11/30/14 A long drive to beautiful Gavarnie on the French side of the Pyrenees. Rain and snow made for an interesting run that ended-up being a full on snow trek.
1 It was a 5 1/2 hour drive from Andorra to Gavarnie, France. Partially because I got lost multiple times. I was trying to use Google Maps with turn-by-turn directions. Listening to "take the 5th exit at the next roundabout" was not too easy to follow. And Google tried to be clever multiple times and send me on shortcuts through the middle of nowhere. Here I've been detoured on a road barely wider than my rental car. It was a nice drive though.
2 I wish I'd been able to take more pictures on the drive. The drive into Gavarnie was beautiful. Crazy how the roads would go from a little, but fast moving, highway right into a centuries old French village with buildings right on the street and the road narrowing to barely wide enough to fit a car in each direction.
3 Arrived in the village at Gavarnie, searched around a while for the trailhead, and then jumped on the trail. Trail signs are in French now!
4 Gavarnie is evidently an extremely popular tourist spot. A bit like the Yosemite of Europe. But this time of year, it's empty. Just the way I like it!
5 Le Cirque de Gavarnie. Tough to see in the fog, but it's an amazing glacier carved cirque almost 1,000m (3,200') deep. You can Google it to see what it looks like at other times of the year
6 A closer look at the cirque. The weather made it a little frustrating though. Imagine being in Yosemite Valley in front of Half Dome and not being able to see it!
7 There's a light rain falling again today, and the temperature is dropping as the elevation climbs. The standing water in the trail is frozen solid!
8 The trail veers off into a valley on the way to La Brèche de Roland, which is a famous break in the ridgeline at the top of the Pyrenees that marks the border between France and Spain. It's the only pass across the range in this area and has been a strategic military point for centuries. My goal is to get as close to it as possible given time and snow limitations.
9 There are a few legit stream crossings along the way.
10 Not a creek, that's the trail. Evidently they don't believe in culverts around here.
For best performance, you can view the video on YouTube.
11 A good sized stream winding through the valley admidst the snow and increasingly heavy rain.
12 The snow is probably a couple days old and the only tracks around are hooves. There clearly haven't been any humans up here in in a while. Awesome.
13 Getting into heavier snow and the trail is starting to get a little dicey. That's the trail along the narrow ledge on the right.
14 Interesting pattern of streams cutting through the snow.
15 A defrosted ravine with a roaring cascade cutting through it.
16 Cascades everywhere.
17 Trail junction and the Brèche de Roland pointer is broken off. Not a good sign (literally).
18 The stream about ready to dive down into the valley below.
19 Three roaring cascades running in parrallel down the canyon wall. Unfortunately, my camera is starting to fog up again in the rain and snow.
20 Looking back at the spot from the previous picutre. The snow is starting to get deep enough now that I'm postholing.
21 Misleading in the picutre, but these waterfalls are several hundreed feet high, cutting a narrow gorge in the cliff face.
22 Looking all the way back down the valley towards the cirque. You can see the trail running along the ledge on the left.
23 With no GPS and no knowledge of the terrain, I was trying to stick to what I thought was the trail. I thought for sure I had lost it a couple times already. Can you spot it here? I was about ready to just start heading off-trail (or turn around) when I saw the switchbacks climbing up the slope. I made it my goal to get to the ridgeline on top.
24 A dry spot behind a snowdrift and a momento that someone has left. I'm not sure if I should consider it inspiring or ominous.
25 Definitely a snow trek now. That's the trail in front of me (I think). It's a little unnerving not knowing what's around the corner. Hopefully not the edge of a cliff.
26 Another look back towards the cirque from even higher up now.
27 Some of the traverses are starting to get a little dicey given that I don't have my full snow gear. I have trekking poles, but no ice axe, so a slip in some places could be bad. I also only have my trail running shoes, so my feet are starting to get really cold. Fortunately I had decided to at least bring the waterproof version.
28 Post-holing crotch deep in places now with some dangerous gaps in the rocks underneath.
29 Looking back at my tracks, almost up to the ridgeline now. I'm starting to worry about being able to get back down before dark. Normally, coming down in the dark might be fun, but not sure I want to try that today. I remind myself that I'm the only one on this mountain, in the middle of the Pyrenees, 6,000 miles from home, and noone knows I'm here. Rather surreal and exciting on the one hand, but not too smart on the other.
30 Having made the ridgeline, I decide to make this my turaround spot. I think I have just enough time to get down.
31 The Brèche de Roland is somewhere up there. Still quite a ways above me. But I'm confident that if I had my full gear, and more time, I could have made it. Maybe next time!
32 360 video from my turnaround spot.
For best performance, you can view the video on YouTube.
33 Heading back down now. You can actually see my footprints the whole way up the switchbacks. Not a single pair of prints other than mine!
34 Still no clear views of the cirque, but awesome scenery nonetheless. Fortunately, I made really good time on the way down and made it back to the hotel just before dark.
35 The hotel was a little Bed & Breakfast type of place (which I didn’t realize when I booked it) owned by an ornery old French lady who spoke little English and spoke it with a super stereotypical accent. The place was a little creepy. Steep, narrow stairs with no lights. Dead flies in the bathroom. I was the only person staying in the hotel. The owner was a character straight out of a movie. The owner asked (read with appropriate heavy French accent) “What time do juu want brekFAST?”. I told her I was planning to leave really early to get back on the road. She said “No brekFAST before 8!!”. I said that’s OK, no need to worry about breakfast. “But juu paid for it!!”. She clearly took offense at the idea of me passing on breakfast, so looked like I had to change my plans for tomorrow. OK, how about 7:00? “Quarter past 7. No more. That is IT!!”. OK, I guess I was having breakfast at 7:15. Then she said “Juu were on the mountAN today?”. Yes. "And it was snowING??". Yes, I tried to make it to the Brèche de Roland. “La Brèche de Roland?? Juu are kraZAY!!”. I wish I had a recording of it. Definitely a highlight of the trip.