Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Friday, 3 July 2015

Friday 3 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 19 - Interlude 3 - A Peña Foratata Circuit

 
 
 
Distance: 10 km

Ascent: 900 metres

Time taken: 5.0 hrs

Weather: hot and sunny, breezy high up so much more pleasant to walk in than of late.

Today was supposed to be a complete rest day - my first since setting off. We were going to pop over to France for a gondola ride to a narrow gauge railway.

But Harry was the only taker for Clare's Peña Foratata walk from Formigal. It wouldn't 'run' with just one guest. So Sue and I came to the rescue.

It was conveniently short and gave excellent views as far back as my route into Sallent a week ago.

Lamergaiers were seen today, as well as a selection of other vultures, probably mainly Griffon and Egyptian, notably whilst Sue and Harry were at the top of the mountain, which required a scramble.

Clare and I waited a little lower, at a high col. Clare's not allowed to venture to such a scrambly place with guests for insurance reasons, but the guests are allowed into such life threatening places as long as it's of their own volition.

There were masses of flowers. The time passed quickly. As it did when we stopped for lunch in an idyllic meadow a little further down the mountain. Alpine Swifts were active here, and we could see a herd of twenty or more chamois cooling themselves on a distant snow patch.

Back in Formigal it was ice creams and cokes all round before returning to base. A short foray to Gorgol outdoor shop in Sallent resolved my sunglasses, camping gas and 'how to change an altimeter battery' problem, after which Sue went for a swim and I enjoyed another large beer. After a bit of preliminary packing...

Then we spent a lovely evening at Hotel Sabocos with friends new and old.

Transmissions may now be less reliable, as I head back into the wilds of the Pyrenees tomorrow.

Today's pictures:
Formigal and Embalse de Lanuza from the start of the walk
Peña Foratata (2295 metres) from the ascent
The view north from the slopes of Peña Foratata

Next Day - Day 20

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Thursday, 2 July 2015

Thursday 2 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 18 - Torla to beyond Ordesa Canyon road terminus, via Camping Valle de Bujaruelo

 
 
 
 
Distance: 20 km (Cum: 321 km)

Ascent: 700 metres (Cum: 15100 metres)

Time taken: 5.9 hrs including 1.0 hrs stops (Cum: 115.0 hrs including 21.8 hrs stops)

Weather: very hot, with sunshine and slowly building cloud

Tim and Paula kindly offered us the lift that enabled Sue to enjoy a good walk high in the Ordesa Canyon, whilst I could make a little GR11 progress from last night's stopping point to the Ordesa road head.

Thursday is 'Ordesa Canyon Day' for Collett's, but whilst the others all hopped on a bright blue bus that took them up the valley on an otherwise closed road - a similar system to that operated in Zion National Park - I strolled through the pretty village of Torla, then up the 7 km of road that took me back to the Bujaruelo campground. Back across the sturdy beige bridge and along the lovely woodland path, past a fisherman in the river, to Puen de Santa Elena. Here the path, which doubles as the Camino de Santiago en Sobrarbe pilgrim trail, crossed the gorge and took a splendid high route involving a few cables from time to time. I met a large group of children coming the other way.

Martagon lilies and St John's Wort were among the many plant species that lined the path that was also home to some very tuneful songbirds.

At the junction at the bottom, all paths seemed to lead to either Torla or Goriz. Choosing the latter, I found myself on the other side of the gorge to the bus lane, slowly rising in the wide canyon. Lunch was taken on a balcony with a view across to the much narrower Ara gorge.

By 2.30 I'd reached the road head, so I continued for half an hour before turning round in the face of a threat of rain. That threat came to nought, but I soon met Remy, Ann and Harry, so strolled down to the bus stop with them, enjoying the views either side of the gorge as we went.

They caught the first available bus. I bought a cold drink at the café and waited.

... and waited ...

... they must be with someone from Macclesfield Squash Club!

They were, eventually turning up after 5.30 after about 17 km with 800 metres ascent. Paula, desperate, was somewhat ahead of the pack.

And another jolly good evening was had by all, including James and Alison who have just arrived.

Today's pictures:
Starting out over the beige bridge
Ordesa Canyon views

Next Day - Day 19

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Wednesday July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 17 - Baños de Panticosa to Camping Valle de Bujaruelo

 
 
 
Distance: 24 km (Cum: 301 km)

Ascent: 1000 metres (Cum: 14400 metres)

Time taken: 8.6 hrs including 1.3 hrs stops (Cum: 109.1 hrs including 20.8 hrs stops)

Weather: sunny and very hot

Another good breakfast at Hotel Sabocos set Harry and me up for a good day on GR11.

We drove up to Baños de Panticosa and recommenced my GR11 traverse with just day sacks. This made the superbly graded 900 metre ascent to Cuello de Brazato past a very depleted reservoir, Ibón dero Brazato, less than taxing despite the noises coming from a distant pipe that sounded as if someone was trying to cut it into pieces using a powerful saw.

On the 2566 metre col, about 30 children from San Sebastian were enjoying  a backpacking trip from Panticosa. Harry was delighted to be in this wonderful spot. He sent an enthusiastic message to a good friend who sadly suffers from cerebral palsy.

Here but for the grace of ...

Boulderfields featured strongly in the descent to the Ara valley, together with stupendous views towards Vignemale.

The nice people at Sabocos Hotel had provided an excellent lunch. We ate it shortly before meeting Sue, who had driven round via Torla.

A knee deep crossing of the Ara united our threesome for the fairly windy three hour walk down to the medieval bridge at San Nicolás de Bujaruelo, where Sue enjoyed a cold dip in the river before driving 3 km back along the dirt road to pick up Harry and me. We'd continued that distance into the next stage of GR11 along a lovely undulating riverside path past a few pill box like 'caves' through shady woodland - shade that was most welcome on another day of temperatures in the 30's Centigrade.

The day also featured frequent marmots, the debris caused by unseen wild boar, and the usual proliferation of flowers - notably an ascent through Alpenrose and orchids, meadows of deep blue Irises, and hillsides tinted bright yellow with broom.

There were plenty of people about in the Ara canyon, and whilst I didn't spot any GR11 walkers, Sue may have met one or two as she walked up the valley from 1400 to 2000 metres to join us.

Welcome beers after the hour long drive back to Hotel Sabocos were as necessary as ever. As on all Collett's holidays, the staff have a day off on Wednesdays, so we went with the Irish contingent (Harry and Ann) and Stephen from Melbourne, for a lavish spread at the restaurant with two cows outside.

A full day, so a brief report. Thanks also for all your comments.

Today's pictures:
The morning view back down to Baños de Panticosa and its western ramparts
Backpacking children with Vignemale
Harry and me in the Ara valley

Next Day - Day 18

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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Tuesday 30 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 16 - Interlude 2 - The Lacs d'Ayous Circuit

 
 
 
Distance: 17 km

Ascent: 750 metres

Time taken: 5.0 hrs

Weather: sunny and even hotter

The glorious weather continued whilst 16 guests and Clare enjoyed this easy counter-clockwise circuit from the car park below Lac de Bious-Artigues, across the French border a 50 minute drive from Panticosa over the Col du Pourtalet.

A series of lakes, and close views of Pic du Midi d'Ossau featured strongly, together with an excellent lunch break at Refuge d'Ayous.

Then a volt of at least nine vultures, probably Egyptian, flew over whilst Sue, Tim and Harry cooled off with a swim in Lac Bersau, watched over by a posse of horses.

Lower down, flying trout were trying their best to escape from another overheated lake.

Gentians and orchids accompanied us throughout.

Beers, G&Ts and lots of wine either preceded or accompanied another fine nosh at Hotel Sabocos.

An excellent day, albeit progress along GR11 seems to have slowed a bit. We did however manage to complete a section of GR10 that evaded us in 2013 due to inclement weather.

Today's pictures:
Hikers, with Pic du Midi d'Ossau
Horses and swimmers
Hikers, with Pic du Midi d'Ossau

Next Day - Day 17

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Monday, 29 June 2015

Monday 29 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 15 - Interlude 1 - The Sabocos Valley - a circuit from Panticosa 

 
 
 
Distance: 11 km

Ascent: 500 metres

Time taken: 5.0 hrs

Weather: sunny and very hot

The hotel is great, the Collett's staff are most helpful, and the food is excellent.

Today I spent a pleasurable five hours with Remy (Collett's) and thirteen other guests, strolling on easy paths in the Sabocos valley above the village.

To all intents and purposes a well earned rest day with some of the Macclesfield Squash Club group that we encountered in Haus Valentin in Badia last July. It's a small world!

The walk featured:
 - a large lizard nearly 2 ft long
 - evidence of a wild foraging party enjoyed by some boars
 - lots of flowers, including
Queen of the Alps
Yellow Rattle
A selection of spotted Orchids
Irises
Mountain House-leek
and many more.

Back at the hotel by 2 pm for large beers and a lazy afternoon.

Sue arrived via Jet2's service from Manchester to Toulouse, and a five hour drive, at soon after 6 pm, so now we can enjoy a little holiday together.

Excellent.

Pictures comprise the view from the hotel (top), walkers in the Sabocos valley, and a view up the Sabocos valley.

(Notes from Mr Kindle: Wolf Hall is on hold at 46%, and Humphrey's recommended tale from the Pyrenees - The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo has been commenced)

Next Day - Day 16

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Sunday 28 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 14 - Ibón Azul Alto (2409 metres) to Panticosa  (Hotel Sabocos)

 
 
 
Distance: 14 km (Cum: 277 km)

Ascent: 200 metres (Cum: 13400 metres)

Time taken: 5.0 hrs including 0.8 hrs stops (Cum: 100.5 hrs including 19.5 hrs stops)

Weather: sunny and very hot

After rising at 7, I finally departed from the idyllic spot at Ibón Azul Alto at about 9. With great reluctance. I'd watched the evening turn to dusk and the sun then the alpenglow slowly fade from distant peaks to the east. Later, when the moon had shifted beyond the horizon, I savoured the deep black of a starry night unencumbered with light pollution.

Eventually, after a long sleep in the cool of the mountain meadow, I woke to the first signs of dawn, eventually leading to the slow undrawing of the shadow to reveal our home for the night in all the glory of the new day.

I didn't need to move from my bed to witness the calm waters, the glistening snow and the solid reflections.

Three others had arrived late last night, and others passed on their way up to the Cuello. It was all quite jolly.

The walk down to Baños de Panticosa started over rock scenery typical of the Central Pyrenees and concluded down a deep V-shaped valley.

I found excuses to stop whenever possible. There are lots of photos of flowers to sift through. Primroses feature strongly. Yellow Wood Violet and Alpenrose proved less photogenic.

At some point (or even last night) I put my sunglasses down and moved on.

Baños de Panticosa was reached after a very leisurely three hours. It's a landmark on my GR11 crossing as it's the point where I veer off to the village of Panticosa, some 7 km down the valley, included in today's statistics.

After a welcome cold Pepsi outside Refugio Casa de Piedra, I strolled off down the road to Panticosa, eschewing the offer of a lift from Vincent and Maria as I wanted to be able to brag about having walked all the way to Hotel Sabocos from the Atlantic.

Pride comes before a fall, or so I'm told. Having lectured myself on how now on the tarmac road to Panticosa a fall was most likely, I proceeded to trip over my own feet and spreadeagle myself headlong on that same tarmac.

So I arrived bleeding at Collett's base in the Pyrenees. I'm three days early, so I have six nights here. GR11 will have to wait, but I've now walked 13 of the 45 stages, so there are plenty more to go. Just bear with me for a few days while I chat to the amazing screeching swifts of the Sabocos Hotel.

Today's pictures show the early morning view from my tent, rock scenery on the descent, and my home for the next few days.

Next Day - Day 15

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Sunday, 28 June 2015

Saturday 27 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 13 - Sallent de Gállego (Hotel El Reyno) to Ibón Azul Alto (2409 metres)

 
 
 
 
 
Distance: 18 km (Cum: 263 km)

Ascent: 1500 metres (Cum: 13200 metres)

Time taken: 7.1 hrs including 1.2 hrs stops (Cum: 95.5 hrs including 18.7 hrs stops)

Weather: stunning.

Days like this don't come round too often. You remember them for the rest of your life.

El Reyno provided a good breakfast. That and yesterday's good meals put me in a good position to enjoy the long ascent that occupied most of my walking day.

It was another leisurely start, as I'd agreed to wait for Tobi and start after 9.30 if he wanted to join me for the day (he needed supplies and the supermarket doesn't open until 9.30).

In the event Tobi decided to have a semi rest day and walk to Baños de Panticosa via Panticosa, as he was discouraged from the GR11 route via Cuello de Tebarrai by the perceived need for ice axe and crampons.

(Sorry Tobi, I hope you don't shed too many tears as you read on.)

My own plan was to walk beyond Rifugio de Respomuso and camp at Ibón de Llena Cantal (Gibson will be pleased he bought the guidebook). Then I would return the same way on Sunday, continuing on down to Panticosa.

I'd been sorely tempted to buy an ice axe to enable me to go over the Cuello, but in a mixture of emotions I'd been to the ice axe shop and decided to save €100 by sticking to my plan and avoiding anything terrifying.

The path up to the Rifugio follows a largely wooded gorge, past the remains of some old buildings opposite a power station, the hum from which reminded me of a sleep deprived night in Chiesa. Onwards then, up a long V-shaped valley of granite. It was cloudless and hot, but not too humid. I was going well. A runner overtook me then slowed down. Her expression of shock when she was then overtaken by an old man with a backpack was worth the extra few calories expended.

Great Yellow Gentians lined the path as it approached the Respomuso reservoir, above which the path took me to Refugio de Respomuso.

Outside were two chaps talking in English. It's funny how you can go for nearly two weeks and see just one English person (Ian at Zuriza), then you meet someone you recognise. Will had been at Haus Valentin in Badia when we visited last July.

"What are you doing here?"

"Remy and I have just cycled over the Cuello de Tebarrai. We are supposed to be on duty at Collett's in Panticosa in a few minutes, so we'd better get going."

"I didn't realise Cuello de Tebarrai was a 'road pass'!"

"Some things just have to be done..."

And off they went.

So now we have the official view on one hand, condoned by Humphrey's respected opinion, whereby ice axe and crampons are virtually essential for a successful crossing of Cuello de Tebarrai, and on the other hand we have a couple of cyclists (albeit mountain bikers) pedalling over it. Perhaps I'd better take a closer look!

I've already said the weather was stunning, so I had many hours to have a look. After a can of Pepsi at the Refugio and a half hour break I set off again in search of red and white markings. Soon they disappeared under water at the end of the reservoir, and several river crossings were needed. Will and Remy had said I'd get wet feet - I didn't, I had my trusty Saucony Hattori shoes with me.

The path gradually ascended through clumps of butterwort and past marmots covorting across snow patches, to the spot where I'd planned to camp. Someone was using it as a diving board. Further up the hill was a group who had clearly just descended from the Cuello. I went up for a chat. They had come over with no equipment other than their walking poles.

"No problem - easy" they reported.

That's about it. The snow was steep but very soft, not even warranting putting on my Grivel Spider crampons, and the final section of scree was, as predicted by my excellent guidebook, uncomfortably steep. But I was expecting that. There were wonderful views and what may be the high point of this entire trip - 2765 metres - was reached with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.

The predicted 'short unpleasant descent' proved easy, and I was soon romping along an excellent contouring path across moraine above the picturesque Ibón de Tebarrai. 

After another Cuello my walking day concluded with a lovely half hour down a huge snow filled coire to this idyllic campsite, and it is in all respects idyllic - no hidden mosquitoes or cows here.

On the way down I encountered Maria and Vincent, a couple from Madrid doing a couple of GR11 sections over the weekend. I have the privilege of sharing this spot with them for the night. They have no tent but in this weather that's not a problem (Will and Remy may have stayed near here last night without a tent), otherwise they seem to have everything they may need.

The sun has gone now (8 pm) but it's still brightly illuminating the mountains to the east. Vincent has a fine camera and is hoping for some good pictures at dawn.

My tent will remain open all night.

Magic!

Today's pictures:
Saying goodbye to Tobi
Refugio de Respomuso and the way ahead (to the right)
Ibón de Tebarrai from the contouring moraine path
A truly idyllic campsite
Looking down on the campsite and the descent route from a nearby knoll (can you spot the tent?)

Next Day - Day 14

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