Crazy Spring Break Trip in the Pyrenees, France

     Once upon a time, a friend called and told me we should do something for Spring Break. I was under high pressure with the thesis I had to write for graduation. A few days away wouldn’t be of any harm. So, we organized a four day trip to the Pyrenees, in an area right next to the border to Spain. We were five people : two Czech friends, one Moroccan, one German and I.

It was April, but expected to be cold, and we struggled collecting the required equipment to survive in the cold mountains. But, in the end, we were all ready. On Friday, we met in front of T’s car. We had packed a lot of things, and I thought we’d never succeed to put everything in the car, but we did. I’ve never felt so compressed in a car, and I didn’t think we would stand it during our eight hour drive.

The journey was terrible but less than I thought. No one really complained. They’d better not to, because I had sacrificed myself to sit at the worst place. We had mountain equipment everywhere and had to put two heavy backpacks on our laps. I couldn’t even see the road! Anyway, we had planned to arrive at 7pm, but we arrived at 930pm, when it was already night. We couldn’t see a thing and it was raining. Great! We drove until a small village and took a sinuous mountain road. It was so narrow that we hoped we wouldn’t bump into another car, fly over the ridiculous fence and crash 200 yards down the cliff. Luckily, we did survive, but there was another problem now. The temperature was becoming extremely low, and we didn’t have chains for the tires. I was afraid we couldn’t reach the spot without putting ourselves in real danger, so when it was obvious that if it was raining here, the road would be frozen farther up, we decided to go back to the small village down the valley. We were all very stressed and the atmosphere in the car was very tense.  We really needed to get out of the car.

We were lucky enough to find a good campsite in the woods, next to a river. The night was alright, although we pitched our tent right on a big ant nest.

The next morning, it was really cold. As I always do, I had thought about a plan B, in case we had to abort plan A. I had located a lonely shelter in another area of the mountains, and we agreed to go there. It would be safer than our initial objective.

We parked the car in a village and started walking. The weather was awful. It was raining and raining. It was obvious now that some of us had never done real trekking before and one of my friends was pretty obnoxious, for he had acted tough in the city and was now on the verge of hysterics. “Oh man, my backpack is heavy, why is my backpack so heavy? Something’s wrong with it”, he would say. “Y’all, I think I have a blister”, he would add two minutes later. “Guys, are we still far? I need a break man”. In the middle of the misty mountains, an a muddy track, he would ask me “Orel, I’m soaked, I’m completely soaked, what do I do?” … What was I supposed to answer to that?

The shelter wasn’t very far anymore, from what I could see on the map. I hoped it would be open, because if it wasn’t, my friend who was now asking why the path was going up and down all the time would probably go hysterical in front of a locked door. We struggled to walk up to the col. We did a short break there. It was snowing now, but it was alright.  I realized we could’ve been in deep trouble if we had gone to where we wanted to go at first, and I was happy to do something easier but safe with my friends.

The shelter was finally in sight! We ran to it, not feeling the weight of our bags anymore. It was open. I felt so relieved! It wasn’t very big inside but it was clean and enough for the five of us. We settled, hung our clothes to dry them, ate, and then, we just relaxed and chilled out. It was very cold but we heated the inside of the shelter with a stove. We saw some wood for the night and explored the surrounding area. There was another shelter some 100 yards far from our place. Inside, we found a box with… weed. There were also two horses hanging around farther down the shelters.

We spent a good time in the shelter while it was snowing outside. We slept packed like sardines on the 10 feet wide plank that served as a bed. The next day, the weather was better but it was still very foggy. We spent the day in the shelter and celebrated the birthday of my Moroccan friend at night. It was a lot of fun. We also met some guys who arrived late in the afternoon and squatted the other shelter. They told us that it was them who had left the weed there “for everyone’s pleasure”…

The last morning, we cleaned the shelter and walked down the valley. It was pretty. At some point, we heard an helicopter. I saw it arriving from in between two mountains, and it did a circle in the valley at low altitude. It wasn’t very far from us. So, it did a circle, and then, at our surprise, it came back straight on us!! It flew over us at only a few feet! It was crazy. It was a military copter, and it looked like they were looking for someone. Maybe they were looking for the guys we had seen last night, who knows.

Anyway, the end of the walk was easy. We went through a lovely village and walked along a river. When we arrived where we had parked the car, I went in a shop to by a can of coke. At my surprise, there were three cops asking very serious questions to the owner of the shop. I immediately did the link with the helicopter. “Dang, some weird things are going on here”, I thought.

The drive back was frightening (I’m sorry T.!). I have to admit I had never been so scared for my life before. T. was driving super fast, and so close from the cars in front of us that I could see the flies crushed on their bodywork! When someone was talking to her, she  would look at this person instead of the road. Wow, it was so terrifying. She was overtaking cars and trucks like crazy, turning the wheel so sharply I wondered how the hell the car didn’t somersaulted.

Thanked Lord, we arrived in one piece. I was tired after this trip, but it was a good trip. I had forgotten about my thesis, but now, it was time to think about it again.

Cold river in the Ossau valley

High trees in the mountains

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23 Responses to Crazy Spring Break Trip in the Pyrenees, France

  1. Beautiful pics from my favorite corner of France. Keep on trekking, keep on adventuring, ride on!

  2. LeBlogDuSpectateurSentimentale says:

    parc-ar fi la noi, pe la Brebu, in Caras-Severin…:-)

  3. aj vosse says:

    You sure know how to turn what must be a tranquil experience into a bit of stress! Beautiful photos… green green grass! Snow… fire fun! ;-)
    Did you ever find out what the chopper and the police were looking for?
    Good luck with that thesis!
    Why was T driving so badly? Racing from the cold? :-)

  4. John Todaro says:

    Horse in The Snow–awesome photograph!

  5. surfnslide says:

    That’s the best way to enjoy a wild weekend, unplanned makes for a real sense of adventure. Really enjoyed the tale of the weekend :)

  6. westerner54 says:

    Great story, and great pictures. Love the whiner whose pack must have something “wrong” with it because it’s heavy. Oy.

  7. Idun says:

    Sounds like an..interesting trip, with some nice and some pretty scary moments. Did you ever find out what/who the police were looking for?

    • Hi Idun! I thought to check the local newspaper but I completely forgot to do once I was back from the trip. I should do it now :)

      • Idun says:

        You should…would be interesting to know, as it seems kinda serious when they used a helicopter and everything.

        • Ok, so, from what I just read in a local newspaper, a hiker died of a heart attack. It says they had to look for him with an helicopter. The location of his death is close from where we were but on the other side of the valley though. Also, the article was published on the 15 of April but we saw the copter and the cops on the 16. So, it’s probable that the events of our trip are linked to this man’s death, but possibly it was something else too. I haven’t found anything else that would’ve occurred on the 16.

          • Idun says:

            Sounds like it was the hiker then, or it must have been something that for some reason wasn’t written about in the paper. Poor guy though

  8. Now that is what I can a “misadventure”. Thank goodness you found some weed, or things could have turned ugly. Next break, go to the SOUTH of France! Some great photos and I’m glad you got a bit of blue skis on your trip!

  9. Une escapade mémorable. Ici, c’est la même chose, le temps n’est pas bon, on patauge vite dans la neige dès que l’on monte. Superbes photos avec un faible pour celle du cheval. Ce village dans les pyrénées me fait penser au mien dans les alpes. Bon courage pour les examens.

    • Merci beaucoup. J’etais surpris qu’il fasse toujours aussi froid mi-avril et qu’il y ai autant de neige au dessus des 1000. Nous voulions atteindre un lac a 1400 au debut mais nous nous sommes vite rendu compte que c’etait impossible sans pneus neige.

  10. beingouthere says:

    Choosing fellow-hikers should be undertaken with utmost dilligence!!! Unforseen extreme conditions on mountains (or at sea) can scale by simply ruinning a well planned weekend and reach up to a situation that someone from the group is put at risk.
    As always, your photos are really nice!

    • Hello out there! You are completely right. Some of my friends underestimated the power of the elements. Luckily I had forseen that we might not be prepared for what we wanted to do, and therefore I had a second and more realistic plan for the group. It was a good trip in the end, but far from our initial plan :D

  11. Hi Orel, it sounds as though you had a bit of an ‘epic’ trip :-)

    • Ahahah, it was! We need some of these once in a while :). It’s like this time we improvised a camping trip to a beach in Belgium. We had no tents, no sleeping bags. I thought I was going to die freezing. I’ve learned that even in the middle of June temperatures can be very low at night. But why do I say that… I’m sure you experienced far worst things in the Highlands.

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