Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Trip report: GR57, planning and setup

The Trail
I wanted some time off for a spring season trip and thanks to some national holidays I could have a 13 day time frame while I only had to take 7 days of work. I had a book laying around about the GR57 which is a trail through the valley of the Ourthe river and the Sentier du Nord.The tour leads from Barchon in Belgium to Gilsdorf in Luxembourg. 
Map via Traildino

The complete trail is 279km (173mile) and takes you through the heart of the Ardennes and is easy to divide into smaller weekend trips.

Although I have experience with long distance walking, the last time I did a multi day trekking was almost a year ago and the daily distance was less then 20km per day (12,4mile). My pack was going to be lighter than it was then but I doubted what distance I would be able to cover per day. I was sure however that I would not be able to walk the entire trail in 12 or 13 days. Probably 12 so I would have a spare day in the end to clean all my gear and get some decent rest before getting back to the office.

Gear and mileage
I decided to first make a gear list and weigh everything to know how much I would be hauling around. I weighed my total pack before but never individual items and let me tell you that once you start there is no way back: you weigh your tooth brush, only to find out there is another model tooth brush in your house which is 5g lighter (<0,2oz). This may not sound as much but the 5g difference between the two is a 25% saving. Imagine everything in your pack being 25% lighter...that is nice isn't it?

I find making a gear list is a nice way of starting the holiday fun so the list was easily made. There were some items which could use a diet, for instance my cooking system, sleeping system and tent. I made a list of the food I wanted to take and I was making good progress with my trip planning.

I loaded my pack a few times and went for a walk which made me decide to go for approx. 25km per day (15,5mile) on my trail. Together with the book and some help of the internet I planned every day, starting with an easy day of 20km and never more than around 26km (12,4 - 16mile). I was going to use mainly camp sites to spend the night and the occasional night in the woods and my total distance was going to be 245km (152mile) in 12 days, meaning I would start in the town of Esneux and finish at the official end of the trail in Gilsdorf. I reckoned I would not need any resting days since my daily distance wasn't that great and I had all day to cover each distance.

Using colorful see through markers I marked the campsites on the map, as well as the resupply stores if I was going to need any: water would be available on the camp sites and my plan was to take all my food from the start for 9 days of walking. On the ninth day my girlfriend would join me in the evening for the last part of the trail so she was going to bring the rest of the stuff we were going to need.

Food planning
Food for 9 days can be quit some, but since I also wanted this trip to be some sort of training for more remote and self sustainable trips in the future, I did not see this extra weight as a problem. I was aiming for at least 2.500kcal/day and I hoped for around 500g/day (17,6oz/day). Some might argue 2.500kcal per day is too little but I am not that big of an eater and I didn't care if I would lose some weight during this trip.

Freeze dried food was already my choice for diner so that wasn't to hard. I chose Adventure Food (a Dutch company) because I previously tasted some of their meals and I liked it. Their 1-person diners each have 600kcal and the ones I took weigh between 160 and 175g (5,6 - 6,2oz) including the bag it comes in. Fine by me.

My breakfast I prepared using fairly cheap cereal, full milk powder and powdered sugar. 120g of cereal, 20g of milk powder and 5g of sugar in a 4g ziplock bag was going to be my breakfast for the complete trail (4,2/0,7/0,17/0,14oz = 5,21oz). Each bag holds 674kcal which means a nice start every morning.

For lunch I would take simple crisp bread with chocolate spread and something we Dutch call "kokosbrood". I have no idea what's the English word for it, but it tastes great, is easy to take with you (slices) and 413kcal/100g is a good trail food.


Snacks during walking were going to be several kinds of cereal bars, waffles and some beef jerky. These were chosen mainly on taste and feel-good-powers while keeping calories in the balance.
The same was done for evening snacks: sugar coated peanuts, different kind of nuts and quite a bit of chocolate.

The food we were going to take for the last three days was basically the same, although my girlfriend likes a different type of cereal and portions had to go up.
For the first part of the trip I had an average of 606g (21,4oz) and 2.600kcal per day whereas for the second part that went down in weight as well as in calories since we also wanted to taste the luxury of going out for a bite to eat. You can go as light as you wish by not taking anything with you and just buying as you go. Check for resupply points before you decide to do so please...

Book and go
I only booked my starting point and our rendezvous. All other camp sites I had planned for I trusted they would have some room for a small tent, as they usually do. Actually, I didn't need to book anything but making sure you can start where you want and you can leave the car some place safe for the weekend, gives you peace of mind and a carefree trip, as far as that goes.

I will soon post my experiences on this trip, although my available time for blogging recently went down because of a summer trip to Chamonix I was invited for (and said yes of course). This trip will give me some more to blog about.

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