Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Summer Triangle

August is a great time to be watching the night sky. Although not quite as impressive as the Winter Hexagon, the Summer Triangle can be easily spotted. It is made up of 3 of the brightest stars in the night sky. Vega in Lyra (Latin for Lyre), Deneb in Signus (Latin for Swan) and in Altair in Aquila (Latin for Eagle)

Look south eastwards (135°) and search for Cygnus first

The brightest star is deneb which is from dhaneb, the Arabic for "tail" (Tail of the swan) Part of the constellation makes up of theNorthern Cross. (Bolder green in the image.)

Now look for Vega in Lyra to the right of Cygnus (see image above). The final of the three stars is another bright star below Deneb and Vega. It is called Altair. It comes froman abreviation of the arabic phrase 'the flying eagle'

Join the three stars up and you have the Sumer triangle.

In the film Contact, (originally a book by Carl Sagan) the message intercepted by Jodi Foster's character is coming from Vega.

Jodie Foster character in Contact 'I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever... A vision... of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how... rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater then ourselves, that we are not, that none of us are alone!'

All night sky images from Wikipedia.

Good News And Bad News

The bad news is that a bear cub was been found dead in the Eastern Pyrenees (Ariege, Couserens) last month. The body had been partially eaten by vultures (which 'clean' the mountains of dead animals) and this made it difficult to state with certainty the cause of death. Initial inspection of the carcass suggested that it had not been shot as there was no holes in the skin. There are several possible causes of death; an illness, attack by an adult male, poor care from the mother, a bad fracture etc.

On a happier note, at least 2 ( possibly 3) bear cubs born this winter were seen with their mother playing in the snow in the same area of the Pyrenees. The group of bears was watched for over an hour by walkers who were within a 100 metres. Photos were taken by the walkers but they were not conclusive. It wasn't until after a team from the Hunting and Wildlife Commission were able to study the prints, hairs and droppings in the area that the presence of a female and at least 2 cubs was confirmed. Further study will be able to determine the sex of the cubs and their father. He is likely to be Pyros, a male bear introduced from Slovenia in 1997.

The presence of bears in the Pyrenees continues to divide the chain. For the farmers with livestock to protect, 1 more bear is 1 too many. A public meeting was organised 27th July in St Girons (Ariege) by ASPAP. For the pro bear lobby, even if births this winter have helped the total bear population in the Pyrenees to climb towards 25, this is still too few a number to guarantee the survival of the species. More introductions are necessary.

Anti Bear Lobby: Association pour la SAUVEGARDE du PATRIMOINE D’ARIEGE-PYRENEES

Pro Bear Lobby: Pays de l'Ours -  ADET

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cortalets to Marialles Ridge Route

A fantastic day today. Having seen the Concert for the Sunrise I leave the Cortalets Refuge for The Marialles Refuge not by the normal routes but by the ridge route.

I start my descent from the Crete du Barbet and get my first view of Puig Sec and the ridgeline behind which is partly obscured by mist. This quickly clears.

Looking at the Porteille de Valmanya and Puig Sec (2665m) with the Ridge Behind.

Ascent and descent of the Puig Sec brings me nearer to the ridge which can now be clearly seen.

Puig Del Roc Negre (2714m) and Puig Dels Tres Vents (2731m)

I miss Puig Del Roc Negre but reach the summit of the Puig Dels Tres Vents which offers great views back towards Pic Canigou.

Pic Canigou (2784m) and the Gougs (Lakes) de Cady

The next peak is Puig Roja (2742m) and then the Pic Des Sept Hommes (2651m). From this peak I descend down to the plateau Pla Guillem.

Pla Guillem
On the final approach to the Marialles Refuge and a welcome refreshing drink, I discover an old shepherds shelter - dry stone walls and turf roof!

Old Shepherds Shelter

Concert For The Sunrise

It is Sunday morning and 6 a.m. It is dark and despite it being the very end of July, cold. A strong wind is blowing. I am outside the Cortalets Refuge on the slopes of Pic Canigou at 2150m wrapped in my sleeping bag trying to stay warm. There are perhaps 200 other people with me.

Why? Because as part of The Pablo Casals Music Festival 5 musicians are about to play chamber music to welcome the arrival of the Sun King.

They start playing just after 6.20 a.m. and the dark red rising sun can be seen throught the dark clouds at about 6.40 a.m. A magical moment! The scene fits perfectly with the theme of the  2011 festival: Chamber Music Highs.

Michel Lethiec the festival director said: I've always wanted to play a concert on the Canigou mountain. Today his dream became a reality.

Pablo Casals was a Catalan cellist who was exiled from Spain under Franco and settled in Prades making his home in the shadow of Pic Canigou. It was he who started the Predes Music Festival.

All photos from L'Independent newspaper. Source:,47625.php

Pic Bugarach

A circular walk to Pic Bugarach starting and finishing in the village and passing the Cascade de Mathieux and La Fenêtre. 

You start on a section of Sentier Cathare/Cathar Way – a 250 km/ mile footpath which winds its way between Port-la-Nouvelle on the Mediterranean Coast and Foix, between a large number of villages and chateaux with strong links to the Cathars. After 2.5km/ 1.5miles from the village, the path passes above the Cascade des Mathieux. The waterfall cannot been seen from the path so look out for the small sign on your left.  A real hidden treasure.

As the path gets steeper, the trees thin and it becomes necessary to use your hands to scramble up the limestone. La fenêtre/ window is a natural opening in the limestone rock which the path passes behind. After more scrambling, the summit comes into view . 

Summit View From Pic Bugarach
Very windy on the summit as is often the case here. My binoculars help identify the large bird of prey as a vulture. There is a 360° panorama. Not a particularly clear day so the views not as spectacular as they can be.

To the north is the Montagne d'Alaric (30°). To the east two cathar castles – Peyrepertuse (88°) and Quéribus (98°) and the sea 60km away. To the south are the Pyrenees closest to the sea with the unmistakable outline of Pic Canigou (170°). To the west more of the Pyrenees with the Pic St Barthelemy (266°) and closer the hill top village of Rennes-le-Château (306°).

While on the summit I thought about  how  according to some, the end of the Mayan calendar on 21st December 2011 means the end of the world! Except that is for those who are in the vicinity of Bugarach village which will escape the apocolypse apparently. As well as the end of the world, much has been written linking Pic Bugarach to hidden treasure, unidentified flying objects and strange lights etc. It is even said that it inspired Steven Spielberg and his film 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' although the actual peak in the film is based almost certainly on the Devils Tower in Wyoming.

I found an esoteric geometric pattern carved into the summit rock and later found an identical pattern carved into a large rock close to the descent path.

Esoteric Geometric Pattern Carved Into The Summit Rock
The descent path from the summit soon enters a shady forest of box. Box wood is a hard wood and so heavy it will sink in water ! Lower down beech appear as well offering welcome shade.

'Rams Head'/Beech Roots