My tips for a successful trip


Posted: Sat, Jul 19, 2008, 11:48

Just back this week from doing the whole walk in 12 days. I've done it many times before. I trust the following might help:

o Travel light. I mean very, very light. I took a light 30 litre sack (i.e. some sacks weigh too much in themselves) to force myself to go light. I had gear for camping and quite some (too much) food included. I skimped on clothes as I could wash them and buy smart ones at the end of the walk. You could cry when you see the size of some rucksacks. They don't make it. If there is one word of advice this is it - you win or lose when you do your initial packing!

o My gear list: 2 litre water pack (plus bottle); first aid; mess tins (no stove), cup, and plastic all purpose KFS gizmo; sleeping bag; tent; clothes (very limited, just for walking); food (3 main meals, 5 days of breakfasts and lunches); all purpose tool; phone with mp3 player and camera; solar phone charger (bought at airport); money; suntan lotion (but a hat and long sleeved shirt helped); sheema (great as towel and scarf); sleeping mat (it broke so double check 'cause you'll need it!); wrap around sun glasses (newbies are often surprised by how hot and sunny its is); book (hardly read!); documents (including printouts of all hotel reservations, etc to avoid any issues); flip-flops; heavy duty boots (but still ended up with a black toe so maybe back to lighter ones next time, but make sure the soles are 100% and grip well); maps (was not sure but glad in the end); waterproof jacket (but not trousers given time of year); thermal vest; Ron Hill trousers for evenings and backup; knee+ length shorts (some people wear full trousers, apparently without melting!); spare pants; long sleeved shirt with hood (plus spare); very small personal washing kit; probably some other stuff I've forgotten. Point is travel so very light (total weight sans water aroung 13kg).

o Take lots of money (cash). You'll be surprised how much you spend on route. I've run out before as did some guys on my last trip. I took €1,000 last time. Ok too much but not a worry (and probably made a bit what with the pound!).

o Sleeping bags are problematic. I've taken ones too thin and ones too thick. I had a three season down this time which was too warm most nights except once or twice. My ideal configuration would be a bivy bag and a two season with a silk liner and clothes (lightweight thermal vest and trousers). That way you have all the options.

o Bring a tent, not a house! I felt really sorry for those who brough such large and heavy tents. Best of all for me is to bring a bivy bag instead (avoids all that hard work at the start and end of day when you have better things to be doing). The stars at night are amazing! If you bring a bag, ensure you have some bug repellent.

o Go end of June. Ok, not necessarily but I've tried other times (e.g. September) and this is usually best for nice weather and plenty of water in the streams, etc. Also, avoid the French holiday season (July and August). Too early in June and the weather can be variable.

o Get up early. Absolutely be gone by 07:00, and ideally 06:00. You want to avoid the sun as much as possible. You can always rest and eat later in the day. I like to rest up 11:30 to 16:00 to avoid the sun, eat, catch some sleep, remember I'm on holiday, etc. Sometimes, this gives me enough energy to combine stages too.

o Get fit before. Not that this will be enough but it does help. You'll need determination and bloody mindness to do it all, especially the northern section. Be careful though, you can go too far into a world of your own and miss the trail markings! Some books underplay how hard this can be (constant ascents and re-ascents and some knee hurting boulders) - lots of people drop out and the successful ones are typically the althletic types (I saw quite a few marathon, etc tee-shirts).

o Don't race. It's very tempted to try and overtake or get flustered if you get overtaken. Very much the tortiose and hare. I get into a steady pace (controlled heart rate, can still talk, etc) my body can sustain and overtake most of the "heroes" after a few days!

o Don't give up. The walk has planty of what the Army call "sickners". You think you at the top or round the corner only for another one to open up. Expect it, laugh at it, and don't let the bugger get to you. You'll respect the mountains in the end and they seem to do the same as you get fitter both physically and mentally. My rule is the first three days are hell and will pass. Just get through them without thinking.

o Don't carry too much food. There are plenty of places to eat and re-provsion on route. Ok, not cheap but saves weight. You can usually book a meal (of varying quality and expense) at the huts if you get there early enough. I always bought a beer and chocolate (for the next day) at the end of every day. Food I carried included oat cakes, muslei bars, soya mince with sauce pack; couscous; sausage; corned beef; baby breakfast foods (the light mix with water types); tuna spreads (in bags not tins); pasta with sauce; some parmesan cheese (with garlic granules) to spice up my and the guardian's food!

o Stretch and properly cool down before bed, else you'll be tossing and turning all night as your body tries to remorph back to where it came from. I thought my sleeplessness was due to my poor sleeping mat but evetually realised it was the body itself.

o Take walking sticks. Yes they slow you down but save your knees over the long haul. The wild west was won by the Winchester rifle and the GR20 is won with Leki's! Walking sticks do not seem a Brit sort of thing but should be (makes us easy to spot).

o Be prepared for overcrowded huts and variable guardianship. It's really a disgrace how little investment the Parc has made given the increased volumes (I did my first walk some 20 years ago!). For example, you can always wash in a stream later (e.g. during your mid-day rest). My best huts were Manganu, Tighjettu (did not stay there though), and Paliri. The worst, without equal, were Carozzu and (somewhat better) Mori. But they do change a bit each year depending on the guardians.

o Be very careful on your final descent (e.g. to Conca). You've been walking at a cool altitude for several days and then you hit the warmer lower levels and can quite easily suffer heat exhaustion (we nearly did once on a detour to lower climbs). Avoid the sun and heat and drink lots of water.

o Look after your feet! I wear a thin pair of socks inside my walking ones to minimise blisters. Those second skin blister packs are great.

o Have some time to enjoy the island afterwards but it can be very expensive. I have a long list of "wants" after 12 days and I damn well deserve them! I like the gite in Conca (especially the rooms which you can book ahead, but make sure you're on time!) and a night in a hotel in Porto Vechio. I use taxis a lot which are very expensive but get the job done quickly (to use my limited time as best as possible).

I said never again, but maybe was only kidding (but don't tell the wife!).