Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Saturday 22 June 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 8 - St-Jean-Pied-de-Port

We walked about 6 km with 200 metres ascent during the course of this rest day.                              

Weather: warm and sunny - John and David appear to have taken their rain cloud with them. 

We enjoyed a lazy day in this lovely old town. The sun shone to dry our washing and the forecast is set fair.

It was a shame to have so much rain over the past week - about twenty of the thirty or so hours of walking were in rain - but it did no harm to the sense of cameraderie.

We very much enjoyed our 'not so much an encounter, more a sort of holiday' with John and David, and our encounters with Bruno and Christof, Stuart, Dave, Pierre and his lovely wife, Panos and various other itinerants. We may meet some of them again if they have a 'day off' before reaching Lescun; if so it will be like meeting old friends.

What a contrast to last year's E5 trip, and this year's Apennine trip,  when we met hardly anyone on the trails.

I wonder who we'll encounter tomorrow. 

St-Jean is full of pilgrims about to set off along the Way of St James towards Santiago de Compostella. Ranging from decrepit old stumblers to spotty dreadlocked youths they are a rag tag group that look just like those depicted in the film 'The Way'.  Whilst we know some folk relish that sort of trip, we are glad to be walking the less popular but more scenic GR10. 

We enjoyed a fairly comprehensive tour of the walled town this morning, but I'll leave the detail to a slide show in due course. The top picture today was taken from the top of the Rue de la Citadelle, near where the pilgrims get their 'passports'. Below that is a view over the town from the 17th Century Citadelle, looking towards the Iparla ridge that we traversed in cloud and rain a couple of days ago. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Friday, 21 June 2013

Friday 21 June 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 7 - Stage 5 - St-Étienne-de-Baïgorry to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port

Distance: 21 km (Cum: 103 km)     

Ascent: 950 metres (Cum: 5000 metres)
                     
Time taken: 6.25 hrs including 1.25 hrs stops                                     

Weather: rain for five hours then slowly improving

We set off before 9 am after a filling breakfast at Gite Mendy.  This was our last day with John and David, as they aren't having a day off tomorrow. 

As has become the norm, it was raining hard, with the cloud right down to the valley. I'm pictured in a normally sunlit café.

We formed part of a bedraggled group of walkers, many with only ponchos or umbrellas for protection, stumbling up the muddy paths towards Col d'Aharza. There's a new and very good variant to GR10 that now has the main route markings, contouring to the east of Oylarandoy; we commend that path. 

Soon after the col, our companions took a lower path, but by a strange dint of fortune (we can't seem to get rid of them) John and David reappeared like a couple of bad potatoes at the next col - Col d'Urdanzia. After a few hundred metres they found another excuse to ditch us, by declining to ascend to the 1021 metre summit of Monhoa. We followed geordie Stuart (Inov-8 Man - if his Roclite shoes last as long as mine did he'll need three pairs to get to Banyuls) towards the summit but he threw us off his scent by taking an unexpected contour. 

There was no view from the summit.  Not until a few minutes after we had left. Never mind, views down to St Jean and beyond soon opened out in profusion. The 'below the gloom' picture above captures the essence.

Far below was the Belgian support car for two ageing walkers in shorts and ponchos, with a splash of red and yellow next to it. John and David had parked their bums near the support car but it hadn't taken the hint. 

Anyway, by a strange dint of fortune (they can't seem to get rid of us) we reappeared like a couple of bad eggs just in time to snaffle their excess lunch before the vultures got it.

After that it was downhill all the way to Lasse, where we poured into a hapless auberge and demanded tea and coffee with a menacing clarity. Dave and Stuart joined us, possibly to their regret.

St-Jean turns out to be a quaint bustling place, full of pilgrims (it's at the start of a famous pilgrim trail), trekkers, bikers and 'ordinary' tourists. Our accommodation, on which more tomorrow, is excellent. 

The evening was again spent with John and David, who have become firm friends during the course of the past week. We enjoyed another gourmet experience, this time at Txitxipapa restaurant, which once the corked wine had been dealt with provided a fine repast.

For the first time since Sunday, we emerged from the restaurant under a clear sky, the rain having finally moved to pastures new. An almost full moon grinned as we paid our final farewells to John and David, who have made such fine companions; we've never before walked with complete strangers for so long.

Good luck and bon voyage, gents...

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Thursday 20 June 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 6 - Stage 4 - Bidarray to St-Étienne-de-Baïgorry

Distance: 16 km (Cum: 82 km)     

Ascent: 1300 metres (Cum: 4050 metres)
                     
Time taken: 7.25 hrs including 0.75 hrs stops                                     

Weather: fine for an hour, rain for five hours, fine after that, but hills still shrouded in cloud

Breakfast at Barberaenea restaurant set us up for a gentle plod up to Pic d'Iparla. The path took us over and past boulders that looked like huge lumps of concrete. Twenty five vultures circled menacingly above us.  It was just about not raining, with a bit of blue sky, and some distant Pyrenean peaks poking out in the distance to the east.

Today's image is the view back to Bidarray from this morning's ascent. 

The rain started as we rose to the splendid Iparla ridge through beds of clover littered with milkwort and crosswort. Ancient cromlechs and old sheep enclosures were passed as we steadily gained the crown of the broad ridge.

After rising above the wooded valleys our views were negligible. Those with gloves donned them. The 9C temperature was considerably diminished by wind chill. 

We soldiered on to the 1044 metre summit, conscious that we were as well equipped as anyone else on the path today. Especially the fell runners. Where did they come from! 

After a brief pause at the summit, and a photo taken by a French couple, we descended through thin mizzle to Col d'Harrieta, where a luxurious beech wood offered some lunchtime shelter. Others were brewing up in a corrugated iron howf, illuminated by head torches.

After lunch we climbed sharply back to two more summits above 1000 metres. John's ankle hurt. David heroically provided a bandage from his first aid kit. It looked more like a snotty handkerchief from his trouser pocket.

After the final col, from which we descended to our lodgings, Sue and I went ahead to deal with the gite booking, etc. This was new ground for us, as we had previously continued to Col d'Ispéguy to camp. It was a lovely descent through asphodel meadows, past clumps of White Stonecrop, under wheeling vultures.  We encountered Dave, who is spending a couple of weeks on GR10. 

Gite d'etape Mendy is different from the others we've stayed at. Tea bags are no use here, unless you have a stove. The kitchen is reserved for the chef's team. So we have gone half board. Others are camping. The gite is full.

Later: for €10, I suppose the meal was quite good, though most of us would probably have preferred more than just butter with our spaghetti. At least there were three filling courses, plus wine and coffee. 

We rounded off the day with a visit to the village, a pristine sort of place where nothing was open. 

I'm sure this will contrast significantly with Conrad's recollections, and Conrad may also be entertained by our notes on our 2004 HRP trip, the postcards from which have been transcribed onto
 
http://www.topwalks.com/pyreneespostcards.html

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Wednesday 19 June 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 5 - Stage 3 - Ainhoa to Bidarray

Distance: 21 km (Cum: 66 km)      

Ascent: 900 metres (Cum: 2750 metres)
                     
Time taken: 8.0 hrs including 1.75 hrs stops                                     

Weather: forecast rain all day, and we started under light rain, but waterproofs were soon stashed. More rain for an hour or so after lunch dissolved into warm, sunny periods. Heavy rain returned at 5.15, soon after we arrived at gite Aire Zabal, but had abated by beer o'clock.

(The local news headlines seem to highlight a few local weather issues! )

As their gite didn't provide breakfast, David and John, still replete from last night's excellent meal, and smug now that they had been able to dry their wet clothes in the gite's industrial drier, joined us at Chambres d'Hote Ohantzea, where Jean prides himself in being multilingual. 

Breakfast was not exotic, more sort of 'continental', with good coffee. 

Suddenly the atmosphere changed. My companions had noticed yesterday's entry. "Bimbo!" exclaimed one; "It's all lies!" observed another. David came to my rescue as the lynch mob was about to descend, "Actually that pork belly really was the best I've ever had! "

Then Ron arrived and I was able to deflect the rabble into enjoying a 'mock the naive North American' session. 

We set off around 9am and strolled up to Col des Trois Croix, passing at least fourteen crosses and la Chapelle de l'Aubépine on the way.

The beautiful countryside reminded me slightly of mid Wales. Except that in mid Wales you don't usually see gatherings of Griffon Vultures. They are very common hereabouts and we enjoyed their soaring company all day.  When not soaring they perched in nearby trees drying their wings.  

By after 12 noon we'd reached the friendly gite at Ferme Esteben. Just in time for lunch - tasty omelettes all round, apart from Panos, our new Greek friend, who managed to consume an enormous baguette. 

It was here that David again produced a drenched shirt from underneath his waterproof jacket. 

"See how it leaks!" he exclaimed. 

"But it hasn't been raining" replied a chorus of voices.

David's jacket warranted closer inspection. 

"Nylon shell, 100% polyamide" reported Sue, adding "otherwise known as a 'Berghaus Mobile Sauna' jacket." 

Three sniggers emanated from a trio of nearby RAB Drillium jackets.

So David's jacket is waterproof but not breathable. He's wet but not unhappy, as his weight loss plan is clearly working, judging by the amount of fluid being produced from inside this non-breathable jacket. 

After a brief shower, we enjoyed a lovely afternoon on the fine path where the HRP and GR10 routes coincide before reaching Bidarray. 

We followed the border for a while. Sue is pictured above beside a border post, before the long descent to Bidarray that had some interesting steep rocky sections. The vultures were particularly attentive above this part of the walk, where they seemed to be paying particular attention to John.  But I think they we just visiting the area 'on spec' whilst waiting for Ron.

One gite is full; this one (Aire Zabal) is quite busy.  But we have a cosy room for the four of us and we'll no doubt find a suitable restaurant. 

If coming this way, bring some basics - tea bags, coffee, etc, as the gites don't tend to provide them.  Today we had to make do with some discarded cocoa. 

Later: the restaurant was indeed good, and miraculously Ron turned up with Bruno and Christof, the gentlemen from Tours, moreover they were able to reunite me with part of my rucksack lost near Biriatou! 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Tuesday 18 June 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 4 - Stage 2 - Olhette to Ainhoa

Distance: 22 km (Cum: 45 km)      

Ascent: 730 metres (Cum: 1850 metres)
                     
Time taken: 7.25 hrs including 1.5 hrs stops                                     

Weather: rain, torrential at times, easing early afternoon before returning later.

Breakfast was at 7am. It had started to throw it down outside.

We left at 8 with John and David, and splodged our way along GR10, which we followed scrupulously all the way to Ainhoa. 

As yesterday, the 900 metre summit of La Rhune was hidden from view under a thick tarpaulin of cloud. 

David and John (pictured with a passing bimbo) tried to admire the views from below their dribbling visors.

"I'm wet" announced David from above his back to front overtrousers.

"I'm homesick" blurted John from his blood red anorak.

"And me" admitted his bedraggled companion, "but we've started so we'll finish this thing."

John said nothing,  and failed to remove a chunk of rock from his boot, in a vain attempt to cripple himself and thereby extricate his worn out body from the clutches of his old friend, who then asserted "failure is not an option".

Later we encountered Ron, from north of Toronto, who has taken five days to get to the end of stage two of GR10. That made John and David feel like supermen and cheered them up no end.  Ron is aiming for the Mediterranean.  (I had a quiet word with him and suggested he really ought to purchase a map!)

Sue found a leech under the trees near our high point of the day beyond Col des Trois Fontaines. It seemed appropriately 'rain foresty'.

A dilapidated train rumbled past on its way to the summit of La Rhune, very much like the cog railway up Snowdon.

By mid morning we had reached the pretty village of Sare. We dripped for nearly an hour in a friendly café. Sue found some tasty croissants for us to share before stocked up at an epicerie ando headed off again past the usual avenues of plane trees and into the rain.

Lunch was under a farm awning, where a bedraggled group of French walkers seemingly clothed in umbrellas nonchalantly strolled past.

The afternoon passed uneventfully, apart from our encounter with Ron and a rather muddy episode next to a boiling river, and on the approach to Ainhoa we were even able to discard our waterproofs.  David tried to jettison his into a nearby skip, but John restrained him, offering those immortal words - "Failure is not an Option."

Sue and I soon settled into our luxurious room at Maison Ohantzea,  where Ron pinched the last 'chambre' before David could open his mouth. So he and John sloshed (it was raining again) off to share a crowded dormitory in the gite at Camping Harazpy, which contrary to the information in our guide book is open.

"Fantastic wine" enthused David - the Navarra Piedemonte Gamma 2010 stocked by La Maison Oppoca went down a treat when we reconvened at its Michelin rated restaurant.  The wine was matched by the meal, which we all agreed was absolutely delicious. Certainly the best meal out that Sue and I have had since Juniper changed its name to 21212 and moved to Edinburgh. 

The belly pork that David and I enjoyed for our mains was 'the best ever', matched by the rest of the meal.  If you come this way you shouldn't be disappointed - www.oppoca.com. But if David's there you may have to put up with his bare feet, and sweaty socks drying over a radiator! 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Occasional Pyrenean Flowers (1)

David's comment has triggered this posting. 

I had debated a 'flower of the day' section, as on last year's E5 trip, but decided against it. 

Instead, I'll post occasional flower images.

This orchid was pictured yesterday morning on a trackside verge above Hendaye. It was about 30-40 cm tall. The leaves were spotted. I'd guess at Common Spotted. What do you think, David? 

Sent from our GR10 trip

Monday, 17 June 2013

Monday 17 June 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 3 - Stage 1b - Hendaye (Campanile Hendaye) to Olhette

Distance: 20 km (Cum: 23 km)     

Ascent: 1100 metres (Cum: 1120 metres)
                     
Time taken: 7.0 hrs including 1.25 hrs stops                                     

Weather: sunny, then cloudy, then light rain

Mainly tarmac to Biriatou, where Sue is pictured below the church,  then lovely forest and mountain paths to Olhette, with a good refreshment stop before Col d'Ibardin.  Ancient sunken lanes and old paved routes to Spain were delightful, though Sue found the strawberries to be inedible.  Near the 486 metre summit of Choldokogagna (how did it get that name?) a red kite flew past and a family of young vultures were receiving hovering and landing lessons.  It was fascinating to watch. Nearby the skeleton of a horse had been picked clean. Lots of wild horses were seen today - they are a feature of the Basque countryside. 

We had started by stocking up at Lidl and then taking a lane to rejoin GR10 just as Bruno and Christof were arriving at the same point from the beach.

We bumped into these two chaps from Tours a few times today, but they don't appear to be staying in our crowded dormitory at Gite d'etape de Olhette. Sue booked half board but all that seems to be available is breakfast. Had we known we would have brought supplies. And tea bags.

Never mind, there's a restaurant down the road. 

A few people were seen on today's paths but it's generally pretty quiet.

Later: we enjoyed another delicious meal with John and David at the Trabenia restaurant, where Bruno and Christof are staying, which luckily was open. And as expected it was full. Apparently it's not always open. There may be a takeaway delivery service from another establishment, but my advice to those coming this way is "Buy some ingredients at one of Col d'Ibardin's many shops." 

The rain has stopped, but more is forecast.

That's all for now from a very sociable day in the Pyrenees. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Sunday 16 June 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 2 (2) - Stage 1a - Hendaye Plage to Campanile Hendaye

Distance: 3 km (Cum: 3 km)     

Ascent: 20 metres (Cum: 20 metres)
                     
Time taken: 0.75 hrs plus 2.25 hrs stops                                     

Weather: sunny until dusk, then a lovely evening

We were planning to start tomorrow, but since we had arrived at the start, and our hotel was about 3 km along the route, we decided it made sense to start today.

We managed about 100 metres before succumbing to the temptation of beer and food.

John and David soon joined us, and after our meal at Bar Epsilone, they took a five minute stroll back to their room with an Atlantic view, whilst we staggered off along the GR10 route as far as Campanile Hendaye, a Travelodge sort of place which we hope is near to a café and food shop from which to stock up before we start walking more seriously tomorrow. 

Or should that read 'hobbling' - Sue still has a sore achilles and one of my knees is still swollen and sore from too much kneeling down on the TGO Challenge. 

Anyway, we've started, in perfect weather if a bit dark, even if we still need to convert our luggage from flight mode to backpacking mode.

Thanks go to John for managing to take the above picture despite the blinding sun.

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Sunday 16 June 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 2 - Elsenham to Hendaye Plage

Weather: sunny periods and warm in Stansted; hot and sunny in Biarritz and Hendaye. 

A very relaxing 9.30 am start from Mariola's B&B, in the company of Jane - who had arrived from Bari in Italy at 3.30 am after some Ryanair technical problems, on her way to Haslemere - saw us through Stansted security after dropping off a bag a good two hours before our flight to Biarritz.                           

A smooth journey with clearing skies and fine views through a heat haze to snow-clad mountains, and a baggage collection within 15 minutes of landing would have seen us on the 4 pm number 876 bus to Hendaye on a weekday.  But that bus doesn't operate on a Sunday, so we made a temporary home in a bar at the airport before catching the 4.50 bus for the scenic ride to Hendaye. 

We noticed floods from burst river banks during our descent, so perhaps the weather here hasn't been great. It's wonderful today but rain is forecast from tomorrow. 

Having met John at the bus stop, we walked with him from Hendaye's station to Hendaye Plage, a splendid beach full of Sunday afternoon sun worshippers. 

Sue enjoyed half an hour in the Atlantic surf and John disappeared to find his hotel and his walking pal, David. They are planning to walk GR10 as far as Cauterets.

We soon met up with them both for a pleasant meal at Bar Epsilone.  Our beer cost as much as the food. Ouch. It's wine from now on.  Sometimes. Maybe!

Then Sue and I set off on GR10.

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary