Rise and shine! Let's get out of this snorefest of a campground and back into the mountains! And from what I could see from inside my tarp, it was (finally!) going to be a glorious day.
written 4 days ago @ 06:17 PM after hiking 15.00 miles
Today we actually strayed from the HRP and did an alternative (which Crash put together) to hit some of the highlights of the Pyrenees. So first things first: go into the Cirque!
The route we were talking started at the top of the Cirque, some 1500 meters above us.
Directly above us.
Getting up there was definitely not hiking -- it was pretty much scrambling and climbing. It was a marked trail, but that's only a comfort in that we knew we were on trail.
Once we reached the first plateau (maybe 1000 meters up), we found a herd of sheep and Crash and a foot-stamping standoff with one of them that decided the trail was his.
After another 500 meters or so of climbing, we found ourselves at La Brèche de Roland, which was an amazing geologic formation.
Er, sorry, an amazing result of a French hero trying to destroy his unbreakable sword. My mistake.
Anyway, we passed through the breach and began a cross country adventure loosely based on a trail which the GPS indicator insisted existed, but was otherwise imaginary.
Eventually, we reached our goal: the mouth of the Ordesa Canyon, and the cliff walk that followed a sediment band around, in the middle of the wall. It was a truly unique experience (to me). I'm familiar with the tops and bottoms of canyons, but never right in the middle of the wall!
The whole canyon reminded me a lot of the Grand Canyon, actually. It had trees in the wrong spots and the colors were sometimes wrong, but overall it had a familiar vibe.
At the end of this, we weren't near the HRP, so we had to begin another multi-hour cross country adventure to rejoin it. This was pretty, but very painful as those days of rain had left my foot in a pretty torn-up state. I need this dry streak to continue for quite some time if I'm going to continue.
Anyway, we eventually got within spitting distance of the HRP and set up camp. All in all: a very tiring but very unique day. (I feel like I think that a lot on this trip ...)
written 5 days ago @ 06:36 PM after hiking 18.10 miles
Yay, another town day! It's still cloudy but at least it didn't rain last night. But our next town (and shower and laundry!) is less than 20 miles away, so we wasted no time getting up and out.
However, as we climbed (and climbed and climbed) we got above the clouds! Or at least the first layer of them.
Pretty soon, the clouds were filling in the valleys below us, leading to some dramatic sights
Eventually we even got to see a dramatic peak, with a glacier at its foot! It was neat to see, and even cooler to see how many people on the trail were carrying ice axes, presumably to go scramble around on the glacier.
Eventually we crossed our pass and began the long long long descent down into the town of Gavarnie.
About halfway down, the sun was out, the birds were chirping, the bees were buzzing and I figured "hey, let's use this chance to dry out some things since the sun is better than hang drying in a hotel room".
So I had a pack explosion and ate pretty much all of my remaining food.
After forty five minutes or so, my gear was all fully dry and happy, so I saddled up and finished the hike down a beautiful valley. Crash had gone on ahead to scope out the hotel situation and he said he would text me with where he was.
When I reached the bottom though, I was crushed: Gavarnie wasn't a town. It was some tourist trap hellhole, with only one room available that night -- for $250 USD!
Crash and I grabbed a sandwich at one of these tourist traps and then headed for the campground. So much for a town stay with laundry and showers. We resupplied at the miniature grocery store they had, grabbing only enough to get us to the next town, some two days away.
Once we got the the campground, we were able to snag the last two tent sites. We wasted no time setting up camp and just calling it a night.
What a disappointment (mainly from my unfounded expectations but still).
(Oh and even the cell service in town was god-awful. No redeeming qualities as far as I'm concerned.)
written Aug 12, 2019 @ 06:10 PM after hiking 16.30 miles
So that cloud that we camped in that sent us to bed with a drizzle? Yeah it kept up all night. And all morning. And on into the afternoon.
I'm trying to remain positive but it's really annoying to be on Europe's most-views-per-mile trail and have a visibility of like 10 meters. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to do it again!
So anyway, yeah, very few pictures from today.
At one point we reached the Passage d'Orteig, which is a dramatic traverse across a cliff face. Below is the only picture I took :-(
Doing it with wet shoes on wet rocks was a little nerve-wracking, but it was still a fun experience.
After that, we punched through the clouds (above? below? I can never tell what's going on) and got a quick glimpse of the valley we were skirting.
After that, we were on the hardest pass of the trip (so far!). It had a very narrow (and hard to find) entrance into a ravine to climb and then descend. Crash got some pictures of me; I'll update this with one when I get it.
After that, we had a grueling 1000-meter descent, followed by -- you guessed it! -- a 1000-meter ascent over another pass. This one had a great trail up to it though, which let us just fly up like 90+%, until the final switchbacks.
Then we had another 1000-meter descent down to a refuge, where we had some dinner (ours, not purchased) before continuing on another few kilometers to knock out some of tomorrow's hike.
I had my rain jacket on for the entire day -- and needed it for virtually the entire day. I need a good sunny afternoon to fully dry out all of my gear; I hope I get one soon.
written Aug 11, 2019 @ 07:07 PM after hiking 20.30 miles
So those scary clouds that rolled in last night were accurately scary. The whole night was super windy and really rainy, but thankfully never at the same time. However, right before we decided to pack up, a monster gust howled down the valley and pulled out one stake from Crash's tent and two from mine, so we got up. Of course right after that it started to pour, but we had already put away all of our sensitive stuff (read: down).
One of the stakes that got ripped out must've been thrown really far because it didn't show up in our canvassing. Damn, looks like I'm down a stake until our next town.
Anyway, we started hiking in an absolute downpour. Like, 1.5cm of rain in four hours. (This is the reason for the lack of pictures of this stretch.)
After some time, we finally reached a ski village where there was supposed to be a hiker refuge. We couldn't find it, so we just stretched out on the floor in a building that was being remodeled -- quite the crossover between hiker and vagrant.
The town was odd -- lots of buildings were really rundown and it felt like a set from The Walking Dead, but we'd see people out walking their dogs and cooking in their kitchens. Maybe it's more likely during the winter.
Anyway, as soon as we got set up, the skies broke and the sun was shining. Of course. We ate some lunch and waited to see if it was a false positive, but it only got more clear so we packed up (again) and hit the trail.
We kept hiking, doing lots and lots of climbing, and stayed above the clouds. It sort of ruined the views, but also made them more dramatic in their own way.
When the clouds permitted, we did get to see the stunning raw upper (if not lower) landscape of the Pyrenees.
The day ended with us doing a massive (1000-meter) descent down into a valley, followed immediately by another massive (1000-meter) ascent up the other side, where we camped close to the top. By this point, we were thick in the clouds and it was doing a persistent drizzle, which is why the pictures yet again end.
written Aug 10, 2019 @ 07:39 PM after hiking 17.20 miles
All good things must come to an end, and that includes near-os. Plus, we were rested and ready to get back to the trail!
It seemed exceedingly unlikely that we'd find an English speaking driver headed to Lescun, so we took transit as far as we could and figured we'd try again the last 5km.
This plan worked great and after twenty minutes or so with our thumbs out, a nice gentleman gave us a lift the last little bit, and we were back in Lescun, picking up the trail exactly where we'd left off.
And so began the climb back into the mountains -- all 800 meters of it! It wasn't super hot, but the humidity was back and the breeze was gone so it was far from pleasant, but it was still a nice time since we were following a well-beaten trail (often times a dirt road).
Eventually we crossed the pass out of the valley and hopped onto the ridge which divides France and Spain. Naturally, the clouds disappeared immediately. However, we weren't going into Spain -- we were following the border, so back into the clouds we went.
We were unfortunately in clouds most of the day, but they were patchy. Sometimes they would part and we would be rewarded with dramatic views of valleys and cliffs, previously hidden from us, but right there.
We kept on climbing, up and up and up. Eventually we reached a refuge up by our first Pyrenean lake. We got an exceptionally tasteless beer and hung out with the mountain dog for a bit before heading on.
After that it was time to crush some miles -- we had a lot of flat-ish terrain to cover (well, following ridgelines and staying at roughly the same elevation) before a big descent followed by a big ascent.
The periodic cloud-clearing would happen every so often and we'd still get stunning views.
We also made some friends along the way (who started licking the salt off my knee, which tickled something fierce, and then tried to eat my hat for probably the same reason)
Eventually I hit the stage's nadir (which was a creek), where I ate my dinner before beginning my steep steep steep 400+ meter climb. It was largely in a beech forest, which I would've appreciated if it was sunny, but it wasn't, so all that meant was no breeze. Oh well, it was still a good time and it felt good to see how far my legs, cardio, and aerobics have come in just a week.
The last 100 meters or so were above the forest and became pretty exposed, like this ladder situation.
We eventually reached the goal though: an alpine lake high on the Pyrenees. There was forecasted to be a storm (or at least rain) tonight, so we sought out a high campsite with good drainage.
This is my first night on my new pad -- I'm excited to see how this goes!
written Aug 9, 2019 @ 08:40 PM after hiking 5.60 miles
Zero days and near-o (hiking nearly zero miles) aren't just for the PCT -- they apply here too!
Plus, my patch didn't hold -- I will need to replace my pad entirely. Awesome Ari (her full name) did the research and found that, while the trail goes through a little town (village) called Lescun, they didn't really sell anything but food there. However, 45 minutes away (by car), there's an outdoor store that should set me up.
Let's get to Lescun!
We slept at around 1800 meters last night, and Lescun is around 900, so we gotta start the descent. There wasn't much to see (other than spectacular views, of course) so I'm not posting and highlights from that part.
However, all of the sudden, we could see the valley floor! The view was incredible.
Before we could think about trying to find a hitch, we needed to make ourselves presentable. Neither of us had showered or done laundry since we left our respective countries, and we have spent the last week sweating more than any other hike we've done, so it was time for cleaning up.
Thankfully, waterfalls generally mean deep pools!
The water was frigid but man oh man it felt good. We bathed ourselves and did some hiker laundry and basked in the sun to dry off.
A dog even came along to say bonjour and we were fast friends.
Eventually though, it was time to go to Lescun so we could look for a hitch into the city.
This wound up being harder than I am used to, because I'm far from competent in either French or Spanish, and English isn't super prevalent. However, we got a lift from a nice French gentleman who I think was going to downtown Oloron anyway .. ?? Whatever, he was nice and refused payment and we went on our way.
The plan had been to head to the shop and pick up me pad, then find a hotel, then find lunch. But oh God we thought we knew heat until we stepped out of the car in the flatlands. It was like stepping straight into Hell.
We changed our plans and did then in this order instead:
- Get to a hotel
- Get lunch (Crash ran out of food at the waterfall)
- Hide from the heat (I get the siesta thing now)
- Run errands
So that's what we did, without any complications.
After that, it was naptime and then dinner time. We wound up at this cute little place around the corner and had some surprise dishes because we had very little idea what we were ordering. It was seriously good and creative, however. For example, the "cheesecake" below was the appetizer.
Anyway, during dinner, a thunderstorm rolled in and we rolled out. We looked at the forecast and it looks like we are in for a wet few days ahead.
(That's assuming we can get back to the trail tomorrow!)
written Aug 8, 2019 @ 07:58 PM after hiking 22.50 miles
Oh boy, what a terrible night. Not earwig-terrible, but still bad. An hour after I fell asleep, we had a family of horses (bells and all) decide the that grass we were sleeping on was the best grass on the entire mountain range. Crash got up and chased them off, but they came back an hour later. I got them to leave, but they returned even faster. However, when I got up and flapped my towel at them, they got startled and took off for good. Yay, sleep!
Then, it was super duper windy, which didn't bode well for either of our tarps. And the bad part was that it started to rain, so the tarps were necessary. However, around 5am it stopped raining, so we both took down down our tarps at 6:15 or so and got an hour of sleep because we'd need it.
Then disaster struck: I tore my sleeping pad. After dozens of trips and more than a thousand miles, it finally reached its literal breaking point. Crap. I reached out to my awesome friend Ari in Paris and asked her to start doing some research on options and we got to hiking. (It was at this time Crash realized that his bandana blew away in the windstorm. Damn.)
We got to hiking towards our first peak, Pic d'Ohry. This peak was stunning in the horizon and I was excited to see what it was like to climb.
But first we had to get there. And thankfully, the weather was cooperating: clear skies and a positively howling wind. At least it's better than hot and humid and still!
After a large -- but gradual! -- climb, we were at the foot of the peak. The climb was stunning: it was a sharp knife edge with no alternative.
After some serious scrambling, we found ourselves on the actual knife edge. Thankfully (because of the wind) we didn't walk the actual ridge, but it was still quite the sight (and you could go look over any time you wanted, which I often did).
When we got to the top -- 2017 meters -- we remarked that it didn't feel like we had just climbed an extra 600 meters. Maybe it was the dry air or the humidity or the scenery or our fitness or the grade, but it just felt like a good hike.
After we had some "lunch" (really snacks, meals out here are just different) we headed down the other side. It was fairly similar, but not as dramatic of a ridge.
Once we reached the parking lot, we set off cross country. Our goal was to reach the end of day 8 in the book, and we were only a third of the way through day 7.
But first we had to make some friends.
After that, we just cruised through the miles -- crossing valleys, jumping fences, going through forests.
At one of our stops to get water from a spring, we patched up my pad as best we could -- we'll see if four-year-old epoxy still works.
We ended the day with a hellacious brutal climb over a pass. Oddly enough, the elevation gain was almost exactly what we did this morning, but it was missing a lot of the crucial ingredients. In particular, it didn't have a well-worn trail or dramatic views. That's not to say it wasn't pretty, but it wasn't the same. There also wasn't a wind keeping us cool and we had the sun brutally beating down on us (we were both pretty scorched from today).
Oh well, we eventually got over the pass and into a camp with a wonderful ice-cold spring right next to it, and a nice grass turf to fall back on in case my patch doesn't hold.
written Aug 7, 2019 @ 07:29 PM after hiking 21.00 miles
So last night was windy with a little bit of rain, whatever. But buckle up because have I got a story for you!
So in the middle of the night (like 10:30), Crash yells and wakes me up. The next five minutes went something like this:
Me: everything okay?
Crash: can you help me?? A moth flew in my ear and I can't get it out!
Me: ew, yes! I have some tweezers, gimme a sec!
(I find my headlamp and tweezers and suddenly Crash is at my tent)
Crash: it won't. come. out! (hitting the other side of his head)
Me: turn the other way, lemme look
Me: oh I see it, hold still ... (grabs it)
Me: ... except that's not a moth, dude. Look.
Me: you had an earwig in your ear!
And with my brain topped off with nightmare fuel, I put in my earbuds (safety first!!) and tried to go back to sleep. Gross.
But anyway, the night was fine and we both had terrible sleep (wind, a bit of rain, some distant lightning, invasive earwigs), but we got up around 7 and were hiking by 7:30.
We had a delightfully fast morning -- lots of gentle downhill miles, with a little bit of trailblazing.
At the bottom of this valley, we had a break (a sort of brunch) before we started climbing back up the other side. The other side was beautiful, but brutal.
At the top, we had some road-walking ahead of us, but at least it was fairly pretty!
Eventually, we got to our next big descent, which meant another big ascent. I know I should be getting used to these because it's the high route and all, but oof! This one wasn't actually too bad because it was cross country so we got to set the grade.
At the top of this we were finally able to traverse a good way -- until we descended another 1200 feet down. At the bottom, we crossed a river which meant we took some time to do laundry, get water, eat, and rest before our subsequent climb.
Eventually, we topped out and began our traverse to an area we wanted to camp. We were both pretty sore, so this was an easy-does-it situation. However, we got some spectacular views in the process!
Tomorrow we will summit our first real peak of the Pyrenees -- Pic d'Ohry. It's going to be a long hard day, but totally worth it.
But tonight, we set up camp in the yard of an empty farmhouse. Thank you, farmers!
written Aug 6, 2019 @ 07:32 PM after hiking 20.00 miles
After a night of terrible sleep (a herd of horses rolled up in the middle of the night with their bells clanging, plus it was super hot and humid), we got hiking around 7:30 or so. It was still cloudy, but we saw the sun making a valiant effort to show itself!
Down the trail a bit we met a couple who had hiked the PCT last year, so we all chatted for longer than we should have before Crash and I moved on. It's always nice to reminisce over a shared experience.
Then we began a fairly long climb -- and we finally got above the clouds!
On top of this ridge was sunshine, green grass, and some horses and sheep.
After hanging out for a while, Crash and I pushed on, down the other side. About a mile in, I realized we were off trail. And by that I mean on the wrong trail -- it wouldn't intersect the HRP again! So, back up we went.
At the top, we met that couple again and had another break where we are some snacks and tried to dry out our stuff a bit.
And some horses came wandering over to say hello!
We finally pushed again to find the trail we were supposed to be on.
We couldn't find the trail, but we had GPS so we knew where we were supposed to be. We did the logical thing: climb over a barbed wire fence and go cross-country!
It wasn't pretty, but we got back on trail in the end. Unfortunately this trail led us way way way down into a valley, where we got some water, stretched, and had some lunch.
Then we began the hike way way way up out of the other side of the valley.
This hike eventually leveled off after several grueling humid hot miles .. and then kept climbing. I shouldn't be surprised because this is a high route but still. Oof.
Eventually this climb joined a road, which was a long slow gentle descent down to a road, which ended that stage.
However, we weren't done because we had to hike more! So back up we went!
After a few miles, we found a section of trail that would make an idyllic campsite -- mostly flat, grass, trees to protect us, above the clouds. Perfect. We'll wait until we're sure there aren't any day hikers and then just go for it.
Unfortunately the clouds rolled in and the wind picked up, but by this point we were stuck, so we just battened down the hatches. We'll see how this goes!
written Aug 5, 2019 @ 06:31 PM after hiking 25.00 miles
Last night it did my favorite thing: rained! I'm bring serious -- I love camping in the rain (provided you have the equipment for it).
Around 7, we mobilized and Crash put on his poncho because we were basically still in the cloud and it was gonna be a wet one
After that, we got to going through the mysterious mist-draped country. Everything was so spectacularly green it was hard to not be happy, even if it wasn't sunny.
On and on we went, plowing through the miles, green every step of the way.
See some point we crossed into Spain, which complicated things a lot -- now when we passed another hiker, we didn't know what to say! "Bonjour!" or "¡Hola!"? I gave up and just went with "hei hei!" instead.
Many hours later we realized we'd taken a wrong turn, but that's okay -- we were just running parallel to where we wanted to be. If we push on, we'll meet up with where we want to be. This included going through the Spanish of Elizondo.
In Elizondo, we stopped for a resupply since it would be four days until our next food. It was fun walking through a foreign supermarket and getting new things (and some customary things)
After that we figured we might as well get some delicious Spanish food because duh. We found a little cafe, but were foiled by siesta! The town was just opening up again and the kitchens weren't yet ready for food. However, we got some potato-cheese-quiche thing which was better than nothing.
Then we got the trail and began the big climb out of town. Climbs mean one thing: few campsites. So after a while we found a flat-ish area and decided we should make it work even though we both wanted to hike a bit more. Oh well, we shouldn't get greedy!
It looks like it might be another wet night, so we set up our tents. If it doesn't rain, at least they'll dry out!
written Aug 4, 2019 @ 07:06 PM after hiking 12.00 miles
After a miserable night in a stuffy room that very quickly smelled like hikers (only saved when we asked and borrowed a fan), it was time to get some breakfast and hit the road.
But first, a hike across town to the train station!
It involved lots of quintessential French streets so that was really pretty, of course.
We then for to the train station about 10:15 and asked about taking an earlier train, since ours wasn't until 12:50. She told us that wasn't possible (there wasn't an earlier train) so we killed some time in a park and then headed for lunch before the train. I took one last opportunity to eat some veggies.
After that, it was time to hurry up and wait in the train station.
Right in schedule, the train arrived and we began our three hour ride to Hendaye, the start of the trail.
Once there, we walked the two miles to the beach and began with the ceremonial dip in the Atlantic ocean. Well okay, we just got our feet wet because salt water chafe on day one is a terrible way to start a 500+ mile hike, but whatcha gonna do.
After that we began the hike .. which starts as a big walk through town. The first day largely follows the GR10 trail, which is marked by a pair of red and white stripes.
The route involved a fair amount of road walking (boo), some forest trails (yay), and some nontrivial climbs (boo/yay).
These climbs were rewarding but brutal. We were hiking up into the clouds so the humidity was 100% and the temperature was .. I dunno what, but Google can tell you. It was hot.
We kept on hiking, over passes and through valleys, until Crash's jetlag said we were done. We were both pretty happy about that though since we have a lot of big days ahead and we don't want to burn out too early.
We found a reasonably flat spot on the trail itself (kind of a no-no but hey) and set up camp. Because of the clouds overhead, we set up our tents, just in case.
And so the first day ends, with birds singing, cowbells .. belling?, and a couple of legs that are happily sore.
A good day.
written Aug 2, 2019 @ 02:40 AM after hiking 0.00 miles
This story begins over two years ago, on July 22, 2017. On that day, I was hiking the PCT and began hiking with this hiker Crash. We hiked for a few days together and stayed in touch after. When he approached me last year about doing this crazy "Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne" thing, I said "yes" of course.
So that brings us to today: my alarm woke me up at 3:30am, I grabbed my backpack containing the gear I had been carefully curating over the past month, and got on a train for the airport.
So what is the Pyrenean Haute Route, or Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne? This guide had a good quick summary:
The Pyrenean Haute Route (or HRP for Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne) is an approximately 800 km (497 mi) traverse of one of Europe’s most beautiful mountain ranges. Stretching from the Atlantic ocean to the Mediterranean sea, it criss-crosses the natural boundary between Spain and France, staying close to its watershed throughout most of its undulating course.
So this brings us to today: Crash and I are are starting an epic hiking adventure for the next four weeks. He's flying in from New Zealand, I'm flying in from Norway, and we're flying out from Barcelona in about a month. Simple.
One thing that's always super weird to me is the experience of flying to a hiking trip. You check in your pack, which is terrifying.
Then you roll up to the security check with .. well, nothing. Remember, anything you bring, you have to carry (or get rid of). One thing you definitely don't have is a carry-on bag.
After that, I hung out at the gate until it was boarding time, which was a breeze (definitely no fighting for overhead space!).
After arriving in Bordeaux, I killed some time while I waited for Crash to show up. After some audiobooks and crossword puzzles and some reading of the guidebook, Crash arrived!
After taking a bus for an hour+ into town, we walked half an hour to the hotel and checked in so we could drop our stuff and head it and get some dinner.
The trouble with this plan is that it was 3pm and everything was closed because it's the middle of the day. So we stopped by a small shop and picked up some refreshments to help us kill and time until the restaurants reopened.
Eventually the pizza shop opened up and we finally ate (especially Crash, since he's been flying for some 24 hours).
After that was taken care of, it was back to the hotel so he could finally get some sleep and I could finish this entry (it was written throughout the day, which is why the tenses are all over the place -- sorry!).
Batteries on the chargers, hikers in beds, bullies full -- tomorrow's gonna be a good day!