Sunday, September 23, 2012

A hike through Western Europe: Conclusion

Heat wave in Spain
Let's start with my two usual questions. Did I like this hike? Yes, I liked it tremedously. But it was a hike full of surprises and extremes. And I have not learnt that much in a single trip since hiking the PCT. Although I had spent a lot of time planning this hike I encountered a lot of surprises. The biggest one was that I had very much miscalculated the time needed for it and I have written a separate post about this topic. But you learn from your mistakes: I will definitely plan my next hiking trip in Europe differently and allow a lot more time. I was also surprised by the health issues I encountered and still need some time to figure out how I will deal with the tick problem in Europe and my new hay fever. For the first time in my hiking career I have also had foot problems. The strange noises in my knee have disapperead though now and I hope that the pain in the Achilles tendon will soon do so, too.

What I liked a lot about this trip was the tremendous variety I have encountered. I have walked at all altitude from beach walks to high mountain passes of almost 3,000 metres. I have been on perfect single file trail through forest and have pounded seemingly endless roads. I have hiked through the most spectacular mountain scenery in the Pyrenees and dreadful suburbs and industrial areas in Spain. I have woken up with my tent covered in snow in April and have suffered through heat waves in Spain. But one thing was constant: I have never eaten so well on a trip!

Would I recommend this hike to a friend? Yes, absolutely! Europe is a great hiking country and I can recommend it to anyone. But here is my conclusion in a bit more detail:

Freezing in April
Route: I would change very little of the route I have hiked, but I would allow at least 3 more weeks for it. Given the time frame I had the route was too long and I would have been better off shortcutting a bit in Germany. If I had had more time I would have substituted parts of the Camino with a hike through the Picos de Europa in Spain. My route through Germany this year has been nice, but if I had to chose I think that the route I had hiked through Germany last year has been better. My route through France has been excellent and the very best part has been the mountain range from the Vosges, down through the French Jura and the Chartreuse to the Vercors. I will definitely be back in France to do some more hiking. My hike through Spain has been very difficult for various reasons. I found the Spanish Pyrenees a bit too hard for my liking, but would probably enjoy them with a longer time frame. The Spanish Caminos were the worst hiking on the whole trip, but at least it has given me the pilgrimage experience.

Camping in France
Gear: After so many miles of hiking I do know what gear to bring and so there were no big surprises. As usually my Thermarest delaminated and all my Platypus bottles broke. A tent pole broke too but could be repaired. I have gone through 3 1/2 pairs of shoes and 3 pairs of socks. The rest of my equipment is still more or less intact. But I want to mention that this trip will make me change to major gear items: I have used a Tarptent Rainbow and it has became my default tent now. Its freestanding mode has been great when I had to use it inside shelters. It has been proven to be very windstable as well.  And of course it is very roomy. This trip has also made me change from down to synthetic in sleeping bags. I have carried the BPL 240 quilt and it turned out to be one of the best purchases I have ever made. I have used this quilt in weather from -5 to 35 Celsius. I wasn't cold even in the unexpected spring snow storms and had good ventilation in the heat. Synthetic can be so much more abused than down and is therefore much better suited for my long trips through different climates. I also became addicted to a new piece of gear: my smartphone. It has been incredibly useful for doing research on the way. And I became addicted to my daily internet fix before going to sleep. I'll never leave home without one any more.

Miscallaneous: I had to learn that couchsurfing is difficult in Europe, especially in the big touristy cities. For places like Basel or Geneva I had to send out more than 10 requests to get one invitation, whereas in other countries usually my first or second request gets accepted. But hosts here seem to be so overrun by backpackers that many don't even bother to answer any more. Finding a host turned out to be so time consuming that I gave up on couchsurfing in Spain.
Long-distance hiking in Europe is unfortunately a very lonely thing. Although you'll meet plenty of day hikers or people out for a weekend, it is very rare to find like minded long-distance hiker along the way. The only place were I met some was in the Pyrenees on the GR 11 where you'll meet hikers going from coast to coast. Of course there are plenty (and very often too many) people on the Caminos, but they are pilgrims on a very different mindset than long-distance hikers.
Hiking in Europe is not more expensive than hiking in the US or Australia. I spent my normal average of 10 EUR per day on food and ate very luxuriously with that. The only other big expense with accommodation, especially in Spain. In Germany I stayed mostly with friends. In France I stayed almost always in my tent because camping was easy and the weather was fine. But stealth camping along the Caminos in Spain was a bit difficult and CS unsuccessful. Therefore I stayed almost twice a week in a cheap pension. But overall this hike has not cost me more than a thruhike of the AT or PCT.


Nielsen Brown said...

I have enjoyed the entire series of your posts, and have appreciated to possibilities for long distance hiking in Europe. I am looking forward to reading your next adventures and many thanks for the fascinating tale of the journey.

CaioKF said...

I found out blog while planning a long hike across Switzerland. Just wanted to thank you for all the info you post and say it is really helpful. Awesome trips you make :)