Migouélou 2019-08-22

Vertical

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The Sketch

Today was supposed to be one of my “key” days for the holiday – one including a fairly significant walk with a good course of geocaches. A vertical walk up the side of a mountain, in search of a lake. Not sure it worked out that way. It was closer to being another famous near-death experience of a day, but never mind. Here’s the story.

There was a tempting looking caching series walking around the Lac de Migouélou – an artificial lake in a cirque about two valleys over to the west from Luz Saint Sauveur. It’s branded as quite a challenging series of about 80 caches over a distance of 20km. I didn’t think we’d get all the way around, but with sufficient supplies I’d thought we might climb up to the lake and find the first 25 or so of the caches.

Setting Off

We got up fairly early and were out of the house well before 9 am – it was about an hour’s drive around from Luz, and involved driving all the way down the valley nearly to Lourdes and then hopping across the base of a couple of valleys through Argelès Gazost before climbing up into the Val d’Aste.

At the top end of the valley is a tourist information centre-cum-refuge. It gives information about the valley and the various activities that can be done there. We stopped about a kilometre short of that at a large gravel-topped car park. It was at the foot of a very big hill and also at the start point of the caching series. The first cache involved crossing a small stream on a bridge and searching at the base of a tree. After walking over and wasting 15 minutes searching, I was finally clever enough to examine in detail on the GPS, and discovered it’s not there. Nobody had found it for the last 10 attempts. Bum! Not a good start.

Uphill

Anyway though, back at the main walk, we grabbed as much stuff as we’d bought with us. This was 2-3 bottles of liquids each, biscuits, sandwiches and crisps. And then we began our climb. The walk up the lake was supposedly a climb of 850-900m on a well-travelled pathway. We’d sort of done nearly that amount when we climbed Helvellyn earlier in the year, or so we thought, and as a result I was optimistic we’d at least be able to get up to the lake and back again in a day.

The walking up proved to be pretty hard though, especially for the kids. It was near-vertical and the kids were generally progressing at low speed. I wasn’t exactly racing, but the kids were definitely struggling to the point where they were grumpy about it. It seemed nobody was enjoying it. There were caches on the way, but series #2 also wasn’t there. Another failure. The caches were at near maximum density of 161m apart as the crow flies. However, I very quickly concluded that crows don’t actually fly here.

On this initial stage, each 161 m over the ground involved about 8-900 m of actual walking. We were on a narrow zig-zigged path up the side of a very steep slope. Each 161 m as the crow flies involved about 90-100m of vertical ascent too. That made for pretty tough going.

After an hour or so I was starting to think we weren’t going to get anywhere near. I suggested in a less than friendly tone that we just give up and go back down. Anyway, I got told off and we kept going. After a shade under 3 hours we’d managed to climb about 600 m and had got to somewhere between cache #6 and #7. We’d come out of “the worst” of the steep slope and were definitely above the tree line. It was still a long way up to the lake, though. We still couldn’t even see the dam that holds the lake in place.

Downhill

Around this point Izzy started to have a problem with her feet – blisters, basically. And we’d been going ages. While I was walking on with Ami I suggested to her that we just take a lunch break and go back down again. Izzy was really struggling and I could tell from Ami’s regular stops to help Izzy that she’d had enough too. So we agreed to stop for lunch and then walk back down again. The view from our lunch stop was pretty good though.

The walk back down took us only half the time of going up. It was still slow because of the steepness and the zig-zags but at least we weren’t having to push our body weight uphill anymore. We took heart from the sight of the car getting gradually closer as we descended.

And….relax!

Once we got to the car we drove up to the head of the valley and were unable to park, so Kas took control of the car while I did some speedy caching. We did another 4 caches as drive-bys on the way back down before driving all the way down to a cafe we’d seen in the morning a few km down the valley at the Lac du Tec, a small artificial lake used as part of a complex hydroelectric scheme and having facilities both at the upstream and downstream ends of the lake. The cafe belonged to a campsite and was fairly basic, but they had a few cakes, coffees and ice creams. And it had some toilets.

After ice creams it was still warm and it wasn’t late, so we took a short walk along the lakeshore. There was a beach there (well, a bit where a load of rocks had been dumped on the shore to make a platform). We wasted a quarter of an hour trying to skim stones on the lake. The stones were a random mix, and it was quite easy to find broad, flat ones. Ideal then.

The drive back home was uneventful and we went out for dinner again. We walked up into Luz and took a table outside at the Hotel de Londres. I can’t really remember what anyone had to eat. It was the “usual” selection of French, Italian and American dishes. It was much welcomed and pretty good.

That more or less ended our day, as we’d been up for quite a while. As we were walking up the mountainside it became increasingly apparent we weren’t going to get as far as I’d thought, but on reflection (reflection that began during lunch on the mountain) I realised that what I’d thought we could manage was, in fact, was several steps too far. We’d had a tiring day and had seen some beautiful scenery, so I was happy with that. We just hadn’t reached a lake or done a shed load of caches.


Tourmalet 2019-08-21

Panollama

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The Sketch

Panollama? Well – panorama, but with llamas, and other llama related puns. “What the actual? What is he on about now ?” I hear you ask. Allow me to explain, in my usual not-entirely-direct style.

We all got up reasonably early. This was Kas’s “big” day of the holiday. She had her grand plan of running up to the top of the Col du Tourmalet, and today was the day of the doing.

Driving Up

The girls and me planned to do something that Kas wasn’t. We didn’t want to just hang around until she was nearly there and then driving to meet her. I’d noticed it was possible to walk from the top of the Col in the general direction of the cirque underneath the Pic du Midi de Bigorre along a path that appeared to be fairly flat. I figured we could walk out as far as we could be bothered and then turn around and come back. I was fairly certain that we’d see some “not available at home” scenery on the way. Kas had her phone, so she could keep us updated on progress. We could easily make a call on what point to turn around and walk back to meet her. She had enough cash to get herself a coffee, plus a few spare clothes to change into.

I parked in almost exactly the same place that we had done the previous afternoon. When I parked, it was empty. When we returned, we noticed the sunshine had made it somewhat busier. There were lots of “support crew”, which I guess was a bracket that we fell into too.

Our walk out to the cirque was uphill – in fact much more uphill than I’d thought it would be. I’m not sure whether the 2000m plus starting altitude was responsible, but we weren’t exactly covering the ground very quickly. It also seemed to be rather further than the map had promised. We kept plodding onwards though, around a few “just one more corner” corners. Eventually were rewarded with a herd of llamas and a pretty spectacular view of the cirque. The observatory was directly above us.

Oops! Better go back

As we were arriving at this point, I happened to look at my phone and saw a 10-minute old text from Kas saying she’d be at the top in 40 minutes or so. That was our cue to turn around, elbow our way through the llamas again, and hot-foot it back. We really did hot-foot it too. The journey back took about a third of the time we’d taken to get out. It was slightly downhill and we avoided any photography breaks.

We met Kas at the top of the Tourmalet at about 11:40. I was slightly amazed that we found each other. On a sunny day in summer, the top of the Tourmalet is, to be honest, absolutely heaving with cyclists. Dangerously so, if you’re trying to get over in a car. We retired briefly from the throng to grab a drink and/or ice cream in the cafe at the top. Magically, a table became available outside just as we needed one. We were able to sit and watch the utter bedlam of cyclists arriving at the top, congratulating each other and then parking their bikes up and taking some photos. Kas said she’d been congratulated quite a lot after running up. She also said that she’d overtaken a few cyclists who subsequently didn’t manage to catch her up. That’s probably quite an achievement.

The Observatory

Having had our ice creams, the next item on the plan for the day was to drive down into La Mongie (or maybe Llamungee) and trip up in the cable car to the Pic du Midi de Bigorre. On the drive down we obviously listened to some music from our favourite 1980’s girl band, Bananallama. Whilst the top of the Tourmalet was fairly cool, despite the sunshine, the car park down in La Mongie was definitely on the hot side – pretty balmyllamy – and also quite full. As is often the case though, a space came free just as we began looking for one. The famous Gardner parking karmallama stikes again.

We bought our tickets for the cable car. It was one of the rare events where the “family ticket” represented a significant saving. We made our way around to grab some cold drinks, and queued for. We’d brought packed lunches with us, but didn’t have much in the way of liquid refreshment. The cable car up was a 2-stage job (which you can’t tell from down in the valley). It was also fairly quiet and under-populated. There was no cause for a llama, despite a bit of a swing as we passed the one and only pylon on each stage.

The observatory at the top ( see Pic du Midi Observatory) was a little more busy, but still fairly calmallama. We walked around in the sun for a while before decided to sit indoors to eat. It was quite windy up top and there was a high chance of losing your sandwich in the breeze. After lunch we took a stroll around the deck of the observatory, generally taking photos from all angles. It was one of the few days on the holiday that Kas and Izzy carried their posh cameras out. Even then, Izzy had given up wanting to carry her own camera by the time we got to La Mongie, so I left mine in the car and took hers.

The best bit of the observatory deck is definitely the overhanging metal gantry on the north side, from which you can see the Pyrenees drop away from you towards the towns of Tarbes and Toulouse – the Pic du Midi de Bigorre is higher than any of the peaks to the north, so you get a clear view out in that direction, and at the time we were there the air was clear aside from a couple of little wispy clouds drifting by a few hundred metres below our feet. You don’t get that very often.

Enough of That

By this time we were starting to get a bit tired and the girls were getting itchy and twitchy about their desire to go swimming, so we jacked it in and took a somewhat busier cable car down to the bottom. On the way out you have to walk through the gift shop. Izzy bought a stuffed goat, Ami bought a fridge magnet (I think). We can’t stick magnets to our fridge any more, but hey ho! We also bought ourselves a new bottle-opener-corkscrew-jobbamajig, partly because the one in the apartment in Luz was a positive health hazard, and partly because we seem to get one every year now, if you can count two years in a row as a collecting habit.

More drinks and a bicycle rotation stop were required, and while this was in progress I had time to pop over to the back of a church in the village to grab an easy geocache. Might as well.

From here we took a leisurely drive back over the Tourmalet and down into Luz Saint Sauveur, taking care to stop for a few photos on the way down. It’s really quite a spectacular view from the top.

Oh, for falling off a log!

Once we got back home, Kas took the girls to the pool while I attempted to do a bit of organisation for the evening. “Attempted” is the operative word.

First of all, I tried to acquire some more Euros, but seemingly tried to acquire more than I was allowed at the only one of Luz’s three cash machines that would take a UK card. The result was that the machine wouldn’t give me anything at all, and also that I was unable to use it in a cash machine at any subsequent part of the holiday. In fact, I also ended up with a problem relating to cashless payments, and I now have a new card.

Secondly, I tried to go book a table at a restaurant we’d looked at on the first night but couldn’t get into. We couldn’t get into it again, so flushed with my failure at three ATMs and one restaurant, I had a bit of a meltdown and just walked out rather than trying to book for an evening later in the week.

Finally, I had to go shopping for a few things, which went reasonably smoothly apart from having to buy them with my credit card.

Finishing Off

Back at home, I was still stuck in the “grumpy, sweary, muttering-under-the-breath” setting, and it didn’t really settle until some beer had been included in the mix. We walked back up into town to get some dinner. Kas got some money out of the only ATM in the village that would take our cards and we sauntered up the street and around the houses a bit before deciding to sit at a streetside cafe that offered a reasonable selection of things the girls might try. It was good despite the limited menu. Kas had a bottle of locally brewed “Col du Tourmalet” beer. It had a bit of a top-fermented tang to it and she wasn’t over keen. To be honest, I wouldn’t ever have ordered more than one of them either. It made a good photo though, given that she’d run up the Col earlier.

And so another busy day ended with a stroll downhill back to the apartment and a fairly early night. We wanted a good run at the following day’s planned activity.

PS, I think the animals in question might be alpacas not llamas, but I can’t think of any appropriate puns, so alpaca tin.