Fastpacking the GR20

In researching the GR20 I kept on stumbling across quotes such as “The Toughest Trail In Europe” and ‘The Hardest Trek in Europe” but everyone seems to want to be the hardest and the toughest at the moment so I chose to take these quotes with a pinch of salt. I shouldn’t have the GR20 is brutal!

The trail runs from the North West of Corsica to the South East over 190km with over 13,000m of climbing. Most people take on the mighty trail in 14 days but I managed to trick a bunch of hardy souls to try and attempt it in 5 days, easy!

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To the start: 

Getting to the start was a bit of a logistical nightmare as flights do not run that frequently and after looking at a range of options consisting of boats, planes and automobiles we decided to go with the EasyJet option and fly from Gatwick to Figari. We arrived at 11am on Thursday morning found our hire car (not as easy at it sounds) and then spent the day driving to the north of the island stopping off for a croissant or two an awesome salad and a dip in the sea on the way to Calvi. Once at Calvi airport we dropped the car off and were told just to wait outside and a taxi would turn up. After waiting 15 mins or so we started to loose faith in their fool proof system so we used Seb and David’s french skills to holla a cab instead.

After a rather long day we arrived in Calenzana the start of the GR20. Calenzana is a delightful little french town perrched on the side of hill withe views over the foothills and leading out to the ocean.  We spent that evening in the fitting named ‘Bar Restaurant Le GR20’, eating pizza, pasta and bread all in the name of carb loading. There was a bit of nervous trepidation in the air about what was to come.

We stayed in Hotel Bel Horizon. The rooms were hotter than the centre of the earth (I hate being dramatic) but were nice and clean and had everything you needed for a goodish nights sleep.

The Plan…

was simple. We were going to cover the GR20 in 5 days. We broke up each day by the stages set out in Paddy Dillon’s GR20 Cicerone Guide. We would do 3 stages each day except for day 5 where we would do 4 (shhh don’t tell anyone). This gave us something to aim for, mainly a cold can of coke at the end of each stage, as we ambled along the trail.

Day 1: Calenzana to  Refuge de Ascu Stagnu

Day one saw us leave Calenzana and head up into the mountains. Today was going to be tough as the day mainly involved climbing as we had to get up into the mountains. It quickly became apparent that we were not going to be doing as much running as we had hoped, as we got further and further along the trails the walkable paths soon disappeared leading to rocks. Lots and lots of rocks! The first refuge we reached on Day 1 was Rfuge d’Orto di u Piobbu. As we arrived we were greeted by a horse tucking into some tortellini which he had found under a rock, clever thing. We grabbed a coke here and enjoyed the sunshine for a few moments before resuming the climb.

The climbing quickly went from a rocky trail to boulders and a cliff face. I wish I was exaggerating. We picked our way up the rocks and were met by cheery bonjour’s from the walkers heading from South to North about to end their journey. The first real descent of the day had started where we quickly lost all the hight we had gained. Alice took a bit of a hard fall but bounced back up like a champ. With cut knees and covered in dust I have no idea how she managed to keep it together as I would have cried! After dusting off and walking around the corner Refuge de Carozzu suddenly appeared. Thank god because we were all starving! We all went for the nutritious option of a coke followed by a cheese and ham omelette and a snickers (a staple of the GR20)!

One final climb and decent to go…fuelled on sugar and eggs we were off. We continued our way up sheer rock faces and back down them again to finally arrive 9 1/2 hrs later to our refuge for the night. Perched in the mountains in a ski resort, we were bundled into a room of bunkbeds all had a cold shower to get rid of the days mud. Once vaguely clean we headed across the road to the hotel restaurant where we had a lovely three course meal whilst we tried to stay awake to enjoy it!

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The refuge cost 14 Euros for the night but you are at risk of getting eaten to death by bed bugs if you stay in them! I would suggest taking a lightweight sleeping bag and paying the extra 3 Euros for a tent. This may sound like a more uncomfortable option but trust me it is not. All the tents come with a  roll matts in them and not having to worry about what is biting you if defiantly worth the money…but you may have to deal with the feeling that you are getting blown off a cliff with this option, more on that later.

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Day 2: Refuge de Ascu Stagnu to Refuge de Maganu

Day two would see us climb to the highest point of the island and then come straight back down to the elevation we had started from…surely there was a way around this rocky beast? All today had to offer was a shit load of rocks. At this point we had transformed ourselves from trial runners to climbers. In the guide book it showed that at the top of the climb was a little lake. As it was nearing 30 degrees we were all really excited to make our way there for a quick dip along our walk. However the lake was not very appealing with its green algae tinge so staring at more rocks it was!

As we started the descent we made a new friend ‘The German’. He would form an honorary member of our group for the rest of the GR20. I didn’t know his name but as he ran off into the distance he shouted you guys can play ‘Catch the German’…his game not ours! So as he disappeared this put a fire into the bellies of Steve and Seb and they were going to spend the rest of the day chasing this guy down.

The last stage of the day arrived and I started to feel pretty horrific but had no idea why. I was struggling to keep up with anyone and suddenly a few bites started to appear on me. I didn’t really think anything of it and carried on making my way to the final refuge of the day. As I approached the refuge The German popped up again next to me having stopped to have a  swim in a lake, as you do. Seb and Steve had gone ahead and had brought what was possibly the most expensive meal know to man. For 2 packets of spaghetti, 2 tins of tomato, 2 tins of tuna and for breakfast; 6 baguettes with butter and jam, juice and a fruit compote it cost 90 Euros. Staying in the refuges is cheap by as they have to haul their food up the mountain via donkey or helicopter you can understand  why food costs so much.

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Day 3: Refuge de Maganu to Vizzavona

I woke up having not really been to sleep. I was now absolutely covered in bites (136 to be precise, yes I counted) and in a serious amount of pain. This would explain why I was struggling a tad on day two. They started to turn into welts and blister which was delightful. At the end of the first stage of the day the man that ran Auberge du Vallone looked at me and quickly dashed inside. He returned with a bottle of vinegar. I doused myself in the stuff which took away the sting for about 10 seconds and then left me smelling of a chip shop…mmmmm chips! It was hurting too much to stand still so I kept on moving down the winding paths and through the woods.

We stopped off at Refuge de L’Onda and had yet another omelette made with the strongest cheese I have ever tasted. Seb and I then continued ahead of the others to hopefully got to Vizzavona and find a pharmacy for me and some superglue for his shoes which were quickly falling apart (note; do not use Hoka’s on the GR20).  As we got to the top of the first climb we were greeted by a group of walkers asking if we were the trail runners. We said “Yes, why?”. They replied “The German said you would be coming”. What was this guy on?! We continued to make pretty good time and I was actually really enjoying the decent down the rocks boulders towards the river. Mainly because it was helping me forget about wanting to peel my skin off with a potato peeler. We were not far from Vizzavrona and because we were in such a rush we took a wrong turn.  We asked a sabotaging (she probably just couldn’t understand us) local for directions and she sent us 2 miles in the wrong  direction. After a U-turn past some fighting pigs we were finally back on track and headed towards our refuge for the night. Turns out there was no pharmacy but the owners of the hotel were so lovely and gave me some cream to put on my bites and gave Seb some superglue to fix his fast perishing shoes!

We stayed at The Vizzavrona which was a lovely little hotel. You could go for the deluxe option of a nice hotel room as Steve had done (I would opt for this when I do the GR20 again) or the refuge option which was still very nice and even had warm showers!

We all sat down to dinner and it was pretty evident that everyone was a bit broken. As there was a train station in the village there was musings in the air of just getting the train to the beach for the rest of the week…I must admit it was tempting. But after a lovely meal of steak and potatoes with a side of pasta, a good nights sleep and waking up to fresh coffee and croissants we were ready to tackle day 4!

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Day 4: Vizzavona to Refuge de Usciolu

Starting the day with croissants and tea is always going to lead to a good day! Finally after 3 days of rocks we were greeted with pine trees and the smell of them was amazing as we began our first ascent of the day. We wound our way up and down the paths and even got some shuffling in. As we neared the end of stage one the allusive German appeared again. He had a few blister problems and Seb kindly game him some tape…I had no idea what he was thinking as we had finally levelled the playing field. We Arrived at the refuge and asked for lunch to which the owner replied no but you can have a sandwich (I am pretty sure this constitutes lunch but what do I know). We politely agreed and we a bit stunned when he brought sandwiches the size of heads out, we weren’t going to go hungry anytime soon.

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We finished lunch and just as we were about to continue to wind our way up the mountain Alice’s bag broke, luckily I had a first aid kit full of safety pins which up to this point had only been used for popping blisters. A quick bit of DIY and we were off again.

The guardian at Refuge Prati asked if we were staying there. We said we were headed to the next refuge. He just replied with ‘Non’. we thought that he didn’t understand us so we said it again. Again he replied with ‘Non’ but this time said that we wouldn’t make it! Ha! We put some Bieber on the speakers and sauntered away from the refuge up the final climb of the day…the climb that would never end! The boys went off into the distance racing each other with David in tow dragging his poles. He had brought his poles out there and there was absolutely no way that they were getting stashed! Alice and I walked together up the mountain listening to the #ThrowbackThursday playlist on Spotify. This weeks theme was Blonde Bombshells, with us both cover in dust and sweat it was very fitting! We would see some of the effects of the Forest fires on todays route and it was pretty sad to see such a large area of trees that had been burnt down. You could still smell the burning and it made me feel pretty lucky that we had found a window to experience this trail.

After reaching the summit of the climb about 8 times and nearly getting blown off the face of the mountain we arrived at Refuge de Usciolu just as the sun was setting to find the boys starting WW3 with the owners as they were adamant that they wouldn’t show them the accommodation until I arrived with the paper. This was the first time that we had come across this rule but once the magical paper was shown they let us swap from the refuge to a tent so we didn’t have to spend a night freaking out about getting bitten by bed bugs. We would just have to spend a night wondering if we were going to get blown off the mountain. The wind was so strong that it blew the side of the tent into your face as you tried to sleep or lay awake reading your kindle. I was very jealous that Seb had his to read as he lay in his tent.

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Day 5: Refuge de Usciolu to Conca

The final day had arrived and it was going to be a long one. We had 50km to cover in order to get to Conca and the end of the GR20 by the end of the day. As we descended from the rocks we were greeted with amazing running trails which we could all bound down and tick of the miles nice and quickly. The trails wound round babbling brooks and fern lined trails with crazy ass wild pigs dotted along the route.

We were headed towards Refuge D’Asinau where we were going to treat ourselves to a spot of lunch. The girls running the refuge had different ideas. One of their friends had just brought the supplies up via donkey and they were planning on having a lovely time gossiping and laughing in the sunshine, they were having a great time. We were going to have to make do with a coke and a chocolate bar before carrying onto the next refuge for a 5pm lunch! We all spread out along this route making our own way connecting the dots along the GR with the white and red flags guiding us to Col de Bevella. About a mile from the end of this climb I spotted The German and took this as an opportunity to beat him up the mountain for a stage win! We all arrived in quick succession at the top of the climb, except for Steve. We had no idea where he was so we took it in turns to go to the restaurant and eat lunch whilst keeping an eye out for him to make sure he didn’t miss us. He turned up about an hour later covered in blood and dust and looking like he had gone 9 rounds in a boxing ring. He said that he has been sick, had a nosebleed and fell asleep on a rock, as you do. He was pretty shattered and was going to start the final 12 miles of the route the next day after some sleep…possibly the most sensible solution. The rest of us decided to put our skates on and get moving along the final stage of the day! At the top of the first climb we were greeted by a wasp infested refuge where the owner had lost his dogs and asked us to send them back to him if we found them. Sure mate! As we got to the top of the second climb the sun started to set and it became apparent that we were going to have to don our head torches as we descended towards Conca in the dark.

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We descended slowly for two hours in the dark making sure that no-one died along the way whilst blaring out some Dancing Queen to shimmy along to. We eventually saw the lights of Conca glistening in the distance. Never have I been so happy to see lights! After a gruelling 5 days, 196km and 13,304m of climbing we had finally made it to the end of the GR20. We found our way to Refuge La Tonnelle where we had an awesome three course meal and a warm shower and where we briefly for the night replaced Big Steve with Johannes our token German! He is seriously quick up hill and needs to get involved with some VK racing…I am going to be his agent!

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Day 6: FOOOOOOOOOD! 

Day 6 was awesome, we spent it lounging in the sun and eating food in Porto Vecchio. We had a lovely lunch in Le lodge and dinner in a restaurant perched on a hill (yes we walked up there voluntarily) called Vistaero. There were no beaches in the immediate vicinity of where we were staying and we were in no position to muster the strength to walk much more than three steps so we lay by the pool in our hotel. We stayed in Hotel Les Roches Blanches which was a delight, the rooms were very nice, breakfast was amazing and it was run by the nicest people on the whole of Corsica, fact!

Do not be fooled by this trail it is brutal and if you are going to do it in 5 days it will be tough, both mentally and physically but it is an amazing adventure and totally worth the pain! Who’s coming next year?

The Numbers:

Day

Distance    (Miles) Elevation        (M) Time (HH:MM:SS)

One

Calinzana –  Refuge de Ascu Stagnu

15.97 3,345

9:33:32

Two

Refuge de Ascu Stagnu – Refuge de Maganu

25.70 2,799

12:07:07

Three

Refuge de Maganu – Vizzavona

21.31 2,152

10:54:24

Four

Vizzavona – Refuge de Usciolu

27.68 2,987

11:15:05

Five 

Refuge de Usciolu – Conca

31.26 2,012

13:09:50

Kit

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Trail Shoes (Saucony Peregrine), Bag (Osprey Tempest 20L), Flip Flops, Travel Towel, 2 x 750ml water Bottles, 1 x 2L Platypus, Toiletries (shampoo, shower gel, toothpaste, toothbrush, brush, mosquito repellant, sun block, lip balm, deodorant), First Aid Kit, portable charger, phone and watch charger, plug adaptor, watch, ear plugs, eye mask, buff, gloves, sleeping bag liner, running shorts, running top, sports bra, shorts, t-shirt, leggings, long sleeve top, waterproof jacket, purse, passport, underwear, socks, head torch, 10 x energy bars (BattleOats), Electrolyte Tabs (Nuun), Walking poles (Leki).

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How much of The Haute Route can we run in 5 days?

The Haute Route is an alpine walking trail that runs from Chamonix to Zermatt, covers 180km and climbs 10,000m. It is usually takes 12 days to cover the route but we were going to see how far we could get in 5 days. Seven crazy fools had signed up to tackle this challenge all who had a varying levels of experience; Steven had cycled through Africa, Ross had completed the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, Mountain Goat Maeve had just got back from running Scaffel Pike Marathon, Will is normally found smashing up the track with very fast 5000m races and Andrea and Tom AKA ‘The Heavies’ are Crossfit extraordinaires who were used to squatting mountains not climbing them. This was going to be a fun few days.

The Team

Day 1: Chamonix – Champex

Day one started off nice and early in Chamonix with cake for breakfast, as it was my birthday! Hip hip horray! I mean what a way to spend your birthday; by eating cake and running in the mountains, perfect!

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With everyone in high spirits we wound our way up the Chamonix Valley towards Col de Balme. There was a hive of activity around us as we climbed the mountain with walkers sauntering in the sunshine and mountain bikers bombing it down the mountain at an alarming pace. As we got halfway up the climb we stopped at a the gondola lift station for some lunch and took a second to admire Mont Blanc as it glistened in the sunshine. At this point Andrea and Tom began to realise what they had undertaken and you could see that they were slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of spending the next 5 days in the mountains. They are both incredibly strong and could probably bench press me with one arm but tackling the mountains was going to be a different story that they would have to dig deep for. A few tears made an appearance at the thought of the challenge that lay ahead but with a bit of magical face paint we soldiered on and ticked off the first Col!

The speedsters of the group dashed ahead whilst Will, Tom, Andrea and I took a more leisurely pace down the mountain.  We suddenly turned a corner to see Ross sprawled on the floor with blood everywhere! He had got a bit over excited running down the mountain, stacked it on a rock, ended up in some bushes and cut his leg open again (he had cut it open a couple of weeks ago falling down the stairs and ruining a very nice suit in the process!). It was a pretty nasty cut but Mountain Goat Maeve stepped up and helped Ross put his leg back together again with the stickiest tape known to man. With the blood having eased and Ross reassuring us that he could continue we headed down the mountain to Trient with the pink church guiding us to our next snack stop.

The route continued up the second climb of the day to the rather remarkably remote Alp Bovine. The Mother and Daughter who run this place take the long steep walk down to the bottom of the mountain daily to get supplies for the walkers and runners that stumble across this awesome refuge… no wonder a Coke costs 10 CHF! Time was getting a bit tight and we only had time to fill up our water bottles but we did take a second to admire the view…

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After 24 (ok 23.99) miles of blood, sweat and tears we had made it to Champex hurrah! We stayed at Pension En Plein Air where we had a lovely three course meal followed by a coffee and a dip in the lake and then all passed out with the exhaustion by 9pm!

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Day 2: Champex – Cabane des Dix…well that was the plan!

We woke up at 6.30am and as everyone made their way to breakfast it was pretty evident that there were some sore legs kicking about. As we ate bread smothered in butter and jam and guzzled freshly brewed coffee we looked ahead to the days route. A similar distance to the day before, we all knew we could get through it, what could possibly stand in our way?

We said goodbye to Champex reluctantly as the lake was stunningly beautiful and we all thought that we could easily scrap the challenge we had undertaken to spend the day lounging in a boat in the sunshine.

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At the end of the lake we were greeted by a lovely downhill that we could all run down and make some pretty good time. We were ticking off the miles quite quickly and everyone seemed to forget about the pain in their legs! The downhill didn’t last long and we were soon winding our way up another climb. We past a couple of walkers on this route Josephine and Nick. Nick was on his own little journey tackling the route in a more leisurely nine days whilst writing an article for the Kiwi magazine Wild and Josephine wanted to get out of Zurich for a bit of mountain air and was walking the route in 12 days.

The climb continued towards Clambin and it was tough as it headed up a stupidly steep trail. Ross and Steven disappeared into the distance and created their own route up the mountain, we kept catching glimpses of them up the mountain as they disappeared into the distance. The rest of us decided to stop and perch on a perfectly placed bench that overlooked the Mont Blanc Massif and have our lunch. We didn’t stop for long and carried on up the mountain until we stumbled across a lovely restaurant in Clambin. Ross suddenly appeared without Steven. There was a bit of a comedy moment as Ross ran back up the mountain to get Steven and Steven came back down a different route to meet us completely missing Ross in the process. After much toking and frowning we were finally all back together. We grabbed a coke, sat in the sunshine for a bit whilst everyone sorted out their feet and then headed back on up the beast of a climb. As we climbed we found Nick again. In our spate of losing people, eating lunch and fix feeding he had darted past us.

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The climb continued to the beautiful Cabane Du Mont Fort where we found Josephine again…how on earth had she got there before us? Turns out via a chairlift, a wise choice! There were two routes that we could take and we went for the shorter route over Col de la Chaux. Just as we headed towards the climb Nick made a final appearance. He was staying  at Cabane du Mont Fort, we said a quick goody and wished him well for the rest of his trip. We started the climb and Ross once again disappeared into the distance, this would be the last time that we would see him for a while. This climb was insane, we climbed over rocks, snow and boulders and I could tell that everyones patients was getting pretty thin.

At the top of the climb we thought that was it we would have a nice run down the other side but oh no the mountains had different ideas for us and we entered ‘The Valley of Death’. We tried to move as quickly as we could over the slate but we struggled to go faster than 1mph. Everyone was starting to get tired and their limits were tested as everytime we reached the summit it turned out to be a false one. Once again tears were shed as we had to haul our asses up these hills. I was starting to get a bit worried as the light was fading and I knew that we were not going to make it to our Refuge. I asked Will, Maeve and Steven to go ahead and see if the next refuge would have some space for the night. Firstly we had some crazy decent to get down, which considering Tom is bat shit scared of heights he did incredibly well to make his way down them.

Finally as the sun was setting, which was a beautiful sight Cabane de Prafleuri made an appearance. I wanted to stay here originally but they were fully booked so I was keeping everything crossed that they would let us sleep somewhere even if it was the floor of the dining room. I did start to look for some suitable rocks to sleep on but hearing rockfall and seeing avalanches all day I wasn’t too keen to take this option!

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We arrived at the refuge and the tears flowed. We left Champex at 7am and it was now 9pm we had dragged our selves up and over some incredible terrain and the glistening lake that we left behind was a distant memory. Luckily Will had managed to sweet talk the Refuge to let us sleep in the Guides room for the night, thank god! Unfortunately dinner had long gone and the only food left was crisps and a snickers I tell you what food never tasted so good. Ross had still disappeared and with no phone signal we had no idea where he was. The refuge very kindly phoned all the other refuges around and at about 10pm they located Ross in a Refuge down the road, we could all now go to sleep knowing he was safe and not sleeping on a rock or still trying to cross the river. We tried our hardest to sneak into the guides room without making a peep but I am pretty sure we woke them all up the second we stepped into the room, don’t worry they returned the favour at 5am!

I wish the profile of the route below did it justice what we walked over…do not be fooled by it, it was mental!

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Day 3: Cabane de Prafleuri to Cabane de Moiry 

We woke up felling more than grateful that the refuge had taken pity on us and gave us a bed for the night and very kindly given us breakfast too! The day’s activities started of with a lovely runnable trail that went around Lac des Dix. The water was beautiful with a waterfall at the far end luring us to the bottom of the climb we had to tackle. The climb  was a fairly pleasant which then flattened off before the final assent. It was pretty hard to see where the final part of the climb went but as we drew nearer the ladders started to appear. Tom got pretty scared, not surprisingly as we were about to climb a cliff face and when you have vertigo that is a tough ask. After a little ‘motivational chat’ we wound our way up and over the boulders to the ladders. Trying to get Tom up and over the ladders as quickly as possible was my main aim but the guys coming down the ladders with backpacks bigger than me and poles dangling all over the place were taking their time! Finally it was our turn and we got to the top of the climb in one piece with a feeling of elation that none of us had died!

It was pretty obvious that the emotion of the cliff face had taken its toll and everyone was pretty drained however we met a guy at the top of the mountain that said their was a pizza restaurant at the bottom of the hill (sorry mountain). This was music to our ears as all we had eaten in the past 12 hours was bread, crisps and chocolate! The route down to Arolla was pretty special as teasing us in the distance was the Matterhorn where we would hopefully end up in two days time.

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We arrived in Arolla and couldn’t find the pizza place but found a lovely restaurant that did Rosti and burgers which were just as good. Time was against us once again and after the late finish the night before, I didn’t think we would be able to tackle the whole distance. We were going to make a decision in Les Hauderes as to if we should get a taxi to our refuge. Andrea and Tom took the opportunity to hop on the bus to Les Hauderes and Maeve, Will, Steven and I decided to carry on and run there, Ross was still unaccounted for. After running for about 10mins there was a general consensus that we should hop in a taxi. My phone pinged and it was a message from Andrea saying ‘Guess who we found?”. Yep they had found Ross wondering around Les Hauderes with a punnet of nectarines.

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Unfortunately the taxi could not take us take us the whole way to the Refuge but could get us a 60 minute walk away…that would do. I have never been happier to step into a taxi because as we did an mammoth thunder storm roared through the mountains. I was very glad we were not on top of the mountain at this point.

The taxi dropped us off at the bottom of the climb up to Cabane de Moiry…one little climb to go. Ross went off ahead to tell the refuge that we were on the way and to save us some food! It was a nice climb with some tricky bits but the view at the top was absolutely incredible. We were staying in a refuge perched on a cliff edge right next to Glacier de Moiry and everyone was so glad that they made the effort to get up here. It was a pretty special place to stay for the night.

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Day 4: Cabane De Moiry – St Niklaus

We began day four by retracing our steps from the night before. Andrea, Tom and Will had decided that they were going to get the cable car down to Zinal and meet us there but firstly they had a Col to climb. Just before the climb started Maeve and Steven found chair to enjoy the views and the sunshine in and for the first time without being poked in the ribs Steven smiled for the camera, I have no idea why ;)!

Before the climb really began we had to go through a gate and then a field of rather angry cows. We all made it through the gate without incident except for Will. He didn’t see the electric wire running around the fence and gave himself a lovely electric shock that definitely woke him up and sent the adrenaline pumping for the climb.

The views at the top of Col de Sorebois were incredible we had a wonderful panorama of the surrounding mountains which was dominated by the Weisshorn.

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We could see the cable car below and all of a sudden Mountain Goat Andrea made an appearance, she was off running down the mountain. We all chased her down the mountain until we reached the cable car and when everyone saw that we only had 90 mins to get to Zinal everyone decide to ditch the cable car idea and run down the mountain. Steven ran off in blur and the rest of us enjoyed the saunter down the hill in the sunshine. Arriving in Zinal it was evident that they final 26km to St Niklaus was going to be a tall order,  we all decided that we would enjoy an afternoon drinking hot chocolate and playing Monopoly Go before hopping in a taxi to St Niklaus. We seemed to time our taxi trips pretty well because again as we hopped into this one thunder storm two opened up!

We arrived in St Niklaus and the hotel that we were staying in turned out to be a pizzeria, GET IN! Someone was looking after us today. After spending the past four nights in refuges jammed in like sardines it was a treat to stay in a hotel where the water didn’t cost 5 CHF and you weren’t at risk of getting bitten by bed bugs.

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Day 5: St Niklaus – Zermatt

The final day had arrived and all we had to do today was get to Zermatt before our train at 4pm! This was a lovely part of the walk that weaved along the river and railway with Mont Rosa guiding us towards Zermatt. All we wanted to see as we headed towards Zermatt was the Matterhorn but that little bad boy was going to play hide and seek for the day. Everyone was in hight spirits knowing that the end was close and that we had nearly made it across the Alps. We went to find the Matterhorn which was still teasing us and hiding under a cloud.

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We had done it! We walked, ran and hobbled 93 miles and climbed over 8500m carrying all our kit from from Chamonix to Zermatt and I am so proud of everyone, especially The Heavies! It was pretty incredible what we achieved and this route was tough, by far one of the hardest trails that I have ever done! Playing in the mountains is incredible and I urge you all to plan an adventure that takes you out of your comfort zone and that tests you physically and mentally! Trust me it will be worth it!

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What was in our backpacks?

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Kit: Osprey Tempest 20L, Trail Shoes, Shorts, Sports Bra, T-Shirt, Waterproof Jacket, Leggings, Underwear, Socks, Sunglasses, Sleeping Bag Liner, Towel, Gloves, Buff, Watch, Ear Plugs, Eye Mask, Power Pack, Chargers, Head Torch, First Aid Kit, Toiletries, Water Bottles, Flip Flops, Safety Blanket, Purse, Passport. N.B. I didn’t pack the hippo!

 

 

I should have turned right at Eastbourne…

After playing what was essentially pin the tails on the donkey to decide where I was going to run this weekend I woke up at 06:30am on Saturday and got involved with a bit of multi-tasking. I made porridge, glugged down a cup of tea whilst trying not to give myself 3rd degree burns and packed my backpack for my weekends adventure. My well thought out plan was to head South East until I reached Eastbourne and stop off in East Grinstead to meet Jenny for tea and cake! Fool proof!

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I headed out the door and the first part of the journey was lovely weaving through Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common in the fresh morning air. I was greeted by deer, squirrels and loads of runners already in the park, what a wonderful start to the day! Then it turned a bit rubbish as my map took me through Croydon. No offence to Croydon but you are not exactly a wonder of the world. Passing groups of boys dressed in club football kit downing Red Bull and having a final cigarette before the headed to their football matches and trying to get through the longest queue I had ever seen outside of Greggs was some what different to what I was expecting.

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I was meeting Jenny at 2pm but did a rough calculations and realised that I was going to get there about 90 minutes early. Jenny was on a bike and unless she magically found a jet pack I was going to have to do a bit of waiting round for her to get there. Having just crossed the M25 (via a bridge don’t worry) I saw this wonderful sign…

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I carried on trotting to the cherry lady who was perched in a layby on the A22. She looked bemused when I arrived and asked how on earth I got to her as everyone drives there! When I told her that I had just run from Richmond she just looked utterly confused and was ‘lost of words’. She asked me where I was headed and then got even more confused at the thought of someone running to Eastbourne…I get it it’s not exactly normal but I had nothing else to do this weekend. After spending £2 on 1lb of cherries I sat in a field and ate them in the sunshine, heaven!

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I carried on towards East Grinstead and arrived at the chosen cake shop ‘The Nest’. I devoured a toasted cheese and ham sandwich whilst I waited for Jenny to turn up. She arrived up at 2pm on the dot and we enjoyed few cups of tea, a couple of pieces of cake and putting the world to rights before I headed off on the rest of my journey and she turned around to go back home avoiding the Gatwick Landing strip.

I had already run 30 miles and only had 32 to go and it was only 3pm. BRING ON THE CHALLENGE! I had planned to do a bit of wild camping and had supplies on me to sleep for the night but changed my mind and decided to try and get to Eastbourne before the last train home at 22:20…Easy! Well kind of!

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The route picked up again (briefly) as I headed out of East Grinstead into a lovely rolling forest road. I was enjoying running along and making my way closer to the final destination. After about 45 miles of running I could feel my energy levels starting to drop and suddenly craved a coke and a snickers, the diet of a champion right there. Well I was in luck as there was a little corner shop ahead. I had my little snack on the side of the road before carrying on South East!

So turns out there is a reason to plan a route and that is so you don’t end up on a bloody duel carriage way. I started to run on the duel carriage way and then decided that was a stupid idea and that I didn’t want to die just yet. I hopped onto the grass and waded through the nettles, thorns and weeds for about 5 miles. Finally, a pavement appeared hurrah! I looked down at my legs and shoes and they were black from all of the exhaust fumes that were on the grass, how gross.

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It was now 9pm and I was just outside of East Grinstead. I had 1hr and 20mins to make the train and was feeling a tad peckish. I called up the Pizza delivery man and asked if they could deliver a pizza and a piece of cheesecake to the station for me at 10pm, they happily obliged. As I got into the town centre I was greeted by a myriad of stag and hen dos and decided that I made the right call not to stay there for the night. I arrived at the train station at 10pm on the dot found my pizza delivery guy, legend, and hopped on the train. Perfect Timing!

It was a fun challenge although I would have found it a lot easier if I hadn’t pretended to be a turtle for the day and left my house at home. Carrying a 7kg backpack for fun on a 62 mile run is not the best idea I’ve ever had! I spent the train journey eating cheesecake with my hands as I had no spoon and trying to stay awake. I had the fear that I may fall asleep and end up in a train depot. Fear not this didn’t happen. Getting into the shower was a an emotional experience as my bag had rubbed and fat mans chafe had reached the next level. I am not sure if you have ever felt the pain of sweat running into a cut but good god it hurts!

I woke up on Sunday from a text from my flatmate saying ‘You better be sleeping or watching tv like a normal person!’. I was, I spent the day eating pancakes, watching the tennis and planning my next adventure!

If I had persisted with that stag do’s, deployed my house and stayed in Eastbourne for the night and turned right in the morning I would have stumbled across this…

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It is nice to have an idea in the bag for next time! Who’s coming?

How to decide where to run to this weekend:

1. Get a map.
2. Write North, North East, East, South East, South, South West, West, North West on a bit of paper.
3. Put the bits of paper in a hat, yes a real hat!
4. Draw a piece of paper from the hat.
5. Place a piece of string at your start location and head in the location drawn.
Ta Daaaaa
I’m off to Eastbourne! Anyone want to come on a running adventure?

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My first Microadventure; Running around the Isle of Wight

On Friday someone at worked asked what I was up to on the weekend and it suddenly dawned on me that I had absolutely no plans. I had wanted to go on a little microadventure for a while and what a perfect opportunity to go on one! My first idea was to run to Paris but as it was already midday and I hadn’t packed any running kit and wasn’t sure that I could get the afternoon off work, run 50 miles to Brighton and make the 11pm ferry…I carried on thinking. I kept looking at my map and was trying to decide what to do when the Isle of Wight jumped out at me. I did a quick search as to the distance around the island, 70 Miles, perfect I could easily do that over a weekend. I booked a ferry went home and packed my bag for the weekends adventure.

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Kit: In my 20 Litre Salomon Trail Backpack I had: Flip Flops, Snacks, Body Glide (essential), Bikini (not essential),  Running Tights, Thermal Top, Survival Blanket, Head Torch, Buff, Gloves, Waterproof Jacket, Sleeping Bag, Bivvy Bag, Thermarest, Travel Towel, Suntan Lotion, Purse, Phone, Phone Charger, Watch Charger. On me; Socks, T-Shirt, Shorts, Sports Bra, Garmin 235, Running Shoes and Sunnies. 6.7kg!

Saturday morning arrived and I had an extremely well thought out plan; follow the coastal path, run 35 miles each day, sleep in a filed. Sounds pretty robust to me…what could possibly go wrong?!

 Day 1:

My little adventure started in Cowes and as I took my first two steps the heavens opened and it started to pour down, perfect just what I wanted less than 1 mile into a 70 mile run. Luckily it wasn’t that cold and I was full of beans to get my adventure underway.

After about 90 mins the rain disappeared and a glimmer of sunshine started to appear…it wouldn’t last long. The first 18 miles of the run weaved along country roads, across marshland and through a field with a bull in it…luckily I out smarted him or this story would end here!

After 3 hours of running it was time for lunch hurrah! I stumbled across an awesome café called ‘Off the rails’ in Yarmouth. They had converted an old railway station on a disused rail track into a restaurant and it was delightful. I went for the burger in a charcoal bun (it worked) with paprika chips and coleslaw. I enjoyed watching people come and go for an hour or so, eventually it was time for me to get on my way again. Turns out that shoving a burger down your throat and then trying to run straight away would not be one of the best ideas I ever had…anyway I was off to the needles!

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As I made my way to the needles the wind started to pick up and the fog started to close in, I wondered if would even see them. I arrived at the National Trust sight and made a quick dash to the edge of the cliff, luckily the fog hadn’t rolled in all the way and I got to see the little beauties. Right onward I go. I headed south along the west coast of the island as I tried to find my way through the fog the beautiful cliff edges began to appear.

I had nearly reached the magical 35 mile point so had a little search for places to eat and sleep, there was a country pub down the road but it was another 4 miles away, urgh! I dragged my ass along the final few miles until eventually I saw the pub gleaming in the background. I was acutely aware that I was very sweaty and probably didn’t smell great so I decided to have a quick water bottle shower in a field, it’s a thing. I just had to hope that no-one stumbled across me as I was stark naked in a field. ‘Clean’ and in nice fresh clothes I headed to the pub! As I walked up to the bar the guy behind the counter asked if I had booked a room to which I replied no I was just here for some food and that I was going to sleep in a field. He looked at me as if I was on crack, he probably had a point! He asked what I was up to and I told him that I was running around the island. With a dead straight face be just replied, ‘You do know there is a bus that goes around it’? FYI this is what it looks like if you ever want to take it:

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The sun was starting to set so I packed up my things and headed out to find somewhere to sleep for the night. I wanted to sleep on the beach but as there was a 30ft sheer drop to the beach and you could see where the cliff kept falling away I decided that wouldn’t be a great idea. I carried on wondering down the road until I found a little house, some may call it a bus stop, I call it fate. I set up camp in there and prepared myself for a blissful night of sleep!

Day2:

I woke up at about 6am, although I had been waking up every couple of hours because I thought I was going to get attacked by a wolf…I didn’t! Time to get started with day 2 and what better way to do it than with a skinny dip in the sea! I timed this perfectly and just as I was wrapping my towel around myself a fishing boat rocked up. Phew.

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On to Ventor for breakfast, I found a little café called ‘Cantina’ that was run by a German chef. It was a great little find, I had eggs and soldiers, extra toast and jam and a couple of cups of tea all for £9, it is great to get out of London!

My trip along the coastal path, running on beaches, through seaside towns and through fields continued. Over another style and to what seemed like just another field until I spied two white horses standing in front of the gate I needed to go through. My immediate thoughts were great I am allergic to horses and how on earth am I going to get past them? As I walked towards the horses one of them started to walk towards me lets call him Jeff. I started to walk backwards Jeff followed me, I went left around the water trough Jeff went right I tried to run up the hill Jeff was quicker, ARGH, how was I going to get around this maniac? Jeff was getting pretty playful and I was hoping I wouldn’t get kicked. I suddenly saw a fence out of the corner of my eye leading to the adjacent field, perfect I will squeeze through that and find another way around! I quickly make a dash for the fence, got halfway through the bloody thing when I get jammed between the two planks of wood because I have forgotten a vital piece of information…I have a backpack on! I am now well and truly stuck between two planks of wood. Jeff takes this as the perfect opportunity to start head-butting and licking me…gross. Finally I wriggle my way to freedom and dart off into the distance. Laters Jeff!

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Word on the trail is that there is a monastery that does great cake about 15 miles away. Perfect! The final 5 miles was quite a struggle as I had breakfast at 9am, it was now 2pm and I had covered 25 miles already, needless to say I was a tad hungry. The monastery suddenly appeared through the woods. It was a beautiful building where the monks grew their own fruit and veg and baked the cakes for the teashop, what a life! I went for a huge slice of Victoria Sponge and ate it whilst the Abbeys chickens milled around my feet. Cake consumed I only had 5 miles to go to get back to Cowes.

3 miles left to go I had a quick look at the ferry times and saw that there was a ferry in 40 minutes, could I make it… I didn’t look at my watch but shuffled as quickly as I could until I reached the port. I got to there with 4 minutes to spare, now that is good timing!

As the ferry started to head back to Southampton I watched the Isle of Wight disappear into the distance. Hurrah! 70 miles, 2 days, 1 island, 1 horse attack, 1 T-Rex, 3 Swings, 1 Burger and 3 Llama’s later and I had finished!

One island down…which one will be next?

Pancakes!

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Sometimes we all need pancakes for breakfast and these were insanely delicious 😍! Fluffy pancakes with super sweet berries and fresh honey with the honeycomb from the beautiful bees in the garden 🐝!

Ingredients

3 eggs

115g flour

1tsp baking powder

140ml milk

a pinch of salt

Topping: Honey, Blueberries, Raspberries and Blackberries but feel free to put your own tasty twist on them.

Method

1. Separate the egg whites and yolks into two bowls.

2. Add the flour, baking powder and milk to the yolk and mix until a batter is formed.

3. Whisk the egg whites with the pinch of salt until stiff peaks are formed.

4. Fold in the egg whites to yolk mixture…nice and slowly!

5. Heat a non stick pan add the mix and fry for a couple of mins until golden brown then flip over and do the same on the other side.

6. Now enjoy these bad boys with a topping if your choice!

Comrades 2016

The Comrades Marathon is an ultra marathon of approximately 89 km which is run annually in between Pietermaritzburg and Durban in South Africa. It is the world’s largest and oldest ultra marathon race with 20,000 people entered into this years race. The direction of the race alternates each year between the ‘up’ run starting from Durban and the ‘down’ run starting from Pietermaritzburg. This year I would be towing the line and attempting the Down run!

My alarm sounded at 3:30am, it was finally here, after training for the Comrades for the past 6 months it was race day. I got up got dressed covered myself in sun lotion and had breakfast which consisted of porridge, a banana, a peanut butter oat bar and a cup of tea. Once I was ready we hopped in the car and headed for the start line. We got as close to the start as we could and after saying goody and wishing me well I said good bye to my parents and headed to the start line. It was still dark and would be until about 6:45am.

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I made my way to the start line and gathered with my fellow runners. With 5 minutes to go we all sung the national anthem and a wave of emotion came over me as everyone joined in with passion to sing together, I had to try my hardest not to burst into tears. We then went on to sign Shosholoza an old zulu mining song and then Chariots of Fire blared out across Pietermaritzburg. As the music ended the cockerel crowed and the cannon fired and at 5:30am 20,000 of us started a 89km journey from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

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In the comrades unlike any other race I have done before the kilometre makers count down as you run along the course and I tried many tricks along the way to break down the 89km ahead of me. I thought come on it’s ‘only’ 9 x 10km or 3 x 30km or 89 x 1km who was I kidding it was a bloody long way and the next few hours were going to hurt.

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Before the race started I set myself a goal of getting a Gold medal. This would mean that I would have to finish in the top 10 ladies. Most people I told this too laughed at me and said I wouldn’t do it. But I thought what is the point in setting the goal of just finishing, I knew I would finish, I had trained hard and was prepared. I wanted something to aim for that was challenging and that would test me so aiming for gold off I went. I felt great and for the first 50km or so I was in 4th place feeling strong and enjoying the run. The atmosphere was amazing and I ran with some awesome guys who were so kind and passed me water as we went through all of the aid stations. I can’t thank them enough for helping me and keeping me company along the way. I stuck to the pace that I wanted to do but then I ran full pelt into the mother of all walls. I wasn’t out of breath or tired it is just that every step that I took was so unbelievably painful. It felt like a shock wave going through my body and as much as I tried I just could not run any faster. The slogan to the comrades is ‘it will humble you’ and it sure did that to me.

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The support that you get along the route is insane. Everyone makes a day of it with banners and BBQ’s the whole way along the route, the smell of a Boerewors cooking away was so tempting and more than once I felt like pulling up a chair and having a snack  with an unexpected supporter. I think being a girl (sorry guys) is extra special. As we were all quite spread out the crowd would go mental everytime you ran past them with shouts of ‘go sister’ and ‘do it for the girls’ I also got proposed to four times along the route which was wonderful, unfortunately I didn’t go on to explore the possibilities as I was more concerned with dragging my ass to the finish line. Good to know that Comrades is clearly the place to meet a suitor.

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I was lucky that I had great support along the way. I managed to see my parents four times along the route which was awesome as once they had dropped me off I only thought I would see them at the end. Although with 30km to go my dad shouted “the race starts now” I yelled back “it bloody started 60km ago in Pietermaritzburg!”! I then headed into the Netbank Green Mile which is full of music, scary super heroes and the best dancers out there! My awesome cousins were dancing on the stage as I ran passed they battled off the referees and ran with me waving their pom poms in merriment for a km which was a much needed moral boost. At 13km to go I saw my aunties and uncles going crazy as I ran past. Unfortunately my spirits were pretty low and everything hurt at this point that I wasn’t as cheery as I could’ve been. My uncle Malcolm ran along side me giving me a pep talk and which helped and spurred me on for the final 12km to Durban. All the way along the route ice cream trucks kept on appearing, I have never wanted an ice cream more in my life and if I do this race again I am taking 10 Rand and buying one!

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After what felt like forever I finally arrived at Kingsmead Stadium and was thrilled that the race organisers made us do a lap of the stadium before eventually reaching the finish line…this was a cruel trick. I have never been happier to cross a finish line in my life! I finished in 7hrs 23 minutes and 6 seconds in 23rd place with a Silver Medal. I was 22 minutes away from getting a Gold but I could not have been happier with my Silver Medal. This is undoubtably the hardest race I have ever done in my life, it is brutal!

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As soon as I finished I asked my mom to film me saying that I will never ever do that race again. I have already changed my mind and I am looking forward to tackling the up route next year!

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