Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Friday, 19 July 2013

Friday 19 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 34 - Stage 25 (part)/26 (variant) - Étang d'Uls to Sentein via Pic de Crabère (2629 metres)

Distance: 17 km (Cum: 510 km)     

Ascent: 700 metres (Cum: 28,650 metres)
                     
Time taken: 8.5 hrs including 2.25 hrs stops                                     

Weather: sunny and hot - a brilliant day

Clear skies were expected, given the drop in temperature in our tents. They duly arrived, and we were away by 7.30am, just before the sun would have hit the tents. 

A tramp west, through dew sodden grass, and past Dog's Tooth Violets and evidence of moles, soon located the GR10 path, along which we headed - across a snow slope visible from our tents - to Pas de Bouc and Col d'Aueran. Graham diverted to a minor peak (or two?) whilst I ditched my rucksack and headed up the 450 metre climb to Pic de Crabère. I met a couple of girls coming down, and reached the 2629 metre summit with ... you maybe guessed - Pierre and Yolaine. They had stayed overnight in Refuge de L'Étang d'Araing and were bagging this hill before continuing on to the gite at Eylie.

This popular peak, on the border with Spain, enjoys a fine mountain view in all directions. Pierre's map was spread out on the windless summit by a cornice beyond which oblivion awaited the unwary. A fabulous spot. In perfect weather. 

Graham arrived after a while, and obliged by taking today's picture from the summit. 

Sue will be sad to have missed this high point, especially as P&Y were there.

Apparently a pair of Lammergauer vultures live hereabouts, but they don't get going until a bit later in the morning, when the thermals are better. So we missed them. And the bears.

We ambled down at our own paces, meeting Philippe and six of his teenage charges on the way up. Philippe looked very macho in his leader's uniform! We picked up our bags at the col (me and Graham anyway) and headed down to the Refuge for Caffè au Lait.

Au revoir, P&Y, "a bientot". (?)

The Tour du Biros path to Sentein was a delight. After dropping gently over open ground for 500 metres or so, it entered beautiful beech woods for the remainder of the descent to the valley. There were a few people around, but the path could hardly be described as busy.

The facilities in Sentein are basic - a campsite and an alimentary (basic food shop). But 'oh joy' - for the first time in two weeks we have reached somewhere little affected by the inundation. There is no mud!

They were lucky. This is on the very edge of the wide area of devastation that has affected Spanish towns and villages as much as it has affected the French places we have been through. 

We were able to re-stock, and purchase ingredients - including an essential bottle of vino - for a tasty stew, in this quiet - verging on the 'dead' on the 'quiet' scale, village. 

Goodbye for now, from a lovely evening in France. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Thursday 18 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 34 - Stage 25 (part) - Fos to Étang d'Uls

Distance: 15 km (Cum: 493 km)     

Ascent: 1400 metres (Cum: 27,950 metres)
                     
Time taken: 5.25 hrs including 0.75 hrs stops                                     

Weather: sunny at first, clouding over by 1pm, raining by 3pm

We should have known better than to try St-Béat yesterday.  I wanted to give them some business after their troubles, but they were still clearing up, and with no food available we made the decision to go up to Fos. 

The whole valley has been inundated with a thick layer of mud - I'd guess about 8 inches. As Fos is a bit higher it hasn't been so badly affected. But Philippe had spent the last three weeks shovelling mud when he should have been getting his accommodation ready for guests. We used it anyway. Thanks Philippe. 

Thanks also to Pierre and Yolaine, who must think we are stalking them. It was helpful to have their assistance with the gite booking yesterday, and a pleasure to have their company last night. 

We breakfasted with them and set off up the GR10 path around 8.30am, half an hour after they had left. We'd waited for fresh bread to be delivered for our 'picnic' provisions. Pierre and Yolaine had got food last night from the small shop that the Cicerone website said was closed.  That was our reason for going to St-Béat, whose shops are currently submerged in mud.

It was something of a surprise to come across Pierre and Yolaine fairly soon after we'd set off. They are pictured with Graham, explaining how both they and a couple of Dutch lads had taken a wrong turn and found themselves on an alternative GR10 path back to Fos.

The route spent a gentle 8km or so on tarmac before heading up steeply into trees. A fine track all the way - an old mining/mule track I'd guess. 

We passed and re-passed both Pierre and Yolaine and the Dutch pair, who introduced themselves as Matthew and Jonathan. They are backpacking GR10 from Luchon to Aulus-les-Bains, a nine day trip, so we may see them again. 

Incidentally, Roland and Marie apparently decided to omit a section of the route after needing to visit Lourdes for 'repairs'.  So they are now a few days ahead.

There was a slightly iffy stream crossing under a huge bank of snow. We all got across that fine, but Jonathan seemed to have executed a nose dive into some thick mud the other side when we wandered past.

We arrived at our planned camping place - Cabane d'Uls - shortly before 1pm, which was about when the rain was due to arrive. I insisted on eating my lunch. Graham wanted to wait until after we'd set up camp, so waited patiently for me to finish. 

We then decided to divert from the GR10 path and head for a further half hour or so to this small lake, Étang d'Uls. On the way we passed Pierre and Yolaine. "Just like Scotland" they correctly observed. Our campsite is shown, shortly before the rain arrived, and indeed it could be an image from the TGO Challenge! 

It's a perfect spot, with no animals and no troublesome insects. Perhaps the bears have seen off all the other animals. ..

There's no phone signal, so if this posting does transmit you'll know we have survived the bear threat for at least tonight. 

Having got the tents up by 2pm we've been able to enjoy an indulgently lazy afternoon and evening, rather confined to barracks due to the rain. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Occasional Pyrenean Flowers (12)

The Great Yellow Gentian - swathes of it are just coming into flower. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Wednesday 17 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 33 - Stage 24 (variant b) - Camp near Border Stone 386 to Fos

Distance: 28 km (Cum: 478 km)      

Ascent: 980 metres (Cum: 26,550 metres)
                     
Time taken: 11.25 hrs including 3.0 hrs stops                                     

Weather: cloudy morning, then sunny periods before evening showers

A long day, not without a few difficulties. 

It started well, with a synchronized 7am departure from our excellent camping spot. It took just a couple of minutes to regain the broad ridge,  and then a couple of hours to reach the GR10 path from Luchon. 

Overnight rain had left the vegetation soaking wet, so that slowly seeped into my leaky boots, despite wearing gaiters.

Goats and Fire Salamanders littered the path (Pierre and Yolaine later reported seeing a huge viper), and choughs and cloud rolled in - obscuring the expansive mountain views, albeit cloud laden views. 

A shepherd was passed, and we saw a couple of people ahead, but nobody else was seen before the descent to St-Béat.

There were many good camping spots on the descent beyond L'Étang du Dessus. 

We abandoned GR10 at the Cabanes des Courraus, heading along a path marked with red and yellow paint, in the direction of St-Béat. It was clearly a little used route. The going as far as the Col de la Lisse was a repeat of our 'jungle' experience earlier on the trip. We had to make our way over steep ground, negotiating fallen trees and slippery rocks. It was a relief to reach the col. Time for lunch. 

Happily, the path down to St-Béat was somewhat easier, though that didn't prevent a mishap.

All went well down to an open ended cabin at about 1100 metres. Today's picture - of the Garonne valley - was taken from here.  We'd already passed a couple of bothies that could provide accommodation for the desperate. We weren't desperate. I pottered on down the path after a relaxing break, with Graham just behind. So far as I could see the path was well marked. But Graham missed the marks and spent the best part of an hour looking for me. Meanwhile I had ambled into the sadly devastated village of St-Béat. I knew there had been flood damage, but this seemed even worse than Barèges. A café and the Tourist Information were open. Very little else. The campsites we had planned to use were completely devastated, with caravan debris protruding from a deep layer of mud that has engulfed the whole valley. The nearest food shop was said to be a further 3km down the valley. 

Graham eventually appeared, having lost his hat as well as me. His state of happiness did not improve with the knowledge that St-Béat wasn't really a very good place to spend the night. 

Down or Up the valley?

We decided to go Up. A call to the gite brought no reply, so I sent a text message to Pierre, who I knew would be there tonight. He kindly set them up for our arrival. 

We rejoined GR10 rather than walk all the way up the busy road to Spain. This involved quite a bit more climbing. I won't say how much just in case Graham reads this - he may have preferred to stay lower.

The gite was full - of school parties unable to use the campsite. But we are happily installed in an annexe,  together with Pierre and Yolaine, with whom we've enjoyed the evening. 

I may add a bit more tomorrow, but it's time to close now as the bleeps from this gadget will be keeping Graham awake.

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Tuesday 16 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 32 - Stage 24 (variant) - Bagnères-de-Luchon to Spanish water point just beyond Border Post 386 (1850 metres)

Distance: 13 km (Cum: 450 km)      

Ascent: 1370 metres (Cum: 25,570 metres)
                     
Time taken: 5.0 hrs including 1.0 hrs stops                                     

Weather: overcast at the start, with a short shower before hot sunny intervals, then stormy

Inevitably, today's start was a little on the slow side. A sociable breakfast, settling up with Mike and Annette at Villa Portillon, a few whimpers from other guests who didn't like the feel of my rucksack (nor did I), and goodbyes to Sue who came with me to a rendezvous with Graham at the St-Mamet road junction. 

Photos at 9am to record the moment captured sight of our nice clean clothing and 15+ kilo bags before we embarked on a long, sweaty ascent. We didn't touch GR10 today, our aim being to traverse the Tuc de Bidur ridge before dropping down to camp at L'Étang du Dessus, which is on GR10. 

We made good speed up the steep trail that runs through the woods to the south of St-Mamet, before joining a surfaced road up to Herrau. A right turn before Sarousgas took us south west before finally delivering us to the ridge that we'd been aiming for all morning. 

It had taken over three hours, but given our heavy loads and an 1100 metre ascent, we were quite pleased with that. 

Lunch was taken at about 1pm near Pic de Saublanque, on the border with Spain beyond Border Post number 382. 

We then moved swiftly up to Tuc de Poujastou (2015 metres) and we then had our eyes firmly fixed on our next target, Tuc de Bidur. But to the west a black lump had enveloped the Néouvielle and was heading briskly in our direction. A storm. We continued along the easy but steep sided ridge with fine views, not expecting any escape route to appear. 

A water point (trough for cows, with a pipe from a spring) suddenly appeared below the remains of a cornice on the Spanish side just beyond Border Post 386. The storm was imminent so we rushed down and pitched our tents. Well, we tried - it always seems to be a bit hit and miss on these 'day 1' occasions. I managed to get my Terra Nova Solar Competition 2 up before the rain. The only problem was that the flysheet was inside out. So water poured in through the unprotected vents. I couldn't find a cloth, so had an interesting time with a minor flood.

Meanwhile, Graham was a bit slower with his Vaude Power Lizard,  and dived inside to avoid the rain, before installing the end poles. He finished up sitting out the storm in a puddle, literally. 

The tents had been pitched at 2pm. A bit early to stop for the day? We decided to re-pitch them properly and enjoy a brew. By which time it was 3.30pm. The weather looked clear for an hour or so,  but having found this nice spot (pictured) we decided to stay, and get an early start tomorrow. 

A good decision. Whilst the sun is shining at times, at other times the ridge is enveloped in cloud, and at 5.30pm, when we would still have been walking, we endured a violent thunderstorm. 

It's great up here. Wild camping is wonderful at times like this. 

PS Thanks for your comment Conrad. I think you are right. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Tuesday 16 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Phase Two

0900 - Luchon

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Monday, 15 July 2013

Monday 15 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 31 - On Holiday in Luchon

Not much walking today for Sue and me - about 4km, though Graham was despatched up Pic de Céciré (2403 metres) by way of altitude training.                               

Weather: sunny

Sue enjoyed her last day in Luchon by going swimming this morning and visiting the thermal baths (a series of long hot tunnels full of sulphurous vapours that cure all ills) this afternoon. She has a day off in Toulouse tomorrow before Jet2ing back to work on Wednesday. 

She's pictured above at Col de la Coume de Bourg, on Saturday, looking at the final barrier to our successful completion of 'Phase 1' of this two month trip. The cornice was of course safely negotiated.  Graham will have been there today on his own mini adventure. 

The second image is the last you'll see of me with Sue for a while, as veteran TGO Challenger, Graham - with 22 Challenges to his name, has chosen to accompany me on the next stage of this mission to wear my feet down to the bone.

Bye bye Sue! (Sob)

The bottom image shows Paul Lucia's excellent Cicerone guide for GR10. This is not our 'bible' as we have never intended to follow GR10 precisely, but it has been a valuable aid to the 23 stages completed so far, and I have based the daily headings on Paul's stage numbers in case any readers want to relate our own trip to the stages in the guide book.  The book has a little too much by way of detailed directions on how to follow the well waymarked path for my liking, and not enough peripheral information on points and places of interest, but I can see the rationale behind its structure. Indeed, some readers may well benefit from the detailed directions, especially in misty weather. 

Actually, apart from the three days from Lescun to Gourette, we have stayed pretty close to the GR10 route and its attendant facilities (gites etc).

As Graham and I have tents, we also have greater flexibility, so we'll be straying from GR10 by staying high at times, but also by diverting lower down valleys to re-supply and to seek out the odd restaurant.  The weather will also influence our itinerary. It seems set fair at present, subject to afternoon storms (mountain weather).

Since we'll be camping for much of the time, we'll have to move into a 'power saving' mode, so these entries may be shorter and responses to the few comments that are made may be rarer than the comments themselves, though I'll always agree that 'the world is always a better place in the warm afterglow of an Ashes victory!' (thanks Jules)

The remote nature of the area we are moving in to may delay some reports due to the lack of a phone signal. 

Other GR10 ers: 

We seem to have lost all except Pierre and Yolaine, who turned up here today. They took a longer, higher route and will rest here before continuing. They joined us tonight for beers, and an excellent meal at the Hotel of Two Countries. 

Kit check:

Only a few things have broken, all as a result of old age or incidents beyond their control.  My sleeping bag (vandalised), my Kindle (broken screen - I may have sat on it), trousers (ripped backside), t-shirt (yuk), Pacerpole tip (broken).  Some stuff such as thick gloves and over-mitts may not now be needed so will be sent home with Sue. 

Sue's kit has fared better. Had she been continuing from here she would have replaced her Bridgedale socks. Miraculously, her new Scarpa boots haven't been a problem, and her achilles tendon problem has been (just about) contained. 

My knee problems have also diminished. They have behaved quite reasonably after the first few days.

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Occasional Pyrenean Flowers (11)

Sorry, tractor lovers, there isn't one in sight. We have however seen several varieties of Spring Gentian during the course of our perambulations. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Sunday 14 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 30 - Bastille Day in Bagnères-de-Luchon

Walking around Luchon on our day off - maybe 6km.                               

Weather: sunny and hot after overnight rain - with the usual routine of afternoon showers. 

Last night we enjoyed good salads at Café de la Paix (which we went to by mistake - thinking it was the Glacier Restaurant recommended by Annette).  Then we admired a procession of Luchon's townsfolk and their various modes of transport, varying from police mountain bikes to full scale fire engines, with horse mounted 'guides' in hot pursuit, furiously cracking their whips.

Today everyone reassembled outside the church at noon for a more in depth performance. We'd collected Graham from the station by then, and enjoyed a coffee with him whilst looking on at the proceedings (pictured from our coffee cups), which took about half an hour before the entire entourage set off to march around the town, again. 

Then Graham himself was marched off to Camping Au Fil de l'Oô (formerly Beauregarde, where we've stayed before), where he will spend the next two nights. His mission as courier of my sparkling new sleeping bag having been accomplished, he now has the option of being sent home or being given another task.

Since my guide, Sue, has commitments in the UK, and has to leave at this point, I've decided to appoint Graham to the position of Assistant Guide. For the avoidance of doubt, and for consistency with his courier duties, this is an unpaid position. It lacks remuneration. 

"Ok, I'll get the train back from Vicdessos", Sue mouthed on behalf of Graham, who was tired from the overnight journey (despite the staff at Toulouse station providing a sleeping car for his sole use).

And that's it really. A day off in Luchon, with Graham's arrival, all our clothes machine washed thanks to Annette, England winning the first Ashes Test Match, and the prospect of a good meal followed by fireworks tonight and another day off tomorrow.  All is well with the world. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary