Faq (Frequently asked Questions)

Don't you ever get lonely?

Not often. Hill people are very friendly. The welcome and conviviality you can experience at a mountain hut is unfeigned and a fun way to meet new friends. The glow from chance encounters with nice people in the hills can remain for days.

What do you think is the greatest risk?

Lack of funds and injury before I set off. During the trip, the biggest risks will be burnout, injury, extreme weather, and avalanches. A change in family circumstances might mean I have to remain in or return to the UK.

Why do you need to prepare for so long?

On previous trips, the first 200 miles have been hard due to lack of fitness. This time, I am starting from zero fitness (working at a desk), and planning to start the trip in hard late-Winter conditions. Moreover, I'm making major changes to my gear to save weight, and I need to build up strength, stamina and confidence in myself and in my gear.

I also want to learn about snow conditions and techniques with mountain guides. Plus, I'm fortunate enough to have a part-share in a house in the Alps, and I want to enjoy it a bit!

Where will you be staying?

In an average month, 20 nights in my tent, 5 nights in a serviced mountain hut (evening meals and people to look forward to!), 5 nights in an unmanned refuge, and once or twice in a Hotel when I come into big towns.

Why are you taking a tent?

Your own shelter means you can stop wherever and whenever you want. You needn't stress about reaching a mountain hut, or phone ahead to check there is space for you. If you are going well, this means you can cover more ground. If you are tired or the weather closes in, then you can overnight in your tent rather than straining to reach a hut. If the weather becomes very hot, then you can start at 5am, doze through the heat of the day, then walk until 10pm - all without disturbing hut users. Huts are great for meeting people, enjoying nice big meals and benefiting from the knowledge of the hut guardian.

Have you had any strange things happen at night?

Aside from occasional nocturnal thumps and bangs (usually an errant goat), perhaps the strangest was a pheasant waking me at dawn, walking into the tent to complain loudly that my tent was on HIS patch of grass.

Why are you walking this on your own?

Eight months is a long time out of our busy lives, but a few friends will be meeting me along the way to walk some stages together, which I'm really looking forward to.

Don't you get bored with all that walking?

Tired, yes, but bored? No. It's not the walking I go for, it's what you find when you go. Each and every day is fascinating. You never know what's around the next corner. Once I came out from behind a rocky bluff, to see a magnificent stag barely 10 metres away. I was close enough to hear him breathe out in surprise. That was several years ago, and the memory is as fresh as yesterday.

What will you eat?

Whatever local people eat, only twice as much! I'll need to eat 5,000 Calories per day to maintain weight. A hearty meal is easy enough to find or to make. I'll carry rice, pasta or couscous as a carbohydrate base, and some olive oil to add a healthy fat. Dried herbs, spices and pesto or tomato concentrates add flavour and interest. Lunch will often be bread and cheese. Sheep and goat cheese can be bought in the mountains and is tangy and salty. Eating enough protein on the hill is a bit harder - tinned fish or dried meat are both good, as are nuts. I like a grain-based cereal for breakfast. A long trip means taking more than usual care to eat enough fruit, vegetables and vitamins. I find Snickers bars excellent fuel for fighting up a long hill. A hot chocolate gets me going in the mornings.

Why do you walk such long distances?

I like the contrast between all the communities one meets in the mountains. For that one really needs to go long-distance. I also struggle to maintain my fitness when not walking, and suffer when I restart. That means longer walks give me more pleasure for the amount of effort and preparation required. Ok - I love long walks as well!

Why is it important to save weight?

Everything you take has to be carried, and takes energy. The weight tires you and means you need longer to rest and more to eat. Also it increases the risk of injury, blisters, and reduces the pleasure of these wonderful mountains.

The more you carry, the slower you move, and the more wary you must be about the route you take. Weight really is the enemy - the lighter you are, the easier everything becomes (so long as you carry all you need to remain safe and warm).

Don't you worry about getting lost?

Only when I get lost! This isn't a wilderness walk - almost all is on trails - partly because there are traditional routes through the mountains that make good sense, and partly to keep route-finding simple. That said, route finding in snow is harder as marks can be obscured, and one sometimes has to divert from Summer routes to avoid avalanche slopes and steep ice. Mist and fog and falling snow always require care to avoid getting lost.

Why aren't you taking a GPS (sat nav)?

A GPS can be used to follow a route, if you load the route into the GPS beforehand - not something I want to do every evening. A GPS can also give your Latitude and Longitude, which will show your position on a map. However, the maps for some of the areas I will be walking through do not show Lat. and Long. so a GPS would be of no use there.

Ok, I'm prejudiced too - I like to navigate by feel and by eye, using compass and where necessary an altimeter. For me, this enhances the joy and appreciation of the mountains. I'm taking a low power GPS logger that saves my position frequently so that I can see just where the route goes when writing guidebooks.

How will you keep clean?

With difficulty! Perspiration comes with climbing mountains. Wearing the right clothes to reduce sweating, and overheating certainly helps, as does keeping ones load light. I tend to climb too fast and overheat, and will try to go more slowly. I'll wash my clothes using stream water reasonably often, and my hair too when the weather is warm. Otherwise I shall be on the lookout for anywhere with a shower (and a nice long bath occasionally in a Hotel).

How will you keep going for 9 months?

Don't know. I'm not a loner, and planning to be in the hills this long is a bit spooky. Hopefully, by keeping a modest daily schedule, by allowing myself time off for some sightseeing, by looking forward to meeting friends, by chatting with people in the huts.

But I expect there will be hard bits where I ask myself why on earth I'm doing this. Then it's down to willpower and the knowledge that those moments pass. It will help to know that others are following my progress and willing me forward. Others (women too) have walked these distances before.

How long do you walk each day?

I like to walk steadily throughout the day - you build up a rhythm, and don't have to fuss with warming up and cooling down. I like to start at dawn, and often walk 10 to 12 hour days, but will take care not to overtire myself on the big stages. If it gets very hot, I shall walk from 5-10am, sleep and then from 4pm until nightfall. Dawn and dusk are the most beautiful times to be out as well.

Rest is very important - the longer you walk, the more rest you need, and the less time there is to do that.

How did you decide how many miles per day to walk?

On previous walks, my daily mountain mileages have been 18 to 25 miles, with up to 2,200m (7,100ft) of ascent per day and a heavier pack, but I don't want to risk injury or burnout on such a long walk. Europe seems more subject to extreme weather too, with heat waves, and summer snow settling in places too.

The first 600 miles and perhaps the last 300 miles will be largely on snow, which is more tiring. Also, I'm hoping to meet up with friends, and there will be bad weather, illness, and days spent renewing gear, all of which will reduce my average mileage to around 15 miles per day.

How will you manage with all the languages people speak?

I speak French, and passable Italian and German. Slovenian is a beautiful language, and it will be fun to learn a few useful phrases. I don't know Romansch or Ladin or any of the dialects that can be found in the high valleys - trying a few words on locals should be a compliment and make then laugh!

What will you be using for taking pictures?

I'm using a digital camera, mainly because I can check if the picture is ok, and if it isn't I can take another. Also because the cost of taking a picture is essentially zero, so I can afford to experiment.

In film camera terms, I'm taking a 24mm lens, which I think essential for landscapes, with a zoom to 140mm, which is long enough to focus in on details. I would love to bring an SLR film camera with a selection of lenses, but the weight is just too much.

If weight didn't matter, what would you most like to take with you?

A hair-dryer! Clean hair is such a pleasure.