Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Splendor of the Pyrenees: Part 2

The wooded hills of Lescun provided my first glimpse into the splendor of the Pyrenees

My last blog post ended in two rather mild attempts at experiencing the Pyrenees. Apparently one really needs to plan ahead and look for a guide book or a local to help you find a suitable location and check the weather forecast for a sunny day. We had postponed going back to the mountains for a few months, as there was so much else to see around Pau. My next attempt at experiencing the mountains came at the end of June, when Ross, an avid trekker colleague of mine, arranged a trip to Lescun for our work group.

We started our trek surrounded by a thick fog.

The town of Lescun lays 70 km drive (a bit over an hour) from Pau. It is on the western edge of Parc National des Pyrénées and is a popular trekking destination due its high elevation (9oo m) and easy access to the magnificent scenery of the Pyrenees. My colleague Ross had prepared a hike for our team there. As can be expected for such a trip, which had been in planning for a while, it’s bound to be a gamble with regards to the weather. Even though France is quite sunny, the mid-June date coincides with a generally wetter part of the French summer. As luck would have it, we were spared of rain, but we did have bucketfuls of fog and clouds, at least to begin with. This time I didn’t do much preparation for the trip, apart from taking with me something to eat and wearing trainers (sneakers), as Ross promised an easy walk. On a good day the advice might have been sound, but at least after a rainy June, the tracks were in part rather muddy and in some cases even flooded. I probably would have taken my Gore Tex trekking shoes with me, had I actually considered the trip by myself, but in the end I still managed to stay quite dry, so no real harm done anyway.

We parked our cars midway up the ridge of the Lescun peak and started our climb with no real knowledge of what lay ahead. As some of us weren’t accustomed to much physical exercise, our pace was accordingly sluggish. I was just happy about it, as I was free to take as many pictures as I liked, without slowing the retinue down, which is a constant problem for me when I usually travel with people. It’s rather remarkable how the wooded hills were portrayed in much more flattering light in the fog. Oftentimes when one tries to capture the raw beauty of the woods, the surroundings become a distraction –you really can’t see the trees from the wood. There are other tricks as well, with which to separate a small cluster of trees from the surroundings, but a good mist does as good job of it as any.

While we were having our well-deserved lunch break, the sun decided to end its game of hide and seek and gracefully stepped out of hideaway of gradually dissipating clouds. Up to that point we had had to trust Ross’s word that the scenery was worth seeing. As we finally gazed upon the rolling hills, surrounded by the Pyrenees on all sides, we could agree wholeheartedly. Having watched documentaries (such as Food Inc.) of mass scale industrial farming, I was quite convinced that more natural ways of producing our food had gone almost extinct. However the Lescun hills were a happy reminder that not all is lost –the hills were sprinkled with cows grazing the grass in sync with the chime of the large cow-bells around their necks. The chimes were there to help the shepherds find any stray bovines at the end of the day when the cows would be gathered for milking. The path to the pastures is so difficult that anything larger would have to be hauled with a helicopter, which we managed to see. Due the same reason the modest lodgings of the shepherds and the water trough for the cows were made of rocks scattered on the hillside.

When we started our lunch, the hills were still shrouded in mist.

Gradually the clouds started to part and we were able to see the majestic mountains.

Relaxing on a rock bench in front of a rock hut.

Ross confronts the local fauna.

The local fauna enjoying the mountain air.

After filling our bellies everyone was ready head home –this time along a slightly different path. Our trust in Ross knowing the way was unwavering –right until we realized that he had led us astray. Luckily we weren’t too far from our cars and the peak of the Lescun hill was a good landmark for us. The negative thing was that we were already running a bit late and the path didn’t have any marks showing where we were (or where to go). With only a bit of wondering we found ourselves back to the well-beaten path. Unfortunately the route wasn’t easily traversable and we had to jump over a couple of creeks and just and just avoided a nasty plunge in the probably icy waters.

The woods didn't look as ominous anymore when the sun was out.

Our detour took us over some not so mighty creeks.

At the end of the trip the sun was shining from a clear blue sky and we could see the surrounding peaks and the valleys basking in the light. An unobstructed view to the surrounding landscape is seldom seen in Finland, where forests usually block the view, but on a clear day it’s guaranteed on any mountain hike. I had finally had my share of the splendor of the Pyrenees. Now I only had to take Milka to experience it as well.

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