​​​​​​​I trekked the GR5 and GR55 from St Gingolph (Lake Geneva) to Nice (Mediterranean) - 400+ miles with over 120,000ft of ascent from 25 June to 22 July 2022.

Google Maps

Route Overview:
Stage 1
St Gingolph > Les Houches 6835m ascent 108km
Stage 2
Les Houches > Landry (Montchavin) 4600m ascent 77km
Stage 3
Landry > Modane 4855m ascent 89km
Stage 4
Modane > Ceillac 6925m ascent 112km
Stage 5
Ceillac > Auron 4775m ascent 90km
Stage 6*
Auron > Nice 5040m ascent 125km
*Amended from GR52

37,230m - 122,145ft ascent
643km - 400 miles (approx.)

This is worth a quick revisit; when the tectonic plates of Africa and Eurasia had a coming together they created folds, forming (amongst others) the mountain ranges of North Africa & Europe, in this particular case the Alps. As the plates were shoving against each other north-south the folds, the mountains and valleys, run west-east. The Alps generally extend from Nice (Po basin), France to near Slovenia, in a large crescent shape.

Come forward a few million years, and; if you are walking the Alps from north to south you have to go over the folds, so, over the high cols and into the valley and over the high cols and into the valley ... hence the total ascent of 122,145ft. However, this is stretched out over 400 miles with the highest points at Le Brevant 2525m (8284ft), Pas de la Cavil 2671m (8763ft), Col du Pallet 2652m (8700ft), Baisse du Basto 2693m (8835ft), Col Giradin 2706m (8877m) and Col de Chaviere 2796m (9173ft) so actual altitude is quite low.

Did you know that the tip of the Matterhorn consists of gneisses (a type of rock) from the African plate! 

DAY ONE - 25 June
Saint Gingolph - La Planche
Before I update you on my first day I just wanted to have one of those profound moments, so forgive me and jump this bit if you wish.

I have just finished reading a book by an Italian author Felice Benuzzi No Picnic on Mount Kenya. It is an account of his time as a POW, of the British Army, at Nanyuki, Kenya during WW2. He and two friends, leaving an apologetic note for the British Camp Commander, escape the camp to climb Mount Kenya. They do not manage to summit Batian but do summit Lenana. It took months of planning and they even cold hammered three pairs of crampons without being discovered - amazing! Even more so; after climbing the mountain they returned to the POW camp!

Anyway, Benuzzi quotes the motto of Joseph Thompson from his 1885 book, Through Masai Land: A Journey of Exploration Among the Snowclad Volcanic Mountains and Strange Tribes of Eastern Equatorial Africa:
He who goes gently, goes safely; he who goes safely goes far.

I shall go gently through the Alps and immerse myself in the landscape!

​​​​​​​The first thing I will comment on is if anyone is planning to travel by train in France get the SNCF Connect app. I went to St Gingolph by train (and a bus) but at Lyon there was an incident which delayed my train to Bellegarde. The app told me about the delay and that SNCF had delayed the connecting train for us and which platform to go in real time. I was very impressed. 

Anyway, I arrived St G (375m) at 6pm, a quick photo at the lake and off on the GR5. St G is the official start of the Alps section but it actually starts at the Hook of Holland (although the UK has a bit now). St G was founded in the 700s and divided in the 1500s between Savoie and Valais and sits astride the [now] Franco/Swiss border. I first visited in the 1980s but that’s of no historic significance!

Lac Leman

Final view of Lac Leman before Col de Bise

From the lake it was a short walk along the main street before turning left and beginning the climb into the mountains behind St G. I effectively followed the course of La Morge Torrente that forms the frontier between France and Switzerland, it was an enjoyable walk through arboreal forest to a meadow above La Planche (1205m) where camp was set. A first day ascent of 830m. At 10pm a thunderstorm hit and it rained heavily until 2pm, along with a fabulous light show. Needless to say a wet tent to pack the following morning. ​​​​​​​

Water came in many guises

Towards La Planche
Towards La Planche
DAY TWO - 26 June
La Planche - Chapelle d'Abondance
Woken at 4am by a farmer shouting & yodelling his cows in for milking in the valley somewhere. 

The white/red markers show the GR5 route along with signs giving time to location not distance as we see in the UK. It works very well, most of the time. On the climb to the Col de Bise (1914m) there is a point where the path from Thonon joins the main route. I came across a young man who had started in Thonon and we shared some time en route to the col. It was a challenging path to the Col de Bise, quite steep at times. I was certainly glad that I had broken the start, as to attempt this section in one go, from St G to Les Crottes, would have been a struggle. The subsequent descent to Chalets de Bise was difficult too as the night’s rain had made the path very slippery. I had tried to keep my pack weight as low as possible but it was heavy at 17kgs, a slip would have been exceedingly painful, so small steps.

A stop at the chalets, which had a buvette for a cold drink and a sandwich. I asked for ham and cheese, which I got, along with a full salad in a very large baguette. I had to apologise and confirm it was delicious but I was outfaced by its size, which was a first for me!

Chalets de Bise
Chalets de Bise
Looking back to Chalets de Bise
Looking back to Chalets de Bise
Pas de la Bosse
Pas de la Bosse
Pas de la Bosse
Pas de la Bosse
Sketches by Justin
Sketches by Justin
From Chapelle d'Abondance
From Chapelle d'Abondance
From the chalets it was a winding path uphill to the Pas de la Bosse (1816m) with the cliffs of the Cornettes de Bise above. The col opened up the Alps with the Dents du Midi and Blanche ahead. It was stunning. 

The meteo had warnings of thunderstorms so I found a refuge, Au Gai Soleil, in Chapelle d’Abondance for the night, which gave me time to catch up with admin and wash some kit. There were other GR5 trekkers present so, for all, an early start to try and be off the high cols before the thunderstorm. The young man I met at the path junction, Justin, was at the refuge as was Pascal who helped me by telephoning the refuge owner to reserve a place for us.

Justin was sketching and using water colour to record his journey, which included me!
I read an interesting article on the Institute of Chiropodists and Podiatrists website which said; for each mile you run, your feet will hit the ground about 1,500 times and with each step, your foot will absorb a force several times your body weight. An 11 stone man of average size will process 112 tonnes of weight through each limb per mile. I weighed in at 13 stone (82.5kg) with a 17kg rucksack. Although walking and not running it gives an idea of the stresses placed on joints.

DAY THREE - 27 June
Chapelle d'Abondance - Refuge Lapisa
It turned out to be a dry start in the morning so a pleasant walk alongside the Dranse Torrent, accompanied by Justin, before turning up hill. It was steep, climbing through forest, and sapped energy early in the day. At some points it was like climbing a ladder with the tree roots as rungs. Past Les Crottes (1529m) where I had planned to bivouac, which would have been a struggle to reach yesterday. Had cloud not risen I would have had views to Mont Blanc from Les Mattes. 

Around Les Mattes (1930m) we were caught by a young man 'Prof. de Sport'. We chatted, Justin stopped to sketch, and so the prof. and I continued. He was quicker than me and soon disappeared ahead. It had started raining so the rucksack cover went on as well as my waterproof jacket. 

Col de Bassachaux (1778m) eventually appeared through the cloud and the refuge there has a restaurant so I could replace calories. When I arrived the prof. was already there. It was cool outside the refuge with low cloud and rain still in the air but when I stepped into the refuge it was like a furnace. As the col is serviced by a road a lot of people had driven to the refuge and were having lunch. Not long after Pascal arrived and wrapped himself around a large gaufre with chocolate and chantilly, we all needed calories! There were signs indicating the Tour de France would pass here this year as it moved around Chatel and the Franco/Swiss border.

Thunderstorms have been a feature thus far and today was no exception, with more forecast. I had planned to bivouac at the Refuge de Chesery, just over the frontier in Switzerland, but when we, prof. Pascal and I arrived at the refuge it was full so we moved on to the refuge Lapisa, through the Portes de l'Hiver (2096m). I speak a little French but it is always useful if you have a French speaking person with you to help, Franglais only goes so far! The prof had called ahead to Lapisa to reserve our places.

From Refuge Lapisa
From Refuge Lapisa
Dents Blanche
Dents Blanche
Col de Coux. Franco/Swiss Borber
Col de Coux. Franco/Swiss Borber
Col de Coux
Col de Coux
The refuge Lapisa was a welcome place. It was cold and damp outside and our clothing was wet from the rain. It had a great wood burning stove which gave the opportunity to dry wet clothes and Pascal soon had a pot of coffee ready.

I had found a tick on my leg so Pascal whipped out his [tick] tool to remove the blighter which thankfully he did in one deft move. 

The refuge cost was €60 for the night which included evening meal and breakfast. So after a much needed shower we, and the other guests, adjourned to the dining room for fondue. It became very interesting when the methylated spirit burner flared and almost set the table on fire and the subsequent efforts by the guardien to extinguish the blaze set the towel on fire too. Once extinguished we had a wonderful meal!

The thunderstorm never arrived and early evening saw some stunning views over the valley and the glaciated Dents Blanche.

DAY FOUR - 28 June
Refuge Lapisa - Samoens (Gorges du Tines)
I am using an Alpkit 65L rucksack with a few modifications; for a bottle holder and some straps to hold my walking poles at my side for easy access when not needed. I have some Adventure Nutrition freeze dried main meals and breakfast because I am remote bivouacking as often as possible. A useful item I’m carrying is a Katadyn Befree 1L water filter which is a soft flask to either drink from or decant into another bottle. I’m using a MSR Pocket Rocket stove and pan with spare small gas canister. The rucksack is full but I have packed a razor this time so no beard!

I also carried a lightweight down sleeping bag, silk liner, Thermarest NeoAir, a blow-up pillow, spare clothing, waterproofs, lightweight shoes for post walk/refuge, small trowel, toiletries/towel, Parasol sun protection lotion, first aid kit, guide book, €700 and credit cards. I had a 1 litre bladder in the rucksack, two 500ml soft flasks and a 750ml hard bottle which I carried on the rucksack waist belt. I had a pair of Scarpa boots for the stages to Briancon.

So today; off from the refuge and a continuation of the short route through Switzerland and over the Col de Coux (1920m) where there is a customs post (closed), which brought me back into France. Great views back of the Dents du Midi and Dents Blanche and forward to the Col de La Golese past Les Terres Maudites. Pascal was walking a different route taking in the Ecrins and the prof. was off ahead of me so we went our separate ways.

A steep track downhill and into pine forest. Raptors were flying above and birdsong was loud in the forest. Then across alpage and back into forest to the next col.

Up and over the Col de La Golese (1662m) with a descent to Les Allamands and the little chapel. The name suggests a German settlement.

Les Allamands chapel

A pleasant woodland path then alongside the Clevieux Torrent to Samoens. I had planned to stay here but as it was 3pm I decided to continue along the Giffre Torrent to Gorge des Tines where I bivouacked. But, not before I stopped at a cafe and had a large gaufre with chocolate and a coffee. I bumped into the prof. as I walked into Samoens. He too was continuing on to find a bivouac (I didn't see him again as I later heard he went to Sixt and stayed at the refuge). As I walked alongside the torrent there were rafts traversing the rapids and near the gorge there were people canyoning; leaping into the torrent at a point where there were steep sides and a narrow channel.

Giffre Torrent

DAY FIVE - 29 June
Gorges du Tines - Refuge de Moede Anterne
I managed to find a spot out of view to bivouac but not out of the way of ticks. Found another little critter buried in my chest. Thank goodness for boxer shorts!

There is no need for an alarm clock - first light and the cacophony of bird song would wake anyone.

I entered the Gorge du Tines, which has ancient forest and some challenging tracks. The first up a set of ladders and then on to another set towards the top of the narrow gorge using a cable to finally exit. I mistakenly took a higher track at one point and realised when I came across via ferrata fixings that I needed to retreat, which is not easy with a large rucksack!
Cascade les Fardelay
Cascade les Fardelay
Lac d'Anterne
Lac d'Anterne
It was then up to the Col d’Anterne (2257m). It opened up views ahead to the Aiguilles Rouge and Le Brevent, with Mont Blanc beyond. ​​​​​​​

Mont Blanc Massif

From there to bivouac at Refuge Moede Anterne (1996m). There were a number of other trekkers bivouacking and (this is written post event) where I had a brief conversation with Antoinev1 about tents. Who would guess how things would progress! The bivouac at the side of the refuge cost me a €3 cup of coffee which gave access to the toilets and wash basins. There were stunning views ahead to the Mont Blanc massif from my tent door.
DAY SIX - 30 June
Refuge de Moede Anterne - Les Houches
Fine views over the Mont Blanc massif, although in cloud, made breakfast a very pleasant experience. 

A descent from the refuge into a narrow wild valley then saw the climb commence to the Col du Brevent (2368m). There were odd snow patches but a rocky track wound upwards for what seemed like forever. I eventually reached the col which afforded even better views of Mont Blanc and the Chamonix valley; including Le Brevent (2525m) which was today’s objective. 

A gulley filled with snow was crossed and the route to the top of Le Brevent started. I had joined forces with Antoinev1 (Belgian) and Antoinev2 (French) just before the col and we now began the ascent together. We didn't quite follow the marked route but climbed a rocky scree which involved the use of all contact points, including knees!

I staggered to the top and the viewing platform above the cable car station. I keep using the word stunning; but it was. A rock-climbing paradise just before the summit, it was busy with climbers, who of course were wearing all the latest gear.

Le Brevent

It was quite surreal having struggled to the top, out of breath, sweaty and looking dishevelled to see people in their newly purchased trail shoes and matching attire, smelling freshly washed. I overheard one person congratulate themselves for reaching the top having walked to the lower station a few thousand feet below then using the cable car to reach the top. She was an American and said she must have champagne. The chap she was with was Welsh and after looking at the menu [prices] ordered her a glass of sparkling wine; well done that man!

Then came the descent to Les Houches. Rocky, large boulders and steep; it was agony on the knees and feet. You had to concentrate otherwise a twisted ankle would have been the least problem. The path had at one point been cut into cliff and at another went over a steep brow with amazing views into the Chamonix valley.

I eventually made it to Les Houches absolutely shattered. I found the Fagot refuge, which turned out to be a stroke of luck! There was a huge thunderstorm, high winds and hail that evening. A later (Friday) conversation with an American who camped said those at the campsite abandoned tents and spent the night in the shower block. ​​​​​​​
Col du Brevent
Col du Brevent
Col du Brevent
Col du Brevent
View from Col
View from Col
Glaciers Mont Blanc
Glaciers Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc Massif
Mont Blanc Massif
Les Houches
Les Houches
DAY SEVEN - 1 July
Les Houches - Les Contamines-Montjoie 
The refuge Fagot was a clean and well-run establishment in the centre of Les Houches. I had a good evening meal and breakfast in the company of two French couples and a Frenchman, Daniel, who I would later spend time walking with. It was a shorter walking day today, just five and half hours on well worn tracks. A steep climb to the Col du Vosa (1650m), which is also a station for the Mont Blanc Tramway; constructed from 1904 it runs to a hight of 2372m at the terminus Nid d'Agile. Then, a descent through forest to Bionnassay which in 1784/5 was the base camp for expeditions intent on climbing Mont Blanc. ​​​​​​​

Mont Blanc Tramway

Prior to the Col du Vosa I was joined by Daniel, who was about the same age as me and a fellow runner. It was good to have some company and someone who walked about the same pace. I practiced my French with him, however, he had the benefit of requiring hearing aids for both ears so when I talked too much he could ‘turn me off’.

We reached Contamines-Montjoie together and bought lunch at a Carrefore, which we ate at a roadside seat. Saucisson, cheese and bread the staple diet of mountaineers (which I am not). We went our separate ways as Daniel was on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) (which I later discovered was incorrect) and I to a campsite. 

DAY EIGHT - 2 July
Les Contamines-Montjoie - Preset (Lenlevay)
You meet such an eclectic mix of people doing something like this, which makes it such fun. I ended up having Randy from Philadelphia as a campsite neighbour last night along with Chris from Vancouver, a pleasant evening as a couple of beers were sunk.

I was on the road by 7:30am and almost immediately the climb began to the Col du Bonhomme (2329m). Not high in relative terms but a challenging one just the same up the Nant Borrant valley. The col can carry snow into summer but there was just a small patch to negotiate. ​​​​​​​

Notre Dame de La Gorge - a pilgrim church.

The pathways here are suffering under extensive erosion from the number of people using this route as it also forms part of the TMB, so was busy, particularly as it was a Saturday so day walkers present too. 
At the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme (2433m) the TMB crowd turn left whilst the GR5 continues to the Crete des Gittes. It is a ridge walk and although high does not compare to the likes of Crib Goch (I think).
Col du Bonhomme
Col du Bonhomme
Crete des Gittes
Crete des Gittes
I had planned to bivouac at the refuge Plan de La Lai but it was only 3pm so I decided to continue. 

I was filling my water bottles at the refuge fountain when one of the staff came out to tell me the water was not potable and he would fill my bottles with fresh water, which he did (I was using my Katadyn filter but let him help). I put the filter away with the filled soft flasks heaved my rucksack on, picked up my walking poles and set off. Not until later did I realise that I had left my hard, full, 750cl bottle behind! Check and check again Ian! I had sufficient bottles but it was frustrating.

Just beyond the refuge Plan de La Lai is the Refuge Mya. As I approached the refuge Daniel appeared on the track, he was walking the GR5. He had been watching me descend from the Col du Sauce. A friendly meeting and I continued on my way to try and find a flat bivouac spot.

I could not find anywhere to bivouac. The ascents were steep and I was tired, very. I walked past Lenlevay and began to climb steeper. By 7:15pm after nearly eleven hours of walking I decided to just stop and put the tent up. I was just about to put the final peg in the ground when I realised there was an ant’s nest and they began to swarm. A quick decamp and I set off up the track cursing and swearing only to find Antoinev1 and Antoinev2 already bivouacked just 50m round a bend. A stroke of good luck. It transpired that v1 had set off from the Hook of Holland in April to do the full GR5 route, and was still going strong. Post note: Above Lavachay I had walked passed a lone female who had found the only flat spot to pitch a tent, and just a single one such was the lay of the land. The female, unbeknown to me was Emelie who will feature later.

Sunset above Lavachay

I was physically and mentally drained but sorted my admin and had some food and did feel a little better. My feet were suffering and my shoulders certainly know they are carrying a load. Descending is just as difficult as ascending, it plays havoc with knees especially if I take too large a step.

DAY NINE - 3 July
Presset - Landry
From the bivouac it was straight up to the Col du Bresson (2469m). It was a climb through a large boulder field with the route becoming indistinct at times. ​​​​​​​

Col du Bresson

From the col there were views ahead to the glaciated plateau of the Vanoise, my next port of call. 

A coffee at the Refuge de La Balme (2009m) was followed by a descent through alpage where cattle, brought up to summer pasture were grazing, bells clanging.

View back to Refuge de la Balme

It was a descent then along forested paths to my arrival at Landry (777m) where I camped. The walk from the trail alongside the L'Isere Riviere became a tarmacadam cycle way and in the late afternoon heat it was a real toil to keep motivated and maintain a reasonable walking pace.

I booked into the campsite sorted out my kit and got the tent up. As I wandered to the shower block I stopped to chat with a female walker who had just arrived; it was Emelie (again unbeknown to me). 

So, two stages under my belt. Rain and thunderstorms forecast for tomorrow so let’s see what happens. 

DAY TEN - 4 July
Landry - Refuge du Col du Palet
The campsite at Landry had exceptional showers which it made it worthwhile. No press button just turn the shower on and stand there, which I did! Antoines v1 and v2 were also at the campsite.

From Landry it was, as usual, straight uphill. Before Peisey-Nancroix there is a beautiful old chapel. You can also see the Vanoise Express, a cable car which crosses high over the valley. 

I was sat at a table outside the Sherpa mini-market in Peisey, after buying essentials for the day, when Daniel appeared. We set off together and made good time so instead of stopping to bivouac at Refuge d’Entre-Le-Lac as planned I continued on. 

As we began the climb to the Refuge du Col du Palet (2600m) a thunderstorm broke with lightning overhead, rain and hail. We sheltered until the storm passed and then pressed on to the refuge. It was cold and windy. I decided to use the refuge and not bivouac. 

It always amazes me as to how people plan and prepare for hill or mountain trekking. I looked out of the refuge window to see a guy with a Quecha (Decathlon) pop-up tent outside the refuge in his hoodie and trainers! He walked off the mountain the following morning with the tent under his arm. 

The two Antoines arrived at the hostel in the late afternoon but continued on to bivouac over the Col du Palet. 

The refuge served its purpose but it is the only time I have been woken by flies and not bird song!

Emelie also arrived at the hostel, who had been trekking across Europe since May, an amazing achievement. 

So, a warm and comfortable night in the refuge with dinner and breakfast provided. ​​​​​​​
Col du Palet
Col du Palet
Col du Palet
Col du Palet
Refuge du Col du Palet
Refuge du Col du Palet
Refuge du Col du Palet
Refuge du Col du Palet
Val Claret
Val Claret
Refuge du Col du Palet - Refuge les Barmettes
Daniel and I parted company at the refuge as he was continuing on the GR5 and I the GR55.

I began walking from the refuge with Emelie over the Col du Palet and out of the Parc National de la Vanoise. Over the col we found the two Antoines packing their kit and so joined forces. We walked downhill to Val Claret, an all year ski resort having access to the Glacier de la Grande Motte. I have to say it is an ugly place. 

From Val Claret, after buying supplies, we began the climb to the Col de la Leisse (2758m). It is a bleak landscape with a few lakes and views of the Grande Motte. ​​​​​​​
Le Grande Motte
Le Grande Motte
Refuge de La Leisse Emelie, Antoinev1 and Antoinev2
Refuge de La Leisse Emelie, Antoinev1 and Antoinev2
Vallon de la Leisse
Vallon de la Leisse
Vallon de la Leisse
Vallon de la Leisse
Vallon de la Leisse
Vallon de la Leisse
Vanoise Plateaux
Vanoise Plateaux
Vanoise Plateaux
Vanoise Plateaux
​​​​​​​Down the valley and then the climb to the Refuge du Col de La Vanoise (2517m). The plateau before the refuge provided stunning views and glimpse of bouquetin. The refuge is the highest on the route and I had planned to bivouac there. It transpired that the tent area was in fact a wooden platform. How one was supposed to secure a tent I didn't know. The place was full of ‘tourists’ so as the Antoines and Emilie arrived I cancelled my reservation and continued with them. We dropped down to the Refuge Les Barmettes (2010m) and being out of the Vanoise could freely bivouac, which we did. 

Lac des Vaches

Refuge les Barmettes - Refuge du Fond d’Aussois
From our bivouac it was a descent to Pralognan-la-Vanoise, a tourist destination but one which kept its traditional style. I was still with Antoines and Emelie and we stocked up on supplies before setting off to ascent the valley of the Daron Chaviere Torrent. 
A stop at the Refuge du Roc de la Peche confirmed that we could not bivouac at the Refuge de Peclet-Polset as planned. A quick discussion was had and we decided to deviate off the GR55 and go to the Refuge du Fond d’Assoirs. That meant ascending a very steep climb to the Col du Assoirs at 2950m. I struggled. By the time I reached the col I was on empty. The others dropped their rucksacks and climbed to an observation point at 3000m. I looked after their kit!

Sunrise at Les Barmettes

En route to Refuge du Fond d'Assoirs

A descent then to the refuge where we bivouacked. The bivouac area already had a number of tents and so we squeezed ourselves on a higher, small plateau. It was cold and windy and I began to chill pretty quickly. Had I rolled out of my tent on the wrong side I would have gone straight down a cliff. We could use the kitchen area to cook our food which was a great help because of the wind. Emelie was 'cooking' a sandwich in butter in the kitchen which began to smoke necessitating the opening of windows to stop any alarms going off.
It had been a very hard day. This might be obvious but it is a challenge after walking for, on average, seven to eight hours to then deal with bivouacking and the associated admin of cooking, taking care of your sore body and sorting kit. The mental challenge of doing this every day is taxing. ​​​​​​​
Refuge du Fond d’Aussois - Modane
From the refuge we descended to re-join the GR5 route to Modane. It was not quite the ‘contour around the shoulder’ we anticipated. ​​​​​​​

Enroute Modane

The descent to Modane seemed never ending. Steep, boulder strewn and rocky. It was hot under the sun and it soon became very energy sapping. After some close calls with feet slipping and sliding we eventually arrived at the outskirts of Modane. We didn’t go into the centre but made our way to the municipal campsite. It had showers so an opportunity to wash and clean clothes. 

There was a Carrefour supermarket nearby which meant I could stock up on supplies and have a decent (tinned) meal of beef and vegetables.

When we arrived, there were a number of tents already erected; one next to mine had a French chap who we later walked with - Johan (Jo).

The camp site had what was a portacabin which could be used as a kitchen. So, armed with our tins of food from the supermarket we had a good meal, which did include a good bottle of Belgian Trappist beer.

Antoinev2 left us here as he was going on to meet family elsewhere. The morning saw us saying sad farewells to him. He was a strong walker and more often was at the front leading the small group of international trekkers from Belgium, France, Sweden and England.

Modane - Refuge du Thabor
As we had passed Modane we, Antoinev1, Emelie and I, decided to reconnect with the GR5 at Fourneaux which meant a steeper climb to start the day; 1050m to 1905m at La Lavoir. 

From La Lavoir we followed a track to Valfrejus (1550m) where we could look back on the previous two days travel.


I did note that Jo had departed much earlier from the campsite without making a sound.

We passed Fort du Lavoir or Ouvrage Le Lavoir which had artillery and infantry blocks. It was part of the Maginot Line's extension, the Alpine Line. It housed 7 officers and 218 men and provided defences against Italian and later German invasions in 1940/3.

Ouvrage le Lavoir

Steep forest tracks then opened out onto a track negotiating some small buildings and hydroelectric intake dam. The path then crossed a grassy area and the Col de la Vallee Etroite (2434m) came into view. Just before the col a footpath leads right to the Refuge Thabor (2502m).

The refuge had a buvette so I had a three-egg omelette with cheese and lardons and myrtle pie to replace lost calories. There was a young 'crew' staffing the refuge so my omelette was slightly carbon'd on one side but still tasty with plenty of protein.

We bivouacked after a short climb from the refuge overlooking Lac Rond.

Towards Col de la Vallee Etroite and Refuge Thabor

The only thing to do when bivouacking near a cold alpine lake is, of course, to go for a swim. It certainly brought my body temperature down but was also very invigorating. Daniel had joined Antoine, Emelie and I at the refuge (where he was staying overnight) so after a swim we sat out in the late afternoon sun and tried to relax our hard-worked muscles

A number of people who were staying at the refuge climbed to an adjacent ridge to watch the sunset across the lake. It was a magical place.

Refuge du Thabor - Chalet des Acles
As was becoming our normal routine we were awake at first light and beginning our preparations for the day ahead. Breakfast for me was saucisson, cheese and bread with a cup of fresh coffee. The one indulgence I had allowed myself was to bring a number of Taylors coffee bags so I could, occasionally, treat myself to a fresh coffee. As the sun rose above the eastern ridge the lake began to shimmer in the morning light reflecting some of the mountains, beautiful!

Today’s route took us back along the path to the Col de la Vallee Etroite (2434m). The col was the frontier between France and Italy but is now the departmental boundary between Savoie and Hautes-Alpes.

We walked from the col descending through alpage grazed by cattle, which had now changed colour to white as opposed to the brown vache we were used to seeing. We reached a cliff edge and carefully picked our way down to continue to a river and forested track.

We entered Les Granges de la Vallee Etroite (1765m) from which we could see up to the left the 'Three Wise Men' or the peaks of Pointe Balthazar, Pointe Melchior and Pointe Gaspard.

The Three Wise Men - Les Granges de la Vallee Etroite

It was on the track that Antoine tripped and fell face first. A little shaken he sat for a moment and then managed to stand with a little assistance. Having dusted himself down he discovered that his mobile 'phone had come into contact with a rock and had been bent and smashed beyond use.

There was a refuge further along the track and we headed for this. Five minutes later I tripped and went down too. A couple of grazes but no other damage.

We walked on to the Rifugio i Re Magi very carefully!

There were two roads into the valley, the main being from Italy so many Italians trekked in the Vallee Etroite. It was as though we were actually in Italy.

After a stop at the refuge we continued, passing the Rifugio Tre Alpini, also flying the Italian flag. A climb to the Col des Thures (2194m), which was also part of the old frontier between the two countries, saw us re-enter 'France'.

From the col we began a descent to Plamplinet (1482m) which is where we planned to bivouac. As a team Emelie, Antoine and myself had been making good walking time and were generally ahead of the generic time(s) indicated for the route. I hasten to add that the other two were very quick, strong walkers and it was usually I who was 'tail-end-charlie'.

Having reached Plamplinet mid-afternoon we decided to continue for an hour or so to find a bivouac spot. We found a restaurant open so sat and had a cold drink. There was a charcuterie (closed) next to the restaurant so we asked if we could purchase some supplies. Cheese and saucisson was bought and we managed to procure some bread. Filling our water containers from the fountain we set off from the village.

It was a winding path/track up the mountainside of about 400m to the Chalets des Acles (1870m) where we hoped to bivouac next to the Torrent des Acles. Antoine spotted a chap at one of the chalets and asked about a bivouac spot. He was very helpful and took us to a flat area next to the torrent. He advised that if it rained during the night we should be aware of the torrent suddenly living up to its name.

He also advised that sheep and goats would be coming down in the evening from higher alpage accompanied by patous. He told us that there were wolves in the area and that if, during the night, the patous began barking we should take care!

Wolves crossed from Italy in the 1990's and there are small numbers in the eastern French Alps around the frontier region. France's population of wolves at 2021 was 580 (Wikipedia), they are a protected species.

You may recall I mentioned seeing a chap, Johan (Jo), at the campsite at Modane. When we arrived at the chalets we found that Jo was already there with his tent pitched. We spent an enjoyable evening sat chatting with Jo. We shared food; the saucisson from Pamplinet had walnut and Jo had some with pine, but even better, Jo had a small [plastic] bottle of Pastis.

It transpired that Jo was a Police Nationale officer stationed in Paris, originally from Dijon. We spent a wonderful evening sat in woodland next to the torrent chatting and eating.

And of course, in the middle of the night the patous went berserk, barking loudly and obviously defending the flock against some intruder. I would like to 'big' the story and say it was a pack of wolves but who knows, I didn't get out of my tent!

Chalet des Acles - Briancon
We struck bivouac and now four of us set off to Briancon, Emelie, Jo, Antoine and myself.
From the chalets we climbed to the Col de Dormillouse (2445m) but didn't go over, instead turning left to climb to a slightly higher Col de la Lauze (2529m). It was a well-defined ridge and having summited you simply stepped over to the other side to begin the descent. We were re-joined by Daniel and so the 'international team' continued on its way to Briancon.

We walked down through the forested slopes of Vallon des Baisses and the first houses we glimpsed were actually in Italy. We arrived at Montgenevre (1849m) walking from a track onto a tarmacadam road and what seemed like a lot of traffic. An obvious tourist town it’s outward facing chalets and apartments didn’t quite continue into the town.

Montgenevre and the col is/was a strategic one. Caesar and Napoleon I marched armies back and forth, the latter having a monument raised in his memory. It is also on a pilgrim route to Rome and Santiago. Jo, with his police knowledge, said it was a route, over the nearby mountains from Italy, for migrants and hence the larger than normal Gendarme presence. Sadly, many tried to cross in winter and did not make it.

We stopped to buy food in the local Sherpa (Casino) mini market and then continued on our journey. It involved walking briefly at the side of the main route to Italy and was heavy with traffic. We were glad to reach the forested footpath and leave the noise behind.

We climbed a little through forest and then began to descend toward Briancon (1180m). We crossed the Pont d’Asfeld an early 18th century bridge spanning a deep gorge before walking up to the fortified Cite Vauban.

Pont d'Asfeld, Briancon

I had particularly wanted to visit Briancon and we had all, except Daniel who was travelling on, agreed to have a rest day here.

Briancon dates back to the 11th century. Its fortified walls were constructed in the 17th century and it became a major garrison town. It is one of the highest towns of its size in Europe.

There were two campsites listed, one near to the GR5 but Antoine and I enquired at the tourist information office as to any closer ones. Alas there were none and we were informed that the Camping Des 5 Vallees at Saint Blaise was only two kilometres away. We all stopped at a cafe in the Cite Vauban for a treat of ice cream. Here we bid Daniel a fond farewell as he was going on to Annecy to visit family.

So, we set off the four of us to the camp site. It was not two kilometres, more like five and we were feeling tired and frustrated as we walked on roadside footpaths to the place. Thankfully when we arrived it was a relaxed camping site and we all pitched in the same area together.
Showers, toilets a restaurant and even better a flat piece of ground to put the tent!

The Tour de France had been in the area so as you would image there were a lot of cyclists about. There were some very expensive bikes with the camping cars at the site which I looked on enviously. Whilst the site was busy it was quiet and at 10pm a hush fell across Camping des 5 Vallees.

We all had different 'admin' stuff to deal with on the rest day. Antoine wanted to try and replace his mobile' phone, Emelie some clothing, Jo was having some problems with his rucksack and I was on the search for some trail shoes. I knew which I wanted and what would be ok and had planned to change from boots to lighter footwear in readiness for the hotter southern sections at the start of the trek. We all went off in different directions planning to eat together at the restaurant that evening.
We had some success and not. Antoine could not find a replacement 'phone and Jo couldn't resolve his rucksack problems. Emelie, though, found what she needed as did I.

Sadly, Jo felt that he could not continue with us in the morning and so retired from the GR5. We missed him, he was good company and had a confidence that came with his profession; he also had Ricard!

We had dinner together and a couple of beers and enjoyed our flat camping place, it might be the last for a while.

Porte d'Embrun, Briancon

Briancon - Lac du Roue
Having walked to the campsite from Briancon (1180m) we didn't have to renegotiate the town (new) to get back onto the GR5. Road turned into track as we climbed to the Chalets des Ayes (1711m) then road and more track before reaching a footpath that would continue to climb to the Col des Ayes (2477m). From here we could see ahead to Monte Viso in Italy.
We then began to zig-zag down to a grassy area with a small lake which was overshadowed by a large cliff. Continuing down we eventually reached the village of Brunissard (1746m).

On leaving Brunissard there were views to Col Fromage and almost to Col Giradin two days ahead. Brunissard was where I had scheduled to bivouac but again we had made good time and so decided to continue to find a spot about an hour or so further ahead. We were now in the Parc Naturel Regional du Queyras.

We passed through a small village, Les Maisons (1693m). The houses were close to the narrow road which passed through and the signs before the village gave an indication that the villagers were fed up of tourist traffic!

We continued to climb and eventually arrived at Lac de Roue (1850m). The lake was surrounded by forest and we found a wonderful spot to bivouac, with views of the lake.
Lac de Roue
Lac de Roue
Birthday Bivouac
Birthday Bivouac
DAY NINETEEN - 13 July (Happy 63rd Birthday Ian!)
Lac du Roue - Ceillac
Fromage (Comte), saucisson (walnut), pain (fresh-ish!) and a Taylor's fresh coffee bag was my birthday breakfast in my forested bivouac.

We left the lake and walked through the forest before beginning the descent to Chateau-Queyras. It is a beautiful region with forested slopes of larch. Fort Queyras is instantly recognisable; fortifications commenced in 1260 and strengthened in 1692.
We found a cafe open as we entered the village about 8.30am and stopped for refreshments. You may recall that Antoine is Belgian and so somewhat of a beer aficionado, especially Trappist. He was very pleased to see that the small village cafe/restaurant had some very good Trappist beer in the cooler (we didn't have any!).

We walked through the village streets and sought out the Espace Geologique in an old crypt.
Fort Queyras
Fort Queyras
Chateau Queyras
Chateau Queyras
From the village we crossed Le Guile's Torrent and began to climb a very steep, almost vertical cobbled, footpath which took [me] tremendous effort to climb.

We walked through larch forest following the river to Fontaine Rouge (2125m) with views of the twin peaks of Pointe de la Selle.
We continued to climb and eventually reached Col Fromage (2301m), seen some days earlier. From the col we descended towards Ceillac, our destination for the day. The path was rocky with loose stone which made the descent difficult. It is mentally frustrating when such care has to be taken going downhill but it was important to avoid a slide and twisting ankles or damaging knees, especially as I had reached the ripe old age of 63! Patience!

We arrived in Ceillac in the mid afternoon and found a cafe/bar open. Celebratory beers (Trappist of course) for Antoine and me and sparkling wine for Emelie. Antoine found a patisserie open and so cakes were purchased. We spent a pleasant hour chilling in the pretty, small village enjoying the sunshine.

The village store provided the food replenishment we needed and we left the village to locate a nearby campsite, which was on the GR5 route. Antoine decided that he would bivouac so Emelie and I booked into the campsite Les Melezes. A very friendly welcome and pro GR5 trekkers.

One benefit of having a village store not far from the evening camp or bivouac was that I could buy tins of food to cook that evening and then discard the tins into waste bins before setting off the following day. So a pleasant meal of some meat with vegetables to put some bulk into an empty stomach!
DAY TWENTY - 14 July
Ceillac - Fouillouse
There were some fireworks somewhere in the valley during last night in celebration of the French national holiday 'Fete nationale francaise' celebrating the storming of the Bastille in 1789.

After we had breakfast and packed all our gear we were about to walk to the location we had agreed to meet Antoine when I looked up the hill within the forest and saw what looked like Bigfoot; it was Antoine, he had been bivouacking about 100m away in the forest.

The GR5 path ran along the top of the campsite so the three of us reunited and continued our journey. From Ceillac (1639m) we climbed steadily to Lac Miroir (2214m), which does exactly as its name suggests.

Lac Miroir

We rested at the lake and took photographs after our climb. There were other people dotted around the lake, some who had bivouacked, but it was tranquil, and beautiful.

From the lake it was a continued climb to Lac Ste Anne (2415m) where there is also a chapel.
Chapel of Ste Anne
Chapel of Ste Anne
Lac Ste Anne
Lac Ste Anne
From Lac Ste Anne we began the ascent to Col Giradin (2706m) one of the highest cols on the GR5. Here we crossed the departmental boundary from the Hautes-Alpes into Alpes de Haute-Provence. It was a steep climb up a zig-zag path on scree and it was a welcome relief to reach the col. There were wonderful views back to Ceillac and the Parc Naturel Regional du Queyras. We had a steep, worn path descent which eventually crossed a grassy area where we rested a while. Marmots were once again ever-present whistling away as we approached.

If in doubt consult the guide book!

We were heading for La Balme, which we knew had no facilities except water so we decided to try and make Fouillouse. As challenges go it became a big one!

From La Barge we had to walk on the road for a while. The GR5 intermittently ran parallel to the road which helped; it was very hot and the road surface likewise was not helping my feet. We were all tired and had to stop at St Antoine to rest in shade and have some food and water. Naturally our Antoine took on a saintly persona as we were next to the chapel of his name.

Chapel St Antoine

We were in a quandary as to what to do. The heat was debilitating and we were tired, we also knew it was a steep climb to Fouillouse but we decided to head there. I was having thoughts that we should have bivouacked near to La Barge but I tried to put them to the back of my mind and focus on the route ahead.

Le Pont Chatelet came into view further down the Ubaye valley and knowing we had to cross it was further mentally taxing.

Le Pont Chatelet

There is a history to the bridge; proposed in 1875 as a wooden bridge but completed in stone in 1882. It arches 27m and is 108m above the L'Ubaye Riviere. It was mined in 1944 but resisted the explosion and repaired in 1945. The road was blasted out of the rock.

We crossed the bridge, walked through a road tunnel and after a short distance on the road turned left onto a footpath through forest towards Fouillouse (1907m).

It was hard. I was tired, water was running low and I was really having to motivate myself to keep walking. Eventually the path levelled and we began to contour around a shoulder. At first all we saw was the road head and a large car park but eventually the village came into view. We walked into the village and stopped at the first, and only, gite d'etape that we encountered. It had a bar and restaurant but the service was so poor and slow that we did not remain long. Walking further up the main street we came across the village store which was much more accommodating. We bought supplies and an ice cream. The man who ran the store directed us to some land on the other side of a stream where we could bivouac for the night. I have to say that the village was a strange place, almost a step back in time!

The bivouac was on a small plateau of land and I slept well, likely due to the exhaustion of the day!

Fouillouse - Larche
From the village we began the day walking uphill, as was the norm. Col du Vallonnet (2520m) is a boulder strewn col which we reached after about two hours of ascent. From there we could see the Col de Mallemort and the peak of La Meyna.
We eventually arrived at an old military road and turned left to walk uphill to pass the Baraquements de Viraysse (2503m), built in the 1880's in response to the Italian threat of invasion.

Baraquements de Viraysse

A path of sweeping zig-zags leads to the Col de Mallemort (2558m) from where we began the descent to Larche (1680m). 

The nearby Tete de Viraysse has a (ruined) gun battery 'Batterie de Viraysse', which at 2772m was the highest work of fortifications in France in the 19th century. 

The late 1880's was an interesting period in terms of mountain warfare. Italy had become a unified country and began to pose a threat to France along its alpine border, hence the fortifications. France created, in 1888, its mountain troops 'Alpine Chasseurs a Pied Battalions' which became 'Alpine Chasseurs Battalions' or alpine hunters, elite mountain troops.

We descended from the col to Larche which had a small village store where we resupplied and enjoyed a cold coke. It had a fountain so I could replenish my water supplies too.

Larche is on a main route from France into Italy and the next day's walking would be near the Franco/Italian border. Larche was completely destroyed by German and Italian forces in 1944.

We had made good time to Larche and as we walked in the direction of Italy we arrived at a gite d'etape/auberge and so stopped to have some food. Afterwards we walked alongside the L'Ubaye Torrent to a wooded area where we bivouacked. We were next to the torrent so had plenty of water and also an opportunity to take a dip in the cold waters flowing from the mountains.
I was short of food and hungry, I needed to have some calories. I decided to walk the kilometre or so back to the auberge and buy a meal. The auberge did pizza and so I ordered two. One for now and one for tomorrow. I ate the 'now' pizza and the owner very kindly cut and foil wrapped the other for me to carry the next day. As I arrived back at the bivouac I saw Antoine's face light up when he saw what I was carrying and a little guilty when I told him it was for me tomorrow.

Larche - Bousieyas
From our bivouac we followed the torrent into Val Fourane and entered the Parc National du Mercantour. We reached Lac du Lauzanier (2284m) after a gentle climb on slabby sandstone. We were now in the Vallon du Lauzanier and heading to Pas de la Cavale (2671m). The ascent was on bouldery scree and at times proved quite challenging. A slip would have meant a long, quick descent down a large scree slope. The col is the departmental boundary between Alpes de Haute-Provence and Alpes-Maritimes. We could see ahead to the Col de la Colombiere, Auron and Mont Mounier. The descent was down a rocky, steep boulder strewn path along narrow ledges to grassy slopes. When I looked back to the col it was impossible to see the path descended.

Looking back at Pas de la Cavale

The valley after the pass was named Salso Moreno when it was occupied by Spanish troops from 1744-47 such were the changing fortunes of this border region.

We crossed the Ravin de la Tour which was dry at the time but gave an indication of the amount of water that would flow from the mountains. We stopped at a cabin and had some lunch. It was impossible to find shade from what was becoming another very hot day. From the cabin, a small stone building used by shepherds, we could see the concrete casements high on the Col des Fourches where guns were mounted during the more turbulent years.

After our rest we climbed to the Col des Fourches (2661m) from where one could see the Camp des Fourches. Built in the 1890s it housed soldiers known as Les Diables Bleus who patrolled the border between France and Italy. A main road runs through the camp now to Cima de la Bonette which, apparently, is the highest road pass in western Europe. As you would imagine it was heavily used by motorcyclists and looked like a race track such was the surface. I suspect it featured on Top Gear at some time.

Our destination was Bousieyas (1883m). We followed a footpath which cut out many of the hairpin bends in the road. The view was restricted as I arrived to cross a section of road so a halt to listen for the high-pitched rev. of a motorbike and then a very quick trot across the road to the safety of the other side.

We stopped at a bar/restaurant at Bousieyas to buy a drink and some food. Unfortunately, we were informed that meals were not being served so had to settle for a cold drink and some cake (the service was not very good). The bar was also next to the road and the constant howl of bikes going past was not a pleasant experience after the tranquillity of the mountains.

We left the bar and walked up stone steps to a cafe where we bought some supplies. I noticed that a man who looked like a ranger and a female sat down at the cafe with us.

We left the cafe intending to walk for a further hour to locate a bivouac site. We crossed the Tinee Torrent and the Rio Torrent to climb to a grassy plateau near to a small lake where we set our tents. It was 6:15pm. We were about to start cooking our evening meal when a 4x4 arrived on the track below us. It was the male and female I had seen at the cafe earlier. He had what I took to be a ranger uniform but the long hair and pony tail threw me. It transpired he was a police officer. He pointed out that we could not pitch tents until 7pm (until 9am). He asked us to 'drop' our tents until the allotted hour, which of course we did. Firm but fair and friendly it was good to see that the rules of bivouac were being enforced in the national park. We re-erected our tents after 7pm.

Camp des Fourches

Bivouac above Bousieyas looking towards Pas de la Cavale

Bousieyas - Auron
Col de La Colombiere (2237m) was the first col of the day, sighted yesterday. We climbed through boulder scree to reach the col. The descent went through small ravines and into the Vallon de la Combe where we exited the Parc National du Mercantour. Some of the path had been hacked out from limestone cliff but we eventually arrived in the village of St Dalmas le Selvage. It was Sunday and so there was a small market in the village and the local store was open. It had freshly baked croissant and pain au chocolate and coffee! We resupplied with cheese and bread and continued on our route to St Etienne de Tinee. 

Last year the Vallee Tinee suffered catastrophic flooding from heavy summer thunderstorms and there was evidence as we walked of the rebuilding work being carried out.

We stopped in St Etienne to eat. It was getting very hot and being in the steep sided valleys added to the heat generated. The heat was also a threat in building afternoon thunderstorms so we were acutely aware and watchful of how clouds were forming later in the day.

Mediterranean influences were beginning to show, not just in the heat but lavender was now growing wild on the mountainsides and lizards could be heard scurrying away as you approached. The lavender smelled wonderful and came in useful for masking other not quite so pleasant odours.

Tarmac roads out of St Etienne then track and eventually path to St Maur (1200m) and then through forest to emerge on a dusty track. This connected with a tarmac road which led to Auron (1602m), our destination.

Auron; I had expected a pleasant mountain village cum ski resort but I found the town distasteful. I suppose like Val Claret it looks wonderful in winter when covered with snow but now?

Emelie and I decided to use the campsite where we could have showers and both resupply and get some food to eat at a restaurant/cafe. There are two campsites in Auron but only one was open. It was difficult to describe the place. There were mobile homes which had odd bits of timber around them, they looked like DIY projects gone wrong. Some were unoccupied and falling down. We we informed we could camp anywhere but could not find any flat ground. Eventually in the furthest corner we found something resembling a reasonable area and pitched our tents. It reminded us of the American trailer [trash] parks that we had seen on TV and looked like a scrap yard more than a welcoming overnight resting place; that it had started raining did not help the matter. The town or campsite is not somewhere I would want to return too.

On the plus side we found a decent Casino supermarket and resupplied and had a very enjoyable meal in a restaurant; Emelie eventually managing to have raclette which she had been pestering us about for days.

Antoine had decided to go on for an hour and bivouac. He struck lucky in being invited to stay in a chalet of someone who obviously understood the challenges of trekking the GR5.

Auron - Refuge de Longon
Emelie and I departed Auron with a plan to catch up with Antoine on the trail, so an early start. We followed a dirt track to a car park then past a golf driving range and crossed the bottom of a ski piste to climb into forest. We continued to climb until the trees gave way to a grassy col, Col du Blainon (2014m). Here we had views of the Vallee de la Tinee and the high peaks of the Parc National du Mercantour. The mountains here were much more forested and the valleys much narrower and steeper sided. After crossing the col the descent had wild lavender, which together with the scent of broom, alpine flowers and herbs made for a heavy aroma.

It was on the descent that we met with Antoine who told us about his fortunate meeting and comfortable night in a chalet. It certainly trumped our night at the 'scrapyard' which we paid for!

So the three of us descended to Roya (1500m). The gite d'etape was open and so we stopped for refreshments, orange juice, coffee and a piece of apricot tart for me. The owners gave some good advice that Refuge de Longon was closed but it was possible to bivouac still nearby. They asked if we had seen an English couple walking south-north who had come from Longon the previous day, with no food and very little water. The owner said they were in a terrible state and cursing the 'French'. The owner had offered help but been rebuffed. I apologised for my countrymen and their attitude!

We left Roya and began a climb having passed the village chapel and crossed two rivers. We passed the Barres de Roya, cliffs of limestone that look like dry stone walling.

Chapel at Roya

From Roya (1500m) we climbed to the Col de Crousette (2480m) and from there on a shoulder to La Stele Valette (2587m).

We could see dark clouds approaching and signs of an imminent storm. Looking across from La Stele Valette we could see where we were heading next, a rounded mountain Mont Demant, which was very exposed.

As we started across Mont Demant the storm broke with heavy rain and lightning. We were at about 2000m and the storm, directly overhead, was close and threatening. We made haste to cross the open mountain and seek safety in the valley of the Demant Torrent (1810m).

We followed the Vallon de la Gourgette (1800m) and then began a climb across scree and below cliffs to the hanging valley of Longon. After passing through the Portes de Longon we continued along a grassy valley to arrive at the Refuge de Longon (1883m).

The refuge was being refurbished and workmen were on site. It is an isolated place with no obvious vehicle access. We were cold, wet and tired, thunder was still rumbling around the adjacent valleys. The workmen offered no shelter and whilst having a water source informed us that we could obtain water about 500m further along the track. We struggled to find somewhere to pitch our tents eventually settling for a small plateau some distance from the refuge. We pitched our tents and got out of our wet clothing, into wet tents! We got into our sleeping bags to get warm and cooked our meals in our respective tent vestibules. For me it was rehydrated mash-potatoes with nutmeg and Abondance cheese with saucisson added. It was bulky, filled my stomach and warm. Several fig biscuits and a cup of coffee ended my meal after which I curled up and went straight to sleep; I was shattered.

Refuge de Longon - St Dalmas
Thankfully when we struck our bivouac it was not raining but the tent was wet inside and out and clothing too was still wet. So wet clothing back on although I did have dry socks (albeit my shoes were soaking) and some dry underwear.

We began the morning walk descending through the valley from the refuge passing the remains of a vacherie that had been demolished by avalanche. The path was steep in places crossing torrents in ravines until we arrived at chalets at Rougios (1467m). We were effectively following the course of the Vallee de la Tinee with its steep forested slopes to arrive at the mountain village of Roure (1096m). We stopped in the village near to the chapel to rest and have some snacks. Antoine worked his magic and, in the village, he found a store open returning with cold Coca-Cola. Many mountain villages are suffering as the young people leave to seek employment and the older villagers leave through a fear of not receiving adequate health care. Many of the village houses are either unoccupied or falling into disrepair.


After our rest we continued on the GR5 route through the village. We descended away from the chapel down steps passing a series of stone arches which contained large stone troughs, probably ten feet in length. They were old wash places for the village, now dry. We walked to the lower houses in the village, which were three story, facing the Vallee de la Tinee, with stunning views from their windows towards St Sauveur sur Tinee (496m) our next destination.

We arrived in St Sauveur towards lunchtime and so stopped at a cafe to buy some food. I had been thinking about the next part of the route because at St Dalmas, which was todays destination, the GR5 continued to Nice whilst the variant route, the GR52, finished at Menton and was three days longer. I had planned to walk the GR52 but water was becoming scarce and some refuge were closing because of a lack of water. I also wanted to take more time on the GR52 as the Vallee des Merveilles has a great deal of Bronze Age petroglyphs some of which can only be viewed with a guide. So, I decided to continue on the GR5 to Nice. With a heavy heart I told Emelie and Antoine of my change in plan.

After our lunch stop we walked to the edge of the town and turned left up a steep road passing the Chapelle St Roch and continuing to climb until reaching a path in woodland. Some of today’s route used old mule tracks and this part was on the Route du Sel, or old Salt Route. We climbed almost 600m to the fortified hamlet of Rimplas (1016m). From there a descent to Vallon de Bramatam and the small hamlet of La Bolline (995m).

I mistook La Bolline for St Dalmas for some reason and thought we were nearly there. It was a bit of a blow when I realised we still had some way to go, and that it was a climb! I was still walking at a good pace but feeling very tired. We had stopped at Rimplas and bought a cold drink at the hotel/restaurant, the only place available, which had given some respite but St Dalmas was taking its time to appear.

We had met a young English couple when we stopped at Rimplas who were also walking the GR5 from Chamonix. The chap was on a number of internet sites giving details of the route and he informed us that some refuge 'behind' us had closed due to lack of water and that Italy was considering closing most of its mountain refuge for the same reason. They had stopped for a couple of hours to let the heat subside and I have to say it was extremely hot. I was beginning to think that continuing on the GR5 was the correct choice for me.
We followed tracks and some road uphill and eventually reached St Dalmas passing our intended campsite Camping de la Ferme to reach the Casino supermarket before it closed at 7pm - it was 6:50pm so a bit of a sprint up the main street. We made it in time and stocked up for our days ahead. Emelie and Antoine were concerned about the availability of food supplies over the coming few days on the GR52 and I knew I had a hard day ahead to Utelle to come in the morning. I made my purchases which included a litre of apple juice which I just drank straightaway I was so thirsty. Rucksacks bursting with food we walked back down the main street to the campsite.

St Dalmas is within the commune of Valdeblore as is La Bolline (dated to 1320), La Roche (1271) and St Dalmas is the oldest dating back to 1060. Its village chapel dates back to at least the 11th century and some murals have been dated to the 7th century.

Camping de la Ferme was a friendly little site with terraced camping areas which were flat and had some shade. The owner was on hand to show us where to pitch and where the clean and well-maintained sanitary building was.

As it was our last night together we considered going into the village for a drink and something to eat but by the time we had sorted all our kit and had showers it was 9pm. So we cooked some of our food together and Antoine had bought a bottle of Trappist beer from the supermarket which we shared. It was a pleasant, cool evening and even better all my kit, including the tent, was dry so a good nights sleep was had.

The 'GR5 ers'

St Dalmas - Utelle
Emelie wanted to have an early start to try and avoid the heat of the day. I was up and about at 6am and Emelie was already packing ready to leave. We said our farewells and she set off to complete the GR52 to Menton leaving Antoine to catch up en route.

I sorted out my kit and readied for the day. Antoine had packed and we bid each other farewell as he set off to catch up with Emelie. My route for the day was 29 kilometres with 1055m of ascent along which I knew water was scarce; there was only one place shown as having water - Les Granges de la Brasque. As I walked towards the exit of the site I saw Antoine; if you recall he had broken his mobile 'phone which had all his route information on. He had walked up the main street to the chapel where the GR52 goes left and the GR5 right but being unsure had returned to the campsite to check. Having obtained route details from a fellow walker for the GR52 we both left together and at the chapel went on our respective routes.

I climbed a steep and stony track away from the village into a dense larch forest which were hung heavily with skeins of lichen. After about two hours of ascending I arrived at the Col des Deux Caires (1921m). As I was sat admiring the view and having some food a walker appeared crossing the col and continuing along a footpath to my left. The route details did not quite fit the landscape here and a rock had markings for the GR5 showing straight ahead. I walked about 250 metres and realised this was incorrect. Returning to the col I found that the path had been redirected due to landslip. I managed to find my way up to a ridge-line at around 2000m and followed an indistinct path to eventually re-join what was the main route near to Mont Tournairet. It was frustrating, hot and hard going underfoot. I had loaded myself with 2.5 litres of water which added an extra 2.5 kilos of weight to my rucksack. Eventually I reached the Collet des Trous (1982m) and from there began to descend towards Les Granges. I joined a track which zig-zagged but had a number of short cuts reducing the need to follow the track.

I arrived at Les Granges de la Brasque and just before entering the little hamlet I saw an older lady sat next to a car parked at the side of the track. I enquired if she knew where the water source was in the area of the chalets and she told me there wasn't one. She did give me a small bottle of water though, which I thanked her profusely for, my supplies were getting low. I walked through the hamlet passing a series of old barracks. Just beyond them two men were working on a building and I enquired with them about a water source. I didn't understand their response but their body language said enough - no water!

I continued mindful that I had to ration my water intake as I still had about five hours of walking ahead of me and it was getting very hot. I would reach a road then drop off left onto a footpath through forest, re-join a road and do the same until I arrived at Col des Founes (1351m). At the col I continued straight ahead onto a forest path which contoured around to Col de Grateloup (1412m) with views of Brec d'Utelle ahead. By this time, I was tired, it was hot and I didn't have a lot of water left. I had my 'phone in the chest bag and so played some music through the speakers to try and motivate myself. It had an additional advantage; I found Chris Rea (Expresso Logic) very useful for scaring the sanglier (wild boar) off which were on the track edge ahead.

From the col the route began to climb steeply crossing a rocky slope to Le Petite Brec. The path then went steeply uphill on a rocky path, almost like steps, then climbed a ramp up a cliff face, through a rocky gap close to the summit of Brec d'Utelle. It was challenging to say the least especially in the heat and having to be careful with my water.

From Breche du Brec (1520m) it was more rugged path with footbridges to navigate narrow stretches across cliffs. It was a steep descent to Col du Castel Gineste (1220m) the path continuing through forest but still steep and rocky. Glimpses of Utelle could be had and eventually I arrived at a road leading into the village.


Utelle (821m) is an old fortified (against Saracen raiders) hilltop village. It was once prosperous thanks to the salt trade, being at the crossroads of the old mule trails linking the Vesubie valleys. According to Provence Web the village has 70 inhabitants in winter and 300 in summer.

I had just about used all my water as I arrived in the village to find that no restaurants/cafes were open, nor was the village store. I asked some ladies sat on the chapel steps if they could direct me to the gite d'etape and they told me that the telephone number was on the door of the village store opposite. As I walked towards the store I saw a chap with a large rucksack and he shouted that if I wanted the gite the owner was just walking down the street. Lady Luck was certainly with me; I called the owner back, a very nice woman who also owned the village store, so I booked into the gite and bought some supplies at the store, including a large bottle of Grimbergen beer which I very much felt I had earned.

The gite looked like an old municipal building that had been converted. It had a kitchen/dining area on the ground floor with a 12 [bunk] bed room, toilet and shower upstairs. It was clean and very well presented. There were just two of us in the place. The person who had pointed me to the owner was a German chap from the Black Forest. He had bought two tins of Heineken beer one of which he shared with me. It was a very convivial evening; we cooked our respective meals in the kitchen and chatted for a couple of hours. I had the last of my mash-potato with Abondance cheese and saucisson and Bonne Maman's jam tarts, a real feast! Not forgetting the Grimbergen too!

Utelle - Aspremont
The gite had a filter coffee machine so fresh ground coffee was served for breakfast to accompany cheese, saucisson and the last of my jam tarts!

I walked from the gite feeling much better after a good night’s rest and ready to face another day; the penultimate one!
From the Place de la Republique it was a short walk passed village houses, down stone steps and over a footbridge to join a forested path. I passed the Chapelle St Antoine which dates from 1686. After about an hour I reached a further chapel Cros d'Utelle (330m) and then Pont du Cros (180m) in the Gorges de Vesubie, just about the lowest (in height) point on the GR5.

From the bridge it was then a steady climb through forest until I arrived at a quarry. I passed the Canal de Vesubie, constructed in 1880 to bring water to Nice. Near the quarry I came upon a stream and was able to resupply with water, using the Katadyn BeFree filter. From there to the town of Levens (550m). There was supposed to be a restaurant/shop on the route but it was closed. I walked on very hot roads through the town descending steps to follow a further road through housing. I was beginning to overheat again and noticed in passing a closed petrol station that it had a cold drinks machine outside. Fortunately, I had €3 in coin and so enjoyed a cold can of Coca-Cola and another of Orangina. 

I continued to negotiate Levens via road and paths which ran behind houses until eventually I took a path which led through forest and emerged at Sainte Claire (520m). The heat was becoming debilitating and I began to have to stop much more to rest. It became a mental struggle to put my rucksack on and start walking again. As I neared the outskirts of Ste Claire there were a number of houses with swimming pools that appeared unoccupied. I was so tempted to drop my rucksack, climb the fence and just dive into a pool!

From the village it was a road walk before turning left onto a wide track. A footpath then went off to the right with warnings about loose boulder conglomerate, advising that if in doubt stay on the track which meets the path further on. The track was like a furness so I opted for the path which went into forest and thus shade.

I climbed to Rocca Partida (564m) and then made an error. I mistook a path to the left as the route and descended to a track junction, turning right. After a few hundred metres I realised that I had dropped down too early. I couldn't face the climb back up to the path and so after consulting the map continued along the track. The track ran parallel with the GR5 to a small commune, La Rohiere, and then to Aspremont.

I arrived in La Rohiere feeling at the point of collapse but knew it was only 50 minutes to Aspremont, which I felt I could manage. I walked along the road and came across what I assumed were roadworks with 'Access Interdit'. I climbed around the barriers and went further along the road only to find that a bridge across a ravine was under repair; in fact, there was no bridge and it was impossible to get to the other side. It was the final straw.

I recalled seeing a sign for a gite d'etape and thought I would see if I could stay the night as I was in no state to go any further.

Now, I am going to recount the full story as it really shows the kindness extended to me:

I went down the track to the gite and up some external stairs to the main house on the first floor. The door was open and so I shouted and Charlie answered. I asked if it was possible to stay and he said not. He invited me in and offered some cold, bottled water which I readily accepted. After a short while Charlotte, Charlie's wife, came up the stairs and sat with us. Charlie explained what I had asked and Charlotte, almost immediately, said I could stay. I asked how much it would be and she replied, 'Nothing'. We sat at the table and chatted some more and then they both took me down the stairs to a gite on the ground floor. It had a kitchen, bed, toilet and shower. I think it was used by their family when they visited as it had many of their things within. They asked if I would like to eat with them and of course I said, 'yes please'.

I had a shower and changed out of my sweaty clothing into something a little less smelly and went out into the garden. It was full of flowers which they were both watering. I took the watering can from Charlotte and helped. Charlie was watering an adjacent allotment which had tomato, courgette, cucumber, squash and olive trees and I helped him water. From there we went to an outhouse with chickens and collected eggs.

Back to the house and at the table dinner was prepared; fresh tomato, cucumber, green beans, garlic and home pressed olive oil. We had Ricard whilst cutting the legumes and then with dinner a rose wine. Cheese and a desert wine followed. 

Natalie and George were staying in the gite next to the one I was using. They were on holiday from Paris, a very friendly couple in their 50's. They had made a tiramisu desert which after we had finished diner they brought up and shared with us, along with limoncello. We chatted and when I next realised it was 11:30pm.

Charlie and Charlotte are both in their 80's. They run the gite, maintain a beautiful house, garden and allotment as well as their chickens. Charlie still worked as a taxi driver! Charlie's parents fled Italy to France when Mussolini came to power.

Charlie and Charlotte Manzi

They are such a wonderfully warm-hearted couple who helped me when I was at a very low point. They welcomed me into their home and took great care of me. It is a kindness I could never repay and will never forget. The route error brought me to their door - 'le sort' (destiny).

La Rohiere - Nice
The morning of my final day dawned. I was awake at 6am and packed my kit and sorted water etc for the day. Although I had not been able to reach Aspremont because of the bridge, or lack of, my route to Nice would run parallel to the 'official' GR5. It was about 4 hours walking time.

Charlie knocked on the door at 7:30am and I went upstairs for breakfast. He had planned to take me in his car to Nice but I kindly refused. So, it was that at 8:30am Charlie and Charlotte walked with me to the main road and turning right I headed for Nice. It was predominantly a roadside walk to the outskirts of Nice, somewhat of an anti-climax, and the suburbs of the city are not pleasant. Lots of traffic, sirens and most notably no-one says, 'Bonjour'!

As I approached the Promenade des Anglais (0m - Sea Level!) the tourists and associated services grew. I felt like an alien in another world. Large ladies dressed to kill were struggling with brightly coloured plastic suitcases onto the beach obviously not wanting to miss a minute in the sun before they departed. I took a photograph of the Mediterranean and headed to the railway station. With minutes to spare I caught the 13:20 train to St Raphael-Valescure and home.

I had completed my GR5 trek, 400 miles over the Alps in 28 days. The following morning, I rang Charlie and Charlotte to let them know I had arrived safely home. Lynn and I will visit in the next few weeks to say a special 'Thank You'.

I read and watched a great deal of information about the GR5 before setting off. Some was useful and some not. Some professed a degree of professional knowledge which I doubted they had.

My 'bible' was the Cicerone book Trekking the GR5 Trail - Through the French Alps from Lake Geneva to Nice by Paddy Dillon 3rd Ed ISBN 13:978 1 85284 828 6 with the 2020 updates. 

I did not need to use any maps. The signage and white/red markers proved sufficient to navigate the route along with Paddy Dillon's excellent guide, which gave very clear directions and information. Somewhat old fashioned I carried the guide with me but it can be downloaded. The route can also be downloaded onto mapping apps but that necessitates a 'phone with power!

I would not call myself a fast walker but I was generally ahead of Paddy's times and those given on the signs. That was in some part achieved in keeping pace with Antoine and Emelie!

The refuges, other than Chesery in Switzerland, had space when I arrived without having made a reservation and there were plenty of camping sites and bivouac places. Food and supplies were readily available at village stores, auberge or gites so I could have reduced the freeze-dried food I carried. Water, likewise, was available at village fountains or streams/rivers until I arrived at the Alpes-Maritimes region where water became a problem due to the drought conditions at the time. The Katadyn BeFree water filter was heavily used.

Crossing the French Alps is a challenging trek but within a fit and healthy walkers’ ability. The days were usually about 20kms in distance with an average of 1000m of ascent and descent. Some of the cols were challenging with steep to very steep up/down on rocky, boulder or scree paths. Walking times were on average around 8hrs per day with one being 11hrs.

It is possible to trek refuge to refuge and so reduce the equipment carried, and there are the obvious advantages of spending time with fellow trekkers over dinner. I did suggest that there should be a 'snorer' and 'non-snorer' room but one pays for the night and takes one's chance! 

Bivouacking though adds a different dimension. You can find a quiet spot in a forest or riverside and feel much closer to the land you are trekking. It also allows some flexibility in the walking day as you can either shorten or lengthen the day as you feel the need. I really enjoyed the nights I bivouacked and would recommend it.

Rucksack weight is key. One recommendation is that you should not exceed 20% of your body weight. I weigh 82kgs so a pack weight of about 16kgs. Mine weighed 17kgs but with hindsight there were areas where I could have reduced weight; but I know for the next time. Some I walked with had packs of 20kgs and other 12kgs. For example, my tent was 1.2kgs but Antoine and Emelie had ones of about 600grams. I know that you know this but a litre of water weighs in at 1kg. Some days I carried 2.5 litres if I knew supplies to be scarce.

I started my preparation in April, readied my kit and began walking in the nearby Esterel with, to start, about 10kgs building up to 17kgs. I like to know where things are in my rucksack so would pack & unpack, I'm a little anal in that respect. Come June I had everything prepared and stuff where I wanted it.

​​​​​​​I would highly recommend the GR5 trail if you fancy a 'Walk in the Alps'

Thank you for getting this far!

Back to Top