Mates in the right places
For some time now I have been meaning to get out and about in winter to get my experience up, whilst working towards my International Mountain Leader Award, but also for fun. I always manage to talk a lot, but not actually organise anything, so this time was going to be different. I met Pete in Oman back in 2008, and we had kept in touch via Facebook. In 2013 I asked if he work for us at Carnegie Great Outdoors and got chatting with him once more. Turned out he had bought himself a place in the Pyrenees, and was back there in the winter after a busy summer of where ever the work took him.
Late 2016 I was keen to get this elusive skill set developed and get the IML ultimately on track. Dropping Pete a quick message on Facebook he was keen. I booked a week in February and was ready to get the snowshoes I had bought, an outing for the first time in 16 months of having them.
Cheap flights once more to Carcassonne via RyanAir sorted. Pete offered to put me up for the week and pick me up from the airport, this was quickly turning in to a very appealing week. On arrival the Pyrenees weren’t even really in view, and I was quickly informed by Pete it was a fair drive away, plenty of time to catch up. We got nattering and it appeared Pete was keen to get out every day where possible based on the fact that his IML assessment was booked in the next couple of months. We chatted travel, work and general life, and it was nice to go and see someone , as opposed to make constant empty promises to yourself and them.
Arriving in Tarascon, I was chomping at the bit. I wasn’t entirely sure how fit I was, as if the Calpe climbing trip with Seb was anything to go by, it could be shocking. We poured through the maps and guides of the area and Pete gave me a serious schooling in local conditions. They weren’t as good as I would have anticipated. No worries, we’ll make the best of it. The next day was to be Pic de Saint-Barth?lemy, 2,348m, Pete did mention a 1,000m ascent, but I thought this would be gradual.
Pic de Saint-Barthélemy, 2,348m
Arriving ready to rock and roll, I immediately jumped out and struggled to understand how and when I would be putting my snowshoes on. This turned out to be about 30m away. Strapped in, something didn’t feel right, but I cracked on. It soon dawned on me that the 1,000m ascent was straight out of the lay-by. As I got use to my new feet we plodded up the hill, at what was probably a painfully slow speed for Pete. I was getting there though, and with every step and adjustment it got better. It was only when we took a break high up that I took my snowshoes off, that I had had them on the wrong way round the whole time. What a tool. At least I could get a good photo and make the changes afterwards.
With that now behind me I was back to tweaking and making improvements as I went. I was loving it, why had I left it this long. We plodded away and eventually reached the summit of the mountain.
It was pretty chilly on top, Pete gave me a brief lesson on the local mountain names, and ones that maybe of interest to us in the next couple of days. A bunch of clients and their guide arrived by skis to the summit, there was a little envy as we exchanged words as they proceeded to rocket down the hill at a blistering pace.
Making back to the van I was keen to get more done, roll on tomorrow.
Pic de Tarbesou, 2,364m
This peak was a nice steady peak, with terrain of what I imagined snowshoeing to be more accustomed to. We started somewhere near the base of a ski slope, but above another, and worked our way up alongside it. It was steady going and eventually we were able to breakaway from the slope and blaze our own trail. Pete is a keen teacher, and immediately got to talking about the footprints in the snow. I was still fixated on getting my pace with snowshoes right, and mastering the technique so wasn’t completely taking on board what gems Pete was handing down to me. He fired off so much information, I could be there all year and he would still have fresh stuff to teach me.
We wound our way up the peak, once again Pete setting a pace suited to that of an Olympian. But I didn’t mind I was in my own little world. The wind became bitter, but the day was clear, it made for great views on top.
I don’t know what it is about peaks dusted with snow that makes them feel heavenly to me, but I feel lucky to be able to reach the top and see this in front of me. It does help make for a memorable achievement for the day.
Descending any of these great sceneries makes me feel sad. I always want to be moving on to the next peak, not packing up and going home. It is something I just long to pursue as I do more.
Pic de Journalade
We drove up quite a way to find the snow to start this route, and when we reached it, we couldn’t see the summit as it was sat behind a ridge. Which was great as the gradient looked far more appealing, yet with similar ascent. We wound our way up past the other walkers, and found a good pace, I had really got the hang of these snowshoes and I had managed to get them to fit well, and on the right feet this time. The weather as we reached the ridge, shall we say……….moody.
We swung a left and headed for Journalade, but the snow levels looked thin, and I wasn’t sure what to expect even though we still had a way to go. We continued, and unlike the other two walks so far there wasn’t much for Pete to teach me today. So we got on with it. Eventually after a steep incline, we got to the base of the climb, and it was without snow, and I seriously wasn’t feeling it. Which saddens me, as I think Pete was. I just didn’t fancy a fall, as the slope down to our right was rather impressive. Don’t get me wrong I’m all about adventurous climbs, but today I just wasn’t. Something in my bones was telling me ‘no, not today’.
With tails between our legs we wound our way back down the hill to the van again, as we got closer to the van, Pete perked himself up. ‘John, is this a pine, cedar or spruce?’ He was on one, I didn’t have a bloody clue. I had been listening, but not paid much attention to the needle arrangements on the limbs. I will do better next time Pete, I promise.
Walk from Prades
What a fabulous start to the day, snowing, and watching multiple vehicles and others struggling to deal with the conditions at the side of the road. Pete had his snow tyres on and was making slow but decent progress to our start. On arrival the snow didn’t slow, and we readied our selves. Up the street and on to the route, it was lovely walking in these conditions, the deafening silence was beautiful. We gently navigated the well trodden route up the hillside that was continuously being back filled with fresh powder, another day I always imagined snowshoeing to be about.
As we emerged from the trees I saw an opportunity for a rare selfie. Pete was too far ahead to take one for me, desperate times. I need to evidence my involvement somehow. As we broke in to the open the wind increased significantly as did the chill and the horizontal snow. I was impressed at how uncomfortable it was on the face, but I was well wrapped up, if anything slightly too warm. Watching nature is something I admire and wholeheartedly respect, and tif I stopped for too long I would definitely be feeling the effects. As we navigated our way around the route the weather didn’t abate, so we continued our course, which Pete continued my Continuing Professional Development. Nothing dampened his passion.
We arrived back, and I was starting to feel tired now, so one more day sounds about right.
Pic de Lauzate, 1800m, Mont Fourcat, 2001m
Pete said we were going to meet up with a couple of local guides with their group. And we set off with an individual who had to be back for a certain time. So once we arrived at the start point we headed off. For a while we were merely on foot, it was nice for a change. As we wandered up through the woodland we soon came across some stonework, for what reason I cannot remember. All I remember is the web like structures in the trees. Pete quickly informed me that these were called Processionary Caterpillars. He also informed me of the harm they caused animals if they were eaten. They sound interesting.
We continued our march up the hill. As we ascended another skier past us. Shortly thereafter the client that we were walking with asked me if I was chilly only walking with a t-shirt on. I quickly explained that I was from the North and this appeared to satisfy his concern for my wellbeing. About 20 min later we arrived at a hut/bothy on the shoulder of Mont Fourcat. At this point I had to concede that it was indeed a little chilly and a fleece may indeed be required.
The summit of Mont Fourcat was probably one of the best, as it was a nice walk in, and a mix of all the good things we had done on the previous days. I felt like I had had a good week and Pete had been the architect to make it all happen so well.
I am now ready to continue my adventures in the winter, and do hope that Pete will have me back for a week or so in the future.