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

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Can sheep be protected from bears in the Pyrenees? No, says Éric Fournié

January 4th, 2018
 

 

My last article was based on Catherine Brunet’s book La bergère et l’ours [The shepherdess and the bears] in which she declares that the measures proposed by the State to protect sheep can work. Here, I reproduce interviews given by farmer Éric Fournié and his shepherd Gérard Pujol about their experiences in the mountains in the summer of 2017.

Transcript of the interview with Éric Fournié and Gérard Pujol

For the last five years Éric Fournié has done everything the State has recommended to protect his sheep. This summer 223 went up to the estive [mountain pasture] at Arréou [near Seix, Ariège] and he thought that this year was going to be a good one.

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Can sheep be protected from bears in the Pyrenees? Yes, says Catherine Brunet

December 28th, 2017
 
Tarasconnaises sheep

Tarasconnaises sheep

 

It is twenty years since bears were first reintroduced into the Pyrenees and yet the question of how to protect sheep is still being debated. Some breeders assert that a shepherd permanently on site with a patou (guard dog) and who brings his sheep together at night will have minimal losses, particularly when compared with natural mortality. This is the authorities’ official line.

Others, notably in Couserans (Ariège), say that cohabitation with bears is not possible especially in areas where the slopes are steep and rocky. The flocks disperse into smaller units (escabots) in search of sustenance. Some shepherds have tried to follow the official recommendations and report difficulties.

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Rewilding the Pyrenees: news about bears

December 13th, 2017
 

 

Last Saturday I went to a meeting of farmers, politicians and officials called to discuss the effect of bears on sheep farming in the Pyrenees. There are now about forty brown bears in the massif following two waves of reintroductions over the last twenty years. Their presence is still controversial, particularly in Ariège where the meeting was held. Ensauvagement, rewilding, is a dirty word in some quarters.

To my mind, there were two significant developments at the meeting which went by the name of the États-Généraux du Pastoralisme. One was the announcement of a scientific investigation into whether the government-recommended measures to protect livestock really are useful. And the second was the President of the Ariège council’s announcement that he could envisage, albeit reluctantly, that the bears are here to stay.

 

The famous video in which a group of armed men dressed in balaclavas threaten to “restart bear-hunting in Ariege”

 

The discussions started in the morning but it wasn’t until the Prefect [the government official responsible for overseeing the department] had left that things started to heat up. During the final plenary session, a man who had just arrived asked for the microphone. He grabbed the attention of the audience by mentioning “the famous video that you have all seen, with the guns” and then went on to say that bears had no place in the Pyrenees. The audience clapped and a few minutes later he left. For him, that was all there was to it.

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Crying wolf?

December 11th, 2017
 
Wolves in the Maison des Loup, Orlu, Ariège

Wolves in the Maison des Loups, Orlu, Ariège

 

Are too many wolves being culled in France? Or not enough? Ecological associations here are taking the government to court, demanding that it changes its policy on culling. Up to 36 can be killed each year if they repeatedly attack sheep. The associations want the government to take the (relatively low) total wolf population into account and reduce the number of wolves killed. But, as a recent demonstration showed, some farmers in the Pyrenees are unhappy about predators and don’t want any more. Read the rest of this entry »

In the corridors of the (future) Mountain Parliament

November 30th, 2017
 

Part of the audience at the preliminary meeting

 

I was in Quillan (Aude) earlier this week, for a meeting on the future of our mountains. Following a major reorganisation, the new region of Occitanie (articulated around the two metropoles of Toulouse and Montpellier) has decided to create a Mountain Parliament.

The idea is to give stakeholders a voice. According to Carole Delga, the region’s president: “The aim is to encourage communication and the emergence of new ideas so that regional policies can be adapted to the needs of the whole population.”

And mountains are a significant part of the new region:

  • 55% of the surface area
  • 20% of the population, ie 1.13 million inhabitants
  • 47% of the communes, ie 2153 in total

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Access to Canigó to be restricted?

November 18th, 2017
 
Canigó summit: often crowded

Canigó summit: often crowded

 

The authorities are considering limiting access to Catalonia’s favourite mountain. This has practical implications (details below) but it also heralds the start of a new chapter in the way we perceive Canigó and the Pyrenees in general.

Initially remote, wild and dangerous, Canigó has become a Catalan emblem – frequently nicknamed la montagne sacrée [sacred mountain] des Catalans. It has been exploited for minerals and wood, and narrowly escaped some of the worst ravages of mass tourism. Now it seems to be heading for a quieter life.

 

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Anti-bear group softens its stance on reintroductions

September 14th, 2017
 
European brown bear

European brown bear (photo: © Francis C. Franklin, Wikipedia)

 

The ASPAP* is no longer demanding that bears be removed from the Pyrenees. The association, set up in January 2006 to protest at the second wave of reintroductions of bears from Slovenia, had been unwavering in its stance. But despite the recent loss of 209 sheep following an attack in the high Ariège it has now has officially changed its stance.

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A new way of walking in the Pyrenees. On the Senda de Camille

August 20th, 2017
 
Lescun with Pic d'Ansabère in the background

Lescun with Pic d’Ansabère in the background

 

Do you prefer walking in a straight line or going round in circles? Until recently most of the long-distance treks in the Pyrenees were linear. The big three, the Pyrenean Way (GR10), the Spanish Senda Pirenaica (GR11) and the Pyrenean Haute Route (HRP), which have been around for over 30 years, all stretch from coast to coast. Then came other trails like the Cathar Trail and the Chemin des Bonshommes. All linear trails, at least in principle.

But if you wanted to walk in circles, ending up where you started, you more-or-less had to plan it yourself. In recent years this has changed. The FFRP (French Ramblers Association) has brought out a guide to circular cross-frontier walks in the eastern Pyrenees (Ariège, Pyrénées-Orientales). And Brian Johnson is working on a guide to circular walks for Cicerone.

But perhaps the most interesting initiatives have come from Spain.

They are all circular walks with nights in staffed hostels. Most importantly they offer central booking facilities. You also get a dedicated map (1:25,000) and a souvenir tee-shirt.

I’ve just come back from walking the Senda de Camille with two friends. It was great!

 

My Senda de Camille. Click to see on Wikiloc

My Senda de Camille. Click to see on Wikiloc

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Zimmer frame takes flight

June 28th, 2017
 
Sportiva Akyra banana boots

Sportiva Akyra banana boots and Black Diamond walking poles

 

For years I disdained walking sticks: they were for pensioners. But with the passing years my attitude has changed. When my knees started clicking and then collapsed under me, something had to be done. I first tried injecting them with Go-On hyaluronic acid which was quite effective. Then I tried losing weight which was even better, though more painful. But finally I had to resign myself to walking sticks. Not just one but two. So there I was, shuffling around on four pins: two shaky legs and two walking sticks. I felt like a Zimmer frame. Soon it would be the real thing. Read the rest of this entry »

map of GR10

 
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