Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Saturday 6 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 22 - Cauterets (3) - Trophee du Grand Vignemale

We walked about 4 km today, with about 200 metres ascent                             

Weather: sunny and hot

You might guess from the above statistics that we didn't actually participate in the 'Trophee du Grand Vignemale'. I don't think 'on the day' entries were permitted. In any case it would have counted as gross abuse of a rest day. A shame really, as it looked quite fun. 

After a very lazy start during which the first two hours of the day were spent acquiring and consuming a selection of croissants, we did a few chores, spent a while in the café society, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch. 

The 650 participants of the 'Trophee' had set off at 8am. Their 45 km (28 mile) trip up Vignemale, and back by a different route, involved over 2700 metres of ascent. The first man arrived back at 12.49pm. I'll leave you to work out how long that took him. The last of the 414 finishers, including just 8 women (perhaps they have more sense!) arrived at around 19.00 whilst we were enjoying beers with Pierre and Yolaine. The remainder either dropped out or failed to beat the cut-off times at the checkpoints. 

In the meantime we had gone a little way back along the 'Trophee' route and had spent a couple of hours cheering the competitors as they climbed a final short hill just above Cauterets. (From where the view is pictured above.) They seemed to appreciate the encouragement. There were long intervals between them. 

Back at base, my sleeping bag problem was resolved with Graham and Alpenstock's assistance.  Hugh at Alpenstock sold me 720 grammes of Deuter Treklite 250 goose down, in the form of a bag that Graham has kindly offered to collect and personally courier to me in the Pyrenees.  What a star!

Meanwhile I read a rather entertaining book, 'The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared'. A black comedy - recommended. 

The TV in the background appeared to show a defining moment in this year's Tour de France cycle race as Chris Froome hoisted himself ahead of the competition on a steep climb further east in the Pyrenees. 

Then it was beer o'clock. Before we knew it! 

With the generous Yorkshiremen now gone ahead, we thought we'd have to buy our own beer.

But Pierre and Yolaine, who had spotted us after arriving from Refuge d'Ilhéou at lunch time,  appeared in the nick of time.  This time however they didn't adopt the cunning Yorkshire ploy of paying for everything, so we were able to at least partly pay our way!

Then we returned to our comfy base at Hotel le Lys for an excellent supper from our private kitchen. 

Last night the Tour Aventure team alerted us to a few problems ahead, but we think they will be more seriously affected than us due to their luggage transfer requirements being thwarted by closed roads. Local information also indicates that the Tour Aventure snow warnings are out of date and that with a few adjustments the GR10 route to Luchon should be viable, which is good news if it's true! 

We are ready for anything. ..

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Friday, 5 July 2013

Friday 5 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 21 - Cauterets (2) - Café Society

Only a couple of km walked on this very sunny rest day.

Summer has arrived. 

We've been very lazy. 

This despite the fact that compared with the likes of our TGO Challenge walks across Scotland we are covering rather less than two thirds of the daily distances, and on average ascending less than we do in Scotland. Moreover, we are walking on paths (albeit with occasional difficulty due to fallen trees).

Paul and John, who had arrived from Refuge d'Ilhéou at lunch time,  were tracked down to a bar in town, where they plied us with beer before parting with us for ever. After being on the same flight from Stansted three weeks ago, they will now be a day ahead of us all the way to Luchon, from which town they leave for home before we arrive. 

Roland and Marie arrived around 6.30pm and headed for the gite. 

Cauterets is full tonight; there has been a road building pause for the weekend, so traffic can get through. 

There's a big event on tomorrow. Lean fell runners are registering for a race that, unusually, requires them to be issued with bits of rope and a couple of carabiners.

Meanwhile, the swifts are wheeling and squealing outside our sixth floor window. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Thursday 4 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 20 - Stage 16 - Arrens-Marsous to Cauterets

Distance: 28 km (Cum: 308 km)      

Ascent: 1650 metres (Cum: 16,450 metres)
                     
Time taken: 10.0 hrs including 1.75 hrs stops                                     

Weather: sunny and warm - a glorious 'blue sky' day

After goodbyes to Françoise, and to our excellent hosts, Lydie and Philippe, we set off at 7am into the morning sun. We didn't reach Cauterets until 17.30, but it didn't seem like a long day. It really was a wonderful mountain day. 

The first 300 metres of ascent was fairly gentle and through cool woodland. A pleasure as we rose slowly above the village of Arrens-Marsous. 

Then it was down to the lovely Estaing valley. Our boots soon became sodden with dew as we strolled up a narrow lane littered with bright green moss covered rocks and lined with Dusky Cranesbill, Herb Robert, Rampion and more. 

The riverside path was enjoyable, but showed signs of having been recently flooded.  After a short section of road, the path turned up to pass through a small forest of young trees, many of which had been flattened by the recent storms, which had also provided a fertile breeding ground for nettles..

We made our way through this jungle, arriving at the Hotel Restaurant du Lac d'Estaing covered in debris and nettle stings.

The coffees went down well and a warning about the jungle section was sent to Paul and John.  We hope they received it.

Then began the long ascent to Col d'Ilhéou - at 2242 metres the highest point on our trip so far. 

It was totally without difficulty but with fine views. We enjoyed lunch on the col in the vicinity of another couple. Sue is pictured here. 

The descent to Refuge d'Ilhéou required a little care, especially when crossing snowfields that lay above streams. It was easy to stray to the left of the path, but also easy to regain it.

The Refuge was manned by mountain guide Patricia, whose 'other half' was carrying a sack of food up from Cauterets for the sole purpose of feeding Tour Aventure's hungry clients. 

The GR10 path (not the track that others were using) down to Cauterets was storm damaged but not impassable.  With all the snow melt the river was still running very high. Spring Squill covered the hillside, months later than it would normally have faded away. 

More about Cauterets tomorrow. But we pleasured ourselves with pizzas and a banana split at Giovanni's before retiring after this excellent third week of our journey through the Pyrenees. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Cauterets (1)

After a fabulous mountain day, we arrived here at 5.30pm.

The view is from the balcony of the studio apartment we have for the next three nights. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Wednesday 3 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 19 - Stage 15 - Gourette to Arrens-Marsous

Distance: 14 km (Cum: 280 km)     

Ascent: 650 metres (Cum: 14,800 metres)
                     
Time taken: 5.25 hrs including 1.25 hrs stops                                     

Weather: light rain, clearing to be replaced by fog then low cloud, then sunny periods

Whilst it was good to be back on our planned GR10 route, we will reflect with pleasure and fond memories of our excellent three day alternative, during which we walked paths that matched GR10's in quality and we met some lovely people.  And, for the moment, we have the satisfaction of having maintained the continuous green 'travelled on foot' line from Hendaye. 

This morning we woke to heavy cloud that engulfed the ski resort of Gourette. By the time we departed for the épicerie at 9am it was raining steadily. 

It's a steep pull up to 1799 metre Col de Tortes, none the easier for the humid cloud through which we had to force our bodies.  We soon caught Roland and Marie; I was pleased not to be carrying heavy camping gear at this point. Sue felt unwell and fell far behind. Luckily this is a very easy stage, so we could afford to go slowly.

A miraculous recovery soon saw Sue speeding past and arriving at today's high point, the 1799 metre Col de Tortes, well ahead of schedule. She is pictured there.

It was partly engulfed in cloud, but at least not raining. 

We trotted down to the D918 road to find sunshine and an elevenses spot, passing Françoise on the way down. 

The following road walk wasn't unpleasant as there was very little traffic, but it's fair to say that today's route is not one of GR10's classics. 

The roadside flora was however outstanding, with Sue having to be coaxed from photo to photo - Trumpet and Spring Gentians, Butterwort, Yellow Wood Violet, Bird's-eye Primrose, Oxlips and many, many more.

Four backpacking Belgians strode past, having started from Arrens-Marsous this morning, heading west. They were disappointed to hear that their GR10 route from Gourette is probably too difficult for them.  A few minutes later one of them jogged past in our direction. He had lost his watch. He soon returned, empty handed. We took his details and kept a look out, but sadly didn't spot it.

After leaving the road and its attendant tree avalanches, we strolled up to Col de Saucède, past Water Avens and chatty chaffinches. A shepherd's  Renault van was parked at the col.

Lunch comprised a different variety of tuna salad - Sue had chosen a curried variety - "like eating a cold tuna curry" she not unexpectedly reported. 

Lots of interest was shown by a host of Griffon Vultures that, one by one, flew slowly overhead as we chomped our tuna. Incidentally,  the 'white-tailed eagles' I reported the other day are actually Egyptian Vultures, according to a pamphlet we picked up today. 

The path down to Arrens-Marsous was excellent. Another adder was spotted. This time we got a photo before it scurried away. 

We arrived at Gite Camelat at 2.30,  fully expecting to have to wait for it to open, but were welcomed in by Lydie and Philippe. We are in good hands tonight. Philippe confirmed that tomorrow's route to Cauterets is long but quite ok without crampons. So we'll give it our best shot. As it's a long day, don't expect the usual verbosity! 

Camelat lived up to its reputation tonight, serving a fine meal including mussels and salmon to eighteen customers, including our little group of five - me, Sue, John, Paul and Françoise - Roland and Marie having chosen to camp.

News of others:

Pierre and Yolaine were seen yesterday by Paul and John, and are said to be on good form. (Yolaine's mum and dad are now at home and commenting.)

Stuart (aka Inov8 Man) got fed up and went home from Etsaut - he had set off to walk the HRP (high route), retired to GR10, and now found that route impassable without winter equipment. I'm sure he'll return. 

Françoise is walking out to Lourdes tomorrow, so we won't see her again. Others are continuing, but may fall behind us tomorrow and overtake us during our two day holiday in Cauterets. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Occasional Pyrenean Flowers (6)

On the descent from Col d'Iseye on Monday, just before the storm, we found this Pyrenean Snakeshead (Fritillaria pyrenaica).

Wonderful! 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Occasional Pyrenean Tractors (1)

We found this Ferrari today.

The owner was harvesting his hay in the field just behind the tractor and must have become concerned at our bizarre interest in his Ferrari, as he started to lob sticks and stones at us while we loitered beside his treasured possession! 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Tuesday 2 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 18 - Stage 14 variant - les Eaux Chaudes to Gourette

Distance: 18 km (Cum: 266 km)      

Ascent: 1150 metres (Cum: 14,150 metres)
                     
Time taken: 6.0 hrs including 1.0 hrs stops                                     

Weather: sunny, with clouds building from the west

Again, today was more of a GR10 alternative than a variant, but it got us back on to the main GR10 route by way of some fine paths.

Françoise joined us for breakfast and was interrupted by a 'bathroom emergency' call from her twenty five year old daughter. Funny, I don't seem to get those calls any more. "Give her a few more years" I suggested. F is attempting a route we considered for today, involving two major climbs. She's likely to be late at Gourette. She gave us her phone number. .. "save me some dinner" was her parting shot.

We started by strolling down to the small town of Laruns, along the quiet D934 at first, then by a narrow back lane. There's a footpath for most of the way (the St Jacques pilgrims way), but Nicolas at the Caverne hotel said it would be very wet. The road was quiet, apart from the moment five pilgrims, a bus, a car, a motor cyclist and a cyclist were all competing with us for the same piece of narrow road. Everyone was courteous and said hello, apart from the terrified cyclist. 

Lunchtime pizza was sourced in Laruns, then we ambled out of the town and up some delightful sunken lanes to Assouste and Aas. The former sported a 12th Century church that was securely locked. Beyond Aas a honey factory tempted us, but we felt it unfair to taste without buying. 

There was no sign of a café. 

Are we going soft, looking for such a thing? 

A lovely belvedere path then led onto the broad ridge that is 'Montagne Verte'. It started at 1100 metres and rose all the way to 1600 metres, where we joined the road to Col d'Aubisque and descended to Gourette. 

En route we encountered several shepherds and their attendant sheep and cows, not to mention the hungry horse flies. Red kites and white tailed eagles soared nearby.

The pizza went down a treat - it was a nice change from our usual lunch of tuna salad. Sue is pictured above at our lunch spot overlooking the Vallée d'Ossau.

We were at Gourette at 3pm after a short day 'on the hill', enjoying beer and tea before making our way to the CAF refuge, which was locked and deserted. "Back between 5 and 6" said the sign.

They had under promised, and the guardian's was back by 4.20, bearing signs of a difficult to achieve blood test.  So she is excused any inconvenience - if spending time writing this on a sunny veranda rather than watching the Tour de France in a bar can be classed as an inconvenience. I think not. 

A check as to Paul and John's whereabouts (in the hope of some advice from the 'GR10 front runners') brought a surprising response 'keep us some food tonight'. Had they bumped into Françoise, we wondered? 

No, Françoise arrived at 6pm, having succeeded in walking to Eaux-Bonnes by 4pm. So she hitched a lift to Gourette. It's a ski resort above 1300 metres. I've just been for a walk around. What's the opposite of 'vibrant'?

6.20: Roland and Marie arrive. They started from Eaux-Bonnes at lunch time after their tent had dried out. It's good to see them again. 

Then the happy Yorkshiremen, Paul and John turned up. They have done some 'there and back' walks, covering most of the GR10 route hereabouts and have seen lots of snow. 

Party time! A select band of seven old friends. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Monday, 1 July 2013

Monday 1 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 17 - Stage 13 variant - Bedous to Les Eaux Chaudes

Distance: 24 km (Cum: 248 km)      

Ascent: 1460 metres (Cum: 13,000 metres)
                     
Time taken: 7.75 hrs including 1.5 hrs stops                                     

Weather: sunny at first, followed by thick cloud then a thunderstorm followed by more rain

After thinking we had today's route nicely planned over an easy pass - 
the 1698 metre Col d'Arrioutort, we woke to an email from the invaluable Jill W (who we have never met but who we will one day entertain to a lavish dinner):

"... I have been able to find out for you that the RD 237 between Bedous  and Aydius is very definitely closed to all traffic including pedestrians. This is due to a massive landslip which took place on 14th June and which has been causing those tasked with clearing it up quite a few problems.....  Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings...."

It seems that the village to which we planned to walk to along a road has been cut off from the rest of the world since before the devastating floods further east!  And the people in Accous, a neighbouring village, don't seem to know about it! 

So we decided to go back to Accous and have a bimble up to Col d'Iseye - at 1829 metres, so our bimble would involve a 1400 metre ascent. If it looked ok we would go over, if not we would turn back and hitch hike to today's destination. 

But for Jill's message we would probably have walked up the closed road, discovered that not even pedestrians could get through, and not had sufficient time to execute an alternative plan.

Since we were planning on going to Les Eaux Chaudes today, I thought I'd check on the delivery status of Sue's camera battery charger. It seemed to be stuck in a sorting office somewhere. Oh dear!

After saying our farewells to all the jolly folk at Chez Michel (highly recommended), we strolled back to the time warp called Accous, and from there headed up delightful sunken lanes along the Chemin de la "Borde de Castillou".

Kites and red squirrels kept us company, the sun was shining, and despite the Lescun gite man's advice, the pass looked navigable. 

I noticed a voice mail message on my phone. 

"It's Mike in Luchon" - at the B&B where my camping gear is being stored - "there's been an incident ... your sleeping bag (which he was keeping aired for me) has been destroyed."

I have to admit that given the various things that are happening on this trip, I burst into laughter about the sleeping bag, whilst hoping that Mike and his family were ok.

Soon we reached a plateau where a noisy shepherd was trying to motivate a flock of what appeared to us to be extremely docile sheep. A Pyrenean mountain dog slumbered nearby.

The last 600 metres up to the col were thrutchy and sweaty, and the reward was a view of the huge snowfield on the other side (pictured). But wait, 'the other side' is a fairly shallow bowl, and whilst we enjoyed lunch in the last of the day's sunshine, I sussed out a way around the snow. 

We soon made it to a shepherd's cabin, Cabane Laiterine.

Then the thunderstorm suddenly hit.

We donned waterproofs and hastened onwards.

But the already thin path down the steep valley had disappeared. I decided we had strayed to the right. Luckily we located the path again. 

After perusing the map I'd expected the next problem. Snow melt, exacerbated by the currently raging storm meant I was not disappointed with my prediction (though I'd have preferred to be wrong). My Saucony Hattori shoes are still soaking from the river crossing, but at least we made it across. 

By now it was lashing down. In the woods of the Gorges du Bitet it seemed like night time as we lumbered on down the hill. 

The rain eased, to be replaced with a dense fog that made it seem even darker.

Eventually, after passing various hydro paraphernalia that seemed to reduce the torrent to a trickle, we found our way down a pleasant track high above the gorge, to the D934 road. By now the rain had eased; we were back in shorts and t-shirts, with water from our wet rucksacks draining neatly into our shorts.

We soon passed a huge power station before strolling into les Eaux Chaudes,  where the first place you come to is Auberge la Caverne, our resting place for the night. We made it just before the rain got going again. 

Miracles can happen.  Sue's camera battery charger had arrived. She nearly choked on her tea when I discovered it (the assistant cook had been left in charge and he lacked my confidence when it came to rummaging behind the reception desk).

I called Mike in Luchon to discover more about my destroyed sleeping bag. Apparently a lunatic had entered and run amok in his B&B, destroying my sleeping bag in the process. So anyone staying at Villa Portillon over the next few months may well discover some of my feathers. Apparently Mike's wife arrived home to find the perpetrator dressed in one of their nightgowns, covered in blood and in the process of trying to destroy their car, having already wreaked havoc in the house. She tried to chase him away but was attacked. Luckily they are all ok, and nothing too major has suffered. My sleeping bag, albeit rather a nice RAB 400, can be replaced. 

We sat down to dinner with a group of tourists and locals, as last night, not expecting any GR10 encounters, when who should turn up but Françoise (perhaps spelt correctly for a change).  She had walked, aided by her new crampons, all the way via GR10, though like us she's steering clear of the Hourquette d'Arre. 

We wonder how everyone else we've bumped into is getting on, and we'd also like to know whether the path from Arrens-Marsous to Cauterets is possible without crampons. If not, we may have no choice but to take the bus.

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Occasional Pyrenean Flowers (5)

We've enjoyed the sight of these Spreading Bellflowers (Campanula patula) by the wayside more or less since we set off.

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Sunday 30 June 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 16 - Stage 12 variant - Lescun to Bedous

Distance: 15 km (Cum: 224 km)      

Ascent: 700 metres (Cum: 11,540 metres)
                     
Time taken: 7.25 hrs including 2.25 hrs stops                                     

Weather: sunny, with a bank of cloud arriving later from the north, and a wind from the north

The tooth threatening toast served up for breakfast by Hotel du Pic d'Anie's old matriarch's son was taken in the approximate company of the moustachioed gent who appears to know so much about Pyrenean routes. Unfortunately his well thumbed Cicerone guide rather gave him away. The classic guide by Veron, with all its HRP alternatives was not for him.

We did set off on GR10, but in the same direction as that from which we had arrived on Friday.  So this is more a Stage 12 alternative than a 'variant'.

The walk was actually superb, with fine views to the Cirque du Lescun and the Vallée d'Aspe as well as the long view towards Pic du Midi d'Ossau for a while. The paths were also brilliant apart from one near Accous, on GR65.3, which had mutated into a fast flowing stream. 

After 40 minutes we abandoned our retracing of GR10 and headed off into the unknown - well, into an area with no waymarking.

The path is actually called the Tour de la Vallée d'Aspe, and rises through beautiful wild flower meadows where the pollen from the grasses we brushed against glinted in clouds in the sun, to about 1500 metres from Lescun's 900 metres. 

After providing fine views of the cirque, it moves into lovely beech woods interspersed with meadows that would be great for wild camping. 

The sky was a pure blue. We thought of Simon tramping along Veron's HRP route on the distant skyline with a touch of envy.

Asphodel was still in flower here. Everything is very late in flowering, due to the late spring. For example, Dog's Tooth Violet, which we saw in vast quantities on the descent to Lescun, is supposed to flower between February and April. 

After our high point we descended to a signpost in the woods at about 1400 metres, pointing towards our next objective, Cabane du Boué, which turned out to be a shepherd's bothy. 

We paused for half an hour in the vicinity of a number of day walkers and a couple of trial bikers, just below the cabane. Sue is pictured here, looking across the Aspe valley towards Pic du Midi d'Ossau, which you can just pick out in the distance - especially if you are familiar with its distinctive profile. 

Continuing down, we were pleased to be able to repay a French favour by rescuing two misplaced tourists. After retrieving them to the path we were able to point them in the direction of the cabane.

It was hot. An adder scurried away, narrowly avoiding my unintentional boot.

The verges lower down were lined with Welsh Poppies and Red Campion. A red kite glided overhead. We are seeing fewer birds of prey now.

A grassy spot in the middle of a track did for lunch, with views to a huge bank of cloud that was slowly impinging from the north. 

We thought we'd have to descend to Lées-Athas and double back along a road to reach the path to Accous, our planned destination to the north east of Lescun, but a steep and winding shortcut brought us out, past climbers on a huge wall of rock, and a memorial to those killed in the war with Algeria from 1954 to 1962 (I think), at a big EDF hydro plant at Pont d'Esquit.

From there we headed up the GR65.3 river path and into Accous. It was something of a surprise to find the red and white GR path markers. Perhaps the route postdates my twenty five year old maps!

We arrived in Accous at 2.30 - in plenty of time to sort out accommodation, or so we thought. 

We had called the Gite Despourrins yesterday and left a booking message on their answerphone, but had received no acknowledgement. A piece of paper in their 'Accueille' (reception) area gave a phone number. Still on the answerphone.  We walked up to a Chambres d'Hote, on the way meeting a helpful man who had given directions to the gite. He thought the owner would arrive at 4, and meals would be provided. The Chambres d'Hote was full, but they kindly called someone in Aydius - some way on along our route, with no success. 'The gite person should arrive soon', they assured us.

We returned to the deserted gite and after considerable further effort established that it wasn't going to open today. They might have had the courtesy to either answer their phone or let us know. 

By now it was nearly 4 pm. We tried Aydius again. "The road is closed" was the response. 

We'll worry about that tomorrow - hopefully it's only closed to cars.

Turning our attention to Bedous, a little further down the valley, Sue now rang 'Chez Michel' who it appeared might be ablr to supply a room and a restaurant. 

Michel answered immediately. Yes and yes. Brilliant. So 45 minutes later, after a 3km walk and a pause to watch a paraglider, we were installed in as good a room as we've had all trip. Michel is apparently connected with the Roux family, and his cooking perhaps supports that claim. We have enjoyed a superb meal in the very friendly atmosphere of his restaurant. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary