A section of GR5 in the French alps (Chamonix - Briançon, 1.9.–14.9.2018)

I hiked the Alps section of GR5 (entire trail begins in North Sea in The Netherlands but I doubt there's anything worth seeing there). I was only able to spend two weeks on the hike hence I wasn't able to get all the way to the Nice, which is the endpoint of the trail in the Mediterranean coast.

Saturday, 1.9.

Never take early morning flight. Inconvenient. First of all you only get a couple of hours of sleep at best, and making the trip to airport will be slow due to sparseness of public transport in the early morning hours. I do not feel like burning 50 € or more for a taxi.

Layover in Germany, but find that I can't rest. The flight is 30 mins late. Overbooked, they offer money people to change to a much later flight, which some young budget travelers accept. Arriving to Geneva. Super crowded airport. Bought the most expensive sandwich I've ever had. Could have just made it to 13:45 bus to Chamonix but couldn't find the platform on time. Took 15:45 instead, arriving in Chamonix at the base of Montblanc, after 19:00.

I detest the consumerism that has built around this activity.

Sunday, 2.9.

Bad sleep. Up before 6:00. Stomach issues. Spent half day in Flegeres, other half shopping for replacement long johns for those that I forgot home. Everything crazy expensive. Busy town, triathlon contest with hundreds of spectators.

Mont Blanc

Monday, 3.9. – 27 km

Slept a little better. Health problems persevere. 8:15 train to Les Houches. Mostly easy hiking. Very crowded trail – Tour du Mont Blanc hikers from all over the world. Camped in free campsite near Refuge de la Balme. Started to rain shortly after setting up camp. No toilet seats in the public toilet. That's a new item to pack for the next time. Lots of other people gather at the site by evening.

Tuesday, 4.9. – 23 km

On trail at 7:30. Rain lasted until early morning. Demanding climb soon after.

Breakfast and tent drying at Plan Jovet (OR Col du Bonhomme 2329m). Reach Refuge de la Croix du Bont (2443m). Ridge walking and descent to valley and to a short walk alongside a road.

Crepes, cola and coffee in restaurant. Gorgeous views following the restaurant/mountain hotel. Hot day. Consider camping next to abandoned farm house, but decided to pass the valley and find a wild camp site along the trail on the further mountain pass. Stop at 18:00, very tired. Cowbells ringing some distance away through the night.

Wednesday, 5.9. – 25 km

Exciting day. Reach Col du Bresson and a beautiful refuge afterwards. Night temperature around 8°C despite of altitude. Checked existence of water tap as indicated by OSM map. Couldn't locate it. Spotted a tractor approaching in distance. I think the farmers spotted me last evening. Hard ascend to valley, reach campsite in Landry at evening. About 24-26°C day temps, burnt skin despite of using lots of sunscreen.

Thursday, 6.9. – 16 km

Trail between Landry and Montchavin uninteresting and overgrown. Grocery store closed. Very steep trail to reach town of Moulin, where the hotel is closed. Grocery in the nearby town of Peisey-Nancroix also closed. Most accommodations are open in winter only (mountain skiing season), I was to find. Thought about hitchhiking to Landry but decided to walk 30 mins further and stay in a Only. cabinh ate breakfast today. Apparently this section has been abandoned in favor to much shorter roadside walking from Landry to Nancroix.

Friday, 7.9. – 21 km

Slept ok, had my last bits of granola with powdered milk. Not feeling that hungry after 24 hour fast. Walked back to previous village to reach the grocery. Bought food for 2 days only as the prices were jacked. Lots of marmots in sight in the higher altitudes. Lots of overgrazing. Still having indigestion. Camping near Refuge du Col du Palet, in brilliant alpine view, altitude probably over 2500 meters. Occasional thick clouds forming but no rain.

Saturday, 8.9. – 25 km

STS travel soap is a hoax. Report it to online retailers. Woke up 5:30. Slept well. Frost on tent and ground but did not feel chilly in the night. Using 7°C comfort sleeping bag, seems to take you far enough if using with a warm tent. On trail at 7:50. Reach a hilltop view to Tignes around 9:00. Upon reaching the vicinity of town, stopped to call the refuge in Vanoise to make a booking. Big hassle to get groceries at Tignes, but lucky didn't skip the town (as I was thinking) as the following hamlet was entirely closed. Shortage of water and hot day. Vanoise valley impressive. Occasional snow on trail. Met a German hiker doing a part of GR5 and Dolomites. Night at Refuge Entre Deux Eaux.

Sunday, 9.9. – 30 km

Woke up with a headache. Very stuffy room with about 15 hikers sharing it, just one window open through the night due to cold, lack of oxygen extreme by the morning. Left just around 8:00. Easy hike from Vanoise into town of Pralognan-la-Vanoise, where a big ascend begins to the alpine refuge. Very tired when reaching the hostel. Didn't have any food in the restaurant, stuck to my trail food. Too expensive.

Monday, 10.9. – 31 km

Left the refuge at 7:30. Getting to Modane took over 5 hours, much longer than given by the hiking speed calculator (3 hours), or maybe I didn't use my GPS properly to sum up that time.

Dangerous sliding rocks before the peak at 2800 m (highest point of the hike). Rushed to get to Modane before 12:30 in anticipation of siesta but apparently the big town grocery doesn't have a daytime closing time, so big effort wasted. Big climb after Modane, with several miniature roadside statues of saints and a roadside church. Army van with some kind of military drill in nearby woods. Saw many soldiers along the trail. Habitations and cow pastures just go on and on, finally spotted a good camping location at about 18:30, behind a hill from the trail. No recent cow hoofprints. Listening to music in the tent for the first time during this hike. Used portable charger for the first time.

Highest point
Evening view from the camping spot

Tuesday, 11.9. – 30 km

Slept fairly well, except for waking up an hour before dawn (a norm for this trip). Alarm at 6:15, on trail an hour later. Still dark. Already spotted other hikers, on the other side of a gorge, which was outside of any marked trail. Migrants maybe, as they are known to cross this mountain.

Warning poster for migrants

Many excellent camping spots on the plateau. Body sluggish, mind somewhat uninspired. Decided to shortcut by road (GR5C) near border to Italy, to skip two mountain passes. Very warm and sunny day. Camping near trail a short distance from peak after much searching for a more secluded spot. Not comfortable due to lack of cover. Altitude 2406 m.

Wednesday, 12.9. – 24 km

Cool in the morning, probably close to zero. On trail at 7:15. Tent damp inside and outside.

View in dawn, last peak before descending to lower altitudes

While descending, saw groups of mostly Italian day hikers. Stopped to dry tent at 9 in the morning, in the first sun. Passed the last mountain peak of this hike. Felt tired, exhausted and dirty, had shower three days ago. Over 20 km to reach campground in Briançon. Washed clothes, threw out some useless stuff (should have done much earlier). Met a German motorcyclist couple, spent an hour talking about our respective trips. I gave them my gas canister and some other remaining useful items I had no longer need for.


Stayed one day in Briançon for sightseeing, then took a train to Geneve, where I spent two days sightseeing.

Briançon fortress
Briançon station

Sunday, 16.9.

Woke up early in the morning; walked to airport. Arriving about 4:50. Wait for safe bag kiosk to open at 5:00. On gate after security clearance at 5:36, 29 mins before boarding time. If I had used public transportation (first bus at 5:10), I would have arrived to airport 5:25 in the earliest. Would have been very difficult to make it on time as airport is reaching peak crowding by then. In hindsight, paying extra for hotel in walking distance was a good idea, with savings using cheaper downtown hotel offset by the need for a taxi.

Post trip notes:

Magnificent views, with Vanoise being one of the most gorgeous places I have visited.