Hiking the Pyrenees (Canigou – Puig dèl Roc Negre)

Canigou, Pyrenees, Hiker

Read here the first two days!

After a couple of days of hiking, sleep tends to come quickly. This time however, we had managed to put our tent up onto a slope and we kept sliding down and sideways on our mattresses. So neither of us was extremely fresh or well rested the following morning.

The morning seemed to mock our sad bearings. It was ridiculously beautiful, fresh and well rested. We dragged our dreary bodies out of the tent to the chill air of the morning and looked around in awe. The world looked different to the one we had left behind last night.

The rising sun brought about a hunger as well, the stove was lit and soon I was sipping my hot coffee, warming my fingers around it. I had the feeling, every bit of energy was going to be needed this day as we were planning on climbing two peaks, which meant quite some meters up and down, partially off trail.

We started hiking around 9 am, which left us plenty of time to take it easy. The climb up to Canigou was even irritatingly mild. The perfectly serpentine trail was easy to walk and we were up in no time. The view up there was humbling, as it always is. That is one of the key reasons you climb to the peak, rather than just wobbling pass it. Canigou is the first higher peak of the Pyrenees on the Mediterranean side. With good weather your eyes can reach all the way to the sea in the east and far across the mountain range to the north and west.

Followed a chocolate munching session and a viewing of the landscape to determine the route down and then up again. We would have to scramble very steeply down before reaching a wide serpentine trail down to the bottom of the next valley, somewhere there we would separate off to our own way.

A bit later it started to get crowded op there on the peak, so we headed on… or well, down to be more accurate. The trail went through a gap in the rocky neck of the mountain and plummeted vertically for a few meters. With the backpacks it took some careful planning to get down from there. Waffle had to take his pack off and swing it down ahead of him to get through the steepest bits. We were both extremely happy for it not being wet.

Slowly but surely we advanced in our descent, and about ½ hour later we were past the vertical and back on something that looked like a trail. But the next issue was not far from us; water. Our map didn’t show us any sources for the rest of the hike. We might have to wobble all the way to the next refuge, which would mean additional meters up and down and a few extra kilometers in distance. That would mean that we would probably not make it back from the trail before it would start raining. What to do?

As normal responsible adults we moved on, to leave the decision to be made at the last possible moment.  In the wondrous scenery around us it was easy to forget a small detail like that. The valley we were descending to was one of those fairy tale mountain valleys, with meadows, lakes and a winding trail in the middle.

Then when we actually did happen upon a spring, right on our route, flowing with water, we were thrilled! No need for extra meters up or down. Furthermore, at that point we still had plenty of time in our hands, so we treated ourselves to a picnic, under a boulder. Hot coffee, plenty of water and cookies helps a long way!

In the meanwhile the sun had passed the midday point, the temperature was more tolerable for walking. Soon we found the point where we left the path and headed towards the Porteille de Leca, which would take us to the approach to the Puig del Roc Negre.

We ended up to a paradise of meadows, lakes and streams, just calling your toes to dip in. Some hippie looking people had been camping there with donkeys and a pony, those lucky people! I hope to return to that spot myself one day!

Our route went from one lake to another, over boulders and marsh. We even saw some marmots! Even though there was no real trail, there were cairns here and there, so we could find our way. We just had to make sure to follow the right ones so we would end up to the correct side of the cirque, and on the correct ridge further on.

Soon we left the small lakes and streams and marmots behind and started climbing higher, through patches of grass, scree and boulders. Waffle’s pack was full again, with all the water and he was starting to suffer as I navigated from cairn to cairn, higher into more and more difficult terrain. We advanced slowly but the climb was steep, so it wasn’t long before we reached the saddle between Puig del Roc Negre and Très Vents.

It is tiring, this type of hiking, where you have to be constantly alert, firstly not to get lost and secondly not to break your ankles. Neither of us was particularly fresh as we started the walk up to the Roc Negre. Neither of us was particularly happy to find out that the cairns disappeared and all we had in front of us, was huge slabs of rock piled together in a pretty unwelcoming manner.

So the hike didn’t really get any simpler and Waffle was getting visibly tired. We scrambled higher, slowly and fairly unsurely, until we ended up to a spot where we didn’t immediately see a way forward. The peak was just a few meters above us, but the slabs had gotten bigger, more vertical and the gasping holes in between them were terrifying to wobble over.

Well, we couldn’t stick there for a long time; I went to look for a solution. I found one, a bit further, on the other side of the ridge. If we just crawled over the sharp edge we would get some sturdier ground under our boots, what a relieve was it to see that! The fear of not getting there was subsiding. The journey started advancing again, as we didn’t need to check and double check every single step we took.

We still needed to make our way around a boulder or two. Then, the greatest sight ever: a trail! The ridge towards Batère reached to the distance in front of us, wide, soft and grassy. Alongside it a trail! The relief dropped me through my knees. Waffle was beside himself. We would be able to make it back to our starting point without hassle!

A few steps further, we found a saddle, with meadow. A camping spot in our language. Such a good feeling it was to get off of your feet, wrap yourself up warmly (the wind was icy!) and just wait for the sun to set and get resting for the next day.

It was such a straining day, both physically and emotionally.

 

 

 

 

 

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The road that led us to Wales…

Snowdonia, A5, Wales

As usual, an approaching long weekend gave us a reason to anxiously keep looking at the weather and hikeability of areas not too far away. In our priority list the Swiss Alps were keeping a high position, but as the day of departure approached the weather was looking increasingly bad.

Eventually the only option was to leave for the always so sunny Wales!

We had been changing long looks with the Snowdonia National Park and this seemed as the perfect opportunity to explore its hills. I was still a little bit bitter, since I have been really anxious to go to the Alps, but then again, lemons become lemonade, or how do we say it.

On a Wednesday we had our boat ticket on hand and passports in tow and our house on wheels attached to the car as we headed for work for the day. Turned out, that was more or less everything useful we had packed. Slowly it all became to sink in. We had our shower, but no towels. Yay. We had our camping chairs, but no fire bucket. Yay, again. We had sunny weather coming up, but no sunscreen. Yay, I always wanted to look like 50 when I turn 30.

More importantly, we had forgotten the licence plate of the trailer. Not exactly a good thing when crossing a border. So Waffle ended up running around like a headless chicken to get a new plate made. In the meanwhile I was hunting down some duct tape, to attache the plate with, since we didn’t pack any screws.

Waffle also had found out, that the lock on the door of our trailer did not really hold. So our trailer door was casually flapping away as it was pulled around the highways. The duct tape came in handy here too.

After a vigorous day of working and running around we were finally on the road to Calais, France. On the same road there were approximately 2,73 million other people trying to spot a piece of coast to sit on. That all resulted into us being stuck in a jam for an extra two hours, missing 2 boat connections and arriving to Dover closer to midnight than anybody would have wished for.

Snowdonia, UK
On the A5 towards the hills!

Snowdonia, A5, Wales

Caravan, Road trip, Wales
Our road train!

As we rolled out of the boat, I propped myself into an upright position against the window in the desperate attempt to stay awake and keep Waffle company. Absolute failure that was, as I was soon slipping into the abyss of drooly, snorety car-sleep. Soon Waffle shook my grumpy ass awake, since he was falling asleep as well. We needed to stop and move ourselves to the sleeping room. We used some rope to make sure nobody could get in to our trailer while we snored, and crawled under the covers, to get an hour or two of shuteye.

The morning came all too soon, but the prospect of having some mountains to climb turned into motivation to get up and going. I don’t know how Waffle did it. I would have not been in any shape for driving with my crisscrossed eyes. But soon we entered the National Park and gasped at the sight of the first hills plummeting into valleys and rising up again to plateaus. I felt my hiking nerves tingle, deary me had I missed that feeling!

We parked our road train right underneath the peak of Tryfan. The first mountain we were planning on climbing that day. First, we tried to sleep a bit longer though, since the climb up would be scrambling, and somehow I think, a well rested brain is crucial for survival in such activities.

I’ll leave you here for now. More about the wonders of the hills, and whether or not we had luck with the weather,  in the next post!

Sneak a peek to our photos here!

 

 

 

 

Azores – The Wonder That Is Flores

You were abruptly left here the last time: Azores – The take Off 

We had made our way through the center of the island inside a thick cloud, being able to see only the first few meters of road ahead of us. So the dropping cliffs down to the coast came as a huge surprise as we finally reached them. Not to mention the almost ridiculous amount on waterfalls.

With our mouths open we drove down to the shore and found the town of Fajã Grande, which had a camping ground, free to use. The town also happened to be the westernmost village in Europe. It was a small, sleepy looking town, locked between the green slopes and waterfalls and the raging Atlantic, home to around 300 people and quite some cows.

We pitched our camp into a corner of a stone fence, to be safe from the sea winds and rain. Right on our doorstep there was the Atlantic, the coast displaying the frozen lava flows as rugged black rocks. The waves hitting the rocks were causing a constant mist of salty water flying around the whole town, we got slowly soaked as we stood there staring at the vastness of the ocean. We finished off the evening at the bar of the camping, enjoying some port wine and and local enthusiasm. It is not a common thing to have foreign tourists camping out there in the mid winter, so we did pull some attention.

The next morning we woke up with drizzle. That green blob of and island seemed to gather all the moist from the sea and mold it into clouds over the highlands, from where it drizzled down on everything. The day we spent by strolling around, looking at the views that were not covered by clouds. We found some waterfalls and a beautiful lake in the hillside, in the middle of a jungle in total peace and quiet. It was a bit of a lazy day of sightseeing, which was good, since both of us had a flu looming just around the corner.

Back at the campsite, there was a surprise waiting for us. Apparently all the attention of last evening wasn’t just because we were tourists camping out in winter. It was also because I was Finnish. As we arrived to the bar, some familiar sounding babbling from among all the Portuguese floated to my ears. There were other Finns there, at the furthest edge of Europe! Apparently there are a couple of Finns living there in Fajã Grande and they had gotten the notice of us camping almost instantly, and came to take a look if the rumor had any base in reality.

After some chitting and chatting we were invited for a dinner the home of one of these Finns. We learned that one of them had been living voluntarily outside of the safety net of the society in Fajã Grande in a hobbit hole for 12 years already and his friend had moved just a couple of years back. Inspiring stories we heard from them and enjoyed a very delicious meal too!

The camping at Fajã Grande became our home for the holiday. From there on out we did small excursion and hiked some distances when the weather allowed and nobody was dying out of fever. The island’s shores are littered with beautiful villages, connected by picturesque fishermen’s trails. Along those trails you can easily walk the complete length of the western coast. The eastern side is a little less hikable, but there are loops there too.

I loved the contrast between the paradise-like coastal areas and the rough and rugged highlands with the volcanic cones and lakes, often wrapped in clouds. You could almost think you are on another island altogether. On the coast the weather is relatively gentle, and sunny days are plentiful, as on the middle of the island the clouds hang low, leaving the visibility down to few meters and the air cool. No surprise that all the villages are right at the shore and the highlands are inhabited mainly by cows.

We bumped into the Finns still a few times, visited the hobbit hole and shared some wine, food and stories with them, learning loads about the island and how life there was. Turns out, quite some people have left their ordinary lives and settled on the island, to slow down in life. We had quite some inspiring conversations. (Also found out that it actually is real, French people like Aki Kaurismäki movies!)

When it finally was time to leave, we both were reluctant to see the island disappear behind us. We were rolling the idea in our mind of beginning a new life on one of these islands, like so many had done before us. Maybe still, one day?

We still had a day on Pico ahead of us. I’ll let you into that on the next post, hold on to your seats, the pretty things are not over!

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