“You’ll have to go to Avignon for the 2nd week in December” said the boss. Hmmm, a week in the South of France doesn’t sound too bad and as Avignon is just an hour from where my sister lives, I could get a fully expensed trip to do some more French SOTA summits. In the end it cost me a bottle of Glen Livet 18yr ( as a thank you), car hire for 4 days and fuel.
I flew Edinburgh Paris CDG then the TGV to Avignon. Effortless apart from the wee girl at Edinburgh security finding my LiPos “scary”. I was a little uneasy at CDG with recent events but the security presence is obvious and reassuring. Lots of soldiers wandering about all with FAMAS rifles at an airport makes you think a coup has taken place rather than you are in a major European capital.
After a smooth and pleasant ride I collected my wheels at Avignon TGV station. Lots of car hire companies have facilities there but all were a little pricey… a Fiat 500 coming in at £138 for 4 days. Gulp! Then I noticed I could hire a small van (Berlingo) for silly money. I ended up paying £62.50 for an Opel Combi Van. It went like stink, used hardly no diesel had reversing sensors, decent radio, aircon, cruise control, traction control and lots more toys. Not like the rough old Transits I can remember hiring 25 years back. With reversing sensors it was easy to drive. Though in the true tradition of hiring a LHD vehicle I managed to almost hit a bollard and then go the wrong way up the road. That was just trying to leave the station in the 1st 100m behind the wheel. Also it was dark and I had a little rush hour traffic help me adjust to everything being back to front. I got to my sister’s QTH without any more issues.
£62.50 for 4days… bargain!
There now followed a few days of conspicuous consumption of fresh squid, duck, truffles, wild boar, steaks, wine (including a nice 1986 Chateau Neuf du Pape) and all sorts of amazing locally prepared natural and organic food. My waistline bears testimony to the time at my sister’s house and a week eating in a hotel and restaurants all the time.
#Pic Saint Loup F/PE-281
This is a visually significant small mountain. The wine from around here is very highly rated. I saw this summit 3 years ago when I did Peuche des Morgues F/PE-333 and decided I would need to bag it when next down this way. I did a bit of research and it’s a popular walk with several very good paths to the summit. I parked in Cazevielle where there is a large car park for the summit. Getting here was bit difficult though. I knew the way to the last main town Saint-Mathiue-de-Treviers and I’d stopped in Sommieres to get supplies for the day (bread, brie, peanuts, diet coke). At Saint Jean du Cucelles I met a diversion that took me in a circle. Not good. I spotted some men in hi-vis jackets with flat bed lorry and road repair materials on it (this was a Saturday morning) and asked in my best schoolboy French if they spoke English. One of them was simply fluent which was unexpected and he gave me detailed directions to get to the road I wanted. The road Cazevielle climbs and moves through forest scrubland. There was another boar hunt on, lots of warning signs and men in orange clothes. I was hoping Pic Saint Loup would be too popular to have any hunting on it.
It was December and sunny/cloudy and warm, 14C. I set off up the incredibly stoney path, lots of Limestone around here. It was hard work in a pair of soft boots. I have a pair of mid-height Karrimor waterproof boots (more like a training shoe) and the sole is not thick enough for such stoney ground. In fact after 3 Lanazrote summits and 2 French summits the tread is down to 1/4 thickness on these boots, not designed for hard abrasive rocks. But they were cheap! The path climbs through the woodland and the walk was a delight albeit hard on the feet. It was very busy, lots of walkers. Now something you don’t get lots of on Scottish walks is lots teenagers or young couples. But plenty of young people here. Also all of the women were seriously good looking. No lardy blobs, all slender, pretty and immaculately coiffured. I think I was the fatest person in 50km radius. I was certainly the palest and that was after a week in the Canaries 2 weeks back.
After a couple of km of occasionally steep climbing but essentially trivial walking you get to the cairn.
The main path, Cazevielle and my van is about 1.5km along from here.
You cannot miss the cairn where you turn left.
Then you go up.
It’s only steep to the trees. After that there is a good path that zigs and zags through the woods and occasionally pops out of tree cover.
Then after 55mins of occasionally having to actually put some effort into the walk I arrived at the top for some really breath catching views. The North side is an overhanging cliff so there is an essentially vertical drop of hundreds of metres. There is a big summit cross and also a radio relay station.
The summit cross.
The relay station. A source of lots of QRM on HF. The panel antennas are probably mobile phone but they look small and the site seems far, far too well positioned for mobile phones, the cell size would be enormous. Perhaps a TETRA type system? The BBQ dish antennas are 2.5GHz. Looks like it’s linking several sites due to the commanding view.
The summit was busy so I moved along the cliff top to find a quiet space. I set up and decided to try 30m as I had never used that band from mainland Europe before. There was a lot of noise but using the narrow filter made it OK, just OK. Boy was I popular. Lots and lots of chasers, 31 in fact from all over EU including DL, G, ON, OK, OE, HB9, EA2, HA, OM, I, LX, PA and F. I’m not convinced this 30m design I have is not a sky-warmer but it worked better than ever on the edge of cliff.
The F/MM0FMF/P HF setup approx 3m from the cliff edge.
After 30m I tried 20m but the noise was S9 on SSB. 17m was better, only S3 on SSB. I wanted to do some SSB for the non-CW chasers and I’d carried the mic up the hill so I wasn’t wasting the effort of carrying it and not using it. I managed 2 SSB contacts and tried 17m CW and worked MM0GYX who was a big signal. I don’t know if he was using an homebrew set but he sounded good to me.
After that it was more pictures and the descent out.
Looking North East to Montagne d’Hortus F/PE-309 the next target.
Looking over the edge straight down
It took about 45mins to get back to the car where I had some lovely fresh bread and brie. Then the drive was straightforward around the back of Pic Saint Loup and on to Montagne d’Hortus which looked easy on the map.
Finally on the road back I got some good photos of the mountain showing the classic profile. When you see something like that you have to climb it.
The cliffs really are quite a spectacular drop. All there is to stop you falling over is a sign at the end of the path saying “be careful”. So understated it could almost be British and not French!
It was starting to haze up and cloud up and get more humid. I didn’t think it would rain but there were predictions for showers so I didn’t hang about getting to the next summit.
Finally, a happy F/MM0FMF with the special edition SOTA cap being worn in yet another association.