Hiking Southern Europe: Our Ultralight Mission
Story & Photos: Deux Pas Vers l’Autre
June 21, 2019
The mission: meet people across Europe and explore their cultures while leaving as small a footprint as possible. Nine months ago, Marie Couderc and Nil Hoppenot, aka Deus Pas Vers L'Autre ('Two Steps Towards Others'), set off on their ambitious path to travel for 18 months on foot. We caught up with them halfway, to find out some of the highs and lows of learning more and leaving less.
We started this trip with hopes, fears and excitement and almost nothing has gone as planned. And it’s all for the best!
Crossing the Alps – you never get used to it
When we arrived at the foot of the Alps, we had already been hiking for six months and we thought we were ready. But you’re never ready for this: three months in the mountains, hiking almost 2,000km and ascending something like 100,000m in total. In some ways we got stronger, physically and mentally, but after two months, some parts of the trail were still very tough. It’s stating the obvious, but it was worth it!
Global warming, our warning
Hiking in the Alps, we got to stand amid some marvellous, gigantic and fragile places. We crossed the range’s biggest glacier, the Aletsch, and realized how short-lived it could be. This 23km tongue of ice stretches from 4,000m altitude in Switzerland down to 2,500m towards France, but due to climate change, it recedes 50m each year. If the entire glacier melted it would be enough to supply every person on earth with a liter of water a day for four and a half years. Discovering such a giant was a unique experience; time and distance have their own rules in such places. The glacier was 1.5 km wide, yet it seemed that its sides were never more than 200m from us.
1kg for the planet
When we realized we would be hiking for two years and living outside most of the time, we thought we should take the hike to another level. We decided to collect rubbish as we hiked, which a lot of hikers are already doing. With the length of our hike it takes effort to save space in our packs for up to 1kg of rubbish between disposal points. 1KG FOR THE PLANET was the conscious challenge we gave ourselves to do something important for the environment and to leave those places cleaner than we found them. But it was also the universal challenge we lay down for all hikers and nature lovers concerned about a better future. We had 1,000 reusable bags produced out of recycled plastic bottles, and we have these sent from our base camp in Paris to anyone who asks for them. Any reusable bag would do, but hopefully by giving the project a name and a logo and making the bags available, it will help encourage more people to do it. Each of us hikes with a bag hooked up to our backpack. We also carry a few spare bags, so we can offer them to people we meet on the way who are sensitive to this cause.
Two steps towards others
We love hiking. As with all hikers, we like to spend a lot of time outside, feeling close to nature, and focusing on simple things such as finding food and water and looking for a place to sleep. We also get to discover places on foot that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach. Basic things become a huge source of satisfaction: fresh water; edible berries or mushrooms; meeting someone new. The first objective of the trip is to discover the 17 countries of Southern Europe through their inhabitants. Our name, Deux Pas Vers l’Autre, means ‘Two Steps Towards Others’. We didn’t realize, though, how intense and important those encounters would be: the tears we would shed; the number of people we would keep in touch with even more than six months after saying goodbye to them. Definitely, this trip goes beyond hiking.
On top of being thru-hikers, we are also digital nomads, carrying all the electronics that allows us to shoot, edit and publish videos and photos on the way. This creates a challenge in how we pack: specialty backpacks; ultralight and multipurpose hiking gear and garments so we can fit it all in and still travel light.
Join the adventure
During the first nine months, 12 people joined us on the trail for a section each. Would you like to be the next guest? Send us a message. To find out more or to donate to the adventure, visit us in the links below.