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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...  


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.


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.



Last night the wind was still driving fog into the valley, but this morning the air is dry but the sky is overcast. The barometer has dropped, let's see how it turns out. The horses are full and we set off eagerly up the next pass. We encounter pilgrims everywhere, and only when we leave the route heading east do the hikers die down, but now it starts to drizzle. We walk for hours in dense fog and are now well soaked. We come to a basin and the path ends for us at a farm in the last corner of the valley. The path that should lead up here is not even visible and the ground is so slippery from the rain that we can't even think of climbing up the steep grassy slope. Everyone's enthusiasm is noticeably dampened as we walk back up the path and, shoes squelching, head down the tarred road into the valley. We emerge from the clouds, visibility improves and the flies descend on us. Down in the valley, an off-road vehicle pulls up next to us. The only house in the valley is a hotel. We talk to the boss. He has boxes, hay and of course rooms where we can get out of our wet clothes. The horses don't like the accommodation very much, only when we put up a fence in the yard and let them out of the box do they seem happy. The valuable hay is spurned, but the nibbled grass is nibbled on again.


The sky is cloudy in the morning, but it promises to stay dry. We make up 600 m and from now on we stay at an altitude of 1000 m. The landscape has completely changed again, we ride around steep mountain cirques while the eagles circle above us. The path past free-roaming Comtois-type cold-blooded horses takes us to Irati, where we hope to find accommodation at the horse farm. Unfortunately, there is no room for us, but we are given concentrated feed. We lead the horses into a small valley behind the village, fence in a pasture and let them graze there. We eat, study the menu and listen to live Basque music.



Our little valley was the back of the horse farm, which we only discovered in the morning. Irati, the small vacation village, has a restaurant, a store, an office and a tennis court, which has apparently been immortalized in the GPS directory instead of the place name. We follow the gravel road to the next pass and lead our two on a hiking trail towards the Pic d'Ohry. As we ascend to the 2000 m high summit, a mountain hiker coming towards us explains that there is a place behind the first Pic that is almost impossible for horses. I should have a look at it before leading the horses up there. I did as recommended and had to agree with him. Descending 10 m on a narrow rocky outcrop followed by a 15 cm wide and 20 m long ledge was too much of a risk. From there, however, I saw the possibility of bypassing the mountain at the back of the pic, so we descended without further ado, followed a forest path and then hiked across the cow and horse pasture to the other end of the pic. We came across two herds of cold-blooded cattle, perhaps 15 / 20 strong. The stallions eyed us critically, followed us at a safe distance, but left us in peace. We followed the French/Spanish border on a gravel track and let the horses go at their usual trotting pace. After about two hours, my GPS track suddenly left the track and wanted to send us up a steep mountain path. However, we didn't want to put the two of them through this and continued along the path. We came to a huge mountain pasture with a drinking trough and plenty of grass and decided to bivouac here. We boiled water for our dinner and let the whites graze. I sit in the grass, the fog rises above me, cowbells tinkle in the distance and sheep bleat on the other side of the mountain. We go back to the spring 2 km away to get some water and take a shower. Quite fresh, but wonderful. When we get back to the bivouac, we can hear the thumping bass from car speakers. Two shepherds are practising breakdancing at the cattle trough below.


I'm sitting at 1500 m, shrouded in refreshing mist, listening to the sheep bleat, watching our two heroes graze, and writing the blog while I wait for Pat. The surroundings are pure rock on rock interspersed with some bushes and grass. We've been trying to leave the Arrete ski area for an hour and now, in the evening, realize that we won't reach our destination for the day. What's more, the grass is more than modest and the concentrated feed is also running out.

But first things first.

Last night we hit a great pasture on a hill. The shepherdess we met on the way wished us a peaceful night. The mountains belong to everyone, she said. A strong wind blows during the night, but everything is dry in the morning. We walk across a pasture with brown grass up to the border fence. We spend the whole morning walking along the mountain across horse and cow pastures. We miss the turn-off to the ridge path and find a regional hiking trail that takes us east. On the descent we scare up 24 eagles and minutes later find a dead cow that must have served as a meal for the eagles. We met two shepherds whom Pat helped to

a calf. An hour later, Flash got a scratch that we had to treat provisionally. We kept finding cattle troughs but fresh spring water is rare. Whenever we found some, we filled up our water bottles and put our water-soaked T-shirts back on, which kept us cool in the 25-28°C temperatures. We reached the first refugio parched, only to find it walled up. We left the planned route to get food for the horses as quickly as possible. The road leads us to another newer refuge where we can buy some bread and drinks. The village we are heading for is a bitter disappointment, a concrete castle set lovelessly in the stone desert, with no grass. It's only 15 km to Lescun with the horse station on the Gr 10, but the path is very difficult to walk and we only make slow progress. After an hour, we have only managed 2 km, and the terrain is not without danger. The horses are holding their own, but we have to let them find their own way. We decide to call it a day and look for grass and water up here. While Pat is still on the road, I meet a shepherd who tells me where I can find water. We take the path shown, down the ski slope and stop at the start of the trail to the water source mentioned, because the terrain is a bit flatter here and, above all, there is some grass. I fetch water in the cabana 1.3 km away and it takes me over an hour to get there and back. It's raining lightly and the stones are slippery. We set up our poncho tent and stow our luggage and sleeping area underneath. We realize that level ground is different, but we only have minutes to set up the fence before it starts to pour. So we live with the fact that we are constantly in danger of leaving the tent at the bottom. We eat a cold meal and lie on our saddle pads and down mats while it thunders and flashes outside. The thunderstorm circles around us at a distance of 1 to 3 km and brings us heavy rain, high winds and hail for hours. Flash and Domingo stand with their heads down in the most sheltered spot and take it all in their stride.


In the morning it had finally stopped showering and we put our stuff away as quickly as possible. The heroes get the last of their strength food and, as the drizzle sets in again, we tackle the tarred road towards Accous. The first 15 km are all uphill and after a total of 25 km we arrive in Accous shortly after 13:00. The horse stable we were looking for was nowhere to be found and no one in the village was to be seen. We find neither a bar nor a grocery store. It's siesta time here on the border with Spain. Finally, someone dares to come out of the door and I catch him before he can disappear again. I ask about the Gite de Chevall and am told that it is not here in the village but about 5 km further on. And yes, there is a store, but it doesn't open until 3:30pm. I ask him to find me the phone number so that I can call there. The woman on the cell phone is very nice, speaks English, has concentrated feed, pasture, stables, a room with a shower, washing machine and dryer and lends me her car so I can go shopping later.

We whisper something about oats to the two of us and we arrive at the Auberge Cavalliere at a fast trot. By 5 p.m. all is right with the world again, we have 20 kg of concentrated feed, food for the next few days, have showered and the washing machine is struggling with our clothes. Domingo has new slippers in the back. Duplos. The batteries are charged, I have wifi and dinner is in 3 hours.


As usual, I'm awake at 6 a.m. and as breakfast isn't served until half past seven, I write a blog. Eric, the local guide, explains which paths we should avoid and we head up the Route de Mateur. This path was carved out of the rock around 400 years ago so that wood could be transported from the mountains to the valley and to Brittany for shipbuilding. The transportation in the mountain was managed with the horses that still live here today. A height difference of over 600 m had to be overcome before the wood could be transported on water. We also climb this path plus another 800 meters of altitude difference in an increasingly narrow valley. We cross the Col de Hourquette de Larry pass at an altitude of 2055 m and have a wonderful landscape in front of us. We come to Lac D Ajoux, with the Pic du Midi in the background. Down in the valley we see a large group of riders. Unfortunately, they are already gone before we reach the bottom. We pass the crystal-clear mountain lake and descend into the valley, where we set up camp in a side valley before the next pass. Every now and then we have to chase a curious cow away from our camp.


Cow 1494 in particular was very fond of Domingo, so that Pat, as a good horse mom, had to get quite rough to make it clear to her that she had no business here. We left Domingo hobbled that night as we couldn't be sure that the cows would respect the fence. In the morning, a dozen cows arrived and wanted some concentrated feed. We boil water for the coffee and saddle up. Thick fog envelops us as we climb up to the pass. As the path is not marked and the route to the pass does not exist on my GPS, we go up the mountain more by feel, as the cow paths are indistinguishable from roads. Thanks to the GPS, at least I know which direction and altitude we are heading in. We cross some deep streams, suddenly find ourselves in front of a rock face and stumble over a cow carcass. No wonder Domingo is annoyed and Pat is having a hard time. We finally find the top of the pass, having covered just 3 km and 600 m in two hours. We follow the contour line in the direction of the path marked on the GPS and it finally clears up. We see the path we are looking for about 100 m further up. A horse neighs in the distance, a large herd stands at the top of the mountain. We fill our thermos at a spring, I dip my T-shirt in the water and put it on wet to cool down a bit. We reach the next valley and lead the horses down the road. Soon we reach the hiking trail that takes us towards Sallente de Gallego. The descent to the road proves to be very adventurous, over 2 hours we fight our way through high grass with thistles and wild rose bushes and have to repeatedly avoid rocky cliffs in the rugged terrain. Finally at the road, a barbed wire fence blocks access to the road. Flash has also lost a Duplo. We replace the shoe and ride in the river under the road bridge to get out of the fenced-off area. An hour later, we meet a group of riders and ask the guides about accommodation and food for the horses. We take a private shower at their place, the horses stand in their fat pasture and at a quarter past twelve at night, after we've had dinner at half past nine, they stand next to our sleeping bags and bring us half a bag of concentrated feed before returning to their party.


The days fly by. The terrain is like being at 2000 m altitude, even though we are 1000 m further down. They are not adrenaline-filled, as far as they are.Today we can ride a good bit again. The gravel path leads us along the heights above the lake to Panticosa.Here we stocked up on provisions and after 3 km of tarred road, took the unsignposted turn-off onto the Gr11.We rode up the valley on wide gravel paths and only about 400 m below the pass did we have to lead the horses again. On the way, we treat ourselves to a dip in a cool mountain stream. Shortly before the pass, we meet two Swiss riders.At the top of the pass, Pat starts a snowball fight. We descend into the wide valley, but the path always runs at the same altitude and ends in nowhere. I've had enough, I don't want to look any further and we descend across the pasture. Pat is all gone when we reach the bottom.At the bottom of the path, I meet a shepherd and ask him where the next refuge is. He ignores me and only after I insist does he say: "Solmente Bask". Later we learn from others that they had the same experience. We find a refuge in a wild and romantic valley and can let the horses graze by the river. The night in the pasture is windy and cold.


We have breakfast at the refugio and the horses are in a good mood this morning. Domingo leads us up the cow path towards Garnave.At the top there is a hustle and bustle.100s of cars drive up to 100 m below the pass, turn off and hike the 3 km to the Refugio with heavy loads. We don't want to take part in the people's march and take the road. In Gavarne, we are looking for the riding school to ask for further directions when the owner of a souvenir store approaches us and gives us the information we need over the phone.

The Circe de Gaverne is a circular valley head with two waterfalls and a gorge and thousands of tourists. We are forced to join the crowds and visit this natural wonder.At the top of the hotel we take the hiking trail, just away from the crowds, and have to pass 100s of hikers on the narrowest path. A bicycle gate has to be opened and closed again on a narrow mountain path. The hikers wait patiently. Finally we reach the junction and the refuge, where we enjoy a round of drinks with a Berlin family. We climb another 300 m to the next hut and find good grass there. A herd of beautiful horses appears just outside the fence. We eat at the hut and when I look after the horses, the whole herd is standing at the fence and wants to make friends. Ours are only moderately interested. Instead, our two and the herd provide pictures for the guests.



The night was really cold.In the morning, the gray mare is standing at the fence, rustling. When we set off, she follows us for quite a while. We are at 2600 m and descend to 1700 before climbing back up to 2500.We only manage just under 30 km today, but although we are tired, the horses keep going. On the way to the refugio, we find a nice resting place by a stream in a small hollow and decide to bivouac here. Both horses lie down to sleep on the mountain grass in the meadow.



The two whites are rested and in good spirits this morning. We head up the mountain in wide serpentines. Flash ahead, the round reins unhooked on one side and pulled through the stirrup, I hold the reins in my left hand, on the right I hold the tail and let myself be pulled up the mountain. We cross the summit on a 30 cm wide, diagonally sloping ledge and are then confronted with 15 m of almost flat and also diagonally sloping rock slabs at the top. The ledge is 2-3 m wide and about 10 m further down the horses might be able to catch themselves again. I lead and thanks to our plastic shoes we get across without slipping. We made it. But it's only the first of 3 crossings we have to tackle today. The whole morning is spent on narrow meadow and rocky paths until we finally reach the Refugio. From there, it's another climb past snowfields over the last pass at 2500 m before we can start the descent to Parzan. On the way, we come to a stream that the horses can't cross, so we backtrack 100 m and descend across the pasture. On the further descent, Flash loses a shoe, which Pat fortunately finds. We nail it back on and follow the long path down into the valley. We have to follow the road for a while and shortly before Parzan we reach the road that will take us further on. We ask the signora, who lives next to a former refuge, if we could fence the horses in the meadow opposite and after some hesitation she agrees. We take a bath down by the river and ride down to the village in the evening, where we do some shopping and eat a huge steak. Meanwhile, the horses are tethered in front of the restaurant and cause a stir.


The night was very mild. Clouds cover the sky and it is humid, but not as oppressive as yesterday. The gravel road allows 11 km of riding distance up the mountain and it looks like the Valais in Switzerland.At the top of the pass, we walk up to the reservoir before descending into the valley, where we head for a campsite. Light pine forests line the alpine meadows and we take a dip at a small waterfall. The cool water does us good and we feel really refreshed. We will take a break today and let the horses rest. We have covered over 500 km and almost 31,000 m of altitude, so almost 810 km in 15 days. Not bad for our two seniors.

On the way we met a couple, Jef and Lisa from New Zealand, who are also walking the HRP. While Pat nurses her calf and the horses recover, we chat about Europe and their home country. Pat scrubs the laundry on the historic washboard in the refuge and I put up the tent unnecessarily because Pat is afraid it might rain. Seven drops fall and then the sky clears again.



The GR11 is easy to do today. We were able to ride most of the route or at least take it on gravel paths. But the ascent over the pass was all the more difficult. Flash slipped on a ledge and we had to go around the rock. Fortunately, nothing happened. The path down into the valley first led through a bizarre rocky landscape, later on beautiful paths through spruce and pine forests. We reached the road and rode along a deep gorge up to the Refugio, where we set up camp by a stream with ferruginous (red) water. We should reach Salardu the day after tomorrow.At 8 a.m. I put my blog aside and look for the entrance to my sleeping bag inlet. An hour later, Pat wakes me up because some strange horses are neighing down by the heroes. I run down barefoot in my swimming trunks and find the fence torn down and the two geldings surrounded by a herd of stallions. We try to chase them away, but they just run off in different directions and come back again. Pat swings onto Domingo and leads Flash through the river, but the stallions just follow her. On the other side, she ties our two up and tries to chase the stallions away. Two young men look on bored and feel unable to help. Instead, one of them pulls out his digicam and takes a photo of the struggling Pat. Later, I give the two lads a good thrashing in all the local languages. In the meantime, I have collected the destroyed fence material and wade barefoot through the stream to help Pat. But it's no use trying to chase the four beautiful stallions away permanently. So back through the creek and the sleeping bags wrapped in poncho and rope and reins fetched. By now it is dark and nothing works without lamps. Pat comes to my rescue and together we wade through the stream in the light of her head torch, loaded down with all our sleeping gear. The two whites are locked up a little further down on a bridge. The ropes on one side, the reins on the other. We lay out our bivouac under the small canopy of a bus stop next to the bridge. The stallions have scrambled off towards the mountain, ours will be hungry until tomorrow morning and we are back on our mats at a quarter past ten.


At 5.45, I hear a bus approaching the bridge. I rush onto the road in my swimming trunks and T-shirt to save our reins. The bus driver can neither hear nor understand my shouting, but he stops in front of the bridge anyway. A dozen people get off the bus and climb up the hill with their headlamps lit up. We lead the horses through the stream, saddle up and ride back through the stream.Now all four of us finally have time for breakfast. Later, we walk up a stream and are promptly greeted by the stallions. The oldest of them follows us unperturbed for the next two hours. The path becomes increasingly difficult. We have to go around rocky passages several times. At the top we come to a crystal-clear lake. We meet hikers who can tell us more about the continuation of the trail. This time we seem to be talking to people who really know the route, unlike those we have already met. And it only sounds suboptimal. I continue up without my horse and come across a barrier of large boulders that the horses can't get over. The whole valley is blocked off. So that's it, all the hard work up here only to have to turn back 300 meters before the pass. We turn around and head back down into the valley, where we are greeted happily by the stallion following us, so to speak, I knew you'd come back to me. On the way we meet two other Spaniards who tell us about another route that should be feasible for the horses. We walk back the 12 km we climbed the day before and bypass the mountains to the north. Here the mountains look friendlier and after a long day of almost 40 km we spend the night in a valley at the foot of the Picardo pass, which we will tackle tomorrow. We are reassured to see that the road leads through sheep and cow pastures. We have now been without proper mobile phone contact for over a week and the list of unsent blog entries is getting longer and longer. We only manage to send a short text message every now and then. But things should improve tomorrow in Salardu.  



At 5, I see headlamps coming up the path again. I let out a wolf howl, which causes some confusion down there. I doze for another hour, then we get up. We let the horses pull us up the mountain and come across a signpost marked Routas Caballos. Good to know. We meet a shepherd who lives up here and he is pleased to see us.We continue upwards, towards the mist billowing at altitude.The descent is easy, you walk down the mountain in the stream bed.Where the valley widens, we meet a group of cold-blooded horses and mules.There's even a bistro at the bottom of the road.6 hours later, showered by the heavy rain, we arrive in Salardu, where Ruth is already waiting for us.


I'm sitting here on a stone wall in Ilise's village square, eating dinner with 200 villagers. There are children scurrying around us and it's 10 o'clock at night. We were invited by two young women from Barcelona to take part in the village festival. The 10 tables were generously laid with Spanish specialties and wine and everyone took what they liked. Later, three different types of sausage were served, someone brought us a bottle of red wine and the owner of the meadow where Flash and Domingo were standing asked me how the horses were doing. For dessert we had white and red melons, which tasted incredibly good. But back to the start of the day. We spent the night in a hotel again after 8 days, with a shower and all the luxuries, and Ruth washed our clothes at home. The horses stood in a huge paddock and penned. We decided to use the services of the local blacksmith, especially as we couldn't find the packet of replacement material. We re-pinned our lousy Duplos and hoped they would last until Argeles. We followed a local hiking trail and entered a wide valley with free-roaming Breton horses, which promptly blocked the road behind us. We were able to ride for the first time in days. At the trot, Flash leads on the right. We change horses and try to go easy on Flash. The terrain changes here, it is now more Mediterranean and much more overgrown. We reach the road and lead the two of us down it for the next 2 hours. We reach Isil, where we ask for a place for the horses. A resolute woman takes matters into her own hands and organizes a pasture for us. The two young women from Barca live next door. They invite us to go shopping with them and spend the night with them. We gratefully accept.


First we follow the road for 10 km, then we reach Esterri. Here I pick up a map for the rest of the way. And in the bistro next door we have our 2nd breakfast. We lead the horses up the pass road because they are both tired. Once at the top, we search for 3 hours for the path marked on the map and climb up and down the mountain for 10 km. I'm too stupid, or the path doesn't exist. Tired and frustrated, we decide to descend via the pasture into the next side valley, hoping that the stream running there would take us to the path visible 400 m further down. The pastures here are overgrown with bushes because there is far too little farming. We descend through gorse bushes and wild roses and come across a path that leads us to an abandoned village.In the village, consisting of 5 scattered houses, we even meet people, a Spaniard who shows his nephew from Dubai where their grandfather grew up. He confirms that I'm not stupid, the path doesn't exist. Finally we come across signs again, climb another 200 m up and 300 m down and finally arrive in Llarret after 13 hours and 47 km, where we are looked after by the residents of the first houses. We are allowed to fence the horses in the meadow in the forest, store our luggage in a stable and the woman cooks us soup. We sleep in the cellar of the house with a toilet.



We leave the cellar and fetch the horses from their pasture. They're not in much better shape today, yesterday was another tough day. I'm also feeling my bones. If possible, we get some concentrated feed and finish early. We also have to make sure that the pass is doable before we set off. Yes, we too are still capable of learning. I use the descent into the valley on the forest path to write the blog. Then the ascent to the 2200 m high pass begins.To take the pressure off Flash, I lead him, which means he walks in front of me and tries to slow my pace. We take the forest road, there is probably a hiking trail, but it's a difficult scramble. We pass more herds of horses on the way up to the pass, from here there are hiking trails again that you can also walk on. On the descent into the valley we have to pass through spruce forests and there we have to unsaddle both horses because a fallen tree is right on the path in a swampy area, so we can't avoid it. Fortunately, our 150 cm horses still just fit under the trunk. After a break in a beautiful meadow, we reach the valley an hour later and head for a campsite. Pat offers up all her charm to get us what we need. A place for the horses with grass, concentrated feed and somewhere for us to sleep. A German woman who lives here and has horses comes to visit us. She later brings us a bale of hay, because the meadow the manager gives us is no longer even suitable for a golf course. But he wants to bring us some wheat bran. At least that's what we understood. The wheat bran turned into pellets, but at least it was concentrated feed for the horses. In the course of conversations with the local visitors to our horses, it turned out that the campsite had other areas that were very well stocked with grass. When I specifically approached the manager about this, he couldn't avoid it any longer and agreed to give us a piece of grassland. This and the 15 kg of concentrated feed made Pat happy. Once the horses were stabled in the clover pasture, we went for a shower and a meal. We slept under the roof of a barbecue area.


The break had done the horses good. No less good for us. We can ride up the whole valley today. The two of them walk at a brisk pace and are happy to be riding horses again and not pack animals. The area resembles the Valais in Switzerland. We reach the Refugio and I ask the host for the easiest route to Andorra. I had been told that there was a cattle drive. The answer was sobering. None of them are easy.One is impossible and the other is not feasible for horses. But if it was possible, then only there.Great.Now we're in a real mess, because we have to cross the pass or we'll never get to Argeles. Ok, let's see. We continue riding uphill and soon have to lead the way, because the forest road ends and a beautiful hiking trail begins. The path climbs higher and higher over plateau-like pastures and at some point along the way we meet a shepherd who only speaks Catalan and Pat doesn't understand him. The only thing we understand and explain is where we want to go. And even I understand part of his answer. His constantly repeating "impossibile"

But we have no alternative, because changing direction means going in the wrong direction for about 2-3 days. And our vacation ends on Friday. We move on with a queasy feeling. But as before, the area is beautiful and the trail is actually easy to do. The horses are fit and eager and so we reach the last refuge before the "Impossibile". We look at it and think to ourselves, it can't be that bad... it looks pretty harmless, and if it doesn't work out, we'll take the other one, the Impossibile, because it also looks doable, at least from this side. We treat ourselves and the horses to an extra rest, have a few muesli bars and ride through the mountain lake to the other shore. There we hang the reins on the horn and let the horses go up the steep meadow slope. They look for their own way, while we follow, hanging on to their tails. The two of them, Domingo leading the way, follow their noses and go around rocky outcrops and steep places and find their way up. We stop at a small saddle and I take a closer look further up. Pat sends the horses up and the two of them climb up to me, Pat in tow. Where I thought I had reached the top of the pass, another depression opens up, leading to an even higher point. The whole depression is filled with boulders and the horses again find their way over the flattest parts, in the dried-up stream bed. They climb through the increasingly heavy scree fields up to the pass and so far everything is going quite well. We've made it, we're at the top. On the other side we don't see much, except that the first 10-15 m are very steep, but again in scree and sand. I take the reins long and lead Flash down, who squats on his ass cheeks, walks with his front feet and slides behind. No problem for the old hands. We descend further and stand in front of the reason why no cattle have come over the pass for 40 years. A huge debris avalanche has closed off the entire slope and is now wedged between the glacial lake and the glacier, blocking our way. At first it goes quite well, the scree is quite solid and not yet too big, but the further we get into the scree avalanche, the more trouble the horses have finding a way. We've already made it 20 m, there are still 5 m to go, but they are quite a challenge because the boulders here are 50 cm to 1 m in size and the horses have more holes around them to fall into than boulders to stand on. And the whole thing wobbles precariously. We also make another mistake. Instead of letting Flash go first, Pat leads Domingo down first at the crucial point, and because she is scared as hell herself, Domingo refuses to go and simply stops. He says to himself, that's it, I can't go any further, I'm going home. Flash stands behind me on three ledges and waits patiently. But he also thinks that the grass on the other side doesn't necessarily taste any better.... And I can't get past Domingo with Flash, because he's standing at the only possible crossing point to the other side. We discuss what to do and consider letting the horses swim.... No chance Flash doesn't swim.... Or crossing the glacier, but Pat fears the horses might break. For half an hour we keep trying to encourage Domingo to go further, but instead of going forwards, he tries to climb back up the rock slabs. I know no more advice and decide to make one last attempt to get Flash past Domingo over an even trickier section and thus break through the blockage. Flash willingly follows me over the first rocks and then decides to jump onto the glacier and run up it. Nobody asks me for permission. Luckily I have him on a long rein so that he can move freely and he makes it up the other side without breaking. I send Pat after him, give her the reins and take Domingo's reins. She disappears with Flash behind the next crest and Domingo starts to feel uneasy because he doesn't want to stay here alone. I try several times to guide him to the next boulder but he refuses. Finally, after what feels like an eternity, he decides to move on after all and climbs down the rock at a 30 degree angle to the perfect line. Just not where I wanted to go. But he managed to get to the spot where Flash was standing before his jump onto the glacier, and there he just keeps going, over the rocks as originally planned, and arrives safely on the other side. Pat waits about 100 m ahead and then realizes with horror that we have lost the last fitting as well. Now there are no more replacements, they just have to hold until we arrive. We nail on the last remaining Duplo and hope that it will hold. We come across sheep - I had hoped for cows, as the paths are easier - and watch other hikers as they make their way down the trail. There seem to be a few more problems waiting for us, as they take quite a long time in some passages. About a third of the way down the mountain slope, we come across the first obstacle. A 5-meter-long ledge in the rock, only a hand's width wide, which the horses have to cross. There are no alternatives and we descend about 10 m into a small ravine. Pure adrenaline, but only for us. We know the horses can do it, it's just us who are scared again. Just don't let it show. We let the horses graze for a while, I take a look and then lead Flash on the long reins to the edge, over which he then trots behind me, slipping over. Domingo follows Flash freely and Pat just looks in the other direction, then she comes over too. We take a deep breath and lead the horses further down the sheep path, which is only 10 cm wide, towards the valley. Barely 10 minutes later, we are standing again and I climb on to see where the path continues. But it doesn't actually go any further, but ends at a cliff edge that is three meters wide and covered by water. The rock is about 5 meters high and the path continues below the waterfall in the other direction. Great. Don't delay any longer... I grab Flash, take the reins and climb halfway down the rock, encouraging him to follow me. He stands at the top, takes a look and ... puts his foot on the first gully about 30 cm below, hesitates for a second and then climbs down the rock as if he had practiced it a thousand times before. Domingo follows him just seconds later and we take a deep breath. From now on, the path is relatively easy and we come to a refuge where some Spaniards are having a picnic. We are so relieved to have made it... we have to share the joy with them... even if they don't understand the "locos". We're at the bottom, safe and sound, with a few scratches, we've managed the worst crossing we've ever made. We are certain that we won't have to do it again. We lead the horses down the steep road to Arinsal in Andorra. At the Sunbar we ask if we can let the horses graze behind the house and the landlord agrees. We get water for the horses, electricity for our cell phones and 600 gr steaks from Argentina for our stomachs. Dead tired, we fall onto our sleeping mats that evening. 


It's 7 degrees this morning. It must have been even colder yesterday. But it's only 22 degrees during the day and the sun is shining brightly. We make a pilgrimage down the street and I write my blog. Coffee and croissants are in demand, but it seems that only industry and hotels have been built here. There are no real villages, just tourist castles and sports stores. In the middle of the town at the central traffic circle, there's a coffee shop, but unfortunately it's not accessible for the horses. So we continue on and 5 km further out of town there is finally a bistro. The GR 11 is easy to follow here and we make our way up to Soldeu, where there is a horse farm. When we arrive, the stable owner runs off to get some silver spray and before I can object, the four feet of my Arabian are sprayed silver. When I show my displeasure, the lady becomes so unfriendly that we give up the hoped-for concentrated feed and move on. Further up the valley, I ask the village policeman if it would be okay if we let the horses graze on the ski slope for the night.No problem for him, so we go down and fence in the horses in the most beautiful pasture and make our sleeping quarters between two picnic tables. We can hose down the horses and fetch water at the bike cleaning station. Later we go up to the village to eat and shop. We buy rusks and alpine muesli and feed them to the horses. It must be the most expensive concentrated feed we've ever bought. I lie on my mat with the mountains all around me and the brightly lit hotels in front of me. Above us, the sky is dotted with light clouds.



It's all clammy and damp when we get up and the horses are already waiting for their feed. We have no hiking trails today, just tarmac to pound, so we pull onto the road and lead the horses up. The cars roar past us in the direction of France and we urgently look for ways to get off the road. But no chance, every possibility always ends at the crash barrier and so we march the 12 km up to the pass. There are horses here and we find a shortcut down the ski slope to the village. There we treat ourselves to a second breakfast while the horses are photographed as stars by the tourists. Pat buys a lined jacket and we march down the road against the flow of vehicles stuck in the traffic jam to Andorra. The customs officers at the French border deliberately ignore us and we reach the Perpignan / Toulouse junction. Here we want to mount up and ride again, but Pat dismounts straight away because Domingo is lame. It doesn't get any better, because after every stop he seems to have more trouble getting going again. Pat gives him globules and painkillers, but this time they don't seem to work. We head up the pass and at the top the situation is so bad that we can't go any further. We can't explain it, but it can't go on like this.

We have to break off just before the finish, but with a lame Domingo we can't make the remaining 120 km in the 3 days we have left. Pat takes the two horses while I hail a car to take me down to the next village. Luckily, there is a stable there, so I get accommodation and pasture organized for Pat and the horses. I take a cab to the train station to go to Argeles to pick up the trailer. I'm amazed when the ticket gives me a journey time of 8 hours for the 118 km to Perpignan. Including three hours to visit the station, this was still a record for slowness. I soon realized why. The train, which was celebrating its 100th anniversary, was just as old. We jolted down the line in open bucket cars squeezed onto wooden benches, stopping for 15 minutes in each village. After an hour, I found out that there were more comfortable carriages attached to the back and sat in them. At a quarter to 11, I finally arrived at the Kentucky Ranch in Argeles sur Mer, where I treated myself to a shower and fresh clothes.


I spend the night and get in the car to fetch Pat and the horses. After a 3-hour drive, I'm back with the horses. Pat has made himself useful by drying and airing the damp clothes. This time we won't arrive stinking, as usual, but will smell a little more subtle. Domingo is still not feeling any better and Pat is really nervous because none of her tried and tested globules are working and she can't explain what might have happened. We load up and drive to Argeles, where we send for the vet, but despite an examination lasting three quarters of an hour, the vet can't find anything either. We give him painkillers and decide to have him examined again tomorrow to decide whether he is fit for transport or not. We spend the rest of the day in town.



When the vet arrives at 8.30, Domingo is feeling much better. It seems as if it was just a pinched nerve, a muscle problem or something along those lines. Anyway, he's feeling better again. We decide to drive tonight and prepare to leave. Later, we drive south along the coast again and eat paella for the last time in Spain.

We have covered a total of 850 km and ridden over 50,000 m of altitude. We had 4 short break days and mastered the GR 10 and GR 11 as well as the HRP. And we did this with horses that were already past the peak of their capabilities. With 54 LKM per day, they put in a super performance, even though we rode less than 30% of the route. Once again they proved to us that they are not only more capable than we can imagine, but also more willing to perform and stronger. When we look at the many horses we have encountered here in the mountains of the Pyrenees, we can only imagine what our horses could do if they had grown up here.

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