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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Cirque de Gavarnie: Spectacular Hiking in the French Pyrenees

After our hike to "La Breche de Roland" , we decided to do probably the most famous hike in the Pyrenees, the Cirque du Gavarnie, which is a valley with vertical rock walls over a four thousand feet high closing off one end, not to mention a 1500 foot high waterfall visible from many miles away.  We had an view of the waterfall from the window in our room.  It was great to watch bands of clouds form, and drift across the valley as the sun set each evening.

The waterfall looks amazing.  We watched it for hours, from all around the valley.  So, fair warning, the pictures are pretty much all waterfalls, all the time.  This is an extended exposure taken from the base of the waterfall.

We got going early enough to beat the hordes of ponies carrying tourists up the trail every day.  That's important, if you'd rather not spend most of the hike dodging manure. Fortunately, ponies aren't allowed past the two-thirds mark of the trail, where it turns more rocky, steep, and gravelly.  Just before the pony cutoff point, we passed this.

Another extended exposure from a similar angle.

After being practically in the waterfall, we wandered off to other parts nearby.  We found ourselves a sunny, quiet spot, far from the crowd, and rested on a boulder.  The waterfall mesmerized us while we ate bread, cheese, and sausage for lunch.  By this time, the sun had nearly reached the waterfall, but not quite.  I was determined to stick around until the sun lit it up.

After we finished lunch and started to wander around the area, we surprised, and were surprised by, a couple of sheep who'd been sleeping under a nearby rock.  They begrudgingly got up and ambled away, snacking on weeds growing between the rocks along the way.

The water fall had two main parts, above and below this ledge.  It would be really cool to go up on that ledge!

It's always tough to get an idea of scale in big nature photos.  Take a look at the next three to get a better sense of it.

See highlighted inset at lower left, then see the crop (not blown up - just cropped).

This is the same photo above, cropped to just that area.  That should help give you some idea of scale for the rest of the photos.

Finally, the sun reached the falls.  At this point, the water is just starting to catch the rays, while most of the rock face is still in shade.

The sunlight highlights the spray drifting on the wind.

The sunlight comes in from the right and just grazes the water and the rocks to the left, while the right side is still in shade.  

Sorry, can't resist another closeup.

This looks like an entire waterfall, but it's really only the top half.  The dark clouds and rocky, inaccessible heights lend it a bit of a menacing mood.  

Yes, all these photographs are of the same falls, but I was nowhere near tired of photographing them.  We really did linger in the valley for a few hours, even though we could have turned around and headed back as soon as we arrived. I'd like to photograph these falls at all times of day, in every season.  Maybe we'll come back here some day.

This is the fifth in a series on our southern France summer vacation.

The first has river and valley photos from the Martel hike in the Gorge de Verdon.

In the second we kayak the Gorge de Verdon, and hike the Styx trail.

In the third, we drive from the Gorge de Verdon in the southeast of France to the Pyrenees in the southwest of Francesee sunflower fields, the famous Tour de France mountain pass called Col du Tourmalet, and waterfalls.

In the fourth, we hike from France right into Spain via "La Breche de Roland."

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