Ok, so we didn’t really finish the GR5.
Right from the very start, this project has been an adventure project. We’re out to see amazing sights, climb mountain passes and push our bodies. We’re also clear that it isn’t an achievement type project. We never had any ‘first ascent’, ‘fastest known time’, ‘first-ever’ etc type aspirations. So while it was disappointing to turn back on a stage to help our mate Florent make it back to safety with a dodgy knee, we proudly did it (pretty much) without hesitation.
Florent is our French connection, as Rosie’s sister’s partner he has been such a generous host to our adventure. Provider of a spacious lounge to sleep in, a personal taxi, climbing guide and occasional Thai kickboxing trainer. We were super excited when he confirmed to join us for the final stretch to the Cote d’Azur on the GR52 through the Mercantour national park.
There was a bit of apprehension though, would we be battle hardened after 21 days under our belts or would he arrive fresh as a daisy and leave us hanging on to his bag straps up the climbs?!
Ultimately, it was the rugged, boulder-ridden, downhill paths that determined the fate of Florent’s trip.
While the Chinese deliberately built the Great Wall with uneven steps to slow intruders scrambling along the wall by foot, any defender of a Col in the French mercantour would certainly not need to worry about fast arriving footsoldiers either. These weren’t any old downhill slopes, more difficult and more technical to descend than anything we’d encountered yet and the prompt introduction to prolonged thudding downhill and steep clamberings proved too much for Florent’s left knee.
The disappointment was painted all over Florent’s face as he finally made the decision to turn back 3 hours into the third day. Disappointed in his body failing him and a deep concern that he’d “fucked up our trip” (which he of course hadn’t). The risk of a long term injury was weighing heavily on his mind and he had started to resemble a stumped legged pirate as he tried to take all the weight off one side, and even though we had passed the toughest climb, he would never make it through the 11 hour day we had planned.
Florent was so worried about ruining our trip that he suggested taking one walking pole and finding a stick to prop himself up or tagging onto a slow French family heading the other way, promising to descending carefully back to our starting point to catch the bus at 4:30pm, in 6 hours time.
As soon as we invited him on the trip he became part of our team where we have to trust each other, support each other and, most importantly, be equally responsible for each other. Strongly we reinforced that we didn’t mind turning back. We still had an awesome few days with him and his entertaining company was more than welcome given we’d only really seen one other person for 3 weeks. We all did a 180 back up a Col and gingerly made our way back to the refuge.
After a plucky hitchhike to a nearby town and a bus to Nice, we made it back to Antibes in time for dinner. The luxury of being in a nice home had come a few days earlier than planned, but was certainly a welcome relief after 23 days on the trail.
We rejoined the route a day later to complete the final stage, a high rise descent to the bronzed bodied town Menton on the Mediterranean coast, this time with Rosie’s sis’ Katie in tow (well, leading us actually).
Not only would letting Florent turn back alone be at odds with every wilderness or outdoor safety guidebook we’d ever read, but we can proudly say we did the right thing in accompanying him back, even if it meant we didn’t “finish” the GR5.
The GR5 will always be there, long after we’ve gone, and we can always go back and do the stage another day. (Rosie is talking up a one-day, 55km push to cover the missing sections).
Do we want to be ruthless fastpackers, hunting the scalps of the world’s best trails at break-neck pace? Or do we just want to be good people and just have a great time?! Easy question really.
The Grande Randonné 5 is one of Europe’s premier long distance hiking routes. The full 12 week route runs from the Netherlands, through the French Alps, ending in Nice on the Cote d’Azur. We have chosen the common route of joining the trail at Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) and heading south.
The final stage of the GR5 runs down quickly and efficiently to finish in Nice over 3 days. We set out on the GR52 variant, much longer a high route through the Mercantour national park. Popular with Bouquetin and day walkers, the dominating jagged peaks can make the easily accessible parts busy, but no-less challenging and rewarding. Many Refuges here were fully booked so we split the stages conveniently to meet up wit Katie in the weekend for the final descent to Menton from Sospel with great views down to the sea and along the Cote d’Azur.
Distance: 109 km over 5 days
Difficulty: Obviously not easy…
Also published on Medium.