Saturday, November 26, 2011

All Things Snow and Avalanche

Today was spent in the Meteo France lecture theatre in Toulouse for my annual refresher on all things snow and avalanche. A great way to prepare for the coming winter season.

Hosted by ANENA (National Association for the Study of Snow and Avalanches), FFME (The French Mountaineering and Climbing Federation) and The French Alpine Club, the 2011 training day was packed with useful, practical information to remind me about and reinforce previously learnt knowledge.

There were particularly good sessions on route choice and the new Meteo France avalanche bulletin  which will appear from December 12th this year. Another good talk was given by a member of Mountain Rescue on avalanche rescue.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bear Cubs Are Named

The 4 bear cubs born in the Pyrenees in 2010 now have names.  33, 000 people suggested names via the internet and from these a shortlist of 26 was chosen. A jury was put together to choose from the shortlist.

The 2 female cubs of Bambou et Pyros are called Floretta (Little Flower) and Fadeta (Little Fairy.) 

The daughter of Caramelle and Pyros is called Plume (Feather), and their 
son, Pelut (either Hairy or Wanderer.)

Sun, Snow And Snowshoeing

It has arrived - snow! Not in huge quantities but there was enough of it in the Eastern Pyrenees near Aston in the Ariege to spend a weekend snowshoeing.

The first day was spent ascending the Seignac Valley towards the Col du Sal. Snowshoes were necessary above 2000m.

Snowshoeing Towards the Col du Sal.
 At the Col du Sal (2480m) there were impressive views across to the Pic de Thoumasset (2741m).

Pic de Thoumasset from the Col du Sal.

The return was made by the Soulanet Valley and the Sabine Valley.

The next day was an ascent of the Pic de la Sabine.

Making Fresh Tracks Descending From Pic de la Sabine
On the descent from the Pic de la Sabine, the group were able to look across towards the previous days highpoint - the Col du Sal. An impressive cloud bank was stopped on the French/Andorran border.

Cloud bank on the French/Andorran Border.
Despite the winter landscape, colour was still evident below the snowline. There were the browns and golds  of the leaves of the deciduous trees but also the purple of the many crocuses in flower.

Autumn Crocus
Most colourful was the bright red of a fly agaric.The mushroom is poisonous but deaths are rare. In the Middle Ages it was apparently used as a fly killer when sprinkled in milk.

Fly Agaric.

Most surprising was the high number of Pyrenean Gentian to be found. They are normally in flower in July and August!

Pyrenean Gentian
On both days the group had the mountains to themselves - we saw no one. The second day we briefly shared our patch of mountain territory with a herd of isard. Snowshoes do not require prepared pistes or ski resort  uplifts. Quiter, hidden coners of the winter mountain environment can be discovered far from the hustle and bustle of the ski resorts.

2 of the group had never snowshoed before but did not take them long to get used to the snowshoes. If you are thinking of a Pyrenees Mountain Adventure snowshoe week and are worried because you have never snowshoed - don't be! Remember, if you can walk, you can snowshoe!

Monday, November 7, 2011

On This Day 7th November 1659

On the 7th November 1659 the Treaty of the Pyrenees was signed between France and Spain on neutral ground in the Basque Pyrenees. The signing took place on Pheasant Island, a river island on the border between the countries.

Map Showing The Northern Part of Catalonia Which Became French
The treaty ended the war at the time between France and Spain, with Spain agreeing to give up Northern Catalonia to the French crown. The area in the map above which is dark green became French except for the tiny white area (to the right and below the a in Andora.) This is Llivia and it remains Spanish even though it is in France and surrounded by French territory. The enclave of Llivia exists because in the 1659 Treaty, Spain agreed to give up only villages and at the time Llivia was considered a city due to its stature as capital of Cerdanya!

Map Showing Llivia
Medal Commemorating The Signing of the Treaty
Although part of France since 1659, Northern Catalonia still has strong links with the language, culture and traditions of Catalonia. Catalan is still spoken by many for example and all signs are in Catalan and French. As you would expect, mMany of the names of places on the walking maps are in Catalan.

Here is the sign for the Catalan Pyrenees Regional Nature Park (in French and Catalan) where Pyrenees Mountain Adventure runs guided summer walking and winter snowshoeing holidays. You can see the Little Yellow Train on the logo of the park.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On This Day November 1st 2004

On November 1st 2004, the last female brown bear in the Pyrenees of Pyrenean stock (as apposed to the female brown bears introduced from Slovenia), died. Canelle was shot and killed by one of a  group of hunters hunting for wild boar.  The group of hunters and their dogs were from Urdos and hunting in the Aspe valley in an area where they had been warned the bear was present.

Wild Boar
René Marquèze said he acted in self defence after the bear made charges at one of the dogs, another of the hunters and himself. He said he feared for his life, and that he acted in self defence shooting at the bear twice. Brown bears are normally afraid of humans but can become aggressive if they are cornered, surprised, with young or feel threatened.

René Marquèze went to court for destruction of a protected species where the initial case was dismissed on 19th January 2007. There was an appeal against this decision and after a lengthy battle in the courts he was ordered to pay 10 000 euros in damages to several environmental organistions on 11th September 2009.

The Lifeless Body Transported Away
Cannelle (Cinnamon in English) was with her male cub at the time of her death which was not physically hurt and escaped. The loss of the last female of Pyrenean stock is a huge blow to the survical of the species in the Pyrenees. In 2007 there were only about 15 brown bears present in the whole chain. In France, they are only present in the Pyrenees.

Bear Sculpture, Axat
Since Cannelle's death there have been efforts to support the brown bear population by further introduction of bears from Slovenia. In 2007 5 bears from Slovenia were introduced to the Pyrenees (4 females and 1 male) which followed the 3 released between May 1996 and May 1997.