Pyrenees 2010 - Kit and the getting there

wild camp under Grande Fache

A special thanks to Andy Howell for all the brilliant advice on his web pages, which got me started, and the occasional friendly email - he definitely knows his beans in the Pyrenees, as many can attest.  Cheers Andy.

These also useful:
Start with this map
Local trains (and bus replacements from Pau) - TER SNCF
More local buses - transports-maligne
Other great advice - Outdoors magic thread

Travel by wheel
Eurostar Euston to Paris Nord = £69 each return
SCNF Paris Austerlitz to Pau, sleeper (return from Lourdes) = £88 each return
Bus from Pau to Pont de Lescun = 11 euro each
Bus from Gavarnie to Lourdes = 2 euro (!) each
Hitch from Pont de Lescun to Lescun village = free, within 1 minute of getting off the bus - thanks!

We checked the air price for this journey and at the time, our trains combined were £9 each cheaper.  Extremely competitive, and tells the lie on any Top Gear nonsense - 'expensive trains are for middle class hippies' ?, or airline and petrolchemical lobby groups with vast PR budgets intent on maintaining a dying market share and supressing a growing consciousness.  Things are changing, if you have kids or work with young people that change is palpable.  Anyhow, my eco-blither aside, its now completely financially viable to gad about on the train in Europe and therefore I have no reason/excuse to break my short-haul boycott.

We did book early-ish (3 months ahead) for these train prices.  Accurate bus timetable info was pretty hard to find this side of the channel but we didn't have an issue getting in or out at all.  Piece o pie.

travel times:
OK, so it takes longer.  Door to door each way was about 26 hours, but we broke our journey in Paris each time, for a few hours each way, because we bought a cheaper Eurostar ticket, and because we like the town. A 6 berth couchette takes a bit of getting used to, especially for brits requiring of more personal space, but our experience was of very polite sharing - most people just wanna get their heads down, same as us!

found a wood stove, used it for a day or two, left it on the trail for you...

Arthur the tent just wasn't up to Pyreneean thunderstorms, and so has made his last trip and is being retired.  It will see occasional light duties with T's nephews on weekend camping trips, but no further waterfalls down the sides, with any luck.  Recommendations on new fabric mountain habitations gratefully received.  Like many I suppose, we desire the lightweight sturdiness of a TN voyager or super solar with the featherweight adaptability, space and romance of MLD supermid or a Go-Lite shangri-la - go on, put me straight!

Clothes - I took a duvet jacket and 2 base layers only.  I could have shaved 250gms and got away with a mid-layer instead, which would have been a bit more versatile I think, but T walks and sleeps cooler than I and needed her fleece and jacket both.

My base layers were 1x 150 long sleeved, and 1x 200 short sleeved Icebreakers, as before.  The 150 merino was OK imo, though I know many might find it too hot.  The 200 weight was HORRIBLE for most conditions - what exactly is the point of a thicker, but short sleeved, wool top? - it was a gift, and it is a lovely red, but all the same, it felt like a sheep greenhouse.

And so yesterday, a long sleeved walking shirt was purchased in Cotswolds sales - a bit olde fashioned but very well designed, safari 'canyon shirt' (aka man's blouse) from Mountain Hardware.  Windsor Davies would be proud.  Up above 2000ms we were careful of exposure, its hot and windy.  I found a baselayer, plus hat (sometimes my beanie under my boonie if early) and a scarf worked well in the sun, but T sometimes needed an extra layer.

Little things you learn.  Terra converts are just excellent, brilliant venting at the ankle when full length.  Genuinely tough trekking cats complain about the zippered legs catching on these trews - you stride over whole mountains in a single bound, sleeping under hanky sized pieces of wafer-thin sail cloth, eating nothing but Smash for months, all in horizontal hail, but you're squeamish about zips?!  Ok, it happened now and then but its not grounds for divorce :p  These synthetics dry out in an instant, I could almost not bother taking anything else, and dry them on me when I had to.  
However, the stove went over one morning and it burnt a hole lightning fast, which made me think twice, watching the alcohol flame dance on the fabric at my inner thigh!  They didn't stick to me though, which made me think, again.  Merino wouldn't burn like synthetics, and is super efficient at wicking, but if humidity is high, and you are working on the inside, it eventually gets wet through, and stays wetter for longer.  Lesson learnt: both good fabrics which nevertheless have their limits, stove operative found sorely lacking.   And you shall know him by the gaffer patch on his kegs.

I ended up getting a Rab Momentum lightweight eVent waterproof before the off.  This was truly brilliant, water just bounced off, and even when climbing with 9kgs of pack full of food and water I didn't overheat, much.  Also worked great as a windshirt for summits and cols.  A thing of wonder, leaves goretex in the dust.

Take paracord, dyneema or some other super strong, light stringy stuff - A 6m length may save your washing/boots/tent/life.

And definitely take a bottle opener, I hear the wine is very good.  I am still searching for the perfect penknife under 100gms - our forgetfulness in this department helped us break the ice once or twice anyhoo...

Sleeping Mats - so, I might be coming round to some kind of inflatable thing for longer walks, sure the foam mats are fine for a few days at a time.  2 weeks+ on closed cell foam does wear thin... I kept waking up with backache.  Weight penalty on blow ups is getting better I guess, he said begrudgingly - I'm just resisting the fact that me bones is getting old!

Our sleeping bags keep us toasty warm (too warm really....if only I could justify a PHD minim!), even at 2600ms, there was no problem with night time temperatures for us.  T does need the full 3 season, -7 bag though, she gets chilly at night.
Boots - Still useful, considering the torrential rain, but the terrain on this stage was easier than Scotland in my view.  Can definitely see the point of soft shell footwear in Europe, but still want ankle protection, and weather resistance for the UK.  Leather boots did get pretty wet but not sodden...and of course they take longer to dry, but I am pretty attached to mine.  Does anyone know where I can try Terrocs on in London?  OK, I admit, I'm curious!

clayfoot, a common affliction on day 3

And for the lady....
T has been slower to take on the lighter-weight evolution, and yes there were times when I carried some of her 'unnecessary' weight, so I think she's slowly coming round to the idea (at least I hope so!)  Her towel was bulky, heavy and mostly damp, so needs swapping out.  Her waterproof is solid enough but about 800gms (that's at least 400gms too heavy = 2 dehydrated meals for 2, or 2 days bread - well, if you put it like that...), and she said she could have left her third top, and tights at home.  Otherwise she kept it pretty minimal (except perhaps the wash bag?) which worked very well.

Food - We started with about 4kg, again too much to be comfortable.  In the end though, it was good we did, because we did an 11 day trek without resupply, except a little from refuges, and a small shop on day 3 at Col de Somport.  We saved some time not going down to Cauterets (a bit of a shame to miss it though), and spent more of it in the high mountains.

The dried japanese seaweed from the local health food shop worked a treat in all manner of rehydrated meals - sometimes the only greens we had for days.  The smoked barracuda from the local Halal butcher on the other hand was rank and foul smelling, took too long to rehydrate, and tainted everything else in the food bag - to be avoided next time!  I've just found that Whitfords do a range of dried vegetables, pepper, onions, in 50gm packets, so we'll try those next time.

Maybe a food post in the future, using cheap, off the shelf stuff but none of those heavy, expensive and non veggie friendly foil bags you see in the 'proper' climbing need to eat your own head in the sticks, is there?

Pun Fhoto - Magelene, by the lake (groan)

A word about water - its great stuff, in fact its the best stuff in the world, except when you have to carry it, at which point it stops being the source of all life and starts weighing a bloody ton.  For this section of the HRP (Lescun to Gavarnie, late July) we never ran out, although other people tell me later (spanish) stages are more demanding in this respect.  After a few days we got used to carrying only a litre or so between us most of the time, sometimes a bit less if the map looked promising, and we were fine.   As long as we were sensible and planned ahead, we found it better to drink or stock up en route - were less tired/dehydrated and needed to drink less as a result.  That said, if you're unsure, do what we did for the first few days, err on the side of caution - you don't wanna get caught out in the sun.  We disinfected valley water but not the high mountain stuff (less cattle grazing) and were fine - its a good deal cleaner than the stuff we get out of the tap here in London through lead pipes, I'm sure.  A snow-field popsicle from on top the Petit Vignemale is a damn fine thing.


''just grab your hat, we'll travel light, that's hobo style''