Back to Trail Reports Main Page
Story by Steve Fagioli
Well, it was decided, then. We were going to the Pyrenees for a week of off-roading. When? Well, how about September? It seemed a long time away. As we had no experience of the area we decided to use a guide. We chose a company called Pyrenean 4x4 Adventures. They are based in a small village called "Prats De Mollo," in the most southerly valley in France.
The next problem to be solved was how were we going to get there; i.e. the best ferry crossing, and road route? The most obvious route was to sail from Portsmouth to Bilbao, then to drive through Spain. On paper this seemed the best route so it was time to book the ferry. Now this was back in January. We should have had no problem booking a ferry for 3 4x4's and 6 people. Want to bet? There was no problem getting the car space. It was the accommodations that were the problem. As the crossing is 36 hours, you must have cabin space. In September the ferry companies do special 3 day cruises for the blue rinse brigade (no offense meant). The only thing we could do was wait and hope for some cancellations.
By now it was June and we still did not have any ferries booked. It was time to look for an alternative crossing. We ended up with Portsmouth to Le Havre. This left us with a 700 mile drive. We decided to break the journey up into 2 sections and have an overnight stop in Orleans. Now, for anyone wanting to book accommodation in France the Campanile group of motels have a central booking office in London and you can book any Campanile motel in France through them and secure a room with a credit card number. Enough of the preparations. On with the trip.
After a long and uneventful drive down we arrived in La Preste around 8pm, just in time for dinner. Perfect. To meet us was Mick, the man that runs Pyrenean 4x4 Adventures. We parked up the vehicles and headed into the hotel. Inside we were introduced to the hotel owner, who was also the Mayor and the Justice of the Peace. Best behaviour then! After a superb meal, we had a couple of drinks in the bar with Mick. He told us the format for the week. We would start with a gentle route to check up on our driving skills and then as the week progressed, the route would get harder, with an overnight halt in Andorra later in the week.
We met up at 9:30am in the town square at Prats De Mollo, where Mick was waiting for us. He told us where the best shops were to get food for lunch and handed out route cards and maps. Prats De Mollo is a medieval walled town with an impressive 17th Century church and dominated by Fort Lagarde (that is the guide bit over with).
After about 20 miles we reached the first track. This was a loose stony trail that ran through a forest and climbed up to 6000ft. A little way along this trail to the right was a steep, rocky climb up amongst some very large trees. This was going to be where Mick could asses our driving skills, and guess who got volunteered to go first. I decided the best option was to walk up to see the terrain. A little way up, out of sight from the bottom was a interesting axle twister. Time to disconnect the sway bar. When I got back down to the bottom I was asked a lot of questions by the other drivers on what was up there. Maybe they should have walked up as well.
I quickly dropped the centre section out of the disconnects and lined the Jeep up for the climb. I was not sure on what gear to use as I had just fitted a new type of transfer box (Atlas II). I selected 2nd and started the climb. Much to my amazement, the Jeep started to climb on tick-over without any throttle. This new gearing certainly was low. I was watching out for that axle twister. When I reached it, the Jeep just walked over it as though it was not there.
When I got to the top of the climb we had to turn round and come back down. I dropped it into 1st and set off. About 20 meters down the hill I stopped and changed into 2nd (this is not normally a good idea) to try and go a little faster. I think the people at the bottom of the climb were getting bored waiting for me to get down! As for the others, how did they get on? Well, most of them got to the top, but they did have a little trouble with the axle twister part way up. Maybe they should all be driving Jeeps!! The rest of the day was on tracks similar to the one we started on with some great views and a few steep climbs.
The next day things got a little more interesting. We started out on a forest track at about 4000ft. As the day progressed, the tracks got steeper until we reached one section that was at angle of about 45 degrees, getting a little steeper at the top. The climb was about 1km long and it had some very deep washouts along the way. Let's just say that everyone walked up this time to check it out. The Jeep had no trouble getting up this section. Although I have got ARB diff lockers fitted, I did not need them, as the suspension has so much travel that the wheels did not leave the surface of the track.
The following day we headed out for Andorra. We were going to take a smuggler's route over the mountains. This would take a day. The route into Andorra was over 2 mountain ranges. Rather then write loads of words I will let the photo's tell the story. The over night stop in Andorra was great, with good food and a lovely hotel.
The next morning we had time to do a little shopping. Andorra is a duty free place with some good prices. We set off at about 10:30am and followed the main road out of town. At the highest point, we reached 9000ft. We then started to drop to the valley floor to about 1000ft. We picked up a small track that headed back up. This, as we found out, took us up to 9500ft; one of the highest tracks in the Pyrenees . As we reached the top the sun was setting behind us, leaving the valley we were going to drop down into in shadows and the clouds below us just catching the sun. The view was breathtaking. The track zigzagged its way down. By now it was dark so we had our headlights on. The track was very dusty and the lights on the vehicles lit up the dust to give a strange glow to the night.
The next day was a little less distance, but with some very interesting sections. We were taken to a dried up river. I enjoyed myself as the rest of the vehicles in the party had to park up and watch. Maybe they will buy Jeeps one day and appreciate the joy of rockcrawling. Again, I think the photo's will tell the story.
I think that is enough to give you the idea that it was a great week and well worth all the work in booking the various items needed to make this a successful trip. The best thing is I got to use my own Jeep as it should be used!
©1997-2010 ROCKCRAWLER 4x4 and Off-Road Magazine. All Rights Reserved.