Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Le Pic d'Anie

Le Pic d'Anie is a nice sharp mountain at just over 2500 meters. It's further west than the highest peaks and dominates the mountains around it; from other peaks, you often recognize it in the view. Given that, it seemed like a good mountain to climb...

The climb started from a deserted ski-resort, Pierre Saint Martin. I'd been hiking for about 20 minutes when a figure appeared walking towards me. As it got nearer, things got stranger; he definitely seemed dressed as a cowboy. He passed without a word, avoiding eye contact. Strange... A few minutes later I crested a rise and found a film set; they weren't filming at that precise moment. A woman was sitting down beside a stage coach, drinking coffee, dressed as a rancher's wife but wearing trainers - presumably the authentic footwear wasn't very comfortable.

To climb the peak, first cross the
limestone glacier!
I headed on. As I got higher I found myself in a maze of limestone, crossing crevasses, climbing up little outcrops, and generally spending very little time walking in a straight line towards my mountain. It was exactly like walking on a glacier, zigzagging between crevasses and seracs. Eventually I crossed all of this and got to the base of my peak when things became more straightforward. At the summit I stopped for a late lunch before fighting my way back across the limestone glacier; this time I found a different route, but it seemed even more time-wasting than the one I used on the way up. I was glad to get back to the car before dark!

A few pics.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Le Moulle de Jaüt

Nearing the summit
Le Moulle de Jaüt is one of the nearest and most easily recognizable biggish mountains around Pau and an obvious hiking target for me. Today, I got a chance to climb it on a beautiful fall day. The hike starts at the top of the Col d'Aubisque - a famous cycling col I've gone over several times this summer on my bike. The col allows you to start pretty high in the mountains but there was a catch - after some flattish walking, I had to descend around 300 meters before I could start climbing my mountain. 

The fall colors were spectacular and the weather ideal. I passed a couple of cow and horse herds still up in the mountains - they'll be going down soon - with bells clanking away. The climb up went well and I was soon climbing along a narrow ridge to the summit at 2050 meters. Great views in all directions with clouds on the Spanish side of the mountains just spilling over some of the higher hills. 

Clouds on the Pic du Midi d'Ossau
One of the things I'm finding at Pau is that I feel the altitude on hikes; it's not that it slows me much, but my breathing is a bit more labored and I don't feel as good as normal. At St Andre I lived at 900 meters and started most hikes at that altitude and never really felt any effects of altitude. Here, I live at essentially sea level and many hikes start around 1600 meters and I can feel the difference, even on a relatively low mountain like Le Moulle de Jaüt. Maybe part of the problem is I haven't been hiking very much over the summer months? Anyway, I headed back down again and had the pleasure of reclimbing the 300 meters to get back to my car...

Some pics.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Le Tour de Pau

I've been doing a lot of cycling in Pau this summer. Today I got a chance to do a ride I've been thinking of doing for quite a while - a big circle around Pau. I had set myself a simple rule that my ride had to stay outside the 'rocade' (or ring road) around Pau. But the river (or gave, as rivers are called here) complicates that, because there are very few bridges across it. So I knew I was in for some interesting route finding and a long day in the saddle.

I headed out of town to the east and headed south. I crossed the river and was in the coteaux de Jurançon; these are steep little hills where they grow the grapes for Jurançon wine; I do a lot of cycling there and know the roads well. Later on, well to the west of Pau, I was on flatter roads I knew much less well. Eventually I got back onto familiar - and more hilly - roads near Morlaàs before completing my ride. 

At the end of the day Google Maps worked out my ride must have been around 110 km. I counted 8 non-trivial climbs, but - although some were steep - none were very long, so overheating was never a problem. More of a concern was water - in this area there are a lot fewer fountains in villages than in the southern alps, so long summer rides need some planning. But I found a new refueling stop just where I needed it, which I'm sure will help in future rides.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Le Pic du Midi d'Ossau

I first saw the Pic du Midi d'Ossau over 20 years ago at the end of a short family hike in the Pyrénées and it made a big impression on me. Most mountains are really just big hills that can be easily walked up but this looked like a real mountain that required technical climbing. It was a lot higher and more spectacular than the surrounding mountains.

Now I'm living nearby and, of course, have to climb it. Its distinctive profile is visible from Pau and it dominates most of the Ossau valley. The easiest route up is a proper alpine route graded PD (Peu Difficile or 'a little bit difficult') with three technical pitches where a rope is often used (sometimes just for the descent). It's an hour and a half's drive away and can be climbed in a longish day or you can stay overnight at a refuge to reduce the strain. I choose the single day approach but (typically) set off a little later than I intended. 

The result was that when I arrived at the first technical pitch there were already a couple of parties roping down it. When you're climbing without a rope you really don't want to be bumping into other climbers, so I let them clear the pitch before I set off. The climbing was interesting and steep enough but pretty straightforward and on excellent rock. Eventually the angle eased and there was a fairly dull scree section before the rocky summit where I joined three Spanish climbers for an extended lunch with a view. The summit is pointed and at 2,884 meters (around 9,500 feet) there are great views in all directions.  

The summit!
Of course, what goes up has to come down again, and I descended by the same route, passing a couple of parties in the process. Once I was below the technical climbing I could relax and I realized I was pretty tired. By the time I was back at the car I was about as tired as I've been after a day's climbing but glad I'd finally got round to climbing the Pic du Midi d'Ossau!

A few pics.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Lourdes to Pau

The Pyrénées are still in the clouds
Grande Randonnée is French for big hike and is normally shortened to GR. Their length varies a lot, but they typically take several weeks to hike (e.g. I did the GR5 in 2015 over about 4 weeks); they are big undertakings. On moving to Pau I realized that I had a GR that wasn't really very G at all and was actually doable in a day - the Chemin Henri IV or GR 782. It's basically a hike from Lourdes to Pau (or vice versa) along a roman route, following the crest of a long, low ridge. I've been looking for a chance to do it, and selected today - a cool, dryish day in an unsettled period of weather. 

So I took the 7.30 train from the station in Pau to Lourdes and found the trip a bit sobering - it seemed like a lot of terrain to cover on foot in a day; what had I let myself in for? It was drizzling in Lourdes and I loaded up with sandwiches for the 40+ km hike back to my house. The weather cleared up pretty quickly and I had pleasant hiking conditions as I ticked off the kilometers. After nearly 10 hours hiking I arrived home - tired but satisfied - just managing to beat a shower; great timing! A full GR in a day! Some pics.

Friday, May 25, 2018


We have several interesting birds that visit our garden for food but (so far) Idris is the most exotic. Idris is the name we have given to a Eurasian Hoopoe (or maybe a couple - I think the male and female look alike) that comes and feeds on our lawn most days. He's got a long beak and pecks away at the grass and normally flies off with a tasty morsel in his beak. He's only a summer visitor, he winters in Africa and our full time residents (e.g. blackbirds) don't seem to fight with him.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Le Grand Prix Historique de Pau

Passing move in Bugatti race
The weekend after the Pau Grand Prix is the historic grand prix (more info here) and it's a very different atmosphere - much less intense and more of an exhibition than anything else. While the cars are obviously slower, they offer a better spectacle on the circuit; overtaking is possible (thanks to longer braking distance, no aerodynamics and cooperative drivers) and slip angles are a bit higher. 

Parked outside the Palais Beaumont
Anyway, my wife and I went along on the Sunday and watched a few races and soaked up the atmosphere and we both enjoyed it. Like most of the locals we've talked to, I thought it was the better weekend as a spectator. Some   pics.