This hike is the first part of a trip from the Southern most point in Europe, Tarifa in Southern Spain, to the Northern most point, the North Cape in Norway. The entire distance is almost 10,000 km and therefore I decided to divide it in two separate hikes in two different years. Hiking the whole distance in one go would mean to end up in places at a very wrong time.... It seemed to be easiest to do a flip flop. In my case I'll start somewhere in the middle and and hike South one year and the other half in another year.
Where to start exactly was a bit of a random decision. But as my hiking friend Werner has inspired me with the idea of the whole trip it seemed appropriate to visit him at the beginning and start from there. And as Werner lives near the river Rhein this will be the starting point. Although I'll start end of August with summer weather I'll be hiking into fall and winter. Therefore I want to hike South as quickly as possible. So no "obstacles" like high mountain ranges, please! The biggest obvious problem are the Pyrenees, especially since I'll get there end of October at the earliest. But I found a crossing close to the Mediterranean Sea that is so low that it can be done year round.
Like with my recent bike trip I want this hike to be a leisurely trip. I have therefore chosen relatively easy terrain. On my hike through Western Europe last year I have intentionally included a lot of the high mountain ranges like the Vosges, the Jura, the Pyrenees. This time I try to avoid alpine terrain, although this is definitely not going to be flat walking. I have also learnt from last year's mistake and have no fixed finish date. The hike can take as long as it takes. After reaching Southern France there are no seasonal restrictions any more and the route is hopefully so low and so far South that it can be hiked year round with the appropriate winter gear. I also have no other trip planned right after that.
According to my trip planning tools the distance from the river Rhein to Tarifa is about 3.800 km. But I've learnt last year's lesson and know to look at these numbers with a grain of salt. As this number is based on the unknown accuracy of downloaded GPS tracks the real distance might be quite a bit longer, probably more around 4,000 km. Still, I expect to arrive in Tarifa around end of January.
The planning process was quite easy this time. As I have just done a hike through the same countries the year before I knew exactly which internet resources to turn to.
The part through Germany is very short with only about 250 km and was quickly put together with the help of wanderbares-deutschland.de.
For France the general planning was done with the IGN overview map 903. I then downloaded most GPS tracks from GR-info.com. A special thanks to Werner who gave me a lot of his old maps for France.
In Spain I'll be mostly following the GR 7 which is also the European long distance trail E4. Only the Pyrenean crossing was a bit tricky as I had to deviate from the GR 7 in order to find a lower mountain crossing. Rutasyviajes.net was the best resource for downloading GPS tracks. As there are no special map guides or strip maps for the GR 7 I had to create my own map set for the whole GR 7 by downloading the free maps for Spain from the IGN website, patching them together with a graphic programme and thus creating a strip map that consists of 118 DIN A4 pages. A special thanks to John Hayes, who had hiked the entire E4 and whose blog is a great source of inspiration and to Juan Holgada who patiently answered my questions about winter hiking in Spain.