The well-awaited holidays...
This is not the first time Nicolas comes to the Pyrenees, he was there two years ago, but did not walk at that time. Between solo ascents express in very early morning, we had to content ourselves with to short excursions where we could enjoy "in situ" some pleasant places easily accessible by car.
As we go every two years in France, the 2011 edition included as expected a stopover in the Aure valley. Nicolas made his first steps long ago, and has meanwhile become a stout walker, very (too?) adventurous. So I decided to put aside my selfish ambitions of new conquests in favor of easy excursions into places that are both emblematic and entertaining: the number one rule to hike with a child without make him undergo and de facto disgust him, is to make him participate (I remember this excellent article !).
So my choices were dictated by the places that meet these criteria, and we shall see, a capricious weather which forced us to change the place almost daily to have a chance to pick the sun where it was...
The sweet Rioumajou valley, July 11th
Our arrival in the Pyrenees took place during the only canicular day of the week. Looking for some shade and not having enough time to do a walk, we decided to head straight into the valley of Rioumajou, and the picnic area of Frédançon. On sunny days, this place is usually crowd, and tables owning a barbecue toughly disputed. Fortunately we are on a Monday and at this time, people are returning, leaving the area as peaceful and pleasant as normally. This is one of the places where we often went with him two years ago: we love this thin soft grass where it is possible to run barefoot without any injury, the clearness of the water of the river and its music, the beautiful pine forest surrounding the mountain pastures and the smell it releases.
The ground is covered with pine cones and branches with unusual shapes that provide many objects of interest. That day, a few sheep are even present in front of the hut on the track sinking into Frédançon, a further curiosity. On the heights, scattered clouds produce beautiful lighting effects on the summit ridge of the Batoua. We decide to leave when the sun goes down, plunging gradually the clearing in the shadow and night temperatures.
Bareilles lake and the wooden hut, July 12th
The sunrise reveals a covered sky that showers our hopes for a sunny day like yesterday. However, while going to buy bread, I notice that the bottom end of the valley, towards Arreau, seems less cloudy. While a thin drizzle begins to fall when we are about to leave, we decide to move towards Bareilles: since time is uncertain, we will only hike into the forests up the valley. We find a brand new prohibitory sign where the asphalt stops above the village, and decide not to violate the new ban: as its goal is probably to make the valley more peaceful, we choose to play the game and take advantage of it, since the sky is low. However, as we walk the all three of us in line, occupying the entire width of the track, holding hands of Nicolas, a shiny Clio registered in Bordeaux comes roaring. Annoyed, I indicate to the driver that he broke the ban.
- "Yes but my guidebook ..."
- "But you saw the sign down, right? Why do we walk then?"
Without too much fuss, the couple turned back, and passed us on foot a bit later. But a little higher, we are again assailed by a cloud of dust. This time, it is a Land Rover with a local number with a driver of a certain age, tanned skin. As we are moving away fast enough, he honks. Jaded at first, this detail makes me repeat the maneuver.
- "The sign down here, you've seen?"
Visibly tougher, the driver simply responds "'re you from around here !?"
- "No, I'm not from here. But I've already seen them popping fines up here, with their Kangoo. Do what you want, after all, that's your business."
To my big surprise, my ploy works again, and we are quiet the rest of the climb. It is worth mention that the upper end of the trail where it ends in a pin if free of vehicles ...
Before that stage, noon comes and we decide to picnic near some rocks along the grassy pasture which appears on the left. Luch time is sacred, and there is no way to derogate to it: the mini-stove is stowed in the pocket of the baby rucksack, where Nicolas sat idly most from the climb so far. We eat our sandwhiches along with him his hot soup. Like by magic, a ray of sun breaks during our meal, lifting suddenly our moods. Just as stimulated also by this apparition, coinciding with his satiated stomach, Nicolas starts running around and we have no difficulty to convince him to continue walking with us.
The monotonous track comes to an end as we attack the section on the trail, and the new environment boosts his explorer impulses even more. Despite the stiffness, no need to help him up! We reach the Bareilles lake in a big blue sky. Although they look kind of stormy, clouds seem to have stopped at the mouth of the valley. Whatever happens, the day will now be successful. The lack of shade makes us go down quickly, for a longer break in the pines, near a waterfall to be examined from every angle.
We decide to make the most of this providential sun, halfway down, turning on the left trail following the mountainside; It is, from the lake, the trail leading to the famous Hut "Cabane du Docteur Pic". After a steep portion of side slope, we pass through lovely glades. The green trees, abundant flowers, all seem to have been designed by some landscape architect. We could turn here a movie called "Heidi", a character that Nicolas seems to incarnate perfectly in masculine version ! We arrive as when the weather seems to turn stormy: we hear roaring nearby, and it seems that appears that the Montious is containing them with great difficulty behind him.
The hut, with its somewhat "Polish" look, draws as expected the attention of Dorota (for the story, this is not a functional shepherd's hut, but the fruit of the carpentry fantasies of a local doctor who spent a part of his life in Canada some 70 years ago), will allow us to shelter from a few drops that fall shortly, before we attack the steep descent through the forest. The return will not be done by the track, but the footpath that goes below, more intimate and protected by the trees. A carousel ride in Arreau concluded the day before the storm broke.
Tella and the trail of the Ermitages, July 13th
Not surprisingly, we wake up this time in the pouring rain, but the optimism is paradoxically into the air, because the weather forecast posted at the tourist office, which is the copy of the phone answering machine from Météo France, indicates that the Spanish side will be spared by the weather with a powerful foehn effect.
The problem is that every folk in Saint-Lary read this paper. And what we still do not know is that the tunnel Aragnouet-Bielsa is under reconstruction, and now one-way only (and probably definitely, unfortunately). This detail is important because it means a red light that lasts at least 15 minutes. And unless you are early, as I used to be during my single life, we find ourselves necessarily in the pack ... We waited no less than 45 minutes before the tunnel, crossing finally at 11 am ... Fortunately, the other side showed as expected the promised sunny land.
This morning, we are five in the car since Nicolas is accompanied by his cousin and his grandmother. We had to eat quickly, as time ran. For this reason, we had to choose a restaurant close to a nice place to visit, and upon reflection we cast our sights on Tella. Dorota and I had discovered by pure coincidence the "circuit of the monasteries" in 2005 while we initially only sought the famous dolmen. My mother, an unconditional big fan of easy walks in this magnificent landscape of the Upper Aragon, has never heard of this place, and the opportunity to show this to her is too good. For children from the age of Nicolas and his cousin James, length and difficulty are perfect, and the loop constantly reveals new things.
We are going first to the inn and restaurant of Lamiana, but discover to our big dismay that lunches start to be served at ... 15pm only! Dorota points with a touch of humor, that this paradoxically corresponds almost perfectly to the time of the dinner in Poland. We decide to make the children picnic on the grassy terraces below the inn, offering spectacular views to gorges of Escuain and the Castillo Mayor. We discover in the same time that Camping below the hostel is possible for the small cost of 4.5 € per person and night. Anyone interested ?
After the meal, we head towards the village, which is located on a promontory. A sign indicates the path from the Casa del Parque National. It starts going around the north circumference, revealing gorgeous views to the Mont Perdu, Escuain, and Castillo Mayor. In early July, the whole mountain is dotted with yellow flowers that come from a carpet of prickly bushes that locals call "mother-in-law pillows" (Echinospartum Horridum). We reach the Piton of the Witches (Punton de las Brujas), and his hermitage, San Juan and San Pablo (Pablo Juan y los Santos, eleventh century). The place is just too beautiful. The path goes then right through a forest of pines and oaks and reach the other two chapels, the ones of the Virgin of Fajanillas (XII century), and that of the Virgen de la Peña (XII century), perched on a cape. The trail finally returns to the village of Tellaby visiting its streets and its parish church dedicated to Saint Martin (XVI century). Far away, the Punta Maristás, the Cotiella, the Llerga and the Peña Montañesa form an incredible panorama that reminds the American Far-West.
We found all found this circuit absolutely beautiful, and as for me I tell myself that if I were to quote a spot easily accessible to a non-athletic person eager to enjoy savours of the High Aragon, I would mention Tella first without any hesitation. Children also seem to have been delighted in this fun and little trip. Only a very violent foehn wind annoyed us somewhat.
Unfortunately, back down to France, the rain hasn't stopped, and no Spanish miracle is announced for the next day. Anyway, and unfortunately, we do not really fancy repeating today's experience of waiting before the tunnel ...
Having fun in the Néouvielle, July 14th
The weather forecast leave us little choice for the day during which most people chose to watch the Tour de France in Ancizan in the mist. It is said that the day will be gloomy and cloudy, except possibly high in altitude. Although temperatures are quite low (it is only 12°C in the morning!), It seems to be the appropriate day to visit the Néouvielle reserve. We drive to the Orédon car park which became to my astonishment with a toll and fees, just like the road that follows and leads to Lac d'Aubert (which, in my opinion, it is justified). This nonsense is even worse as everyone tend to park down before the gate, more or less loosely on the bottom side of the winding road, without seeming to be worried ...
My idea was to hike up to Aumar via the beautiful trail of the Laquettes, but by late morning, the expected clearings over the "sea of clouds" dont' show up, the sea is there but we swim right into it! To make matters worse, an wind cold as ice is blowing on the surface of the lake. We therefore choose to go to drink a tea at the Orédon hut, requesting the opportunity to heat the meal of Nicolas, which we are pleasantly accepted. Leaving the hut, we notice that while walking on the road, timid rays of light make temperatures less painful, with a reverb effect. Although walking on asphalt is not our delight, we decide to make the climb on it, cars travel this day are rare and it will be much easier for Nicolas. The sun comes out frankly as we go up, and approaching the point where the road touches the trail in a pin, at the level of a small waterfall. But, by some effect of air flow shaped by the alpine terrain, the sunny clearing seems to persist to stay in one place: the Laquettes are spared, but not Aumar, at least for now. Since we are not sure of benefiting from it, we decided to leave the road and continue via the trail of the Laquettes, now sheltered from the wind, by making the most of what it offers. I was not mistaken: the intertwining of granite boulders, roots of pine trees, waterfalls and all kinds, dead branches with unusual shapes constitutes a fun environment. As if by magic, and although it is harder than asphalt (I have to lift him here and there all the time), Nicolas redoubles with energy, and walk ahead laughing loudly, ignoring all obstacles.
The body of water of the Laquettes, bordered by a variety of capes and promontories, granite outcrops polished by glacial erosion, including screwy pines whose resin smell fills the nostrils, summarizes by itself all what I love in this chaos that is the Néouvielle region. My son seems to enjoy exactly the same things as I do, and as we designate a suitable location for a break, I go exploring around with him all that can be used for entertainment, something I have done too little during my solo hikes so far, where time has always been somewhere a kind of constraint. Today I have an excuse, I have plenty of free time and a little brother to go with ! All the dead trunks are balance games, all the stones are to be thrown into the water. Every rocky outcrop is a mini-climbing wall, and every dead branch of a Jedi saber. Dorota, who took advantage of a nap, is watching us, totally powerless against male debauchery.
The clock is ticking and the descent is required. This fire of energy will produce a nap equally deep, encased into the baby rucksack, nap which will last all the way down and will hardly be disturbed by the transfer into the car seat ...
Waterfall wonder at the Lac d'Ôo, July 15th
Expected to be the finest since the beginning of the cloudy front, this day is eagerly awaited. We had ticked it for the place we wanted most: the Lac d'Ôo. Although the barns of Astau turn out to be only 45 minutes from Saint Lary, thanks to the road to pass Peyresourde renovated, and despite some years of exploration Pyrenees with the Aure Valley as epicenter, I've never been there, and it was time to remedy!
So we parked at the Granges of Astau as the first rays of sun showed out: The morning was so far a little hazy and not necessarily auguring the best. After buying a cheese and loaded the backpack with plenty of picnic victuals, we walked up the trail that plunges into the forest, which despite being kind of monotonous, has some open views at some pins that reveals beautiful views of the valley. Nicolas alternates between walking sessions and breaks in the seat of the bag. He falls asleep very briefly in the final section leading to the inn that borders the lake, but the returning blinding sun out of the forest brought him back to reality. His stomach too, so we ate a blueberry pie and he his warm meal.
The view of the lake is idyllic. Residual clouds partially reveal the steep slopes of the three-thousanders overlooking next floor over the lake. Without ever having seen it, I guess it must be the Quayrat on the left and the Tusse de Montarqué on the right. The fog, below which the waterfall crashes down, swollen with water at this season, creates a mystical and magical atmosphere, aerial and levitating. With the reverb effect, we feel exceptionally warm on the lake shore, on which many people lie down. Having no intention of going higher, at least this year, we decided to be a part of them and chose a large rocky outcrop smoothly inclined for a nap. A relative nap, as one of us won't make it. With him, I walk half the circumference of the lake. Here, some kids fishing for tadpoles, one of them even caught a newt in a plastic cup that Nicolas dubiously observes, it is not drinkable, that kind of thing ! Here we make some rebounds with skimming stones. Further, we picture all possible flowers: he is telling me all those that are required.
On her flat stone, Dorota let his eyes wander on the IGN map, lacking some good book or a Sudoku. When we return, she says "next time we need go up to the Portillon hut, when he grows up !". Well, what could I ask more ?
Back to the Astau barns, we cut through to the meadow pastures along the river. These mountain streams, where their banks are not too dangerous, are always an entertaining topic of curiosity. We first throw in it all kinds of stones, then notice that what fleet disappears in a moment, swept away by the stream. Water makes you want to soak toes in it, but then we realize it is as cold as ice. Fortunately, for the mother who has a phobia of flues, the car is already around the corner.
Familly eat&hike on the Azet ridge, July 16th
Our last day start with a big blue sky in the Aure valley, which we choose to spend in family. Nicolas's cousin James, caught a tench while fishing yesterday with grand-dad and it is imperative to celebrate that. We look for a place where to conciliate a good meal, a pleasant natural site, and plenty of room to run around. Then that my mother remembers a small restaurant located in the Granges of Ourtrigué at the confluence of trails to the Lustou and to the Sarrouyès, not far from Azet, and where Mousquère stream takes its source. I know the place to have been running under the hail, fleeing the storm a decade ago, but yes I do remember the place, and I know it must be nice!
The pretty flowing river in the Sarrouyès Valley, near a photogenic barn, makes a nice playground until noon for the children, whose number is increased to three thanks to the son of another anonymous hiker. I build a dam with them, using pebble. I had forgotten how time flies, absorbed by this task, and how much quickly water refreshes the bare feet !
The restaurant of the Ourtrigué inn ("Eth Soulecou", +33 646 160 765) is delicious, menus are simple but well prepared and with local quality ingredients, all more than affordable. Although we have the lunch outside, the interior is remarkably decorated. One can taste the long folding chairs during the post-coffee nap in the garden, and children play to the swing. The youngest of the house is very proud to explain Nicolas and James how to use it. His very local accent amuses us, and to the question: "Are you from around here?", he replies "Oh no, not at all! I'm from Sailhan, below".
Interesting information: the large garden also serves as a campsite for 5€ per person. But it is possible that this offer won't be longer valid from the next season, as the inn is to become a charming cottage in its own right.
Good weather remains, contrasting with the progressive degradation which was announced by Météo-France, so we decided to extend the tour to the Azet pass, and get to the place from where the paragliders take off. Dorota has herself experienced it two years ago by making a first flight. The breeze is there, and the colorful sails are at the rendez-vous, stretched on the grass, waiting for the right moment to jump. Initially directed towards the Aure valley, most of the candidates decide to switch back to the Louron following as the ream change. In the distance, shy clouds on the border ridge produce a splendid ever changing spectacle, with the shadow effects ws and light spots on the high mountainous masses of the Luchonnais and the Lustou group. The Arbizon rises in the West, emerging from a sea of gray mist, himalayesque. Thanks to an excellent visibility and random thinning, the evening light provides a thinness of details and range of tones that make you want to pictures everything all the time.
As for the youngests, the large grassy crests of Azet provide, as one can imagine, an ideal playground where exhilarating for breathlessly runs up and descents through this infinite landscape of rolling pastures.
Here ends our trip, pilgrimage for me, return for her, initiation for him. How nice they are, my Pyrenees.... We shall come back...