Friday, December 1, 2017

Le Grand Cordeil

View N from the summit, at 2115 m
I'm very familiar with le Grand Cordeil, a 2115 m peak 10 km or so north of St Andre. I've seen it from all sorts of angles on different hikes and flown onto it many times on a paraglider. But, until today, I've never actually hiked it. It's not a technical peak, but it's very steep except for a route passing by the Cabane de Cordeil. In the summer and fall there are sheep and, more problematically, patous (big guard dogs against wolves) but the sheep moved out last weekend. So I was keen to climb it before the snow arrived and I got my chance today.

Everything went according to plan and I had lunch on the summit with excellent views in all directions. Looking north across the Thorame valley there was a snow squall on the right and clouds were playing with the summits of Cheval Blanc on the left. 

On the way down I passed the abandoned Cabane de Cordeil when I saw a hen running towards me. It had obviously been left behind accidentally by the shepherd when he moved out for the winter and it was hungry. I didn't have any suitable food for it and was a bit unsure what to do. I should probably have taken it back to St Andre and found someone to adopt it, but I'm afraid I left it there and it's not going to get through the winter.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

La Croix de la Salcette

I've known Murray for over 40 years; he lives a couple of hours drive away near Briancon, where he has worked as a mountain guide for the last 25 years or so. But I hadn't seen him in the last couple of years and decided to rectify that today. I got up early and drove up the Durance valley to his house; after elevenses we hiked steeply up behind his house to the Croix de la Salcette (at 2331 m) for great views of Briancon and all the surrounding peaks. Murray found us an 'interesting' descent and served up pumpkin soup before I drove back home. 

A few pics.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

L' Autapie

Looking NW from the summit at 2436 meters
Today was dry, sunny, cold and windy - perfect hiking weather if you dress warmly. The mountains are still basically snow free though an overnight dusting of snow left the peaks above 2200 meters looking a little wintry. I took advantage of the relative lack of snow with a hike up the Autapie; normally at this time of year it's deep in snow and (at least in theory) in a few weeks it should be the top of a ski run. But for today it was a very nice hike, though the wind on the summit was icy cold. The descent is by the east side of the mountain, so it was in the shade and very chilly. I arrived back at the car just as it was getting dark, very happy with my day out.

A few pics.

Friday, November 3, 2017

La Cirque de Juan

A lot of my hikes are 'repeats' but today I managed a new local hike. The Cirque de Juan is a relatively open cirque just above the tree line surrounded by ridges going up to 2400 meters. There's a cabane but the sheep have headed down by now and I had the whole cirque to myself. From the ridge I had huge views in every direction; very nice.

Some 'arty' out of focus pics.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

La Secheresse

The Issole is almost dry; normally all
stones are underwater
This is a Mediterranean climate, with hot dry summers. The last two summers were hotter and drier than the norm, but this summer has been even worse. I don't like the heat and have been staying indoors in the afternoons in high summer.  At least I live in the mountains and it's always cool overnight; I really pity those that live nearer sea level. 

The last rain I can recall fell at the end of April. According to weather records there has been some rain over the summer but I suspect it fell over night. For July we had around 2 mm of rain (meteo blue details here) when 28 mm was expected (more details). It's a pattern repeated all over south east France and it's pretty alarming. 

Dried up spring
It isn't scientifically acceptable to say that you are seeing climate change happen; but it's harder and harder to believe you're observing normal weather variations. The drought has continued through the fall, and there's no snow yet. The only greenery comes from irrigated fields and pine trees. 

Today I took a little hike in the mountains and evidence of the drought was everywhere; dried up springs, rivers almost dry, no snow visible in any of the peaks and almost all vegetation was brown. Some pics.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Trail Running

Local signposts give the time for the standard hike on the Crete des Serres as 7 hours. Like most signpost times (or guidebook times), it's a bit generous, normally I do in just over 5 hours. But today I did it in 3 hours 20 minutes using a new weapon - trail running.   

The summers in St Andre seem to be have been getting warmer and warmer. In any event I find it less pleasant to be out in the afternoon in high summer. So for most of the summer I've tried to get out in the morning and do some 'high-intensity' exercise and stay indoors in the afternoon. As part of this plan, I've adapted my standard short hikes into trail runs - I'd run part of the way and walk when it was steep going up or down (gotta look after your knees). It was very interesting and I began to wonder if I could apply it to longer hikes. 

I needed to wait for cooler weather and today I got my chance to try it out on the Crete des Serres and it worked like a dream. For most of the long climb (around 800 m) I walked but apart from that it was (slow) running. It's different from hiking - you've got to concentrate on where you're putting your feet. It feels a bit more like mountain biking. I felt great at the end and was surprised I'd gone so quickly. Trail running stresses your joints too much for me to want to do lots of it; but I've enjoyed it this summer and I'm sure I'll do more.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Revisiting the Tourmalet

At the start of the real difficulties 
The hardest climbs used in the Tour de France are classified hors categorie (or HC), meaning 'beyond categorization'. You can see a list of them here; the Tourmalet has been climbed more times in the TdF than any other HC climb. It's in the Pyrenees and, since we were staying in Pau for a couple of weeks, I decided to take my bike in order to climb it. On the only day I could really do it, the weather didn't fully co-operate; low clouds were sticking to the mountains but they were predicted to 'break up' by the middle of the afternoon.

I settled on a loop from Lourdes that let me climb the col from the east side. The first part of the day involved gradual climbing up the valley bottom to St Marie de Campan to the start of the real climbing. The climb is 17 km long, but the first 5 km or so aren't very steep but from then on it's a steady 9% or 9.5% slope to the summit. From near the start I was in the clouds; this helped by keeping me cool but hid the wonderful views on the way up. At the top I took a few pics then had a very chilly descent through the clouds - so much for the clearing forecast. The last 30 km were out of the clouds and a lot more fun, a gradual downhill back to Lourdes.

TdF memorabilia in the summit mist 
I had done the climb 23 years ago and found it hard going back then. I tried to rationalize why it would be easier this time - e.g. I've got lower gears on my bike, I'm doing it on a shorter ride - but of course I was 23 years younger back then! In any event, it didn't seem too bad this time round but it's still quite a climb.

I also took note of my climb rate - just over 700 meters per hour (more details here). This is a really simple way of measuring cycling performance and corresponds to a decent club cyclist and is less than half of the best TdF riders. It's also only a little quicker than I will climb a steep mountain path on foot (around 550 meters per hour) and way slower than I expect to thermal up on a paraglider or sailplane!

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Full Monty on the Crete des Serres

The Crete des Serres is a long ridge that offers a number of hikes from my front door. I've hiked it many times but up to today hadn't done the whole ridge as a single hike. Of course, there's a reason for that - it's pretty long. But I've been waiting for an opportunity and it arrived today. First, it was an unusually cool day for the middle of summer. Second, my wife was going shopping in Italy with friends, so there didn't seem any reason not to do it.

Everything went according to plan; I got home tired but happy after a nearly 9 hour day. A few pics

Thursday, May 18, 2017

USA Trip

The Japanese Gardens, Portland, OR
My wife and I had a nice trip to the States. We did the West Coast (where my son lives) and visited Oceanside, Portland and Oceanside. In Portland we stayed in the Alberta quarter, which is on the east side of the city and it was much more interesting (i.e. lively and diverse) than the west side of the city. In particular it was nice to see evidence of resistance to the current Trump presidency.

Inside the Guggenheim, NYC
On the East coast we visited Baltimore (where my daughter lives), Manhattan, Portland Maine, Acadia National Park, a Shaker village in New Hampshire and New Haven. 

You can see some pics here.

Monday, March 20, 2017

An Optimistic Hike

For the third time in a row, the winter has been dry and mild in St Andre. I normally only start hiking in the higher mountains in May, but I guess I got carried away with the summery weather today. I did a standard 5 hour hike around the Col de Vachiere, but the north faces were out of sight from the bottom. They were a lot snowier than I expected and it took more like 7 hours. I had a bit of a diversion to avoid one snow slope and this resulted in my having to cross a river at the end of the day, when it was nicely swollen by melting snow. 

Some pics

Friday, March 17, 2017

South West France Visit

We had a short visit to Pau and Biarritz in SW France. Pau is a very attractive town just north of the Pyrenees; it used to be a fashionable place for wealthy Brits to spend the winter. Biarritz is known for surfing and some obliging young men were in the water so we could get some photos. Some pics of Pau and Biarritz