Friday, March 25, 2011

Going Underground

The Summer Walking Holiday that Pyrenees Mountain Adventure offers includes a free day when there is no guided walk planned and clients can choose how they wish to spend their time. Something out of the ordinary is a trip underground caving. Inside the Catalan Pyrenees Regional Nature Park there is the Fontrabiouse cave system which can be visited. 

For those who like their cave tours a little more adventurous and athletic, there is the Aguzou Caves just outside the Park boundary.

This is less touristy than Fontrabiouse with the cave system in a much more original state. No artificial lighting has been installed. Numbers are strictly limited to preserve the fragile eco system. Group size is small and the tour takes the form of a 1.5km/1 mile underground hike.

You will need to wear the caving overalls and head torch that are provided and if you choose the full day tour, a climbing harness as well. The tour leader who will look after you is the very knowledgeable and enthusiastic Philippe.
The different parts of the cave system are aptly named: Hall of Flowers; Room of Chaos; Room of a Thousand and One Nights; Room of the Queens Crown. 

As well as an impressive display of stalactites and stalagmites,

of which there are some enormous examples,

The Minaret is 6m/25ft high

there are also some smaller, finer treasures.

Calcite Triangle

Bat Skeleton

Coral Aragonite


Monday, March 21, 2011

Top 10 Mountain Books

1. Into The Wild. Jon Krakauer (1998)
Chris MacCandless grew up in a wealthy family and was gifted intellectually and athletically. He graduated from Emory University with Honours in 1990 and had plans to attend Harvard Law School. Soon afterwards however, he gave 24,000 dollars  that he had saved to Oxfam and went ‘walkabout’, severing all contact with his family and friends, creating a new life for himself tramping around the US. In April 1992 he hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wild. Four months later his decomposed body was found by a hunter.
‘The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlesssly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun’

2. Touching The Void. Joe Simpson (1988)
 A remarkable survival story. Having made a successful first ascent in Peru with Simon Yates, Joe Simpson falls on the descent and breaks his leg. He eventually ends up falling into a crevasse and Simon believes he is dead. Joe, alone, manages to get out the crevasse and crawl back to camp. 
 ‘Cold had long since won its battle. I accepted that I was to die. Sleep beckoned insistently; a black hole calling me, pain free…..’

3. The Man Who Married a Mountain. Rosemary Bailey (2005)
Rosemary Bailey takes a journey through the Pyrenees. In the process we learn more about this beautiful region and the lives of some of the colourful characters who explored and popularised the area in the nineteenth century. Foremost among them is Count Henry Russel who had an astonishing relationsip with the highest peak on the French side of the chain – the Vignemale.
 ‘Of all those that sought the Sublime and the Beautiful in the Pyrenees, it was Henry Russel who found it.’

4. Climbing High. Lene Gammelgard. (1999)
A woman's account of surviving the killer storm that swept across Everest without warning in the spring of 1996 from someone who was there. Gammelgard made the summit on May 10 but 12 of those on Everest that day would later die – the worst single season death toll on the peak. Many were part of commercial expeditions who had paid large sums of money to be guided to the highest point on earth.
 ‘What I want to share is not the death and tragedy of climbing, but the majestic beauty of the high mountains and the incredible experience of pursuing the challenge of Everest....... I want to share my love for the mountains, for the wilderness where I feel at home.’

5. The Wild Places. Robert Macfarlane (2007)
Robert Macfarlane sets out on a journey around the British Isles, experiencing many different landscapes (e.g. moor, forest, mountaintop,valley, ridge, beach, marsh) in many different ways (e.g. tree climbing, lake swimming, night walking, sleeping on a frozen lake) to discover if any real wild places remain.
 ‘The losses to the wild places of Britain and Ireland were unignorable, and the threats they faced – pollution, climate change – appeared greater in number and vigour than ever before. But I knew that wildness had not wholly vanished.’

6. Mountains of the Mind : A History of a Fascination. Robert Macfarlane (2003)
Over the last 300 years or so there has been a reversal in attitude towards mountains. No longer are they feared, cursed and avoided at all costs. Mountains now attract us with their beauty and the opportunity they offer to enable us to reconnect with nature. For many, mountains have become a neccessity. Macfarlane looks back at the changed relationship between man and mountains.

7. Son of the Wilderness. Linnie Marsh Wolfe (1945)
This is the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of John Muir. After a harsh childhood in Scotland he become a leading, influential crusader for conservation in the US – a wilderness prophet.
 ‘John Muir came down from the mountains that fall of 1875 with the firm resolve to make all the wilderness better known and loved, that it might be cherished by future generations’

8. Backpacks, Boots and Baguettes. Simon Calder and Mick Webb 2004
A humerous, informative account of completing the GR10 Traverse across the Pyrenees from Atalantic to Mediterranean.
 ‘..if there is one thing more exciting than finding your path it has to be the joy of making your own one’

9. I Bought A Mountain. Thomas Firbank (1940)
A 21 year old Canadian, fresh from two years working in a factory, who cannot speak Welsh and has never farmed, decides to buy a Welsh hill farm in the shadow of Snowdon. Against all odds, Thomas Firbank and his wife Esme, succeed. This is their story.
 ‘The rain was a balm, the wind a caress, the wild Welsh mountains a purge. I think I had decided to buy (the farm) even before the bonnet (of the car) was blown away’

10. The Spirit of Adventure. Colin Mortlock (2009)
Colin Mortlock has already written two books (‘The Adventure Alternative 1984 and ‘Beyond Adventure 2001) reflecting on what it means to be a good person and how adventurous, solo journeys in wild places can help us to discover ourselves and develop the necessary virtues to be better members of the human race.  This third book was started soon after his beloved wife Annette died and finds Colin Mortlock, in old age, again reflecting back on his life journey,  trying to pass on the wisdom he has gained from his experiences teaching outdoor education and adventuring. A thought provoking, inspiring work, as were his other books.
‘Wild nature holds crucial answers as to how to live our lives’

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Frozen Lakes and Conifer Forests

On a recent 2 days spent walking near Lake Bouillouse, the sunny weather for which the Eastern Pyrenees is famous was nowhere to be seen. Snow flurries, gusting winds and biting cold only relented by the afternoon of the second day.

One of the Many Frozen Lakes in the Area

Still, the weather conditions gave the area an Arctic look at times which I enjoyed.

Conditions Gave the Area  an Arctic Feel

I also enjoyed the wind sculpted snow.

Sastrugi - wind sculpted snow

Unfortunately, there were no views from the summit of Tossal Colomer that had been cleared of most of its snow by the wind. I was not able to look across to the Pic Carlit, the highest peak in the Catalan Pyrenees Regional Nature Park and first climbed by the famous Count Henry Russel. Neither was I able to look down on the myriad of lakes for which this particular area of the Park is famous.

Happily, the weather brightened for the descent and I was able to see more of the delightful valley along which I made my approach.

Looking Back at the Final Col Before the Summit (Hidden on the Right)

With the weather hot and sunny for the return to the Bouillouse Dam, I was able to look back at my  snow shoe tracks in the fresh powder snow and in the distance Tossal Colomer

Fresh Tracks and in the Distance Tossal Colomer