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.







Hiking the Pyrenees (Batère to Cortalets)

Our holiday started on Friday. But as the office door closed up behind me, I didn’t have the faintest idea where I would find myself the next day. I met Waffle at his office where we dived into weather forecasts on a wide range over Europe. We quickly ruled out the Alps, (good thing, since for example Austria was covered in snow!), then we more or less booked tickets to sail to Corsica, but didn’t. Eventually we just decided to drive towards the Pyrenees, living in the hopes that Ordesa would miraculously turn out to be dry before the next evening.

Just in case we did waddle through Wikiloc, to find walks in other areas of the Pyrenees, that might not be drenched. Our only hope of surviving with dry feet seemed to loom at the Mediterranean Pyrenees. Other places were receiving over 30 ml of water on worst days.

We left around 7 pm, over Paris and then down south. The plan was to stop and sleep at a roadside hotel somewhere around Clermont-Ferrand. That had obviously been the plan for almost every other holiday goer too. All the hotels were full, so we soldiered on. Poor Waffle had to keep awake and alert behind the wheel for hours on end. We stopped at the Millau viaduct to have a power nap of an hour or two.

A miracle hadn’t happened. As we woke up, the weather continued to be bad in Ordesa so we headed towards a hike around the Canigou massif. Gr10 and a bit of off trail over the ridges was in the menu. Our starting point was at the Refuge of Batère which sits on the GR10 at 1400 meters or so. We arrived there well before noon, so we would have a nice day ahead of us.

Waffle heaved his 20kg package up to his back as I was wiggling into my, much lighter, load. Waffle didn’t want me to carry much, since I was coming down with a flu.  Excited to get back onto a long trek in the mountains, we were off!

The first part of our hike followed the GR10 from Batère to Refuge des Cortalets. We took it easy, strolled in the lower hills of the massif. The trail was nothing too demanding, bit of ups, bit of downs, good highway of a trail. We camped somewhere in the half way point between the two refuges, on a meadow looking up to the higher ridges.

Once the tent was standing, it was time for cooking. Well, boiling water, pouring it into a green bag and waiting for 10 minutes. All was as normal, except this time we had a gas stove, with no piezo. Then became the chilling realization, that we had forgotten to take matches or a lighter with us. Not the kind of thing you want to realize at 6 pm with hours of walking to anything where you could find a fire making tool.

Followed a desperate search through our backpacks. I sometimes carry an extra lighter in the hood compartment, but not this time. Waffle was turning all his stuff around again and again. A slight desperation was settling in. Until we hit the jackpot! There was a survival kit hidden in one corner of Waffles huge package, with a total of 9 matches in! Hooray! It is not often you get this happy with the sight of matches.

Our evening was saved, we got warm food and even mastered a small campfire, to keep us company. Soon after the sun had fallen behind the mountains, the cold started to settle in, quick as it does in the mountains.  I was happy to give in to the tiredness and crawl into my sleeping bag.

The following day the trail took us slowly higher. We were accompanied by the orchestra of bells, as the cows searched through the shrubberies in hope of food. Soon we started to see large black birds gliding and circling in thermals. They turned out to be vultures. Half a dozen of them!

As we made our way forward the trail turned into a road and the mountain cows into 4×4 cars filled with tourists heading the the mountain refuge. They seemed to find our quest amusing. The sun was high and hot once we arrived to the Cortalets to have a break, eat (excellent bill berry pies!), refill our waters and most importantly -buy some matches!

We were planning on walking the GR10 up until the Canigou. Soon after we would head off the trail, to the mountains in a wilder fashion. In the map it seemed that after a rocky climb to Puig del Roc Nègre the way would even out to a grassy ridge. Good enough for us. We still wanted to confirm from the staff of the refuge, that our plan was OK and they were kind enough to confirm. Some adjustment on the approach for the peak, but otherwise they said it would be doable.

Reassured by the news, we wobbled on, to the final approach on the peak of Canigou. There was a fleeting moment of internet connectivity, so we downloaded a route from Wikiloc, to guide us through the roughest patches. Just to be sure.

The climb towards Canigou peak was easy going. There are hundreds and hundreds of people trotting it up and down every day, so the trail resembles more of a road. My worsening cough and the merciless sun of the early afternoon forced us to take it easy. We decided not to climb the whole way that day, but to camp a few hundred meters below the peak, where we still found some flat enough meadows.

We had a long afternoon to just hang around up there, enjoy the nature around us and see how the changing light played with the colors in the surrounding mountains. We cooked and went to bed early. Tomorrow would be the heaviest day of the hike.

To be continued….










Eisleck trail in Belgium

Finally the beautiful summer arrived to Belgium. Momentarily at least. We had a short weekend hike planned in the Ardennes. We had our minds set on the Eisleck trail, or at least a short part of it. The plan was to follow it from Houffalize to Nadrin and camp at the bivak zones close to the trail.

On Friday everything was packed and we, Waffle, Waffle’s colleague and her son plus I, were heading down south with two cars. First car was dropped off in the small town of Nadrin and we continued with one towards Houffalize and our first camping spot.

The bivak zones are a great thing these Belgians have come up with. They offer room for tents and a fire place in a shelter and they are for free. Often times they also have water available too!  This one was close to Houffalize, on top of a hill, next to small field, there were other people too, enjoying their evening.

We quickly guided our friends to the secrets of erecting a tent, had dinner with some wine and watched the sunset. Even I managed to stay awake past 10 in the evening. That normally never happens if we are on a hike.

Saturday woke us up with warm sunshine and a nice choir of birds. We were looking at a hike of around 15 kilometers that day and the red wine was still lingering around me. Good thing we had some extra coffee with us to get things going.

Our convoy left towards the car again where we dropped off excess stuff before heading to Houffalize. There we did some shopping for cold drinks and something extra to nibble on on the trail, plus brand new scarves to cover the heads of the ladies once the last shower would be only a distant memory..

The trail took a short climb up from the valley where the village is and dived into a forest that surrounds the river Ourthe Orientale. It was a bridle way, a hikers highway, but still we mostly got to enjoy solitude. We passed through forests and fields and dropped down to the river, with rather pleasant picnic spots. Our original plan was to make it all the way to the bivak zone in Engreux, but we started to reconsider, since it would leave us only a minor distance to walk on the last day and that bivak was far away from the river.

The map showed us an area along the river with not too many places of civilization close by and we decided somewhat in unison to find our camping spot from there, a little bit off of the Eisleck trail. The unmarked path followed the riverside  for a while, climbing to higher grounds only slightly. Which was a good thing, since my knees were complaining again and some sings of tiredness began to emrge in the group. We were in luck! By the trail there was a smooth spot of mossy ground in an old spruce forest. Perfect for sleeping! Some old fire pits were there already and the river was close by, it was sold!

We popped the wine for the evening into the river to cool down a little, put up our tents and built a campfire. It is very handy to have a boy from the scouts with you, they will immediately attack the fire building duties. It was a relaxed evening, listening to the streaming of the water and birds in the trees. The soft evening light is so beautiful in a forest like that, giving a whole different nature to the shades of green.

The evening went by, we ate, talked, checked for the route for the following day (straightest trail to the car). The bathing in the river was also a refreshing experience; flowing water never really gets too warm. After that dive it was so nice to crawl in the tent and let the sleep take you to the next morning.

We had our breakfast and slowly got on our way.Soon the trail took us to some cliffs right at the river side. There the heavy rainfalls had loosened the soft ground and taken our trail to the river and replaced it with fallen trees. To get through that, we needed some improvisation. Waffle went ahead to find a safe route to get higher, on top of the cliffs, where we would hopefully be able to carry on without too much trouble. That plan worked, up until the next cliff, where we had to scramble again a little higher. We progressed slow and Waffle had to carry some extra weight too, to get the whole group through.

I think we were all more or less happy to finally find a trail that didn’t disappear into a muddy landslide after 20 meters.  It was smooth going once we found the Eisleck again and started to follow it towards Engreux and the Lake of Nisramont. On the go we even found some trees chewed by beavers!

The trail was very beautiful and it passed plenty of viewpoints, either to the river and the lake or to the beautiful Belgian countryside. Still I was happy, when a sign said that Nadrin was only 15 minutes away. In the village we sat in a cafe with less than friendly service, had beers and compared the amount of tick bites.

After that little rest, we packed ourselves into the car, drove back to the other car in Houffalize, found some more ticks and headed for our own separate ways.

I think I learned a thing or two on the way:

  1.  Waffle is an absolute hero. He keeps his calm, takes care of everybody, deserving or not, and makes things so much funnier and easier.
  2. I am a bloody lucky bastard to have a Waffle.
  3. You should always allow yourself to spend time with those people who you can be grateful for, and who are grateful for your company too. That will create positive energy and enjoying the beauty of things is so much better with them.
  4. Red wine doesn’t solve all the problems in the world. Not even with chocolate.

P.S. Sorry for the pictures. We noticed too late, that there was a smutch on the lense, now there is a smutch on all the pictures too.