Samoëns to Refuge Moëde Anterne – D5

Another cracker. Completely different to yesterday, ending in a race to the death up Col d’ Anterne – part of Richard’s alpine scientific experiments. This time he had two guinea pigs to play with.

Samoëns is definitely a tourist destination and caters for sporting types. I found the supplies I needed with ease: finally getting my hands on two appropriately sized Jetboil gas canisters, some 2% Voltarol to sooth my Achilles’ tendon and some heel inserts, which Dr. Villar felt sure would help the pressure in the tendon.

We stuffed our faces in the hotel restaurant. It was odd negotiating a menu instead of being served up a no-choice meal as per the night before. Choices. Choices. I went for the local sausage and potatoes and an extra large plate of chips, followed up by a vast cheese platter. The great thing about doing this kind of walking, enhanced by Dr. Villar’s alpine weight loss experiment is that you can consume whatever you want guilt-free.

We’d arrived wet so I decided to try out my mate Sergey Grabovet’s Russian Spetznaz (Sepcial Forces) trick to drying clothes. I’d worked with him closely in Fox Sports in Russia during the work up to the World Cup and trusted his judgement enough to divulge this Russian military secret to Richard. Don’t try this at home! Basically, put your wet clothes under your mattress and in the morning they’ll be dry. Were they? Nope! Still damp. Thanks Sergey.

Late at night Richard’s colleague arrived to join us for two day’s of hiking. Ali is surgeon partner in Richard’s practice, also specialising in knees and hips. So, I was in doubly good hands. Richard had warned me that Ali was very fit and being in his forties had the edge on both of us. Also, he’d be hiking lite with just sufficient for two days.

As we left Samoëns this morning at 0800 we realised that we’d been living in territory occupied by France. Savoie has it’s own liberation army, which seems to be fighting for independence from France, evidenced by graffiti we stumbled across on our way out of town. I guess it must be pretty similar to the Cornish Liberation Army, but better organised. I thought that the waitress preparing breakfast had been a little surly. She’s probably a member of the Savoie resistance. The hills, we concluded, would be full of resistance fighters.

Of all the days on the GR5 today’s has the most ascent, some 1800m, or nearly 6,000′. Despite this, the first hour or so is fairly flat as the route parallels the river Giffre towards its source leading to a narrow gorge, the Gorges des Tines, which narrows to the point that one has to clamber up two metal ladders. A friend who has a chalet in Samoëns and is into ultra marathons warned me that her kids had negotiated the ladders without any aids. We therefore wouldn’t be needing to use harnesses and slings for safety. The ladders are at a modest 60 degree angle, but that didn’t stop us staging some photos suggesting that they were vertical in an attempt to demonstrate to the other Fools how arduous this trip was shaping up to be.

When walking is easy the banter is usually quite free. We recapped with Richard about Track Envy and agreed that it was now an official hiking term. Two more terms emerged (from him) pretty quickly. Richard was slightly concerned that he’d succumbed too soon to using two hiking poles, something that is seen by some as effete. It is in London on the Embankment but not in the mountains, surely? But the mild shame of using them still troubled him enough for us to ask if he was suffering Stick Shame.

Then we got onto the debate of Thermos versus cooker. I had a Jetboil that for the first four days had no gas canister – you can’t fly with them and they are hard to source. Finally, in Samoëns I’d sourced some gas and now had the ability to brew up on the hoof and was determined to brew up today during a stop. Since the Jetboil is considered sacred by some members of the Fools, much effort, energy and debate is devoted to sourcing gas for each Gambol. Deeply ingrained in the military psyche is the need to be able to ‘brew up’ at a moment’s notice. To us it’s unthinkable to do something like this without a burner and and a brew kit somewhere in one’s gear.

Richard, however, prefers to take a flask of tea or coffee out for the day. But, he does admit that once it’s drunk that’s it. No more. While debating the merits of each he let slip that the Thermos made him slightly anxious as it’s associated with very old people. And so we now have Thermos Anxiety as a third addition to our list of new trekking terms: Track Envy; Stick Shame; and Thermos Anxiety. By the end of the GR5 we’ll be able to publish a lexicon of new hiking terms – most being psychological disorders.

Presently the gradients increased and we climbed ever higher up a narrow winding and heavily wooded track that occasionally opened out onto stunning views of waterfalls.

Plenty of people were also trudging up and down, August being the holiday month. As we came round one corner we stumbled on a pair of Savoie resistance fighters moving their stuff up the mountain on a donkey. As the day progressed we saw more and more of these being used by non-resistance fighters. It then dawned on us that you could hire them.

‘What the hell are we carrying this crap around on our backs! Why don’t we just hire a couple of donkeys for the GR5?’ Richard had a point and wondered what Godfrey would think if we turned up in Ceillac on the 29th of August leading a pair of donkeys with our kit on them. However tempting, Richard still needed to suffer for his art with his outsized pack and I still needed to suffer appropriately for this charitable endeavour.

After five-and-a-half hours of trudging uphill we arrived at the Refuge d’Anterne Alfred Willis (or Chalets d’Anterne) not to be confused with our final destination, the Refuge Moëde Anterne, some six or seven kilometres away over yet another high col, the Col d’Anterne. This was to be the testing ground of today’s scientific alpine weight loss study. The race-against-the-clock route: from the Refuge (Chalets) d’Anterne at 1808m, around Lac Anterne, up and over the Col d’Anterne at 2257m and down to the Refuge Moëde Anterne at 2002m. All this can best be seen from the graphics in Paddy Dillon’s Hiking the GR5 by Cicerone:

On this occasion Ali would accompany me and act as the timer with his phone. This seemed reasonable as he was carrying far less weight on his back, was younger than me by about seven years and was fresh out of England the night before. The sign post told us that the Col d’Anterne was exactly 2 hours away and the Refuge Moëde Anterne 2 hours and 15 minutes away.

The rules were that I had to achieve equal to or less than 47% of those posted times – a benchmark that had been set on the much much shorter cols of Coux and Golèse the day before on stable tracks. With this in mind I fired up the Jetboil for the first time on this trip and prepared a litre of green and menthe tea heavily laced with sugar.

I was mindful that we’d already covered 17kms, most of it uphill and were tired. Also at that altitude the amount of oxygen in the air is the same but the pressure is less resulting in faster muscle fatigue. I was grateful that I had Ali to pace me.

Or so I thought. Little did I know that Richard had instructed him to beat me up to the Col d’Anterne. Richard started walking some ten minutes before we set off. The route went straight up from the refuge, rough and very broken. We overtook him within five or so minutes. Sweat was pouring into my eyes and my lungs were taking a pounding. I was aware of Ali somewhere behind me. As we passed Richard he shouted something to the effect that Ali was closing to put pressure on me or overtake me.

I knew immediately that I would not come close to 47% or even 50%. The going was so uneven and the fatigue noticeable. I was quite gutted that Richard would say, ‘You’ve failed!’ But, as I staggered to the top of the first escarpment I noticed that it fell away to a broad flat valley with Lake Anterne in its middle. Desperate to make up lost time I started running fast, using my sticks as support and must have run continuously for a mile or mile-and-a-half across the valley to the steep ground on the other side.

As I started tabbing up the steep slope to the prominent cross that marked the summit of the col, I glanced back and saw Ali had shrunk to a small dot in the middle of the valley. Somehow I’d dropped him, probably by running all the downhill and flat. I hit the col at exactly 65 minutes or 54% of the recommended 2 hours to cover that ground. A woman at the top stared at me as I crested panting and slavering like a dog and then shot down the other side and continued running all the way to the Refuge Moëde Anterne which I hit at the 1 hour 21 minute point.

Presently I caught sight of Ali running down from the col, which he’d hit 9 minutes after me.

Madness. But, it’s all useful data for Richard’s alpine experiment. At this point I think I can safely say that the effects of 70 days of relative inactivity in Moscow have finally been reversed.

I can’t imagine how many more cols I’ll be charging up before we see the Med.

By the way, while all this was going on the fundraising exceeded £7,000 for Children With Cancer, which is amazing. So, thank you all very much for your continued support.

Stay tuned!

New Hiking Terms

Track Envy. A jealousy that overcomes you when you think that your hiking partner appears to have found firmer footing.

Stick Shame. Profound self-loathing and disgust when you feel you’ve resorted to using hiking poles unnecessarily.

Thermos Anxiety. A deep despair when you realise that age has crept up on you, evidenced by a preference for convenience.

Today’s Vital Statistics