Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Top 10 Eco Friendly Outdoor Gear Christmas Present Ideas

Do you enjoy walking and back packing in the great outdoors? Are you concerned about sustainability and protection of the environment?  What eco-friendly outdoor gear should be on your Christmas wish list? The Pyrenees Mountain Adventure team have put together their top 10.

1. Caldera Cone Stove  (Trail Designs)

Similar in design to the Trangia meths stove but smaller and lighter. In summary, the Caldera System includes the cone specifically sized to fit your pot and provide maximum stability and wind protection. The stove runs on meths not gas. A meths bottle can be recycled but a gas canister cannot and will end up as land fill. Boil times are slower than gas burners but the stove is silent. The design is very simple (with very little to break) and therefore long lasting.

2. Fire Steel Fire Starter. 

 Model: Swedish FireSteel 2.0 scout  

No need for matches or lighters with a fire striker. Small shavings are torn off the rod with a hard, sharp edge of the supplied metal scraper. These shavings are very hot and perfect for igniting a gas or meths stove.  Very simple design (with very little to break) and therefore long lasting.

3. Walking Boots (La Sportiva)
La Sportiva boots are made in Italy so labour standards are likely to be higher than average and there are less product miles for the product to travel from factory to European market. The company has a strong commitment to sustainability having achieved Environment Certification ISO 14001. To gain this certification, the business must demonstrate that it meets a range of criteria aimed at reducing the negative effects of the production process and therefore the environmental footprint of the business.

4. Waterproof jacket and trousers (ebay patagonia)
Buying anything that has previously been used reduces resource use (energy, water, crude oil etc). The damage has already been done. Giving an item a second life also means that the item does not end up as land fill in a rubbish dump. Patagonia has teamed up with ebay to make it much easier to buy and sell used Patagonia clothing and gear. 'The greenest product is the one that already exists'.

5. Shirt (Patagonia),0x000000,10,8,120,8&cvt=jpeg
A superlight long-sleeved shirt. Its ultralight blend of moisture-wicking 65% all-recycled polyester and 35% organic cotton provides big-time ventilation and 15-UPF sun protection.  

At Patagonia the recycled polyester comes from used drinks bottles, unusable second quality fabrics and worn out garments. These don't end up in as land fill in a rubbish dump and producing the shirt using recycled polyester requires less energy, water and crude oil.

Since 1996, Patagonia has only used organic cotton. Conventional cotton production is chemical intensive. Fully 10 percent of all agricultural chemicals in the United States are used to produce cotton, grown on just one percent of all major agricultural land. Research shows that extensive and intensive use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, soil additives and defoliants pollutes and degrades  the soil, water, and air. It also harms agricultural workers, nearby residents and other animals. Organic cotton is produced using techniques that are healthier and safer for the environment and people.

6.  Socks (Teko)
The socks are made in the USA from organic merino wool or  EVAPOR8 recycled polyester fiber which is made from 100% post-consumer waste, like plastic bottles. The factory is 100% wind-powered and there is a lifetime guarantee on the product. Processing of the wool is chlorine free and the dyes used are non toxic.


7. Waterproofing Product (Nikwax)


When it rains does the rain on your waterproof  not 'bead up'? Does the fabric soak up rain? Before buying a new jacket, try Nikwax TX Direct. Wash your waterproof in a washing machine with Nikwax TX Direct and add durable water repellency and revive breathability.

8. Sleeping Bag (Mammut Ajungilak)

The insulating filling and the inner and outer materials of the Kompact Recycled are all made from recycled PET bottles with the sleeping bag offering the same insulation values as its traditional brother and weighing just 50 grams more. It takes around 40 bottles to produce the Kompakt Recycled. Using the plastic from the bottles means around 50 percent less energy is required to produce this sleeping bag and .  When it comes to its details and design, this environmentally friendly sleeping bag is no different to its traditional counterparts.

9. Portable Solar Charger. (PowerMonkey from PowerTraveller)

Charge up your mobile devices with a portable solar charger.

10. Back Pack (Fjällräven)
Kajka 65 

All the Fjallraven backpacks in the Kajka range have a wooden frame.The aluminium frame has been replaced by birch which has reduced the carbon footprint of the backpack by 90%.

To be environmentally friendly as possible when choosing outdoor kit remember Reduce, Repair, Reuse and Recycle. 

Reduce. First of all reflect on whether you really need the item. If you don't really need it, then don't buy it! By reducing your consumption there is less demand on scarce resources. 
Repair. Is it possible to repair the item? Choose an item that has a lifetime guarantee. Patagonia has one as does Teko. Waterproof jackets can be reproofed using products like Nikwax. Choose items that are easy to repair.
Reuse. Try and choose 'previously enjoyed' products rather than brand new ones. If you buy items that have previously been used, the damage from the production of the item has already happened. Patagonia in conjunction with ebay have set up an e-outlet for used Patagonia clothing and gear to make this easier.
Recycle. Choose items that are made from recycled materials and can themselves be easily recycled. A plastic meths bottle can be recycled but a gas canister cannot.

If you must buy new, try and choose items:
  • made from natural fibres e.g. organic cotton and wool. 
  • made from recycled materials that can be recycled themselves.  
  • made in Europe or the US
  • made by companies with Environment Certification ISO 14001 and/or EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme.)
  • made by companies with a named person in charge of Corporate Social Responsibility/ Environmental Care. 
  • made by companies who each year, produce and make available on their website, a Sustainability Report, or something similar, with goals to achieve and progress towards attaining those targets. 
  • made by companies that ‘give something back’ in terms of supporting organisations through donations of money or equipment. 
  • made by companies who operate a recycling scheme which encourages the recycling of the company's products.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Protect and Conserve the Nature We Love - The Fjällräven Way

You can tell outdoor clothing companies that are committed to sustainability and serious in their efforts to reduce the environmental footprint they have. They produce a durable product, make use of recycled materials and will only use organic cotton for example. They will have a named person in charge of something like Corporate Social Responsibility or Sustainability and will have a mission statement which includes measurable targets to achieve. They will produce an annual report on their progress in achieving these targets.

Patagonia comes to mind as a pioneer in this area, as a market leader setting sustainability standards.

Fjällräven ( the name means artic fox)  is a Swedish company, specialising in outdoor equipment. In 2013 they launched The Fjällräven Way, a document that acts as a guide for their sustainability work. It contains four areas of activity linked to the cardinal points of the compass - the universal tool for way-finding.

N stands for Nature & Environment
E for Economy & Business Processes
S for Social Responsibility
W for Wellbeing.

"Our goal is a healthier outdoor life, now and for future generations."  Aiko Bode, Fjällräven's Chief Sustainability Officer, explains how they work with sustainability throughout the entire company.

I found their video inspirational

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Chemin de la Liberté/Freedom Trail -Top 10 Magic Mountain Moments (Summer 2013)

Yesterday it was grey and overcast and the rain did not stop. I found myself thinking back to the Pyrenees Mountain Adventure treks this summer along the Chemin de la Liberté/Freedom Trail. Four groups attempted to cross the Pyrenees mountains and everyone who started made it into Spain.

Here are my top 10 favourite magic mountain moments from the four treks. They are in no particular order:

1. The Border Crossing. Starting from St Girons, the border is crossed on day 4. After much effort, hardship and determination we are at the border and can pass from France into Spain. A great moment for everyone who made the crossing.

The Dos group from Holland celebrate reaching the French/Spanish border. Freedom is very close...

2. Polly Bagging. Sliding down a safe snow slope using a large plastic bag as a tobogan. This was great fun and an ideal way to release the tension that had built up descending the steep snow slope directly below the border.

3. Louis Barrau Memorial. Killed by the Nazis aged 18, a memorial has been erected by the barn where he was shot. Someone picked wild flowers from the meadow next to the barn and placed them on the memorial. They had a son of similar age. A beautiful gesture in a beautiful setting.

Great view across to the high Pyrenees from near where Louis Barreu was killed.

4. The Scenery. It is not just the spectacular scenery of which there is plenty.......

Mont Valier dominates the high mountain stages of the Chemin de la LIberté (Freedom Trail) is the group finding the time to stop, look up and enjoy the views. To soak up the scenery they were immersed in.

Soaking up the scenery towards the end of the Freedom Trail (Chemin de la Liberté)

5. The Silence. Ten minutes silence at the border. No wind, no words. Time too reflect. 'Find beauty; be still.' We had. We were.

The view back into France showing the route of the Freedom trail (Chemin de la Liberté) as it climbs up to the border

6. The Shadows. Griffon vultures flying above us, close enough to cast shadows that raced across the ground where we were.

7. The Summit. Only one group chose the optional extra day at Refuge Estagnous to ascend Mont Valier which dominates day 3 and 4 of the trek. The weather was grey and overcast. Visibility was poor and it was cold. Having reached the summit, the clouds parted and for a short time we were rewarded with tremendous views.

Summit view from Mont Valier the mountain that towers above the Estagnous Refuge and the route of the Freedom Trail (Chemin de la Liberté)

A Pyrenees Mountain Adventure group on the summit of Mont Valier

A similar thing happened with the same group the day before. Starting out in poor weather, we eventually find ourselves above the cloud and out of trouble.

8. The Support. The Chemin de la Liberté/Freedom Trail  is tough. It was great to see the shared hardship brings people together. I saw new friendships form and old friendships strengthened. I saw kindness and care. People helping each other through difficult times - whether a difficult section of path, a drop in morale or fatigue.

9. The Storm. At Refruge Estagnous, which is spectacularly located in the high mountains, the sunsets can be unforgettable. What was more memorable for me happened after most people had returned inside after the sun had set. In the fading light, far in the distance, dark storm clouds were being illuminated from inside by lightning but because of the distance the thunder could not be heard.

10. The Omelette. At the Gite de Rouze I had an omelette with wild, girolle mushrooms picked from the local forest. I know that at the end of a hard days walking any food tastes good but the best omelette ever!

Thanks to everyone who trekked with Pyrenees Mountain Adventure along the Chemin de la Liberté/Freedom Trail in 2013. It was a pleasure to share the journey with you.

Snow and Avalanche Safety Training Day/Journée Securité Neige and Avalanche

There has been the first snowfall this winter in the Pyrenees this week and soon the winter season proper will be here. I find this training day is always a good preparation for the coming season. A great way to be reminded about the dangers of winter snowshoeing and have knowledge and skills already aquired, reinforced and refreshed. 

Pyrenees Mountain Adventures will of course be running a full snowshoeing programme this 2013/2014 winter.

Film of Brown Bear

Latest brown bear images from the Pyrenees captured by an automatic camera. Unusually it is daytime. The female bear is Hvala, one of the bears successfully reintroduced from Slovenia. The name means Thankyou in English. The 2 bear cubs were born this year.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Sunlit Sumit - W H Murray Biography

'Find beauty; be still' is one of my favourite quotes. It is by W H Murray. A biography about his life and journey has been published in 2013 the centenary of his birth. The Sunlit Summit is by Robin Lloyd-Jones with a forward by Robert MacFarlane (Mountains of the Mind, Wild Places)

On either side of the Second World War, W H (William Hutchison) Murray (1913 - 1996) was one of Scotland's most distinguished climbers. During the war, while on active service in North Africa in 1942, he was taken prisoner and it was during his time as prisoner of war, he wrote his first classic book, Mountaineering in Scotland. It was written in secret on rough toilet paper from memory. It was found, confiscated and destroyed so Murray rewrote it. The rewritten version was published in 1947 and followed by Undiscovered Scotland.

2013 is also the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest which Murray made a significant contribution to. He was part of the 1951 team under Eric Shipton - the Everest Reconnaissance Expedition.

The 1951 Everest Reconnaissance, from left, Eric Shipton, Bill Murray, Tom Bourdillon, Earle Riddiford, Mike Ward, seated, and Edmund Hillary, seated

 In his later years he became a successful novelist and pioneer conservationist.

'Looking back over a wide landscape, cloud shadows racing over the mountains, sun, wind. I know I have known beauty.'

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bears: Myths and Realities

Bears, Myths and Realities is the new exhibition event at the Natural History Museum in Toulouse which runs from 13th October ton the 30th June 2014. 

The bear is a  mythical animal and until the Middle Ages in France was regarded as the king of the animals with bear worship popular in some parts of the Pyrenees . It was the Catholic church at this time which began to demonise the bear and the cult of the bear. The lion was promoted as the real king of the animals and bears were persecuted and hunted to near extinction.

The exhibition looks at how, whether revered or feared, the bear is the object of many fantasies and desires, between attraction and aversion.

Perhaps the fascination about bears starts with the fact that they resemble ourselves in many ways. They can walk upright, have closely human-like ears, have a similar diet, and leave tracks with the whole of their back foot (heel, arch and toes). In France the bear is given human names like Martin or  lou pedescaous (le va-nu-pieds, or ‘the barefooted one’),  loucourailhat (‘the vagabond’) and Mousu (‘le monsieur’).

There are examples of the 8 different bear species from around the world. The brown bear from the Pyrenees is represented by the Canelle the last 'authentic' female bear in the Pyrenees, shot by a hunter in 2004. Her pelt has been mounted and on display.

The exhibition comes at a time when the tension between the pro and anti brown bear reintroduction factions has heightened. Those previously against the reintroduction of Slovenian bears to boost the population of bears in the Pyrenees (largely farmers and shepherds in the mountains) are now not only calling for no further reintroductions, but that the existing brown bears should be removed. They have threatened to take measures into their own hands although brown bears remain a protected species and killing them remains illegal.

Website: Natural History Museum of Toulouse

Friday, September 27, 2013

This Is A (Real) Rebel Song

2013 is the 70th anniversary of the writing of the 'Chant des Partisans' which became one of the most important protest anthems ever written.

'Friend, if you fall, another will emerge from the shadows to fill your place. Tomorrow, black blood will dry in the sun on the roads'

7O yeras ago in 1943, World War II is raging and France is occupied by Nazi forces. Many French have escaped to join the Free French Forces based in London. One such person is Anna Marly.

Anna was born Anna Yurievna Betulinskaya in Russia in 1917 into an aristocratic family. She fled the country after the death of her father at the hands of the Bolsheviks. She eventually settled in France and by the age of 17 was performing her own songs in the caberet clubs of Paris. She changed her name to Marly (apparently chosen from the phone book) because she found her family name was too difficult for the French to pronounce.

At the end of 1940 after the invasion and capitulation of  France, Marly escapes to London and makes contact with the Free French Forces.

She is still singing in clubs and is heard performing by Joseph Kessel and Maurice Druon who use one of her songs as the basis of the 'Chant des Partisans/Song of the Resistance'.

The French lyrics are written based on the original Russian lyrics and set to Anna's music. The song is played on BBC Radio, which is broadcast to occupied France, and becomes the unofficial French national anthem after the Nazi forces ban 'La Marseillaise'.

Ami, entends-tu le vol noir des corbeaux sur nos plaines ?
Ami, entends-tu les cris sourds du pays qu'on enchaîne ?
Ohé, partisans, ouvriers et paysans, c'est l'alarme.
Ce soir l'ennemi connaîtra le prix du sang et les larmes.

Montez de la mine, descendez des collines, camarades !
Sortez de la paille les fusils, la mitraille, les grenades.
Ohé, les tueurs à la balle et au couteau, tuez vite !es grenades.
Ohé, les tueurs à la balle et au couteau, tuez vite !
Ohé, saboteur, attention à ton fardeau : dynamite...

C'est nous qui brisons les barreaux des prisons pour nos frères.
La haine à nos trousses et la faim qui nous pousse, la misère.
Il y a des pays où les gens au creux des lits font des rèves.
Ici, nous, vois-tu, nous on marche et nous on tue, nous on crève...

Ici chacun sait ce qu'il veut, ce qu'il fait quand il passe.
Ami, si tu tombes un ami sort de l'ombre à ta place.
Demain du sang noir sèchera au grand soleil sur les routes.
Chantez, compagnons, dans la nuit la Liberté nous écoute...

Ami, entends-tu ces cris sourds du pays qu'on enchaîne ?
Ami, entends-tu le vol noir des corbeaux sur nos plaines ?

Friend, do you hear the crows' dark flight over our plains?
Friend, do you hear the muffled cries of the country being shackled?
Ahoy! Resistants, workers and farmers, the alarm has sounded!
Tonight the enemy shall know the price of blood and tears.
Climb out of the mine, come down from the hills, comrades,
Take the guns, the machine guns and the grenades from under the straw;
Ahoy killers, with bullets and knives kill swiftly!
Ahoy "saboteur", be careful with your burden of dynamite!
We're the ones who break the bars of jails, for our brothers,
Hate pursuing us, it's hunger that drives us, dire poverty.
There are countries where people sleep in their beds and dream.
Here, you see, we walk and we kill and we die
Here, each one of us knows what he wants, what he does when he passes by;
Friend, if you fall, a friend comes from the shadows in your place.
Tomorrow, black blood will dry in the sun on the roads
Sing, companions, in the night, freedom listens to us.
After the war General de Gaulle said that Marly 'made her talent into a weapon for France' and it is suggested that her song should become the new French national anthem. In 1985 she is awarded the Légion d'Honneur/ Knight of the Legion of Honour in recognition of the part she played during WWII.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Pyrenees Mountain Hazards - Ticks

Ticks. What are they? Why are they dangerous? How can they be safely removed?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Freedom Trail 2013 Diary

In July 2013 a group of Dutch hikers completed the Freedom Trail with me. There were two sisters Lizzie and Hanneke and their partners Marcel and Roel. They called themselves Dos which in Dutch means old strugglers or old suckers. At the end of each day the group would remember what had happened and Lizzie would write it down. Here is an honest account of what it is like to complete the Freedom Trail/Chemin de la Liberté.

Dos in the Pyrenees
Preview: Monday 15th July 2013. Preview: Monday 15th July 2013

Saint-Girons-La ferme de Jeanne
17.00 hrs
Weather: It is very hot today, hardly any wind, thunder in the evening, but far away

Today we will meet Paul Williams, our guide. We have packed our rucksac, and are ready to go after months of preparation.
We are a bit nervous and anxious.We shake hands.
Months we have prepared ourselves for this trip, talked and read about it. Trained our body’s and sharpened our minds.
It was really going to happen: no, we didn’t have any questions.
Paul showed us the 6 day weatherforecast: it was going to rain! Just a matter of mindset, he told us.
Outside it is getting a bit darker: the clouds are coming in. Just a matter of mindset….
Paul gives us the plan for the Freedom Trail July 2013: day 3 and 4 are changed: it is simply not possible to walk the original trail, there is too much snow. But he will take us to Spain and with that promise we say goodbye.
Tomorrow at 8 we’ll meet at the Pont du Fer.
That night we dream about mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.

Now walking back down this mountain
with the strength of a turning tide
The wind so soft at my skin
the sun so hot upon my side
Looking out at this happiness
I searched for between the sheets
Feeling blind, to realise
All I was searching for was me
Oh all I was searching for was me

Keep your head up, keep your heart strong
Keep your mind set, keep your hair long
Keep your head up, keep your heart strong
Keep your mind set in your ways
Keep your heart strong

Song: Ben Howard

Day 1: Tuesday 16th July 2013
Saint- Girons to Aunac; 23 km + 1100 m of ascent
How: pick up from hotel for transfer to St Girons
Time: 8.00 – 18.00

Notes: Low level walk. What you need on Freedom Trail will have to be carried, You will need a packed lunch. Will now not be able to leave a change of clothes in transfer vehicle.

Weather: The sun shines till 3 o’clock, then heavy rain, with hail and thunder.

Le Pont du Fer in the morning: Paul is waiting for us. He takes some pictures and the Trail is on.
Through beechwoods, grassy tracks, bramble-strewn paths we try to find a rhythm to walk in.
Paul stops every hour to have a drink and a rest: and we need it.
Hanneke is the first of us who falls over: she hurts her forehead and for us all it is a moment to realize that we have to concentrate: every step we make has to be controlled.
In the small village of La Riviere d’Alos we stop for lunch near the stream and a lovely old church where we can fill our waterbottles. Its warm and we feel tired.
But up again: a steep climb brings us into a silent, impressive forest.
This day would be a low level walk! If this is a low level walk, how would the other days look ?
We are worried: these are just hills, what about the mountains?
We stop at the barn where the nineteen year old mountain guide Louis Barreau was trapped and killed by the Nazis in 1943.
It’s a quiet lovely place with grassy slopes full of flowers.
For us it is a moment to remember that once there was a time when things were different.
Lizzie picks flowers from the nearby meadow and puts them on the memorial. 
On we go, the descent is an easy walk and we feel confident and strong.
At 3pm it starts raining heavily, followed by thunder.
There is no place to hide and Paul walks on and so do we, but some of us are very scared.
At 18.00 we arrive at Aunac: a lovely gite, just for the five of us. With a shower and dry clothes we feel like kings and queens.
The food is lovely and the ambiance warm and welcome: after 2 bottles of red wine it’s still raining but we couldn’t care less.
The newspaper of yesterday in our soaked shoes and off to bed.

Well, there's a bridge and there's a river
That I still must cross
As I'm going on my journey
Oh, I might be lost

And there's a road I have to follow
A place I have to go
But no one told me just how to get there
But when I get there I'll know
'Cause I'm taking it...

Step by step
Bit by bit
Stone by stone
Brick by brick

Song: Whitney Houston

Day 2: Wednesday 17th July 2013
Aunac to Cabane de Subera; 16 km + 960 m of ascent
How: Walk
Time: 8.00 – 16.00

Notes: Food will not be a BBQ. You are happy to carry your own sleeping bags. Tents will be available as backup accommodation.

Weather: Cloudy, wet, sun is shining untill 3 PM. Heavy rain and thunder(again)

We woke up in the middle of the night: the donkeys were calling each other.
It’s a strange unknown sound in the dark.
We get up at 6.30, trying to have our breakfast at 7.00.
But we had too much wine yesterday and some of us have a headache.
We start with a long descent towards the river: we feel tired and need time to find the rhythm of walking. The path is slippery and full of stones and Roel misses a stone or two and falls over.
He will fall again and again this day.
The track is steap and leads us through the beech woods. We already have used up our 30 minutes complaining, so let’s hope the day will not be too hard?!
At lunch time we reach the Col de la Core at 1395 meter and have lunch between the cows.
It is by far the funniest lunch we had: the cows are curious and try to see what’s on our bread.
The woman who is looking after the cows is very friendly and asks us where we are going.
Her face looks worried when Paul tells her what our plans are. O my God! What is lying ahead of us?
But Paul seems very confident, so why worry?

It’s a two hour hike to La Cabane de Subera, passing first of all the unoccupied Cabane de Luzurs (where a murder was committed some years ago when a drug-crazed hippy stabbed his equally drug-crazed girlfriend to death).
On we go, seeing the Black Merens horses and various excellent views: we have our Sound of Music moment: the hills are alive ( and indeed they are)
We climb and we descend, climb and descend….our feet keep on walking and we move on. And it’s hard…

At 15.00 the sky darkens and soon we have to look for our raingear: the rain falls heavily and there is thunder and lightning. Well, you may say I was really scared.
Never hide under a tree, we were told, but nevertheless, we did.
The mountain refuge of Subera is a small cabane, one half for the shepherd, the other for the hikers.
At that moment at least four of us were blisfully happy seeing the Cabane in the valley.

In the Cabane are bunkbeds, a table, benches and a fireplace. We have to share it with a French family but it all goes in great harmony. The rain has stopped and we enjoy our simple but nutritious meal, outside the Cabane.
Two of us are going to sleep in the tent, the others in the Cabane.
When the rain starts falling again it’s warm and cosy in ‘the Little House on the Prairie’.

And this old road is rough and ruined
So many dangers along the way
So many burdens might fall upon me
So many troubles that I have to face
But I won't let my spirit fail me
But I won't let my spirit go
Until I get to my destination
I'm gonna take it slow
Because I'm taking it...
Song: Whitney Houston

Day 3: Thursday 18th July 2013
Cabane de Subera – Etang d’Areau; 18 km + 1244m of ascent
How: Walk
Time: 7.50-18.30

Notes: Tents provided. Camping at Etang d’Areau would lengthen the day but shorten the next.

Weather: Sunny and warm, rain and thunder at 15.00 pm.

Some of us get up at 6.00 and see a beautiful sunrise. After a very quick breakfast we have to become a berger for an hour and place the salt for the cows on the big rocks surrounding us.
We leave at 7.50 and down it goes, through the grass, passing some cows with their calves and a not-very- interested bull.
The temperature is nice and we enjoy the nature and the mountains.
This day has 4 phases, Paul tells us.
At phase 1 we enter a forest , very green and very humid. The path is rocky and we have to concentrate: the stones are slippery and everywhere we see and hear water.
The river beneath us is wild: wonder what will happen when you fall into it?!
No time to consider that: we have to cross a waterfall: heavy stuff!
In the poem Ithaka, written by Kafavis there is written that you don’t have to fear the creapy monsters on your journey. You won’t meet the Cyclops and Laistrygones, unless you take them with you in your own head.
Our heads are full of them!
With a lot of help we manage. After a descent of 3 hours we are down. End of phase 1.
Phase 2 goes on at the other side of the river, up and down and up to a beautiful cascade.
But after lunch the legs become heavy and the minds are giving up: it’s enough!
Paul gives us a break and while the ladies look at the black Merens horses, the beautiful waterfalls everywhere, Paul is showing the men where we are and where to go.
Drink a lot of water, drink, drink, drink: that is what we should do. We drink.
It helps: the legs are going again and up it goes: up and up and up.
No time to think, just look carefully where to put the feet and the stick. We must go on, phase 3 just started.
Paul is making a track, promising us that it will get better. And again: we have to trust him: the road leaves you no choice: you can’t go back and you can’t go sideways. You don’t have to think or hope that the hills will help you or the grass or the flowers. We simply had to move on.

What is the philosophy of a mountain? There is one, and there is another one: nothing to do about it.

At 3 pm it starts raining, with far away thunder….and when we reach Col de la Pause the sun is out again and we have our Hills are alive moment.
No Pause at the Col, phase 4 is still to be done.
Lord, if there is still another mountain
Another mountain yet to climb
Lord, if there’s still another mountain
Don’t make it quite as high this time

And there we go again,another hill ( or must I speak of a mountain) to be done.
Up to 1895 meters.
At the lake we can rest at the patio of a cabane. The meal is sober, the view is magnificent!
The tents are close to the lake and at 21.15 we say goodnight to the mountains.

Pourtant, que la montagne est belle, comment peut-on s'imaginer
En voyant un vol d'hirondelles, que l'automne vient d'arriver ?
Avec leurs mains dessus leurs têtes
Ils avaient monté des murettes jusqu'au sommet de la colline
Qu'importent les jours, les années

Song: Jean Trenet

Day 4: Friday 19th July 2013
Etang d’Areau- Sorpe; 22 km + 720m of ascent
How: Walk and taxi
Time: 7.30 – 17.00

Notes: Freedom! Will have to cross some snow patches to get an across the border.
Accommodation used last year is no longer available. Longer walk now required as Sorpe is further down the valley. Taxi?

Weather:Fresh in the morning, sunny and warm later. No rain, no thunder!!!

We get up at 6.00. The night was long, cold and windy in the tent and some of us are pleased to get up and moving.
It’s a cold and crisp morning and the warm tea and chocolate croissants taste lovely.
We leave at 7.30 up the mountain to reach the border.

I remember and old song:
'The bear went over the mountain
To see what he could see
The other side of the mountain
Was all that he could see.'

The sun comes up over the mountains and the view is magnificent. We feel small and humble but eager to reach the Spanish border.
At 9.20 we are there!!! 2260 meters: Port d’Aula: the border.
It is a very special and emotional moment and we take our time to enjoy it.
How must it have been for those who tried to escape form the war?

Now we have to descend in Spain, through the meadows, between the horses and cows and we stop at a little cabane, overlooking the valley.
Paul tells us to say goodbye to the mountains: it’s a mixed feeling: happy and sad, all together.
The landscape changes: herbs, wild flowers and trees. At the river we have lunch and fill our bottles with fresh water and
I came to the conclusion that all I need in life is a pair of good shoes,a faithfull stick and clear water.

On the road along the river we walk to Alos and Isil where we have a lovely cup of Spanish coffee, beer and icecream.How lovely it all tastes!
Actually everything went smoothly today. We were all tired but without any problems we reached Spain!
And Isil was very nice: a little square, an old bridge and a lovely terrace! I couldn’t believe we were in Spain.
A taxi takes us to the B&B in Sorpe where the bed is warm and soft and the meal is fresh and lovely.

Pourtant, que la montagne est belle, comment peut-on s'imaginer
En voyant un vol d'hirondelles, que l'automne vient d'arriver ?

Deux chèvres et puis quelques moutons
Une année bonne et l'autre non, et sans vacances, et sans sorties
Les filles veulent aller au bal
Il n'y a rien de plus normal que de vouloir vivre sa vie
Leur vie, ils seront flics ou fonctionnaires
De quoi attendre sans s'en faire que l'heure de la retraite sonne
Il faut savoir ce que l'on aime
Et rentrer dans son HLM, manger du poulet aux hormones

Pourtant, que la montagne est belle, comment peut-on s'imaginer
En voyant un vol d'hirondelles, que l'automne vient d'arriver ?
Jean Trenet

Day 5: Saturday 20th July 2013
Sorpe-Esterri d’Aneu: 8km + 0m of ascent
How: Walk

Time: 8.45-11.45

Notes: Transfer may take longer if the main road from Spain into France is still closed. If it is, then have to take to detour through Andorra.

Weather: Sunny all day.

Up at 6.30 and after a lovely breakfast we leave in a taxi back to Isil to pick up our trail to the final destination: Esterri.
Roel has fixed his shoes with tape § the sole is coming away from the upper.
We pass through Boren, a small and lovely village and leave the concrete road and up again: a lovely, winding path full of flowers and herbs: up and down again. We don’t mind but enjoy it thoroughly: the views are super, the weather is lovely and we feel so strong.
When we reach Esterri we have to cross an old bridge: we are there!!!
This is a very special moment, we all realize.
In the church we light a candle and say thank you for keeping us safe!

The little bus brings us back to France. The road is fixed and at 17.15 we reach the Pont du Fer.
A last photo and farewell to Paul.
The Freedom Trail has come to an end.

The days after were filled with emotions and memories: looking at the photos we start to realize that our trail has been very special to us.
It was all about companionship: working together, helping and supporting each other.

What is the philosophy of the mountain:
Look around
I will overcome
Once you go up, you will also go down
Find beauty, be still.

Thanks to Paul, our guide, who showed us the beauty of the mountains, who guided us through difficulties and who supported us in sunshine and rain, who showed us not to fear, but to keep the faith.
Who showed great care for the mountains and for us.
It has been a real adventure and we shall never forget.
Thank you so much!

Roel van de Meulen and Hanneke Peters
Marcel Oonk and Lizzie Peters
July 2013