Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Saturday 10 August 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 57 - Amélie-les-Bains

Weather: sunny and hot

Last night was spent most enjoyably with a 'blast from the past', David, and his wife Jan. 

You may recall that the first week of our trip was spent walking in the rain with David and his pal John. 

Last night David and Jan kindly accepted an invitation to join me for dinner, and they even more kindly relieved me of a box of camping gear. 

It felt deceptively light. I'm sure that it must have been more than the two kilos that David thought he was taking home. He is of course now committed to meeting me in Banyuls in a few days time in order to repatriate said box. 

Anyway, we had a most pleasurable evening and I'm pleased to report that David's poorly foot that, combined with the snow conditions on GR10, resulted in an early bath for him and John, is now better. 

I wonder whether they will continue the adventure next year?

This morning was spent exploring the environs of Amélie. Then Nathalie provided an excellent lunch at the campsite, and this afternoon my remaining items of clothing have been thoroughly washed and I've enjoyed watching another Mo Farah triumph.

Dinner at Hotel le Regina's good restaurant will follow.  Nathalie will join me, so this off-route rest day will be rather more sociable than expected. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Occasional Pyrenean Flowers (19)

Globeflowers have, together with Marsh Marigolds, graced places damp with gently running water for the entire crossing of the Pyrenees. 

English Irises however were only seen on a short section between El Serrat and Refuge du Rulhe. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - department of botany

Occasional Pyrenean Tractors (5)

More a tractor unit than a tractor, but I was getting desperate. 

This one was parked outside the Mines de Batère gîte.

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Friday, 9 August 2013

Friday 9 August 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 56 - Stage 47 (part) - Mines de Batère to Amélie-les-Bains

Distance: 17 km (Cum: 868 km)     

Ascent: 100 metres (Cum: 48,230 metres)
                     
Time taken: 5.0 hrs including 1.5 hrs stops                                     

Weather: sunny and warm

A short morning descending to Arles-sur-Tech behind Uli and Peter. The woodland paths were a delight, so I didn't rush. Unlike in 2004, there was no storm on the horizon. 

Extensive views to Perpignan and the Mediterranean had disappeared after yesterday's final col, leaving us today with pleasant but more limited vistas to the Tech valley and to our route ahead. 

Pine woods are now the main feature of the landscape, as you can see from the picture taken on the descent to Arles.

The path was also marked as a mountain bike trail, in places very challenging as such. I for one would be walking sections if going downhill, and I'd certainly be pushing uphill. The dragonflies could be a problem, they are huge around here and I don't envy the cyclist who gets one of them in his eye, or stuck up a nostril. 

After snacking by the river, the boys headed off up towards the Moulin de la Palette gite whilst I pottered along the riverside path in the company of a community of Jays and Martins for the 4km to Amélie. 

It was warm. So the beer, anchovy salad and a plate of chips at Au Poivre Vert went down very well. A waiter from Florida quizzed me about the walk. "I think I'll do it in October" he informed me. "I don't think so! " I replied. He must be a fairly recent arrival in these parts. "I've run lots of marathons" he added, justifying his ability to walk GR10. We agreed a compromise would be sensible, and he now hopes to start his Pyrenean walking adventures with a stroll up Pic du Canigou on a fine day.

Hotel 'le Regina' is on the main street. Sue had kindly booked me in for a couple of nights, and Danièle has been most welcoming, especially after a long conversation during which she eventually understood the reason for my asking for a cardboard box. I suspect it's not a common request! 

So now I'm waiting for my clothes - all freshly washed - to dry before my next foray. There will be plenty of time tomorrow to write about that, as it's my first full rest day since Seix, several weeks ago, and a final pause before the last short lap of my journey to Banyuls. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Thursday 8 August 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 55 - Stage 45 and 46 (variant over Pic du Canigou - Refuge de Mariailles to Mines de Batère

Distance: 33 km (Cum: 851 km)     

Ascent: 1370 metres (Cum: 48,130 metres)
                     
Time taken: 9.5 hrs including 2.0 hrs stops                                     

Weather: cloud above about 2300 metres at first, sunny afternoon

A really enjoyable day on Pic du Canigou with Uli and Peter, and we were joined by Jan and Oliver for the evening, encountering various others on the way. 

Sadly, visibility on Canigou was somewhat limited. It was quite chilly. Gloves came in handy for those who had them handy. The path up Canigou was very gentle apart from the final 'staircase'.

It's a busy mountain but we had to wait a while for someone to turn up to take the top picture. 
 
Sue will remember the orientation table. 

The bottom picture was taken after we had got down below the cloud base.

After an hour in the busy refuge - Chalet-Hôtel des Cortalets - we continued, soon along a lovely contouring path that must once have been a mining tramway. 

A short haul through lovely pine forest over a final col led to the descent to this busy gite. Luckily Sue's booking service had worked, Uli and Peter managed to get a room, and Jan and Oliver managed to get fed. Very nice too. But they have to camp somewhere nearby.

We left the mushrooms for Pierre and Yolaine to harvest. 

A full and sociable day, hence the brevity of today's posting. I'm sure you'll understand, especially as my last phone battery is on the wane. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Wednesday 7 August 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 54 - Stages 42 to 44 variant (3) - Refugi Ulldeter to Refuge de Mariailles

Distance: 21 km (Cum: 818 km)     

Ascent: 620 metres (Cum: 46,760 metres)
                     
Time taken: 7.25 hrs including 1.5 hrs stops                                     

Weather: high cloud and some light rain at first, turning to sunny periods

Despite the high cloud, today's weather was much better than on the last occasion I was here, with Sue nine years ago. I recall spending much of that day in a cloud. 

Today both cloud and rain just about held off, and despite the predictions of high temperatures as we approach the coast, they have actually struggled to get much above 20°C over the past couple of days, with the cool wind from Spain causing fleeces to be donned for the first time in weeks. We had got used to a steady 25 to 30°C.

After descending from the refuge we quickly rose back up to a col at 2384 metres, having already completed most of the day's ascent.  We then spent several hours at around 2200 metres, heading relentlessly towards the Canigou massif. 'We' comprised an advance party - Peter and Uli, a group of four French, and two gents I haven't got to know. Plus me. Natalie (last seen outside El Serrat) comprised an advance advance party, having stayed at a cabane on Pla Guillem last night. 

Looking back to yesterday's ridge (pictured top), it looked as if Kevan and John would have a reasonable day for their march to Nuria. You may think it's blue sky, but in fact it was dark grey!

The middle picture is for Sue, who will remember the location where we brewed up in a cloud. I did the same today, in rather more intermittent cloud. The last tea bag from Luchon was duly expended and now I have half a gas cylinder to give away. 

The bottom picture shows a more representative view from today, with cloud bimbling up and down the valleys, and at times engulfing Canigou itself.

Encountered en route were several shepherds cabins, with roofs varying from stone to grass to metal; numerous large birds of prey as well as Swifts and Wheatears; and lots of horses and cattle. 

I arrived at the Refuge before 3pm, with plenty of time to get sorted out and shower before a big influx of what looked like Tour Aventure clients, judging by their huge kit bags.

I've looked at tonight's menu, which is quite interesting. The nettle soup will be accompanied by a side dish of fried grasshoppers (I was sad not to be able to cook this dish the other night, when I was foiled by having run out of lard - I suppose, on reflection, I could have used chocolate). Ceps have apparently been collected and will be transformed into an omelette using vultures' eggs (the vultures are a pest hereabouts and this is considered a humane form of culling them). The goat has almost been milked to death for the goats cheese soufflé, and the even more shocked chicken will be providing some tasty nuggets. It's bilberry tart for dessert, of course. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Tuesday 6 August 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 53 - Stages 42 to 44 variant (2) - Plateau de la Beguda to Refugi Ulldeter

Distance: 13 km (Cum: 797 km)     

Ascent: 1000 metres (Cum: 46,140 metres)
                     
Time taken: 6.5 hrs including 2.0 hrs stops                                      

Weather: sunny, with high cloud

Humphrey has translated last night's wild camp location as 'The Drinking Field'. It's pictured, top, from today's initial ascent to the ridge. The spring water certainly tasted as sweet as many a beer. I'm now enjoying some of the real stuff at this excellent Spanish refuge, in the company of a couple of gents from Saddleworth and their Dutch friends. 

Yesterday Sue managed to book accommodation for me all the way to Banyuls, so this was my last wild camp of the trip. A fitting location. The wild camping angel was breathing down on it, leaving me with a crispy-dry tent that doesn't need airing, even before the sun was up.

Once up on the ridge, past two big herds of barking Izard (sorry Nick, they were quite distant and I wasn't fast enough with the phone camera) I could easily ascend to Pic d'Elna. From there, Pic de Noufonts, the high point of the day at 2861 metres, was easily reached. The ongoing ridge curved into the distance like a wriggling snake or a fairground ride. It was great. Quite a few people around but not too crowded, and the short day encouraged lots of rests. 

There was a brisk wind from Spain, seemingly trying to repel cloud arriving from France. My fleece was donned for the first time in weeks. Out of the wind it was hot, so frequent 'fleece' stops were appropriate. They provided an excuse to admire the views, one of which - to Estany de Carança to the north - is shown above. 

On the final summit the Canigou massif appeared - the final big mountain on this long trip.

Nearby was a strange ice axe memorial to Elena Fernandez Mañe (1964 to 2003). On the descent, birds of prey floated in the sky above whilst large white butterflies fluttered haphazardly above the flowers. 

So, a wonderful easy ridge walk at around 2800 metres, then a leisurely descent along GR11 before rising to another col (Coll de la Marrana) and strolling down to the friendly refuge. It's a different place to the one Sue and I visited nine years ago - in feel if not in fabric. 

I was there by 3pm. Also here is Peter, a Dutchman with a German friend, Ulli, who is going my way. He walked the Appallachan Trail last year. All of it. Respect! 

There are also two chaps from Saddleworth, Kevan and John, with their Dutch friends, Lambert, William and Twan (Tony), who are walking a local five day circuit. 

Altogether a very sociable place. Dinner, very tasty, with Ulli and a friendly French couple who live in Barcelona. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Monday 5 August 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 53 - Stage 41 (part)/42 to 44 variant (1) - La Cabanasse to Plateau de la Beguda in Vallée d'Eyne

Distance: 18 km (Cum: 784 km)     

Ascent: 1200 metres (Cum: 45,140 metres)
                     
Time taken: 8.75 hrs including 2.75 hrs stops                                     

Weather: sunny and hot

Another tremendous day in the mountains, taken at a very leisurely pace with lots of breaks in the shade, as I knew that an early camp would be too hot to cope with, and amongst the day walkers in an area where only sunset to sunrise bivouacing is allowed. My timing was perfect. I arrived at 5pm, just as the last day walkers were taking pictures of the izards and the sun's strength was just about bearable for camping in the open. 

The site (pictured below) really is a cracker, with a spring within feet and no discernable nuisance bugs. Grasshoppers aren't a nuisance, are they?  It's a fitting spot to end this series of fine wild camps, from Luchon to here, and avoid the anticlimax of lesser positions as I progress towards the coast. I know Humphrey has made some suggestions, and I thank him for that, but my recollection is that camping spots and water become more problematic from here. Also, that would have involved lugging extra provisions all the way from La Cabanasse, which would have been a pain. Literally, I pulled a back muscle yesterday and it's a bit stiff today. I'm bending down like an old man. (Oops, I probably do that all the time.)

Anyway, half board in a few gîtes and refuges should be a more sociable way of completing the walk than isolating myself in the tent. 

So I've just eaten my last tin of Thon à la Catalane for a while. I'm actually a bit sad about that.

Knowing it was a relatively easy day, I pottered off quite late at 8.30am, then stocked up at the local épicerie - exactly €20, which amused the cashier, it was the chocolatine croissant that did it. 

I then followed GR10 on lovely paths to Planès, the end of stage 41 in the Cicerone guide. I sat for a while in a good spot overlooking the village (the croissant was delicious), before strolling back a few metres to the GR36 turn. During which time a very sweaty and very puzzled 'Orange t-shirt' man appeared from the other direction. He was heavily disguised today. Wearing a blue t-shirt. We communicated briefly in 'Mapspeak' - our common language for the day, shook hands, and set off in our respective directions. 

The section of the GR36 path from Planès to Eyne is called 'Balcons de la Tête', and undulates in a south westerly direction, starting up grasshopper meadows with Yellow Rattle and Scabiouses, before entering woodland for quite a while. 

The woods seemed full of mushroom pickers and families with small children. 

There were fine views across the plateau to the Carlit peaks, bathed in sunshine on another cloudless day. (See top picture.)

After the enjoyable traverse, where once more there was lots of Eryngo, the GR route sloped into Eyne by a back entrance, and then tried to slope out without really entering village. I had plenty of time so went for a wander around. A pretty place, with a small but perfectly shut church and an Auberge with lots of awards. 

But today I had a heavy load, so instead of indulging in the fleshpot of Eyne, I headed on past the GR36 turn and up the Vallée d'Eyne. A large rock in the shady woods provided an excellent spot for a long lunch with a rare brew. I'm trying to use up the gas, and gave away Graham's surplus cylinder this morning. 

Then I spent the whole afternoon pottering along, stopping frequently, meeting loads of day walkers coming back down, and admiring the flowers. It's known as the Valley of the Flowers, but we've been in many valleys with more flowers on this trip. Admittedly they did improve once the cow zone had been cleared, and the Houseleeks were particularly abundant. I'm now in the Izard and Marmot zone - perhaps they also eat all the flowers.

There were occasional pauses as well to assist and encourage the Pyrenean booking service, which has now completed that task. Thanks go to Sue for that most valuable service. ..

Humphrey suggested a route south, shortly before GR10 reaches Refuge de l'Orry, reaching the ridge that I'll be walking along tomorrow at Coll de Noufonts. Well worth considering - the path should be quieter, and camping opportunities look good. 

However, it's brilliant here, with the Izards and Marmots more or less ignoring me now I'm settled in. 

Gear failures - latest:
Sunglasses - new for the trip - falling to bits
Shoe laces - new for the trip - broken
Pacer pole - tip failure
X-socks - new for the TGO Challenge - gone to holes
Travel Tap water filter - new for the TGO Challenge - thread faulty - luckily not needed as a filter
Scsrpa Infinity boots - will only just make it to Banyuls (I hope!)

Good gear:
Terra Nova Solar Competition 2 tent
Saucony Hattori shoes
Lowe-Alpine Nanon 50/60 Hyperlite rucksack
RAB ankle gaiters
MSR Superfly stove (very old but very good)
Samsung galaxy S3 - I'm slowly getting used to it - in a different league to its BlackBerry predecessor
Suunto Altimax watch/altimeter (very old but keeps going)

That's all for now, future postings may be less verbose.

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Sunday 4 August 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 51 - Stage 40 (part)/41 (part) - just west of Coll de Coma d'Anyell to La Cabanasse

Distance: 31 km (Cum: 766 km)     

Ascent: 630 metres (Cum: 43,940 metres)
                     
Time taken: 9.25 hrs including 1.75 hrs stops                                     

Weather: sunny and hot

I was up early enough to see the man in the orange t-shirt go past, shortly before I left my idyllic spot soon after 8am. He's a nice chap. We lunched together later.  It's just a shame that his English is as bad as my French, so we more or less have to resort to sign language. 

I spent five years being taught French. Mostly learning lists of words. And soon forgetting them.  I seem to have absorbed very little of what I was taught. 

On my campsite wanderings I noticed a small cabin hidden away just below me. Unusually, it had solar panels and appeared to be occupied. I didn't approach more closely for fear of startling the residents. I didn't notice the cabin from the path. 

Anyway, by 8.30am I was up at the col admiring more splendid mountain views. Pic Carlit is dominant here, with seemingly no further barriers to the Mediterranean behind it. 

Snow patches added a bit of spice to the descent towards a large lake, Étang de Lanos, before an easy climb to the second col of the day, Porteille de la Grave (2426 metres). From here there was a long, gentle descent, much like a bouldery version of Glen Avon's route towards Ballater. The mountains to the east looked more distant and sparser than we've been used to. With low cloud on the eastern horizon, it seemed a bit like looking towards the north sea from the Lake District. 

It was hot again. I ate my last bar of Lindt Double Lait. It was either that or another chocolate melt dessert. 

Wild flowers were flourishing on the long descent to Bouillouses - Spring Gentians, Moss Campion and Common Monkshood were particularly abundant, as were increasing numbers of cattle, horses and tourists. 

Today's pictures were taken on this descent, both at the same bridge, the top one looking back and the bottom one looking forward. 

By the time Lac de Bouillouses was reached, the whole area seemed to be seething with people - day walkers, backpackers, picnickers,  etc. There were numerous family groups who looked as if they were carrying the kit for a night out - there is a multitude of camping spots up the long valley. 

I pitched up at Auberge du Carlit at 1pm and was pleased when 'Orange t-shirt man' beckoned me to his table, and the last remaining seat in the shade. My tinned fish can wait, the ham and cheese baguette went down well. 

He left before me, heading for Bolquère.  I followed, and soon found myself behind 'Hobo man', with his distinctive yellow cape. "Are you doing GR10?" he asked. "Sort of" I replied, and hastened past.

The paths to La Cabanasse were pleasant enough at the start (fine views across meadows to the Carlit peaks) and finish (rural scenes of haymaking etc), but two long forest sections in the middle were quite wearing. One was down a never ending bouldery chute. I was glad I wasn't on a mountain bike. Then a long undulating track passing below Pyrenees 2000 (a place) really did go on for ages. Moreover, it seemed mainly uphill! 

It was after 4pm when I reached Bolquère, where some sort of  fancy dress carnival was under way. It looked a nice place. I explored and found a shop with a supply of cold drinks that was most welcome as I'd forgotten to refill my water bottle at lunch time, and down here there aren't the springs that I've become used to. But the village lacked a vital component. I was running out of cash and no vendor of cash was to be seen. 

So I carried on for a good hour, enjoying watching the 'Train Jaune' potter up and down the narrow guage railway line that I thought I'd have to use tomorrow to seek out that cash.

It was nearly 5.30pm when I rolled up at the 'Camping Rural' site - Camping les Opilleres - 500 metres south east from the GR10 as it enters the village. By 6.30pm my washing was on the line and I set off in search of food, etc. 

The restaurant recommended in Cicerone's web supplement to its GR10 guide was curiously absent, so I strolled on up the hill to Mont-Louis, where I wish I'd had time to explore the old fort.

Oh joy!  A cash machine. A restaurant. All that I needed to round off another fine day on GR10. 

And I had a good chat with Sue, who would make a fine booking agent. Actually, she is a fine booking agent. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Saturday 3 August 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 50 - Stage 39/40 (part) - Mérens-les-Vals to a small lake to the west of Coll de Coma d'Anyell (2340 metres)

Distance: 13 km (Cum: 735 km)     

Ascent: 1500 metres (Cum: 43,310 metres)
                     
Time taken: 5.75 hrs including 1.25 hrs stops                                     

Weather: cloudy then sunny with sharp showers. Continuing hot

Wow! 50 days. And I'm still enjoying it despite being on my own. I've found a fantastic wild camp location here at 2340 metres after a really good walk today. 

Last night's meal at gite d'etape du Nabre was excellent. Aperitif, then a vast mixed salad, shepherd's pie, cheese, trifle and coffee. Just as well there was a lot as I was sitting next to a glutton. Luckily I had two nice Catalonians from Ibiza opposite me, on a seven day walking route south to north from Porta. They spoke even less French than me (is that possible?) so we got on fine.  That's despite being blanked by Macho Man the glutton, who was holding fort with what I imagine were stories in adulation of his 30 day GR10 crossing. Perhaps I'm being unfair, he did answer when spoken to and nudged, and he replied in perfectly fluent English, in as few words as possible, before turning back to his preferred audience and helping himself to more food. He left at 6am this morning, thankfully considerately quietly, off to inflict his Macho image on another unsuspecting group tonight.

(Perhaps that's how I was with Ron, earlier on the trip - I wonder where he is now - what goes round comes round, as they say.)

Breakfast was a much more pleasant affair, largely because Pierre and Yolaine were present. They were absent last night, having completed their assignment and had dinner in Ax with Pierre's parents. It was a fittingly jolly occasion (breakfast, and I'm sure their dinner was likewise).  We parted company for good after breakfast as P&Y are having a day off and will be a day behind me from now on. The top picture is the last you'll see of them on this trip, though we did promise to meet again. 

"Perhaps on that walk across Scotland", suggested Pierre, a possible victim of my TGO Challenge sales pitch several weeks earlier! 

Despite the good forecast, it was cloudy this morning. Trouser legs were zipped on as horse flies were expected (but apparently they will disappear after today). In the event, I didn't see any, so the legs soon came off. It was all rather irrelevant when the rain started, as the flies would have found exposed skin hard to come by. 

The rain stopped and I passed a hobo like old man I'd seen yesterday, washing in the river.

A little string of people coming down from Refuge des Bésines politely gave way, depriving me of the chance of a short break. But I was going well, so no worries. 

I reached Porteille des Bésines in rain, but the waterproofs were soon off again for the stroll down to the refuge. A coke and a cheese omelette went down well. 

With rain again threatening, I walked for another hour up to this delightful spot, arriving at 2pm.  So it's another half day!

The rain came just as I had the tent up, so I spent a while inside, but most of the afternoon has been spent lounging around in sunshine in these lovely surroundings. 

There have been fewer flowers today, perhaps because of a change in the type of rock, which now supports pine trees to a higher level, and there's lots of Alpenrose and other shrubbery. As well as grasshoppers and ants. 

Numerous people have been past whilst I've been here, mostly heading back to the Bésines refuge. I suppose it is the weekend, and a popular area.

The only downside of this camping spot is the number of resident ants, but now it has cooled down a bit (7pm) and dinner has been served (soup, pasta, salmon, fresh tomato, with a chocolate 'melt' dessert), it's very cosy in the tent with the midge net up. 

So with Pierre and Yolaine now behind me, I think I've lost all the rest of the Jeandel 14. Some have gone home, some, like Roland and Marie, are still 'on the road', Gilles was due to finish his HRP trip yesterday - not that far behind Simon - and of course we know where P&Y are. (At this moment they are enjoying a lavish dinner in Ax with Pierre's parents.) But there's no signal here, so by the time you read this that moment will have passed!

That leaves a couple of good friends not mentioned, but more of them later, I hope. 

Oh, I nearly forgot to report back on P&Y's incredibly important assignment.  They had been despatched to Aulus to investigate the blue tractor. Returning with photos of side plates, end plates, front plates and just about any other plate you can think of, their research reveals the following:

'Super 7' - on the bodywork
'Made in France' - unclear whether it's the whole or part of the tractor, and the same applies to
'Roto Diesel'
'Paris Rhone'
'Kuhn'
Could it be a Kuhn Super 7?

The photos are available (tractor geeks only)

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Occasional Pyrenean Flowers (18)

The ubiquitous Alpenrose (Rhododendron ferrugineum).

Very ubiquitous in the Carlit area.

Sent from our GR10 trip - floral department