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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Walking to Spain: Hiking La Breche de Roland in the Pyrenees

For our first hike in the Pyrenees, we chose "La Breche de Roland", which means Roland's Breach, a giant gap in the top of the rocky border between France and Spain.  Legends hold that the gap was cut by the enchanted sword of Roland when he died in battle.  Roland was a French military leader under Charlemagne, in the late 8th century AD.  Charlemagne was the first to unite a good chunk of Europe since the fall of Rome in the 4th century AD.  The name simply means King Charles.

It was a great day - cool and sunny, and we got a reasonably early start.  On the steep road to the trail-head, consisting of almost nothing but sharp switchbacks, we saw bikers chugging their way up, and a few even already on their way back down.

Jennifer starting out on the trail.

This highly-cropped photo shows a mountain hut about five miles away.  The white patch in front of the hut is a herd of cows grazing down there.  We could hear the bells of closer cows lazily clanging in all different notes.  For some reason, I find the sound of those bells in the mountains really relaxing.

That photo above is a crop of the photo below.  The dark patch of green far in the distance below is the trees in the photo above.  That little hut is in the exact same spot, but you might need a magnifying glass to see it.

The trail came from the right of the photo above and continues on the left side.  Here's Jennifer as the trail continues.  The valley on the right is the same valley as in the pictures above.  

After about half way up, the hike turned quite a bit more challenging, with a non-stop scramble over steep rocks up toward a "hut" where people can stay overnight, but the hut was closed.  After the hut, the trail turned to a mix of a little bit of old glacier snow that was slippery, but relatively flat, and a whole lot of scree.

There's a sort of shelf that we reached about two-thirds up the picture above.  People were stopped there, drinking water and snacking.  This is what it looked like looking back over the area we just passed.

Hiking up in scree is like walking up an endless pile of gravel that slides down a bit every step you take.  At this point, it became quite crowded, and we were walking just in front of and behind someone every step.

The idea of this hike reminded us both of the book The Nightingale, about a rebellious young woman who joined the French resistance during WW II.  She helped downed British pilots escape France by taking them south, away from German eyes, getting them second hand hiking boots and coats, then guiding them up through a mountain pass in the Pyrenees and into Spain.  Once they got to Spain, others would help them get back to England and fly more missions against the Germans.

Here's Jennifer on the steep and crowded part of the final approach. 

Near the very top, it was scramble time.

Once we crossed the threshold of "La Breche de Roland", we could see the other side - Spain.

A few seconds later, both of our phones beeped.  We'd each received a message from our mobile company telling us extra charges could apply because we'd left France.  Wow!  We were only a few feet over the border!  That sharp rock is one side of the breach.  I'm standing just on the other side, in Spain.  We stopped and had our lunch there.  Had to hide behind a big rock to get out of the chilly wind.

We're still waiting to see if our mobile phone bill will be outrageous this time around.  They supposedly outlawed most roaming charges inside the European Union last June, so we'll see.

A few days later, we did a hike in that very same valley in Spain.  More about that with the photos from that one.  

This is the fourth 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.

The second has us kayaking in the Gorge de Verdon, and hiking the Styx trail there.

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.

The fifth is about our hike to the incredible waterfall of the Cirque de Gavarnie.

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