This is a very long post, covering a time period of almost 2 weeks and several different areas in the Pyrenees. I could have separated it into different posts but as I am writing it all from memory as it is, I just wanted to get it published before I forgot the details. Plus, most of the videos have been online for a while anyway and I just wanted to get them into the blog!
After arriving in Luz, I found a little place to park close to the town centre. I headed to the tourist office and got myself a map of the local area and tried to fathom out if I could do any hikes as it wasn’t very clear from the map.
One thing I did see was something of interest very close to town so I decided to investigate. It was a little ruin that I had seen on the way to Luz when I had parked for lunch. It was a nice little walk, and offered me some good views.
Encounters With Wild Horses
I moved location that evening to an area nearby that was further out of town and next to a river. I had a look on the map to try and figure out if I would be access any of the hiking trails on foot.
I could see that if I could get across the river I’d be able to get onto a road which would lead to a trail so the following day I decided to explore. The exploration paid off and I actually found a plaque with details of a short circular hike.
I began to follow it but found it a little short and I wanted more of a challenge so when I reached a crossroads I decided to branch off down another trail for a while. This led me gradually further up the mountain and after a while the road gave way to rocky paths which eventually led into a forest.
By this point I was getting tired as I’d been steadily climbing uphill for a few hours but I could see that the trail ended not far away so decided to just follow it until the end to see if it led anywhere in particular.
The forest emerged into a clearing but it was blocked by a wired fence which I thought was a little odd. It didn’t have any private property signs and I could see an awesome view just a few yards further so I crawled under the wire and into a rough field.
Within a few moments I was standing on the edge of the mountain looking at the most incredible view; it was breathtaking! However, I was not alone…
I had spotted some horses on the way into the clearing and it looked as though they were in a stone pen but it soon became apparent that was not the case as they headed towards me! I’m a bit scared of horses due to their sheer size and power so this made me pretty nervous!
I tried to keep calm and stroke them a little but one of them was persistently trying to eat my backpack and when I put it back on it tried to pull it off, tried to eat my shirt and even had a go at my arm! At that point I realised I had to leave which was a shame as I had wanted to stay and admire the view.
I started to back away but the horses followed and the hungry one looked like he was picking up the pace so I walked a bit faster. I turned around to look behind me and he was running so at that point I panicked a bit and legged it back towards the wire, threw my backpack over it and myself under it then backed up and watched the horses approach!
They obviously knew what it was and they all just stopped. I had discovered the real reason for the electric wire – not to keep the walkers out, but to keep the horses in!
That hike ended up being almost 6 miles long and over 2,000 feet high which was at that point by far the highest I had ever climbed! I was exhausted so I took a day off to rest!
A couple of days later I did a gentle walk around the area near the motorhome – just three miles and no mountains to climb this time 🙂
Cirque De Gavarnie
From Luz there were two roads further south into the Pyrenees and I explored both of them over the following week. The road to Gavarnie was the first.
Back when I was in Autoire, I had seen a hike around something called the ‘Cirque D’Autoire’ and at the time I thought that ‘cirque’ meant circuit as in a circular walk. Nope! It’s actually a natural formation of rock in a horseshoe like shape and there are many of them.
A famous one is the Cirque De Gavarnie and I had already seen online that there were several hiking routes that one could take from the town to see it.
There was an Aire about a mile uphill (I later came to regret parking there!) from the town and I parked up, did the usual motorhome chores (toilet, water etc), had some lunch and then headed into town to track down the Tourist office.
They did not disappoint! Not only did they produce a hiking map, but they had a version of it in English! I had a wander around the town while I was there – all very touristy, but pretty.
After a few minutes I realised that the town was behind me and I appeared to be on a trail. I checked the map and sure enough I was heading straight for the Cirque! I had intended to wait until the following day to hike, but I was dressed for it, I had water & snacks so just went ahead anyway.
There were three ways to the Cirque. The easiest was to continue to follow the road I was on from the town all the way down. Then there were two other roads branching off to the left and the right, both of which took you into the mountains.
I had missed the one on the right but found the left one after a few minutes. I was marked on the map as ‘difficult’, but what did that mean? I decided to be adventurous yet cautious; I’d begin to follow it and if it got too tough I’d just turn back. Well, that was the theory anyway…
The going was rough for two reasons. Firstly it was all uphill and not in a gentle way and secondly the ‘path’ was extremely rocky and a lot of scrambling was required. The trouble was that by the time I got to the point where I thought that perhaps I’d taken on too much, I’d gone too far to turn back – I knew the descent down that steep, rocky path would be hell on the knees, so I continued!
However, every time I had to stop and take a breath I’d look at the views in amazement. It really was a stunning area and it made the struggle seem worth it. It took lots of photos and video footage but I don’t think either do it justice.
Then something weird happened… I heard what sounded like mooing! When at the road below I had seen a herd of cows being put into a pen and I thought, “wow, they’re loud”. They were no longer in their pen and they were actually hiking up the mountain!
This was the first (but not the last!) time I had seen cattle being herded up a difficult mountain path! There were three people with them and a dog to keep them in check and keep them moving. I found them fascinating but after my experience with the horses I was also a little nervous so I moved out of the way and let them pass as I didn’t want them chasing me!
The path continued to be uphill, rocky, obscure and tiring! The cows and their 3 herders eventually disappeared from my view as I stopped to rest.
The trail eventually headed into a forest where at least I had a break from the heat of the sun and at this point it started to head downhill which I was very grateful of. However, the worst was yet to come!
As the path wound its way out of the forest it came out to a mountain pass. It was literally just a few inches of broken rock meandering right on the edge of a mountain, several thousand feet in the air! At some points the path sloped down the hill and I knew that if I slipped and fell, well, that would be it!
I absolutely did not like this at all! It terrified me.I went very slowly, watching every single step and holding onto anything I could for stability. Bit by bit I slowly picked my way around the mountain. It was slow going and exhausting mentally as well as physically. But again, despite the difficulty, the reward was the incredible view from being so high in the mountains.
I had seen this weird looking ‘rock’ for a while and part way around the mountain pass I found it and discovered that it wasn’t rock at all but was in fact a large patch of snow! In June! This really blew my mind and I was surprised that I wasn’t feeling cold!
As I continued I found more snow and shortly after it caused a problem. A large amount of it had gathered in one place and where it was starting to melt it had created a stream about 4 or 5 foot wide. I had to cross it! It was full of boulders and probably a few inches deep or a bit more, I couldn’t quite see.
I really didn’t want to have to wade through fast running water so I tried to find another way across but no luck so in the end I did have to wade through! I managed to jump on a few boulders to avoid getting too wet!
On the other side though I hit on another problem; the path seemed to disappear. All I could see around me were trees and bushes. I checked the map on my phone and I could see that the hotel at the Cirque was close but my signal was failing so I couldn’t pinpoint the trail.
I actually started to panic because it was also getting late. It was gone 8pm, I knew there was no way I could go back after having come so far but I was scared of getting lost wandering aimlessly through trees. I got quite scared for a moment and then suddenly saw a few meters below me where the path was! Somehow I had lost it whilst crossing the stream.
I was so relieved! After just a couple of minutes the hotel came into view and after about another 10 or 15 minutes I was down at the bottom munching on some peanuts on one of the hotel chairs 🙂 It was all closed up of course, but I needed the rest!
After that, I still had many miles to get back to the motorhome and it was about 2 hours later that I really regretted parking up the hill at the Aire because I had to climb it uphill at 10pm when I was utterly exhausted! By the time I got back to the motorhome I was more tired than I ever remember being.
I checked the stats of the hike. Including all the walking to and from the motorhome it was almost 8 miles but incredibly, I had climbed over 2,800 feet! No wonder I was so exhausted! It’s still not much by hill walker standards, but of course, I’m a newbie at this hiking stuff 🙂
In hindsight, should I have taken that difficult route? No. It was too hard for me, and it was dangerous on that mountain pass. Although I did enjoy some fantastic views, I have also had many other wonderful views in the Pyrenees without feeling as though I could fall to my death at any moment. I can handle a little physical discomfort but that kind of fear was extremely unpleasant and I would not want to experience it again.
The following day I was still exhausted. I had not slept well, everything was aching and I just couldn’t do a thing. But the weather was stunning; not a cloud in the sky! One nice thing about the Aire was that it was parked right in the heart of the countryside.
I grabbed some water and my kindle and I went and sat next to a rock in the sunshine gazing at the mountains. I stayed there for a few hours until I got hungry then went back to the motorhome (literally just a few steps away), had lunch, and went back but brought a cushion with me!
I had been using sun screen the whole time I had been in France and had never got burned. I was slowly getting a tan on my face and arms but for some reason, on this day in the mountains I got very badly sunburned!
After that I had to retreat inside for several days because I couldn’t wear shoes or put on my backpack!!
I have since purchased a much higher factor sunscreen!
This was to be my last stop in the Pyrenees. Although there’s a lot more to be explored, I would spend years in France if I did everything 🙂
To get there I drove to the town of Cauterets and I found the bus station that had shuttle busses that run to the Pont D’espagne 4 times a day. I decided to take the first one the following day.
Just before getting on the bus I heard English being spoken and met 3 young New Zealanders. It was nice to chat to them on the bus and we happened to get the same bus back as well so that was nice 🙂
It was another ‘blue bird’ which a friend of mine has told me is a day in the mountains with completely blue skies. Absolutely beautiful of course, but at this time of year, and at this time of day the sun was getting to me.
I had no energy for hiking today. I spent far more time just sitting admiring the views (which is not a bad thing!) than actually hiking and after a couple of hours I turned back, headed to the bar and ordered a beer – at 4.60€ ouch! The bar was right next to a waterfall so I just chilled out here for an hour or so whilst I waited for the bus back to town.
I knew at this point that I am probably not going to do much in the way of walking or hiking over the next couple of months unless it’s early in the morning. I don’t do well in the heat!
Besides, summer time is BEACH TIME! 😀