Packraft course of The Low Countries*

The packrafting scene in Europe is growing! The Swedish Packrafting Roundup (Jacob) (Konstantin) was organized in May, now is the time for the packraft course of The Low Countries* followed by a tour on the Allier.

Surviving white water

We meet Servaes Timmerman at the camp site in R√©otier. He’ll teach us about white water. It will be his first impression of packrafts, for a number of us it will be a first encounter with white water.

The course is best described in pictures and a small anecdote:
On the third day of the course we’re on the Ubaye. Servaes goes to an eddy and tells us to disembark and scout the next stretch of the river: we need to determine our own line in a river filled with a number of big boulders. Servaes will take pictures at the end of the boulders. I leave the boat and climb onto a big boulder. Jan-Ivo just finished scouting and passes by in his yellow packraft.


The rest looks easy, I don’t look any further and walk back to re-enter the water. The part I’ve just scouted is not that difficult. At the end of the stretch the noise of the river rises. A rapid…
I round the last boulder and see the rapid. I see Servaes sitting on top of big a boulder. At that moment thoughts come to mind: “Of course Servaes is waiting at the most exciting part of the river.” The most exciting part, the part I didn’t scout…




Two things I’ve learned this course that I won’t forget:
1. Kayakers are lazy.
2. How to eat French bread without hurting your palate.
… and maybe a thing or two about paddling technique. ūüėČ

Cowboycamping along the Allier

Splendid days, hot, 30C. It’s a pleasure to be engulfed by cold water once in a while. The Allier is a varied river, quiet stretches alternated by wilder water, sometimes wide, sometimes so small that one packraft barely fits. We’re rafting all day and bivvy along the river. Cooking on the bonfire and sleeping under the stars, what more does a man want.

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Maybe it’s not only the kayakkers that are lazy…

*) The Low Countries is the name of Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and a small part of France during the Middle Ages. The people that participated consisted of Belgians and Dutchmen.


Bleau without bouldering

New year’s day 2015. The snow has just melted when we’re driving to Fontainebleau. The rain joins us however.

We’ve took our crash pad with us, but it stays in the car. We’re happy to make a nice stroll through Trois-Pignons: circuit des Belv√©v√®res. The next day it’s still raining and we go bouldering in the local boulder gym. The rain leaves and fog appears. The sandstone in this area becomes soft when damp. After the rain en fog of the last few days the rock is nowhere near dry. We can’t boulder, so we put up our slackline near l’√Čl√©phant and run the T.G.L.

13 Slacklining near L’√Čl√©phant

10 Slacklining

19 Parcours Larchant T.G.L.

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IGN Carte de Randonnée, 1 : 25000, 2417OT: Forêts de Fontainebleau et des Trois Pignons


Packrafting Hérault.
We leave our car at the campsite (Domaine d’Anglas, Brissac) and walk to St-Bauzille-de-Putois. We go and search GR60, which will lead us over nice footpaths to the weir at Laroque. Just downstream the weir is an easy put in. You’ll immediately notice the large amount of rental canoes. Unfortunately the canoe season has started, our lonely packraft adventures of spring have come to an end. Each little beach we spot is full of people.

St-Bauzille-de-Putois and the Hérault.

The first rapid is a big one. About two meters of height difference. This part of the Hérault is class 2 (3-) according to our guidebook, but this drop really is class 3. Charissa choose not to use her spraydeck today and she caught quite a bit water at this rapid.
During the remainder of Laroque to Brissac the river is alternating between class 2 rapids and stationary water. In one of the rapids Charissa gets stuck and takes a swim.
Waterflow of the Hérault: 7.1 m3/s (Laroque).


We raft another part of the H√©rault, near Causse-de-la-Selle. The H√©rault is stationary here and only has a few small rapids. We start by doing some exercises: Swimming with a paddle, turning the packraft over in the water, climbing back in the packraft when you’ve fallen out. Then we paddle back to the canoe centre halfway between Causse-de-la-Selle and St-Guilhem-le-D√©sert. We don’t recommend this for packrafting, the first part is much more beautiful for rafting.

Packraft exercises on the Hérault.

Watch out when parking here: 100 meter north of the canoe centre is a parking lot next to the D-4. When we wanted to park there, we saw broken glass on the ground. We got in the car again and drove just west of the canoe centre and parked along the road. There are much more people walking around and going to the beaches near the road. When we drove back, we saw another break-in of a car on the first parking lot.

Gorges de la Vis
We parked the car above Cirque de Navacelles. We’ve walked via the GR7 to Navacelles, via a GR de Pays to Moulins de la Foux and then back to the car. A nice stroll along the river, the mill is accessible and restored. Good to be done on a hot day like this, there is a lot of shadow along the river.

Cirque de Navacelles.

Moulins de la Foux.

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Peter Knowles – White Water Massif Central
Rivers Publishing U.K.
ISBN 0-9519413-6-4

IGN Carte de Randonnées, 1:25 000, No 2642ET: St-Guilhem-le-Désert

IGN Carte de Randonnées, 1:25 000, No 2742ET: Ganges

Packrafting and walking along the Orb.

After the Allier we’re eager to try to paddle the Orb. According to the weather forecast it is nice and warm near the coast, so it will be good weather to be on the water. Later we’ll find out that the weather near the coast really differs from the weather near the first hills along the Orb, though it’s only 30 km in distance. We arrive at Tarassac, which has a nice campsite, while it’s raining cats and dogs outside and thunderstorms are closing in. Mr Patron is not at the site anymore (Open from 9.00 – 12.00 and 15.00 – 18.00), so we call the phone number noted near the door. Voicemail. We try a few times without luck, start the engine again and drive to the campsite in Poujol-sur-Orb. We get a night of sleep and try again in Tarassac tomorrow.

It’s still rainy and cold that day. Ofcourse there’s always a chance to get wet on the water and when it’s nice and warm. Instead of paddling we decide to go for a walk. Contrary to the Allier area there are more footpaths and hiking routes here. We start at Gorges d’H√©ric and followed the PR route to col de Bortouyre. Now the footpath disappears and we start following painted blue dots.

Looking back from Col de Bartouyre.

The route of the painted blue dots descents at a staggering rate. We fly through a forrest full of ruins and old brick walls. What did these people do for a living and what did they eat? There’s nothing here except wild chestnuts. The descent is quite a challenge, slippery and in the rain trying to find our way down. In the end we arrive exactly at the point that our map said we would be. It’s only the day after that we see a nice footpath 100m after the blue dotted path we took.

Le Verdier Haut.

The next day the sky is blue when we get out of bed and overcast after breakfast. Near the mountains the weather still looks bad, so we decide to go hiking this day as well. This time we opt for the longer route: Gorges d’H√©ric, GR7 to Douch, Refuge de Font Salesse and then back via Col de Bartouyre and the path we took yesterday. A nice hike and very quiet in the pre-season in these well-known valleys. Today we wear our rainsuits again.


After two days the weather remains instable. We ask the patron of the campsite if he knows the weather forecast when he laughs and says: “le soleil aujourd’hui”. We leave with packrafts on our backs. From the village we take a dirtroad and then the D160 to the campsite of Poujol-sur-Orb. We put in at the bridge near the campsite. Especially at the start we have to get out of the boat a lot because of all the weirs in this river. At one of the weirs a glisi√®re has been constructed. According to the local (drunk) fisherman, it is “very good”. We are still very careful with our boats and don’t dare to scrape them on the concrete built glisi√®re.

The nice part of the Orb is the last part. We enjoy ourselves big time at a part of the river with a sign that says: “tres difficile”. In an open canoe this might be very difficult, with our agile packrafts it’s a tough job and great fun! At the campsite we get out of the water in front of our mini-camper.
Looking back there were some fun parts in the river, but most of times it was (as it was written in our guidebook): rocky, dodgy and scrapy. That might not be a problem for a hard and plastic (rental) canoe, but with our own inflatable packrafts we try to avoid this kind of rivers. Anyway, we’ve enjoyed ourselves this day.
Oh, by the way, what would those Frenchmen want to say with all these signs near the bridge?

An interesting combination of signs near le Poujol-sur-Orb.

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Peter Knowles – White Water Massif Central
Rivers Publishing U.K.
ISBN 0-9519413-6-4

IGN Carte de Randonnées, 1:25 000, No 2543OT: Lamalou-les-Bains

Packrafting Allier

It’s time to try our packrafts in a French river. We’re close to the Allier river and eager for some entertainment on the water. Our inspiration comes from reading the guidebook “White Water Massif Central” written by Peter Knowles. If he can run this river in an open canoe, we should be able to do it with our packrafts with spraydeck.

In Chapeauroux we start at the campsite. A grade 2 river (canoe) with some class 3 rapids awaits us. “One of our favourite runs in an open canoe – ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ for paddling in the Massif Central!” Sounds promising! It becomes reality. We enjoy ourselves a lot and are happy with the sun shining on the spraydeck. Nice rapids, easily do-able with a daypack on the bow and just the right difficulty. Halfway we take a break at a beach to dry and have lunch. If Peter Knowles did this with an open canoe, he would have swamped his canoe. We can’t believe he kept his boat dry.

The second part is easier and we keep ourselves a bit drier than before. We leave the river in Alleyras and pack our backpacks. The ticketoffice at the station is closed and the locals ensure us it’s not possible to pay by card on the train. Luckily we discover to have just enough money to buy a return ticket. The train guard shows us that it is possible to pay by card on the train.

The part of the river before Chapeauroux is too difficult for us (class 3 and sometimes class 5) and the part just after it is slightly more difficult than we did up to now. We try to build experience the way Roman Dial suggests in his book “Packrafting!”. We would like to do a short multi day tour now. Our to-do list has some excersises on it, but we’d rather wait for warm weather to do those.

We find a multi day tour further downstream. We park the car in Langeac and leave further downstream tomorrow with a big backpack. When we bought the hiking maps we already noticed the lack of hikingtrails on the map. They are scarce indeed in this area. Most of the time we hike on jeep tracks, only the last part is on a smaller and nice hiking trail in direction of St. Julien-des-Chazes. We planned to walk until Prades, but didn’t, as we still have difficulty in estimating rowing hours.

Enroute to St. Julien-des-Chazes.

Under St. Julien des Chazes bridges we enter the water and paddle a nice stretch of river. Unfortunately it is shorter than estimated. Yesterday we already found out we have to portage the part of √éle d’Amour because of a weir.
We carry our rafts and packs along the island and get into the boat again on the other site. Only a short bit of paddling left to get to the campsite.

It’s time to eat and pack our bags for an overnight trip. We take the tarp and cooking gear and leave the next day starting from Langeac. At the next weir we eat lunch while enjoying the sun.
While searching for a good spot after the weir to enter the river Fred almost tramples over a snake who was sunbathing. Luckily the snake is more scared and dissapears at once.


The paddling is nice and easy in the sun and without noticing we arrive in Lavo√Ľte-Chilhac. The village has a campsite, but it’s still early and there’s another one a few miles further downstream, so we decide to keep on going. Slowly clouds come in and suddenly it’s starts drizzling. Actually, it’s not drizzeling, but it quickly builds up to pouring rain. Before we understand what is happening, thunder sounds. We start paddling to the shore, get the boats out of the water and walk to a higher place. After a while the rain stops and we resume our rafting. Not for long when history repeats: pouring rain and lightning, and this time we get soaking wet. We take shelter under the packrafts and wait until rain and thunder are really gone. Luckily it’s not far anymore to the campsite in La Vialette.

The next day. The first two weirs on our map look like normal rapids and we can safely raft them. The weir at Vieille Brioude we have to portage. We continu to the railway bridge (and weir) in Brioude. The last part is mainly class 1 with only a few rapids. In Brioude we pack our rafts, walk to the railway station and buy our tickets back to Langeac.


Altogether we’ve had a good time in this area. It’s a pity that the combination of packrafting and hiking is not so easy here, because of the lack of nice footpaths. The Allier is a beautiful river to paddle and especially in the pre-season it’s very quiet. We didn’t see any other canoeists or kayak paddlers!

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Peter Knowles – White Water Massif Central
Rivers Publishing U.K.
ISBN 0-9519413-6-4

IGN Carte de Randonnées, 1:25 000, No 2634O: Brioude

IGN Carte de Randonnées, 1:25 000, No 2635E: Langeac

IGN Carte de Randonn√©es, 1:25 000, No 2635O: Lavo√Ľte-Chilhac

IGN Carte de Randonn√©es, 1:25 000, No 2736O: Monistrol-D’Allier

From Vercors to Hautes Fagnes


The last bits of snow are visible in the Netherlands as we leave. The car radio plays Frank Zappa’s “Don’t eat the yellow snow”. We drive to Col de Rousset from the north over the plateau. At the start the road is free of snow, but half way the plateau the road is still snow covered. At Col de Rousset we turn to the road to parking de Beure. This road is also snow covered, but small stones have been scattered on the road. We just manage to reach the parking without the need of snow chains.

We leave parking de Beure with skis and pulk, but soon change from skis to snowshoes. The snow is 1.40 m thick, a beautiful white and thick blanket. It is not easy to climb with skis through the thick layer of powder snow. At the top of the drag lift we meet a Frenchman who’s making a small tour with snowshoes, skis and backpack. He’s jealous of our pulks. Now he is …

Enroute from parking de Beure

The sun is shining and we progress fast. In the forest to Pas des Econdus the continuous climbing changes to a more sloping climb and descent. The pulks are sliding along and past us on the steeper descents. The aluminum tubes that make sure the pulks don’t run into our shoes can’t handle the forces and bend. The tubes on Fred’s pulk are bend first. We have a spare rope with us that we use to proceed.

Montagne de Beure

Montagne de Beure

At the plain after Pas des Econdus we pitch our tent. It’s already dusk when we have dinner. During the night the temperature drops to -6 C in the tent and it starts to snow. At dawn the wind was blowing strongly and it was still snowing. Because of the broken aluminum tubes of the pulks it’s hard to descend. Because of the pulk troubles and the one broken ski pole, we decide to return to our car.

Bivouac under Tête de Faisan

Our plan is to leave the pulks and everything we don’t need in our car, buy new ski poles and try again with only our backpacks. Too bad, without crampons and ice axes we cannot climb the Grand Veymont anymore. More snow has fallen last night, this time we need the snow chains to leave the parking. We cannot find ski poles until we arrive in Crest, half a day later.

When we arrive at Col de Rousset the next day, the wind is blowing with 6 Beaufort and stormy gusts. The snowing continues and low clouds arrive. We hear that this kind of weather will remain the next few days. We’re in two minds for a while but finally decide not to start. Unable to take all our gear, bad weather and heavy backpacks will make this a tough survival instead of holidays. Especially for us as inexperienced snow-hikers.

We drive a while at the plateau to find a place to spend the night. If we could find a guesthouse, we could do some day-hikes. Unfortunately all ski pistes are closed and thus all g√ģtes and guesthouses are closed too. Silently we head back home. What a pity, all planning, preparation. We looked forward to this trip so much.

Hautes Fagnes

On our way home we spot some snow in Belgium. Unexpected. The next morning we decide to spend the rest of our holidays in the Hautes Fagnes. In one-and-a-half hour we unpack our backpacks and repack them. The tent stays at home, the tarp we take with us. Extra food stays at home together with the rest of the gear that we don’t need. Fast we search for a nice tour and we leave.

According to the weather report, 40 cm of snow should be present in the Hautes Fagnes. On the road that runs around the Stausee there’s just enough snow present to ski cross country. At the end of the Stausee we are happy to leave the road. We pack our skis on our backpacks and walk on a footpath till dusk. In the Hautes Fagnes it’ll become -5 C at night too.


Enroute a lot of animal trails can be seen. Th√© biggest difference to hiking in summertime. The snow cracks under our feet as it’s still freezing. The thickness of the snow is around 10 cm, so skiing is possible. This tour will be a hybrid one: partly skiing, partly walking. Especially the footpaths along the Eschbach and the Steinbach we can recommend, they’re beautiful. The freezing of last week caused frozen sheets of ice on the creeks and many frozen icicles have been formed. Slowly the clouds roll in. Tomorrow the thawing will start and it will rain.



We didn’t have time in our one-and-a-half hour of preparation to take the hunting into account. On one part of the tour we would like to do, we find the well-known yellow and red signs. F√ľr Ihre Sicherheit, time to turn around. Unfortunately we walk partly where we walked yesterday, but on the other hand, it’s a really nice route. When we walk over the planking of the peat bogs we see how fast the thawing is proceeding. Last night the thermometer showed 0 C and on some parts of the planking the snow is gone completely. The wind picked up fiercely over the flatland, so we’re happy to return through the woods. When we drive back home, the rain starts. Two beautiful days.


Enroute to Reinartzhof

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IGN Carte de Randonnée, 1:25 000, No 3236OT: Villard-de-Lans

IGN Carte Topographique, 1:50 000, No 35-43: Eupen

Packrafting Gorges du Tarn

Packrafting. Where to start? How difficult is it, and how much do we enjoy it? A while ago we made a start with packrafting by buying two rafts. We paddled a bit in the Netherlands, which is fun for a start. But as soon as we try to find other tours, we encounter words like white-water and PR2 rivers. What does it mean? Can we do that?

Ready for packrafting

We bought the book ‘White Water Massif Central’ by Peter Knowles. In it a lot of example tours for open canoes are described. If you can do it with an open canoe, it must be possible with our packrafts. The river the Tarn meets our eyes, a river of class 1, class 2 and class 3- water. A nice river, in a beautiful environment and hopefully nice and quiet in October. So we hit the road and drove to Southern France. Because the waterlevel can rise suddenly in autumn, most campsites along the Tarn are closed by October 1st. We didn’t knew, so it took us half a day to find a campsite that is open. Luckily we found a site in Boyne that stays open until half of October. Our home for the next week.

Gorges du Tarn

During this week we do daytrips with the packraft. We start with a stretch of class 1 water: we park our car near the campsite La Blaqui√®re, walk a bit down the road and find a footpath to the Tarn. We cross the Tarn at la Croze and search for Sentier de la Vall√©e du Tarn at this side of the river. It’s a footpath along the Tarn. Just before la Mal√®ne we find a nice beach. We inflate our packrafts, assemble our paddles, attach our backpacks and leave for the water.

Les Détroits

The view alternates between beaches, forests and rocks. There are not many rapids on this stretch of the river, but the river flows faster than our local stream de Dommel. We enjoy floating past the towering rock pillars. Too bad we’re back at the car so soon.
The next day we park the car in La Malène and walk over the bridge to the other side of the Tarn. We continue our way on the trail we were walking yesterday and head upstream. We go through the village Hauterives, that can only be reached by foot or by boat. As soon as we see Saint Chély-du-Tarn, we enter the Tarn. This part of the river should be class 1 or 2, but we cannot tell the difference between this part and what we did yesterday.


The third day we park the car in le Rozier and walk towards les Vignes. This part should be class 2 to 3-. We cross the river over the bridge in le Rozier and walk upstream over the well-known path. This time the sailing is really spectacular. The rapids and quiet water alternate evenly. To catch a breath. Magnificent. We have to try hard to surf the rapids and the packrafts take quite some beating. Though the packrafts are made for flat water only, they might be used in white water. We enjoy this to the fullest. Our film equipement has a flat battery this day, so we don’t have any recordings. We decide to do this part again later this week, this time with a full battery. This part of the Tarn is a nice challenge to us, we will not be bored a second time.

Rapid between les Vignes and le Rozier

The last day we go to the river le Dourbie and packraft back to Millau. Le Dourbie is actually too low on water for our packrafts. We have to portage a few times because of the low water, but still enjoy us a lot.

Though we took our climbing gear with us, we never went climbing this week. We walk a bit near the campsite, from Boyne to Mostuéjouls and back. Another day we take a walk from le Rozier. We go to Rocher de Capluc, where the last climb to the top is equiped with ladders and iron bars. From the summit you have a nice view over le Rozier and the Gorges du Tarn. We proceed over Sentier J. Brunet (sentier très difficile) a nice path over rock, to return via the GR6A and Gorges de la Jonte. A nice walk, along rocks and dizzying heights.

Gorges de la Jonte in easterly direction

The whole week, but especially during the walk in the Gorges de la Jonte we see griffon vultures. They soar all day in a group over the many summits. We count up to 50 vultures in one group. Impressive.

Griffon vulture

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Peter Knowles – White Water Massif Central
Rivers Publishing U.K.
ISBN 0-9519413-6-4

IGN Carte de Randonnées, Carte topographique top 25, 1:25 000, 2640OT: Gorges du Tarn

IGN Carte de Randonnées, Carte topographique top 25, 1:25 000, 2641OT: Millau

Three weeks on and near the HRP

We’re lucky. The evening before the start of our holiday, we get a text message that our sister (in law) set up her tent in the town where we’re going to arrive by train. She’s willing to bring us to Lescun, the start of our trip. This time we’re going to hike a stretch of the Pyrenees between Lescun and Bagn√®res-de-Luchon. We are going to hike on and near the HRP: Which route to take depends on the weather, the beauty of the wildlife and the desire to climb. The HRP serpentines through France and Spain, so we’re going to cross borders a few times the next days.

Overview of the trip.

We say goodbye at the parking place Pont Masousa, the next three weeks will consist of walking, eating, sleeping but especially enjoying. Of course we will shoot a lot of photographs. While climbing through the valley of Lescun, our photographs suddenly turn blurry. What happened? We checked everything? Inspecting the lens reveals the UV-filter is broken in a hundred pieces. It is meant to protect the lens and did that job perfectly. Without filter the lens would be ruined and we wouldn’t have any photographs of this holiday.

The way up is a bit crowded. Several jeeps drive by and it is well accessible on foot because of the high parking place. We expected to find enough water, because a large part of the path is next to the Gave d’Ansab√®re creek. It turns out to be dried up. Dry riverbeds will be encountered a few more times this trip. We arrive at cabane Ansab√®re, a shepherd’s hut. A sign tells about Patou, the shepherd’s dog. Patou works on its own and protects the flock against wild animals. Walk around the flock of sheep and nothing will happen. If you fail to do so, they will attack. After a break, we continu to Lac d’Ansab√®re. About half an hour later, a flock of sheep crosses the path and we end up in the middle of the flock… three Patou’s arrive instantly, barking and growling furiously. Luckily they do not show their teeth yet. Time to hare away, slowly taking more distance between the flock and us and then walking around the flock. We’re being looked after by the dogs for a long time, but they approve of our little detour. Luckily.

Enroute to Lac d’Ansab√®re.

We continu our way along Lac d’Ansab√®re. A little climb, walking over a ridge, going down again and we arrive at Ib√≥n de l’Acherito. Looking around with the binoculars, we spot five tents. The wind is picking up, so we don’t want to put our tarp near the lake. A bit further is a beautiful flat spot, just behind a small hill, no wind. That’s our spot. The sun sets, it’s 12C and a herd of cows pass. Time to go to sleep. Which fails. The wind picks up again, even behind our small hill. Especially the gusts make the canvas flap powerfully. We open the rain beak, so the wind can pass freely. The flapping lessens immediately. When the wind finally sets, a herd of cows clangs by. Then, finally, quietness. At seven o’clock the next family of cows arrives. Two calves are interested in our cooking utensils and our tarp. They are kept off by their mother.

Our bivvy.

We proceed our trip and see loads of hikers climbing from the parking place near la Mina. Hopefully it will not become too crowded, perhaps they move in another direction then us. We climb to col de Pau and Pic de Burcq. The progress is fast as the path remains at the same altitude. We see another flock of sheep and its Patou in the distance. The Patou exerts every effort: when two griffon vultures approach, Patou scares them off. At the time we pass cabane de Lapassa, another flock of sheep crosses our path. We take a detour that costs us half an hour.

We enjoy a coke at refuge d’Arlet and ask if we might join for dinner. Our trip will take around 19 days and we have food for 10. We hope to re-supply in Gavarnie, but we will need to eat in a hut once in a while. This is the first one. We count two other tents in the neighbourhood of the hut and about 45 persons having dinner. Thus most people sleep in the hut. The food tastes great. When we pay, we ask for the weather: Next two days the weather will be good, then clouds will arrive. During the weekend it will rain, followed by a long period of beautiful weather.

Refuge d’Arlet in the morning sun.

From refuge d’Arlet we go to col d’Arlet. This is not the official HRP, the official trail runs over asphalt today. The valley Aguas Tuertas, located behind col d’Arlet, is indicated as particularly beautiful on our map. That valley looks like a much better choice than the asphalt. We follow animal tracks down into the valley. In the valley a river meanders beautifully, next to it runs the GR11.

Aguas Tuertas.

At the end of the valley our path joins the GR11, that we follow the rest of the day. Outside of the GR10 and the GR11 we don’t meet many people, but both GR’s are crowded. After a path over rock we enjoy a view over Ib√≥n d’Estan√©s. A large lake, with a lot of people on the beaches or diving in the lake. It’s nice and warm for diving. All day we were having problems finding water. Next to the lake we find a small source and decide to take five litres with us. Within a few hours we are going to bivouac and we’re unsure if we’ll find water there. Almost at the end of Val d’Aspe we find a nice place to camp with a creek passing along. Today we’re going to try one of the Norwegian meals made by DryTech. We took a few with us, next to the normal meals we have from Adventure Food. The DryTech meals taste very good, asthey should be considering how much they cost. We enjoy our game casserole in the sun. Next time we will boil the meal in our saucepan as it is not so easy to eat from a long bag with our short spoons.

Bivouac near Val d’Aspe.

We leave Val d’Aspe and col de Causiat behind us and head for Candanch√ļ. Wintersports paradise with up to 39 km of piste! We find a supermercado that doesn’t do si√ęsta. We buy sunscreen as ours is almost empty, a loaf of bread and luncheon meat. Finally something else for lunch than tour bread. After lunch we continue over asphalt to the next ski area: Ast√ļn. From there on we walk over footpaths again. We pass Ib√≥n del Escalar and go to col des Moines. When we take a small break, a guy arrives and gets his map. He asks if we walk the HRP too. A piece of it, yes. He looks at his map, says that he wants to walk the entire HRP in 28 days and starts walking (running) again. We later hear that the record is 26 days. Incredible. We descend to Lac Bersau and head for refuge d’Ayous. The tail-end of our route today, at least that’s what we thought. It’s so busy at the refuge, it looks more like a campsite. We move a bit further to the next lake (Lac du Miey), which is entirely ours tonight. From here you also have the great view on Pic du Midi.

Pic du Midi from Lac du Miey.

This night we upgrade our tarp: the rain-beak flaps easy in the wind. We lengthen the guy-line that runs along the rain-beak with 50 cm and the flapping becomes much less. We’re back in France and proceed on the GR10: Pont de Bious, Lac de Bious-Artigues, and then the quiet path to col Long de Magnabagt. Near the col we find a shepherd’s cabane. He sells goat cheese and sheep cheese. At first we thought of going to col de Lavigne via Cr√™te Lavigne Ch√©rue, the high path all along the valley. When we arrived at the col, we were already tired enough and needed to climb a lot more this day, so we decided to go via the direct path to the next col. Then decending 600 meters to the D934 and trying to find the GR10. The GR10 runs around reservoir Lac de Fabr√®ges, where the drought does not go un-noticed: the level of the reservoir is at least 10 meters under its usual level. We find the GR10 en start climbing throught a forest full of horseflies. The flies help to keep the pace up. We go further up through Val de Lurien and pitch our tarp next to the decayed cabane du Lurien.
Next to us a mountain marmot is eating and wagging its tail. Around us, rainclouds gather. In our valley it doesn’t start to rain, but at night we see thunderstorms passing in the valley we were yesterday. Each second a lightning bolt flashses.

Selling goat cheese and sheep cheese.

The next day we walk to refuge d’Arr√©moulit, via col du Lurien and Lac d’Artouste. Refuge d’Arr√©moulit is a small and classic refuge. The innkeeper is a nice guy and a good cook. We share the table with a French family and two French ladies. We even have a conversation half French, half English and a bit of sign language. Especially the son of the family is talking all the time. Our tarp is pitched on flat ground near a house-high rock. During our dinner it starts to rain, hail and storm. We’re in the refuge, but will our belongings stay dry? At the end of the dinner the rain is over and it’s time to inspect the tarp. A bit of splash was the only water we found under the tarp. Everything inside is still dry. In the night the wind picked up again.

Evening falls at Lac d’Arr√©moulit.

Now the route continues to col d’Arremoulit, Ibones del Arriel, high path through the valley to refugio de Respomuso and then to the valley to collado de la Faixa (col de la Fache). The refuge is big and new. It looks like the GR11 has been moved. According to our map the GR11 doesn’t run along the refuge, but today the red-and-white marks point to the refuge. Enroute to col de la Fache we pass an unfinished weir. The weir was already entitled “unfinished weir” in our guidebook from 2002 by Ton Joosten. Behind the weir two young mountain marmottes are playing. They are not scared of us and we stay a while and watch. We’ve climbed a bit further and found a nice place to pitch the tarp. We pile up stones along the tarp, because wind and rain has been predicted. We use a SPOT to regularly report our position. We did this also at this bivouac: we press the OK button, leave the beacon for half an hour and then want to turn it off. Though all lamps indicate the SPOT has finished sending the position report, it does not want to turn off. After a few attempts, we remove the batteries. And off it is. At around nine o’clock we hear a helicopter arriving at the valley. We take our camera, this one is coming close! We’re even more astonished when it flies over our tarp and turns back to us. It’s a helicopter of Guardia Civil and it lands about 10 meters of our tarp. Two man get out, they know our names and ask if everything is alright. They only speak Spanish, no English, so we’re having a rough time trying to communicate. We clarify that we are ok, they photograph our passports and they’re gone. They take off right over our tarp, our belongings fly through the air and they leave us wondering. What the hell happened? If this is because of our SPOT, our family and friends must have seen that a helicopter was sent for us. How will they find out everything is alright, that nothing happened? We don’t have any cell reception here.

The helicopter of Guardia Civil.

We gather our belongings. Our saucepan lies 10 meters from its original spot, our windscreen 20 meters away, at the other side of a creek. Then we climb a bit, perhaps our mobile phones work from there. Unfortunately no reception. With less than half an hour of daylight remaining, it promises to become a rough night. We set the alarm for the next morning. After a fast breakfast we pack our gear and leave. We think we have the best chance of reception at Collada de los Musales, a half day walk from our current place. We swiftly walk on and arrive at the col at around ten. We call our parents: our SPOT has sent the “HELP” message instead of “OK”. That’s why the people at home became uneasy and worried and help was called. Luckily they had had a message back that everything was ok with us. After this adventure we returned to our bivouac spot and moved on to col de la Fache, in the direction of refuge Wallon. We pitch our tarp next to a small lake half-way the col and the refuge. We awake with grass-feeding sheep around our tarp. No Patou to be seen luckily. We descend to refuge Wallon and drink a coke. The hut is ran by youth who are busy peeling potatoes in the sun. We ask for the weather forecast and got this reply: Like now, sometimes the clouds move in, sometimes they move out. Despite the day started with rain clouds, it ends in a shiny blue sky.

Grass-feeding sheep around our tarp.

A number of bridges are present near the refuge to cross the fast flowing Gave d’Arratille. We take the path to Lac d’Arraille. By following spots of paint one can climb fast to Puerto de Arratil. Then we move through rocky terrain to Puerto de Cauterets. Small snowfields might be present until late in the season, but we encounter none. After the col we descend almost to refuge des Oulettes de Gaube. We put our tarp up between the boulders with a view to the Vignemale and its brother Petit Vignemale. We prepare our dinner and hope for a cloudless night. Maybe we might make a beautiful night photograph, with the stars and the Vignemale on it. At the start of the night, the moon spoils it, too much light while she rises just behind the Vignemale. Time to set the alarm. At night 6 Spaniards pass our tarp on their way to the Vignemale. We see the light of their head-torches reflect on the glacier a little later.

The Vignemale and the Petit Vignemale at night.

If we leave the next day, we see two groups of people at one third of the Vignemale climbing. The two remaining guys are descending over the glacier. We walk on to Hourquette d’Ossoue, where the path to the Petit Vignemale starts. It looks like a traffic jam on that path. We walk past refuge Bayssellance, the highest manned refuge in the Pyrenees and start the long descend to Gavernie. We’re amazed when we’re being asked what summit the Petit Vignemale is and if one needs crampons to climb it. How well prepared are these people?

Gavarnie consists of hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. It’s possible to rent a donkey or a horse to ride to the best place to view the cirque. We are still stuck in another rhythm. Yesterday we looked at the map if a creek was flowing near the campsite, for drinking water and to wash… Only to find out half a minute later that a campsite would have flowing water from a tap. We have longed for the showers at the campsite, but they’re freezing cold. We have dinner in one of the restaurants, buy some food in the supermarket and head to the mountains again.

Refuge donkey.

We take the path through the forest to refuge des Espuguettes. The sun shines brightly, so the coolness of the forest is very welcome. When we arrive at Hourquette d’Alans after the refuge, we’ve already climbed another 1100 meters. We find a nice spot for our tarp high in the valley of Gave d’Estaub√©. Just after dinner we hear a strange, high and aggressive mooing. We take our binoculars and see a group of twenty griffon vultures attacking a small calf. The calf has the size of a dog and is alone in this part of the valley with two sisters and two cows. The other cows of the herd are at the other end of the valley. The vultures try to isolate the small calf by walking towards the cows with their wings flapping powerful. The two cows make sure the calves are always in between them, out-of-reach for the vultures. One cow runs to the vultures, mooing vigorously. The vultures are impressed, because a few moments later the small group of cows can return to the rest of the herd. This night the vultures will go to sleep with an empty stomach.

Cirque d’Estaub√©.

The next morning we see the sheperd looking after the little calf. We walk on and see a bridge near Lac des Gloriettes. That bridge is not on our map, but it is a shortcut of the route we want to take. We are very pleased with this shortcut as the path around Lac des Gloriettes is not the most interesting. The stretch after the bridge is very fast. We go to Montagne de Pouey Boucou, to cabane Groutte. This path keeps about the same height. The official HRP descends to the valley and climbs at the other side of the valley. We think it is more beautiful to walk along cirque de Troumouse. It will not be shorter in time, as we will walk a longer path, but at the same heigth. We pass auberge le Maillet and walk on to the cirque. From the valley clouds start to appear. When we arrive at Troumouse, the clouds start to ascend. With low visibility this site becomes a maze of footpaths, but we find the right way. The navigation is not easy, as we find out Lacs des Aires on the map is dry in reality. Half an hour later we arrive at the concrete cabane les Aires. We cook our dinner, but prefer to sleep under the tarp.

Dinner in cabane les Aires.

During cooking our dinner two people arrive at the cabane. They would like to sleep there, which is no problem of course. We were already planning of sleeping under our tarp. They arrived via Col de la S√®de. On their map (IGN, scale 1:25000) a path is marked from that col. On our Spanish map, scale 1:50000, no path is drawn. We want to go to that direction too, but don’t know if there is a path on the other side of the col that goes in the good direction. And with dense fog it will not be easy to find such a path. Too bad it is not possible for us to take the more accurate maps with us. The choice we had to make was simple: Either take 3 maps with scale 1:50000 with us, or 12 maps scale 1:25000.
The next morning the clouds have been dissolved partly. First we’re helped with packing by sheep, after them the cows arrived. Were they trying to help or did they smell the loaf of bread we bought in Gavernie? Today we go from cabane les Aires along the high path to Ruisseau des Aiguilous, Hourquette de H√©as, Hourquette de Chermentas and refuge Barroude. Especially Hourquette de H√©as is very beautiful. The last part we walk over big granite rocks and you’ll have a beautiful view from the col. After Hourquette de Chermentas we descended and climbed a steep footpath that was not indicated on our map. This path is much more beautiful than the full descend to the valley and then all the way up again. The steep footpath evolves to a high mountain path over a rockband. Today we hear a few people talk about Pic de la S√®de. We don’t get why this mountain is so popular. We pitch our tarp near the end of one of the Lacs de Barroude and see some Chamois for the first time this holiday. It will also be the only time this holiday. Later we talk to a guy who comes to the Pyrenees every year and he also saw only very few Chamois this year. He thinks this might be from a disease.

Bivouac in the valley of Barroude.

Tonight the wind picks up again. We open the rain-beak and the netting, but the gusts of wind let the canvas flap vigorously. A few times we fear the canvas might rip apart. Nothing happens. The tarp is much stronger than expected. Yesterday we were told at the hut that thunderstorms were forecasted this evening. Today we would like to end the day near a cabane, so we plan the longest leg of our trip: at the map we find a cabane near Las Coll√°s, caba√Īa de Sallena. To get there, we need to climb 1200 m, descend 1700 m and also walk quite some distance. We leave early, walk a dull stretch over an unpaved road, asphalt road and then again 11 km over an unpaved road. At the end of this unpaved road we find a building of the electricity company and behind that a small cabane. We stop for today, we’re tired and hungry. We make soup, clean the cabane a bit and cook dinner. We see the rain clouds move through the valley, followed by thunderclouds.

Thunderstorms from Valle de Bielsa.

The disadvantage of an unpaved road is that cars can drive there. In Spain quite some cars drive these roads. We count about eight that day. Especially the last car we do not trust. It stops a few times at places we do not expect. We don’t trust this and grab our backpacks and continu our trip. We have a few hours of daylight left and have rested a bit. Just before dark sets in, we pitch our tarp at a small rocky top above caba√Īa de Sallena. We nearly finished this giant stretch! From here we see that the caba√Īa doesn’t have a roof anymore. Beautiful view from the top. When we go to sleep, we see flashes of lightning everywhere. The thunderstorms came back. We don’t trust this rocky top bivouac, so
we grab our gear, put on our headtorches and descend to caba√Īa de Sallena. Unfortunately decayed and roofless. We pitch our tarp next to the caba√Īa and fall asleep. Not for long, because half an hour later the rain starts. And the hail. The lightning cannot only be seen anymore, but the thunder roars heavily. For one hour the lightning flashes 2 or 3 times per second, and then it finally is over. This kind of thunderstorms we do not have in The Netherlands. At half past four the storm returns, though not so violently as before. We’re happy with our tarp. It held very well in this weather. We didn’t put the side of the tarp all the way to the ground, so we had a bit of rain splattering. That it survived the hail is astonishing. Strong stuff, silnylon.

We proceed to Biad√≥s. We try to get some foot at the refuge, but that is very difficult. A drink is not a problem, so after that we continu. Biad√≥s is a small mountain village, but apart from the refuge no one seems to live there. The weed at most houses is at least a meter high. After Biad√≥s we go through Valle de A√Īescruzes. We’re being followed by rain clouds, but they do not pass us. At the end of the valley is a cabane, our stop for the day. The weather is still unstable and the long walk of yesterday and the short night take its toll. Today we make a short day. Later we get some company of an old French man. He is in his early sixties and has a reprint of the original book HRP by V√©ron. He wants to walk the whole HRP in 45 days. Like written in the book. He is supported by friends and family. We talk and exchange ideas how to do such a tour. When we go to sleep the thunderstorms start again. It starts to rain and hail so hard that we feel drops fall even inside the refuge. Our tarp is happy to be dry and packed in the backpack. One night with bad weather like yesterday is enough.

Caba√Īa in Valle de A√Īescruzes.

In the morning the surroundings are even more beautiful: on the high mountains around us snow has fallen this night. We ascend through the wet grass to Puerto de Aguas Tuertas en descend again in France through Vallon d’Aygues-Tortes. Eventually we arrive at refuge de la Soula. The refuge is part of one of the buildings of the electricity company, we almost walked passed it without noticing it. We are starting to notice that most people who are touring the mountain huts arrive at a refuge between one and three o’clock. The rest of the day they hang around the hut. Nevertheless, we walk on to Lac de Caillauas. Everything around us is shrouded in clouds, we pitch our tarp at the only flat piece of ground near the lake. Yesterday we talked to Danes who told us to camp near Lac de Isclots. We thought that about four people would camp there this night. If we pass Lac de Isclots the next day, we find out that 13 man have camped there. Probably in such a dense fog as we had.

Lac de Caillauas.

The only thing left for our trip is the part to refuge du Portillon. A beautiful part through rough terrain. First over rocky terrain to col des Gourgs Blancs. We pass some snowfields, but we don’t have to walk over snow yet. This year there is not much snow. In the rocky terrain cairns are built everywhere, which doesn’t make the navigation easier. From the col, the path continues with a steep descend between large boulders, then over a snowfield and then back up between the rocks. We arrive at col du Pluviom√®tre, that got its name from the large rain gauge nearby. We enjoy the beautiful view on Lac d’O√ī and Val d’Astou. A view right into the low lands, what a difference with this mountainous terrain. From col du Pluviom√®tre we moved to the summit of Tusse de Montarqu√© and then to refuge du Portillon. The path over the summit has an equal length then the path around the mountain, so it sure pays off to go to the summit. This day was one of the most beautiful of this holiday. Technical terrain that will reward you with beautiful views.


Reviewing Col de Gourgs Blancs.

From now one we come closer to home with each step we take. First we spend the night near Lac Saussat. We start walking a part of the GR10, the summit of Pic de Céciré and then Bagnères-de-Luchon. We would like to recommend Pic de Céciré. It is one of the higher summits in this area. Your view is higher than anything around you, with a view to the high mountains of the Pyrenees. At such a small distance from a city. We found a nice place to camp, somewhere near the ski pistes. Unfortunately here also, people drive around with jeeps. So we left again after dinner and put our tarp in the forest, just before sunset. Stealthy, a bit away from the path. In the meanwhile we saw some deers.

From Pic de Céciré.

The last day we descend over the GR10 to Bagnères-de-Luchon and board the train.

Click here to see all photographs.



Ton Joosten РDe Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne
Uitgeverij Elmar, 2002
ISBN 90389 1252 8

IGN Carte de Randonnées, 1:50 000, No 3: Béarn

Mapa excursionista, carte de randonnées, 1:50 000, No 23: Aneto РPosets

Mapa excursionista, carta de randonnées, 1:50 000, No 24: Gavarnie РOrdesa

Climbing and bouldering

Last week we were bouldering in Fontainebleau. We went through some circuits in the areas Restant du Rocher, l’√Čl√©phant and Dame Jouanne.

Charissa dyno-ing.

The l’√Čl√©phant area was mainly visited by English climbers the day we were there. In the afternoon it suddenly started to rain. Lots of big drops, that caused us to stop climbing. We used the rest of the day with a walk, south of Nemours.

A walk south of Nemours.

After three days of bouldering, we moved to Mailly le Chateau in Bourgogne (Burgundy). We climbed for another three days in that area.

Climbing spot “Saussois” in Bourgogne.

This year, Bourgogne is largely visited by mosquitoes. We’ve never been annoyed by that many mosquitoes while climbing. One night we even took shelter in our car to be free of mosquitoes. In Bourgogne the weather was precarious. Luckily the rock dries really fast after another shower.

At the campsite we amused ourselves by slacklining.

This holiday was our first proof-of-the-pudding of our mini-camper. It looked great, but will it actually work? It did! Everything functioned as expected, we’re very happy with it.

Our mini-camper at the campsite.

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