Bareges snow-shoeing

Sunday 24th Jan 2010

auberges-bareges-louisetteYesterday we left from Barèges with admittedly un-bountiful snow cover but enough to put on our  snow shoes and climb up the path as far as « Chez Louisette ».

Along the way we could see the numerous shepherds’ cabins, originally built for shepherds to live the summer months in the mountains with their animals. From June to September they lived this rustic life, milking their sheep and cattle, making cheese, roaming cols, lakes and valleys in search of the nourishing mountain grasses while down in the valley, their grass was being made into hay for the hard winter months. These traditions persist in some parts of the Pyrenees today and luckily so as we can enjoy the delicious local cheeses of « vache (cow) », « chevre (goat) » and, best of all, « brebis (sheep)»! Now more often in the « Hautes Pyrenees », animals are bred for their meat and so still come up to these high pastures where the shepherd still spends a part of the summer, but less and less as he no longer has the job of milking and cheese-making.

snow hareWe spotted tracks in the snow, the bounding mountain hare, fox, isard (mountain goat) and bear….no, the last one is only a dream! There are very few left in the Pyrenees and even to see a track in the snow would be a great piece of luck! Following some downward bounds of the mountain hare is amazing though as we could see some jumps of about 5m! They have adapted to life at altitude by turning white in winter for camouflage, having shorter ears to « keep the heat in » and having extra fur on their paws both for heat purposes and to act as snow-shoes, spreading the weight out so that they don’t sink into the snow.

Above Chez Louisette we came to the famous tomb-stone of several resistance fighters who were caught in the act of illegally bringing people over the border passes from France to Spain to escape Nazi forces. Such « people smugglers » used the Brèche de Roland, Col de Bucharo, Col de la Fache to name but a few in our area.

Wine, armagnac, coffee and chocolate were produced from various bags to make for a happy picnic stop before a gentle wander down through the tranquil forest d’Ayre, via the very pretty « Plateau de la Lumière » and back down through pasturelands and old stone-walled paths to Barèges where the group went on to enjoy an evening of thermal baths. What better way to end a winter-walking day?!

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