The Alpine Traverse on the GR5:

Hiking Speed
Rest Days

By David May

Copyright 2004 - 2017, All rights Reserved
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Table of Contents Links:

General Information:

1. Why the GR5 and GR52?


Who should use this site?

Other Long Distance Alpine Hikes

About the author

2. The Entire GR5, from the North Sea to the Mediterranean (three months) (only summarily described here).

Page describing the Guidebooks and Internet resources for the GR5 from Holland to the Alps.

The Alpine Crossing, from Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) to either Nice or Menton on the Mediterranean. Nice is a 4 weeks walk from Lake Geneva, Menton, almost 5 weeks. I recommend the walk to Menton over the GR 52 variant, if you can possibly find the time.

Types of trekkers - "purists" and "easygoers".

Costs and Budget

3. When to Go and When to Walk

Accommodation: Types and Reservations

Planning your Route

Meeting People

4. Trail Identification and Direction Marks


5. Books, Maps, Internet sites, GPS

Page with English translations of French Topoguide navigation terms.

6. Conditioning, hiking speed, rest days

7. Shopping and Communications

8. Top sights attractions:
Lake Geneva Steamer*;
Dent d'Oche**;
Chamonix area*** (a very slight detour; consider allowing three or more sunny days);
Sospel*and Aspremont* ;
Nice** and Menton**.

9. GR5 access points:

Author's Route Recommendations and Tips for the demanding hiker:

10. Starting Points on the South Shore of Lake Geneva: The official St. Gingolph or Thonon-les-Bains, vis-a-vis my preferred starting point of Evian-les-Bains. Advantages and disadvantages. Getting there. Detouring to visit the Dent d'Oche**.

11. Accommodations from La Chapelle-d'Abondance to Chamonix (or Les Houches).

12. Accommodations and route, Chamonix to Briançon.

13. Accommodations and route, Briançon to Larche: My difficult but thrilling back way out of Briançon.

14. From Larche to the Vésubie Valley.

Recommended for the intrepid: Partially off-trail variation in the northern Mercantour Park to beautifully austere and isolated lakes.

Short-cut to the lower GR5 or GR52, possibly saving a day or more and much more exciting terrain than the official GR5 route

Joining the GR 52 by bus from Nice via Isola 2000 or via Boréon.

15. From the Vésubie Valley to the Mediterranean:

Comparison of the GR5 to Nice vis-a-vis the GR52 to Menton: Two possible endings for your walk.

The GR5.

How to handle the 2,000 meter (6,600 foot) descent from the Valley des Merveilles to Sospel on the GR52.

Don't miss the stupendous GR52 final day from Sospel to the Mediterranean at Menton.


On your first day, or first and second days, of the Alpine crossing, from Lake Geneva (Lac Léman), you will need to ascend 4,000 - 5,000 feet (1,300 - 1,700 meters). Obviously, you will need to be in pretty good shape before you leave.

Fitness is sport specific, so, if possible, prepare yourself by hiking in mountains near home. When I couldn't get to the mountains, a very steep 400 foot high hill served for conditioning, by climbing rapidly up and down it 3 or more times.

If your only recourse is fitness machines, then the following exercises should also prepare you: 1) Walk on treadmills set on a 20% slope at 2 miles an hour or more; 2) On a stair-climbing machine with actual steps (where you have to lift your feet to the next step), climb 100 flights, ideally within 40 minutes or less and without undue fatique; 3) strengthen your quadriceps (utilized mainly in going downhill) on a machine designed for this propose.

Be forewarned: I personally know of two examples of middle-aged men who thought they were fit, because they worked out in the gym. They also thought that because certain women they knew could do the GR5, it would be no problem. In both cases —though they were told they should— they did not do the specific exercises recommended above or practice hike. In both cases they were physical exhausted on the GR5 after their first two days of hiking (which required thousands of feet of vertical elevation), and they had to abort their trips (in one case bad weather was a major contributing factor).

Hiking Speed

American and English hikers may be disconserted to find that in the Topo-Gides and other guide books time, rather than distance, is used as the measurement between two landmarks. For example, the Topo-Guides don't tell the distance from the shores of Lake Geneva to the village of Novel, but rather give a time: 2 hours.

The author has come to find this time system quite reasonable for measuring Alpine hiking. Most of the Alpine trails are much steeper than most trails in the American West (but not steeper than trails in the Appalachians), and one's speed (and effort) are not directly related to distance between two points. One's effort is more closely related to time spent. Additionally, the use of time makes it easy to calculate where you might have lunch, where you can reach in a day

In certain cases, such as valley walks, or long assents or descents at minor grades, you will want to know the mileage, which can give a good indication of wear and tear on your body. Calculate the mileage from the times in the book, or from maps.

After a few days of warm-up walking, you will be able to compare your speeds with those listed in the guide books. In my experience, it can be difficult to function at top speed the first day or two. The Topo Guides use approximately 300 meters (1000 feet) per hour up very steep slopes, about 400 to 600 meters (1,400 to 2,000 feet) per hour going down, and about 4 km (2.4 miles) per hour on the flat. ( The guides are usually, but not entirely accurate or consistent.) The Paddy Dillon guidebook uses about 400 meters (1,400 feet) per hour up and down on steep slopes. Compare your time with the book time as you climb, descend, and walk on the flat. Remember that guidebook times do not make an allowance for rest stops or meals.

Rest Days

Schedule a rest day at least once a week, if for no other reason than to allow your body and spirit to recover. Some suggestions for rest day locations are made in the route pages of this site.

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