GR58 – Tour of the Queyras - Our Aborted Attempt

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Monday 13 July 2015

GR58 – Tour of the Queyras - Our Aborted Attempt

The GR58 Tour of the Queyras Regional Park is a 78km hiking loop that caught our attention. Since my health problems last year had prevented us from carrying overnight packs for some time, we were eager to have a go at this trail, estimating that it would take around 6 – 8 days to complete the loop. The tour guides we had read suggested this was a beautiful, relatively quiet part of the French Alps which wouldn't present too many challenges for UK hikers in comparison to some of the other alpine tours such as the Vanoise and Ecrins, with many refuges, optional variants, conveniently spaced villages and a good public transport network for backup. It seemed like a good opportunity to refamiliarise ourselves with thru-hiking.

Excitedly we packed our hiking and overnight gear, weighed out our food portions, prepared our cookset and generally looked forward to another thru-hiking experience, our first since the Pyrenean Way in 2013. Setting off into bright sunshine from our motorhome base at Ceillac to tackle the steep 1000m climb to the Col de Estronques (2651m) feeling a mixture of excitement and anticipation of what was to come as views of the Queyras along with the Ecrins to the north and some Italian peaks to the east came into view.

Although we had spent a lot of time planning food and making sure we had the gear we needed, we had also naively not spent a great deal of time looking at the terrain and stages ahead. Perhaps it was being caught up in the scenery or just the excitement of this loop being on our doorstep, but we definitely should have given more thought to the fact that it had been some months since our last day hike, a fact we were increasingly aware of as we ascended the physically tough climb with our bodies unused to such heavy packs and our feet unused to brand new boots (replacing the ones we had worn out with so much hiking last year – yes we really should have known better!).

Nevertheless we enjoyed the climb but it was at the to when things started to go awry. I had become increasingly aware of rumblings in my digestive tract and while our bodies were in desperate need for a rest at the top we felt obliged to push on towards St Veran 800m below. So with sore feet, sore shoulders and in the now baking afternoon sun we felt it becoming more of a march than a hike just trying to get to some public facilities as the trail was much too busy to find a quiet spot in nature.

On reaching St Veran a very kind Gite owner let me use her bathroom and we then did sit a short while devouring food from the local store as we had barely all day. That was our next mistake as we would find out later on. Esther too was starting to have stomach trouble, but again the effort of finding facilities and the time it took made the probem worse and drained our dwindling energy reserves.

Finally resting but far too tired to think clearly we felt shattered and as the sun started to dip behind the hills we dragged ourselves out of St Veran towards the river valley where we found a flat spot to pitch by the river. However, our problems were not over. By now snappy and irritable, with the inclination that something was not right in both our stomachs, it was once again a big test of our relationship and even as we did finally zip ourselves in for the night we expected an unsettled night.

And that is precisely what happened. Not an hour seemed to go by without one or both of us having to dash out of the tent with our toilet paper and shovel in hand. It was not a good night (at least we can laugh about it now).

The following day, barely able to stand after our first big hike in months carrying heavier packs than we had in over 2 years and with just a few hours sleep between us, we made the brave and wise decision to abort this attempt on the Tour de Queyras. We could have forced ourselves onwards, but realised it would have been no fun and saw no reason to punish ourselves further when Homer was just a bus ride away. As we left our riverside pitch we made absolutely sure there were no traces of our presence and especially the nights events, which wasn't exactly a pleasant task!

So it was that after catching the 8.45 from St Veran to Ville Vielle and the 9.10 to Ceillac we collapsed into Homer, grateful for the creature comforts (especially toilet and shower) and ready to catch up on some much needed sleep. The Tour de Queyras will have to wait for us a while longer although we felt grateful to have sampled the stunning beauty of serenity of the small section we'd seen.

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