We've been walking daily on the spectacular Sentier Littoral (coastal trail) - I'll do a blog on that soon - and have been doing a few hikes in the mountains. Last weekend we joined Karen's friend Martine and a group of local hikers for a climb up the Iramendy peak southeast of the village of Saint Jean Pied de Port. Martine is a local personal trainer who Karen met when she was just beginning her hip rehabilitation. Martine was a great help and she's since become a close friend. She's even taken up disc golf here in the Pays Basque.
We met up with Martine and the rest of the hiking group in Bayonne where the Adour and Nive Rivers meet just before entering the Atlantic in Anglet (a few hundred yards from the formerly great La Barre surf break). The hiking group meets once a month and tackles a challenging peak somewhere in the nearby Pyrenees. According to Alain, a well-tanned man in his mid-sixties, who does strenuous hikes 3 times a week and leader of the group, there were usually 6-8 people for these monthly Sunday excursions. Today we were 14. We caravanned to the parking area passing through Saint Jean Pied de Port about 45 minutes inland.
Reaching Saint Jean Pied de Port, we stopped at the restrooms in the parking area for the pilgrims, then continued up the small road bordering the Nive for several miles. We parked on the side of the river not far from the tiny villlage of Esterençuby, loaded up our packs, and started up the mountain. The beginning of the trail is not marked and we made our way past an abandoned farmhouse up a steep trail. For the next hour and a half, we continued climbing among the beech trees (hêtres in French).
After the break, we turned onto the rough dirt road. A mile or so later, we saw a trail to the source of the Nive River. Apparently, this is a pretty spectacular place, though it's not the actual source. At this 'Source' the Nive emerges from the side of the mountain in a rushing torrent. The real source is a trickle in Spain which drops into a cave and travels several miles under ground before emerging at this 'Source' in France. We're hoping to hike to the real source before we leave if weather permits.
Everyone except Karen, Martine, and I had brought hiking sticks, but several of them were struggling with the next section and had to stop to rest and to find better, easier paths among the often loose rocks.
We refused the wine but shared what we had and after an hour, we made our way down. The descent was uneventful once down the peak as we turned onto a well-maintained dirt road for a leisurely hour and a half walk back to the cars.
We dropped our packs and made our way to a deserted local bar in the small village which the 14 of us quickly took over. Karen and I had brought an apple tart made specially for us by the bakery about a block from our apartment and we shared that with everyone. As it turned out none of the drivers (us included) paid for their drinks. We didn't talk much about the hike. Conversation went to the next one scheduled for the 15th of June. Unfortunately, we'll be back in the States then. With luck, we'll get to join them for their hike in September.
And, in spite of climbing over 2400 vertical feet and hiking over 9 challenging miles, Karen was fine. I think she was almost ready to do it again. If we hadn't scheduled a dinner with friends in Ciboure that evening, she might have wanted to see the source of the Nive. Hopefully we'll do that very soon.