The Grand Traverse of the Alps

caipre Nick Platt · 1 min read

The GR5 is a long distance footpath that runs from the North Sea at Hoek van Holland in the Netherlands down to the Mediterranean at Nice in France. The trail covers some 2.300 kilometers (1.500 miles) and wanders through Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg before turning south in France to climb into the Alps, tracing the borders with Switzerland and Italy. This final section through the Alps from Lake Geneva down to the Mediterranean takes about five weeks to complete and is considered among the greatest long walks in all of Europe.

In just over two weeks I’ll start this trail myself, carrying pack and person across mountain passes and down into valleys, past rivers, lakes, and wildlife, through villages, gîtes d’Etape, and open landscape.

I plan to start in Thann, a small commune in France located about two weeks north of the beginning of the Alps section at Lake Geneva. This entry point gives me some lead in before reaching the more rugged Alpine region. I’ve never attempted a hike of this length before, and to be honest I’m more determined than I am prepared, so I’m hoping the lead in will give me some time to settle my nerves and strengthen my step.

Once I’m hiking I plan to wild camp each night, save for the few places where the trail passes through protected areas and camping is prohibited. I’m aiming for a pack weight around 14 kilograms (30 pounds) including food and water, but I’m still putting together my final gear list so we’ll see how things shake out. I’ll be walking by myself, or maybe in the company of other hikers I meet along the way. I don’t really speak French — only what I’m able to learn in these next two weeks — but I know a bit of Spanish and can throw in some very simple Italian for good measure.

Bon voyage, et grande randonnée!