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Hiking the E4 solo across France 👣 🇦🇩 🇫🇷 (A Walk Across Europe II)


Hi, my name’s Ashley and in 2017 I went for
a walk… A 2,800 mile walk across western Europe. From baking hot Spain to the icy mountain
passes of the Alps… This is my adventure! Having spent the last 3 months walking across
Spain, it was now time for the second leg of my walk across Europe: France. It would be a 716 mile hike from Andorra,
high in the Pyrenees, to the iconic resort town of Chamonix, at the foot of the Mont
Blanc. I’d had a parcel containing new shoes, and
more importantly, maps sent out to Andorra la Vella, but after a week the parcel was
obviously lost and I had to cut my losses and buy more shoes… but couldn’t find decent
maps anywhere. As a last resort I downloaded the maps I needed to my phone and then FINALLY
after 8 days of waiting I was walking in the mountains again! I’m currently at 8500 feet (2,591m), the ground
has got increasingly snowier the further I’ve got up. I’ve made my way through a number
of snow drifts – some of them have come up to my waist. I’ve got another – I think the
high point is 9200 feet, so I’ve got another 800 feet to climb. But the route goes through
this huge snowfield and then up to this col, along this ridge…. which I could do, looking
at the snowdrift I could probably make my way across that. The col doesn’t look too
bad. The ridge, well who knows? There could be anything up there.But the thing that worries
me is there’s a col further along somewhere, maybe past this summit. When I get to
there I’ve got to descend on the north face and it’s really steep according to the map.
My worry is I can see these north facing slopes over here and I can see how snow covered they
are so I’m thinking if it’s wise to push on. I’m tempted to get to that col to see
what’s there, but I don’t think it’s too wise to push my luck really. I’m the only person
up here, haven’t seen anyone in hours. No one really knows I’m here so it’s a bit….
I don’t really have the skills or equipment, I don’t have an ice axe or crampons or snow
shoes. So I dunno. I don’t think it’s wise to carry on. Or maybe I’m just being a chicken…. On the plus side it’s gorgeous up here. It really is. Gorgeous. You pay for indecision with precious daylight
and daylight is something you cannot afford to waste at this altitudes. So I put together
a plan: to get on the move again. To make a big effort up the col, to recce what lay
beyond. But then realised I was in fact lazy and didn’t
want to trudge through more snow. There had to be a lower, safer alternative, and I would
find it. Canigou is a mountain held sacred by the Catalan
people and with a summit at 2,784m it was the highest I’d ever been, on foot, so far. I’d emerged on the northern side of the Pyrenees
and was properly in France. That night I went to pitch my tent but… …with a week to wait
for spare parts I made a temporary fix. Except that fix was a bit too fixed and a bit too
permanent. One pole section just wouldn’t collapse anymore. There’s one thing you can’t say about the
French countryside is that it’s quiet… My bad luck in France has just got worse. My phone that I’ve
been using for navigation has stopped working. Which is a problem. I had paper maps for France
but they got lost in the post so I’ve had to switch to the GPS. So I’ve got no paper
maps. There’s a town about a mile away, hopefully there’ll be a shop there that sells at the
very least a regional map. But this, it’s just, it gives me the status bar at the top
and the battery life and time, but nothing else. Oh, hang on… It’s doing something… I’ve been granted a temporary reprieve. I guess that’s what happens when you get the
camera out. But yeah, this is a major issue, it’s the second time it’s done this, it did
this a couple of days ago when I left Les Vans. And then it started working, so I’m
going to have to source some maps. I should have done so after Les Vans… I was in the Vercors now. These mountains
lie west of the Alps, and form part of the pre-Alps. It’s a beautiful but quiet landscape
and was one of my favourite sections of the entire walk. So it’s a couple of days after this played
up on me and I’ve been shopping! I’ve had this stuff a couple of days now. First item:
a 1:200,000 1cm to 2km regional map of the Rhone-Alps region. Which will see me all the
way up to the Swiss border. The second is this, it’s a Topoguide for the GR9. And the
GR9 is the path that I’m following. I’ve been on since Nyons and I’ll be on this all the
way to Grenoble. So I can use this for a good week or more. I do like these Topoguides,
I’ve seen people use them on the trail before, especially in the Pyrenees. They’ve got text
telling you what’s in towns , which is in French so I can’t really read. But what I
do like about them is they’ve got 1:50,000 mapping in them with the route on, so at least
I know that if this doesn’t switch on – if it dies completely – I’ve got mapping that’s
good enough to get through the hills. The only thing I didn’t like about the Vercors
was the caterpillars! Hundreds and thousands of these things would dangle over the trail
and it was impossible to get past without picking up a stowaway or several… hundred. So today I’m walking on a road. I just left
Grenoble and I’m walking to Chambery. Why am I walking on a road you’re probably not asking but i’m going to tell you anyway! Basically I could have walked over the Chartreuse, which
are these mountains here, they look very nice. But it’s a 2-3 day trek over them from Grenoble
to Chambery and the weather is very very changeable. I’ve just had a day off to Grenoble and literally
every time I looked at the forecast it was completely different. The last time I looked
it was overcast like this today, tomorrow was going to be rain, and the day after thunderstorms.
So I was just kind of worried going up high and getting stuck in those mountains and then
getting stuck again trying to get into the Alps. So I was on that road for 8 or 9 hours. I
found an alternate route to a little town called Pontcharra and now I’m walking down
this gravel track alongside a railway line. The clouds have really started to… they’re
not looking totally spooky yet, but you can tell we’re going to get some thunder I reckon.
If not tonight then tomorrow. But as well the air is just really heavy. It’s been really
hot today it’s been like 29 degrees but there’s been cloud cover all day so I’ve just had
a thin film of sweat on me all day… and… something’s got to break really. I’d spent the last week in the Vercors but
the sudden appearance of all the ski lifts and the chalets made it clear: I had made it
to the Alps! And as the spires of the Aiguille du Midi
emerged from above the clouds… …I knew the resort of Chamonix was just one more descent away! So France… 716 miles from the Pyrenees to
the Alps. Which is where I am now! That’s the Aiguille du Midi mid-station at 2,300m,
up there we’ve got Mont Blanc and then the Aiguille du Midi up there and the cable car
is zipping back and forth. While crossing France it felt like everything
that could go wrong did go wrong. My shoes and my maps got lost in the post, my tent
pole snapped, and then the phone I was using because my maps got lost became unreliable!
Other then quitting all I could do was just get on with it and find a way to make it all
work. As for country number 4, I wouldn’t take it
on alone. A mate would walk with me across a land of high passes and higher peaks, a
land of glaciers and ice cold mountain water… Switzerland! The heart of the Alps themselves!

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