven weeks, the first two weeks with three friends, Rachel, Rob and Kev:

Rachel not getting any blisters.

“Kev’s scramble” he found on the way up to the Col du Bonhomme.

Rob swapping from big leather boots to New Balance trainers in Les Houches (the boots finally gave-up!).

Walking in mountains so hot that even the soft soles of the Terrocs were able to leave impressions in the tarmac that we occasionally crossed.

Coffee and the first of many tarte aux myrtilles (blueberry tart) in La Chapelle d’Abondance.

The official translation into English of the French weather forecast containing the phrase “persistent scorching heat“. They weren’t kidding.

The meal (banquet!) that included seven cheeses made from their own cows and sheep at the Refuge de Trébentaz (above La Chapelle d’Abondance).

Climbing up to the Col de Brévent in sun so hot that we started referring to it as “The Death Ray” and suddenly being faced with the astonishing glaciers and peaks on and around Mont Blanc (we are pictured there at the top of this posting).

Being at the Refuge du Col de la Croix du Bonhomme with the Big Walk Crew after I’d talked about the place so much.

Only ever losing one item; my Sport Eyz sunglasses. Which I then swapped for Kev’s pair… and he then found my pair as the Big Walk Crew back-tracked for a day to fly home.

Eating the best spaghetti carbonara I’ve ever had, followed by pear in hot chocolate sauce at the Refuge de Presset. Which is so remote even the water is flown in at the start of the season.

Staying for three days whilst a leg injury healed in the excellent Refuge la Balme and being cheered up by the excellent “Chartreuse Guys“; Antoine, Giles and Matthieu.

Holding my leg in the freezing output from a pipe stuck into the stream for five minutes in every twenty for three days, outside the Refuge La Balme. (This caused great concern with many, many people who thought I should keep it warm. Apart from the two French Physiotherapists who recognised the value of repeated vasoconstriction/vasodilation in pumping metabolites out of my calf muscle and getting it to heal quickly).

Having lunch with Bernard the La Balme’s owner and his friend Bruno the shepherd.

Realising that after a couple of weeks of walking, a twenty five kilometre day with sixteen hundred metres of ascent was about right for an easy bimble.

Finding all other accommodation full and ending up at an amazing Chambre et Table d’Hôte at Maison Coutin with Claude and Franck.

Having a pair of absolutely huge Bearded Vultures land by what must have been a carcass less than a hundred metres from us before taking off and crying at us to warn us away (there are only three pairs in the Vanoise National Park).

Arriving to find the refuge had burned down! (In Les Prioux, Refuge le Repoju – expects to re-open Spring 2010!). Luckily there was another, rather expensive but very nice refuge, only three kilometres further, the Refuge du Roc de la Pêche.

Having a stoat check us out to see if it was safe to return to a kill it had dropped in the road just in front of us.

Meeting our first pair of patous (guard dogs for the sheep) and having one of them do a “Lassie” and approach us whining and looking for affection! It thrust its head under our hands and leant against us – we talked to it and blinked our eyes. Nothing more! They are best left alone. It was happy and led us into the flock.

Deciding that 12:30 was far too early to reach the gîte and pushing on another 16K to make our first 30K day.

Being fed a slap-up dinner in Bramans as guests of Renée and Albert when we couldn’t find anywhere else to eat, thanks to Herman the Belgian PCT Thru-hiker.

Having the USB phone charger break on the morning we stayed for a rest day in Briançon (the old town is gorgeous),  the only town on the whole route where we could have replaced it.

Getting tips on photography and where to get good quiche from Duncan MacArthur.

Doing a “Lightweight Gear Show And Tell” at a high camp with and Antoine and Herman.

Gérard, the owner of the Refuge Maljasset producing a bottle of red wine in celebration of having us there on our honeymoon.

Hearing what sounded like a hang-glider passing right over us and looking up to see an enormous Griffon Vulture passing overhead. It must have had a wingspan of around three metres (nine feet).

Smelling and then seeing, in that order, the first wild Lavender on the route, above St Dalmas le Selvage.

Deciding to stop in the perfect Alpine village; St Dalmas le Selvage. Not because we needed a rest day but simply because we wanted to stay in such a beautiful place.

The home-made tarte aux myrtilles at the Table d’Hote of Claudine Garin.

Chatting to Mat & Sarah, an American couple on a tour of Europe for their honeymoon and hearing amazing stories of Mat’s time in the army and as an entrepreneur.

The smell of warm, dry forests. Mixing pine, spruce, lavendar and herbs in a bouquet as complex as a good wine.

Making five clear weeks of walking without once donning the waterproofs.

Getting pinned-down for an hour and a half in the locked doorway of a berger’s hut by a crazy lightning storm that we couldn’t see coming as it approached from the other side of something we were ascending. We were only two kilometres from the Refuge de Longon!

Drinking chocolat chaud by a roaring log fire when we finally reached the Refuge de Longon.

After the fronts that brought a real feeling of Autumn had passed, putting on the sunblock and the Tilley hats again and feeling like the summer had returned once more.

Coming over a col and… whoa! There’s the Med!

Dipping our shoes in Lake Geneva and then dipping them in the Med!

Meeting LB’s parents and being presented with “medals” and a “completion certificate” outside a bar, on the front in Nice.

But most of all, walking and walking and walking for seven weeks in beautiful Alpine mountains with my beautiful wife, LB.

The glaciers and peaks on and around Mont Blanc were laid out in front of us as we reached the Col de Brévant.

15 Replies to “GR5: And We’re Back…”

  1. “But most of all, walking and walking and walking for seven weeks in beautiful Alpine mountains with my beautiful wife, LB.”

    this comment says it all, more important than gear reviews, location reviews, … Your partner whether they accompany you, or are there to collect you when things go wrong is the most important things in life.

  2. Absolutely Roger – couldn’t agree more!

    I’m very lucky to have met LB. I’d rather given up on finding anyone that wanted to wander about in mountains with a grumpy old Yeti ;)

  3. Absolutely fantastic! I could almost feel myself there, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to the writeups and photos.

    Men who find joy in the mountains are lucky. Men who find loving wives are lucky. But men who find loving wives that also love the mountains…. well, we’re the luckiest men of all.

  4. Thanks for bringing back wonderful memories of the GR5 looking forward to the write ups.
    I walked the GR5 back in 2003 and also had the thrill of having a bearded vulture land within 20 metres of us.

  5. Chris – Well said. You have an excellent way with words as ever :)

    I’m also looking forward to catching up wit your blog. I’ve had a sneak-peek at pictures and they look stunning!

    I’ve been playing around with AutoPano Pro (and trying to justify getting the Giga version…). It’s based originally on the free AutoStitch engine but since the last time I looked at AutoPano, it’s improved dramatically.

    I wish I’d have taken a few more panoramas now!

    I noticed a couple of HDR images on your postings and have just downloaded Photomatix Pro since it’s got a Lightroom plugin which means it should be very easy to play with…

  6. Andy – I have a bunch of half written postings already that will be filled out as soon as I can…

    Though the next couple are a bit unusual!

    Those tarte aux myrtilles had their own “budget”. We got a very generous wedding gift from Ulrika’s Aunt and Uncle and so we calculated it would allow us tarte aux myrtilles whenever the mood took us! It was something we looked forward to whenever descending to civilisation.

    Thanks again for your Podcast interview with Paddy that sparked all this off!

  7. Mike – A bearded vulture landed within 20 metres of you? Blimey! We thought we were lucky!

    I’m glad the posting brought back memories for you.

    It was the best walk we’ve ever done. Utterly glorious.

    We have many other places we want to walk, and doing it again couldn’t be the same… so we plan to leave it about twenty years or so to let the memory fade somewhat – but we must return!

  8. Definitely the best ever Martin – and any section is well worth walking in itself.

    AutoPano has really impressed me. I have it trawling through LBs at this moment – but I’ll leave it to think overnight as it has a lot to consider!

  9. Awesome!

    Your snippets are excellent, just like an excited conversation… “oh and we saw this, oh and we did that”.

    We did a few weeks hiking in the Himalayas many years ago and, like you say, that delight of seeing ‘yet more’ beauty from every corner never faded.

    The world’s full of such wonderful adventures and, even if we can’t all go off to experience them, it’s lovely to be able to read about other people that do. Looking forward to more posts about it :-)

  10. Thanks Ben! Really glad you enjoyed them :)

    The Himalayas are somewhere that we have an eye on… they’re in the running for next year but the GR20 may get in there first.

    I really must get these photos finished…

  11. yes we were at the plan de leisse refuge it hink thats the spelling in the Vanoise when all of a sudden the bird landed inbetween the dorm building and the main happened so quickly i had no time for a photo but the guardian had seen it before.felt very lucky
    like you its the best walk i have done.

  12. Wow that must have landed very close if you were at the Refuge de la Leisse.

    That’s a gorgeous hut. There were only four people staying there including us so we ate in the Guardian’s building which made for interesting conversation.

    The Guardians hiked-in at the start of the season, with their baby son, but everything else was lifted in by helicopter including the cat and the chickens!

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