Friday, August 31, 2007

Pyrenees Day 8: Rest day in Gavarnie

After breakfast we take a 3km walk down the road to a campground that's the only place near town with laundry machines and do some proper laundry. mmmm, clean clothes. Somehow we both manage to get a bit of sunburn while waiting for the laundry. Duh.

We get back in time for lunch, a nap, and some shopping to stock up for the next leg of the trip. We stop at a place selling mountain cheese and ask the guy for a hard cheese. After a bit of back and forth caused by our lack of French cheese vocabulary, the guy says "Oui" and then disappears into the cave (!) in the back of his shop. He comes back with a dried up old piece of goat cheese that we sampled and both liked. He wouldn't cut the piece for us, claiming it was too hard, so we ended up with 500g. Later on Greg had buyer's remorse and didn't want to carry the full 500g, so he cut off half and left the rest in the hotel trash can. The cheese is too sharp to eat on its own, but it ends up working quite well as an addition to dinners.

Gavarnie is horribly touristy and neither of us were particularly impressed by it. A conversation snippet from the day that kind of summarizes the general feeling:
Greg: "This town smells like horse shit."
Andrea: "Well, we never have to come here again."

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pyrenees Day 7: Refugio de Goriz -> Gavarnie

Another late start: 8:45. We just aren't good at starting early.
We head off under cloudless (except for the clouds blowing in from France) skies behind a couple of other groups who we switch back and forth with the for first hour as people de-onion themselves in the heat. On the approach to the Collado de Millaris (2498m) the wind starts to get insane. We both discover what great sails backpacks are; wow! Atop the collado we take a quick break to add some clothing to handle the wind and then continue up and up. The wind makes the walking more thoughtful than normal: changing the pack's orientation with respect to the wind is something that requires some forethought. Plus the wind is blowing down the mountain face so on some turns it tries really hard to blow us off the path. whoo hoo!

At some unnamed stone point (unnamed on our map at least), probably below the Gruta Castaret we manage to forget the suggestion in TiP to head downhill and follow some stonemen across a very steep fine-scree slope and up the hill. After following the stonemen for a few minutes we realize that we have walked into a stoneman civil war with various factions each proclaiming to know the True Way. Somehow Andrea picks a faction and leads us along. The clouds blowing over from France have removed all visibility upwards, so we kind of have to guess which way is right. For a while the presence of a couple people with a dog behind us is reassuring ("we can't have gone the wrong way if someone else is coming this way too"), but then it becomes clear that they are actually following us up the mountain. Nice...

After some climbing we spot a chain attached to the wall above and realize that we have made a wrong turn from the TiP path and are now on the "mountaineering route". It's not the recommended way, but at least now we know where we are. This is the moment the two Spanish women (with the dog) behind us choose to ask us where we're going. If they don't know where we're going, why on the hell are they following us? Who knows? We make the steep climb up scree to the path with the chain, admire the ease with which the dog makes the climb, and let the two women pass. We cross the chain (the ledge is narrow enough and the drop far enough to make this scary for Greg), meet a big group coming the other way who confirm that we're not on the wrong path, and then finally reach the Breche de Roland (2807m, 1:00).

Unfortunately, the visibility is only about 10m in the cloud, so we can hardly even tell we're in the Breche, much less see the spectacular views that are supposedly possible from here.

We continue down the very steep path and across ice and snow to the Refuge des Sarradets (2587m, 1:30). We have lunch and a hot drink, admire the views of the Cirque de Gavarnie, and get a surprise gift of a view of the Breche when the clouds briefly clear.

After lunch we start down towards Gavarnie (2:30), taking the more scenic HRP route down through the Echelle des Sarradets and the Cirque. This route is describe as "steep and exposed" (Zu Fuss), requiring "some light scrambling" (TiP), or "dangerous and not recommended" (the warden at Sarradets, but we didn't find that out until later). Initially the path is moderately steep, with good footing, but that changes to very steep and then very steep with scrambling. There are fantastic views of the Cirque, its waterfalls, and its swirly rock walls throughout (well, at least until the clouds come back in).
After an arduous and somewhat scary last section, we reach the bottom of the Cirque (1627m, 5:15). Greg's highlight for this hike was reaching the last bit, assessing how tired his legs are (very tired), looking down to find a decent route to scramble/climb the next few meters, and noticing a memorial cross for someone who had died there. hahahah. hooo boy.

We finish with a walk past the Hotellerie du Cirque (1530m) and down the road to town (1370m) , which takes about an hour. After checking into the the Hotel Marbore we enjoy well-deserved showers, a halfway decent meal, and then a good sleep. It was another long day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pyrenees Day 6: Sercue -> Refugio de Goriz

We weren't sure we were going to be able to complete this stage, so we planned an early start to the day. No such luck... we were underway at 8:30.
From Sercue we head steeply down into the Canon de Anisclo (~1000m) and then follow a path upriver through the canyon. It's initially a nice and shady walk through the forest with loud water below and glimpses of cliffs and water through the trees. This isn't mountain walking, it's gorge walking and it makes for a pleasant variation. After some climbing, we reach La Ripereta (1450m, 12:00) where we have a nice break on the rocks and do a bit of "laundry" in the river.

At 12:35 we head onwards upstream towards Fon Blanca. We do more climbing through forest and see some cool waterfalls (including one from the gorge side that started as a stream, turned into a shower, and basically dissipated into a fog by the time it made it down). Eventually we make it to a bridge across the river with fantastic views up and down the canyon. The sun is out now and things are really starting to get good in the view department.

We climb a while and do some mildly exposed bits (including a short stretch with a chain). After a while the valley widens and the gorge walk morphs into a mountain valley walk. The views remain "wow!".
We reach the bridge under Fon Blanca (1650m, 2:30) and have lunch with the views. There's a crazy phenomenon here (probably due to the limestone?) where waterfalls start from out of rocks or the ground.

After lunch we decide that we have the time and energy to make it to Goriz, so we set off at 3:30. We immediately start climbing over rough, poorly marked paths and rely on Andrea's route-finding. After a couple hundred meters up, we have a refreshing water break at the top of a waterfall in the Barranco de Capradiza. We continue to work our way up that valley and pass through several very steep scrambling bits. Along the way we see a goodly number of Edelweiss (very cool!). The views remain invigorating... this valley is excellent! We reach the end of the valley and have to do a bit of easy climbing to get out.
Continuing on, we reach the Col de Goriz and see clouds ahead that look like bad weather. Crap! We pick up the pace a bit to try and beat the weather (fat chance since it's between us and Goriz), but luckily it never materializes. Hooray!

After a bit, Goriz comes into view along with some crazy clouds streaming through the Breche de Roland (from France into Spain). The wind is now from the North, as it should be. We pick up a cool beverage, some wine, and some dinner makings from Goriz and have a nice dinner.

Overnight we have massive amounts of wind. No rain, but big big wind. The tent does great. Good tent!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Pyrenees Day 5: Refugio de Goriz -> Sercue

We got a fairly late start (9:15) after buying a bit of wine for the evening meal and watching all the climbers depart for their assaults on Monte Perdido. We head the other way and have a nice easy beginning following a contour line along the Sierra Custodia (the outside of the canyon). We're above Monday's path today and have a great view back of the waterfall in the Circo Soaso, Goriz and Monte Perdido.
Walking through the pastures of the thousands of sheep, but they are now far below. Around 11:00 we take a little side trip to the edge of the canyon and look out over Monday's path.
It's still early enough that the autobahn is empty. Speaking of which, we seem to have left the high traffic zone: we've only seen one other hiker heading this way so far.

After passing a saddle and having a nice hour walking across a big "meadow" in the sun we try to find water at the Cuello Arenas (1894m, 12:00) but discover that the spring is dry. In fact, everything around here is dry. This triggers a bit of anxiety until we find a cow trough being fed by a trickle of water. We pump a couple liters and then move on.

Instead of taking the road down to Nerin, we follow a recommendation from Zu Fuss and set out for the nearby ridge to follow the national park boundary for a while. There are no paths, so we just start across a herd of cows. After noticing that one of the "cows" had a penis, we beat a quick retreat to the road and walked around the herd before climbing to the ridge. We walk from knob to knob for a while then stopped for lunch (1:00-1:45) atop a knob. We have excellent views of the mountains and the coming clouds. Coming clouds?!?!?

At the end of the ridge (La Estiba, 2004m) we head 100m down a steep slope to meet the path at the bottom. There's no path, but the low shrubs that cover the slope provide surprisingly good footing. This path is stony and exposed, but very well marked (by both yellow dots and stonemen... this provokes a little story about the battle between the way markers). The clouds turned into a couple of minor showers, but nothing too bad. After arriving in Nerin (1280m, 3:50) and walking around all 15 buildings, we find the one (out of two) open bar/restaurant/hotel and have a refreshing beverage. There was no market and no bread... oh well.

We set off along the GR15 for Sercue at 4:30. It's still hot and the sky is blue and cloudless (ha ha... not for long). Arrive in Sercue (1190m, 5:20), a mostly abandoned village (a couple reoccupied buildings) with a notable lack of water. Greg search for a good camping spot and Andrea looks for water. We're both successful: Andrea finds a fountain/washing place about 50m below town and Greg finds a campspot about 20m above town. The two geniuses lug water 70m after Greg has a "Nalgene shower".

After pitching the tent, we start dinner with soup and dumplings. Thunder starts. nearby. Andrea efficiently packs stuff away while Greg efficiently finishes making dinner. The rain starts just as dinner is finished. Greg moves everything to the tent vestibule and we prepare to have a cramped meal (neither vestibule nor tent is particularly large). The rain stops. We have dinner outside. More thunder, more packing, quick clean up! The rain starts. We finish our wine in the tent and listen to the rain start and stop repeatedly. We also listen to the 27 flies that are trapped under the fly of the tent as they fly and buzz around... but they can't get in.

There's rain and thunder and lightning throughout the night. More flash and bang than wet, but a very exciting night. The tent does great and we stay dry.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Pyrenees Day 4: Torla -> Refugio de Goriz

After a surprisingly nice breakfast at the hotel, we buy some bread (bad bread) for lunches for the next few days and then take the 9:15 bus up to the parking lot (1300m) in the Valle de Ordesa (the "Grand Canyon" of the Pyrenees). We partially justify this by saying we don't want to have to repeat the boring gravel road from the day before, but really we're just lazy. :-)

We start walking at 10:15 and immediately climb up, up, up to the Mirador de Calcilarruego (1945m, 11:45). This is along a very steep, but wonderfully shady path. We appreciate the shade a lot, which is good because it's a commodity that's in short supply later in the day. From the Mirador we, along with a ton of other people, have a great view out over the canyon.

At 12:15 we set back out and continue along the south side of the canyon for a couple hours. The views (including the Breche de Roland) are just amazing. Along the way we have a nice lunch (despite the bad bread). The afternoon is hot and shade is in short supply, so when we reach a little stream running down the canyon side it's cause for celebration, bathing, and water-bottle filling. We continue on to the Circo Soaso (1760m) and merge onto the autobahn leading to the waterfall at the head of the canyon. holy crap are there a lot of people down here! There were a lot up on the high path too, but this is nuts!

Thanks to some bad signage it takes us a while to find the path up and out of the canyon, but we eventually track it down and start climbing at 4:00. The first bit of the climb is quite steep and along a scree slope, so the little spring at the top led to another celebration. We continue on in the full afternoon sun. Wow is it hot... up... up... scrambling through rocks... wow! what a view!
hot! up! hot! where is than damn refuge? hot! up! hot! hot! hut! hut! We make Goriz (2195m) at around 6:15, find a place to pitch our tent, get cool beverages, and buy some wine for dinner. The refugio is crazy full (and high season is over); there are people and tents everywhere. The views are just spectacular.
During dinner (soup with dumplings, polenta with sausage, chocolate) we watch the herd of thousands of sheep on the Sierra Custodia graze and move around and make strange patterns.

Later we enjoy the view (full moon!) and do the day's diary by candlelight... this is camping! (and also the first real use of the candle lantern since we bought it five years ago).

The long bout in the afternoon sun made this feel like a very long day; but boy was it worth it.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pyrenees Day 3: hillside above Barranco de Sandaruelo -> Torla

I wake up at around 6:00; it's still dark and raining; shit! back to sleep.
At 7:30 the rain is gone, the sky is blue, and there are cool clouds moving in and out of the valley. yay!
After giving the tent some time to dry in the sun and having breakfast, we start down to Torla at 10:00. We head down and down through mud and around (mostly) cow shit.

The first sign of impending civilization is a group of canyoners down in the gorge. We are soon walking down past other groups of canyoners and unprepared tourists on their way up (reminiscent of Yosemite Falls). We arrive at the Puenta de Bujaruelo (1338m, 12:00) and have a short break while gawking at (and enjoying!) the tourist madness.
Here we pick up the GR11 and head onwards towards Torla. We spend a while on a very nice, shady, soft path through the forest along the gorge and have lunch in a great meadow with a view back the way we came. We miss the turnoff for the scenic route down (suggested in Zu Fuss), but we probably wouldn't have taken that anyway. The path turns into road unfortunately early and we spend far too long on road. It's hot! hot! and humid! hot and humid! Finally end up on a gravel road that reflects the heat quite nicely. gacks.

The final insult is a steep climb up into town on a cobblestone road. But then we're there (1030m, 4:00). Of course all the shops are closed (it's siesta). We get a hotel room (Edelweiss Hotel), shower, shop, do some laundry in the sink, have a beer, stroll around town a bit, and eat dinner (A'Border Samper: boring but acceptable and reasonable cheap). Torla is a small town with a pretty high tourist density that seems to be doing pretty well (plenty of renovated houses and things mostly in good shape).

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Pyrenees Day 2: Oulettes de Gaube -> hillside above Barranco de Sandaruelo

The morning started out clearer but still drizzly. After a crappy breakfast we set out at 8:00 and headed up, up into the drizzle. There were thunderstorms behind us (to the SW) that were very scary, but they luckily never made it our way. We pass through the super windy Horquette d'Ossoue (2734m) and head down to the space-age looking Refuge Bayssellance (2651m, 10:30). It's planned to a be a long day, so we don't take much of a break here but press on along the crowded GR10. We head down, down, past many waterfalls and some nice views (including our first views of the Breche de Roland). It's good walking despite the overcast and drizzle.

After hitting the valley (Oulettes d'Ossoue, ~1840m) we have a lunch break (12:20-1:20) in the sun and then head up the valley to the dam at the end. Here there's a parking lot, so the place is pretty packed. At the dam we leave the GR10 for the HRP and head up , up, up into the Vallee de la Canau. We walk through this very pretty hanging valley, past the Cabane de Lourdes, to the end. Before climbing out we do a nice break (3:30-4:00) and then cross the Puerto de Bernatuero (2336m, 4:30) into Spain.

We descend a bit to the beautiful lake Ibon de Bernatuero. We'd love to camp here but the wind is strong an swirling around. Plus the one reasonable campsite (which already has a rock wall built around it) is pretty much on top of a dry stream bed; with the unstable weather this seems a stupid place to put a tent tonight.

Ibon de Bernatuero

We climb out of the bowl, where we expect to be able to pitch our tent in a cow pasture. No such luck: there are cows and there is pasture, but it's nothing like flat enough to pitch a tent. Plus it's still very windy.

It's now 5:00 and we're starting to wonder where we'll be sleeping (and, more importantly, eating!) for the night. We head down, down, along a poorly marked path (sporadic stonemen and footprints) looking for somewhere flat, sheltered, near water, and not covered in fresh cow poop. After some searching: three out of four ain't bad. We're exposed as all hell, but we've got the other criteria satisfied and a fabulous view. This may be the most ridiculous campsite ever for us: there's no shelter from the wind and the flat space is barely big enough to hold our tent, so we have to cook and eat a bit further down the hill at the next flat bit. Ah well, it's a great view.

We pitch the tent at 6:15 and have dinner at 7:00 (mashed potatoes, sausage, dried veggie mix, LINK). While eating dinner we admire El Tallon (or Pic du Taillon) as it makes clouds and, further South, the beginnings of the nice layered rock structures that we'll see more of in Ordesa.

Later we paid the price for the exposed campsite...
9:30 holy crap is it windy. I get up and check the tent stakes
10:30 Better check the stakes again. Wow, it's raining! Hard!
11:30 Last stake check of the night, everything is still fine. Oh! the wind! Oh! the rain!

We didn't sleep particularly well, but the tent performed flawlessly. Good tent! Andrea's backpack cover (from my old pack) isn't quite so worthy of praise... who the hell makes a backpack cover that's not 100% waterproof?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pyrenees Day 1: Pont d'Espagne -> Oulettes de Gaube

We arrived in Lourdes at 8:00 on the overnight train from Geneva and took the 8:12 bus to Cauterets, where we had a nice breakfast and cursed the gray, drizzly weather. Since we wanted a slow start (and are lazy), we took the 10:00 bus up to Pont d'Espagne (1500m, 10:35) and walked up the GR10 to the Lac du Gaube (1800m, 11:45). Here we saw loads and loads and loads of people... bus loads of people. On the other side of the valley there's a gondola up to a path that is practically wheelchair accessible.

The piece of the GR10 that leads around the lake to the Refuge des Oulettes de Gaube was bit rougher, so it cut the numbers down some. We had lunch in the drizzle on our way up the valley and arrived at the refuge (2150m) at 2:30. The crappy weather kept us from seeing the Vignemale or any of the other mountains around the bowl and caused us to reject the plan of camping (despite the nice spots around the refuge) so we slept inside. During dinner (decent, but not great) the clouds kept moving in and out of the bowl at the end of the valley; every two minutes we had a different view.
Of course we ended up right next to a chainsaw, so it wasn't a particularly restful evening.

Pyrenees trip

The entries from this trip are edited (and expanded) transcriptions from the notebook that we kept while we were underway. Clearly we got more into it as the days passed.
  1. Pont d'Espagne -> Oulettes de Gaube
  2. Oulettes de Gaube -> hillside above Barranco de Sandaruelo
  3. hillside above Barranco de Sandaruelo -> Torla
  4. Torla -> Refugio de Goriz
  5. Refugio de Goriz -> Sercue
  6. Sercue -> Refugio de Goriz
  7. Refugio de Goriz -> Gavarnie
  8. Rest day in Gavarnie
  9. Gavarnie -> Montagne de Pouey Boucou
  10. Montagne de Pouey Boucou -> Cirque de Troumouse
  11. Cirque de Troumouse -> Refuge de Barroude
  12. Refuge de Barroude -> Parzan
  13. Parzan -> Camping Forcallo (~Refugio de Biados)
  14. Camping Forcallo -> Lago de Gias
  15. Lago de Gias -> Refuge du Portillon
  16. Refuge du Portillon -> Lac d'Espingo (~Refuge Espingo) + Lac d'Oo
  17. Lac d'Espingo -> Luchon
  18. Luchon -> Toulouse (train)
We used two guide books:
  • Trekking in the Pyrenees (TiP) by Douglas Streatfeild-James, Trailblazer Publications, 2nd Ed. 2001.
  • Zu Fuss durch die Pyrenäen, Der Westen (Zu Fuss) by Francois Meienberg, Rotpunktverlag, 1st Ed. 2005.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Leyman -> Rodersdorf

This was a Wandern mit den U-Abo hike. We took the tram to Leyman and then walked through Alsace to Rodersdorf. Along the way we stopped at the Auberge St-Brice for a very nice lunch of Flammkuchen and jambon de foret noir.

We were a bit worried about the heat, but most of the hike was in the woods so that was no problem.

Total distance: 13km in about 4.5 hours (including the lunch break). Not much in the way of altitude change.