How to Hike the GR5, The Grande Randonnée Cinq (Five), through the Alps.

Chapelle d'Abondance to Chamonix

By David May

Copyright 2004 - 2012, All rights Reserved
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Table of Contents Links:

General Information:

1. Why the GR5 and GR52?

Difficulty

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 with a few references).

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

Gear

5. Books, Maps, Internet sites, GPS

6. Conditioning, hiking speed, rest days

7. Shopping and Communications

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

Isola 2000 short-cut to the lower GR5 or GR52, possibly saving a day or more and much more interesting terrain than the official GR5 route

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.

Accommodations - La Chapelle d'Abondance to the Chamonix Valley

La Chapelle d'Abondance

There are many lovely, fairly priced hotels in La Chapelle d'Abondance, which is only a 3 hour hike from the Refuge of Bise and less than 5hours from the Dent d'Oche. If you wish to stay in a hotel, and eat a multi-course dinner for not too much money, this is a good town to do it in. A gîte d'étape is available as well.

Where in the world to sleep the next night?

The next day presents a lodging problem for purists who do not want to stray from the GR5. The first refuge on the GR5 is at the Col de Bassachaux, namely the Refuge de L'auberge de Haute Bise, open from mid-June to mid-September (tel. 04 50 76 73 74, gardian at 06 88 37 97 40). It is a 7 hour walk from La Chapelle d'Abondence. If you are researching this refuge on the Internet, be sure to put quotes around "Haute Bise" to avoid confusion with the Refuge de Bise.

If this seems too many hours to walk, or if the weather is uncooperative, there is a fine Refuge at Trebentaz, open from mid-June to mid-September (refuge 04 50 73 26 17, guardian 06 07 19 49 34). It is a 3 to 3 1/2 hour walk from la Chapelle d'Abondance, branching off the GR5 on a trail to the left at Sur Bayard. The next day, from the refuge, it is about a 4 hour walk to the Col Bassachaux. Thus virtually no walking time is lost, and very little extra elevation is required.

Beyond Bassachaux, there is a very basic Swiss refuge at 8 hours 20 minutes from La Chapelle d'Abondance, or you could continue on to a nice hotel in Les Crosets, 20 minutes off the GR, and a 9 hour walk from your start. Remember, these times do not include rest stops and meals, and are for average walkers. Start early, and with a forecast for good weather, as you will eventually be walking on exposed ridges.

When I was doing this part of the GR5 for the second time, my easygoing friends insisted on taking a taxi, from La Chapelle d'Abondance to the Col de Bassachaux (where we had an omelet before setting off), saving over 6 hours of walking. We then walked on through Switzerland to the Hotel-Refuge of the Mines d'Or in about 5 hours.

Savor the day walking in Switzerland

The walk from Les Crosets in Switzerland back to the French border at the col de Coux is one of the highlights of the GR5. On dirt roads, next to lush green meadows filled with flowers, you watch cows grazing, their over-sized Swiss cowbells clanking, amid a scattering of huge Swiss farmhouses. At La Pierre you can see a cowbell collection, and watch cheese being made. You won't want to hurry this part of your vacation.

A most pleasant place to stay

Whichever lodgings you chose the night before, it will be enjoyable to spend the next night at Les Mines d'Or hotel-refuge-restaurant, with some private rooms and some dormitories, and which has good food, good fishing and charm. It is a 6 and 1/2 hour walk from Plaine-Drance or Tinderets, and about 3 hours from Les Crosets (and only a 20 minute detour from the GR5).

After the Mines d'Or, there is no need to retrace your steps. You can cut across the valley floor and climb back up to the GR5 at Bonnevalette, in about 1 and 1/2 hours. After attaining les Allamands in an hour and 35 minutes, a boring one and one-half hours' descent brings you into Samoëns. From Allamands, you have a choice to walk down the road instead of following GR5. Your total walking time this day is less than 5 hours. Use your spare time to enjoy Samoëns.

Samoëns is full of Life

The center of Samoëns is colorful and lively, with many restaurants. There's a gîte d'étape and a choice of hotels. I suggest staying Samoéns if you can, rather than in Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval, even though it means a longer walk the following day.Advance reservations are highly recommended in summer in this frequented town; Samoëns was full on my first trip through, and I had to take a taxi to Sixt (and back, so as not to miss any of the trail).

Another long and hard day?

From Samoëns, a lovely 2 hour valley walk alongside the Clévieux River brings you to the foot of the Anterne plateau. You could spend the night here, in Sixt-Fer à-Cheval in a hotel or gîte d'étape, and take a taxi or tour to see the famous view at the Fer-à-Cheval (horseshoe) to the east of the town. If you do so, your next day will be cut to a reasonable 6 hours of walking.

Now it is a 1,100 meter (3,600 foot) grimpe (long, arduous climb) up to the plateau. The Topo Guide time allocates 3 hours and 5 minutes for the climb to the Collet d'Anterne, but that is too short: Another half-hour, at least, is needed if you climb at standard speeds.

After a total walk of 6 hours from Samoéns, you arrive at the refuge of the Chalets d'Anterne, on the plateau. Should you stop and call it a day? No! Continue another 2 hours, climbing another 350 meters (1, 100 feet) to cross the Col d'Anterne and descend to the Refuge de Moëde, where you will have made an advance reservation. This refuge has a great view and a high mountain ambiance.

Visit Le Brevant, and Descend to Chamonix, not Les Houches!

After a relatively easy, but exciting, 3 hour walk from the Moëde refuge, that might involve crossing some snow patches, you reach the Col du Brevant (2,368 m), and your first good view of the Mont Blanc massif. Many easygoing walkers will be tempted to walk down 45 minutes to Pranplatz and take the télépherique there down to Chamonix, bypassing the Brevant summit.

I would recommend, however, that even easygoers continue on to the Peak of Le Brévant, which is only 160 meters higher, though one usually has to cross some snow fields and must climb a short ladder. Arriving at the summit, at 2,526 meters (8,200 feet) one hasa superlative view of the Chamonix Valley below, the plateau behind, and more.

To avoid the 1,500 meter (4,900 foot) steep descent on foot, easygoers can take the télépherique down to Chamonix (via Pranplatz). But if you are a purist you will continue down on foot, being careful to tread lightly and with your legs bent, and using trekking poles, in order to save your knees.

Assuming you are walking down by foot, stop and rest at the Bel Lachat refuge, and then take my advice to branch left, leaving the GR5, and descend to Chamonix in 2 1/2 or 3 hours rather than staying on the GR5. Spend some time in the Chamonix valley (learn why on my page on "Top Attractions". For those who are "slavishly" following the GR5 bear right at this junction, staying on the GR5 and descend in 2 1/2 or 3 hours to Les Houches. And then, in order to avoid missing the marvels of the Chamonix Valley take the train or bus to from Les Houches to Chamonix -- on the same afternoon or the next day!

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