Day 66 – Plan du Var-(Nice)

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Morning in southern France

Nice! The end of the road. This is where the mountains disappear into the sea.

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View back to the Alps

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View to Nice and the sea, from the last peak – Mont Chauve d’Aspremont (Bald Mountain of Aspremont)

Tomorrow is my last day, because I still want to go to Monaco, the 8th country. But that’s just the formal finish. It’s great to finally be in Nice!

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Peace,
Phil

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Day 65 / St Sauveur sur Tinée-Plan du Var

What a day; all day I walked on asphalt along the main road, for 33 km, so says the GPS. Only for a few km could I use another piece of disused highway, like yesterday.

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St Étienne sur Tinée

Following the valley, where sadly there were no hiking trails or alternatives to the road, simply was the fastest and most direct route to Nice, rather than spending an extra two days walking over the mountains. As a friendly Canadian doctor whom I met advised, with my tendonitis it is also better to follow the roads instead of the tricky mountain paths where I could injure or even tear the weakened tendon by stumbling or falling.

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Maginot fortifications

For the first part of the day it wasn’t too bad at all, following the main road out of the charming village of St Étienne through the beautiful valley. Again and again I passed fortifications of the ill-fated Maginot Line. But later in the day, the valley grew narrower and narrower, and finally where the Tinée river flows into the dirty river Var, the road (which was simply marked as a main road on my map) suddenly became a multi-lane carriageway.

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Disused highway; although overgrown, what a delight for walking!

I felt trapped. Should I turn back, and walk an extra day over the mountains? I decided to finish via the direct route. I had to walk through several tunnels, one of which was 1km long, with traffic roaring past me, and had to keep to the very edge of a two lane road without a shoulder. Luckily after several kilometres of this it was over, and I got back onto a piece of “normal” highway for the last few kilometres. I really felt very threatened and out-of-place walking through those tunnels and along the main traffic arteries, with cars and Lorries whizzing by at close quarters. It used up a lot of nerves; but now I’m through it.

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After the dual carriageway

Finally, tomorrow I can again follow paths and smaller roads over the last few hills to Nice. And then I only must complete the trek by way of a visit to Monaco, country number 8. These should be two nice final days.

See you again in Nice!
Phil

Day 64 / Isola-St Sauveur sur Tinée

Last night I camped out in the valley of the Tinée near Isola; tonight I’ve found the cheapest accommodation of the entire trip. For just 8 euros one can sleep in the gîte d’étape in the village St Sauveur sur Tinée. It’s self-catered.

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This trail was nice, but it disappeared into jungle

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Following the highway all day…

All day I followed the valley of the Tinée, as I will do tomorrow. Originally I envisioned the end of my trip being a more triumphant descent down the mountains towards Monaco, and then along the shore to Nice; instead, because of my bad leg I’m having to take the shortest possible route to Nice, which means sneaking in through the valleys to the North. Alas. But I want to finish this trip in one piece, so no more unnecessary ascents and descents; getting there at all on foot is all that counts for me now.

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A deep view into the Mercantour National Park

Walking along a highway is no pleasurable experience; indeed it’s quite annoying with all the traffic and the hot asphalt. But today at least for a few kilometres there were some alternatives to the main tarmac. First there was a nice forest track, which however after a while simply disappeared, forcing me into some off-trail bushwhacking for about 1 km. Then for a while there was an old disused stretch of highway, lined with ripening wild blackberries, which was a delightful respite from the main road. Let’s see what tomorrow and the day after will bring.

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The disused highway; I was very grateful

Gear review: electronics

A decade or two ago one would hardly have thought of bringing any electronics on a trek; but we’ve gotten so used to our gadgets. In particular we need our mobile phones so much that some people are very surprised to find that large parts of the Alps have no signal at all.

First of all let me point out that, unlike numerous other trekkers I’ve met, I do not own or use a GPS device for navigation. I don’t trust it. I wouldn’t want the battery to fail in a critical moment. So instead, I’ve bought maps along the way and occasionally sent a packet of them home in the mail. Yes, it is still possible to navigate with a map, a compass, an altimeter, and some common sense, even in the age of the GPS satnav.

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Navigation brings me to the first digital gadget: my Swiss army knife with altimeter. (This was a gift from my dad a few years ago.) Thermometer, stopwatch, etc. are naturally useful functions, but the air pressure-based altimeter built into this multi-tool knife is an essential navigation device in the mountains. When lost in fog or walking through snow more than once I’ve found the trail again by using the altimeter to determine whether the missing trail must be above me or below. Most people underestimate the value of an altimeter; it can be a life-saver. That aside, the Swiss army knife is also pretty useful for cutting…

Extra battery: smartphones use up battery very quickly, and mine is no exception. I’m writing all my blog entries on the smartphone and uploading them via wifi or mobile internet, listening to music and audiobooks, and communicating. Above all, when tracking my path via GPS, the battery is dead after 10 hours. Luckily the “power bank” provides up to four full charges; essential when sleeping in the tent. However, after about three years of service, and perhaps also caused by the especially intense usage on this trip, it seems to be losing its storing capacity gradually.

Extra phone: for emergencies, and for countries where I had a local SIM card in addition to my German one , I brought a second, “dumb” phone. I think the few grams of extra weight are worth the extra safety and functionality.

Headlamp: forget flashlights; you want your hands to be free for carrying stuff, running, cutting food for dinner, etc. So I spent a fair amount of money on a very good LED headlamp by Black Diamond, which has various nifty functions: a strong main beam, a more diffuse light for reading, a red light which is harder for others to see and which doesn’t attract mosquitoes. It’s dimmable and the batteries should last up to 300 hours, and perhaps they do; but I wouldn’t know, because mine are always empty quickly. The reason is that the manufacturer – stupidly – did not think of adding an on/off-lock! That is, if it is locked “off”, by posting the main button long enough, you only have to press on the main button long enough again, and it will switch on. Therefore it easily switches itself on under any pressure in the rucksack, and has burnt away endless hours of battery life just shining amidst my clothes and stuff during the day. What a waste.

Ebook reader: I love paper, but to carry all that I wanted to read on this trip would have meant carrying a few extra kilos. So I switched over to the digital side, with a reader that’s not a kindle, because I didn’t want to be trapped in the Amazon universe. Very happy so far.

That’s it!

Have a nice day everyone,
Phil

Tag 63 / Salso Moréno-Isola

Die Start- und Endpunkte der heutigen Etappe mögen zwar gar nicht nach Frankreich klingen, sie klingen sehr italienisch, aber ich bin gewiss in Frankreich. Von meinem Zeltplätzchen im Gebirge nahe an der italienischen Grenze  ging es morgens hinab ins Tal der Tinée, und danach den ganzen Tag am diesem Flüsschen entlang.

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Morgen im Hochtal Salso Moréno

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Römerbrücke

Die Tinée fließt unweit von Nizza, nach ihnen Zusammenfluss mit dem Fluss Var, ins Mittelmeer. ab jetzt könnte ich also diesem Tal weiter folgen bis fast ans Ziel. Würde das aber bedeuten, wie heute fast nur auf Asphalt eine Hauptstraße entlang zu laufen, hätte ich eher weniger Lust auf diese Variante; zudem habe ich ja noch vor Nizza den Schlenker nach Monaco vor, was östlich von Nizza liegt. Mal sehen, welche Auskünfte über mögliche Routen mir die Landkarte geben kann, die ich morgen früh kaufen will. Heute konnte ich keine erstehen weil Sonntag war.

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Wandern in Südfrankreich, mit Baguette

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Das Ziel ist schon ausgeschildert

Ab St Étienne de Tinée wurde an der Landschaft immer deutlicher, wie weit südlich ich schon bin. Die Dörfer und die Südhänge wirken schon mediterran, die Nordhänge und die Berggipfel oben noch alpin; der Wind heute war warm. Es ist echt schön hier und ich würde die letzten Tage der Wanderung noch mehr genießen, wenn da nicht mein rechtes Schienbein wäre, dessen Schmerz (ob nun von Sehnenentzündung oder Ermüdungsbrüchen herrührend, was unklar ist) nicht nachlassen will. Aber er ist auszuhalten, und so kurz vorm Ziel werde ich deshalb wohl nicht schlapp machen.

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St Étienne de Tinée

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Dorf im Tal der Tinée

Heute Nacht zelte ich kurz vor dem Ort Isola, am Ufer der Tinée. Hier ist der Abend mild und angenehm; ganz so, wie ich mir etwas mehr von diesem Sommer vorgestellt hätte. Aber auch einen regnerischen und kühlen Sommer übersteht man, und die Belohnung, das Mittelmeer, winkt schon…

Amitiés,
Phil

Day 62 / Rifugio Campo Base-Salso Moréno

After a night in the architecturally rather strange Rifugio Campo Base (it used to be some sort of military facility) today I left Italy again, probably (really) for the last time. I wouldn’t have minded spending some more time in the Valle Maira, though; it was really very pretty there, with small blue lakes and high towering rock crags. But I want to get to Nice to finally give my body and above all my one aching leg a rest.

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Valle Maira in the morning

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Back in France: view to the Val Fouranne

The weather has been strange for a few days now; sunny during the days, but never really warm, and always a strong wind blowing. Perhaps this is a sign of the nearing autumn. With a fierce and chilly northwesterly wind in my face, I entered France around noon via the 2631m high Col du Boeuf. Through the lovely landscape in the Val Fouranne I entered the Mercantour National Park. And finally, in the early evening, with the Pas de la Cavale (2671m) I crossed the second col of the day, and on the south side found a place to spend the night on a meadow at around 2100m (with the strange, not French-sounding name Campo Moréno) by a stream. I hope the night won’t be too cold or windy in my tent.

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In the Val Fouranne

I will admit that I had hoped vainly to be able to see the Mediterranean Sea from the top of the second pass; alas it wasn’t to be seen yet. The coast is probably still about 80 km away as the crow flies, and there is at least one mountain range blocking the view, as I now realise. But it’s all downhill from here; tomorrow I will be able to begin following the river Tinée which flows into the sea not far from Nice.

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View south from the Pas de la Cavale; sadly no sea, but my campsite in view (at the bottom of the meadow)

Gear check: clothing

What does one wear on a trip like this? I was surprised to find just how much clothing is a major weight factor; one could easily carry 5 kg of clothing, and still not feel certain of having enough. So it was important for me to be very economical and take as little as possible while still staying warm and dry. (The downside of having very few clothes, of course, is a lot of time spent hand-washing them in the sink, which really is annoying after a while.)

The principal idea while doing any alpine sport is to dress in cumulative layers; the Germans call this the “onion principle” (Zwiebelprinzip). As a bottom/base layer I have two shirts for different weather, one long-sleeve and one without sleeves; three underpants; and only one pair of trousers, warm enough for chilly days, and to roll up as quasi-shorts if it gets too hot. All of these are made from synthetic materials, not cotton, because they dry faster and (apparently) are less likely to smell.

I have only one mid-layer item, a fluffy jacket with synthetic stuffing. It’s very comfortable to wear, but I’ve found it’s too warm to use while hiking or even to wear in the sleeping bag on all but the coldest nights. Probably a fleece would have done it.

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Flaunting the Haglöfs jacket at 3300 metres

Finally there is the top layer, consisting of a waterproof and wind-resistant Gore Tex jacket (by the company Haglöfs; a great buy) and waterproof rain trousers which can be unzipped all the way up to the hips for easy taking on and off.

Perhaps all that is relatively self-explanatory; but, in hiking, what’s most important of all? The feet. For socks, I bought three different pairs made from a wool-synthetic fibre mix, which is much better than other materials as regards comfort and smell. The wool has (surprisingly) never felt too warm. I can only stress this: if you’re going on a multi-day hike, buy hiking socks, don’t wear your standard cotton tennis socks unless you want horrible blisters and horrible stench.

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The Nordisk down shoes; great, except for the water issue…

In the evenings of course I don’t want to remain in my sweaty things, or my hiking boots. So I have one set of “indoor” clothes (jogging trousers and a t-shirt). For my feet I bought down-filled slippers to keep me warm on cold nights in the tent, and to wear instead of the standard slippers you find in the refuges (which hundreds of people have already had their sweaty feet in…). The down shoes are ultra-light, look pretty cool and are nice and warm, but there is one thing I don’t understand, and which reduces their usefulness: why didn’t the producer make their bottoms waterproof?? It would have been so easy to do, and would make them much much better in the damp grass and in wet communal bathrooms!

Have a very nice day,
Phil

Days 60-61 / La Chalp-Ceillac-Rifugio Campo Base

The pain in my leg hasn’t gotten any better, but it hasn’t gotten worse either, so I’ve continued to make progress these past two days, traversing the entire Queyras National Park, and today reentering Italy. I’m just about a week away from my final destination Nice, so I hope, if I keep going at a reasonable pace; and honestly I’d like to be done sooner rather than later. Although it’s been very windy and last night, spent near Ceillac, was very cold (the third frost night I’ve spent in my tent) the weather has been sunny and dry, conducive to full days of hiking.

Today in particular was a long, tough day, with nearly 30km of distance and nearly 2000m of vertical over two cols; and I’m really tired, having finally reached my destination refuge in Italy shortly before dinner time. Therefore, no big essays or descriptions here; just a bunch of photos showing how gorgeous this corner of the world is!

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In the Queyras

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Near Montbardon in the Queyras

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At the funnily named Col Fromage (2301m) (Cheese Pass)

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Near Ceillac

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Today: view back North from the Col Tronchet (2661m) to the Écrins and Meije massifs

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…and once again into Italy; entering the Valle Maira

Good night!
Phil

Tag 59 / Briançon-La Chalp

Heute vor genau 70 Jahren wurde die Region vom Faschismus befreit; so stand es morgens in der Zeitung.

Nach der gestrigen Diagnose im Krankenhaus von Briançon, derzufolge der Schmerz und die Schwellung in meinem rechten Schienbein entweder kleinste Knochenbrüche durch Ermüdung seien, oder eine Entzündung der Sehne, konnte ich heute beruhigt weiterlaufen. Denn der Arzt sagte eindeutig: Auch wenn es wehtue, schlimmer mache ich es dadurch nicht. Ich vermute es ist die Sehne, und am Morgen hatte ich schon das Gefühl, die Medikamente würden wirken, doch allerdings setzte am Nachmittag der Schmerz wieder recht heftig ein. Mal sehen, wie es sich weiter entwickelt – es ist jedenfalls beruhigend zu wissen, dass ich mir keinen Schaden zufüge; und so weit ist es nach Nizza nicht mehr.

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Pont d’Asfeld

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Blick von der Zitadelle von Briançon

Heute war keine so lange Etappe. Von dem Weiler nahe Briançon, wo ich die beiden letzten Nächte verbracht habe, ging es erst durch die Schlucht in die Altstadt, dann durch das Tal der Durance nach Süden, und in ein Seitental hoch über das 2477m hohe Col des Ayes. Jetzt bin ich im Queyras angekommen, einer Region, die als sehr ursprünglich und naturbelassen bekannt ist.Aber besonders der Morgen war eindrucksvoll; die mächtigen Befestigungen der Stadt Briançon, und die 280 Jahre alte Brücke Pont d’Asfeld, die eine sehr tiefe Schlucht überspannt.

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Vom Col des Ayes nach Norden, zurück nach Briançon

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Und nach Süden, ins Queyras

Den ganzen Tag über dachte ich: Na endlich bin ich mal auf der Sonnenseite! Im Norden war  Regen angesagt und viele Wolken waren zu sehen, aber bei mir war nur Sonne und im Süden war es klar; ein Südwind wehte. Doch am Nachmittag, kurz nach dem Col, kam überraschend und vom Wetterbericht überhaupt nicht angekündigt eine Regenfront, und seit einigen Stunden regnet es nun andauernd. Das hat meinen Plan, im Zelt zu schlafen, gründlich durchkreuzt. Es ist ein Leid mit dem Wetter diesen Sommer.

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Aus meiner “Sonnenseite“ wurde das (man beachte den HDR-Effekt mit den zwei Fotos)

Wenigstens habe ich wieder einen Platz in einer netten “gîte d’étape“ gefunden, im Dorf La Chalp bei Avrieux. Ich möchte an dieser Stelle ausdrücklich diese Unterkunftskategorie , quasi als.“Etappen-Unterkunft“ zu übersetzen, loben. Sie scheint typisch französisch zu sein und ist halb zwischen Jugendherberge und alpiner Schutzhütte angesiedelt; eine einfache aber urige Unterkunft für Gruppen und Alleinreisende in den Tälern, wo man ein üppiges Mahl serviert bekommt und mit anderen Reisenden am Tisch plaudern kann. Das fehlt in den anderen Alpenländern, zumindest in den Tälern.

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Die gestrige, sehr sympathische gîte d’étape “Gîte du Petit Phoque“ in einem alten Bauernhaus

Wünsche allen einen schönen Tag und einen schönen Restsommer – oder überhaupt einen Sommer!
Phil

Day 58 / Bardonecchia-Briançon

Yesterday (day 58) I left Italy for the fourth and – probably – last time on this trek. Today I’ve taken a rest day in Briançon, France, for reasons explained below.

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Near the Col de l’Échelle

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Following the river down towards Briançon

I basically followed the road from Bardonecchia to Briançon, via the Col de l’Échelle, another 30 or 31 km day; luckily there were hiking trails parallel to the road for most of the way. I found the landscape here to be stunning. Since leaving the Vanoise it has changed dramatically; it looks much more southerly now. The forests consisting only of conifers, and the high treeline, remind me of what I know the North American Rockies to be like (at least from pictures).

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Nearer Briançon

Briançon – I’ve long wanted to visit this fortress town high in the Alps. Because it commands the roads to several important passes, the mediaeval city was fortified within a citadel built by Vauban. And the city is surrounded by several other forts. It really is a spectacular sight.

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Briançon, the Vauban fortress town

I wish that the reason I spent an extra day here were only tourism, but in fact I’ve had to go to the hospital. For three days my right shin has been painful, and this morning a swelling began to develop above the ankle. After an x-ray examination the doctor came to two possible conclusions: either there are minute fractures in my tibia caused by too much walking; or the tendon is infected (“inflammé”). The goods news that came with this bad news is that, although three weeks of rest would normally be advisable, I can finish the trek without making things worse. But it will be painful, the doctor said. I’ve been given antibiotics in case the tendon us the cause (I think and hope that it is), and have been advised to take pain killers. It isn’t very far anymore to Nice; that’s my consolation.

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That began exactly 100 years ago…

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… And that was exactly 70 years ago.

Gear check: sleeping gear

Another review here, of singe this that are absolutely essential, given my decision to spend some nights in a tent. I had to carry sleeping equipment which is light, durable and effective.

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Without any doubt, the piece of equipment I’m happiest with is my sleeping bag. It’s amazing. In fact it isn’t a sleeping bag, but a quilt; that’s a sleeping bag without a back. Why no back? Because whatever material you lie on and compress no longer provides any insulation; so some genius had the idea to cut it away, leaving in essence a blanket which can be closed around the feet like a regular sleeping bag, but otherwise is only a cover. This also gives one the luxury, for instance, of leaving it open on a warmer night; when it’s colder, one uses straps to tie it down to the sleeping mat. And because there is no hood, one wears a warm hat if necessary. All of this makes the product much lighter than a regular sleeping bag; this one weighs only roughly 400 grams. It’s produced (made to order, for a very reasonable price) by an American company called Enlightened Equipment, and is called The Revelation; and really it has been a revelation – I wouldn’t have believed anything this light can keep one so warm. My quilt officially goes down to 30°F (roughly -1° in Civilised measurement units) but I’ve spent colder nights than that without getting cold. The secret of the bag’s insulating effect – and its prime weakness – is its filling with tiny duck down feathers. The problem is that if the downs ever get wet, they will lose their power of insulation – part of it permanently – so I’ve done everything to keep it dry, even in my wet tent, and to remove any moisture accumulated during the night. On some mornings I’ve even carried it in my arms like a baby to dry it out in the sun!

If one has no insulation downward – and this, mind you, applies to any sleeping bag – one needs a good sleeping mat to do that job. The one I bought is not inflatable, just made of foam; the logic was that, although it is less comfortable, it is safer to have a non-inflatable one. An inflatable mat could get a small hole, and then one night I would have no comfort or insulation whatsoever – not a good prospect at subzero temperatures. The Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol, with its egg carton-like structure is a good compromise. It is light enough, reasonably (not very) comfortable, and insulates very well against the cold and damp with its silver coating. I have no regrets about this purchase.

Two smaller things are important: 1, a sleeping bag liner. Like a bedsheet, this is important for keeping the sleeping bag clean, and keeping oneself clean when one sleeps on the often-used mattresses in refuges. It also raises the insulation if the sleeping bag by up to 5°C. My liner is made of silk and is very light. 2, a camping pillow. I first bought an ultra-compact, ultra-light inflatable pillow, but out turned out also to be ultra-uncomfortable. The one I have now (also produced by Therm-A-Rest) is filled with some sort of foam that expands when it is unrolled, and it offers good comfort.

Have a great day!
Phil

Tag 57 / Refuge du Suffet-Bardonecchia

Heute: Ein Traumtag von der Sorte, von der ich mir viel mehr diesen Sommer gewünscht und vorgestellt hätte. Dafür schätze ich solche Tage jetzt umso mehr. Zwar war es morgens noch bitterlich kalt, mit Raureif bis weit unter die Waldgrenze (der 4. Tag in Folge mit Frost), aber der eisige Westwind, der die letzten Tage geblasen hat, legte sich im Laufe des Tages immer mehr.

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Morgens im Val d’Étache

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Eis am Pass

So konnte die Sonne endlich wieder die Luft mehr wärmen. Nun hoffe ich, dass sich mit meinem weiteren Vordringen in die Südalpen immer mehr der Einfluss des Mittelmeers beim Wetter bemerkbar macht.

Gipfelblicke…

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Norden: Vanoise

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Süden: Meije (rechts), Écrins (Mitte)

Und so konnte ich die heutige Etappe mehr genießen, als die vorherigen. Zum vierten Mal auf dieser Reise, und vielleicht zum letzten Mal, habe ich heute wieder Italien betreten. Vom sehr schönen Refuge du Suffet, in einem Seitental der Maurienne gelegen, ging es zum 2799m hohen Pass Col de l’Étache. Oben konnte ich noch mit einem kleinen Umweg einen Gipfel “mitnehmen “, den 3041m hohen Gros Peyron. Die Sicht von hier oben war gewaltig: Nach Norden zur Grande Casse im Parc National de la Vanoise; nach Süden zu den sehr markanten Massiven der Meije und der Écrins sowie dem Monte Viso, quasi allen Königen der Südalpen.

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Mondlandschaft am Gipfel

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In Italien im Tal unterhalb des Sommeillier

Am Nachmittag dann der Abstieg nach Italien in Richtung Bardonecchia, erst zum Rifugio Scarfiotti, und dann immer parallel zu (und zum Glück meist nicht auf) der staubigen Straße zum Col du Sommeillier, die offensichtlich bei Besitzern von Geländefahrzeugen sehr beliebt ist, weil man sehr hoch fahren kann. Nach einem prallen italienischen Abendessen zelte ich jetzt quasi vor den Toren von Bardonecchia. Morgen wird es wieder nach Frankreich gehen und dann immer weiter südlich der Sonne und dem Mittelmeer entgegen; dort hoffe ich binnen zwei Wochen anzukommen.

Allet Jute erstmal,
Phil

Day 56 / Lanslevillard-Refuge du Suffet

Today is exactly 2 months since the start in Ljubljana.

It wasn’t a long day, but one with a long history, if you will. From the (very nice) youth hostel in Lanslevillard in the morning I ascended to the Col du Mont Cenis (2081), which many historians believe is where Hannibal crossed the Alps with his army of Carthaginians and elephants, on his way to Rome. Today it’s just a road pass with a large artificial lake, with the bluest water I’ve ever seen (except perhaps on the Croatian coast), but no signs of elephants; there are still some signs of armies – numerous old French border fortifications scattered around. Yet a sense of history remains, if one tries to imagine the sight of Hannibal’s army crossing the vast grassy plain at the top of the pass. In the youth hostel I met a group of academics from Stanford on a mission from the National Geographic Society to study historical glacier changes in the area… and seek traces of Hannibal.

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At the Col du Mont Cenis

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It was much, much colder than it may look on these pictures…

Although it was nicely sunny all day, the same fierce westerly wind which has been blowing for days kept things very chilly. It wasn’t so enjoyable walking around with this wind in my face. So after heading along the lake and then westwards over the Col du Petit Mont Cenis (2183m), I only descended to the Refuge du Suffet, in the isolated valley of Le Planay, to spend the night there. The next alternative goal, a refuge in Italy (since sleeping in the tent is out of the question in this cold), would have been another five hours away.

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Near the Col du Petit Mont Cenis

Gear check: tent

I bought this tent last year; I ordered it from the USA for a shorter trek which I had planned with a friend last summer in the Kaçkar mountains of Turkey, but the German customs agency held it, and it never arrived in time. So the first time I really got to use and test this tent was on this trek, starting the first night in Slovenia.

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The tent in half-open setting – and frozen

A small American company called Six Moon Designs produces the tent. I’m really a non-expert as regards tents, but I bought this one after quite a lot of research, it being the lightest full-scale tent I could find for a reasonable price. It’s quite an ingenious design: it saves a lot of weight by having practically no internal frame; no metal. It weighs only 1.2 kg and stands on the trekking poles, which I’m carrying anyway, and is held to the ground by eight stakes. At this minimal weight it offers enough space for two people to sleep in reasonable comfort, or one person to sleep and spread out their stuff.

The outer material is waterproof silnylon, forming a roughly hexagonal shape. Inside there is a rectangular sort of cage, consisting of mosquito netting on the sides, and a waterproof floor. This leaves some space covered against the rain by the hexagonal roof, but outside of the rectangular inner “clean” area, for  dirty things like hiking boots.

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Overall I would be very happy with this tent if it wasn’t for one major thing, which those reading this blog since the beginning will already know about: the tent collects immense amounts of water. And I don’t mean rain. On almost all nights the walls/roof have become covered in condensation; lots of it. Touching the walls/roof makes water drip down. Twice the water froze, covering everything with ice. Apart from being annoying, the water problem is potentially pretty bad for my down-filled sleeping bag, which should never get wet (so I have to consciously stay away from the sides at night). In the mornings I normally need between 20 and 30 minutes just to dry the tent by wiping it down with my towel bit by bit on the inside and outside; and even so it is heavier to carry because some moisture remains, and I have to unpack it later in the day or in the evening to finally dry it out. I haven’t been able to find any solution for the wetness problem; even when I’ve kept the “doors” (the sides) completely open and let the breeze blow through on milder nights it has still collected lots of water.

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Stretch marks

That fundamental nuisance aside, the tent is generally a good product. The design is very practical, versatile, and it is simply unbelievably light for the space and practicality it provides. It packs down to about the size of a small shoe box, about 35 by 20 by 15 cm. It has held up well in fairly strong mountain winds. I can set it up by myself within 15 minutes. It seems to be durable; no notable damage so far, and the stretch marks I’ve been observing with a bit of concern on the corners have not gotten worse since the beginning of the trek. It’s just the water problem that fundamentally lowers the overall utility – a lot.

So my overall verdict would be: if space-for-weight is your only concern, this tent by Six Moon Designs is probably hard to beat. But if you have a problem with spending half an hour with your towel collecting water every morning, try to find something else; probably silnylon is the wrong material.

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MSR Groundhog tent stakes

PS: What I can unreservedly recommend are the stakes I’ve bought: MSR Groundhog – of which I’m carrying nine (eight needed for the tent, one extra just in case). They are very light (aluminium) and evidently practically indestructible; I’ve hammered them into the stony ground with a rock many times and not one has yet bent or broken.

Hope this helps someone perhaps…
Phil

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