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2010 Los Pyreneos

Los Pyrineos   

What a sound. We've been working out the details of the four-week tour since December. The difficult thing is that the other culture ticks so differently. Answering emails - manana - manana, but time is of the essence. But first things first.

We are training. Pach and Flash are both fit, Pachlavan even though he had a bullet hole and even though he was struggling with a cruciate sprain. Pat may be able to explain why at some point. He's now running cleanly and as long as it's cool, Flash will stay his old self. We've already completed some great tours this spring. 2 days of snow in February, Easter, Ascension Day and Corpus Christi, each with 3 or 4 riding days and a total of around 700 km. But we are also reaching our limits. Last weekend, for example, Flash walked stiffly on the last day (after 200 km and almost all his luggage), although he still wanted to run at the front. But the pace wasn't what I'm used to either, so I'm going to take it easy on him from now on, because he has the stamina and endurance for the Pyrenees. Now I just have to work on my own fitness and make sure I optimize my condition. Although it's actually going well. Walking isn't a problem anyway and now I can even manage 10 hours in the saddle trotting and walking.



We got some maps (paper) and read every report about the Pyrenees that we could find on the internet. The maps are very nice, colorful and unfortunately inaccurate, so we will have a lot of fun on site again. But we know what it's like and that's why I got the Garmin Topo for Spain and France, so that we can at least work with the GPS. There are three possible routes, the GR10 in France, which runs north parallel to the HRP Haute Route Pyreneä and the GR 11 in Spain. The three routes are only about 15-20 km apart and the HRP runs partially on both, so we can switch without any problems. In addition to the usual map-related requirements, we will also be confronted with the situation of free-roaming horses, bears and days without contact with civilization. But an adventure is an adventure, so who wants to complain.

Pat still has to get a new pad while I struggle with suitable shoes, my boots are just too warm for Spain. The GTA panniers have been refurbished and rebuilt so that the drinks bottles are now at the front of the bag and fence tools and Hobo stove can be stowed at the back. Now they just need to be greased and waterproofed to make them watertight. I have to repair Pat's front panniers and my own and shorten Pat's a little so that they can be attached better to the new saddle. And then, over the next few days, I have to organize an ATA carnet and the route and overnight stop for the 1000 km trailer ride. We will drive at night and let the horses rest and graze during the day. Once we arrive at the bottom, I will bring the trailer to the destination and return to the start by train. But we still have to contact all these stations and arrange the appointments. Pat's sister will help us with this, as she speaks fluent Spanish. The equipment also needs to be put together in about 14 days so that we can send our emergency supplies to the stopover in Spain. The last details still need to be improved on the tent we have developed ourselves and I still have to get a new cell phone with an internet connection and external memory card so that I can add pictures to the blog when we are on the road.

The route will be a bit shorter this time, the Pyrenees are only 470 km as the crow flies, so we'll cover a distance of around 800 km. The elevation gain will probably be around 50,000 meters again, but this will give us a little more time and therefore shorter stages and longer recovery time for Flash than last year. I think that's a good thing, because it should be fun for the horses too and I don't want to overtax Flash, who at 20 years old is still giving everything he has and is capable of incredible things.

 

2010 The Pyrenees countdown

Pach is out. Domingo is coming along.


Four weeks to go. Time is passing far too quickly. We have now organized two stables and overnight accommodation in Spain. Thanks to Isa. The ATA carnet is on its way and we will drive via Bordeaux to Hendaye (San Sebastian on the Atlantic coast of Spain) on Friday night and I will then drive along the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean the following day.


There I will park the trailer at the Kentucky Ranch (no joke, that's the real name) and take the train back to Hendaye on Sunday, catching up on the first night's sleep. Our halfway stop is also booked. Ruth in Bossost Vielha Spain. We will send our replacement fittings (plastic) there and have them nailed on by the local Schmid. Other spare parts - if we can't buy them in Spain - will also be sent by post. This evening I spoke to Ruth Pablo's wrangler, he speaks American like a Texan. I'm looking forward to getting to know him. Apart from that, it's really only Pach who's giving us grief, he's banged his knuckle up again playing around and has a fat leg again. Pat has had enough, she will now take Domingo with her. So our two old warhorses get to work again. The route is set and it is clear that we will take our kitchen and tent with us, as we may be completely away from civilization for several days. One problem has not yet been solved.... we know that our horses respect the electric fences, but we don't know whether the Pyrenean horses living freely in the mountains do the same. So we'll see what we can do. Otherwise we are looking forward... the tension is rising...  

6.7.2010 

2010 Los Pirineos preparation ride Pfitschtal

We are up at 4 a.m. and feed the horses. Today we're off to Tyrol to test our luggage and equipment. The journey takes much longer than planned and customs in Diepoldsau is once again of the finest kind. A letter of complaint to the responsible customs office will follow. Finally, after almost six hours of driving, we reach our destination. It's hot and humid and we saddle up to climb up to the Eisjöchl. But things turn out differently than planned. The entrance to the trail is already closed because the bridge is missing and we climb up the mountain on a narrow path off the official trail. Flash is fit and highly motivated, and Domingo and Pat's Domingo march enthusiastically in front of us, but after an hour I run out of breath and although we have only climbed 300 meters, I have to take a break. The heat is too intense, it's almost 35 degrees down in the valley. We'd have to climb another 2200 meters in altitude and then I start to worry that the Eisjöchl might not be passable. That would mean we would have to descend again and wouldn't get to Moos, our destination for the day. After a brief discussion, we decide to break off and head to Moos so that we can brave the heat tomorrow with fresh energy and get to Sterzing via the Schneeberger Höhe.

We drive through Bolzano, which at almost 36 degrees is certainly the hottest city in Italy today, and arrive in Moos, where we put the horses in a brand new stable after a short ride. We have lunch and discuss the details of our trip to Spain.

In the morning, after breakfast, we drive the horses down to Moos, find the parking lot where we can park the trailer and saddle up the horses. Pat has loaded up the 18 kg of concentrated feed and Domingo has to carry the full weight for the first time. We lead the horses up the pass road and soon come to a road that takes us up towards Schneeberger Hütte. Flash reacts again to the popped corn he was given as concentrated feed the previous evening and morning with outbreaks of sweat and breaks. There's something about this food that he can't tolerate. We cool him down by a stream and soon the crisis is over and Flash is back to his usual pace. The path is wide and we can ride side by side. Flash and Domingo run well and quickly and we make good progress. Today we have to climb almost 1500 meters in altitude before we reach the Schneeberger Hütte. The hut owner warns us that there is still snow at the top and it could be difficult on the other side. We drink a shandy and tackle the last 300 meters in altitude. The ascent goes well, we only have to cross a few snowfields and an hour later we are at the top of the pass. The view into the valley is magnificent and after a short break we descend and now have some more difficult passages ahead of us, but we get through the snowfields without any major damage and descend into the valley, where we are greeted with astonishment - we are the first to have come over the pass on horseback. We lead the horses down to the end of the valley and then ride towards Sterzing. Rudi Hofer wanted to meet up with us, but unfortunately we are late, so he rides back and meets us by car. We arrive at around 8 o'clock in the evening, after almost 50 km and 12 hours, and are warmly welcomed by Stefan Streit and his wife and the Hofers. The vacation farm is beautifully situated, with large pastures and a riding arena, where we let our horses roll around and later provide them with hay. We soon have dinner and enjoy the evening with good friends.

We don't have to get up so early today, as it's only 40 km to our destination of Sant Leonhard. We ride over to Sterzing and meet friends of Patricia's at the entrance to the Jaufental, whom she hasn't seen for many years. We have lunch together and the boys are allowed to ride a few meters on the horses. Later we ride up the Jaufental and the heat really gets to us. Good preparation for Spain. The last ascent to the pass is a tough one. The horses pull us up the narrow path and finally we arrive at the Jaufenhütte, 150 meters below the pass. We quench our thirst while the horses graze freely and later ride up to the pass. The descent follows the pass road and we are soon above St. Leonhard, where we ask the landlady of an inn if she knows where we can stay with the horses. She says that her horses were stabled in the courtyard behind the restaurant and that we should ask her mother. No sooner said than done, but before we can decide where and how to put the horses up, I see a pony standing on a steep slope and a few meters further up an old woman desperately trying to convince the pony to jump over the crash barrier and come to her. The landlady explains that the aunt's pony has disappeared and is now standing there on the dangerously steep slope, unable to get up or down. I grab Flash's reins and climb up to free the pony from its predicament. I succeed and soon pony and aunt are reunited. The woman wants to do me a favor and tries to find some old hay in the barn, but obviously everything has been cleared out to make room for fresh hay.

We build a paddock on a small hill below the inn and lead the horses there to roll around and graze. They get a good portion of concentrated feed and we also go for a meal up at the inn. We talk to the neighbor who comes from Stockach and go down around 10 o'clock to set up camp for the night next to the horses. It starts to rain around midnight, but it doesn't cool down and the mosquitoes are annoying. We cover the sleeping bags with the poncho and continue to sleep until 6am. The horses are fed, watered, cleaned and saddled and led to the restaurant where we get our breakfast. We are on the road by half past eight and lead the horses further down the pass road. We soon come to the E5, an international long-distance hiking trail, which we follow through the forest on narrow paths to Moos. The last descent to the road is about 30 concrete steps about 60 cm wide and the horses have to be led down carefully. At the bottom I block the road so that Domingo can get down too. Done. The main test at well over 30 degrees has been a success and there are only a few things to improve or change before we can tackle the Pyrenees Trail.



The route

After the test ride in Tyrol, there are still a few changes to be made, but everything is within normal limits. The spare parts are sent to Spain and the horses get their final check-up. The osteopath was there and took care of Flash, the vet gave another rabies shot. We still have fly repellent from the USA that we will give the horses before we go down there and we will test the silicone rings that I had good experiences with many years ago. It is still supposed to have snowed in the Pyrenees, but the webcams don't show any particular incidents, so I hope that the last of the snow will have evaporated in 4 weeks' time. Two routes were loaded onto the GPS, the HRP, Haute Route Pyrenees and the GR11, the parallel long-distance hiking trail in Spain. Only the HRP can be seen in the picture, the GR11 runs south of it. The white line is the border between France and Spain and the state of Andorra is also marked. Where the border makes a sharp bend to the north, about halfway along the route, the blue HRP route passes through Vielha, where we sent our spare equipment. In addition to the GPS, we have 5 topographical maps of the central area at 1:50000 with us, and the complete route printed out again at 1:50,000. The topo maps so that we can keep an overview and the printed route maps in case the GPS fails. Which has never happened. To write the blog, I will have to get to grips with my new phone. I hope it lives up to my expectations but will have to be patient until next weekend when my son will show me all the tricks of the trade. The phone will allow me to take good quality photos and write the daily blog, so I can do without my mini laptop. I just hope that I will have reception from time to time so that the blogs are sent. Medical equipment

Pat will bring her homeopathic pharmacy as she does every year. (It's a shame that we haven't found any globules for oats yet, it would be so much easier to transport concentrated feed). We also got another ampoule from the vet, which will help us in an emergency. Our emergency first-aid kit always includes a roll of silver tape and bile ointment. We use the silver tape to cover any scratches to keep the flies away and the gall ointment helps with all kinds of injuries.


Meals

As we will be away from civilization for several days, we will have dry meals and a stove with us this time. Apart from that, the different opening times of the stores and restaurants will take some getting used to, but you get used to everything. The only real problem will be getting concentrated feed for the horses. We may have to make some detours to stock up on supplies. Domingo will again take care of transporting the concentrated feed by hanging 2 x 9 kg of concentrated feed from his saddle horn. This is usually enough for us for four and a half days, so we have to get concentrated feed about twice a week.

Last test of the electronics before we leave. The rear bars in the trailer were buffered with foam this morning and two large hay nets were filled. Today at 1 p.m. I will drive Flash to customs to open the ATA carnet and drive to Freiburg, where I will pick up Pat and Domingo. If it works out, I'll also ride Cool, my 4-year-old young gelding, before we say goodbye for good. We will drive through the night and hope to arrive in Hendaye or Irun tomorrow morning.

24.7.2010

The adventure begins. We load Domingo in Heuweiler and set off. We share the highway with lots of trucks and roll along quietly at 80 mph. At 10 p.m. we let the two whites graze briefly away from the highway.

Around midnight, the last trucks leave the highway, but we are now constantly overtaken by cars with ch license plates. I wonder where they're all going? At 5 a.m. we take a break in a parking lot and all four of us get a good night's sleep. We roll on at sunrise. The last stretch from Bordeaux to Irun takes forever and finally the longed-for coast comes into sight. In Hendaye, we visit the harbor and end up in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the market. Only with more luck than sense do we get out again without a scratch. In Irun, the entrance to the Centro Hippico is so hidden that we miss it twice. We head for a Guardia Civil vehicle and ask for directions. The policemen escort us to the farm we are looking for. After a 16-hour drive, we are glad to have reached our destination. 



25.7.2010 

Fortunately, Flora speaks fluent English, so our horses and luggage are quickly taken care of. We drive into town to look for the guesthouse. Not easy, everything is labeled in Basque, for me it might as well be Cyrillic. Slightly frustrated by the impenetrable one-way street system, we drive back without having achieved anything. We ask to be allowed to sleep in the hay and I take the next 500 km to the Mediterranean under my wheels. By 6 p.m. I'm stuck in a traffic jam outside Argeles sur Mer and finally reach my destination at 8 p.m. I can understand why the French see tourists here as a useful evil. Veronique from the Kentucky Ranch welcomes me all the more warmly. After 45 hours with 2 hours sleep, I am looking forward to my bed.

The next morning, I take the train back to Irun along the Pyrenees.



26.7.2010 

The horses were covered in a thick layer of clay. It was dusty work to get them out. It is 8 a.m. when we cross Irun on foot and at 10 a.m. we are finally in front of the GR 11. The path is barely marked enough, without GPS it would be really difficult. The landscape is unique. Hilly and hardly used for agriculture, we pass endless fields of ferns from one valley to another over passes almost 400 m high. The paths are easy to follow and we trot along at a brisk pace along the contour lines. After 40 km we reach Etxalar, a Basque village, where we set up our paddock in the meadow of an American woman who lives in the village. Flash and Domingo get a shower and we also try to freshen up for the Basque restaurant. It's just before eight, we've bought some hay and will ask for salt at the restaurant to add to the concentrated feed. We will sleep with the horses in the meadow.


27.7.2010 

The Basque's food was excellent, even though he didn't open until 8pm.He was surprised that we wanted to eat at that time. The restaurant was quaint, with heavy black hand-carved furniture and ceiling beams, red sand limestone menhirs as gateposts and white lime plaster walls. The landlord explained his 5-course menu in Basque, we nodded our heads diligently and didn't understand a word, so he quickly showed us the things he wanted to cook for us. Later, the American woman's husband appeared and told us about his experiences with the country and its people. We slept fitfully, partly because Flash kept coughing, which caused a dog in the neighborhood to bark for a long time.As soon as he stopped after an hour, Flash started coughing again 5 minutes later. Sometime early in the morning, Patt got up to shoot the dog. But instead she brought Flash some globules for his cough. After breakfast, we led the horses up the mountains on forest tracks and over passes. At the third pass we came to the GR 11, which led us along the border over the ridges.

It was hot and humid, the paths led us through endless fields of ferns, where shettis and sheep plucked the grass between the ferns. Finally, in the afternoon, we found a fountain that promised refreshment, we washed our T-shirts and put them back on wet. What a relief and a little later we found an abandoned farm with beautiful grass off the road, where we let our two horses graze for a long time. We descended fully into the valley and rode east until we found a riding stable at the end of Ordoki where we could look after the horses.





28.7. Flash and Domingo are in a good mood this morning. They only had straw and neither hay nor grass, but 3 portions of concentrated feed. Flash sees me, sees me without a bucket, turns around and trots to the far end of the pasture. He stops there briefly, looks for a place to roll around and throws himself into the mud puddle.Next to him is Domingo, both waiting with angelic expressions to have their halters put on. After breakfast, we ride up the road and soon take a forest path into the mountain. The ancient gnarled oak trees are reminiscent of Baumgart from Lord of the Rings. The path leads up to over 1000 m for the first time and the view is unique, as the landscape of the Pyrenees is completely different.It is somewhat reminiscent of the Vosges mountains, but is much more massive and steeper and, as a special feature, individual domes are repeatedly set into the landscape. The unfenced area is grazed by horses, mostly free-roaming shetties and sheep, so there is hardly any grass apart from ferns. If we find anything under ancient beech, oak or chestnut trees, the horses don't eat the grass as it is the other horses' feeding ground. We spend the whole day looking for food for the horses. We feed them for 10 minutes in a farmer's fenced-in meadow. We pass a mini Stonehenge and find the skeleton of a horse nearby. It makes for an interesting study. Only the smell is not exactly Dior. The situation only changes towards the evening, cows replace the horses and the mountain slopes are no longer so completely gnawed away. Both of our horses hungrily pounce on the fresh grass. Behind us lies a long stretch along a ridge along the border. We descend into the valley and arrive at Roncevalles, on the pilgrimage route to Campostella. The whites are fenced in on a meadow by the stream, the luggage is stowed behind bushes and there is something for us to eat in the monastery restaurant. There were around 250 pilgrims queuing up to get a bed. We opted for the forest and a meal in the monastery restaurant.