GR573 : “Vesdre et Hautes Fagnes”

My stepson was asking for a hike for quite some time now and finally the time had came. It was spring holiday and the weather forecast was bad, very bad… I am talking wind and rain, the whole week. Nevertheless, spirits were high ! We were craving for the adventure…

We kissed our wife/mom goodbye and all packed we hopped on the train in Bruges, destination “Angleur”. It was a rainy sunday and the train was pretty empty, merely a few lost travellers. We were playing dominoes to pass the time while talking about the days to come.

The trainstation of Angleur, the starting point of the GR573

For Wolf it was his first truhike. Thru-hiking is to hike an established end-to-end long-distance trail with continuous footsteps and completing it within one calendar year. In Belgium this is pretty easy since it is a small country, consequently the long-distance trails are the same.

It’s already late in the afternoon and all we have to do for today is try to get out of the city and find ourselves a good place to sleep. Twelve clicks later we see a beautiful spot to set up our tarp and we are ready to test out our brand new Snugpak matresses. Wolf has the Snugpak Self Inflating Maxi Mat in his backpack and I have the Snugpak Air mat with Built-in Foot Pump with me. No sign of bad weather, good sleep guaranteed, altough that is what we thought…

In the middle of the night I startle awake, the tent pegs were ripped out and the tarp is waving with high speed against our covers. I crawl out of my Snugpak softie Elite Sleeping bag in search of the pegs. It is still dark and I succeed in finding two of them. I am surprised Wolf notices nothing, the boy seems to sleep through it all!

The day is dawning, I wake up Wolf and we start packing. It is still very windy and I have a bad feeling the forecast was right… Suddenly all hell breaks loose, a mix of hail and rain is falling down from the sky. We run towards a hiking shelter we saw the evening before, it is still not fully light.

I put my Aquacover 45 on my Endurance Rucksack to assure myself everything will stay dry but we realise Wolf has no cover for his backpack which will be a problem if we want to avoid a wet sleeping bag. Luckily I have some big drybags with me and we decide to reorganise. I put everything I have in my Snugpak 40L Dri-Sak with Air Valve and the 20L Dri-Sak is perfect for his sleeping bag and Original Sleeka Jacket. We don’t have the luxury to get these two items wet, we still have four or five days to go…

After a good day of rain we arrive at our second camping spot. It is still early in the afternoon and the rain has stopped, the sun is playing peek-a-boo… Perfect condition to set up the tarp and get a fire going. On the horizon we see a village, hopefully they do not notice the fire. We bought some chicken the day before and have all the time in the world to make a good stew out of it and turn in early with a full stomach.

We wake up early again, it is tuesday and our second real day of hiking. It is crazy how fast you get back in your normal hiking routine. Wolf wants to hike all the way to Eupen to the entrance of the regional park. The scenery is totally different today, the views are getting better, more rural. We take our time to soak it all up. It is great that I can share my hobby with my stepson and I see he has the same interest in and respect for nature like I have myself. It is a great day and on top of it all mostly rainless. It is already dark when we enter the regional park.

In the middle of the night I wake up to a loud noise. It is the sound of a full grown boar. My guess is he might be a hundred meters away. We have a lot of food with us and to be honest I do not know much about boar behaviour. I take out my leatherman and open the knife, just incase. I start laughing… I must look pretty foolish now, but then again I am responsible for a thirteen year old child. In my mind I see the epic battle already, followed by a roasted boar. “Idiot…” I say to myself. I fold the leatherman back together and go to sleep.

We wake up inside the regional park. Today is the peak day of our hike. Just like yesterday the scenery just keeps getting better and better. Today we will follow the river called “de Helle” on our quest to arrive at the highest point of Belgium, “le Signal de Botrange”, 693m.

It’s been a few days since we washed up so the ice cold “Helle” seems perfectly for some personal hygiene. It is key to succesfully finish a hike, a physical and mental boost when hiking or staying in the outdoors for several days without any comfort. We feel reborn and continue our journey.

After crossing the Helle the environment changes to something between a moorland and a swamp. Everything is covered in golden vegetation. We have to walk on narrow wooden pathways preventing us to get our shoes stuck in the mud. Some of them are newly created but most of it is cracked and digested over time by nature. I wear shoes with a low shaft so it doesn’t take much time for me to get my feet wet. Wolf goes kneedeep in the mud but miracoulasely his foot stays dry.

We arrive at Signal de Botrange, there’s a tavern and Wolf definitely earned a warm drink. We stay there for a while, it’s the perfect opportunity to charge the GoPro and our phones. They have a local brew called “Fagnes”, a heavy blond beer that I am obligated to taste.

We wake up with rain and heavy wind. After an unpractical breakfast we leave. It’s a 40 km hike to the finish and Wolf seems determined to finish the hike today. As we leave the regional park we get the feeling that we should more and more. The regional park was the peak of our trip and now
the surroundings get more boring, we just have to walk it out.

Wolf keeps going. It is getting dark, rain is pouring. I propose to set up camp but he refuses. I can see he is suffering but he keeps going. His mom and dad are both in the military so i suppose it’s in the genes. Not much later we arrive at the finish, we say nothing and just smile… Time for some French fries…

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