the GR5 - GR52?
The alpine portion
of the GR5 long distance European hiking trail is without a doubt one of
the most beautiful and personally rewarding multi-day hiking experiences
in the world. This route, also known as a Grand Traverse of the Alps, goes from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean.
Is there a better hiking route in the world? It depends what you are looking for, but for me, only
the around Annapurna trek in Nepal, or arguably, any Nepal trekking
route is a better experience... not the TMB (Tour of Mount Blanc);. not the Dolomites traverses;
not the summer Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt; not the St. James
Pilgrimage, or countless other mainly low-country or hill-country
multi-day walks in Europe. not the USA's AT (Appalachian Trail) nor the
CDT (Continental Divide Trail) nor the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail).
(You could, of course, argue for many of these:
The Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt if you want to walk mainly
on glaciers, away from villages and towns, with touches of Swiss civilization; the Dolomites if you
want to traverse along precipices and climb ladders and other fixed
aides above the tree line in striking scenery; the St. James Pilgrimage if you want to be a
pilgrim or if like to contemplate woods and fields, visit churches in French and Spanish towns,
and follow where millions of travelers have walked before; the AT if
you are a glutton for physical effort among woods and streams with
occasional long views; the CDT or PCT if you want a mainly wilderness,
backpacking experience with many open views in a diversity of beautiful mountain terrain.)
View of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman)
from the Dent d'Oche.
Click to enlarge.
you can't beat the GR5 - E2 for the sheer beauty of Alpine slopes and
pastures, flanked by some snow-covered mountains and glaciers, and
punctuated by the the charm of flower-filled French villages, served
up with good food of French hotels and inns and/or the camaraderie
of French communal lodgingsrefuges and gîtes d''etape,
(and a few Italian and Swiss ones) all this with the variety
that comes from changing elevations and diminishing rainfall as
you move from the lush and green north to the sparse and brown south
and to the sub-tropical Mediterranean.
There are three considerations that might deter you: First, you
won't be among many native English speakers: Few British and even
fewer Americans walk the GR5. That said, most hikers will speak
English as a second or third language. In lodgings of all types,
if you are polite, people will try to speak English. They will view
conversation with you as an opportunity to practice their English.. If you are worried about possible
negative feelings that someone might have about America, don't. It is extremely rare for anyone to feel animosity, and in any event, feelings
will not carry over to you as an individual. To an adventurous traveler the language issue is more of an opportunity
than a problem.
The second consideration that might deter you is the weather: This
consideration applies to any northern Alps hiking trip, whether
in France, Switzerland, or Austria, —and for that matter to trips of any sort almost anywhere. While the southern Alps are
generally sunny, the Northern Alps can be rainythat is why
they are so greenand rain can delay or even spoil a GR5 trip.
By and large I personally have had good luck with the weather with
either no rain or only a couple of days of rain, but one never knows.
The third consideration that might deter you is the difficulty
of the GR5 and GR52:
Hours walked versus elevation, Leman to Chamonix. Click
all photos to enlarge.
GR5 - E2 Alpine Crossing could be difficult, unless you are a mountain
hiker at home, or have conditioned yourself as described herein
in Part 6. You should
be able to handle 1,300 meters (4,000 feet) up or down in a day,
carrying a 10 - 20 pound pack. Additionally, if you are a purist (that is, if you won't use taxis or hitch rides) you need the stamina to hike 7 or 8 hours a day on occasion, not counting rest stops. (On most days you could choose to hike four or six hours, not counting stops.) You may be able to partially condition yourself on the trail by taking it easy for the first few days, but if you are going to be doing so, be sure to allow for this in your schedule.
Who should use this
All potential GR5 - GR52 hikers can probably benefit from the
topics presented here under the table of contents heading "General
Even if you plan to precisely follow the official GR5 - GR52,
sleeping entirely in gites and refuges, you will probably also
gather useful information from the "Route
Recommendations" that follow the general section. However,
much of the information in that section is written for walkers who
are willing to stray from official routes: to experience even more
interesting terrain, with perhaps even more challenge, to stay from time to time in more luxurious lodgings,
to see even greater views, or to enjoy world-class non-hiking attractions.
Route descriptions on this Site are
deliberately not detailed or exhaustive. For detailed descriptions,
trail instructions, and timings consult guidebooks and/or mapsyou
will need them in any case. For
information on guides and maps, see Books
Other Long Distance Alpine Hikes
In the Alps, many two-or-more-week hikes are possible.(See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_long-distance_footpaths.) I am familiar with some of these. In Italy, there are first of all, the cross Dolomites trails, 9 in number, all taking two weeks or so, and ranging from fairly easy walking to highly difficult. Most of these have portions which are equipped with ladders and cables, though these can usually be avoided if desired by detouring. Equipped sections range from very easy to highly technical. The trails start in German-speaking and German culture areas of sud-Tyrol in the north, and end in Italian speaking and Italian culture areas in the south.
There is also the so called GTA, which is the Italian Grand Traverse of the Alps (Grande Traversata delle Allpi). This begins at Lake Maggiore in Lombardy, and reaches Ventimiglia on the Mediterranean in about two months; most of the hikers on this route are German, and general information on the web is in German, while maps and local information are in Italian. A variation from the GR5-52 that I recommend for consideration is one stage of the GTA. No further information is provided here.
Other fine Alpine long distance hikes with which I am familiar are the TMB (Tour of Mount Blanc) and the summer version of the Haute Route between the Chamonix valley of France and Zermatt, Switzerland. The Haute Route has a low-level longer and easier version, and a glacier-level shorter version. Organized tours of both versions today usually use train or bus transport to skip over two days of lowland walking.
About the author
I started walking the GR5 because I was looking for an "encore" for a fabulous
22 day long "around Annapurna" trek in the Nepal Himalayas. In a book store,
I found a book, by Margolis and Harmon's, now
long out of print (but available on the Net used) about the GR5. I was spending
several weeks in France, and—the weather forecast being good—decided on the spur of the moment
to walk the first week of the GR5,
from Lake Geneva to Mont Blanc. Thus started a saga of walking the GR5and 52 (and re-walking two segments) that lasted for six summers over ten years(1992-2001), with visits to individual day walks in 2003 and 2009, 2011 and 2012. In 2009 I explored a new link in the Mercantour National Park which has received very little attention. The memories of these walks were and are still fresh as I put together and have modified this site. Yes, I do now enjoy medium-light backpacking in the US Western wilderness; but I still often prefer touches of civilization with my mountains, and the the European trails' good food and lodgings.
In writing this site, I hope to bring the GR5 and particularly
the GR 52 to the attention of more Americans and other English speakers.
I want also to share some of my knowledge as to how to do the Alpine
Traverse with a degree of comfort, a dollop of sightseeing, and
an additional helping of adventure.
I have tried to double check all the routings, times, lodgings,
and sources. Certainly, I will have made errors, and so I advise
you the reader to double check everything yourself once before
you set out, and again, along the way.
If you have suggestions or questions, please do let me know, at
Sister Sites: EuropeBicycleTouring.com for information on great cycle tours and organizing, budgeting, kinds of tours, choosing a bicycle, transporting a bicycle on trains, etc.
Mayq.com for information on cycling in Paris, using public transportation with a bicycle, and on low-traffic bicycle routes out of Paris to the countryside and the airports.