July 29, 2017
July 27, 2017
Bonjour, mes amies!
We are here today to tell you the tale of our past eight days spent in the wondrous Pyrenees. We are confident in saying there was not a day or a moment wasted.
We met with a guide from Pyrenean Mountain Tours (PMT) named Sasha the night before heading into the mountains. He took us through the full itinerary and highlighted every hidden secret on the map with a transferable passion. After meeting with him, we were beyond excited to fill the kids in on our adventure ahead. Needless to say, we were eager to get back into the mountains.
The next morning we got an early start and headed toward the Col des Tentes with our PMT guides Sasha and Mateo. Then they set us free (after Mateo gave us a quick harmonica performance). Before starting the hike toward Spain, Davis shared the Bon Vivant Manifesto, accompanied by group foot stomping and hollering. The manifesto made many appearances throughout the journey and quickly became a group favorite. We were JAZZED, ENERGIZED, and above all, READY!
Off to Spain we went via the Puerto de Bujaruelo (Col de Boucharo in French). We started with a descent, which brought us to an old Stoney bridge at the Refugio San Nicolas de Bujaruelo. We ate lunch by the shimmering river, then continued our trek toward the charming town of Torla. Before reaching Torla, however, we stumbled upon a brilliant opportunity. There was a bridge over a beautiful, meandering section of the river–a perfect spot to jump into the water. At first, there was an awe moment. Then there was deliberation. As leaders, we sat back watching them decide if it was a good idea or not to swim. Lilli and Charlotte, our spontaneous LODs, made sure we didn’t pass it up and were two of the first ones in. Before we knew it, everyone was prepping for a dip. It was a quick stop, but it set the tone for the rest of the trek. We never passed up an opportunity to jump in a hidden pool in the Pyrenees. We dried off a bit, and finished the remainder of the hike–an easygoing, flat section into Torla. We can’t say enough about the town of Torla. Stoney streets, shops tucked away into alleys, secret gardens, and more. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the town, enjoyed a classic Spanish meal, then headed to Moonup. Lilli and Charlotte had us attempt the “human knot”, and we were all in fits of laughter by the end of it. With the first day complete, we got some rest.
We started Day 2 bright and early. It was to be a big one. We caught an 8am bus into Ordesa Canyon with an ambitious itinerary. Unlike other days, we were on a tight schedule in order to make buses and taxis to our final destination later in the day. We presented the option of taking an easy, out-and-back route along the base of the canyon, but LODs Darcy and Chris were confident that the group could take a more difficult, loop route and make it back in time. As such, we began the hiking day with a brutally steep ascent up some seemingly endless switchbacks on the South side of the canyon. Playing a game of switchback categories really made the time fly. We emerged from the trees onto a flatter section near the top of the canyon and were amazed by the views. Chris and Darcy urged us to take it all in, but to keep moving! They balanced each other very well and kept us functioning like a well-oiled machine. The trail wound back down the canyon walls to a beautiful waterfall at the back. We stopped for a brief, but delicious Spanish-prepared lunch. To our elation, Turner and Ward revealed that they had been lugging around the coveted bottle of hot sauce we purchased in Costa Brava. A little bit of that stuff goes a very long way, and a few drops had us fired up and ready to walk back to the mouth of the canyon along the river. The wide, easy going trail skirted a series of impressive waterfalls and rapids. Impeccably timed by our LODs, we arrived just in time to catch a bus back to Torla. Back in our favorite little town, we befriended some Spanish Boy Scouts before hopping in taxis to San Nicolas de Bujaruelo–our lodging for the evening. Situated just next to the beautiful river by which we had dined the day before, we were happy to be back, and promptly took an icy swim. Here we did mid trip check-ins before a glorious dinner with some very popular PUDDING for dessert. Spirits were high as we goofed off in the dusk light and enjoyed a well-prepared Moonup. The following day would be a big day for both mileage and elevation gain, so LODs thoughtfully chose Forrest and Abigail to be leaders for the day to come. Starting on this evening, we gave even more responsibility to LODs by giving them the maps along with important information, but leaving the rest for them to figure out.
Team Forbigail did not disappoint! They did an excellent job reading the map and formulating a plan for the day. We would be going back up into France by way of the Puerto de Bujaruelo and then following a valley to the town of Gavarnie. Lucky for us, our friend, Adversity, showed up in full force that morning in the form of inclement weather. The LOD squad wisely chose to delay our departure until the storm calmed a bit, so we enjoyed an extended breakfast before hitting the rainy trail. We began our climb in the company of a herder and his army of cows, trudging through the mud in a chorus of moos. Near the top of our 900m ascent, the skies opened with rain and we needed to take cover. Luckily, there was an old mountain cottage that welcomed us in all its stony glory. We huddled together and snacked in wait of clearer skies. Sure enough, the clouds cleared and we pushed through the final pitch to the pass into France. We high fived and laughed in celebration at the top, but kept moving in search of calmer winds on the French side. Thankfully, the other side of the valley was kinder to us, and we soon found an excellent grassy knoll to eat lunch in the sunshine. Spirits were high and sandwiches disappeared. After lunch, the trail led us past the Plateau de Bellevue and into the town of Gavarnie. We were soon at Grange du Holle, a famous refuge outside Gavarnie with its outgoing patron, Phillipe. We had made great time, and had several hours to enjoy the afternoon, napping and lounging in the lush mountain grass. LODs led Moonup following a delicious 4-course meal, and Davis shared one of his favorite essays. This prompted a great discussion of why and how each of us ended up at such an amazing spot in the mountains of France. 3 days of hiking had caught up to us, and our big bunk room was soon filled with the sounds of young adventurers sleeping soundly.
Day 4 in the Pyrenees was one for the books. It was a relatively short day, so we chose the scenic route up to Refuge d’Espuguettes by way of the Cirque du Gavarnie and a secret “Zen Temple.” We began the hike with a short descent into Gavarnie, where we picked up last minute snacks and toilet paper for our high-altitude refuge (that’s how you know it’s a good one). It was here also that Chris picked up a new hobby and souvenir–a horn with a bellowing mountain sound. Our LODs Caroline and Ward kept us moving as we headed toward the Cirque du Gavarnie, one of the three Cirques in the Pyrenees and home to Le Grand Cascade–the largest vertical drop in Europe (423 m). The hike up to the waterfall itself takes another 45 minutes, but our LOD team had us focused on getting there. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Up we went, slow and smooth, to meet the crashing water Sasha described to us. He had urged us to make it there to witness the bursting water molecules releasing negatively charged hydrogen ions–the stuff of the stars! As we neared the base of the cascade, the mist began to reach us, so we donned our rain gear and made the final push. We welcomed the overwhelming feeling of the falls as the water crashed with force and splashed us. There was laughter and a general sense of awe. Davis tooted his trumpet to the waterfall as we took in our final moments with Le Grand Cascade.
Our day was nowhere near over, so we headed back down to the base of the Cirque. The trek continued up at first, then flattened out as we traversed rocky outcrops in the mountain and the trail weaved between open air and tree cover. In no time, we popped out at a known landmark, refuge du Pailla. Here we would get a glimpse of our home for the next two nights–Refuge d’Espuguettes. We also knew of a “Zen Temple”, so, again, our LODs urged us to partake in another off-trail adventure. It took but a few minutes of searching as we followed the river to find the secret spot. There were two consecutive waterfalls dropping into two consecutive swimming holes. The first was evident, but it was well worth following the water to find the second pool. We plopped down into a meadow above the falls for lunch and a rest, but we did not sit long before exploring the zen temple. Davis scoped out the scene and was in the water as soon as we arrived. His hoots and hollers drew us toward the pools, and we congregated there as we took turns dunking into the icy, rejuvenating water. Finding this spot and jumping into the water was a definite highlight for us in the Pyrenees.
All that was left of our day’s trek was a steady climb up the hill to Espuguettes. We readied ourselves after a quick chill session in the meadow to dry off then made the final push. We had time to relax at the top, where we found beautiful views and boulders fit for journaling and relaxing.
Just before dinner, Davis and I took the group through one of our favorite leadership exercises–the NOLS leadership toolbox. As a leadership trip, it’s important to learn about yourself as a leader in order to recognize your tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses. The group was totally receptive as we presented the four quadrants associated with four leadership styles. Realizations were made and characteristics were given proper diagnoses and common vocabulary. I always get so much from this exercise and could see each person learning about themselves and others. It was a meaningful, educational experience.
By this point, it was definitely time to fill our bellies, so we feasted on hot soup and a hearty meal before closing the day with, dare I say, our most meaningful Moonup. It was the perfect recipe for such a Moonup with the sun setting, the events of the day, and the general feeling of contentment. Everyone watched as the mountains inhaled and exhaled, clouds rolling in and out, in and out. We shared mistakes, and everyone listened with intention, creating an overall air of support and comfort. By the end of the Moonup, we had laughed, cried, and loved. All in a moondance day.
One could say the previous day had us in a peak mindset. Reaching the top of Piméné was the goal, and our LODs Turner and Lilli teamed up to lead us there. Luckily, we had ideal, blue-bird conditions. Cushy clouds sat around 1500m as we ascended up to the summit at 2806m. The sun was out and the winds calm enough for a safe summit bid. As we reached the saddle, we peaked over to the other side of the valley to catch our first views of the Cirque d’Estaube, eat a quick snack, then continue on towards the top. There was no doubt we would make it to the top, but our LODs made sure we stayed safe and kept a steady pace–a true sign of mature leadership. The last stretch tested our bravery with shear drops on either side, but our focus did not waver, nor did our courage. This all added to that grand summit feeling we hope to bottle up and take with us. It was majestic. We did not take for granted a single moment at the top. We rejoiced and savored the feeling. Forrest and Caroline then gathered us up to take us through a favorite chant from their summer camp (I get chills just thinking about it.) We followed Forrest’s lead and repeated his chants erupting in grand celebration for our summit bid achieved. Piméné. 2806m. The eventual descent was a quick one. And after lunch at the saddle, we sang our way back to Espuguettes for an afternoon of rest. The following day was one we kept at the back of our minds, knowing the challenging nature in distance and elevation gain. So after a fueling dinner, we prepared with another poignant Moonup. I think I speak for the group when I say the Moonup set the tone for the following day. No days off in the mountains!
The fifth day in the Pyrenees would be our most challenging in terms of both distance and elevation change. LODs Anna and Charlotte could not have been more well-suited for the job. They put in the proper prep work the previous night, studying the map and planning our efficient stops. We started by descending from Espuguettes back into Gavarnie. This was no small task, but we were down in less than an hour and a half and kept on truckin’ after a quick stop in town. The forecast called for wind and rain in the afternoon, so the LOD squad made sure we did not dilly dally. Gavarnie was our point of lowest elevation, and we were to climb 1300m to make it to our refuge! Without wasting any time, we were back on the trail and soon passed our friend Philippe outside Grange du Holle. Impressed with our ambitious itinerary and the grit of the team, he bid us farewell and good luck. From there, we hopped on the famous “Grand Randonné 10” (GR10) trail–a classic route in the region. Then the climbing really began, but it would be sustained for almost the remainder of the day. We slowly ascended the southern side of the Oussue valley above the river that shares its name. The team naturally fell into a quiet, contemplative march. It is funny how a big day in gray weather can inspire meaningful introspection, and we would hear many of the trail thoughts later at Moonup. A few hours and water breaks later, we paused for lunch at a pretty overlook. It is a shame that more people in this world do not experience the simple joy of eating a sandwich beside a trail amidst friends and mountains. The post-lunch hike consisted of a small descent to the stunning blue-green water of the Lac de Oussue. After a short, flat section along the lake, we crossed a bridge and took a quick break in preparation for the real climb. At this point, it was already well into the afternoon, but our LODs had prepared us properly, and we were ready to brave the switchbacks and snow crossings. Shortly there afterwards, we were overcome with the eerie feeling of being deep in the mountains. At first somewhat unsettling, this sensation is one of humility and liberty that is directly transferable to our everyday lives. The final, long climb of the day also included relatively little conversation, but was not silent, as our heavy breaths resounded in the glacial valley. At one point, we rounded a crest that we thought would be our last, only to find an even larger section of switchbacks in front of us. It is days like these, upon reflection, that challenge us to become the people we hope to be. With the guidance of mountain child Charlotte the Marmot and Anna the Alaskan, we trudged through the talus and finally beheld our refuge ahead of us. We still had a bit of a walk, but catching a glimpse of our lodging at Baysellance (2651m) lifted our spirits, and we were there in no time. We arrived at 5:30pm, having left Espuguettes at 8am. You can do the math, parents; this was a BIG DAY, and one that we suspect your precious cargo will not soon forget. One of our refuge hosts, Gaspard, led us up to our cozy bunk room, where we huddled together, listening to music, napping, journaling, and simply enjoying each other’s company. Among other delicious items, the dinner at Baysellance included a soup that was the undisputed champion of all soups–just what we needed. Once again in our big bunk room, we shared another heart-felt Moonup before drifting off to dreamland. Guess what? The next day would be a big ‘un. No days off!
Knowing what we were capable of from the challenges overcome throughout the two days prior, we faced day 7 with calm determination. The day presented another summit bid, the Petit Vignemale. Don’t let the name fool you folks, it’s no small feat. However, we set ourselves up for success the previous day by setting up at Baysellance, a base camp for climbers. With a summit altitude of 3032m, our climb would be a few meters shy of 400m. Easy peasy for this crew. In addition, the mountains were putting on a show. Perfect conditions. We were already above the clouds, surrounded by a massive view of the Pyrenees mountain range and blue sky. Our LODs for the day were notoriously speedy–Forrest and Chris. Despite their fast-hiking nature, they set a manageable pace for the group and led us to the top within two hours of beginning the day. As we neared the final scramble, passers by assured us the view at the top was well worth our efforts. Folks, they were absolutely right. There was no doubt we would reach the top, but when we did, we were stunned. Mountain peaks pierced through the clouds. Glaciers stood before us in all their icy glory. The Pyrenees put us in our place and revealed themselves to us at the same time. Atop a summit once again, we sat and let it soak in. Appreciating every second not only with this incredible view but in each other’s company in this unique setting. Looking at the expressions atop that mountain and sharing in this accomplishment made the experience special. Davis brought out his trumpet and played to the mountains as we looked on. We shared a chocolate bar gifted to us from our hosts at Espuguettes. Then, Davis read the Bon Vivant Manifesto once more as we hollered, harmonica’ed, and stomped along. It was a moment. We aspire to bottle that feeling and take it home with us. In order for others to get their fill of the top, we vacated the summit and continued our hike toward Refuge du Clot, which was our final refuge in the Pyrenees. The LODs led us down, down, down to beautiful streams where we ate lunch under the warm sun. Then we continued through the valley until we hit Lac de Gaube, bustling with visitors. It’s a massive glacial lake that sits below the Oussue glacier. When we reached Refuge du Clot, we had ample time to settle into our cushy, American-national-park-themed rooms and do some activities by the river. The banks of the river and river itself provided ample space for yoga, sun bathing, swimming, and more. We let the feeling of accomplishment wash over us as we faced the fact that our time was coming to a close in the Pyrenees.
That night we partook in a beautiful Moonup that naturally led into hanging out together as the sun went down, no one wanting to leave the field. We decided to make sure to get the most of our final half-day in the Pyrenees the following day.
We awoke to another beautiful day, so we had some breakfast, readied our packs, and headed for the Marcaudo Valley. It was a relatively easy day with lots of time to play and explore the nearby plateaus and river. Darcy and Emily made some clutch navigating calls to find the perfect spot to hang. It was on a plateau nestled in the valley. A river ran through the plateau and boulders all along either side made for spectacular climbing structures. We got to swimming, chilling, running, journaling, and just BEING KIDS!!! It was a spectacular scene. Everyone was doing their individual thing but as a family. It was wonderful, and we definitely made the most of our last day. Soon we met Mandy and Dan, our PMT guides, near the Pont d’Espagne. They carted us back to Lourdes where our clean clothes awaited us.
We had a celebratory pizza dinner and then our LODs led a Moonup that gave closure to our experience in the Pyrenees and extended into deep conversation about how to bottle this experience and take it home with us.
Wow. Wowowowowow. What an amazing group of teens. And what a wonderful tour of the Pyrenees.
Off to Paris!
Ellie and Davis
July 18, 2017
Buenos Dias, folks!
After two pristine days on the Mediterranean Sea, we are on our way to the Pyrenees. These past few days revitalized our spirits and gave our legs the rest they needed!
We called our three neighboring cabins on the Spanish coast home for the past three nights. We dined al fresco with meals planned by LODs and executed by the team as a whole. Preparing our own meals (and cleaning up afterwards) brought us even closer together. It is safe to say this crew has no shortage of beach vibes.
Upon arriving in L’Escala, we dropped our bags and washed off the train travel with a swim. The next day was our first day out sea kayaking, so we fueled up with some burrito bowls. Turner and Ward quickly and confidently took the reins on marinating and cooking the meat each night. So they handled the chicken while the others divvied up sous chef duties. Everything came together beautifully. Davis and I were thoroughly impressed as we sat back and watched everyone work together, running back and forth between cabins to prepare the meal. We gathered around our massive family table set by Charlotte and Emily, grateful for our food, our company, and our first night in Spain!
In the morning, we met our guides Manu and Roger after fueling up with some breakfast burritos. The plan was to hop in the vans and head to a beautiful beach nearby. Soon enough, we were in the Mediterranean Sea. Being a Sunday in July, the beach and water were packed with smiling people enjoying their vacation. We paddled through cove after cove of dramatic cliff walls comprised of beautiful pink limestone. It was not a cake walk, however. We battled wind from all directions throughout the day, but emerged smiley and victorious. Caroline helped all of us stay positive through the tough parts with her beautiful voice resounding over the choppy seas. We found a picturesque lagoon for a lunch stop, and immediately went for a swim. Lilli, Anna, and Abby, always up for and adventure, urged us all to venture out to a rocky peninsula. There we enjoyed some sun bathing before heading back to the beach for some grub. Our guides surprised us with some traditional Catalonian snacks and artisanal lemonade. We dined, laughed, napped, etc until it was time to head back. In one big push, we braved the wind and made it to our beach of departure. Charlotte showed us how to capsize and get back in the boat without losing a big smile for a second. Here, of course, we took another swim with our friend Spigette (our group’s imaginary friend). Spigette has a special way of livening up the group at any given moment! After some wonderful bus naps, we were back home at our cabins and got right to cooking. This night’s dinner was a Moondance classic: Southwest Mac and Cheese. We closed the day with full bellies and a thoughtful Moonup before we drifted off to sleep.
In order to hit prime conditions, our guides had us start a bit earlier on our second and final day of yakin’. We headed to Tamariu to explore the deepest cave on Costa Brava, amongst others! We weaved through narrow squeezes along the rocky coastline. Our guide Roger taught us a fun way to cool off in or boats. So, parked in one of the many charming coves, we assisted each other as we dipped into the water with the help of a partner boat. Then we paddled on to see the deepest cave in all the land. We approached the crack in the rock and continued into the depths! The waves were echoing against the cave walls, filling it with an ominous sound (accompanied by our singsong voices). Roger guided us with his light as we all took a turn exploring. The utter darkness and deep sounds awed each of us. Sea kayaking can bring you to some of the coolest places.
We were definitely hungry by this point, so we headed to a nearby beach to park for lunch. The guides outfitted us with goggles and snorkels. What a treat! After letting our food settle, we hit the water. Having this time to basque in the Mediterranean Sea was absolutely a highlight of our time sea kayaking.
In order to get back to our home base at a reasonable hour, we jumped back in our boats for the return trip. The waves were mid-strength choppy, but we glided over them with ease. Forrest showed his experience and proved to be a strong paddler, always leading the way. As LODs, Turner and Darcy expressed interest and led the charge in a cliff jumping excursion. After a full day of sea kayaking and a sleepy, relaxing drive back to L’Escala, it’s no easy feat mobilizing people to walk 30 minutes for cliff jumping. We gave an option to stay or go, splitting into two groups. Nevertheless, our LODs teamed together and everyone decided to seize the opportunity. Alas, they headed off to the beach, and the Med Sea did not disappoint, to say the least. We found a secluded cove with a perfect jumping rock. Caroline and Turner pulled off some impressive jumps as the sun began to set. To our surprise, there was a small tunnel leading to a cave within the jumping rock. What a cool find! Weary, but confident we got the absolute most out of the day then prepared a final meal in Spain. We had stir fry and traditional Spanish flan. Chris, the bread man, also surprised us by purchasing delicious, warm baguettes for the group. Yummmy! At Moonup, we returned to moments and memories to which we wished to return. Families, most of these included time spent with you on special occasions! Then it was off to bed for the travel day to come. Can you smell the morning mist of the Pyrenees? We can!
Ellie and Dave
Emily: Hi Mom, Dad, and Jack! France and Spain are SO beautiful and I can’t wait to show you pictures! I hope everyone has a good time at camp/in Nantucket. Love you!
Anna: Hey everyone I’m having the best time. Love y’all!
Turner: Whats up Squad!! Hope the fam jam is good! Love and miss y’all! Roll Tide! The trip is sweet!
Ward: Hi Mom! Hi Dad! Hi Sam! Hi Josie! Can’t wait to see y’all soon and hear about your trips! Mine is so cool! See y’all soon
Forrest: Hi Mom, Hi Dad. Hope you guys are doing well! I’m having a great time. Tell Hudson to have fun on Voyage for me.
Abby: I’m having the time of my life, can’t wait to tell y’all about it. (Bussing tables for my LC girls) Much Love
Charlotte: Hi Mum and Dad, this trip is amazing and I’m having a blast! August 19th and September 1st Dad. I love you to the moon and back. xoxo
Lilli: Hey Mommy, I miss you and dad and the sisters so much. Tell Nana I miss her and jodo if you can. I hope EM is fun, wish I could be there with you guys but the trip is absolutely awesome 🙂 Much love for you all. (Hope the plants are surviving)
Caroline: Love you Mom, Dad, and Griffin. And Mom make sure Griffin sees what I’m doing–he’ll love it.
Darcy: Mama and Dada! This trip is basically magical. I love you and miss you guys and hope South Africa was incredible for you both and Tess!!!
Chris: Hi Mom and Dad! I hope you two had a lot of fun on your vacation! I’m having a great time and I can’t wait to tell you about it!
July 15, 2017
Mesdames et Messieurs!
July 8, 2017
Hello Chamonix 2A friends and family!
We heard from the leaders, Davis and Ellie, that all students have arrived safely, and they are off on their adventure. Please stay tuned for more updates!
-Moondance Administrative Team