Day walks in the Pyrenees
As well as the two wild camping trips higher in the Pyrenees mountains, we also had five or so day walks to recover and shelter from bad weather. The weather this year was unusually bad compared to what we normally have over the summer.
The weather was dreadful for one of our days camping in Sentein so we decided to drive down the valley until it improved. In Castillon-en-Couserans we popped out of the bottom of the cloud and spent the morning wandering around the town and then walked around the nearby valleys in the afternoon.
Day walk around Ustou
We parked the car at Saint Lizier d’Ustou and walked along the lanes and footpaths in the valley, there is plenty of parking along the river so you can start pretty much anywhere and easily find a footpath to follow.
My overall review of the campsite at Saint Lizier d’Ustou is don’t go anywhere near it during the festival. The campsite is right next to the music stage and they had the most awful DJ blaring out the same songs on repeat. The campsite manager warned us, but we thought it would be a manageable level of noise. Turns out they take the opportunity to practice their sound torture skills on the entire valley. It got to 12 am and we thought it would end, then 1 am, by 2 am I was starting to go mad. 3 am came around and still it continued, finally at 3.30am it ended. So I spent 5 1/2 hours being involuntarily blasted by music. It was loud from my tent two minutes away so I think anyone closer is probably suffering from Tinnitus by now.
After that sleep-deprived night, we weren’t up to walking into the mountains and so walked along the old farmer routes that lead to the sheltered meadows and meander over the terraced hillside.
Col de la Core
The next day walk was roughly half way through the holiday, we parked at the col near Lac de Bethmale and walked through the wooded hillside and up to Etang d’Eychelle. It was a hot day so lucky that we decided to do a day walk instead of carrying heavy rucksacks up the mountains.
On the final part of the climb up to Etang d’Eychelle we passed by a man collapsed on the path. A group of people were giving him CPR and keeping him alive. I ran to the top of the mountain in an effort to find signal to ring 112. Someone else got through first and a rescue helicopter flew out to take the man to the hospital.
Seeing the helicopter come swooping around the mountain and hover beside the group was exciting but I would rather have avoided the whole experience completely. It is not a pleasant thing to see.
I think it reinforces that you really must be prepared when going into the mountains, even for a day walk carrying minimum weight. It was 30+ degree heat that day so carrying plenty of water and taking regular breaks in the shade are the obvious ones, but also be prepared if something does happen. Being able to accurately describe where you are is critical, with everyone using phone apps it becomes less likely you will have a grid reference to give emergency services. Instead, you need to be aware of what is around you and the key landmarks, and your direction in relation to them. Saying ‘directly below the South face of Tuc de Mauberme’ is a whole lot more useful than ‘there’s a great big mountain just ahead of me, my phone hasn’t got a name for it’.
Day walk near Foix
The last full day of the holiday we walked around the wooded valleys about 20km from Foix. It is an area of large hillocks and meadows and perfect for a day of relaxing walking before returning home.
It rapidly turned into more a bug hunting expedition and an opportunity to practice using my Neewer macro extension tubes. Before the holiday I spent a long time debating what macro equipment to get for my Sony A6000 camera. After researching the different macro lenses and thinking about associated cost, I decided to practice with the extension tubes before committing more money. I ordered it on Amazon for £26 and was still waiting for it to be dispatched after 10 days, so I cancelled that order and instead placed a bid on eBay. I won and got it for £4 + £2 postage – so saved £20!
I saw plenty of insects to practice macro photography on the walk. These included spiders, a caterpillar, plenty of crickets and grasshoppers, butterflies and wasps.
I find the biggest challenge is focusing on a key part of the insect. Once zoomed in, the handheld wobble is exaggerated and it becomes harder to see and accurately focus on the insect. I used the DMF (direct manual focus) setting where the camera autofocuses first and then I can fine-tune it. But even with this, it is hard to get the whole part of an insect in focus, due to them being alive and having all kinds of sticking out limbs.