Field Notes

Chamonix Alps 2B • July 7-July 29, 2017

Farewell, Friends!

July 31, 2017

Hello from Paris CDG!

Today was our earliest day yet, and getting up to leave was not easy. We are waiting for our plane back home, and although we are excited to reunite with our loved ones, we can’t help but be sad that this amazing experience with new loved ones has come to a close. 

This group of students has been remarkably capable and they blew our (Annie and Wick) expectations out of the water. These students were always so willing to accept responsibility, and because of that they learned more and grew more than we, as leaders, could have imagined. Last night for Moonup we sat down in the park below Sacre Cœur and recounted our favorite memories from the trip and bestowed a heaping helping of love on each other. After Moonup we grabbed some ice cream and danced down the streets of Paris one more time. 

It feels so strange saying goodbye to the amazing young people that we’ve gotten to know so well, and we wish deeply that we had more time to be together as a group. Although we may never all reunite again at one time, we know the friendships formed here will last a lifetime, and we feel lucky to have established such enriching relationships that we will nurture for years to come. 

Thank you parents, for allowing these incredible people to partake in this life changing adventure with us.

Annie and Wick


Tales from the Tour du Mont Blanc

July 27, 2017

Greetings from Chamonix!

 

We’ve had all kinds of adventures since we last checked in, so buckle up for an awesome update!

 

On Friday, we traveled from Cala Montgo, Spain, to Geneva on two very comfortable train rides that offered us a good chance to rest up on our way to the Alps. From Geneva, we took a windy van ride up to the mountain town of Chamonix. Once we settled into our hostel, Wes and Cammy G ran to the grocery to stock up on food for lunch the following day. After that, we sat down for dinner and the rain started to roll in, so we held Moonup inside and crossed our fingers for good weather for the next week. During Moonup, we discussed how we strive to be perceived by others; it was yet another deep window into the inner-workings of each other’s minds. After Moonup we whittled our gear down again to the bare essentials for the Tour de Mont Blanc, then we hit the hay. 

 

The next morning, the rain had passed and we ate a quick breakfast and met our guide for the TMB, Bruno. Next, we hopped in two vans for a ride through the tunnel under Mont Blanc, when we exited the tunnel we were in Italy! After a windy ride up to the trailhead, we stretched our legs and then started up the steep first section of the day. After an hour of hiking we stopped at a mountain side refuge for some delicious Italian espresso and cappuccinos. Upon leaving the refuge we made our way straight up to the Col de Ferret, a pass situated on the Italy/Switzerland border. Before we knew it, we were back in Switzerland! We did a little dance on the border and took a bunch of pictures, then headed down to a more wind-protected area for lunch. After lunch, we started flying down the trail. After a few more hours of sunny skies and amazing views we arrived in the village of La Fouly, where we would be staying for the night. We checked into our hotel and visited the nearby shops for some Swiss chocolate and other goodies. When we returned to the hotel we hung out in the salon for a while before dinner. Emma and Annie played a few rounds of backgammon while MC, LuHu and Cammy G inspected each other’s scalps for dandruff and sunburns. MC ended up with cornrows somehow that lasted for about 45 minutes. George regaled us with tales from his Moondance trip to Alaska last summer, and Annie had a few to tell as well. Dinner rolled around and not a moment too soon. That night, Anna and George led a very, very deep and emotional Moonup. It was a conversation that we will not soon forget. After Moonup, we dug up some old slides of the Alps in the wintertime and had our own little slideshow before bed. 

 

Everyone woke up well rested after a good night of sleep in cozy beds. Upon entering the breakfast room, we knew we were in for a treat. There was warm bread, various cereals, fresh and dried fruit, meat, cheese, five different types of jam, and honey. Instead of letting the honey drip from the hive here, the bee keepers scrape off the honey and the wax comes with it making for a much thicker honey. So delicious, and it went so well with the tea or fresh bread. We set off on the trail with Bruno, our guide. Our destination: Champex. The beginning of the day we meandered along a relatively flat trail and filled the time with great convos and riddles. Just before our uphill push to Champex we stopped for our picnic lunch that we had packed. Tom and MC had gone shopping for the group before leaving La Fouly and bought us fresh bread, cheese, and meat. Our sandwiches were so tasty and provided the fuel we needed for our last couple miles of the day. On our way up to Champex, we passed a multitude of wooden statues carved into tree trunks on the trail. There were squirrels, ibexes, mushrooms, all intricately carved into wood and made our walk up very interesting as we anticipated the next statue. Champex Lac greeted us as we walked into the town. There were so many paddle boaters and boarders out on the lake and the water looked so appealing. Just past the lake we were so excited to find an artisan market that filled up the main street! There were candle makers, wood workers, candy makers, fabric weavers, this market had it all! We dropped our packs at our hotel just past the market and then made our way down to check out the tables. We soon discovered that this celebration only happened once a year in Champex and we were extremely lucky to be passing through on this specific Sunday! The street was blocked off completely and a full brass band was playing music for everyone to hear. We explored the scene for a little over an hour before heading back to Le Plein Air to show each other all of our new goods. We had a little downtime before our amazing salad and pasta din. Will finished his third book of the trip! Before long, he would run out of books to borrow. MC and Tom held Moonup out on the porch of the hotel with an amazing view of Champex Lac and the mountains behind it. We dreamed about where we would be in ten years and laughed as Wick played some tunes on the guitar while everyone boogied around the back porch. We all slept well that night thanks to Henry’s soothing lavender oil he purchased at the market. 

 

It was a bit cloudy and rainy when we woke up at Le Plein Air but that didn’t dampen our spirits. We ate our cereal and warm baguettes before heading to the grocery store to pick up or picnic for the day. We were trekking to Trient where there is no grocery store so Henry and Austyn had the duty of buying two days’ worth of lunch for our crew. We loaded our bags with fresh cheese, sticklettis (pretzels), dried fruit, and fresh fruit before snagging some fresh bread from the bakery on our way out of town. There was a slight miscommunication and the lady was overwhelmed to hear we wanted to buy 50 bread rolls from her. Austyn quickly set it straight that we only needed 15 not 50. quinze vs. cinquante. Confusing right? With full bellies and packs, we could now set out for Trient with our fearless guide, Bruno. We were hiking uphill through the misty clouds for most of the morning. Spirits were high and convos were great despite not being able to see the beautiful view that we knew surrounded us. The clouds cleared slightly and we jumped at the opportunity to take a lunch break with a little bit of sun. We made some sammies and dried out our rain gear before the final push to Col de Forclaz. At this pass, there is a little chocolate shop and you can see Trient nestled in the valley below. George and Cammy G purchased a few more bars to add to their growing collection and LuHu even found a type of chocolate that she loves! Well it was not chocolate-y chocolate rather raspberry white chocolate but we were all so happy that she could appreciate some famous Swiss choco like the rest of us chocolate lovers. The rain held off for the descent into Trient and we arrived in what felt like no time. Everyone was completely wiped from the day and went up to our bunk room to get cozy and take a little snooze before din. We ate like kings and queens again tonight with soup, salad, and desert in addition to the main course of your choosing (pork and rice or cheese fondue). We snuggled into the bunks for Moonup where we talked about what cheers us up when we’re down. 

 

Changing authors real quick! This section is brought to you by George, MC, and LuHu!…

 

We started the morning in Trient and looked out the window to see rain clouds in the sky, and prepared ourselves for another cold, rainy day. We then walked down to breakfast to find a 20-person line ahead of us. After fueling up for another rainy day, we set off into the wilderness, possessing only our t-shirts, rain pants, and positive attitudes. As we started our trek up the mountain, a light rain began, but nothing prepared us for what was to come. As we continued our ascent, the wind began to pick up as we got higher and more exposed to the elements. As we walked up the path towards the pass between Switzerland and France we saw the storm cloud that we were heading into. 10 minutes later, we were right in the middle of a hail storm. We started to spread out as all of us rushed up the mountainside, not able to feel our hands or spot each other as the distance grew between us and the clouds got thicker. As the hail continued, we were getting exhausted and more and more cold as weather worsened. But that all changed as we slowly, one by one spotted the cabin at the top of the mountain. We all dropped our packs, rushed inside, and quickly warmed our hands by the furnace heating this small refuge crowded with other hikers just like us.

 

After warming ourselves with hot chocolate (except for Lucy Hughes who got tea) and French fries, we began to gear up to go back out into the elements. As we began our descent, the weather was colder and the wind blew harder but our spirits were higher. We all bursted out in song as Elizabeth captured it all on the GoPro. The passersby were a little frightened by our singing/yelling, but we did what we had to do. Everyone gave their best effort to stay on their feet as we slipped and slid down the once dirt path now turned mud slide. Bruno led us to the bottom and the weather lightened up. We decided to stop for our lunch picnic, a few dining inside the restaurant at the bottom while others chose to finish off the remains of our packed lunch. After lunch, we embarked on the remainder of our journey with satisfied stomachs. The rest of the hike was much tamer in regards to the weather. Our singing only got more energetic as we closed in on our hotel in Argentiere. Upon our arrival, a small concert in the town square serenaded us as we checked into our rooms. The rooms were pretty nice in general, but in comparison to our previous hostels/refugios, it felt like a 5 star luxury hotel. Some of us warmed ourselves up with a nice shower while others crashed in their beds and took a refreshing nap. Tom, Annie, and Wick all went out to watch and listen to the band Chromatik, a very funky and energetic band that just happened to be playing a free show right outside our hotel. It was Tom’s first concert and he absolutely loved it.

 

Not much later, we all went out to dinner at Stone, a very delicious pizza place. After gorging on both margherita pizza and prosciutto pizza, we were served ice cream as well. It was some of the best ice cream we’ve had in a while; everyone got different flavor combinations from the selection of chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, coffee, caramel, and lemon. In Moonup that night, one of the things we all talked about was what foods we looked forward to most. Everyone shared tantalizing details of our favorite meals ranging from lobster to French toast. Tired from a long day on the trail, everyone went off to their rooms right after Moonup, ready for some of the comfiest beds yet. We got to sleep in relatively late for the first time in a while, and were welcomed upon our awakening to an amazing breakfast buffet downstairs; chocolate croissants, toast, cereal, hard boiled eggs and a motley assortment of yogurt. Not much later, after a quick morning grocery trip, we all filed out of the hotel, back on the road again, hiking towards Chamonix, our final destination for the TMB trek. It was a beautiful hike, with Mont Blanc towering in front of us with its frosty white peak. The hike was only three hours, which is pretty short in comparison to past days. After 3 hours’ worth of trail talk and singing, we reached Chamonix with about half of the day left. We listened to Bruno’s stories before we said our goodbyes, thanking him for everything. Annie and Wick found a French copy of Frankenstein, a book in which partially takes place in the Chamonix valley, and they signed it and sent it to him in the mail. The whole day everyone walked around the town, buying small things here and there. Tom and Wes got a North Face bag, George, MC, and Wes got matching slippers, Elizabeth got a poster, Lucy Hughes, Austyn, and Cammy G got a t shirt, and everyone got some gelato. It was a great day, finished off with large burgers at a restaurant called Poco Loco. We wrapped up that night with Moonup and then headed off to bed for our early train departure the next day. Paris doesn’t know what’s coming! 

 – MC, Lu Hu and George 

 

We’re bummed to be leaving the alps, but can’t wait to Moondance through the streets of Paris! Au revoir for now!

Annie and Wick


Kayaking Through Costa Brava!

July 21, 2017

Hola from Costa Brava! After a long day of travel on Tuesday we arrived in L’Escala  just before dinner time. We were excited to be staying in our own little bungalows outfitted with a stove top so we could cook our own meals. The LODs (Emma and George) wasted no time splitting everyone up into cook crews and hitting up the grocery to stock up on food. Henry, Wes, Austyn and Elizabeth whipped up dinner while everyone got settled in and accustomed to our new porch lifestyle. Bungalow #3, fondly known as the Homestead (dinner crew + MC), invited everyone over to their humble abode for a lovely dinner of pesto pasta, roasted veggies & potatoes, and hot dogs. Henry ensured that no food went to waste and threatened to put the uneaten hot dogs in people’s beds if they were still around at the end of the meal. That tactic seemed to do the trick. The sun wasn’t due to set for another couple of hours so we made our way to the beach in our bathing suits with a frisbee in tow. After working up a sweat tossing the earth biscuit, Elizabeth, Anna, George, Tom, Annie, and Wick went for a dip in the Mediterranean. The rest of the crew stayed on the beach playing ultimate frisbee while “Babushka” cheered them on. (Cammie G. Has a great Russian grandmother impression when she is wearing her buff). Once the swimming crew dried off we sat down for Moonup at the beach while the sun was setting. We all told embarrassing stories and ways in which we could improve ourselves. Moonup lasted a while because everybody had tons of embarrassing stories to tell. After Moonup we headed back to the bungalows to rest up for the day ahead. 
 
The next day Tom, Emma, Anna and MC whipped up eggs and bacon for the group. It was our first morning meal that wasn’t centered around bread! Everyone was pumped for some variety and there was even some ‘cado to add to the mix. LuHu, Cammie G, George and Will took everyone’s lunch orders and threw together some delicious sandwiches for us to take as our lunch. We packed our picnics and hit the beach to meet our kayaking guides Manu and Roger. They broke the news to our group that the heavy wind coming from the south made for heavy seas that were not ideal for open water paddling, but they proposed another plan for the group. Half of us took the kayaks along the cove to a rocky beach while the other half hiked to meet us there. Everyone brought a snorkel mask and when we got to the inlet with the beach we adorned our masks and jumped in the crystal clear water. It was incredible how well you could see everything. We spent the morning getting an incredible look at the submarine geology as we explored the tunnels and caves of the inlet. Will discovered the group’s favorite cave that Elizabeth had a special affinity for. We finally came up for some air and lounged on the rock island in the middle of the water. The group that hiked had a turn to jump in the kayaks while the paddlers scrambled along the rocky coast back to the beach. We met back up again for a tasty lunch complete with Noulets and Pralinettes candies from Manu and Roger. From the beach we could see a small turret on the hill in the distance. Manu and Roger said they could take us there if we were up for the hike. The whole group jumped at the offer! We spent the afternoon exploring the area around the turret which was built in the 15th century to help keep watch for pirates. Wes climbed to the top of the bunker outside of the turret and raved about the view. After some time chilling at the lookout and looking out over the sea, we made our way down to the coast line for one more snorkel sesh. Tom taught us the trick of equalizing your ear pressure so we could explore the deeper waters more comfortably. It was nearing dinner time so we left the water and headed back up to our bungalows to cook up some chicken and veggies for our burrito bowls. Dinner crew absolutely crushed it and made us one of the best meals we’ve had this trip! We were all so satisfied and topped off the meal by splitting a few Milka chocolate bars. Elizabeth and Austyn led Moonup where we talked about childhood stories and our favorite characteristics about each other. No one wanted to head to bed quite yet so we stuck around telling stories while Wick and Tom played guitar until we were too tired to keep our eyes open. 
 
The next day we woke up to another delicious balanced breakfast courtesy of Emma, Anna, Tom and MC. The sky was a bit gray but the wind was noticeably calmer. After filling our bellies we walked to meet Manu and Roger on the main drag of Cala Montgo. There we discussed the plan for the day. The heavy south wind from the previous day had subsided, but was replaced by a mild north wind. Cala Montgo is exposed to north winds, so we hopped in a van to Platja de Castell, an area that is more protected from north winds. On the van ride Elizabeth chatted with Roger in Spanish and picked up a little Catalonian as well. Platja de Castell is named after a 15th century castle built on the mountain overlooking the beach. When we arrived at Platja de Castell, we loaded up our kayaks and did a safety briefing before taking to the seas. Right away we could see that the previous days’ wind had churned up some serious swells. The wind was nothing crazy, but the sea was ROLLING. It made for a fun and challenging day of paddling. In some areas the person paddling next to you would completely disappear behind a wall of water for a moment. Although the rollers prevented us from paddling up close to the coast, they made for some spectacular water works when the waves crashed against the limestone cliffs. After about 3 hours of paddling we started to search for an ideal beach for lunch. We spotted one and we were heading in when Annie and LuHu capsized! For a second we all got quiet and nervously awaited their return to the surface, but they both popped up laughing and smiling. What a HOOT! We surfed the rollers into the beach and George, Wes, and Will went searching for sea glass. We devoured the delicious wraps and sandwiches we prepared that morning and Anna, George and Wick plopped down for a beach nap. After an hour of exploring the beach and snoozing in the sand, it started to drizzle and we decided to shove off again. On our way back to Platja de Castell we had the rollers at our back and the paddle back to the beach only took an hour. Back at the beach we rinsed the kayaks off and hopped back in the van to Cala Montgo. We were beat! We all napped hard on the van ride home. Back in Cala Montgo we bid adios to Manu and Roger and headed to the bungalows for dinner. Elizabeth, Emma, and Henry set up a drive-in style build your own quesadilla eatery in one bungalow for dinner. It was far and away the favorite meal we had so far, and we got rid of all the leftovers! During Moonup we discussed failure and things we have learned from instances in which we came up short. After Moonup we sat around and discussed childhood memories then hit the hay when we realized how late it was. The next morning was going to be an early one. 
 
Today we woke up before the sun rose, ate a quick breakfast, packed up, left our bungalows behind, and hopped on a bus to the Girona train station. Now we’re on our way to Chamonix for our final trek! We can’t wait to hit the trail again!

Moondancing through the Pyrenees

July 18, 2017

Hello to everyone back home!

 

We (Wick and Annie) were anxiously awaiting the arrival of this awesome group and were so psyched when they landed in Geneva on Saturday morning. Even when jet-lagged, this group showed up ready to explore and make the most of our day in Geneva. We dropped our stuff at the hostel and headed out for Lake Geneva. We wasted no time jumping in the chilly water and Wes even sweet talked his way into acquiring a water floatie. It didn’t take long for us to realize that Wes is a people person who isn’t afraid of making new friends. After swimming around and getting to know our new friends we hopped out of the cold water into the hot sun to hang on the lawn in the park below the Natural Science Museum of Geneva. MC and Henry headed up a game of signs in the grass. After a few intense rounds we decided it was time for another dip in the lake. We walked over to a different beach and Tom, Wes, Austyn, Anna, Lucy Hughes went for another chilly swim because “You’re only in Geneva once”. After a great first Moonup to set the tone, we hit the hay pretty early Saturday night because everyone was exhausted from the transatlantic travel.

 

After a good night sleep, we awoke early to begin our journey to Lourdes, France. Our leaders of the day (LODs), Elizabeth and Henry, successfully led our group from Geneva, Switzerland to Lourdes, France via 3 different trains. The whole group was incredibly impressed with their ability to navigate foreign train stations with ease. The bar was set high for LODs going forward. The train day flowed with conversation and it was hard to believe that only two days ago we were total strangers. We arrived in Lourdes and scoped out a nearby kebab restaurant for some din. The group made a pact not to drink soda for the entire trip and not to shower (with soap) on our treks. We may get stinky but this group is hard core and wants the full backpacking experience! At moonup we listened to each other describe our dream jobs and cities to live in which gave us some insight on everyone’s passions. We slimmed down our packs a bit to head out on our first trekking section in the Pyrenees and hit the hay! 

 

After fueling up with a nice “breadfast” of croissants and baguettes, we headed out for Col de Tentes where we were to begin our trek. We made a pit stop in Luz to discuss our route with some mountain guides and explore the local market. Will and Wes really dove into the local food scene and tried multiple types of cheese, meats and fruits. The drive to Col de Tentes was foggy at first until we arrived above the clouds able to see the beautiful views of the surrounding mountains speckled with wild flowers. We traversed over to the French-Spanish border at a pass called the Puerto de Bujaruelo. When we made it to the puerto, the wind was whipping and clouds rolled over us until we were completely enveloped in white. It was an eerie scene. After some flamenco dancing on the border, we descended into the Spanish Pyrenees.

 

On our way down the San Nicolas Bujaruelo valley, we came out of the clouds as we zig-zagged down a long scree field. At the valley floor we met the river and stopped to enjoy a blast of cold air from the “air-conditioning cave” in the valley wall, and the lunch vittles we picked up in Lourdes. The river water was the bluest blue imaginable. It almost looked fake. But we were 99% sure it was real. After lunch we hopped back on the trail for a long steady downhill walk into Torla. Torla is a charming, ancient little mountain village nestled in the valley floor. Our dogs were barking on arrival and we were eager to rest those puppies. Tom took up the backpacker guitar and started to strum our soreness away. Dinner was a FEAST of good Spanish food. After dinner, Emma and George led Moonup and we discussed ways we wanted to progress as people on our trek. We slept heavily that night. 

 

The next morning we awoke, packed our packs and crammed into a tiny breakfast nook for our morning meal. Emma and Elizabeth engaged a French couple in a trilingual conversation over breakfast. After breadfast, we took a quick bus ride to the Ordesa Canyon trailhead. It was HOT, but we knew the frigid waters of the waterfall at the end of the canyon would be worth the hike in. Not to worry, Cammy G kept everyone on a strict sunscreen sched to make sure no one was getting too toasted by the sun. Cammy G and Lu Hu even would sunscreen their hair part to ensure maximum coverage. The canyon is magnificent, and there was no shortage of ooh’s and ah’s on our walk through it. About halfway into the canyon, our LOD’s (Tom and Austyn) suggested we do some one-on-one partner hikes for the remainder of the hike in. The partner hikes gave us great opportunity to get to know each other on a more personal level. Everyone made sure to stop every once in a while to take in the scenery that was riddled with yellow wild flowers. The Calle de Caballo waterfall was tucked behind a little hill at the end of the valley so we couldn’t see its magnificence until we were right in front of it. Everyone ripped off their hiking boots and bee lined it to the base of the waterfall. We jumped in the icy cold water for a few seconds before swimming back to the rocks to catch our breath. MC didnt seem phased by the polar plunge and outlasted everyone by a few minutes. We swam, nommed, and basked in the sunshine for a couple of hours by the cascading falls. We all agreed that we should partner walk on the way back out of the canyon as well to continue the great conversations that were started earlier in the day. Once we arrived back in Torla we drove in a van to our next Refugio. Tom and Austyn asked us to share who our biggest role model is in life and we talked about the qualities they have and energy they radiate. As the sun set behind the mountains, the stars filled the sky. We lingered around outside taking in the uninhibited view of the stars above. Austyn, Anna, Annie, George, and Tom messed around with long exposures to attempt to capture the night sky. George and Tom decided to use the red light of a headlamp to “paint” on the long exposure photographs and created some pretty awesome pictures. You may or may not see it on an album cover one day titled “Unfinished Business” thanks to Anna’s creative thinking. It was hard to leave the stars to go to bed but our eyes were having trouble staying open and we knew we had a big day of trekking to tackle in the morning.

 

We woke up and headed downstairs for breakfast. Can you guess what we ate? Bread, bread, glorious bread! We smothered our bread in jam and delicious honey. Instead of the honey dripping off the comb, most of the honey here is scraped off giving it more texture and flavor with the wax that comes with it. We loaded up our packs and headed for the Spain-France border. The uphill was long and taxing but the view was amazing. Everyone’s attitudes remained super positive and the group supported and encouraged each other all the up to the pass.  Although it was the same valley we walked through on the first day, it looked and felt new to us without the foggy weather. The sky was clear and you could see for miles when we got up to the pass and crossed into France. We took our time straddling the border of France and Spain enjoying our picnic lunch and taking little micro snoozes. We descended into France through the Vallée des Pouey Aspé. We caught our first glimpse of the Cirque du Gavarnie from here and were amazed by the sheer rock walls and the number of cascading falls. We arrived in Gavarnie with time to check out the shops and eat some crepes. After exploring the small town of Gavarnie, Christophe welcomed us into the Gite Oxygene and fed us a delicious three course meal. We mooned it up in the park behind our hostel right as the alpin-glow was making the mountains around us glow orange. We listened to Wick strum the guitar and talked about what gets us out of bed in the morning before crawling into our beds for a night of well-deserved rest.

 

With yet another bready-breadfast under our belts we headed into the Cirque du Gavarnie for a closer look. At the base of the Cirque we discovered a hotel with an ice cream stand and treated ourselves to a little ‘scream before the final rock scramble to the falls. We dropped our packs and took a lunch break a few hundred yards from the base of the largest waterfall in the Cirque. Will, George, Tom, Elizabeth, Annie, and Wick went to get a closer look and came back soaking wet from the wind whipping the water around. From the Cirque we headed to Espuguettes, our Refugio for the next two nights. Along the way, Wes discovered an amazing little secluded swimming hole that Tom, Wes, and Will wasted no time getting into. The cows and donkeys of Espuguettes were there to greet us after our final uphill push to the refugio. We had the top floor room and when we opened our window you could see the clouds flowing through our room. Espiguettes is such a secluded spot with amazing views of the Breche de Rolande and the valley below. We felt so lucky to be spending two nights there. 

 

Bastille day! Also, summit day! We woke up to the most incredible view of the Cirque du Gavarnie and the valley below. The entire valley was filled with an undulating cloud. It looked like a fluffy white ocean lapping at the valley walls, steadily creeping up toward the refuge (don’t worry we took plenty of time-lapses). The cloud rose above us and dissipated, leaving us with a clear sunny sky perfect for summiting the Pimené. After a morning meal of spice bread and more bread (supplemented with peanut butter). We strapped on our day packs and headed up the ridge above Espuguettes. On the way up we had a great view of the Horquette d’Alans, a high jagged pass, and the Petít Pimené. Once we reached the top of the ridge, we had a series of false summits to surmount before we had a good view of the Pimené. When we reached the Petít Pimené, we stopped for a quick half lunch break and motored on ahead. As we ascended, the ridge became more and more narrow, which made for an awesome final push up to the Pimené. Will and Anna led our group fearlessly to the summit and Emma and Tom conquered their fear of heights with gusto. At the summit we enjoyed some chocolate and another half lunch. We stayed on the summit long enough to take a substantial summit snooze before heading back down to Espuguettes for dinner. The way down was filled with scary stories, laughs, and smiles all around. There was a tangible sense of accomplishment among the group. Dinner was hearty and Moonup was as well. We (Annie and Wick) really felt like the group had hit their stride through the shared experience of summiting the Pimené, and we were brimming with pride and excitement for the days and sections ahead. We knew the next day would be a challenging one, but we also knew that the group was up to it. We slept well that night. 

 

Our trek from Espuguettes to the Refugio de Baysellance was by far the most challenging day yet, but along with that came the greatest reward we had so far. We woke up that morning in Espuguettes to the most majestic view outside our window. Our room was overlooking the seemingly endless field of mountains below and their valleys were filled with cotton ball clouds. I wish all of you could experience the serenity of the early morning up there, it’s incredible. After our everyday breakfast of spice bread dipped in hot chocolate, baguette lathered with butter and jam, and coffee out of a bowl, we began our descent from Espuguettes to Gavarnie. It didn’t take very long at all since it was essentially a straight shot down, and I’m sure playing 20 Questions with Tom and George helped make the time fly by, too.

 

Our stop in Gavarnie was a quick in and out, stopping only to empty our packs of the trash we carried out and to buy dried fruit for the long day ahead on the trail. I also ate an entire chocolate bar. No regrets. Although Bastille day was yesterday, celebration hadn’t stopped in good ol’ Gavarnie. There were groups of carolers dressed in uniform singing by the church, and we could still hear their songs of triumph from the trail. The 8 or so miles that we traversed took no time at all, but once we reached the base of the waterfall was when the real challenge came. We were all very aware that we were going to have to work to get to Baysellance, but none of us were prepared for just HOW much we had to work. The ascent was only 2 or 3 miles, but I’m pretty sure we were on an 80 degree angle. Scree and snow made keeping a good pace difficult, but once we got up and over the waterfall we got some more solid footing. By this time it was getting pretty late, so we made the unanimous decision to split up into two groups so the first group could huff it to the top and make sure we could still make dinner. George absolutely booked it up there despite the many, many false summits that tested everyone’s mental fortitude. Everybody’s positive attitude was truly what got us up there. After huffing and puffing for a couple hours, we passed a certain threshold and just started dying laughing at the turn of every switchback when we saw that we just weren’t quite there yet. Eventually we all made it up, and dinner was INCREDIBLE.

 

I’m not really sure if it was actually good or not, but any food after 11 hours of hiking tastes like the greatest food on earth regardless. We held Moonup on a tiny hill while watching the pastel pink sunset fading more and more behind the cloud-filled valleys. After that, we passed out. I was SO proud of us for that day as it was mostly everyone’s hardest physical and mental task they’ve ever been presented with and ever overcome. Blisters and a sore body have NOTHING on us!

 

Our night’s sleep at Baysellance was the best sleep we had in the Pyrenees. The beds were super comfortable and we were dead tired from the day before. We woke up early to get a jump start on the big day ahead. We devoured breadfast, coffee, tea, and hot choco then said goodbye to Baysellance for good. Before we set off Anna and George gave us a run down on the route ahead and how many kilometers we should expect to walk that day. After that we made the short walk up to the Horquette d’Oussoue, with the Vignemale (the highest peak in the French Pyrenees) looming above. At the Horquette we hid our packs for our ascent of the Petít Vignemale (3032m). The way up was a steep scree field, but by then we were well acquainted with less-than-ideal footing. We made it to the summit of the Petít Vignemale in a whopping 30 minutes, evidence of our group’s astonishing physical and mental capability. We hung out on the summit for a bit, Austyn took a 10 minute nap, Elizabeth took some awesome time-lapses, and George snapped photos in every direction. We had an incredible view from the top, and we could see the entirety of the route that lay ahead of us for the day. After we recovered our packs from their hiding spots, we started COOKING down the trail. Our pace was impressive. We made it down to the valley floor in no time. On our way down we had an awesome view of the glacier below the north face of the Vignemale. About halfway down we heard a thundering sound booming down the valley. At first we looked up to check for rain clouds, but then we realized the sound was coming from the glacier, and massive chunks of ice were cascading from the foot of the giant ice sheet. The glacier was calving. We sat in awe without saying a word at this incredible force of nature. Although this sight was indicative of the rapid recession of Pyrenean glaciers, we felt lucky to have witnessed such a rare natural phenomenon. After a while we continued down to the giant Lac de Gaube, an impossibly blue collection of glacier melt. At the lake we relaxed and feasted on all kinds of dried fruit. The Refugio du Clot was a short walk away down the slopes of a ski resort. We took our time descending the grassy ski runs, waving to and exchanging “bon jours” with the people riding the chair lift above. This ski resort was COVERED with grazing cattle. It was certainly a peculiar sight. When we reached the refuge it was almost time for dinner so we showered up and sat down in the dining room with a huge glass wall and an incredible view. After a delicious dinner we held Moonup by a babbling brook and we babbled on ourselves for hours. We had plenty of time to sleep in the following morning, and sleep in we did. 

 

We were all very bummed that our Pyrenean trek was drawing to a close, but so happy that we got to soak in those incredible mountains alongside such awesome happy people. We took 2 vans back to Lourdes from the ski resort parking lot, down the windiest road known to man (or at least to us). Once in Lourdes we did some laundry, ate some pizza, explored the town and had some well-deserved ice cream.  Henry and Cammy G led a very deep Moonup that night, and everyone opened up about lessons they had learned through hardship.

 

We are so ready to give our dogs a rest with some beach time and sea kayaking! We are making our way from Lourdes to Costa Brava for 2 days of paddling in the sun. Stay tuned for shout outs below!

 

  • Wick and Annie, with some help from Elizabeth!

 

 

Chamonix 2B shout outs

 

Tom – hey dad and Sarah having a ton of fun, we’ve got a backpacker guitar, would be pretty cool to set up some lessons. All my poops have been clean. See ya in 2 weeks!!!!!!!!

 

Henry-

Hello family and friends, this trip is amazing, the hiking has been incredible. Thank you so much for the opportunity to witness this beautiful place.  Miss you and see you soon 

 

Emma- Hi family,

The views are amazing here I can’t wait to tell you all about it. Love and miss you

 

Elizabeth-

Bonjour ma famille! I’m having a BLAST I can’t thank you enough for letting me do this. Happy early birthday Mama! Love y’all see ya soon

 

MC-

Moopert plz get me an appointment with Randy. It’s a must. Having a grand time see y’all soon

 

Cammy G 

Mom I have worn layers of sunscreen the whole trip. You’re welcome. 

 

Lu Hu 

Having a great time! Love y’all see you soon. Thanks so much for sending me!!!

 

Austyn

Having the best time! It’s beautiful! Save me spot in the rocking chair at the lake and have fun in California, love y’all and see y’all soon

 

Anna 

I’m Living the life over here, it’s beautiful! I miss y’all and will see you soon. 

 

George

Hey fam, the views here are unbelievable and the people are amazing! I know y’all would love these scenic mountains and I can not wait to share pictures of them with y’all. I hope Lake Tahoe is amazing, and Cody isn’t too lonely. Miss y’all!

(Ps. Please activate my debit card)

 

Wes

Hola familia!! Europe is amazing and I am very blessed to be able to be here. I cannot wait to tell y’all about it when I get back with stories about the giant cows. Love ya and see you soon!!!!!!!!

 

Will

Having a great time! Really miss you guys, and I can’t wait to come back and tell you all about it. Love you and see you soon. 


Safe arrival!

July 8, 2017

Hey Chamonix 2B friends and family!

We heard from the leaders, Wick and Annie, that all students have arrived safe and sound, and they are off on their adventure. Please stay tuned for more updates!

-Moondance Administrative Team


Students

  • Austyn
  • Cameron
  • Emma
  • Henry
  • George
  • Tom
  • Elizabeth
  • Lucy Hughes
  • Anna
  • Will
  • Mary Clarke
  • Wes

Staff