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GR5 part I: Lac Léman–Modane

15 August 2016

Trip Report: 15–28 August 2016

Somehow I managed to take extended vacation to section hike three trails in the Alps:

I was a leader for this trip with the Appalachian Mountain Club, Adventure Travel. I travelled back to Genève after finishing Haute Route hike to meet the group of 9 participants.

We spent the weekend in Genève & Évian-les-Bains preparing for hike start on Monday morning.

Dent d’Oche

Plenty of climbing today. Much of it is steep. Last part of it hanging on to chains.

We took a taxi in the morning to Bernex to start a steep climb. Trail was poorly marked, got rough at times, & mostly in forest without views.

And then it opened up once we reached the ridge with big views of Lac Léman & soaring mountains.

Continued through rolling terrain, trending up. Stopped at Chalets d’Oche for water supply & break before final ascent.

Refuge de la Dent d’Oche sat at 2,113m overlooking Lac Léman for a colorful view of sunset:

La Chapelle d’Abondance

Second big day with three cols: Pavis (1,944m), Bise (1,915), & Pas de la Bosse (1,816m). Start with descent from refuge. Found several ibex at Col de Pavis. Descended slightly for one final view of Lac Léman & Montreux. Climbed to Col de Bise.

Long descent to lunch at Chalets de Bise, packed with hikers in the area, serving popular “beignets” at every table: deep fried potato nuggets, stuffed with cheese.

Locals were very proud of their d’Abondance cheese, from cows that have red ring around their eyes. So of course dinner was cheesy fondue, followed by cheese for dessert.

Shopping for soap in that small town, I found a bar that made it all the way from war battered Aleppo:

Refuge de Trébentaz

Easy day to rest after hard start the first two days. All climb. Slippery muddy trails after a night of rain. Quick break at Les Crottes for lunch. Could not stay long as the cows came wanting to share our food.

Continued climb to refuge at 1,900m.

They offered colorful selection of food. Sorbet was my choice with all three available flavors: citron, framboise, & génépi.

Refuge de Chésery

Cool day in the rain. Started in the morning with short climb. Trail was muddy mixed with cow dung most of the way. Then it rained. Hard. For about 15 minutes. Once soaked, we raced to restaurant at Col de Bassachaux (1,778m): salad rustique with beignet de pomme.

We waited until rain & clouds mostly cleared before proceeding for easy walk rest of afternoon. Crossed back into Switzerland at Col de Chésery for cup of Ovomaltine hot chocolate at Refuge de Chésery & swim in Lac Vert.

To my surprise, I found Alpine Passes Trail #6 starts near this area. This is the same trail I hiked on for many days while on the Haute Route trip just the week before.


Huge day. Everyone was exhausted. It started completely pleasant with beautiful views of Dents du Midi. Stopped at farm for goat cheese & Ovomaltine chocolate bars.

Climbed to Col de Coux (1,920m) for relaxing snack near old border post to France:

Next was climb to Col de la Golèse (1,662m) for extended lunch break at Refuge de la Golèse.

The afternoon was long. Downhill. But very long. Luckily, La Boule de Neige had a warm welcome for us with comfortable clean rooms & generous dinner.

Val d’Isère

No hiking today. Transfer via taxi from Samoëns. It was a long drive. Rain all day. Instead, went shopping at SPAR for Ovomaltine chocolate spread, chocolate bars, & Familia müesli that lasted for the remainder of the trip.

Bonneval sur Arc

Edelweiss finally! I had been searching for the flower since the beginning of the trip four weeks ago on Mont Blanc & Haute Route. I learned it is rare & very few people have actually seen it.

Climbed from Val d’Isère to the highest paved col in Europe: Col de l’Iseran at 2,770m. Many chapels featured on the route starting in Val d’Isère (Saint Barthélémy) & Col de l’Iseran (Notre-Dame de l’Iseran).

Many bicycles up & down the col. Sweets stall & restaurant at col. I expect this to be on my bicycle tour in 2017 of La Route des Grandes Alpes.

Too cold at col. Rested inside restaurant for snack. Descended quickly by beautiful gorge until we found a warm sunny spot for afternoon nap.

Farmers’ market in town with fresh fruit, goat cheese, & large display of dried fruit.


We are now at the border of Parc National de la Vanoise.

But we could not continue directly Bonneval sur Arc on GR5E to GR5 because of fallen bridge. Instead, we return to beginning of GR5E to continue on GR5. Scenery was beautiful over the valley. Stopped at Alpage du Vallon d’en Haut farm & guest house for fresh cheese.

Refuge de Vallonbrun

Started the morning right with a stop at Boulangerie de l’Albaron for apricot pitachio tart. After a short stroll along the Arc river, we started climb to ridge. Spent afternoon catching up on writing notes, while watching cows coming from mountain to milking station:

Refuge de Plan du Lac

By now, after the taste of génépi sorbet in Trébentaz, I was hooked on the flower & its drinks. A friend in the United States heard about it & requested a bottle.

While traveling very light, in small backpack, I managed to get a specialty bottle from the Savoie region famous for génépi:

Travelled deeply into Parc National de la Vanoise to view remote sections, rocky walls, & glacial peaks. Passed by a lake near refuge. It was not great or clean, but in it nonetheless to wash the day’s heat off.

Refuge was popular with cyclists as stop after long climb.

Refuge de l’Arpont

Took a side trip in morning to Refuge d’Entre Deux Eaux for morning coffee. Asked for omelet, but they were out of eggs.

Returned to main route to climb up to Lacs des Lozières for an extended swim, lunch, & nap:

Continued over rolling terrain to reach Refuge de l’Arpont. Again asked for omelet, but the chef was busy preparing dinner!

Refuge de Plan Sec

Started & ended day at same elevation. In between, the trail remained on the mountain side with open views of Arc valley, glaciers, & rocky peaks.

Saw many gliders high over peaks:

It was very tempting to join them. I will have to schedule it another time.


At last, omelet for lunch. Moreover, three large scoops of génépi sorbet. Nothing else needed to happen that day to make it better.

Finished the hike in Modane. But there is not much to do there. Instead, we left to Genève early next morning. After a farewell tour, I left to airport for afternoon flight back to Boston:


Day Service Log
Monday 15 August 2016: Dent d’Oche Dinner, bed, & breakfast
  • Map: Garmin & Strava, download GPX, FIT, TCX, KML, & other file format for GPS track
  • Distance: 14.81km
  • Pace: 32.22min/km
  • Time: 7:59:43
  • Steps: 29,735
  • Ascent: 1,740m
  • Descent: 608m
  • Temperature: 21.0°C
  • Calories: 1,276
Tuesday: La Chapelle d’Abondance Dinner, bed, & breakfast: Le Féto
  • Map: Garmin & Strava
  • Distance: 22.24
  • Pace: 22:50
  • Time: 8:27:40
  • Steps: 26,675
  • Ascent: 777
  • Descent: 1,816
  • Temperature: 19.0
  • Calories: 886
Wednesday: Refuge de Trébentaz Dinner, bed, & breakfast
  • Map: Garmin & Strava
  • Distance: 9.01
  • Pace: 22:35
  • Time: 3:23:30
  • Steps: 14,567
  • Ascent: 900
  • Descent: 79
  • Temperature: 19.0
  • Calories: 444
Thursday: Refuge des Chésery Dinner, bed, & breakfast
  • Map: Garmin & Strava
  • Distance: 17.20
  • Pace: 25:04
  • Time: 7:10:53
  • Steps: 20,931
  • Ascent: 694
  • Descent: 578
  • Temperature: 13.0
  • Calories: 726
Friday: Samoëns Dinner, bed, &amp breakfast: La Boule de Neige
  • Map: Garmin & Strava
  • Distance: 31.34
  • Pace: 18:09
  • Time: 9:29:13
  • Steps: 40,862
  • Ascent: 1,085
  • Descent: 2,287
  • Temperature: 19.0
  • Calories: 1,171
Saturday: Val d’Isère Dinner, bed, & breakfast: Hôtel Les Crêtes Blanches
Sunday: Bonneval sur Arc Dinner, bed, & breakfast: Auberge d’Oul
  • Map: Garmin & Strava
  • Distance: 16.40
  • Pace: 22:57
  • Time: 6:16:22
  • Steps: 28,910
  • Ascent: 1,020
  • Descent: 1,049
  • Temperature: 11.0
  • Calories: 866
Monday: Bessans Dinner, bed, & breakfast: Le Petit Bonheur
  • Map: Garmin & Strava
  • Distance: 15.91
  • Pace: 25:04
  • Time: 6:38:30
  • Steps: 28,551
  • Ascent: 836
  • Descent: 934
  • Temperature: 16.7
  • Calories: 828
Tuesday: Refuge de Vallonbrun Dinner, bed, & breakfast
  • Map: Garmin & Strava
  • Distance: 8.20
  • Pace: 20:00
  • Time: 2:44:07
  • Steps: 13,227
  • Ascent: 625
  • Descent: 82
  • Temperature: 21.6
  • Calories: 375
Wednesday: Refuge de Plan du Lac Dinner, bed, & breakfast
  • Map: Garmin & Strava
  • Distance: 19.61
  • Pace: 20:59
  • Time: 7:05:27
  • Steps: 28,991
  • Ascent: 875
  • Descent: 786
  • Temperature: 21.6
  • Calories: 923
Thursday: Refuge de l’Arpont Dinner, bed, & breakfast
  • Map: Garmin & Strava
  • Distance: 18.32
  • Pace: 23:09
  • Time: 7:03:45
  • Steps: 25,714
  • Ascent: 784
  • Descent: 828
  • Temperature: 21.8
  • Calories: 930
Friday: Refuge de Plan Sec Dinner, bed, &amp breakfast
  • Map: Garmin & Strava
  • Distance: 17.24
  • Pace: 21:40
  • Time: 6:13:38
  • Steps: 26,112
  • Ascent: 783
  • Descent: 774
  • Temperature: 22.2
  • Calories: 771
Saturday: Modane Dinner, bed, & breakfast: Hotel le Perce Neige
  • Map: Garmin & Strava
  • Distance: 18.96
  • Pace: 24:37
  • Time: 7:46:28
  • Steps: 29,588
  • Ascent: 539
  • Descent: 1,742
  • Temperature: 21.5
  • Calories: 879

Packing List

  • Backpack: Osprey Kestrel 32
  • Toiletry bag
    • USB battery charger for AA & AAA (Goal Zero Guide 10): charge headlight batteries
    • USB battery, 13,000mAh (Brookstone): charge phone & GPS watch for several days between huts. Will likely try a solar charging device on next trip.
    • USB electricity charger 10W
    • Spork (Snow Peak)
    • Lip balm
    • Tooth floss, brush, & paste
    • Pen
    • Soap
    • Band-aid
    • Nail clipper
    • Tweezers
    • Short straps (Outdoor Research): attach to backpack
    • Electricity power plug adapters: France & Switzerland
    • USB cables (5) for Fēnix3 watch, iPhone (2), micro USB, & mini USB
    • Spare CR2032 batteries (2): heart rate monitor strap & temperature sensor
  • Backpack pockets:
    • Knife
    • Whistle
    • Headlight (Black Diamond Storm): use low red light in shared room not to disturb others
    • Headphones
    • Poles (MSR Denali III)
    • Heart rate monitor strap (Garmin)
    • Sunglasses (Julbo Aero Zebra)
    • Sun hat (Outdoor Research Sombriolet). Wide rim to protect from the sun and waterproof with ventilation to protect from the rain
    • Temperature sensor for watch (Garmin Tempe)
    • Hydration tablets (Hammer Electrolytes): 3–5 tablets per day
    • Sunscreen
    • Compass (Suunto)
    • Signal mirror
  • Waistpack (Arc’teryx Maka 2)
    • iPhone (2): work & personal
    • Note pad & pencil
    • Pen
    • Passport
    • Cash (€, CHF, & US$)
    • GPS watch (Garmin Fēnix3)
    • Identification card
    • Global Entry card
    • Band-aid
    • Credit & debit cards
  • Boots (Lowa Vantage GTX Mid): comfortable, cool, warm, & water proof. Purchased them new on first day of trip. Did not have a single blister. Plan to try low cut boot on next trip.


Main reference was Trekking The GR5 Trail by Paddy Dillon. It had good overview of the route, suggested stages, & lodging options.

Web search & Google Maps helped find lodging options & contact information.


From → Hike

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