Updated: Nov 12, 2020
It’s a challenge, right? So, we had to make it, well… challenging!
We (Alex and Paul - AJ Spain founder members) announced yesterday our big new project - an expedition to complete Europe’s toughest hike, the GR20 North, next June. That’s roughly 90km and over 7000m vertical. Which, for us, is already a really, really tough challenge. But we decided to make it tougher by trying to complete it in just 5 days (7 to 9 is the norm).
Why do it it 5 days? Well, this whole challenge was inspired by our work as Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award leaders. We spend a big part of our working week (alongside our regular jobs as class teachers) training and preparing teenagers to take on what, for many, will be the biggest challenge they ever face - the Adventurous Journey Expedition. At Bronze level they take 2 days, Silver 3 days and Gold 4 days. We thought our challenge should reflect their challenges and maybe even inspire them… perhaps… a bit.
So, 5 days. Sort of our DofE Gold+. And the quickest time we believe we can actually do it, whilst also enjoying the experience. We’re not athletes, trail runners or experienced ultralight fastpackers. We take our families on glamping holidays; on DofE weekends we have our camping gear delivered by car so we can sit in chairs and enjoy cold drinks, cooked breakfasts and hot coffee. We love hiking and we love camping but we also enjoy the creature comforts, when we can get them.
Which is where this gets even more challenging. We wanted a pure experience of the trail. 5 days enjoying the mountains. Following the DofE AJ Exped ethos. Hence: unsupported and self-sufficient. What does this mean? The same as our DofE Award participants, pretty much. Europe’s toughest hike made tougher. We needed rules. Clear rules. We discussed them for quite some time.
Without further ado, here they are:
- GR20 North: Calenzana to Vizzavona via the High Level Route
- All journeying by foot
- Carrying all equipment and food necessary throughout
- No resupplies; no buying or begging more food
- No buying water - free or natural sources only
- No indoor or provided accommodation
- Navigating by map and compass
- Cooking all our own meals
So we’ll camp where we can, carrying a tent or other shelter, a stove to cook all our food (which we’ll also carry), water filters to refill when and where we can and everything else we think we need to complete this challenge.
We really, really aren’t experienced thru hikers or ultralight experts. The associated gear and techniques we’ll need will be discussed at length on this blog between now and then - and we’ll be asking for a LOT of advice from our readers!
Plus, the ‘rules’ are our guidelines. We’re doing this for us, as our DofE Challenge, hoping to raise some money along the way. So, if we don’t make it in 5 days we haven’t failed - that’s our aim but when making our travel arrangements we will leave one day extra, just in case. And if some kind hiker offers a handful of gummy bears, we’ll say yes. And we won’t sleep in any of the mountain huts but we’ll gladly use their bathrooms. And we aren’t going to unnecessarily endanger our lives - if we have to resort to an electronic aid because we’ve lost the trail, we will. Without feeling we’ve failed. We’ll have mobile phones in case of emergency, to take photos (which we’ll share here!), to record our GPS tracks and to keep in touch with our wives and kids. Lastly, importantly, there’s one thing we ARE, most definitely, allowed to buy at any time we find it available: cold beer. We’re grown men, after all, and ultimately we’re in this for fun!
Think it sounds too easy? We’ve offset these caveats by adding in some extra distance and elevation - the optional addition to the top of Corsica’s highest peak, Monte Cinto, at 2,706m above sea level. That’s twice the height we’ve ever done together in the past. And brings the total elevation gain (so, not counting the downhills!) to nearly 8,000m. That’s nearly Everest high!
A challenge? To some, maybe not. To us, definitely. We’ve a year to train and squeeze in some practice trips, to dial in our equipment choices and how we’ll work. Watch this space for more details and, soon, to find out how to support us - either through sponsorship or by becoming a gear supply partner.
Thanks for reading.