The first trip takes me back to Andalucia and four days hard walking along the GR48 Sendero de Sierra Morena. The GR48 goes west to east from Barancos, just inside Portugal, and through to Santa Elena on the eastern side of Andalucia. The total distance is 581 kilometres and over four days I’ll be doing the first 160 or so, starting at Encinsola, the first “stop” inside Spain, and finishing at Cazalla de la Sierra. I’ll be walking with Juan Holgado, the No 1 Spanish walking expert, and the mad 40 kilometre a day schedule has been set by him - just hope I can keep up.
Back home for a week and then I’m off to Nepal for seven weeks for two back to back treks, one around the Annapurna Circuit and the other one to Mera Peak.
Perhaps even more than Everest Base Camp, Annapurna Circuit is the classic Himalaya trek and I got my first Nepalese trekking experience along a bit of it on the way to Poon Hill. Because it’s popular, the Nepalese are understandably trying to improve access to the trail and some people are concerned that it will somehow get spoilt. I’m not so worried - but what I do know is that if you ask the Nepalese guides to name their favourite walk they always say the Annapurna.
One of the slightly counter-intuitive features of Nepelese trekking is that it’s cheaper to stay in the tea-houses (the Nepalese equivalent of Alpine mountain huts) than to camp. Only the popular walks, like the Annapurna Circuit, have enough traffic to sustain a network of tea-houses and for the more remote trips you need more porters to carry all the tents and cooking equipment and this makes camping trips more expensive. The Mera Peak is a camping trip and I’ll be heading off on that one as soon as I have finished Annapurna Circuit.
Mera Peak, at 6476 metres, is the highest trekking peak in Nepal, and you don’t need to have any climbing experience to do it. From the top you get to see four of the five highest mountains in the world. Interestingly it was first climbed in 1953 by James Roberts who is acknowledged as the father of Nepalese trekking (and by the sound of it an amazing man),pioneering the approach where teams of locals take care of transportation, cooking and liaison, while visitors, who generally couldn’t cope with carrying loads at altitude, concentrate on walking and the scenery. It was a pioneering move for adventure travel in general and where Nepal led the rest of the world followed.
Christine is coming with me on the Annapurna Circuit but after Kanchenjunga in 2010 has decided that sleeping in a freezing tent at altitude is not her idea of fun. She currently holds our domestic altitude record (Kilimanjaro) and is a bit miffed that I might beat it.
Back home and in May I’ll be walking with a group of seven grumpy old men along the South Downs Way. The grumpy old men trip is an annual event (although I missed it last year) although as we get older and grumpier we seem walking further. It used to be the case that the same stories got repeated every year, they now get repeated every day.
The South Downs Way goes from Winchester to Eastbourne, is 100 miles long (160 kilometres) and the plan is do it in 7 days. Again there is a brilliant website which provides you with everything you need to plan the route. We’ll be stopping at Droxford, Buriton, Charlton, Amberly, Devils Dyke (staying in Brighton), Lewis and Afriston.
In May and June I’m doing an Open University photography course so the next trip is not until July when, with Christine, I’m going back to the Vercors.
The E4, last year, took me along the western side of the Vercors Massif and although the walking was great I couldn’t help but notice a wonderful ridge on the eastern side which seemed to form a much higher flank. From the distance it’s a really dramatic feature, like a huge wave on the point of breaking, and I knew when I saw it last year that I would have to come back and find out if it’s as good as it looks. Again with just a little bit of research I found a brilliant web site and have used this, and the GR-info website, to come up with my own six day circular walk. There is a formal Vercors circular which I didn’t have enough time to do, but the networks of paths is very dense and it was easy to come up with a variation. My itinerary is attached if your interested.
Back home just in time to experience the Olympics in London (Christine managed to get some tickets) and then back to the Alps for a longer trip.
In Austria last year, talking to Austrian walkers, the one walk which came up time after time as the walk to do was the Carnic Way, or the Karnisher Howenweg, which runs through the Carinthian Alps along the border between Austria and Italy. The two things people told me about it was that it was both stunningly beautiful and very interesting. It stays high, well above the tree line, and follows the First World War front with plenty of evidence of the horrific battles between the Austrian and Italian armies. I have already walked the Alta Via 1 - which is at the western end of this trail and heads down through the Dolomites - and crossed the front line as part of that trip. If the Carnic Way is half as good as the Alta Via 1 than it is well worth doing.
The Carnic Way should only take a week and I would like to do it in the first week of September when the crowds have gone. We have another couple of weeks, the last two weeks in August, when we want to be walking in the Alps so deciding whether to approach the Carnic Way from the east or the west is the big decision.
From the east we could extend the border theme and walk all the way from Bad Radkersburg along the SudenAlpenweg 03 (including the extension along a route down to Bosen which is very similar if not the same as the Alta Via 1) and I’ve developed a plan based on this route using the German language guide. Alternatively we could approach it from the west along the Red Route of the Via Alpina and have developed alternative schedule based on that route. The later option involves crossing Austria from the north-west (Austria is not that wide at its western end) and the starting point could be at Feldkirch which is just to the south of Bregenz a favourite kick off point for my Austrian trips.
It’s interesting but good quality information on the web does have an impact on my choice of route. I still don’t quite understand how things work in Austria but the information on the national trails - trails like the Sudaplenweg 03 - is bit limited. The guides are in German and not available online. There are no GPS trails and digital maps are quiet expensive (although Austrians have told me you could buy individual cards, I’m struggling to work out how). The web-site for the Via Alpina network on the other hand is excellent, is available in English and allows you to download GPS trails and you can construct your own specific trip notes (although unlike the high level description the detailed notes work in just one direction). Unless someone comes back to me and tells me that the east west option is better, the quality of the information available for the alternative option, the Via Alpina, is tipping me in that direction.
The last trip, which I want to start at the end of September, is the Grande Excursione Appenninica. As the name suggests, the trail takes you along the spine of Italy, for about 370 kilometres, crossing from the borders of Tuscany/Umbria, through Tuscany (passing close to Florence), into Liguria. I’ve been to Italy lots of times and Rome is perhaps my favorite city (after London) but have never walked anywhere there other than in the Dolomites. If I’m not mistaken this is the best non-Alpine trail in Italy.
To plan it I’ve used the excellent “Trekking in Appenines - Grande Excursione Appenninica” by Gillian Price and intend to do the trip in 16 days. My proposed schedule is attached. Most of the mountain huts will be closed in October but it’s still supposed to be a good month to do what looks like quite a tough walk, sub-alpine rather alpine, but with potentially mixed weather.
Please have a look at my plans and let me have any comments - I had some invaluable advice when planning the E4 trip and I really do make use of it. If anyone plans to be on any of the routes at the same time than please get in touch and perhaps we can meet up.