Monday, January 30, 2012

There Is No Such Thing As Bad Weather

John Ruskin once said “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”

The first time I visited the summit of the Pic de la Coum D'Or in winter it was grey and overcast. The peaks in Andorra were covered in cloud and the route I had taken partly obscured. I was not even able to make out the Lanoux resevoir at the foot of the summit - the largest expanse of water in the French Pyrenees. The time on the summit however was almost windless and remarkably peaceful.

Summit view from Pic de la Coum d'Or looking towards Andorra
 On a recent revisit this winter, I had  blue sky and sunshine and the views  were clear.

My snowshoe tracks towards the Pic de la Coum d'Or
The partially frozen Lanoux resevoir and the dam were visible this time and in the distance Pic Carlit - the highest peak in the Catalan Pyrenees Regional Nature Park. This is a favourite mountain area of mine and the area where I prefer to lead  Pyrenees Mountain Adventure walks and treks.

Partially frozen Lanoux Resevoir and in the distance Pic Carlit
However the  wind was much stronger and the summit less of a pleasant experience, the windchill  hastening my descent.

The cold made me think of the herd of 8 or so Isard I had seen on my ascent. I had chosen to approach the peak not by the normal valley route, which I had done before, but via the ridge above the valley. This required more effort but I was able to escape from the normal approach and well trodden path and into a wilder, less visited area and that is where the wildlife can be found. 

The Isard were seen from this spot but out of shot to the right and below me.
It is always exhilarating to see the larger Pyrenean wildlife up close(r) but in winter especially, there is the always the concern that in disturbing the animals I am putting them at risk. Food is much scarcer in the winter and the animals rely on fat reserves built up over the summer to survive. Disturbing them and making them flee, while impressive to watch in terms of their speed, agility, strength and stamina, expends valuable energy which they do not have a great surplus of and therefore makes them more vulnerable to the harshness of the winter. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Double Boost For Green Travel This Winter

Pyrenees Mountain Adventure holidays are either based in Planès or start and finish there.  Planès is on the Perpignan - Latour de Carol bus route. It is also on the Little Yellow Train 'tourist' railway  route that connects with the Villfranche - Perpignan main line at Villfranche.

Train Line from Perpignan to Latour de Carol
Perpignan to Mont Louis is about 80km. Here are the amounts of CO2 produced by different travel methods based on figures from Tansport Direct. It is assumed that only 2 people are travelling in the cars. Visit the site to play around with the number of occupants in the car to see how the CO2 emmisions per person change.

TransportCO2 Emissions
Small Car                   5.1 kg  of CO2 per passenger withoccupant(s)
Large Car                 10.3 kg  of CO2 per passenger withoccupant(s)
Train                   4.3 kg  of CO2 per passenger
Coach                   2.4 kg  of CO2 per passenger

From the figures, public transport is a  more environmentally friendly way of travelling than by car.

One of the arguments that people use to justify staying in their cars and not using public transport is that public transport is too expensive? 'If only it were cheaper'. The Pyrenees-Orientales département (county) has just announced that all train journeys on the regular SNCF state run network in the département are now 1 euro. This follows the move in 2008 to make all bus journeys 1 euro.

Other good news is that during the winter season (11th December to 18th March) the price of using the Little Yellow Train 'tourist' railway has also been reduced. You can travel to any station along the line, from any  other SNCF station in the Pyrenees-Orientales for 10 euros. Free bus transfers are available from certain stations to nearby ski resorts.

If you have booked a Pyrenees Mountain Adventure winter snowshoeing holiday then you can make the journey from Perpignan on public transport for as little as 1 euro on the bus or 10 euros on the train. You would only need a short taxi ride from Mont Louis to Planès to complete your journey.

In the summer, the cheapest way to arrive for a Pyrenees Mountain Adventure holiday would be by bus for 1 euro. However I would recommend a bus to Villfranche and then picking up the Little Yellow Train from there to Mont Louis.

As well as saving money by making the Perpignan - Mont Louis transfer by public transport, you have also reduced the carbon footprint of your holiday.

The Pyrenees Mountain Adventure team are happy to help you plan and make the transfer by public transport and will even accompany you on your transfer (at no additional cost) to make sure that everything runs smoothly.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

3 Countries In One Day

Spent the day snowshoeing in the Campcardos Valley recently. This valley is at the Western boundary of the Catalan Pyrenees Regional Nature Park - a beautiful part of the Eastern Pyrenees where Pyrenees Mountain Adventure mainly operates.

The Pyrenees run along the border between France and Spain but also  Andorra. In two places the borders of the 3 countries meet at a single point. One of the points is the Pic de Médécourbe and the other is at the head of the Campcardos Valley at the Porteille Blanche/Portella Blanc (White Col).

The walk starts  near to the  village of Porta which was at one time heavily reliant on smuggling. This is no surprise given it's closeness to Andorra and the ease of access provided by the Campcardos Valley. It was mainly tobacco that was smuggled out of Andorra but also other contraband. Smugglers being pursued found it easier to escape being caught because of the border junction. Depending on which country the chasing police were from, the smugglers had a choice of two countries in close proximity to escape into.

The head of the Campcardos Valley
Walking along the valley,  one side is in shade (ubac) and is covered with trees - the biggest and highest silver birch forest in the Pyrenees-Orientales. The other side is exposed to the sun (soulane or adret) and is much more open. The large number of dry stone walls that form enclosures, the terracing to provide areas of flat land and the stone shelters with turf roofs (orris) all indicate that  the valley has been used as summer pasture for animals for centuries.

When I reached the col (where the border marker number 427 was buried under the snow) it was easy for me to step briefly into each of the 3 countries.

Walking along the border between Andorra (left) and France (right)

The HRP (Haute Route Pyrenean), the high level long distance footpath that crosses the whole Pyrenees from (Atlantic) Ocean to (Mediterranean) Sea, passes over the col.

The GR107 (GR = Grande Randonnée) is another long distance footpath that also passes over the col. This is the Cathar Way. The Cathars were members of a Christian breakaway religion  popular in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Catholic Church treated the Cathars as heritics, persecuting them and burning many at the stake. The persecuted Cathars were able to lead a more peaceful existence in Spain where many of them escaped, passing from France to Spain along  the Campcardos Valley and others like them in the eastern Pyrenees.

The Cathar Way is a 220-kilometre-long route from the French medieval town of Foix over the Pyrenees  to Berga in Spain and is broken down into 12 days.

Unusual cloud formation over Pic Campcardos
Walking up and down the valley there were good views towards the second highest peak in the Catalan Pyrenees Regional Nature Park - Pic Campcardos (2905m) I could see the route to it from the valley although in winter with snowshoes and the icy conditions it might be easier to approach it from Spain. A pyrenees mountain adventure for another day!