Sunday, March 22, 2020

Cycling in the Time of Coronavirus

It was only ten days or so ago when France started entering lock-down, but it feels like a lifetime ago. It suddenly became clear to me that just leaving my house would be severely restricted or even completely forbidden. I had lots of questions, including 'what would I do for exercise?'. 

I hate stationary cycling (compared with the real thing it's just so boring), but that seemed the most obvious choice. So I went online and ordered a 'home trainer' so I could continue to ride my bike at home and maintain some level of fitness and sanity. It duly arrived just as France entered full confinement. Now I choose a different part of the garden each day (gotta reduce boredom) and set up my old road bike on the home trainer and cycle for 40 minutes or so. 

It's nothing like as pleasant as real cycling, of course, but it helps maintain fitness and fills my days. The confinement is a bit strange but it's not unpleasant for my wife and me. But spare a thought for families with small children stuck in small apartments without a garden. Or for the medical professionals that are likely to be overwhelmed by critical cases in the weeks to come. And all of this is likely to last at least a few months.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

La Cirque de Gavarnie and la Breche de Roland

La Grande Cascade
I finally got round to visiting two places today on a hike. The first was the Cirque de Gavarnie, a huge wall of cliffs that looms above the village. The hike to the cirque is very popular with all sorts of tourists but I left them behind at the cirque. I climbed up the wall via the Echelle des Sarradets, a simple but sensational route with great views over to the Grande Cascade - said to be the highest free-standing waterfall in Europe. After that, some more gentle hiking took me up to my bivouac for the night and a nasty surprise - I had forgotten my thermarest and a chilly night awaited me!

Climbing up the French side of the Breche
Next morning I climbed up to the Breche de Roland. The frontier between France and Spain is a super sharp ridge, almost like a shark's fin, and the Breche is like a gap in the fin. It's a bit hard to explain it but it's pretty sensational when you are there. My hike took me through the Breche then some hiking on the Spanish side took me up the Taillon, a 3114 meter mountain. Then I turned round and started the long descent back to Gavarnie by a different route.

Spanish side of the Breche
I was very pleased to visit both places, but it was a little bittersweet. Just 30 years the climb up to the Breche was all on a glacier; it must have felt much more like the high mountains. Today, the glacier is almost gone and you do the climbing up a dusty moraine (like a heap of gravel). For about 20 meters you walk over the tiny remnant of the glacier; it is pink with algae - the darker color helps the melting and the melting helps the algae. It's the same story throughout the Pyrénées - they may be glacier free in 30 years. Climate change is a concern of mine (I have started a website on the topic); while glacier loss in the Pyrénées is a relatively minor consequence it's still sad. 

Some pics.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Cathay Paciic Moment on the Col du Pourtalet

Spot the error?
We all make mistakes, but - as Cathay Pacific has shown - sometimes a whole team needs to screw up to deliver an exceptional error. 

Today I cycled the Col du Pourtalet - a long lovely climb up the Ossau valley to the Spanish border. As usual on the popular cycling climbs, there were signposts every kilometer to tell you the distance to go, your current altitude, the gradient of the next kilometer and the altitude at the top of the col. Believe me, when you're struggling on a climb you study all this information very carefully.

View of the Pic du Midi d' Ossau from the top of the col
Getting to the last kilometer, you're able to perform a consistency check on these 4 bits of information and - well - today they didn't pass the test. It left me a little curious as to the whole process of making these signs and how many people didn't notice or didn't care about the obvious error.

But it didn't spoil my day out...

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Le Palas

Le Palas (or Pic Palas)  is a highish (almost 3000 meters), rocky peak near the Refuge d'Arrémoulit. It can be climbed in a very long day, but I took the lazy approach and elected for an overnight bivouac near the hut. The route up to the hut starts with a long hot slog up a sunny valley to a col; the path then turns right and works its way to the Passage d'Orteig, an easy but very exposed traverse protected by a cable. You don't strictly need to cross the passage to reach the hut (it can be bypassed with an extra 45 minutes or so of hiking) and various signs dissuaded the inexperienced from taking it. But - of course - it was fun!

The refuge is a small, rather primitive one and lots of people were bivvying around it so I moved some distance away and found a nice spot at a small lake. The next morning I set off early and worked my way through boulders to the start of the (somewhat) technical climbing. A sharp exposed ridge on wonderful rock lead to the summit, with great views in all directions. The descent back to the car in the heat of the day seemed very long, but - a benefit of climbing with bivvy gear - I was able to stop at midday and cook myself lunch!

Some pics

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Le Tour du Pic du Midi d'Ossau

The Pic du Midi d'Ossau is probably the most famous mountain in this part of the Pyrénées. I climbed it last year but there's an interesting long hike around it I've been meaning to do. There are a number of tempting extensions to this tour but the hike then gets a bit long for a day. But, as I've got some new bivy gear I wanted to try out, an overnight hike made a lot of sense.

The weather around Pau has been cool and overcast but with an inversion, so it looked likely the mountains would be above the clouds. And so it proved; after hiking up through the forest in the clouds I popped out to clear skies. Some gentle hiking took me to my bivouac for the night, at around 2200 meters, just below the Col de Suzon. During the night there was lightning on the plains to the north and it made for interesting viewing.

There was a lot of hiking the next day, much of it spectacular with the Pic du Midi always in view. The best scenery was out the west of the peak around the Lac Bersau and the Refuge d'Ayous. I finished the day with a climb up the Pic d'Ayous and then a long descent back to the car.

Some pics.

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.