Martin and I crossed the Pyrenees in 54 days this summer on the HRP (Haute Randonnée Pyrenéenne or High Level Route) from Monday 26 July to Friday 17 September 2004. We intend to produce some more detailed pages, based on daily postcards we sent home, but in the meanwhile we hope the description of two days on route will whet the appetite.
Martin’s ‘not-so-expert’ navigation
Tuesday 10 August (Day 16) dawned cloudy at our illegal pitch near Refuge Pombie, beneath the would-be imposing (if it wasn’t for the cloud) Pic du Midi d’Osseau. Got away at our usual 8am for a descent from 2032m to 1350m. The HRP (as Julie will vouch) is a continual switchback of valleys and cols, with the occasional summit, and is rarely level. Mid-way down, near a cabane or shepherd’s hut, sat the shepherd on a small stool, allowing his penned ewes to exit the pen through a metal gate one by one.
Intermittently he would stop a ewe, and squeeze milk in jets into a can. Many of the cabanes advertised fromage or ewe’s cheese, made from this milk, and in this area, it was often served as a dessert with cherry jam.
At the lowest altitude for the day,
we were fortified by a new ‘mountain mix’, an adaptation of
GORP, made with a variety of nuts from the tiny, but superbly stocked
El Bozo supermarket in Candanchu, remarkable for the tastiness of the
toasted sweetcorn it contained! A 900m ascent, started through woods below
an open valley with a stream running through the middle. A fine spot at
a false col enticed other walkers to stop, but the weather could not be
described as warm and our shorts and T shirts necessitated continuing.
I also suspect that Martin was keen to get part of today’s difficulties
out of the way as soon as possible!
doesn’t seem obvious and we descend steeply for maybe 100m over
rocks and grass. Optimism rises when a couple of tiny cairns appear but
they don’t seem to continue once we cross a ridiculously steep scree
slope. The Port is nowhere to be seen. So, we decide to retrace to the
col up the steep ground.
The col was the wrong one. We had climbed to the Col d’Arrémoulit, further south on the ridge than we should have been. So, there was no alternative but to descend over the boulders (my favourite..) nearly back to the refuge before taking the correct route to the Col du Palas. It was by now 3.45pm, so we had wasted two hours and climbed/descended an extra 300m with our 40 pound packs! You may not be surprised to hear that the route to the correct col involved another boulder field, a snowfield, then more boulders. Our efforts were rewarded at the col with a view of Pic du Midi d’Osseau without the head of cloud we had become accustomed to seeing. The going continued to be tricky, first contouring on a narrow path on scree slopes, then scrambling up rock bands, followed by three more snowfields.
It was at the far side of one of these snowfields, just at the edge, that my foot went through the snow, followed by most of my leg. Extricating the leg from the bergschrund necessitated removing my pack, and an examination of the damage revealed only a bruised knee, cut shin and a pulled muscle. My thoughts wandered to a worse scenario – this was not a good place to sustain a fracture.
Gingerly at first, we continued, with some interesting scrambling, to reach the small Port du Lavedan, at 2615m, our highest point to date, at 5.15pm.
Our intended destination was Refuge
l’Arribet (2070m), but again, the descending terrain involved more
boulder-hopping and scrambling, and it was slow-going. My mood was low
and I was tired, so when Martin proposed pitching the tent on a small
patch of grass near a stream, about a mile short of the refuge, at 6.30pm,
it was a relief.
Note: in 2011 David Lintern had an interesting time in this area - see here.
26 August 2004
The port is on the French-Spanish border and, as is often the case, the skies above Spain were clear and the view that opened up was one of the Maladeta massif, with fingers of glacier clinging to the slopes of Pic d’Aneto, at 3404m the highest summit in the Pyrenees.
A long descent into the valley saw us peeling off layers as the sun warmed the morning air. Below, the narrow road along the valley floor was empty but for the occasional coach; the consequences of this would be obvious shortly. Across the valley, the Refugio de la Renclusa nestled in trees. Walkers climbing Pic d’Aneto would have left here in the early hours of the morning and would have fantastic views from the summit on this clear day. Our next landmark was a café, still devoid of people, where a wooden bridge led across the river. Shortly after, the path widened and started to climb. Here was the tail end of one or more coach parties who were visiting the Trou de Toro and despite carrying backpacks, we started to overtake the dozens ahead of us. It was like Dovedale on a bank holiday weekend. The attraction, the Trou de Toro or Toro’s Hole, was the melt water from the Aneto glacier disappearing below ground in this limestone area. Further on, fewer tourists were admiring the Aiguallut cascade and we knew it wouldn’t be long before we lost everyone else.
The tourists would miss the delightful
green meadow a little further on through which a sparkling stream babbled.
Our route climbed more obviously now, through a rocky valley where none
of the coach party ventured. There were marmots around and we caught a
glimpse of a stoat. Peace returned.
small lake, the landscape changed. The mountain was composed of huge slabs
of white rock as far as the eye could see. It was easy, although calf-stretching,
to ascend initially on gently sloping slabs, but more difficult higher up
as huge boulders rested on the rock.
The view was superb. From this gloriously sunny eyrie with its summit cross, we could see cloud over France, quite literally spilling over the border into Spain, the Maladeta massif and our onward route far below. The earth curved in the distance.
It was 4.15pm by the time we returned
to the col, and the day’s fun really began! The descent route was
not obvious – it was all too precipitously steep. Martin disappeared
to see if there was a route further round, whilst I tested scrambling
down from the col, without my rucksack. This was possible, if risky. Serious
injury would result if a hand or foothold came off. Martin seemed to be
a very long time. I was reluctant for Julie and I to descend, to find
that Martin had returned and I had to climb back up and repeat the descent.
So, we waited until eventually he appeared below, declaring forcefully
that his was not the route to adopt. Slowly, Julie and I scrambled down
what turned out to be the correct, if unlikely, route. We were inhibited
by Julie’s height which made reaching the holds I’d used difficult.
An even scarier section followed: a steep snow slope with footprints down
its crest. A slip here could not be contemplated. Assisted greatly by
our poles, we both made it successfully, and the worst was over.