Sunday, 27 November 2011

Getting high

A wonderfully stable high pressure system has brought us fantastic autumn weather for the past few days, with more to come through until mid week.... clear blue skies, chill, crisp mornings but warm sun during the day. Perfect! We have made an effort to get up high and enjoy running and walking in the mountains before the snows which are forecast for the coming weekend arrive.

Today, we had a fantastic outing up to the Etang d'Ayers from the Col de la Core, then on and up  and over to the Col de Laziès. It was a somewhat 'undulating', there and back route with steep ascents/descents and a distinct lack of snow below 2200m.
The environment and scenery were, of course, truely stunning. Below, our starting point, the Col de la Core, already way in the distance, taken from the Col d'Auèdole...
...on up to the Etang d'Ayers (the Col d'Auedole is in the distance - top left corner of the photo)...
... up the steep GR10 to the top and a spot of lunch with a fantastic vista in front of us;
...looking to the right to the tiny Etang de l'Estagnat...
... and straight ahead to the Tuc de Lazies and Tuc de Baumagne and the Col de Lazies to the left that we were aiming for...

From the Col, Mont Valier revealed itself. There is a covering of snow up there, but very little for this time of year;
From there, we retraced our steps and arrived back after 3h 30m on our feet - 13.5kms/1000m+ covered and the legs were feeling great! What a cracking outing!

Back-tracking somewhat, we had a couple of days away in Sadie further west along the chain at the end of last week and enjoyed another great outing up in the mountains, this time above Luchon. From the Hospice de France at 1400m we headed up the Vallée de la Frèche to the Etangs de la Frèche at 2100m where we just touched the snow line. It was another steep ascent but well worth the effort as we didn't see another sole while we were out! The view up the valley from the Hospice de France (excuse the quality of the images but they were taken with my smartphone, as my camera battery had died!)....
... looking back down the valley from just below the Etangs at 2000m...
... looking back down to the little tarn from the Etang de la Freche...
... Pic de la Freche and Pic de la Mine up behind, to give an idea of the snow level...
We were delighted to see a herd of around a dozen Isards (Pyrenean Chamois) up there which the dog got the scent of before we saw them. No photo unfortunately as my smartphone camera zoom isn't strong enough! Back at the van, Andy spotted a couple of birds of prey up on the ridgeline which he identified with his binoculars as juvenile golden eagles - a great spot! So another 9kms/900m_ in the bag in a simply stunning location.

Backtracking just a little bit more to last Sunday when, again, we got up into the hills, but this time for what turned out to be a rather more challenging outing. We dropped a car off down the road below Eycherboul which was to be our finishing point and then headed up in the direction of the Etang de Lhers in the other car, parking at the start of the track up to the Cabane des roses. We ran a fair bit of that track and encountered three beautiful Merens horses at the top....
From there, on up to the Col at 1600m and then onto the GR du Pays du Tour des Trois Seigneurs which started off OK ....
... but soon turned into a meandering, narrow, rocky, tricky path which contoured the hillside below the Pic des Trois Seigneurs. It was slow going as running was impossible. We could see the old pastoral community of Goutets in the green clearing up ahead. We were aiming for that, before heading up onto the far hillside, over the other side and then down the valley....
Goutets is a settlement that dates back to the 18th century - you can find details on this site if you understand French. Many of the barns/stables/houses have been painstakingly restored over the years (since 1994) - I find it a really atmospheric place as I contemplate the lives of those who used to live there.
From there, up and over to the Cabane de Goulur before the long run down to Liers, ahead of us on the valley flank up ahead...
This was the worst bit of the whole outing. The waymarked 'path' took us through approx. 2kms of running water and bog which was downright unpleasant. I was thankful for my Inov8 shoes with their mesh upper which allowed much of the wet to escape! Fortunately, the final section was on a runnable woodland path. All in all, an outing of 18kms with 620m of ascent and over 1000m of descent, much of which was disappointingly unrunnable! Still, it was more time in the hills and more time on my feet, all of which is good training.

During the coming week and before poor weather arrives, we are hoping to get in some time on the bikes, both the roadies and the mountain bikes, which have been sadly neglected recently. Should be fun!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Dear Diary....

.... I am sorry, I have been neglecting you again. But the big news is .............. we have accepted an offer on the house!!!!! Thanks to a private advert on the Le Bon Coin website a week ago, a lovely Belgian lady and her son visited the house on Sunday afternoon, came back on Monday and again on Tuesday and have totally fallen for the place! The notaire is currently drawing up the Compromis de Vente (the initial agreement for the sale) which we should all have signed by the end of the month. We are delighted and can now start our search for a new home. We have a tentative 'completion' date for the end of April which should be plenty of time for us to find somewhere new. Hurrah!

But in other news, the weather has been wonderful since the torrential downpours of two weekends ago. It has generally been shorts and T-shirt weather, with temperatures in the sun up into the low 20s. We have spent a few afternoons processing and stacking a good quantity of wood, just in case poor weather does arrive, although word on the street is that this warmth should continue well into December. I do hope so!

We have had a couple of good outings in the good weather, starting with a personal best time for the Col de Port route forestiere circuit, 7.9kms/270m+/46mins on which I was able to run the whole of the 2km long/200m elevation gain hill with relative ease, which I was delighted about.

A few days later, we headed up the steep zig-zag path above the Col de Port (20 minutes) and had a lovely run in the sun along the edge to the Rocher de Batail (1 hour bang on!) where we enjoyed lunch of homemade pizza and a fantastic view before a great run back down.
Our other outing last week was up to Mont Ceint from Coumebière which is one big long slog uphill (700m of height gain in 4.3kms) for which you are rewarded with some fantastic views of the high mountains bordering Spain - this is a stitched panoramic shot, courtesy of Andy, which is best viewed full screen!
The legs and lungs have been feeling good and strong on all of our recent outings which has been most encouraging - uphill is no longer a problem, which I never thought I would say. However, I now need to start increasing the distances that I am running as I have now entered the Trail des Citadelles 40km/2000m+ race which takes place on the 8 April. The longest I have run to date is the 26kms/1300m+ of the Trail de Piemont Audois race which I completed back at the end of March. I hope to be able to complete the Citadelles in 5h30m but that won't happen unless I get in some good time on my feet this winter!

Monday, 7 November 2011

A turn for the worse

Well, the weather this weekend has been truely appalling. The Ariege, along with the Aude and Herault departments of the Languedoc have been on orange alert on Meteo France, with warnings of floods and dire driving conditions. We haven't had it as severe as the Gard and the Var departments further along the Med Coast but it has still been impressive and I can't wait for the return of clear skies again. Here is a short video that Andy took yesterday of the River Arac down the hill between Massat and Biert

Whilst the weather is poor, we decided to have a trip up to Ikea Toulouse today to pick up couple of rugs and additional bookcase to house our ever-increasing quantity of books. It was good use of the day.

Before the weather turned, I had a trip over the Col de Port on Friday for my final appointment at the dentist. Whilst over there, I headed over to Lavelanet in order to stock up on food from the market. It really is the best market in the area and is well worth the detour. I came away with pigeon, rabbit, chicken and tons of locally grown veg. While I was over that way, I was hoping to be able to meet up with my old mucker Pat, but unfortunately our plans didn't coincide. I wanted, no, I needed to do a good, hard run while I was over there and set my mind on the Foret de Belesta circuit, but from Fougax which equates to 20kms and around 700m of ascent. I pushed hard from the start, determined to run as much of the uphill as I was capable of running. I know the route well now which made for a good fluid run and the paths and tracks were superb with only the descent back down into Belesta giving me problems, thanks to slippery fallen leaves on top of loose stones and rocks. I was spent by the time I finished the circuit but I was chuffed to bits to get back in just under 2h20m - that's an average pace of 7.00mins/km and an ave speed of 8.60km/h, much better than I have ever achieved on a circuit of similar length and ascent before! Here is the profile;
Full stats on the usual site. I have committed myself to doing the 40km/2000m+ Trail des Citadelles in April 2012 and really want to start running even longer distances in the course of next year. The training has to continue through the winter. Somebody please give me a kick up the bum if I start slacking?! ;-)

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Out and about

We have been nicely busy since we arrived back from our travels 2 weeks ago. Our first priority was to top up our wood supplies by felling and logging two dead apple trees. Our neighbour, Claudine, also let us fell two other nearly dead fruit trees down in her field which, if we can get the wood logged in the next week or two, will provide us with fuel towards the end of Winter.

Despite Winter nipping at our heels here, we have still had some days on which we have enjoyed spectaculary warm weather of which we have taken full advantage, conscious of the fact that, all too soon, snow will cover the immediate hills. We had a good run up the track to the cabane du col des roses which I generally use as a measure of my current fitness levels. They are currently good! We also did a running circuit that I have been wanting to do for some time now and with a fantastic weather day last week I finally got my opportunity. The route goes from Aulus-les-Bains up to the Cascade d'Ars and on up the GR10, following an uneven, rocky path through to the Cabanes de Guzet, down to the Etang de Guzet and eventually back down to Aulus - a total of 12.5kms with 950m of ascent. Lovely views, lovely autumn colours.....
Looking back down the valley towards Aulus-les-Bains

At the Cap de Pich 1548m

The cabanes de Guzet at the col up ahead

Autumn colours on the woodland descent path
It was great to get out in the sun and get some good physical exercise even though the majority of the circuit was not runnable!

This past weekend I had a great time away, down in the Languedoc region on the south coast near Narbonne. I drove down on Friday which happened to be the wettest day that the area has seen for quite some months, with the Aude and Herault departments being on orange alert with 'Meteo France'! It didn't bode well for the purpose of my visit, which was to participate in the road bike 'randonnée des primeurs' organised by my mates Iz and Nick's club. Fortunately, we awoke to drier weather on Saturday morning and we (myself, Iz, Nick and 6 others) got ourselves to Lezignan Corbières for the start. This wasn't just any old road bike ride. This was a ride with a difference. It was punctuated by organised stops at several wine cooperatives of villages en route at which we sampled the 'primeur' wines from the 2011 harvest and also had the chance to sample and purchase other wines which would be picked up by a 'sweeper' van and delivered to the finishing point for your collection - what a great idea! It was quite a novelty to be sipping wine at 9.30 in the morning but what fantastic wine it was - cheers!
The Motley Crew!
 The riding was on good roads and generally very flat which made a nice change - it was fantastic to be back on the roadie again. At lunchtime, all participants (300 of us) congregated at Montseret for lunch which was a gigantic paella washed down with liberal quantities of wine (of course!).
The lunch tables

There were four dishes of this enormous paella!
After lunch, we all hopped back on our bikes and did the final 16kms back to the finishing point at Lezignan. Simon, Nick and I put the hammer down on this last stretch which was great fun! We then made our way back to Iz and Nick's where we enjoyed yet more of Iz's home-cooked food for dinner. What a wonderfully convivial day it had been! I shall be signing up for next year's event, no question!

Yesterday (Monday) was another of those 'glorious weather' days, with clear blue skies and hot sun. With a forecast of poor weather later in the week, we had to make the most of it. The autumn colours are at their most glorious now, so we headed out with the cameras for a circular walk up to the Port de Lhers above Massat and then up to the Etang d'Arbu, on up to the Pic des Trois Seigneurs and then  along the ridgeline before a steep descent down to the Port de Lhers - an outing of 10kms/750m+. The going was pretty tricky for the pooch in parts, but he coped well and was nicely tired by the time we got home! 
Woodland above the Etang de Lhers

Colours around the Etang de Lhers

Autumn colours

Looking back towards the pointy Pic des Trois Seigneurs

Our ridgeline descent path

The view back down towards the Massat valley
The weather today has closed in, so indoor jobs and work beckon.