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GR738 Haute Traversée de Belledonne - Introduction

The decision is made. If corona doesn't spoil the fun again, I will be able to hike the GR738 through the Belledonne massif in the middle of August.

The Belledonne is a narrow mountain range wedged between the much more famous Vercors and Chartreuse in the west, the Bauges massif in the north, the Vanoise in the east and the Écrins in the south.

The relatively new GR738 came on my radar and therefore on my hiking bucket list when it was announced in 2018. The GR's number is an combination of the department numbers 73 (Savoie) and 38 (Isère), through which the trail runs from north to south.

The Belledonne is not the place to be for the highest peaks. The highest mountain peak is the Grand Pic with its 2978 meters, but that one is quite difficult to reach and therefore not on the GR. The highest point of the whole GR is on the Col de la Vache at about 2550 metres. But Belledonne is the place to be for relative quietness, no beaten tracks, several beautiful mountain lakes and of course spectacular mountain scenery. And all that just a stone's throw away from Grenoble!

That the GR738 is not overrun yet, is shown by the number of manned huts or refuges in the massif and along the trail. Those on the GR trail can be counted on one hand. You can find several unmanned huts with mostly spartan interiors. And because of corona, also two of the otherwise manned refuges along the GR trail seem to be closed. Not for nothing the GR trail is nicknamed the "Sentier des Bergers", meaning the path of the shepherds. If you want to complete the 130 kilometre long path between Aiguebelle and Vizille successfully, you should go in almost complete autonomy and bring your food. Fortunately, water can still be found in various springs, streams and lakes.

Another difficulty is the altitude metres to be bridged. You have to climb no less than 9150 metres. That makes the GR738 in that respect more difficult than the GR20. On the GR738 you climb about 70,6 metres per kilometre walked, while on the GR20 it is 'only' 63,8 m/km.

Although it is a new GR, a reprint of the first topoguide for the 738 has just been published, in which the trail is perfectly described. Ideal to prepare the hike. I also use the IGN maps 3433OT, 3335ET and 3335OT for preparation.

An online search tells me that the route is officially divided into 11 stages. But I think I can do it in 6 to 7 days. However, I will take the opportunity to also explore parts of Belledonne that are not on the GR trail and thus make the hike a bit longer.

To be continued.

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