Saturday, 28 July 2012

Carcassonne to GR 11

Sunflower fields along the GR 7
My main problem now is that I am running out of time. There is so much to see and I have probably miscalculated the mileage but more on that in a separate post. Bottom line is that I have to take shorter routes than planned in order to be finished in time for my next adventure. Being an organised ex business woman I had already foreseen that possibility in the planning stage and prepared several alternative routes and I now took one of them. Instead of changing onto the GR 36 and meeting the GR 11 at Puigcerda I continued on the GR 7.

Along the Canal Midi
This first treated me with a nice albeit short walk along the Canal du Midi. I love canal walks. They are easy, flat and fast and remind me of my happy narrow boating times in the UK. Equally nice and fast was an ensuing walk on an old railway line. A couple of days out of Carcassonne I could already see the Pyrenees looming out of the horizon promising lower temperatures and a relief from the heat. Every day I camped at higher altitude and soon I would cross my first pass over 2,300 m, the highest point so far on this hike. The GR 7 had been quite easy so far and I expected a smooth run to the GR 11 on the Spanish side. Again I was awfully wrong.

I was approaching my first high Pyrenean pass in the evening expecting a quick hop over and a camp on the other side. But I could not see any feasible way to cross the mountains... The GR was routed over a huge steep boulder field and then an incredibly steep trail up to the pass. Not being the most sure footed hiker I hate boulder fields, especially when being alone and late in the evening. But somehow I made it to the top only to find the next surprise. The GR 7 had been re routed and the marked trail did not coincide with neither my GPS track nor my map. Should I bushwhack or follow the trail and hope for the best? Bushwhacking in this steep terrain seemed like suicide and so I decided to follow the markings that luckily brought me down the right valley and to decent camp sites.

The same thing happened the next day. What looked like a nice and easy walk along a stream turned out to be a boulder hopping disaster. 4 km took me 2,5 hours and I felt like Mahoosuk Notch revisited. Again I was way behind schedule. I went through dramatic mood swings: one moment I was overwhelmed with joy and happiness because the mountain scenery was so incredibly beautiful... and then I stumbled across the next boulder field thinking that I should just quit this route instead of risking injury and death by boulder hopping. Part of my misery stemmed from the fact that I just had a sketchy map instead of a decent guidebook with descriptions and times. Things would be better on the GR 11 for which I had detailed maps and a good guidebook. But I still had to get there and this would be tricky.

My French map only showed French trails and there was a gap of about 5 km between the GR 7 and the GR 11. Normally not a problem, in the worst case you just bushwhack. But after nearly killing myself on several boulder fields bushwhacking was out of question for me. Either there was a trail or I would have to walk a long detour. But none of my maps or people I asked could confirm if there was a trail or not. I decided to walk into Porte Puymorens, buy food and try to find a good map. Good plan, but it didn't work as Porte Puymorens had a train station but no shop whatsoever... In my frustration I hopped on the next train to la Tour, the train terminus and border town to Spain. A newspaper booth in the over dimensioned train station brought the answer to my trail question. According to a recent map there was a connecting trail between the GR 7 and 11, called GR 107. Good news since all the GRs are waymarked. I even found a small supermarket and thus fortified I took the bus back. The bus dropped me in a thunder storm that quickly passed.

To my big surprise there weren't any boulder fields on my next ascent, only cows. I am a bit cow phobic and these beasts did have horns! We eyed each other suspiciously and then danced around each other. But where would I camp in cow country? I am horribly afraid of being trampled on in my sleep by cows. Luckily there was a shepherd's hut in the middle of all those cow pastures where I spent my last night in France. And the next morning everything went according to plan. Up a pass and yes, there was the GR 107 that eventually brought me into Spain and onto the GR 11. One last surprise worth mentioning: during all my 1 1/2 month in France I had not met any French person who volunteered to speak English with me, bit on my last two days I met two French hikers who chatted with me in fluent English. And on my very last day in France the young train conductor sold me a ticket in fluent English.. There is hope!

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