Pyrenees Sunset

Pyrenees Sunset
An August evening in the French Pyrenees at sunset

Friday, 1 July 2011

Night time walk in the Pyrenees

Don McLean comes to mind as I get out of the car at 4.00 in the morning - Starry Starry Night. What a sky! Moonlight illuminating the mountains in front of me and The Plough just sitting at a tilt along the peaks amidst a myriad of stars in a rich dark night sky with a bit of a chill in the air, just 8˚C.

Do I stop and unpack the camera? - Wish I had, but no, got to get off if I want to see the sunrise from the top of the mountains opposite Pic du Midi d'Ossau.

The first part of the walk is not too bad under dappled moonlight as the tree lined path follows along side the reservoir. That fresh smell of damp vegetation with a hint of tree pollen, then the path starts to climb as the sound of the mountain river draws closer.

Now I had made a flask of tea, filled a baguette with a selection of things - jam, peanut butter cucumber and ham (mmmm!), also a banana and water which all fitted nicely into the carry bag for my 3leggedThing - 3leggedThing Brian was strapped to my camera bag, but the one thing I didn't have was a torch.

Getting to the top of this steep incline and passing through a gate, the path opens out and splits in two directions - one along the open valley and the other to the right, up another steep path through mature forest of chestnut, pine and oak.

Well, I thought, this will be fun - I turned right and went into the forest, not too bad for the first 20m but then the canopy shut out what little moonlight there was and waiting for my eyes to adjust I couldn't see a thing. I had been this way before in daylight, so I knew the general direction of the path, but now stumbling over tree roots and rocks I manage to fall over three times; I stopped and thought - if I wait till dawn it would have been a waste of time getting up at 2.15am to come up here! Ah - mobile phone, well, better than no light at all and with the little illumination from the screen I was able to make out the bigger obstacles on the path and a combination of the phone and listening to the sound your feet made on the ground (leafy noise meant off the path) I manage to wind my way up through the forest.

As I was coming out of the forest you could see the sky was starting to lighten but I was only about half way; the walk through the trees had taken a lot longer than I anticipated. Stopping for a yummy 1/3 of baguette and a drink, I thought back to last spring: the ground was covered in dwarf daffodils and the snow meltwater ran over the fine grasses to the little mountain streams - very picturesque. But now onwards and upwards. The path is easy to see as it winds up the mountain to a series of 5 lakes all on different levels, I need to get to the third one to be where I want to be for the sunrise.

Time to get the camera out and my 3leggedThing Brian. Fix the camera onto the cosmic green head and extend the carbon fibre legs to balance the weight and I'm off. This is the first time I've used this tripod on a long walk and so far it's been a pleasure - nice balance, light and the bag is a great place to put your lunch and snacks (also doubles up as a nifty lens case once you've eaten your lunch).

Wish I was younger, this is hard work. Stop to capture a few shots of the moon near the first lake, my mum used to say "moon run till sun catch him". This was a saying from the west Indies where my mum lived as a small girl in Georgetown before coming to the UK in the 1920's. Must press on as the night sky gets lighter and lighter. 

The last bit was a bit of a rush - I don't know about moon run but the sun was catching me quicker than I wanted. I got to the third lake just as that golden glow was starting, no time to set anything up, one quick shot across the lake then a scramble up another 200 feet to the top of the ridge. Too late - the glow had passed - but that’s life, you can set stuff up in a studio and get just the shot you want but landscape photography is more about being in the right place at the right time and hoping the cloud and weather conditions are going to be in your favour. But hell I wouldn't have it any other way.

I stopped to catch my breath before setting up "Brian" my 3leggedThing to capture a few shots of the lake below and the mountains going off into the distance - (the locking action on the head is great even with a long lens and the camera held at 90˚) as the sun started to rise in the morning sky. If only there had been some cloud it would have made a fantastic sunrise. Time to stop, lie in the sun and have a sleep. 

Pressing on, I want to walk round this third lake and up to the ridge beyond that looks down on it and in the other direction across towards Accous where I paraglide.

Got there ... a fantastic view, now it's lunchtime, 28˚C, not a cloud in the sky, cramp in my legs and a long walk down.

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