In May and June of 2016 I walked from Menton (near Nice, south-east France) to Mont Paradiso (Italy, nearish Mt Blanc) which is quite high. There are some notes and tips and photos.
Details below, or:TLDR> see the photo gallery.
See the map below – the thick lines are the two stages of the trip. The thinner lines are the GR5, the GR52 and the Via Alpina (aka GTA).
When and How Long
May and June, and I walked for about 30 days. Generally I’d walk three days, then have a rest day to eat, shop and watch the Eurocup. I generally walked five hours a day, which is a full day when you include rest stops, etc. The longest I walked was eleven walking hours (6am to 7pm with breaks). Sometime you gotta walk far to get down the mountain for shelter.
During this time refugees are mainly closed but you can stay in the “Winter Section” which might have gas, wood fire, etc… or nothing. Refuges open mid June. They cost about 50 euros for half-board.
There was snow from about 2500m, higher on the north and lower on the south. When descending this is generally fine. Going up can be difficult if the snow is soft. So go early! I’d sometimes start at 6am and be at the col (pass) for a coffee at 10am. This is when the snow starts to soften, so I could then descend at my leisure.
I took a piolet / iceaxe and crampons. I needed these regularly. If you only take on, take the piolet. I didn’t take snowshoes (raquets), skis, rope, etc. Raquets and skis would have been nice occancially but not often enough to warrant the weight.
It was freezing many nights, but the cold wasn’t a problem even with light equipment; often I’d stay in a refuge during poor weather and bivaouc (sleep in a tent). I took reasonable sleeping bag (900g, good down). The best method to keep warm was: food, hot chocolate and keeping moving.
The cols are around 2500m, up to 3000m in places. The valleys are around 1500m. So a typical day might be 1500m vertical rise. There is lots of daylight. Sometimes transverses are possible but there did seem to be a bucketload of up and down. Go light. Generally Italian valleys run east-west and French ones north-south, so it’s easier to traverse in France. But Italy has great food and refugees, and cool farm machinery.
What to take?
I took as little as possible: this made the walk way (way) more enjoyable. See my hrp early season walk for a “heavy” version before I saw the light (baboom).
My base weight was about 8kg, including everything to be autonomous, and my snow gear (crampons, piolet, warm jacket). Add to this 2 days food (no water required: snow is cold water) and you get about 10kg. This was fine and comfortable with a light, framed pack. If you didn’t camp or cook and excluded the crampons (only possible in Summer), you might aim for 5kg.
|Category Weight (g)
|Tent||1,120||3 season double skin. Pitch out of wind! Used 30% of nights. Stuff in bottom of bag, no stuff sack.|
|Sleeping Bag (liner = 150)||880||Wear clothes to bed. I was never cold, but sometimes cool. Drink a warm beverage.|
|Mat||230||Kickass thermorest one worth it.|
|Pillow||60||To avoid fuckneck.|
|Jacket||500||Proper goretex one, Mammot minimalist.|
|Overpants||250||For bad weather and bum sliding down snow.|
|Hats, Necks||200||Neck scarf thing great.|
|Socks, Underwear, Thermals, Shorts||200||2 pairs socks, 1 undies (+ gusketed shorts)|
|Down Jacket||200||Superlight, and adequate. Mountain Hardware.|
|Hand Schu||125||Little gloves, fleece. Tiny overmitts from North Face okay.|
|Gaiters – mini||50||Dirty girl gaiters, adequate. Proper gaiters perhaps for lots of snow.|
|Pack||1,000||Ospray one good.|
|Dry bags x2||100|
|Gar bags x1||20||To pack sleeping down, down jacket, mattress, pillow: just stuff ’em in and go! No stuff sacks.|
|Mobile||200||Also holds books, movies, spare maps, GPS, etc. Buy a sim on arrival.|
|First Aid / Repair, Toileteris||75||Minimal|
|Wallet & Papers||100|
|Stove, cup, pot, spoon, lighter||195||Gas canister in a single mug/pot.|
|Water||50||Aquatabs or simliar for lower areas only.|
|Maps||100||Paper ones – buy on site.|
Was it awesome?
Highlights: Mont Paradiso, friendly people, practicing Italian and French, eating Italian, Italian coffee and pizza, solitude, lots of snow. See friends.
Lowlights: soggy snow, solitude, lots of people at Mont Paradiso, my bad cooking, having to be careful and not tackle difficult mountains / cols.