Calling Paddy Dillon!
Whilst waiting in the freezing cold for the match to kick off this afternoon, I was chatting with one of the guys I go to rugby with who's off to do the GR20 this summer with his son. Lucky s*d!!
They wanted to go early June, but David's not sure he can get away because of teaching commitments, so they're looking at the last 2 weeks in May. He wondered if there was likely to be any residual snow / ice at that time of year that might cause problems, and for any other specific advice for May - he said he thought the refuges might not be manned at that time of year?
He's got (or is getting) Paddy's Cicerone guide, but if there's anything else Paddy or anyone else can offer, I'll pass it on to David or email him the url of this thread.
All I can say is...
I once started the GR20 in the last week of May, before the refuges were staffed. There's no problem using the refuges, as they're left open for anyone using the trail, but if they're not staffed, then there's no food there either, and in some cases the water in the showers and toilets might be disconnected. In other words, expect things to be a bit spartan. As for lingering snow, that all depends on the severity of the previous winter, and the speed of the spring thaw. When I was there one May, the north-facing gullies were all stuffed full of snow, but they were just about safe to negotiate without an ice-axe and crampons. THAT DOESN'T MEAN THEY'LL ALWAYS BE SAFE AT THAT TIME! Generally, the snow-line is high, but the higher parts of the GR20 will carry snow and ice well into June and even into July. I've seen snow lying right beside the route even in the first week of August. So... snow conditions are variable... and you have to take that into account. Another generalisation... snow-filled gullies often freeze during the night, and would be treacherous if attempted too early in the day. Around midday, when most walkers reach their daily high stages, the sun has usually softened the snow, so that it takes a good tread and isn't nearly as slippery. Again... it's a variable thing... and you have to judge each snow patch on its own merits.
When I was there that time in May, I came across three English walkers who were very relieved that they were able to walk the route without any real problem. They told me that they'd made TWO previous visits, both times in the last week of May, and hadn't been able to cover more than a couple of days on the trail because of the snow. While climbing above the Spasimata Slabs, for instance, they told me that there were "little Christmas trees" poking above the snow. As I walked the same stretch with them, those "little Christmas trees" were actually huge laricio pines, but they could only see the topmost parts of them sticking out of the snow!
Basically, your pal simply won't know what conditions are going to be like until he's actually out there experiencing them. I guess that's of little consolation. If the mountains are passable, then he'll be able to enjoy things while it's quiet, but if they are impassable, then he'll have to beat a retreat and go and do some forced sunbathing on a beach.
The only other thing, if your pal is using my guide, is to take note of some of the 'stats' along the way. Take my Stage 2 (high level) for example... 5 miles... 6½ hours... or my Stage 3... 3¾ miles... 5½ hours. They're not misprints, nor are they 'slow' walking times. They're the average times that a fit mountain walker can expect to cover a short, but exceptionally rugged stage. Start doubling up on stages, and you quickly drive yourself into the ground. As one long-distance walker put it to me... "Double-up on stages on the GR20, and you get so tired that you start tripping over things that aren't even there!"
Having just got back from Spain....the difference in the Euro is really noticeable
The GR20 is not that expensive though.........take a big bag of cous-cous
Pedro - Take a gun and hold up the refuges!
They all take payment in cash, and they'll all be full while you're there. All that luvverly cash must be secreted somewhere on the premises. Securicor don't work with mules, so there's no-one picking up the cash on a regular basis. I reckon a 'hit' towards the end of September might prove more lucrative.
On the other hand - keeping it legal - here's an alternative to your 'begging bowl'.
Not everyone uses my book, and some walkers are using older guidebooks that say you have to carry all your food. Germans, for some reason, seem particularly ill-informed, and have often been spotted carrying more than a week's worth of food because of something they read in a guidebook. So... find someone in this position... commiserate with them on their ill luck... then offer to buy some of their excess foodstuffs once you get within spitting distance of a refuge. With a bit of luck, they'll cheerfully offload their excess weight for free!
ed h wrote (see)
Having just got back from Spain....the difference in the Euro is really noticeable
Thanks Ed... I'm heading for Spain next week.
Actually... it's not that bad... I'm heading for the Canaries. They have a much lower tax regime than mainland Spain, and they grow a lot of their own fruit and veg, so as far as I'm concerned, it's still a dirt-cheap destination where I find it difficult to spend any real amount of money. On my last trip, I read a statement from the chief of tourism, who said that the average tourist spend was €400.00 per person per day! What??? I couldn't spend a tenth of that even if I stayed in a hotel! What are these people buying? A timeshare every day?
Missed your post Paddy - 30% makes a big difference, I was really surprised...nay...dismayed!
They obviously can spot incompetence when they see it
That huge guy at Refuge de l'Onda is another I would not mess with....he must eat a lot of the rather fine lasagne he serves up
And if the paths on the GR20 are snowbound in May, you could do some very good lower level walks on Corsica.
There are trails such as the Mare a Mare Nord which intersects the GR20 in a few places and could be handy for a detour.
It was my own fault at Petra Piana Ed! The 'rules' say that you can't leave your tent pitched during the day, and you can't leave stuff in the refuge either. So, I packed my tent, made sure that my pack looked REALLY bulky and heavy (difficult when it's all lightweight gear), and shuffled along slowly to the guardian's shack. I asked the woman to point me in the direction of Ritondu, even though I'd climbed it before and knew perfectly well where it was. I knew she'd feel sorry for me and allow me to ditch half my pack, but of course, it also made her think that I wasn't up for the climb! Still... I got the main thing sorted... dumping my stuff... and it was only when I reached the summit that the French Cameroons told me that they'd been asked to keep an eye on me. They also told me the hot news that London had been given the go-ahead for the Olympics, if that helps you to date my ascent!
The huge guy at the Refuge de l'Onda... I've only met him once and he was really nice! I was checking variant routes and had walked up the valley from the railway at Tattone. When I reached the campsite below the refuge, he naturally assumed that I wanted to spend the night there, but I said I intended taking the high-level route to Petra Piana. He just shrugged, as if it was the sort of thing that walkers did all the time. I asked if I could buy some bread, and he just hacked a loaf in half, gave it to me, and wouldn't accept any payment.
I´ve been walking in La Palma over the holiday. I would say I´m a budget traveller and stay in cheaper pensions (lots of them still on La Palma and La Gomera). I noticed the difference in the Euro! You can no longer say that the 100 Euros you spent was 60/70 or 80 Pounds it is now 100!
Coffee and bananas are still reasonably priced - great diet.
It is always hard coming back to the UK and going to the shops. Saying that the French are heading to London for bargains - bizarre!
La Palma was great. There was a lot of rain at night and snow the night we were in the Refugio de los Roques. Walking towards Muchachos was rather strange. There was 5 to 10cm on the ground. There was a major storm on Tuesday. I had just set off up to Los Tilos and beat a hasty return to Los Sauces. The storm cancelled all flights and ferries 0800 to 1600! I loved walking on La Gomera, but the walking on La Palma takes some beating for the variety. I loved the little campground - El Cedro - in the middle of La Gomera.
There was a lot of water in the tank at the refuge and they seem to be filling the tank at the Roque de los Muchachos. Did you know about the eco camp in Puntagorda? It was good to have a cooking space and light at night for the shorter days. It is very close to the bus stop as well (and 5 mins downhill to Puntagorda)
I was wondering what you think about El Hierro. I´m thinking about February half term.
David - Thanks for mentioning the eco-camp - I'll make sure I check that out when I get there. For the record, I've just started work on a five-volume series of guidebooks that are planned to cover all seven of the Canary Islands, but don't rush to the shops for a couple of years yet, and it might well turn out to be five years from now when the last in the series is finally published. In the meantime, be assured that there is a vast amount of hoof-work going into all this!
As for El Hierro...
When I first went there some years ago, I would have said that it would warrant a week's walking, then you'd either run out of places to walk, or you'd end up traversing steep, rocky and disintegrating slopes that wouldn't be enjoyable. While visiting the place a couple of years ago, I was amazed to find spanking brand new signposts popping up everywhere, and I was given a kind of trail map hot off the printing press. The woman at the tourist office told me what day the map would be in the office, and when I turned up, she actually opened the box containing all the copies and gave me the very first one off the pile. Anyway, on my visit during the last month, I spent over three weeks walking the length and breadth of El Hierro, and covered every single one of their waymarked trails. There's a lot of distance there, and for a small place, an incredible variety of terrain. I busted my guts to cover everything and thoroughly enjoyed it. So, give it as long as you're able to spare, and be prepared to put in some distance. If you take a tent, then you can trek to the far western end of the island and back. No-one lives out that end of the island, so you have to be completely self-sufficient. One very popular path, traversing cliffs below La Pena, has notices either end saying it has been closed due to rock-fall. This is true. Rocks have fallen on the path and caused some damage. I walked it anyway and found it was still passable, but be warned that there are still some hefty blocks of rock waiting to come down!
Oh... and at this time of the year... double-check all the ferries and flights to and from El Hierro. There aren't many, but while I was there, they changed the ferry schedule. I turned up at 3pm for a 4.30pm ferry, only to watch it slide gracefully out of the harbour! Apparently, it was the first day of the new schedule. Using the next ferry, three days later, would have caused me to lose my flight home. In a mild panic, I hitch-hiked the 8km or so to the pocket-sized airport and asked for a seat on the next available flight. (My Spanish isn't great, especially in a crisis, and instead of a "seat", I actually asked for a "toilet" on the next flight. To his credit, the ticket clerk didn't roll on the floor laughing, but got me straight onto the next, and only, flight.) Interestingly, the difference between the ferry and the flight was a mere €15, and I got fantastic views of the northern face of El Teide, which are almost impossible to gain except on one of those flights.
So... go for it... and be sure to give it as much time as you can spare.
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