Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

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Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby Hallu » Tue 16 Sep, 2014 11:54 pm

After about 4-5 months of walking in the French Alps, following 3 years in Australia and a couple of holidays in NZ, I'm actually quite amazed by the differences between these countries regarding the style of walking, the marking of tracks and roads, what's considered a "hard" walk, the quality of the tracks etc... And it's not in favor of France... I hope these few paragraphs will help you or simply interest you.

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1) Marking : in Australia, I don't think I've ever been really confused by any walking route. It's always well marked : either big orange arrows, or brightly colored tape on trees, bushes, etc (like in Tasmania). Junctions are well indicated, and when you cross a 4WD track, it's rare to not find a sign with its name. Maps are good, all walking tracks are there. Faint secondary walking tracks are rare, it's either a good signed track or off-track. In France, it's totally different. First, most people think we have painted marks on everything (like the famous white and red stripes for the "GR", "Grande Randonnée"). But in National Parks, these are now banned (for the purity of the "scenery" whereas cattle still isn't banned, go figure...), so you don't get any marks at all, only cairns are allowed. And that brings us to another problem : in France, with 60 million people, and millions of tourists, there is rarely only one track. It's a maze of tracks ("sentier"), secondary paths ("sente") and cattle tracks that are just here to mess with you. To add to the difficulty, most walking guidebooks don't bother telling you about some tricky junction that may confuse you. And walking tracks can cross forestry roads (which are often marked, so you think it's the right way when it isn't). Maps are expensive (10/12 € for an IGN map) and unreadable (so much info you can't be bothered to use them). So what I use now is a free app, ViewRanger. It's got almost all the info the IGN map has, but for free. And if you want everything, you can buy the IGN layout for about 50 € for the whole country. So the way I do it, is check a nice walk on a guidebook or a blog, check on viewranger if the app has got all the walking tracks I'll be on, and go for it. Honestly, unless it's a good marked popular walk, you're bound to get a few wrong turns and even get lost without map and compass.
Winner : Australia, although some people like to "work" for finding the right path.

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2) Getting there. First of all, it's very rare to have to take an unsealed road to get to the start of a walk in France, while it's usually the norm in Australia. Also, as for tracks, roads are quite poorly signed in France regarding walks. You will see "national park : this way" but then for the crucial last turns, nothing. Good directions or a GPS are then essential : there is no "official entrance" in National Parks, as people live everywhere in them, so it's never only one road leading to it. There's also no official "visitor centre", but several "information centres" dotted in villages and towns. And last but not least : you will NEVER be the only one at the carpark, even at 7 am in the morning. And at 10 am in summer, the carpark is full. You'll then see a line of cars parked precariously on the side of the road.
Winner : draw, some roads in Australia can be rough, but it's almost always signed.

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3) Danger. It's nothing new, the French have a casual way regarding dangerous things. The Aussies can be casual too, but they took their regulation from the British, so there are rail guards near cliffs, signs near dangerous drops or holes, etc... In France, forget about it. So much that in France, this : http://imgur.com/rHqbV2D is a walking track rated "medium". It's slippery, steep, narrow, there's a huge drop on the side, you have to cross that raging water fall with unstable stones, and there's no warning sign. It isn't that hard to walk on if you're careful and don't look down, but could you see the same track in Australia ? I'd imagine it would be properly built, with rail guards, a wooden bridge over the waterfall, or at least a warning sign. Those tracks that "hug" the side of steep moutains are called "sangle" in French, which is the word for the strap of a backpack. Several people fall from them every year, and in case you wondered, no they never sue the government (if they survive). But danger can come from unexpected origins too : first of all, the French mountains, including National Parks, are full of farmers. Cows, sheep and goats mostly. The most dangerous are actually the cows. They look peaceful, but give them some room. They won't move to let you go anyway, and since farmers don't remove their horns, you don't wanna mess with them. Now for the sheep, they are usually guarded by this fellow : http://i-cms.journaldesfemmes.com/image ... -patou.jpg . His job is to protect the sheep against wolves. So anything that come close to the sheep has to be inspected. Don't try to impress him, you'll lose. Don't walk towards him, don't run away, don't make yourself bigger with your walking pole. Just stay still until he identifies you or walk slowly aways from the sheep. Many incidents happen because people either get too close to the dog, or don't see this white big guy amongst white sheep. If you see sheep, the dog is around. So be careful. As for wolves and bears, there are some (and the former start recolonizing France, not just in the Alps and the Pyrénées) but you'll probably never see them, and the bears are a lot more shy than their American cousins, or the wilder more agressive bears you'll find in Romania and Bulgaria. You'll mostly see marmots, bouquetins or chamois (mountain goats).
Winner : Australia, unless you're a danger junkie.

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4) Quality of the tracks. It's mostly linked to danger. But after many months in the Alps, I really appreciate the effort the Aussies and Kiwis put in maintaining their tracks. In France, there are so many, and so few employees to maintain them, that it's mostly rocky, slippery, and that the boggy parts have no alternative. Steps and ladders are very rare. Also, the Aussies are great at building sidetracks towards a great wooden lookout sometimes with a bench, info panel etc... In France, whether on the road or on a walking track, the lookout is the one you make for yourself. It is very rare to see one on a map, and when you find one, it never has an identifying name. I think that's a shame. Lookouts give us goals on a walk, or allow car tourers that may not be able to walk long distances to still enjoy great views. That's also why in France, a scenic road is mostly known by word of mouth. They don't sign specific scenic itineraries, unlike in Australia. That's why without tourist brochures and maps, you're absolutely lost.
Winner : Australia.

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5) Difficulty. In Australia, I found that the main difficulties were scrambling, mud, the weather (whether it's rain or the heat that forces you to carry 4 L of water) and little annoying things (flies, spiky bushes). In the French mountains, the difficulties are mainly navigation, badly built dangerous tracks, and elevation gain. I think the worst elevation gain I've seen for an Aussie day walk is about 1100 m for Mt Bogong, and it's quite exceptional there. In French mountains, for day walks between 5 and 8 hrs, 1000+ m elevation gain is what you do on 2/3 of the walks. That means first that you're gonna need solid knees. The way up is mostly cardio, the way down is knee shattering. And a 1500 m elevation gain isn't necessarily rated as "hard", it all depends on the steepness of the terrain. Despite those scary elevation gains, it's not that often that you'll have to scramble rocks, at least not as often as in Tasmania or the Grampians for example. Don't forget also that in the Alps, most walks will start at 1500-2000 m elevation, so you can end up doing a 3000 m summit (some can be easy, like in the Queyras or Vanoise). If you're not used to it, that'll certainly affect your breathing. Don't expect to walk as easily as on sea level. And last but not least : snow and ice. Between 1000 and 2000 m, you usually still have patches of snow and ice in April and May. Between 2000 and 3000, you can have them until well into July. That's why the easiest walking is actually Autumn walking : great light, less people, no snow (unless you're lucky to see the first snow falling), still enough daylight to do long walks.
Winner : draw. Both countries have their type of difficult walking.

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6) Scenery and wildness. In Australia, you can have a beach all to yourself at Christmas. The coastline is wild and beautiful, and on any walk, you're mostly alone. In France, the coastline is rarely wild, the mountains have people walking on them in snow, hail, or rain. You will always see people. The annoying ones are the trail runners, who will fly past you in a steep climb, or run down scree that you're carefuly negociating at a slow pace. There are the retired ladies, who, at 60+ years old, still go uphill quicker than you, and have seen so much that they can't be bother to enjoy the summit view more than a couple of minutes. I'd say that a third of walkers in France do it more for the physical challenge than for the scenery. But there are also the funny young blokes that smoke and drink but still need the mountains to feel better, the dad trying to inject his passion of bushwalking into his son's vein, or the crazy old guy who left his wife at the cable car but still will climb hours for a good view over a glacier. Glaciers : that's also what people will come to see in the Alps. NZ has maybe a couple of them, but there you'll have dozens. A lot of walks have 4000+ m summits looking down on you, with glaciers hanging around their sides. And a lot of glaciers can be reached easily at a little over 2000 m, with beautiful lakes at their feet. But these don't come without drawbacks. A lot of them, outside National Parks (or sometimes even inside), will have cable cars, ski lifts, helicopter rides, etc... It is quite rare to find a truly wild spot, or to find yourself alone. The last wilderness in Europe is in Scandinavia (including Iceland and Finland). The Alps are tamed, unfortunately. But they're still gorgeous. And the tameness means you don't have to be an expert to reach glaciers and great summits, and that you get all those organic cheeses and cured meats. Also in favour of France, we don't have pests. Or at least not as many as in Australia. We do have the American squirrel invading Europe, and some New World plants are spreading, but they're under control. Our main problem is bringing animals back : mainly the lynx, bear and wolf.
Winner : I'd say Australia. It doesn't have glaciers, but it has wildness still. France lost it a while ago in my opinion, although it's trying to bring it back.
Last edited by Hallu on Wed 17 Sep, 2014 12:19 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby icefest » Wed 17 Sep, 2014 12:05 am

Thanks for posting this Hallu.
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby GPSGuided » Wed 17 Sep, 2014 9:04 am

Interesting. Thanks Hallu for your insight and posting. Sounds like you need to come back to Oz while I want to experience a bit of it there.
Just move it!
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby Kainas » Wed 17 Sep, 2014 11:12 am

France is my next holiday destination (I am in the middle of learning the language in anticipation of a year abroad).
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby whynotwalk » Wed 17 Sep, 2014 11:45 am

Fascinating post Hallu - thanks for putting all that thought and work into the comparison. Excellent! My walking in France was mainly with a family that had young kids, so we didn't get off track very much. But a total of three weeks in France had me wanting more. (You'll love it Kainas ... and good on you for trying to learn French! Most people we spoke with could speak English, but they really appreciated us trying out some French first.)

I'll keep doing most of my walking at home in Tassie, and in my second home, NZ's South Island. But for those who haven't sampled European walking, for all the "tamed" nature of the general landscape - compared with Tasmania, at least - it is wonderful to experience the Alps, with its diverse culture, villages and landscapes. Oh and the bells on the cattle! As much a part of the Alps as the chink of currawongs in Tassie!

cheers

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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby Kainas » Wed 17 Sep, 2014 12:49 pm

whynotwalk wrote:(You'll love it Kainas ... and good on you for trying to learn French! Most people we spoke with could speak English, but they really appreciated us trying out some French first.)
r


Yes, I started learning at the beginning of this year, mostly so I could read french literature in french rather than a translation. Just about to finish my second semester of uni. All going well I will spend a year at a uni in France in about 5 or 6 years depending on when we decide to do it.
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby whynotwalk » Wed 17 Sep, 2014 5:33 pm

Kainas wrote:All going well I will spend a year at a uni in France in about 5 or 6 years depending on when we decide to do it.


Tres hard core Kainas! Formidable! Bon chance.

Pierre :wink:
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby Hallu » Wed 17 Sep, 2014 8:06 pm

GPSGuided wrote:Interesting. Thanks Hallu for your insight and posting. Sounds like you need to come back to Oz while I want to experience a bit of it there.


Yeah, I miss walking in Australia. Mainly for the solitude, the wilderness, and the animals. It's so easy to see wildlife on an Aussie walk. I'm going to Sweden and Norway for 2 weeks starting next week, hopefully I'll find a bit of wilderness there.
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby walkon » Wed 17 Sep, 2014 8:42 pm

Hallu wrote:
GPSGuided wrote:Interesting. Thanks Hallu for your insight and posting. Sounds like you need to come back to Oz while I want to experience a bit of it there.


Yeah, I miss walking in Australia. Mainly for the solitude, the wilderness, and the animals. It's so easy to see wildlife on an Aussie walk. I'm going to Sweden and Norway for 2 weeks starting next week, hopefully I'll find a bit of wilderness there.

Oh Hallu now your just being mean and rubbing it in! You poor man having to endure all that hardship in the beautiful mountains in all those countries, I feel for you. Whilst those feelings might be jealousy, I look forward to reading about them. Keep us posted please :D
Cheers Walkon

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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby neilmny » Thu 18 Sep, 2014 6:59 pm

Great bit of work Hallu, realy interesting to read the comparisons. Thanks for posting.
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby gayet » Thu 18 Sep, 2014 8:24 pm

Thank you Hallu!
Most enjoyable. I have not long finished re-reading a selection of articles from the British Alpine Club journals of the late 1850's, early 1860's. Your comments made a great contrast to their descriptions of first ascents and new passes and accidents. And the gear /food they took!
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby Tortoise » Thu 18 Sep, 2014 8:29 pm

Très intéressant, Hallu. Merci! :)
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby neilmny » Fri 19 Sep, 2014 10:02 am

Tortoise wrote:Très intéressant, Hallu. Merci! :)


d'accord
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby vicrev » Sun 12 Oct, 2014 9:55 pm

Just read this thread.......I have lived & walked Europe, especially France for years,it must of been on another planet,this is not the France I have walked!!......The French Alps are spectacular.....The Pilgrim trails are an absolute joy.......The Loire River....Cele valley,beautiful..I could go on & on....considering there are thousands of Ks of tracks in France they ARE well marked & usually well maintained by the locals (The French are proud of their walking tracks & walk them in droves during the holidays) ......Wolves & bears ???.....When you walk in France 1 week or 10 weeks you do not have to worry about food drops,water..... you can usually get a meal in the village you decide to stay for the night,camping or Gite communal which is a pittance, or by donavito.......I am not comparing countries,just calling it as I experienced it....Australia is Bushwalking .....Europe is Walking,even though it sometimes can be very difficult,(over the Pyrennes in winter!!) they cant be compared.....As for the red & white cross ,never have seen that on any track, a cross in Europe, always means not to go down that track/road, but, always in one colour......Keep smiling :) ....Vicrev
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby neilmny » Mon 13 Oct, 2014 5:27 am

Hallu is French, talking about his own country where he lives, so I guess that is the planet he's been living on.
He mentions that the Maremma dogs are there to protect the sheep from wolves which he understands are increasing in numbers.
I don't read it as a warning to watch out for wolves and bears, it was more beware the Maremma which is a dog bred and trained to protect sheep
and are not a "companion" animal. They live with the sheep and their sole purpose is protect the sheep and they will so be warned.

Having a crack at someone elses experiences and/or thoughts or knowledge isn't altered by adding "Keep smiling :) " to the end of it.

Edited out word "attack" by popular demand
Last edited by neilmny on Mon 13 Oct, 2014 12:07 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby Hallu » Mon 13 Oct, 2014 8:14 am

Vicrev, like I said, tracks aren't marked in French National Parks (at least not in the Alps) to preserve the nature. And it's way harder to orientate yourself in the Alps than in Australia because of the maze of different tracks there are. It's hard to get real lost because those tracks lead somewhere, but it's harder to find the right path. I've also just walked in Norway a week ago, and I can safely say that yes, French tracks aren't very well maintained. Try to go to the Grand Charnier in Belledonne, or to the Roche Pourrie near Albertville. Great fun walks, but can be tough for people not used to that kind of standard. Like I said, French are more casual about danger, hence vertiginous tracks are common, and they don't bother carving wider paths. Now of course some walks are classic and easy, but in the books available on walks in the Alps or other French mountains, you will find those dangerous walks, and may be surprised, after coming from Scandinavian or NZ standards with more maintained tracks. Maybe, as a local, I've walked more obscure walks than you have, and that's why my opinion is different from yours.

Regarding your weird comment on the cross, when the markings are red and white, the crosses are (usually) red and white... When it's on a GR de pays (yellow and red), then the cross is (usually) yellow and red... No idea why you focused on that detail.

The point of my post wasn't to say whether one country is more beautiful than the other, it was to inform people regarding the differences in walking/track standards and what to expect. Not everyone has been to France yet, and maybe they don't know what it's like to walk there. My post is for that person. Of course people can disagree with my personal views on the (lack of) wildness in France, or other subjective opinions, but I can vouch 100% on the part on tracks, danger, or difficulty. Now, evidently, I haven't walked everywhere in France, so this may change from region to region. I expect the Auvergne volcanoes or the Vosges to be easier than the Alps or the Pyrénées, and given the geography, to have less to none vertiginous/dangerous paths.
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby vicrev » Mon 13 Oct, 2014 9:37 am

neilmny wrote:
Making arguments attacking someone elses experiences and/or thoughts or knowledge isn't altered by adding "Keep smiling :) " to the end of it.

Difference of opinion is an "attack" ?...wow.......
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby Kainas » Mon 13 Oct, 2014 9:50 am

Hmm. I don't see where the attack part came in either (Especially given the competitive - in jest - nature of the original post). I appreciated a little defense of the country that 'lost'.
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby vicrev » Mon 13 Oct, 2014 10:03 am

Hallu,if you have taken offence from my comments,I apologise, :oops: that was not my intention, my interpretation & observation of walking in one of the most beautiful countries is different to yours ...so be it....as for the cross marker,you are right,it was a weird comment on my behalf,should know better.....Just wondering,have you done the Le Puy to Santiago? or is it not your type of walk ?.......Keep smiling... :) ...Vicrev
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby neilmny » Mon 13 Oct, 2014 12:07 pm

vicrev wrote:
neilmny wrote:
Making arguments attacking someone elses experiences and/or thoughts or knowledge isn't altered by adding "Keep smiling :) " to the end of it.

Difference of opinion is an "attack" ?...wow.......


Maybe I misunderstand your intentions vicrev....but I find a to disagree with someone and this is not the first someone, then sign off with a keep smiling reads in my opinion as quite condescending.....maybe it's just a well intended signature in which case it would go better as a signature. Your right to disagree stands without question.
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby eggs » Mon 13 Oct, 2014 4:34 pm

Thanks Hallu
Much appreciated.
May get to do the round Mount Blanc circuit next year. I presume that is a better marked track.
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby Hallu » Mon 13 Oct, 2014 7:42 pm

Well eggs I can't say for the Italian and Swiss sections, but in France the Tour du Mont Blanc takes in popular walks that don't go through any national park : hence everything should be marked. You'll just have to get used to the quite high elevation gain (the website says +900 m in average per day).

For vicrev : no I didn't take offense, it's alright. But as neil said, it's common practice to use smileys to be condescendant here indeed, something about which a member named nuts would know a thing or two...
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby Finnigan » Sun 09 Nov, 2014 5:31 pm

Yes tour du Mont Blanc is a great walk. It is about 1000 mts vertical climb up and down every day,
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby vicrev » Sun 09 Nov, 2014 6:01 pm

Mont Blanc is top of my bucket list,as well as Venice to Santiago. :) ..................Vicrev
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Re: Differences between bushwalking in Australia and France

Postby Hallu » Mon 10 Nov, 2014 10:39 pm

At the moment it's a weird transition period to walk in France. It's the end of autumn, so you get snow above 2000 m, and mud/ice at 1500/2000 m. Very hard to walk, especially on those narrow steep tracks that are very common in the Alps, this week-end in the Bauges range, I fell like 4 times on my *&%$#! in mud. Also something that most tourists may not realize : the glaciers become invisible under the snow =) But the mountains are more striking overall, you get more contrast on your photos. And don't forget the mind blowing frozen waterfalls. Snowshoe season is coming, probably 10 or 15 days away, which means I have to buy some. Avalanches corridors are usually well signed on walks (basically a "don't walk here in winter" sign). Also something I discovered : they remove the small wooden bridges for the winter (so they don't collapse because of the snow I guess) ! That means in that transition period, you have to cross the streams on foot, and that can be quite tricky with all this newly formed fragile ice.
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