Global warning from the Pyrenees

September 1st, 2018
 
The Ossoue glacier (on the East side of Vignemale) is melting rapidly

The Ossoue glacier (on the East side of Vignemale) is melting rapidly. Click to enlarge photo.

 

I climbed the Pique longue du Vignemale (3298m) and its little brother, Petit Vignemale (3032m), with two friends this week. When I arrived home, I compared the pictures taken from the Petit Vignemale with those I took 13 years ago when I was walking the GR10. The Ossoue glacier is melting rapidly and is now a hundred metres shorter (click on photo to enlarge).

The top photo was taken in July 2005, with the arrow showing a group of walkers just about to descend the tongue of the glacier (grey). The second photo was taken on 29 August 2018. There is more snow after the hard winter of 2017/2018 but the glacier has gone.

Another view of the Ossoue glacier, taken the next day from the Lac des Gentianes. The Bayssellance hostel, where we stayed for two nights, is below the pass, slightly to the right. The Petit Vignemale is the white rock behind the lake; the Pique longue is the highest summit behind it.

When Anne Lister climbed the Grande Vignemale in 1838, the first ‘outsider’ to do so, she would have seen the glacier stretching right down into the valley.

Humans and farm animals: the moral contract

June 16th, 2018
 
Mouflon

Mouflon in the Massif Central

 

We are talking about sheep and bears in the Pyrenees when Alain Reynes, director of the pro-bear organization Pays de l’Ours tackles a broader concept.

“What is a domesticated animal?” he asks. It is a rhetorical question. “The sheep’s ancestor was the Asiatic mouflon. What happens is that you take a wild animal that is capable of living in natural surroundings. You domesticate it, increasing its productivity. But at the same time, you reduce its ability to live in the wild, to escape predators and resist diseases. The moral contract between the animal and humans is that we assure its food, take care of it when ill, and protect it. In exchange, the energy that the animal has saved from not having to escape from predators, not needing to fight diseases, and looking for food – all that energy – will be transferred to us humans in the form of meat, wool, or work. That’s the contract. When one has domesticated animals, which by their nature are under our protection, and one lets them loose on the mountains they can’t cope. They are very vulnerable. If we don’t protect them, we are breaking the contract.”

 

Sheep and lamb in the Pyrénées

Sheep and lamb in the Pyrénées

 

The question being debated in the Pyrenees at present is how to protect them from bears and wolves. How exactly should we fulfil our part of the contract?

Canigó webcam now working

May 26th, 2018
 

The Cortelets hostel webcam is now working and will be online until mid-Octobre.

The webcam is aimed at the summit (2784m). Screen-shot on 26 mai 2018

The webcam is aimed at the summit (2784m). Screenshot, 26 mai 2018

There seems to be a lot of snow on the ridge leading to the summit.

Transhumance in the Ariège Pyrenees

May 19th, 2018
 
Transhumance with cows

Transhumance with cows

 

There’s nothing quite like transhumance, following the animals as they leave the farm on their way to the mountain pastures for the summer. And for the farmers Philippe and Jason Lacube, their fellow workers and friends, it is an opportunity to explain farming and to enjoy themselves with the 140 visitors who have come to participate in this ancient tradition.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bears in the Pyrenees: the official report for 2017

May 13th, 2018
 
Bear cub. Photo: Djo

Bear cub . Photo: Djo

 

The French Réseau Ours Brun (Brown Bear Network) has released its annual report [summary at end in English]. There are now officially 43 bears in the Pyrenees, spread over an area of 5,000km2 in two separate zones. 41 live in the central zone (up 2 from 2016) and 2 in the western zone. With ten adult females now present, there should be more cubs this year. Read the rest of this entry »

Two new bears in Pyrenean rewilding initiative

March 29th, 2018
 
Bear cub [photo: DJO photo]

Bear cub in Slovenia, source of the reintroductions [photo: DJO photo]

 

I have been talking to both sides in the conflict between ecologists and anti-bear shepherds. So, the announcement on 26 March came as no surprise.

“I wish to arrange for the reintroduction of two female bears in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques [western Pyrenees] in autumn. I will ask the Prefect to organize discussions so that the reintroduction is successful,” said Nicolas Hulot, French environment minister.

France signed the Bern Convention in 1979, and the 1992 EU Habitats Directive reinforced its commitment to restoring the bear population. Two waves of arrivals, in 1996/7 and 2006, saw eight bears transplanted from Slovenia; the population here has now reached forty. But it is plagued by inbreeding, and the two male bears in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department are isolated from the main group. This is where the females will set up home.

Alain Reynes, president of the pro-bear Pays de l’Ours told me: “It’s good news but the real good news will be when they arrive. We need to work to make it happen.” As he points out, in 2010 the environment minister Chantal Jouanno proposed to release a bear to replace Franska, killed in a road accident. But nothing came of the idea.

On the other side of the equation, when asked for his reaction, Philippe Lacube, one of the major figures battling against reintroductions, commented: “It’s astonishing, because we were promised a coordinating committee. But instead of sending us two officials they’re sending us two bears!”

 

Dead sheep after an attack in the Orlu valley

Dead sheep after an attack in the Orlu valley

 

Earlier I had talked to Gisèle Gouazé, president of the cooperative that lost the 209 sheep last summer.

“Generations and generations of people have cleared that mountain and have maintained it. Where are we heading now?” she asked.

See also

bear footprint seen in Pyrenees

Bear footprint seen in Ariège, French Pyrenees [photo: Catherine Brunet]

Safe snowshoeing (2): techniques and technology

February 28th, 2018
 
Snowshoeing near Chioula, Aude

Snowshoeing near Chioula, Aude

 

After my last disastrous outing, I’ve compiled a snowshoeing safety checklist for future use. My intention is to summarise the main issues involved, but this is not a definitive guide to snowshoeing and readers need to compare my thoughts with other sources.

As far as safety is concerned, snowshoeing is the equivalent of skiing. Many ski resorts now have dedicated paths for snowshoeing, which are perfectly safe. Anywhere off these paths and you are faced with the same issues as skiing off-piste. You either need to pay a guide (see list below) or to review the situation carefully.

Checklist for safe snowshoeing in the Pyrenees

  • Planning
    • Check out several alternative treks, so one can be selected on the day, according to weather and experience of group. Have a Plan B for when things go wrong.
    • Calculate slope angle on and near route. Aim for less than 20° (37%) for greatest safety. Mature, dense forest also provides good protection from avalanches.
    • Check out known avalanche zones online.
    • Locate potentially dangerous snow bridges, over streams and in areas of karst.
    • Is the path well used so that the snow will be trodden-down? If not, walking in fresh deep snow can take twice as long.
    • If in doubt contact a professional guide or mountain rescue.
  • Weather
    • Follow the weather forecast for one week before the walk.
    • The day before the walk, check out actual snowfall, wind and temperatures online and by telephoning your accommodation, nearest town hall (mairie in France, ayuntamiento in Spain, ajuntament in Catalonia and Andorra) or ski resort. Is the snow likely to be soft, hard, icy?
    • On the day, take particular note of the weather trend.
    • Wind speed and cloud cover are as important as temperature.
  • Experience
    • Check the experience of the group and adapt the snowshoeing to the weakest link.
    • Only take people you know on difficult walks.
  • Equipment
    • I’m not going to consider avalanche beacons, shovels, probes, crampons and ice axes here. My philosophy with groups is to avoid areas where the slope angle is steep enough for avalanches to be possible.

Read the rest of this entry »

Safe snowshoeing (1): Cautionary tales

February 27th, 2018
 
Snowshoeing near Chioula (Aude)

Snowshoeing near Chioula (Aude)

 

The last time I organised a snowshoeing expedition in the Pyrenees, I mucked up. We arrived at our destination over three hours late, in the dark.

Read the rest of this entry »

A serious situation

February 11th, 2018
 
Gisèle Gouazé with part of the flock grazing on their winter pasture in Betchet

Gisèle Gouazé with part of the flock grazing on their winter pasture in Betchat

 

Early last June 838 sheep went up to their estive (summer pastures) near Mont Rouch as they do every year. But, despite the presence of a shepherd living with them on the mountain, nearly half of them didn’t return. The reason? Bears. Read the rest of this entry »

Snow reports for walkers in the Pyrenees

January 29th, 2018
 

From mid-July to September, apart from occasional showers, the only snow in the Pyrenees is the icing on the glaciers. But for the other nine months of the year walkers need to take into account the possibility of drifts and avalanches.

So when and where can you hike in the Pyrenees this winter without crampons or snowshoes? Please help me to reply by filing snow reports below.

 

* indicates the first high ground encountered on the GR10, HRP and GR11 trails where snow may be a problem, between 15 October and 14 June

* indicates the first high ground encountered on the GR10, HRP and GR11 trails where snow may be a problem early and late in the trekking season

Read the rest of this entry »

map of GR10

 
site designed by Archétype Informatique: création de site internet, Narbonne