Archive for April 2020

Back in Time – Pyrenees 1993 Part 5   11 comments

One final post from this epic trip. It was our last morning before we had to start our long journey back from our wild camp site to the car and the drive home. It was a glorious morning, clear blue skies, warm and sunny. Before packing up we decided to take a stroll around the other valley that drains into the Plan de Aiguallut, the Valleta de la Escalate.

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It was, if anything even more magnificent than where we’d pitched up. Grassy pastures and meadows, babbling streams, waterfalls, rock arches, caves and dramatic snow-capped mountains.

We spent a happy couple of hours just wandering aimlessly about this quiet and unspoilt corner.

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Scrambling about on the small crags and boulders.

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A bit of stream scrambling and waterfall play.

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The limestone rock meant there were holes, natural bridges and caves everywhere. Behind where we camped there was a cave system that looked well worth a poke around. Dressed in the proper caving gear (shorts, t-shirt, sun hats and camping head torches) we had a look around. Quite an extensive system and some rather large holes. As I peered into one THO asked me what was down there. “My Head Torch” was the reply as it fell off its perch on top of my sun hat into the dark depths never to be seen again. Wonder if anyone ever found it – it was the days when Petzl were the only people making head torches and they were huge, far cry from today’s tiny things.

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THO taking a leap of faith. Climbing big mountains has its pleasures but sometimes just an idle stroll and bit of messing about in glorious surroundings is a fine way to pass the time.

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Time to head back to our wonderful campsite for lunch, pack up and return to the car. Another night at the Castejon campsite before the long drive home.

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This photo was taken at a picnic site somewhere in France. I’m staggered at how young we all look despite knowing this was over 25 years ago.

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It had been a fantastic trip but it wasn’t without a sense of strangeness and something not being quite right.

The Paris rush-hour seemed to start very early as we sat in a jam around the Peripherique at 5am. Shops, bars, restaurants and markets all seemed to close rather early. We explained this by saying the culture was different and it was the start of the siesta when Spain shuts down for the hottest part of the day. Setting alarms for an early start and emerging from the tent to see the sun already up and high in the sky. We were much further south you see.

On our way home we stopped to collect a toll ticket and UF commented with a chuckle how those hopeless people in France couldn’t get the time stamp on their tickets right. There was a quiet pause, a moment of reflection before one of us stated the obvious. “We haven’t have we?” We had. On the outward journey we’d put the time back an hour instead of forward when crossing into France leaving us two hours behind everyone else in France and Spain. Perhaps an understandable mistake for a bunch of rather vague and hopeless explorers. Not when you realise we had spent 10 whole days operating on the wrong time without ever comprehending all the signs and explaining it all away. This included the lady in the bank pointing furiously at her watch as we tried to change Travellers Cheques (remember them!!).

We drove along all laughing hysterically at our own stupidity. That was until some bright spark pointed out that we were now two hours behind schedule to catch our ferry, prompting a foot on the floor madcap drive through France and Belgium. A tale often re-told, always gets a big laugh and forever known in our little group as the “Muppet-Time” story.

I thought you might enjoy this tale of utter foolishness from four degree-educated professionals as the closing bar to a fine trip. More posts of classic holidays to come as the lockdown continues.

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Back in Time – Pyrenees 1993 Part 4   28 comments

Time to start the real business of the week with an ascent of Pico de Aneto, the highest summit in the Pyrenees. It’s a pretty easy route by Pyrenees standards. Just a very long snow/glacier climb and a very short stretch of narrow ridge to the summit. We were very lucky to have picked a perfect day of weather and set off through the Vallee de Barrancs before the very long plod up the snow.

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Whilst technically easy it is a very, very long climb, around 1400m straight up. I was clearly struggling on this morning. Here I am bringing up the rear.

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Falling further behind….

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And in a state of some discomfort here, recovering from catching up! Good shot of the favourite hat though!

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Fortunately the views along the spectacular spine of the Maladeta massif gave me something to look at (other than my own feet) while I recovered my composure. As the years went by this sort of view (me struggling and suffering on big climbs at altitude with early starts was common place).

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Just before the summit there is a very short section of narrow ridge called the Puenta de Mahoma or Mahomet’s Bridge.

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Nothing harder than Striding Edge in reality and even though it was icy there was a path stamped out and its only really the exposure (which was quite impressive) that makes it interesting.

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A couple of shots of me traversing the ridge.

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In truth I loved this section and was disappointed it was over in a minute or two (its very short). These days I’d likely have more trouble with it.

The summit itself is almost disappointing after that. A large snowy top with none of the sense of exposure from the ridge. Views were magnificent though.

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THO posing on the summit cross. The roof of the Pyrenees!

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Looking back to the Maladeta Massif.

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Summit posers!

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I think this is looking down towards the col we climbed to the day before.

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TBF summit shot.

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A long way up equals a long way down so back across the ridge and then we took a long traverse across the Glacier de Aneto. I think we had an idea to try out one of the Maladeta peaks but we either ran out of time, thought they were too hard or just couldn’t be bothered.

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I think this is us approaching the Portillon Superior

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For some reason, whenever TBF took a photo of us we always pointed in different directions. I can’t for the life of me remember why we did this but we did it for years afterwards. We thought it was funny. Different times.

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We dropped back down past the Renclusa hut (the main base for climbing the Maladeta and Aneto peaks). The walk along the valley back to the campsite is a cracker. Woodland and waterfalls backed by snow-capped mountains.

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I think this is the Cascada de Aiguallut with Pico de Aneto behind. The long snow slope is our route of ascent.

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The pointy peak is the Pico de Aiguallut that sits directly behind our campsite

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The vast Plan de Aiguallut. You can just about make out my orange Force 10 in the middle of the photo.

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And a final shot that shows our spectacular site and the long snow climb to the summit. A wonderful day in the high mountains and one of the best of my memory.

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Just one more short post to come from our last day, journey home and a story of gross incompetence!

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Back in Time – Pyrenees 1993 Part 3   12 comments

Back out into the mountains (without the water melon) to set up base camp for more adventures. We drove to the road end of the Esera valley and headed towards the Plan de Aiguallut. It looked like a good base to climb Pico d”Aneto and we hoped it might be a nice spot to camp.

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As you can see it was a magnificent place to camp. A huge open pasture, flat grass, fresh water from the stream and a surrounding of rocky snow capped peaks. We thought it would be hard to top the previous wild camp spot but we’d managed it!

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We had to ride out a tremendous thunderstorm overnight. Here’s another very happy picture that’s been up on my wall for many years. Proving that while heavy, a Force 10 wins hands down over a backpacking tent for interior space!

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Before tackling the high point of the Pyrenees we decided we needed another training day. On a whim we took off along the Valle de Barrancs heading vaguely for the ridge to see what we could find to play with. The route was almost immediately in snow, patches covering hidden boulders and holes, which we fell in regularly especially on the way back down.

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Whilst it was really hard work, deep snow, and very hot, the views were just sensational and the sense that we were the only people up there (read, only people daft enough to try and climb mountains at this time of year) made it feel like a proper adventure.

I’ve always liked this photo and the symmetry of our little group of pioneers.

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We reached this snow covered lake – Lago de Barrancs – at around halfway. An amazing spot, the incongruity of deep snow and hot sunshine very apparent.

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Our target was the col on the right of this photo (Collada de Salenques I think) so still plenty of deep snow to trudge up yet to come.

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Another photo of me rocking the style of multi-coloured sun hat, shorts and gaiters. Like the hat I have fond memories of those shorts as well!

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The final slopes up to the col.

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The views were majestic and I’d forgotten until I dug out the old photos that we had a pretty decent cloud inversion as well.

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Looking back down to our route of ascent and the icy covered lake.

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Not 100% sure but I think that’s Pico de Aneto.

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Another photo that’s been up on my wall for years as part of a montage (hence the half faded look). TBF is sporting some kind of turban look fashioned from a T-Shirt. She’d been complaining about headaches so we pointed out that perhaps not wearing a hat whilst being out all day under bright powerful sun might be the cause (hence the rest of party’s own daft looking headwear). This was her attempt to rectify that oversight, not having brought a hat.

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We tried to climb one of the nearby rocky peaks (the Aguja de Salenques) but they looked technically quite hard and the ridge was narrow and exposed. THO made it to the top of one but he’s the proper rock artist of the group.

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Satisfied with a superb day out we headed back to base camp. More deep snow, now even softer and wetter then the morning, more deep holes to fall in. Here, TBF has given up any attempt to keep dry feet and just stomped through the stream. Yeti gaiters were a godsend on this trip.

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We had some superb cloud effects while we chilled out at camp and ate tea.

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The reasons escape me but on this trip we were always short of food and severe rationing was in place. We had conversations that went “can I have another hazelnut? No! you had one this morning” and such like. We also survived on some of the most tasteless and stale looking bread rolls you could possibly imagine, from a brand called Bimbo (make your own jokes please).

Ever since then, whenever I’m backpacking or wild camping I always take far more food than I could ever need for fear of going hungry. I also carry the weight of proper food as far as possible. After a hard day in the mountains there is nothing more depressing than looking into the food bag and realising that the evening meal is something dehydrated, grey and bland (Chop Suey Beanfeast anyone?). Give me fresh stir fry vegetables and chicken any day!

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Another superb day from the history books. We were now ready to tackle the big one.

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Back in Time – Pyrenees 1993 Part 2   12 comments

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Second day and the weather was scorchingly good. Clear blue skies and an awesome day in the offing. What do to do though. Clearly the high peaks were a little plastered in very deep snow and we were quite low down so a smaller peak was required. In the absence of any maps worthy of the name we took a look up the valley, spotted a likely looking unknown peak and headed for it. It was that kind of trip.

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My memory was of a climb that was a mix of rocky scrambling and very loose scree but nothing harder than a Snowdonia or Scottish peak. I think that’s Pico D’Aneto and the Maladeta massif in the background.

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In fact this shot makes it look not unlike the east ridge of Crib Goch from the Pig track.

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Even though we were walking on snow it was fiercely hot, hence the rather odd look of gaiters and shorts I’m sporting. The smaller peaks on the left of the photo below are, I think, the peaks we climbed the day before

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No idea what that peak is, might be Pico de Posets.

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Smaller peaks like this are likely rarely climbed so we felt like pioneers on a new route. It was immense fun and the combination of snowy ridges and deep blue skies under a blazing sun was irresistible.

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The views of the surrounding mountains wasn’t bad either.

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We carried on around the ridge, this shot looking back to our first peak. From there we dropped down to the valley. I have a memory of one of my best standing glissades ever (skiing on your boots). The wet snow was just perfect for it.

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This shot has been up on my wall for years. Its a combination of a very happy moment, lazing on warm rocks in the sun and the rather dodgy scene of UF and THO with their hands in their trousers! God knows what they were doing but its always made us laugh.

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This spot was just tremendous, crystal clear waters and warm sunshine. I remember it like it was yesterday.

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Walking back down the valley to collect the tents you can see our un-named peak on the left.

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We headed back to the car and pitched up at a different campsite in place called Castejon. The campsite was officially closed but the owner let us use it and opened up the loo blocks for us. No hot water mind, so showers were brutally cold. Not really that much of a problem as it was brutally hot in the sun.

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Hence, there we are hiding in the shade behind the tent.

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We re-supplied as best we could, this part of Spain wasn’t well furnished with Supermarkets, ready for another trip into the mountains.

More comedy ensued as we decided to buy an outrageously outsized water melon, the size and weight of a medicine ball. We then convinced TBF that we were taking it with us and that she needed to carry it – just for a laugh to see how she’d react. She threw a fit about how stupid it was to take a water melon wild camping and that she wanted no part of such idiocy let alone carry it (it must have weighed well over 10lbs) before realising the gag. The joke was then on all of us as we realised we had nothing to cut it up with. Cue the comical sight of us trying to hack into a water melon a foot in diameter with a small swiss army pen knife. It was nice though.

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Off into the wilds the next day. Proper mountains to be climbed.

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Posted April 9, 2020 by surfnslide in Pyrenees, Spain

Tagged with , , ,

Back in Time – Pyrenees 1993 Part 1   23 comments

As new hikes are currently on hold its time to go back to the 1990’s and relive some memories from trips gone by. 1993 was a year of contrasts for me. I managed to get myself fired from my job and ended up up out of work and back living with my Mom and Dad for a year. On the plus side I managed a couple of superb trips to the mountains. This is the first of those and it remains a classic.

I’ve been very lucky indeed to travel to some wonderful places over the years including Australia but this trip still has a special place in my heart for reasons that will become clear through the next few posts.

1993 was a simpler time. An age without digital photos (hence the rather lower quality of images scanned from photo prints). It was also an age without the Internet so these trips involved planning by guide book, poor quality maps and a whole lot of guess work.

None of us had ever been to the Pyrenees so we thought it would be a great place for a May/June half term week away. Being the high mountain obsessed group we were, we wanted to climb Pico D’Aneto, the highest mountain in the range so we headed for Benasque, the nearest mountain village. Armed with climbing guide books and some frankly appalling quality Spanish military maps we were underway.

In those days we did some pretty intense travelling by car. This trip was started off by seeing Ben Elton (when he was still funny) in Manchester and then driving pretty much straight down to Dover, night ferry to Calais and then a very, very long drive to the Pyrenees via Paris and Bordeaux. At a guess it must be about 1200 miles which we did pretty much non-stop (other than the ferry) starting off late Thursday and arriving late Friday night. I don’t think there is any way I could undertake such a madcap journey now, but we always used to enjoy them. We had no idea whether Benasque had a campsite but as luck would have it did and we found it in the dark! Different times.

We felt we needed to “warm up” before tackling Pico D’Aneto so on our first day we headed off into the Estos Valley to find a wild camp base and climb some mountains. No idea what the valley was like, whether the path was any good or what we’d find. We just found a sign-post by the road, parked up and headed off. Different times!

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It was stunning. Green pastures, clear water streams and towering mountains. Magnificent

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Obviously with this being 28 years ago we all looked very young and had hair! Here is TBF, sporting a very 90’s hairstyle. I should point out that I didn’t have a camera in those days and Smartphones were a long way in the future. The photos are taken by UF and TBF which gives you the dubious pleasure of seeing yours truly in many of them which should give you a laugh if nothing else.

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Having passed the Estos Hut we spied a likely spot down by the river to camp and it was just magnificent.

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Perfect flat grass, right next to the river with mountain views, what could be better. For those of you old enough to remember that’s a Vango Force 10, classic! Lightweight backpacking tents were starting to appear at this point but we thought we could all squeeze into one tent, albeit a heavy one, to be sociable. Different times!

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Not a bad spot eh!

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For our first day out in the mountains we headed up towards the Pico de Posets, second highest summit in the range. I don’t recall if we were actually planning to climb it (much of my recall of the fine detail of this trip is sketchy at best) as its quite hard and loose.

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What I do remember was that bashing up the grassy steep slopes was hard and that in late May there is still an awful lot of snow in the Pyrenees. We had no idea or any way to work out what conditions were going to be like and were rather surprised to find all that snow when we’d expected bare slopes of rock. That snow was very deep, very unconsolidated, very wet and very hard work to climb. Different times!

If we ever did have plans to climb Pico de Posets, I can tell you we got nowhere near it.

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Not that it mattered. The scenery was magnificent and we did manage to climb a couple of small peaks. Looking at my guide book they may have been either or possibly both of the Agujas de la Paul, but in truth I have no idea.

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You can tell from the smiles in most of these photos that we were having a blast anyway. In case you were wondering, that’s me in the middle in the above photo, flanked by THO and UF.

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Summit photo with THO sporting the garden gnome look, me going through a phase of plastering my face and nose with white sun block and looking pretty stupid into the bargain. THO still owns and wears that hat. In fact looking through these photos has me feeling sentimental about t-shirts, shorts and hats that accompanied me on many travels. Different times!

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After hours battering through deep snow we were knackered and feet were wet so we headed back down. Through more wonderful high meadows backed by crags and towering peaks.

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We were much keener, much fitter and much faster in those days but even then we always found time for long rests.

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Still can’t believe how young both me and THO look in this photo! Different times!

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Back to the tent for an evening of fun and frolics by the tent. This involved a fun game of “chucking the onion” between me and THO. How long did that game last? Until the onion went in the river and was washed away of course. Evening meal of tuna, pasta and onion now reduced in taste and quantity by 30%!

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