Ever since I first set foot in the Pyrenees last year, albeit with a snowboard strapped to them in 4 ft of snow, I have been looking forward to summer to come around again to get up into them thar hills and explore the crystal clear mountain lakes and enjoy a spot of wild camping.
For those of you familiar with the Tour De France (yes, the one in which us Brits smashed everyone else in last week- fine work Wiggins & Co), the Col du Tourmalet is the most famous climb on the Tour, it is also the highest road (2,115m) in the Pyrenees and the area which I chose to explore. Planning a trip like this wasn’t too difficult- the internet is a wonderful thing and Google Earth is even better- being able to map out and print satellite images of your desired spot certainly helps when you find yourself up in the mountains. The only thing Google Earth won’t help you with until you find yourself in the thick of it, is the terrain which isn’t obvious from a bird’s eye perspective.
Now, the Pyrenees really don’t dick about.
It’s not easy to find people to coax up a mountain. Hiking isn’t everyone’s cup of coffee. I must admit- It’s not really mine, for me there has to be a purpose: a reason to venture off into the unknown. More often than not, that reason has scales, a penchant for worms and makes damned fine eating. Fish. The area I had picked out in the mountains, just south of the town of Bareges, had a good cluster of lakes at around 2,200m (quite high up- Ben Nevis is 1,344m) in all shapes and sizes. Perfect spot. But who would be game?
I met Dustin at Wilderness Gathering last year, when Ash and myself took HGC HQ on the road to showcase the Foraging school. Dustin runs the company www.bushcrafttools.com and specialises in Fire Pistons, which he designs and produces himself. Having recently relocated to Perpignan on the Med side of the Pyrenees and a keen brother of the Angle himself, he was the perfect companion. So, through that wonderful invention used by ex-pats across the globe, we arranged everything over Skype and planned to meet at midday on a Tuesday. The plan was to have one night in the mountains and the second night in the valley by one of the rivers. Three hours drive from the Beach and I was up near La Mongie and the Col du tourmalet. Boom.
As I’m not really one for following sport, I was surprised to learn that the Tour De France was actually passing through the very day and the very place we chose to hit the mountains. Bugger. Traffic, Gendarmerie, lycra and sweaty people creeped through the mountain passes in 30C heat. Not the best start…but eventually we made it to the start point.
Rather than regale you with tales of elation, woe, steep climbs, desperate fishing, Kamikazee sheep, cows with bells on, French folk dumping behind rocks, great banter, useful hipflasks, chopping down dead pine limbs with an axe on a cliff edge, Bushcraft discussion (apparently Ray Mears doesn’t do bushcraft anymore because its ‘too commercial’- who on earth would you hold responsible for such a thing?), contemplating rolling large boulders into mountain lakes and dodging rock falls, I’m just going to present a series of pictures….painting a thousand words and all that. The only thing I will say, and perhaps the best thing about hiking up in the Pyrenees, is not having to take any water with you: you just fill up as you go along from all the fast flowing mountain streams. Who said Evian was Naïve spelt backwards?
Dustin's Pyro Piston worked a treat. Available from www.bushcrafttools.com