The GR5 Trail Guide and Information
What is the GR5 Trail?
The GR5 Trail is a famous long distance alpine trail from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean, it traditionally ends in Nice but can also be finished via the alternative GR52 route to end at Menton.
How long is The GR5 Trail?
The route is around 620 kilometres, however this can be varied from 645-725km. We completed the trail over 32 days which matches the GR5 route given in the Cicerone book below. We felt this was split up to make the most of the beautiful route and you didn't feel like you were rushing it.
What is the best Time of the Year to do the GR5 Trail?
We completed the trail in August and September which was ideal in terms of the weather and lack of snow on some of the high passes.
It is mostly a summer trek as if you start to early or late you may have problems with too much snow and huts being closed. The French holiday season is from mid-july to mid-August so accommodation will be busiest then. We managed to get the best of both worlds doing it when we did as we managed to miss most of the main French holiday makers.
A GR5 Trail Video
We like this video made by Simon Cook on YouTube as it showcases the beauty of the route in a quick well made film and also shows how doing the trail earlier in the year (June) can mean a big difference in the snow levels.
GR5 Trail Information & Preparation
The GR5 is an amazing trail and we chose to do it simply because we love the scenery of the Alps. It must be one of the most scenic long distance trails in the area with beautiful green meadows surrounded by snow capped jagged mountains.
The GR5 Trail does need some careful preparation to help complete it. Here we share essential information that helped us.
Language: There won't be many English speaking people on this trip. Although we don't speak much French it would have been useful to have know a little bit more than what we did. That said- most people can understand what you are asking. It wasn't a huge problem for us but I know others who have found it more difficult.
Weather: There can be heavy rain or even hail in amongst the lovely sunny alpine weather- there is a reason those meadows are that green! Make sure you have waterproofs and good gear. We actually found a poncho was the best thing to have for the deluges we encountered as they cover absolutely everything including your rucksack.
Difficulty: You will be carrying a lot of heavy kit and doing a lot of ascent every day- it goes without saying you need to be fit! In numbers you will probably be carrying a 12kg minimum pack and doing 1300 meters ascent each day. You will also need to have the stamina to hike for at least 7-8 hours each day with this load and ascent.
Trekking The GR5 Trail by Paddy Dillon
The is the main guide we used throughout the trip. It breaks the trek into daily stages which makes the trek look easily achievable however when your carrying full wild camping gear and food for 3-4 days, take Mr Dillions distances and timings as a rough guide only. His easy ascents and descents really are not easy, this is the alps after all and the terrain is very rugged and every day will be a challenge . We think Mr Dillion marched the route with a day pack and light snacks! We met many trekkers and all commented on how difficult they had found the stages. Use this as a rough guide and if you are wild camping then you can be flexible with your distances.
We downloaded the cicerone book onto our Kindle from Amazon. This saved carrying the extra weight of the book and also because the Kindle has great battery life we knew we could always access the book.
GR5 Trail Maps
We used Viewranger on our iPhones and it worked brilliantly. We subscribed to the French IGN Geoportail Annual Mapping Service within the app for £18.99. This gives you unlimited use of the IGN France Topographic maps 1:25,000. You will need to download the maps (tiles) that your route follows to your phone. This will allow you to view the maps and your location without a data signal. You can even have your phone in airplane mode and the app will still locate you.
The traditional route is set in 5 stages:
1-GR5 037 Thonon-les-Bains àLes Houches. Distance 113 kilometres, height gain 7,471 metres, height lost 6,934 metres.
2 -GR5 038 De Les Houches Ã Bessans. Distance 113 kilometres, height gain 7,305 metres, height lost 6,612 metres.
3 -GR5 039 De Bessans à Montgenèvre. 116 kilometres, 6,794 metres, height lost 6,648 metres.
4 -GR5 040 Montgenèvre to St Dalmas-le-Selvage. Distance 113 kilometres, height gain 6,854 m, height lost 7,195 metres.
5 -GR5 041 StDalmas-le-Selvage à Nice. Distance 116 kilometres, height gain 6,551 metres, height lost 7,991 metres. (original route ending)
Our route included the Vanoise National Park via the GR55and the alternative ending to Menton via the GR52. Both routes are covered in the Trekking the GR5 Trail book above by Paddy Dillion.
Alternative route ending via the GR52.
5 -GR52 St Dalmas to Menthon. Distance 81 kilometres, height gain 5,929 metres, height lost 7,210 metres. Alternative route ending via the GR52 and the stunning Mercantour National Park. This is a much better better finish and keeps you at a high elevation until the last couple of hours of the last days trek.
Helpful Websites for The GR5
Move Your Alps - Very useful site that splits the route into 40 shorter sections than those in the Paddy Dillion guide book.
We trained for the GR5 Trail by doing the Bob Graham Round in The Lake District.
If you have any questions following reading this blog or any general adventure questions then please do contact us we are always happy to help.
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