Tuesday, August 17, 2010

summer skiing

Yesterday we headed back into the mountains, a route I recognised and was excited to take.  Back to Lou Rider, high in the Pyrenees to visit Claire and see the chalet in the summer sun.  The whole area had a different feel, the summer holidays, roads were busy with cars packed with people.  Caravans and campervans, badly driven, argued with massive trucks on the narrow winding roads through villages and struggling up steep mountain passes. The fields were lush and green and the snow capped peaks that I remembered, naked rock, glinting in the summer sun.  Not a complete transformation, but  a surface change, like a redecorated room or a picture seen in a different light. 

The chalet had not changed one bit, yet looked different in its lush green surroundings, the winter gray banished and almost half a year away.  The winter snow equipment looking strangely out of place and useless, as cows and sheep grazed peacefully on piste routes and under ski lifts that I remembered from my last visit.  Thousands of people must do the same each year, but it felt quite special and different to see my winter playground without its thick white carpet of snow.

After a quick stop to say ‘Hi’ to Claire and see the chalet, we drove up the mountain and parked in a familiar spot, the 11 minute gondola lift took over twenty minutes in the car, following the route of a blue ski run that I had taken so many times last year.  The dark tunnel under ‘Mirabelle’, doubling as a bit of shelter for the cows on their summer pasture.  The whole summer, winter transformation of the high pastures means so much more to me now that I have seen footage of how the farmers and shepherds carry out their work and the impact of the changing of the seasons on the movements of rural mountain life.  Skiing must bring some welcome cash to these poor, remote areas and welcome employment for those who have little to do during the dark winter months.  

Our plan was to hike a short distance on the GR10.  A mere stroll compared to its whole length.  Starting on the Atlantic coast, this famous trail winds its way through the Pyrenean mountain range, ending up on the shores of the Mediterranean sea.  It takes weeks to complete as a whole and people return to the region year after year in order to do it in stages.  I guess I should get a map and mark on my one completed section now.  Our section was relatively flat with some stunning scenery.  The first section, across the bowl that is St Lary Soulain Ski Domaine during the winter months, then round following the contours round a ridge into an adjacent valley high up above a lake.  The water a deep blue green, nestling between shores of dumpy alpine pines and scrubby juniper way down in the valley.  Tiny people could be spotted heading this way and that, completing their days activities, out in the wild mountain ranges, mere dots against the massive backdrop of ancient rocky landscape.  We headed slightly up hill across fairly open terrain and over a small ridge to reach our lunchtime destination.  A morraine dammed lake of deep crystal clear water.  We knew that there would be a few people there from the number of cars in the carpark, but we were not prepared for precisely how many.  Almost the complete shoreline was taken, groups of picnickers evenly spaced with their baguettes, cheeses and bottles of wine, relaxing in the summer sun after a good mornings walk.  Thankfully we were late and most of the groups were rested and eager to continue on their way.  By the time we had chosen a spot, scrambled there and decanted our provisions, the throng were dissipating, throughout our meal more headed off and the mountain side became quiet and  peaceful again.  The water was shockingly cold, probably due to the depth of the lake and because of the addition of late melt from a significant fall back in May.  Vanessa managed to immerse herself momentarily but decided that it was too cold to swim.  I cooled my feet which was cold enough by far.

Scattered cloud made the walk much more pleasant than had the sky been clear blue all day.  Enough sun to make everything look great

The two and a half your return walk was slightly lengthened as the police checked the mountainside from a low flying helicopter.  It traversed the region several times, popping back up from below frighteningly close to the ground with a thundering racket in a rather menacing fashion. We wondered what it would be like in times of war to be chased by such a machine, and, more immediately, who they could possibly be looking for. Our conclusion that it was someone from ETA on the run. The walk back continued to bring back memories of last winter and a stream of virtual skiing  possibilities.  The pistes look far steeper now than when they are covered in snow, and the bits imbetween that I remember throwing myself down with excitement, almost too steep to be possible.  Snow must do strange things to perspective and meddle with ones eyes.  

It was lovely to see Claire again, and in much better spirits than I remember her during the winter.  Hopefully the difficulties that must have beset her back then are well and truly in the past.  Chester, the dog, however, had become uncertain again, probably not surprising after a constant stream of guests this last few months, not to mention the continuing helpX assistance in the chalet, he leaped about and barked wildly then decided all wasn’t right and headed off to a safe distance to survey us unthreatened.

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