Sunday, October 14, 2012

Post-HLTA Afghanistan

This is an e-mail I sent to one of my friends to update him on the tour:

The past few weeks here have been ridiculous.

HLTA was a blast. I went to Barcelona, and spent a day relaxing on my own. I rented an apartment in a prime spot. It had a rooftop terrace, TV, A/C, big kitchen, etc. Kayla joined me the next day and we spent the next 5 days just hanging out and walking around the city. Pretty much everything we went to see had a ridiculously long line, so we just walked past and saw the outside of famous buildings. On the last day in Barcelona, my parents joined us. We spent the day taking a bus tour around the city, and saw a ton. Then we boarded the cruise ship. It was about twice the size of the ships I’ve been on in the past, but had the same number of passengers, so we had a lot of room to ourselves. Our cabin was massive and had a balcony.

Our first stop was Cannes. It was nice, but we really just walked around, found a café and used the wifi, haha.

Second was Pisa. We booked a bus to take us from the port straight to “the” Pisa. I don’t know if you have ever been there, but other than the area the leaning tower is in, the rest of Pisa sucks. The leaning tower was pretty cool though.

Third was Rome. This was awesome. We had booked a tour of the excavations months in advance. They only take 50 people down there a day. We went below St. Peters and saw the mausoleums that they filled in to build the Basilica on top of. It was really cool because it showed the shift from Paganism to Christianity. Plus, we saw a ton of things down there that not many people see. Like the spot they think St. Peter is buried. We saw it up close.

Fourth, we went to Salerno. Not much to say about this place.

Then we had a say at sea, cruising our way towards Venice.

Next, we were in Venice for two days. It was a pretty cool place. We sailed in through one of the bigger canals on the North side, so we got to see the entire city from the top of the ship, while eating lunch. Once we docked, we just wandered around the city taking it in. We didn’t really have an itinerary or anything in particular that we wanted to see. We made our way to St. Mark’s Square, which had significantly less pigeons than I imagined. On the second day, we did the same, but made our way to some less touristy parts of the city. We bought some masks, which are cool.
After Venice, we went to Ravenna and took a tour of Pompeii. We had a great tour guide and it was awesome to see how well preserved the city was. The plaster casts of the people covered by ash were pretty amazing. You could actually see their facial expressions.

Our last port was Dubrovnik. This place was really nice. We, again, just wandered around. We made our way to a cable car that leads to a fort on a hill, but the line was ridiculous. So, instead, we went into the old city and had some beers. The scenery was beautiful, as well as the architecture of the fort that surrounds the city.

Finally, we had two days at sea to just relax. We ate, drank, read, and played shuffleboard and scrabble. It was nice to just sit around and do whatever we felt like.

On returning to Barcelona, my parents took off from the port, but Kayla and I spent the night in Barcelona. The next day, I began flying back to Kabul.
Since my return things have been going OK. I have had some exciting times and some really, really, boring ones.

I had a reported embedded with my team who seemed to enjoy purposely misquoting me out of context, haha, but drew great pictures. He followed us around for days. I actually dropped him off at another camp and the next morning he was sitting on my vehicle waiting for me. He said he hated the camp I dropped him at and wanted to hang with me some more.

Unfortunately for him, the day he was in the other camp we found a possible IED, which was exciting. An ANA officer came running up to me to report it. So, he led us to the site and sure enough it looked like there was an IED buried there. I got closer to investigate and all the signs were there. I called it in and C/S 0 told me that they had found it there the other day and already BIPd it. There was no way they did. I’ve seen the craters BIPing an IED makes and this wasn’t one of them. So, I poked around some more and they get back to me that Turkish EOD had uncovered it, but left when it got dark. That means that an uncovered IED main charge was left uncovered over night. So, I began a cordon and search with the ANA of the surrounding buildings. We searched about 10 buildings and found nothing, which really sucks because I am sure that charge is already buried somewhere else around here.

The past week has sucked because we haven’t had power or water. We buy some power from the ANA and they let their generator run dry. We still had power in our operational areas, offices, etc, but the shacks were dark and the water reservoirs only had 3 days supply. So, we started rationing it. It started by just taking short showers, then they turned the sinks off, and finally shut down the showers and toilets. I thought the order of that was weird, but I’m not a COL, so what do I know. Then, some idiot turned a bunch of showers on and broke them so they couldn’t be shut off, further depleting our water. My guess is that it was some Afghan that works here. The other day we had our power turned back on and water was restored soon after, but it was a crappy week in the dark.

Now, I am just biding my time until my replacement arrives. Only 19 days to go until the Vandoos start getting here. 

Now I am only a few weeks from being back in Canada, and I can not wait!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Welcome to my first official update from Afghanistan,

I have been in country for about 6 days now. We flew from Fredericton to Paphos, Cyprus, via commercial charter, with a stopover in Leipzig, Germany, to refuel. Once in Cyprus, we got on a military aircraft and flew to Kabul, with one stop for refueling and to change crews. The flights were pretty comfortable and total transit time was only about 30 hours.
Once in Kabul, we spent some time at the airport and made our way to a staging camp where we would prepare to be pushed out to the camps we would operate out of for the tour. We were in this admin camp for two days. It was pretty good. The food was delicious, there were about 200 of us in a warehouse full of bunk beds, but it was warm, all around not too bad. I was able to purchase a cell phone here and peruse some Afghan shops between briefings. When we were done our administration, we convoyed our way to Camp Blackhorse, which is where I am now.

Blackhorse is a small camp East of Kabul. There are about 17 countries that operate out of this camp, which makes for a very interesting community. The food here is pretty good, not as good as the larger camp, but adequate. We are surrounded by an ANA camp, so our perimeter is very safe, which is nice and makes our lives easier.

I have spent the past few days reading up on my team of Afghans and all the notes my counterpart wrote for me. I was lucky to take over from an RCR officer – my handover was very detailed. Today, I finally went out with my team. We were running our Kandak (Afghan Battalion) through personal weapons ranges. Let me tell you, it is pretty nerve racking to be surrounded by hundreds of Afghans who are carrying live ammo, weapons and are firing them. We got along fine, though. I spent most of the day talking with the team members and trying to build some rapport with them, while adjusting the sights of the Kandak soldiers weapons. I spent an equal amount of time sunburning my face, as we were operating in a tight, snow filled, valley. The reflection from the snow ruined all our faces.
My counterpart leaves in a few days, so luckily I am getting a grip on what is going on. Basically, I am the middle man between the ANA, Canada, Germany, Romania, Croatia and Jordan. It is a pretty miraculous balancing act, but we seem to be able to reach at least a 50% solution (an Afghan 50% solution, that is).

Hope you all are doing well. I will send along my address in the next message, if you feel like sending a care package.

I hope my next update will be more detailed, but my time is limited at the moment.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Life

Two weeks ago I received the message I had been waiting four years/my whole life for. I was to be commissioned as an infantry officer in the Canadian military and was immediately posted to Canadian Forces Base Gagetown to complete my training as a Platoon Commander. The week following was a whirlwind, I received the message on a Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning my apartment was packed, Thursday morning all my furniture and effects were loaded onto a truck and taken to storage, Friday morning I cleared out of CFB Kingston, Saturday was spent sorting myself out and on Sunday I flew to New Brunswick.

Figure 1: Finally graduated.

Monday morning, I cleared into the Personnel Awaiting Training Platoon (PAT Pl), which falls under the Support Company of the Infantry School. This means that I spent two days going around to the various departments around the base letting them know that I had arrived. The Infantry School PAT Pl consists of 126 officers at various stages of their development, all waiting to be loaded onto the courses they need to become fully qualified platoon commanders. Some have been waiting a very long time due to injury, academic failure or a plethora of other reasons, some, like me, have just arrived and are already slated for upcoming courses. The daily routine within PAT Pl is extremely monotonous. At 0730, 1000 and 1400 every day, we are all required to show up for roll call and the possibility of being tasked to do something. Otherwise, we are on our own to workout, watch movies and contemplate our fates. Many lose their initiative quickly within PAT Pl and become stagnate relics of the officers they were to become.

Figure 2: My lovely quarters.

Figure 3: My home.

I was lucky. On Thursday morning, already half way through watching Avatar, my phone rang. The PAT Pl administration officer was on the other end and told me that he had a task for me, as I had requested. I threw my uniform on and ran to his office. I was to work in the Support Company’s orderly room. It was just basic administrative work, but it was better than the all consuming boredom waiting for me back at my quarters. So, I spent the next two days working there. It was a great task, as I was able to meet the higher ups within the company, the troops and the clerks, that I will be working with for the next year or so.

Figure 4: Avatar!

Now, though, I am on leave until my course starts on the 25th of May. So, I will spend most of the next couple of weeks working out and studying in preparation. For awhile I was the only resident of the entire block of quarters I was living in. Now, however, others have started rolling in. Their arrival has not been quite what I was expecting. I was hoping for some switched on guys who were also here for Phase 3 and who had been in for awhile, as well. The guys who have arrived, so far, just finished basic training and have the training system so ingrained in their brains they can’t escape it. They are wearing their uniforms everywhere (it is Saturday!) and keep asking when inspections will start. Sheesh guys, get over it!

Oh well, I just have to bide my time until the course starts. Until then, I am focusing on my preparations and trying to, for the most part, ignore the idiocy around me.

Figure 5: My wonderful view.

Monday, February 15, 2010


On Friday, the 12th of February, Marian and I loaded up the car and headed into Adirondack National Park. We had been planning to climb the North Face of Gothics Mountain for a couple of months and were excited to finally be on the road. Gothics is one of the few quality backcountry alpine routes in the Adirondacks. It involves a 6 or 7 mile approach, and then a 1000 foot climb up an ice slab, when conditions are good. We were hoping for these conditions as we drove towards New York.

Our first obstacle was the border. Marian was not only in Canada on a work permit, which always sketches out American Border Guards, but was also in possession of an expired American Tourist Permit. So, we were hauled into customs to sort it out. About 45 minutes later, we were driving away from the border, finally. It only took so long because of our overly chatty border guard. Our next stop was a grocery store to pick up supplies – AKA cookies, steak, cookies, peanut butter, cookies and more cookies. We then stopped at an A&W and gas station to refuel ourselves and the car. It was a short drive to the Adirondacks, only 4 hours, so we took our time. In Saranac Lake, we stopped at a liquor store and bought some celebratory inebriants for after the climb. Then, somehow took a wrong turn and ended up back in Saranac Lake half an hour later. We still don’t know what happened, but imagine it has something to do with a worm hole and parallel universe. Eventually, we pulled into the trailhead parking lot and prepared for our move into the backcountry.

Figure 1: Refueling along the way.

We sorted gear, split up the food, shoved it all in our packs and took off down the trail. It was around 7PM when we started our approach. We planned on spending the night at the Ore Bed Lean-to. The Adirondacks is peppered with little three walled huts that, allegedly, sleep up to 8 people. Getting to the lean-to was very easy. The approach was short, the terrain was relatively flat and the trail was well beaten. The only thing that slowed me down was my knee, which was tight from the car ride. Eventually, we arrived at the hut, only to find it already inhabited. James, an economist from DC, was bundled up in the corner trying to stay warm. We trundled into the hut and woke him up. He found it strange that we had beer with us. We found it strange that he was entirely dressed in brand new down clothing that had been on sale the week previous … interesting. We chatted about our plans for the next few days. He had never climbed ice before, but wanted to try it out on Gothics the next day. Soon, after a few millilitres of beer, we were falling asleep, warm in our sleeping bags, dreaming of the day to come.

Figure 2: The Ore Bed hut.

The next morning, we awoke to absolutely frigid temperatures. I don’t know exactly how cold it was, but it was freaking cold. We started cooking our breakfast of bacon and eggs, while our fast and light hut-mate added Gatorade powder to his water and put his new technical La Sportiva boots on. Soon, he took off and we quickly followed. We checked out the map, plotted a route and were soon within sight of Gothics. The approach to the base followed a frozen brook, which made walking pretty easy. As we got closer, we began to realise that the ice was ridiculously thin. Like 2mm thin! We threw our crampons on and got our axes out anyway, and headed up.

Figure 3: Gothics Mountain, from afar.

The first little bit of the climb was very easy; just some snow and ice, through the trees, to the base of the slab. When we arrived at the bottom of the 1000 foot slab, we realised that the North Face was not even remotely in. There were patches of semi-thick ice, but the rest was just rock at best and mostly very slippery rock. Again, we headed up anyway. We knew the route would involve difficult route finding, sketchy protection (if any at all) and delicate climbing. That said, conditions were perfect and we didn’t come all that way to back off now. The first step was a very balancey traverse, across a thin band of snow. We made it, by leaning way into the slab, as there wasn’t anything to hold onto. This was followed by a short climb up some very, very, thin ice/slippery rock. Soon, though, we were on a small patch of deep snow, contemplating our next move. We could try to move into the centre of the slab and go up a thin ice patch, without pro, or we could stay left and move up a snow band. We thought for awhile and decided to play it safe and move up the snow, as we were still protectionless at this point. About half way up, we realised moving into the meat of the slab would not be in the cards on this trip. So, we moved further left and worked our way up this ridgeline. Getting there involved another very balancey traverse. The difference this time, was that is was more difficult and we were 500 feet off the ground. We made it, though, and made our way up some 5.4 terrain until we reached the trees we longed for.

Figure 4: The first of many balancey traverses.

Figure 5: Thin!

Figure 6: Below the summit.

Once in the trees we felt like we were, relatively, out of danger. We slowly made our way through waist deep snow to the false summit to the East of Gothics. It had grown windy and we were now in the clouds. So, we kept low, in a dish, and had a snack. We left our packs there and moved across a short saddle to the summit of Gothics. On the summit, we took a picture and quickly made our way back to the packs. On the way back, we ran into about 10 people who had taken the walking trail up the ridge. One of them happened to be a former employee of Kingston’s Trailhead. We chatted for awhile and made plans to climb at the gym the next time he was in Kingston. Small world!

Figure 7: Moving across the saddle.

Figure 8: Summit shot.

We descended via a gully on the Eastern side of the mountain. It was an easy, quick, descent. Once back in the valley, we made our way back to the Ore Bed Lean-to. James had, we guess, decided to leave and was gone, by this point. Apparently, ice climbing either didn’t agree with him or he was put off by his hut-mates. We will never know. Once back at the hut, we got a roaring fire going and started cooking our steaks, drinking our warm beer and generally revelling in the outdoors. We were expecting two friends from Kingston to join us, but they didn’t show. Instead, two Quebecois climbers, who were training for Denali, joined us at the lean-to. It was great. They told stories of climbing other big mountains around the world. We picked their brains about Elbrus, which we plan to climb this summer. Generally, we had a great time chatting it up, eating and drinking. Soon, it got cold and we all retired to our sleeping bags.

Figure 9: Warming our frozen beer.

Sunday morning came. It was much warmer than the previous morning, due to cloud cover and light snow. It was perfect. We shoved all our gear in our packs and started booking it out. A couple of hours later, we were back at the trailhead, signing ourselves out. We changed back into our sneakers and made our way back into Lake Placid. We wanted to try on some boots at a mountain store there. Along the way, we picked up a hitch-hiker who had to meet his girlfriend at Subway for Valentine’s Day, he was happy to see us after 10 miles of walking. We dropped him downtown and checked the store out. They had very limited boot selection. So, instead, I bought a copy of the newest “Alpinist”, Marian bought some mitts, and we left to get a sandwich nearby. Soon, we were on the road back to Canada. It was a great weekend, an excellent climb and the best part is that now I can start planning my next climb!

Figure 10: Saying farewell to the hut.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Los Pireneos 2010 – Part 8

9 Jan 10 – 1000 Local
Location: A Laundromat in Lourdes, France

I have been in Lourdes for the past 2 days and 3 nights. There is not much to do here. The first night was spent sorting Dan out and staying in an expensive hotel near the hospital. The next morning I went back to check on him before he went in for surgery and then started tooling around the city. There are a lot of churches here and they are all pretty amazing. The Rosary Basilica is part of La Grotte area and is the biggest church in Lourdes. I went to see it on my first day in Lourdes; it was gorgeous and recently visited by the pope. I toured as much of it as I could, but there was a mass going on in the crypt while I was there. I have heard that the crypt is the most amazing part and wish I could have gone in. After my trip to the La Grotte, I continued to wander the town with the occasional trip to the hospital to see if Dan had got out of surgery yet. Finally, he was out and seemed fine other than the cast, IV bag and drainage tube sticking out of his leg, haha.

Figure 1: The Rosary Basilica near La Grotte.

Figure 2: Looking out over Lourdes.

Figure 3: In the hospital.

That night, I went to La Barcelonne for dinner. It turned out to be the ex-pat local pub. I had duck for dinner and some beer, before returning to the hostel I was now staying in. The hostel was, by far, a better place to stay than the fancy hotel from the night before.

Figure 4: Waiting in the hostel.

I woke up yesterday and went to the hospital. We had hoped to leave that day, but the insurance company and the doctor were moving slowly. We soon realised we would be stuck in Lourdes for at least another night. So, after sorting the gear, I went to the train station to ensure I could still get to Barcelona in time to catch my flight, if we stayed for another day. I could, so I am still in Lourdes. I would have hated to abandon Dan in a French hospital.

Last night, I went back to La Barcelonne. It was great. I talked about everything from bare knuckle boxing to the French (a usual topic) to Lady Gaga with two guys from Manchester, Tommy and Steven. I think they were just happy to speak English with someone. It was a great atmosphere. I ordered drinks in Spanish, talked about my trip in French and discussed the politic situation in the Middle East in English with an Iranian guy. Around 10PM, I headed back to the hostel.

Figure 5: Wandering around Lourdes.

This morning, I woke up to do some laundry. Soon, I will head to the hospital and try to get Dan out. I hope he can come. If they don’t let him out today, I have to leave without him. I have to get to Barcelona!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Los Pireneos 2010 – Part 7

7 Jan 10 – 1200 Local
Location: Lourdes, France

We woke up around 0400, to move to Vignemale, but the weather was awful, as usual. So, we slept in, and eventually got up to move to a hut at the base of Vignemale called Baysellance. By 0900, when we left the hut, the weather was gorgeous. We hadn’t had weather this nice for the entirety of the trip. Moving through the valley was easy, enjoyable and the views were amazing. We were deep in a valley with high peaks all around us.

Figure 1: Beautiful.

Soon, we arrived at the Barrage D’Ossoue, which was a dam across the river that ran through the valley. We stopped there, checked out the hut, filled our water and kept moving. About 2 kilometres later, we encountered an impass. The valley just ended. In front of us was a wall of mountain. Double checking the map, it appeared that the path we were following went straight up a waterfall. This was clearly not the path we wanted to follow. Dan and I analysed the situation and decided that heading left, up on to the ridge and over would be the best and safest option. Dan began moving up the 40m semi-technical terrain first. He tried it in snowshoes and was left hanging on his axe, flailing his legs, for most of the ascent, but eventually made it to an intermediary ridge. I followed with my crampons on and soon joined him. We stood on this ridge and drank in the immense beauty of the valley before us. We had to keep pushing forward, though, and Dan made his way right towards an easy gully that would take us over the main ridge. He was about ten metres up when I saw him pitch backwards.

Figure 2: A photo of the dam taken from the hut.

Figure 3: Double checking the map.

Figure 4: Climbing up to the ridge.

Figure 5: Dan a few metres before he fell.

The scream Dan let out when he impacted the rock corner of the gully is one that shook me to the core and with it came an instant realisation that our situation and my mission had drastically changed. Dan dropped his 30kg pack down to the ridge and down climbed to it. In his state of shock, he pitched the pack off the edge of the cliff and made his way over to me. I shoved an Ibuprofen in his mouth and told him not to pass out. It was clear his leg had broken and now we had to get him out of there. We down climbed another ten metres, so we could rappel in one go. I set up a two picket anchor and dropped the rope. He used the line as an assist as he went down. As soon as he reached the bottom, I pulled one of the pickets and headed down on one.

Figure 6: The run out zone at the base of the cliff.

When I got to the end of the rope, Dan had already started dragging himself out through an avalanche run-out area. I pulled the rope and moved towards the remnants of Dan’s pack. Everything had been stripped off the outside of it and the frame was mangled. I picked his pack up and started moving. When I got to the blocky, complicated, avalanche area, I dropped my pack and took his out, then went back for mine. I met up with Dan at the bridge we had crossed earlier in the day and splinted his leg with our ice axes. Dan started moving back to the last hut, at Barrage D’Ossoue, using an avalanche probe as a crutch. I started carrying his pack out. I dumped his pack at the hut, laid out his sleeping back, mat, got him some water and headed back for my pack. We arrived at the hut around the same time, Dan on a broken leg and me on my second trip. I laid my sleeping bags out and set up the stove. Once the hut was good to go I shoved my bivy bag, some chocolate and some water in my little pack, told Dan I’d see him in a day or two and started running.

Figure 7: Leg successfully splinted.

Figure 8: Where I left Dan.

It was dusk as I booked it away from the hut at Barrage D’Ossoue and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find any help in Gavarnie when I arrived there. My biggest fear was spending the night in town unable to do anything to help Dan. I was hoping to find someone to rent a snowmobile from, as a rescue operation would be much more expensive than Dan or I could afford. After 10km and countless practice explanations, in French, I arrived in Gavarnie. It soon became obvious that renting a snowmobile was not an option, luckily for me as it would likely have been a very dangerous ride, so I banged on the first lit door I saw. The lady who answered listened to me try to explain what had happened and then dialled the rescue service number from memory. Being the first house in Gavarnie, she must get that all the time. She then called her husband, who drove me to the rescue hut.

The guys were already gearing to go in for Dan. They seemed excited at the prospect of an early season rescue. The local helicopter pilot wouldn’t fly through that valley at night, because it was too tight, so the guys were planning to go in on skies for Dan. They didn’t speak much English, but we generally understood each other. They were all really good guys. I told them I was glad the helicopter couldn’t go because it would be very expensive. They informed me that rescues in France were free, and I wished their pilot had the guts to fly through valleys at night. They got me a beer and food, while I waited and started asking me about myself. They asked where I lived, how long I had been in France, where were we going, what I did for a living, etc. As soon as I answered “Canadian Military Officer” as my profession, the head rescuer immediately got on the radio and spoke very quickly in French. A couple of minutes later he told me that a French Army Helicopter Pilot was being woken up in Toulouse and would be flying in for Dan.

We all continued chatting while we waited for the helicopter to show up. When it did, two of the rescuers hopped in and it took off for Dan. Ten minutes later it was back with Dan and all our gear. This was the proudest moment of the entire day for me. Dan was still wearing the splint I had put on him and apparently the rescuers were impressed with it. They began examining Dan and I got a chance to relax for a minute. Then the ambulance arrived. We piled all our gear in, shoved Dan in and I jumped in behind, with barely enough time to thank the rescue guys. We rode in the ambulance for an hour and eventually arrived at the hospital in Lourdes, France.

Figure 9: Reunited at the rescue hut.

We pulled into the emergency room and Dan was shuttled into a room. I was left standing in a pile of gear in the main entryway, until a nurse fetched me. She took all our information again and told me to wait in the hall. Soon, Dan was all x-rayed and I could go see him. They told us he had broken the ball joint off his Tibia and would need surgery the next day. So, I left Dan and found a hotel. It felt good to take a shower and sleep in a big bed. I just hoped Dan was OK alone.

Figure 10: In the emergency room.

This morning, I checked on Dan. He was being prepped for surgery and I couldn’t stay. So, I have been touring around Lourdes looking at churches and pictures of popes, waiting for Dan to get out of surgery. Hope he’s OK.

Figure 11: One of the many churches I toured in Lourdes.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Los Pireneos 2010 – Part 6

5 Jan 10 – 2300 Local
Location: Mountain Hut outside of Gavarnie

Sabinanigo was not great, to say the most. We couldn’t find wifi anywhere, the locals were shifty and the bus schedule did not favour us. We ended up just walking around the industrial district looking for a place to stay. Eventually, we found an abandoned barn, on the outskirts of town, to sleep in. We took our ice axes off our bags that night, just in case anyone barged in on us.

Figure 1: Glamorous accommodations in Sabinanigo.

Figure 2: An interior shot.

The next morning, we caught the bus at 1100hrs to Torla. Torla was a very, very, small town. We bought some bread and tried to hitch a ride. After an hour and a half we gave up and started walking. After about 500m, a couple stopped and picked us up. They were very nice and took us to the Bujaruelo trailhead. From there, we walked the 8km to Bujaruelo. The refuge was really nice and it had a great view. Unfortunately, we couldn’t admire it for long because we had to get to France. We walked hard for a few more hours and eventually made it to an old cattle shed. It reeked of manure, but had a fireplace and was shelter from the winds.

Figure 3: Walking towards Bujaruelo.

After a night in the manure dump, we started our push into France. It was slow and hard moving through the pass. Intermittent storms kept visibility minimal and the slopes were steep and prime for avalanches. After a morning of skittering across the tops of cliffs, we made it to the pass and proceeded into France. We quickly descended into the valley and headed towards Gavarnie. Along the way, we saw the Cirque de Gavarnie, which has the best ice climbing in Europe. It was quite beautiful.

Figure 4: Climbing towards France.

Figure 5: Still climbing towards France.

Figure 6: Looking into France.

Figure 7: Cirque de Gavarnie.

We finally arrived in Gavarnie that afternoon. It was a ghost town. It was too early in the ski season to be bustling the way our research indicated. So, we bought a really expensive sandwich, dried our socks and started back into the mountains. We walked about 8km this afternoon and arrived at a mountain hut in the pitch darkness of night.

Figure 8: Drying out and eating in Gavarnie.

Figure 9: En route to Vignemale.

Figure 10: Vignemale approach.