Pyrenees Page

Pyrenean Haute Route - July to September 2004

Here is a transcript of our daily postcards sent home from this trip:

Monday 26/7/04

Hendaye-Plage to Biriatou
A short hot walk to a tranquil hamlet – 1.75 hours, 8 km, 200m ascent
It’s lovely here.  We are having a really lazy afternoon in sunny Biriatou before the hard work starts.  The packs were OK today and not too heavy.  Martin wore trainers and kept his new boots in the bag – it was easy terrain.

Tuesday 27/7/04

Luxury Hotel to Col de Lizuniaga
Green and pleasant except for tourist hubs – 7.25 hours, 17.5 km, 1100m ascent
Our first longish day’s walk – we did fine and managed ‘guide book time’ despite stops. La Rhune was very busy. It closely resembles Snowdon, having a railway up it, buildings on the top, and lots of people.  But unlike Snowdon it had views from the summit!  We escaped the crowds quickly, as not many folk appear to walk.  Although overpriced, the café’s sandwiches were good.  The rest of today’s walk was largely up and down on quiet paths through hilly and woody countryside.  There was some cloud, but it has cleared to a beautiful evening.  We are the only tent (and maybe the only customers) at this bar which has extensive views.

Wednesday 28/7/04

Dewy lawn to Dancharia
Cloud inversion then hot and sunny on good tracks. Nice quiet campsite – 7.75 hours, 17 km, 400m ascent
Brilliantly hot sunny day – up in the 30’s C.  Enjoyed a long lunch en route to Dancharia, a border village with a huge supermarket.  Also a nice quiet campsite and restaurant where we enjoyed some beers and a meal under the shade of some plane trees.

Thursday 29/7/04

Damp campsite to Bidarray
Wet morning, steamy afternoon, rocky descent – 8 hours, 17 km, 750m ascent
Set off in dark heavy cloud on forest paths.  Light drizzle during the morning and we were in cloud on a long ridge.  Better at lunchtime when we had a view to enjoy as well as goats' cheese and tomato butties.  Bidarray has a gîte which we have to ourselves, and an interesting church.  Its shop has stocked us up with food for the next few days.  Looking forward to a ridge walk tomorrow.

Friday 30/7/04

Deserted gîte to wild camp at Col d’Ispeguy
Superb ridge walk, cloudless afternoon, camp at 685 metres. Good views – 7.25 hours, 14 km, 1300m ascent
Last night nobody else arrived at the gîte, which looked as if it normally housed masses of schoolkids.  We had a lovely meal at the local restaurant.  Tonight will be our first night cooking in the tent (or near it, it’s very sunny here).  The tent is at a ‘wild camp’ just above the Col d’Ispeguy.  We can use facilities at the col.  We have good views into both France and Spain.
Today’s route was great.  We climbed up to a summit at 1044m, where it was still enough to brew up.  The ridge narrowed and the views widened as we dropped below the cloud.  Had a favourite lunch today – tins of fish!  The ridge continued all afternoon and the sun came out, making it all quite steamy.  There are pigs here, snouting through the bracken, and horses who obviously like to be fed.  We should see sunset from the tent.

Saturday 31/7/04

Camp with view to wild camp at Col de Mizpira
Scorching, but welcome beech woods and a long stop (not included in timing) in Les Aldudes – 8 hours, 18 km, 1250m ascent
Scorching hot day.  We got to Les Aldudes by 2 pm and stayed until 4.30, drinking lots, washing clothes, and trying to avoid the heat.  Paddled deeply in a river in order to recover a t-shirt that blew away whilst drying in the breeze.  Then up to a wild camp on a ridge in a breeze, but still very hot – had to hide behind the tent for a while to avoid frying.  Lots of horse bells to lull us to sleep.  Or not!

Sunday 1/8/04

Very wild camp to Col d’Orgambide
Long hot day. Storm at camp at 1035 metres – 9.75 hours, 24 km, 1200m ascent
Sitting in the tent after a storm listening to cowbells.  Today has been hot again as we’ve climbed further.  The route included some of the Santiago di Compostella pilgrimage route, so we saw loads of people.  It’s interesting finding water sources, and with one dry today we had to raise a manhole cover to obtain water!

Monday 2/8/04

Cowbell camp to near Bagargui Col
Superb mountain day with inversion and peaks – 11.5 hours, 24km, 1100m ascent
A very long day, especially as the expected gite at Foret d’Iraty (Bagargui Col) was full, so we had to walk 3 km extra to a campsite.

Tuesday 3/8/07

Midge zone to Col d’Uthu
Ascent of Pic D'Orhy (high point to date-2017m) and misty ridge – 10.3 hours, 21 km, 1350m ascent
Climbed back up to the col, where the shop was terribly stocked, so we have to go without brews for a while.  Then headed up out of the cloud to our highest point to date.  Views were amazing as there was cloud beneath us over France.  The vultures flew close by.  A shame that we entered the mist later as the ridge is a good one.  Camped at a col at 1664m, after collecting water from a spring on the Spanish side.  Sadly no views from here apart from a brief glimpse when the clouds parted temporarily.

Wednesday 4/8/04

Windswept col to La Pierre-St-Martin
Bad weather foils bid to reach Lescun – 8 hours, 22 km, 500m ascent
For a ski resort in summer this isn’t too bad.  We are sitting in a basement in a laundry waiting for all our clothes to be washed.  (I’m wearing just my swimming trunks.)  Yesterday (Wednesday) was tough as it involved navigating difficult terrain all morning.  We used the compass and the altimeter a lot.  Visibility was 10 metres.  The 2½ hour route took over 4 hours, and the much anticipated hot chocolate at Rif Belagua didn’t happen as the refuge was closed.  After lunch under the eaves it was 14 km on a road in mist +/- rain.  A better evening as we were in a refuge with other English speakers, wine and a nice meal.

Thursday 5/8/04

Well earned rest day in nice refuge
Today’s rest is well earned after over 9 days’ walking.  Shame it’s still not hot and sunny!

Friday 6/8/04

Refuge Jeandel to Lac d’Ansabere
Wonderful mountain day and idyllic campsite.  All sorts of terrain. – 10 hours, 23 km, 1400m ascent
A hard but beautiful mountain day – all sorts of terrain, from limestone plateau to woods to contouring paths over grassy hills.  Lunch in a hanging valley in the sun.  Sting in the tail was a 900m ascent, starting around 3.30 and ending at 6.15 pm, at an idyllic spot by the small lake, alone except for the eagles.

Saturday 7/8/04

Silent camp to Refuge d’Arlet
Beautiful contouring paths avoiding storms.  Leisurely afternoon in sun – 7 hours, 14 km, 700m ascent
Up early at 6.30, to get the best of the weather, and we spent all day avoiding nearby raindrops.  We arrived at Arlet at 2.30 and had a very leisurely afternoon in the sun.  Our tent is by the lake, and we will be lulled to sleep by jumping fish.  We have just enjoyed a five course meal at the refuge and will turn in early.

Sunday 8/8/04

Lakeside camp to Candanchu
Another great day with eagles soaring above.  First bath for 2 weeks! – 7.5 hours, 17.5 km, 550m ascent
Another beautiful day – this time with no threatening weather!  On a gentle descent after leaving camp, we passed farms high up, with their sheep in enclosures.  Had a nice brew near a stream that was too cold even for Sue’s feet!  Today’s climb brought us up to Ibon de Estanes (lake), where families had taken picnics and there were lots of horses.  Then we took a contouring route through the French/Spanish border, with soaring eagles and colourful alpine flowers, to the Spanish ski resort of Candanchu.  After quenching our thirst at a bar we found a hotel and had our first bath for two weeks!  Then we found an excellent corner shop and stocked up with four days food, to get us to Cauterets.

Monday 9/8/04

Hotel with hot bath to Refuge de Pombie
Fresh breeze for good walking, with lakes and marmots – 7.2 hours, 14 km, 1300m ascent
A decent hotel breakfast set us up for a long climb, but cloud means it is a cool one.  Crossed back into France and saw marmots, including babies, at a lake beneath Pic du Midi d’Ossau.  At our camp at Refuge de Pombie at over 2000 metres we saw isards, small deer, again with young.

Tuesday 10/8/04

Camp by hut to wild camp near Refuge de Larribet
Difficult terrain, navigation error, snowfields, challenging – 10.5 hours, 17 km, 1800m ascent (including nav errors of 4 km and 300m ascent)
It dawned cold and cloudy.  We watched a shepherd milking sheep on our first descent.  The route was exciting, with a wired section.  A mistake in going to the wrong col lost us two hours, so it was a tired crossing of two more difficult cols before we set up camp at 6.30pm.  Scrambling with a big pack was hard!  The last low point of the day was burnt soup…..Still, all good fun!

Wednesday 11/8/04

Cold camp to Refuge Wallon
Brilliant clear day, glissade down from high point 2706 metres – 10 hours, 17 km, 1200m ascent
After yesterday’s difficulties, this was a superb day.  Clearest day yet, but a breeze kept us cool.  Descended through a lovely valley and brewed up at the bottom, where bilberries were ripe and tasty.  Another long climb took us to a col on the border, then up to our highest point yet – 2706 metres.  There was a brilliant snow slope to glissade down to lakes and pines in the next valley.

Thursday 12/8/04

Warm flat camp to Cauterets
Lovely morning walk down beautiful valley – 4.3 hours, 13 km, 50m ascent
A stroll past many scenic waterfalls into Cauterets for a re-stocking and washing afternoon.  So we are now very clean and will not be thrown out of the nice Les Estives restaurant for being smelly.

Friday 13/8/04

Crowded but friendly campsite to Lac des Oulettes d’Estom Soubiran
Superb 1500 metre ascent of Valley du Lutour – 7.5 hours, 13 km, 1500m ascent
Here, beside the lake with the long name, it’s a gorgeous evening.  We are alone, miles from anywhere, with only my slightly sulphuric farts for entertainment.  We’ve had watercress soup, salmon and pasta with a mushroom sauce, and lots of mint tea.  The fish are jumping in the lake up here at 2360m, and the swifts are hoovering up the insects.  We spent the whole day climbing out of Cauterets, including a mid-afternoon stop beside a beautiful lake with a Refuge which marked the end of the ‘day walk’ zone.  We enjoyed our favourite lunch today – goats cheese and tomato on fresh bread.  It’s chilly now, and as it’s after 9pm, time to turn in.

Saturday 14/8/04

Lake with long name at top of Lutour Valley to Gavarnie – 1 day early
Great views of Vignemale, some scrambling – 10 hours, 20 km, 600m ascent
We have returned all too quickly to civilisation, in the form of the village of Gavarnie.  We are camped next to some French youths who are producing illicit smells.  After a cold night at our isolated camp at 2360 metres, we scrambled up to a high pass with Gentians and fine views of the highest mountain in the area. People were ascending the glacier leading to the summit, like ants in the distance.  Then we had a long descent down another beautiful valley with views of the Brèche de Roland in the distance, and crossing a couple of small snowfields.  Now psyching ourselves up for a big day out tomorrow, by imbibing beers.

Sunday 15/8/04

A walk from the campsite at Gavarnie
Classic ascent of Le Taillon (3144m) via Cirque de Gavarnie, Echelle des Sarradets and Brèche de Roland, returning via Plateau de Bellevue – 10.25 hours, 18 km, 1800m ascent
Today we took a single ‘day sac’ on this classic ‘amble’.  This involved an early start – 7.30 – and quite a steep scramble early in the day.  By midday we had reached the Brèche, arguably one of the natural wonders of Europe.  Then we went to Le Taillon, 3144 metres, meaning we climbed up nearly 1800 metres from the campsite.  ….And down again, with superb views of the Cirque.  The weather was absolutely brilliant and this walk is a class act.  It was great to have a day without a big pack, and whilst Martin was concentrating hard on the scrambling, Sue was leaping over the rocks, admiring the Edelweiss.  From our summit lunch perch we could see to Vignemale and well into Spain, including towards the Ordessa Canyon, the largest canyon in Europe.  The day was made complete by a superb hot shower (the first for three days) and a nice meal in view of the Cirque.

Monday 16/8/04

Campsite with view all day. Classic rest day. Julie arrives with lots of luggage
Our well earned second rest day was really that!  Washing was done by 9.30 – the walking pole washing line worked well for a change.  It was a lovely sunny day so we enjoyed a nice picnic with fresh French bread and, later, beers in the shade when it became unbearably hot by the tent.  Julie and a huge amount of luggage disgorged from a bus around 6pm, and we had another nice meal out.

Tuesday 17/8/04

Gavarnie to Heas
Very slow walk in atrocious weather – 8.25 hours, 18 km, 1150m ascent
A complete contrast to yesterday’s weather, today being our worst day for weather yet.  At least we had been forewarned by the forecast in Gavarnie.  We battled our way through driving rain up to 2430 metres and back down again to Heas.  It was very slow as Julie is not properly equipped for this sort of trip and has things she doesn’t need.  Luckily the next two days are short ones.

Wednesday 18/8/04

Free camp with geese to Barroude
Cool, cloudy day high in mountains – 6.3 hours, 11 km, 1200m ascent
A cool day today, good for walking but not for photos, as quite cloudy.  We managed to go a bit quicker after Julie ate some of her luggage, and we arrived at the Barroude mountain hut by 3pm.  We are not supposed to set up camp until 7pm, so are malingering here in the meantime.  It’s too cold to be outside.
Some long climbing today, but the zigs and zags are so long you almost forget it’s a zigzag path – some bare scree to climb and descend, then a walk beneath the Barroude wall, a huge chunk of rock.  The hot chocolate here is great, and served in large bowls, better than our tepid brew at lunchtime today.

Thursday 19/8/04

Barroude to Bielsa
Nice morning going downhill, then a rainy road – 6.25 hours, 17 km, 300m ascent
The sun rose beautifully red against the great wall of Barroude this morning….shepherd’s warning!  There were still gales after a windy night.  Just as well our plan was for an easy walk down to Bielsa.  We arrived in a storm at 2.30, after a nice walk until lunchtime.  For the second time in three days we had to spread solid butter onto solid baguettes softened only by the driving rain (and of course the mackerel in mustard sauce).  Then the walk along the road to Bielsa was especially horrid when we went through a dark tunnel.  At least it wasn’t raining there.  Then Sue did a superb job by finding the last available room in Bielsa.  Our room for three resembles a laundry but doesn’t smell so nice!  But it’s now picture postcard clear outside, and we are hoping for some sun tomorrow.

Friday 20/8/04

Nice hostel to Camping Forcallo
Lovely weather for a walk in Spain south of GR11 – 9.5 hours, 18 km, 1500m ascent
A pleasant stay in the hostel at Bielsa, but the mountains called, and it was a sunny day.  Ate raspberries and strawberries during an extremely steep climb, but eventually reached a level path with excellent views of Monte Perdido.  Glad to see the campsite, which provided a welcome cheap beer when we arrived at 7 ish.

Saturday 21/8/04

Barking dog camp to Lac des Isclots
Back to a typical day in beautiful but cool weather – 9.5 hours, 18 km, 1500m ascent
An early start from camp, where our alarms were pre-empted by the barking dogs, then a long, cool haul up to a high pass, down for a nice lunch, then around a high and exposed (but wide) contouring path.  Eventually arrived at Lac de Caillauas, before the final ascent to a beautiful spot by the lower Lac Des Isclots to camp.  A lovely evening.

Sunday 22/8/04

Green lake to Oô (a village)
Excellent alpine day with glacier, boulders and 2000m descent – 11.25 hours, 18 km, 800m ascent
As our camp was already up at 2400 metres, there wasn’t too much height to gain but the ground was either boulders, steep scree or glacier.  Good plod up hard snow in early sunshine.  Super views of surrounding mountains.  Rose to another col before descending for a sunny lunch near Refuge du Portillon.  During the afternoon the path dropped relentlessly into a green, lake-filled valley with waterfalls, a lovely contrast to the morning’s alpine scenery.  Julie hitched the last 4 km whilst we used a path to reach the village of Oô.  As the campsite no longer existed, it was a hotel for the night, and a welcome shower.  A long day, but a good one, and some well-deserved beers in the evening.

Monday 23/8/04

Attentive hotel to Luchon
Woodland walk, then campsite & stocking up chores, plus halftime celebrations – 2.75 hours, 14 km, 200m ascent
A short day at last.  Whilst Julie took the bus, we enjoyed a lovely walk on old lanes and footpaths to Luchon, where the path arrived in one of the backstreets!  Lunch in the park, then clothes were washed before the afternoon storms started.  Strolled along the main street later, stopping for a beer and deciding to have a rest day tomorrow (a whole one!) to celebrate being half way across!  So the ‘stocking up chores’ were considered but not actually executed – the next stage is quite tough and remote, and the weather has taken a turn for the worse.

Tuesday 24/8/04

Luchon – all day
Half term holiday in poor weather
So we luxuriated here for a day and a half – half way across the Pyrenees.  Time to relate our daily routines:
HRP (Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne) Days
6.45 – Sue’s alarm – ignore.
7.00 – Martin’s alarm – he gets up and puts a brew on.
Muesli for breakfast.
Sort gear, pack tent, leave 8.00 – 8.15.
After about an hour – stop for mountain mix (nuts/fruit)
~ 11.00 – brew stop (½ hour).
~ 13.00 – 13.45 – lunch – baguette and tinned fish and pate.
~ 16.00 – 18.00 (well, sometimes as late as 19.30) destination reached – usually after ascending and descending around 1000 metres per day.
~ 19.30 – 20.00 – camp meal of soup, pasta, tuna, chorizo sausage, sauce, etc.
~ 21.00 – 21.30 – bed time (it’s dark).
6.45 – Sue’s alarm – ignore.
7.00 – Martin’s alarm – ignore.
8.00 – put brew on and by 9.00 have breakfast of yoghourt + banana + croissant (rest days are near shops).
Morning – wash and dry clothes and bodies so far as possible, between coffee breaks.
13.00 – 14.00 – lunch of baguettes, tomatoes, cheese, pate, coke/orange.
Afternoon – shopping to re-stock supplies, coffee/beer/postcard writing/reading, etc
Evening – meal at nice restaurant.
22.30 – bedtime

Wednesday 25/8/04

Laundry Camp to Refuge de Venasque
Easy 1800 metre ascent in nice surroundings and weather – 7 hours, 16 km, 1800m ascent
Today dawned clear after being overcast all yesterday.  We discovered that if we had gone on our planned route we would have been in thick mist all day.  So off we went up the huge ascent from Luchon, up to Refuge de Venasque, culminating in a huge series of zigzags.  After we reached the refuge the cloud from France engulfed us and we adjourned to the ‘mess tent’.  This small refuge sleeps 14 people, on two bunks taking 7 each.  We three are next to a family of four.  One of them snores.  The toilet is a concrete hole in the ground in a metal shack.  The soup is warm and needs salt.  The main course is adequate but not as good as our ‘home cooking’.  It’s cold, so we are all in bed by 9 pm.

Thursday 26/8/04

Snore Zone to Upper Mulieres Lake
Fantastic day with 3000 metre peak and epic finish above Hosp de Viella – 10.25 hours, 11 km, 1200m ascent
We enter Spain, leaving French cloud behind.  Climb up a beautiful valley under the Maladeta massif and up to the highest col of the trip at 2928 metres.  From there, only 15 minutes to a summit at 3010 metres with magnificent views.  The descent was tricky – a vertical scramble then steep snow – made camp at 6.30!

Friday 27/8/04

Idyllic Camp to nr Collado Retany De Mar
Superb weather continues, Julie leaves (tired), lovely camp by lakes – 8.5 hours, 13 km, 750m ascent
Another long descent but in a lovely valley with lakes and waterfalls.  After leaving Julie at the Vielha tunnel, we climb into an area of deep blue lakes.  Had an invigorating wash in a stream at our lovely camp – saw nobody at all.  Good view from our tent kitchen.  Extra bonus was blue sky all day again.  We can now resume being two, not three…

Saturday 28/8/04

Orchid Camp to lake nr Colomers Refuge

Journey continues through magnificent high plateaus with lakes – 8.2 hours, 12 km, 800m ascent
We see no-one until having climbed to and descended from our first col, to a lovely blue lake, Estany de Mar.  An undulating path alongside it, then a descent through pines to a refuge, Refugi de la Restanca, that looks austere but quickly serves lovely hot chocolate!  This sees us up to the next col, where we lunch in the Aigűestortes National Park.  There are small lakes everywhere.  From the highest col of the day, very clear views of the area we’ve walked through in the last few days.  Descend to another refuge which provides cokes to take us off route to a lake to spend the night.  Yoga in the sun whilst waiting for a party of kids to leave!

Sunday 29/8/04

Relaxing Camp to Salardu
Nice morning descent through pine forest – 3.7 hours, 12 km, 100m ascent
An easy and pleasant descent in trainers to Salardu – a small village where a suitable hotel is found and we spend the afternoon washing selves and clothes before adjourning to a restaurant (late for us, they don’t open until 8.30 in Spain).  In between – beers and ice creams, and on the way down we enjoyed coffees at another hotel, which had an outdoor swimming pool.  All very decadent!

Monday 30/8/04

Hotel Deth Pais to Below Coll d’Airoto
Successful haul of a week’s provisions up a nice hill – 7.5 hours, 15 km, 1500m ascent
Slow start after a huge breakfast at this nice hotel (despite its name).  The “supermarket” – more a sort of corner shop, didn’t open until 9am – we then loaded up a week’s provisions, including 17 tins of fish and pate, lots of pasta, lots of “mountain mix” (fruit and nuts), 8 bars of chocolate, 2 packets of muesli, etc, etc.  The walk up to Coll d’Airoto was steep.  The guide book advised against being heavily laden.  We made it in nearly guide book time, but it was hard work.  A steep direct route to a summit, then a ridge, then finally dropping 100 metres from the col to a small lake at 2400 metres.  BLISS.

Tuesday 31/8/04

Silent froggy camp to lakelet at 2070 metres, 4 hours before Rif Pujol
Tough day with huge boulders, steep grass, no paths, very hot – 9.0 hours, 13 km, 1000m ascent
Another tough day – a steep descent then large boulders (not good for knees) for over an hour to reach another col.  The ‘path’ into Alos was steep and hot.  Restaurant only open in evening, so usual bread and pate lunch on bench in shade.  A really hot afternoon for another 800m ascent – but nice silver birch woodland and plenty of raspberries to eat!  Autumn colours start to show – red and yellow shades.

Wednesday 1/9/04

Bilberry camp to (nobody seen for 24 hours) Masia-Noarre campsite
Long leisurely day in varied scenery with frogs – 8.25 hours, 14 km, 650m ascent
After yesterday’s huge boulders and very slow going, today was a delight.  Only 400 metres of ascent to the first col, then an undulating route to have lunch at an unmanned refuge – Rif Pujol – it houses nine people and is very smart and clean.  Looks like a large metal trunk from the outside.  Then a nice gentle descent during which we had to make a route decision.  We came to Camping Masia because it sounded nice in the guide book, and the clouds were building up….and as I write, from the comfort of the bar at Camping Masia, it is raining.  Correct decision.  The alternative would have been another high wild camp, probably with lots of frogs, which have dominated the day.  Now looking forward to a nice meal at the restaurant here.

Thursday 2/9/04

Well lit campsite to Upper Romedo Lake

Cloud foils bid to climb Pic de Certascan, so we continue east in cool weather – 8.0 hours, 10 km, 1000m ascent
After a storm in the night we got wet feet from the grass during a climb to the uninhabited hamlet of Noarre, then wet heads from the climb through trees!  Lunch was pretty cool (had to don trousers) before we reached Col de Certascan.  Decided against peak bagging!  A hot chocolate at the Refuge was good, whilst a mule tried to nibble our rucksacks!  A shower created a double rainbow over our lakeside campsite, where we stocked up with bilberries for breakfast.

Friday 3/9/07

Rainbow Camp to Estany de Sottlo
Rough descent by waterfalls, then long climb in cloudy weather to idyllic campsite – 9.0 hours, 13 km, 1000m ascent
Today proved harder than expected.  The Joosten guide book failed to mention certain difficult bits and was inaccurate elsewhere.  But we ended up at a lovely spot after seeing only 8 people all day – we are in a remote area.  Our schedule indicates a possible ascent of Pic D’Estats, but that is not feasible due to the time it would take and our diminishing food reserves.  [And a degree of fatigue!]

Saturday 4/9/04

Scenic Camp to Etang de la Soucarrane

Leisurely hike in fine scenery under a hot hazy sun – 5.7 hours, 10 km, 700m ascent
From wild camp to wild camp under a hot hazy sun – we decided not to climb the ‘optional’ peaks due to fatigue and dwindling provisions (although we started with enough for a week, including 17 tins).  This was a good decision, as it got very hazy indeed and views would be limited.  A separate ‘peak bagging’ plot is hatched for some future trip!  So we arrived at a lovely spot with fishermen across the lake and plenty of time to do washing, read books and cook a nice meal.

Sunday 5/9/04

Fishermans Camp to El Serrat
Into Andorra at last for beer and ski resort lunch (supplies low) – 6.0 hours, 12 km, 800m ascent
Today, another hazy sky.  The morning involved a descent, then a climb to the Port de Rat – out of France and into Andorra.  The view of ski lifts was rather ugly, but an open restaurant provided us with cheese baguettes and salad – a good alternative to tins of fish!  We see lots of tourists walking the short distance to three scenic lakes, then we lose them when the descent gets steep.  Now enjoying beer, crisps and a valley view from the terrace of Hotel Tristiana, clean after a good bath.  Only one more day until a day off in Soldeu.

Monday 6/9/04

Empty Hotel to D’Incles Valley
Another good but hard day’s walk – 9.0 hours, 17 km, 1300m ascent
Best weather for a few days for a long but very well graded 1100 metre ascent to the Col des Miners (2713m).  Good views and very few people, then a scrambly traverse and thrutchy climb to a peak (2505m) before descending to the D’Incles valley where it took some time to find the campsite.  Then we walked into Soldeu for a nice meal beside a coach load of Germans.

Tuesday 7/9/04

Stream Camp to Soldeu
Short walk to town for a well-earned rest – 0.4 hours, 2.5 km, 100m ascent
Had a really good lie in then two breakfasts in bed with reading in between.  Once the tent had dried, we packed up and walked into Soldeu, checking into the second hotel we tried.  The first, a 4*, rejected us on the feeble excuse of not having a room cleaned until the evening.  It did provide an excellent sauna and Jacuzzi at their Spa this afternoon, in an attempt to restore zest into my [Sue’s] legs for the last 10 days’ walking.  Not too heavily laden for the next few days as we should pass through some villages.

Wednesday 8/9/04

English Hotel to Col du Puymorens

Good walk on good paths in sun, blighted by a nasty ski resort (El Pas de la Casa) – 7.25 hours, 20 km, 1000m ascent
A nice ascent from Soldeu, but then the eyesore of the ski resort.  We made it quite easily to Col du Puymorens, where the only hotel is ‘Hotel du Col’.  We renamed it ‘Faulty Towers’.

Thursday 9/9/04

Faulty Towers to Les Bouillouses

Splendid ascent of Pic Carlit (2921m).  Hot, sunny, hazy – 9.0 hours, 20 km, 1400m ascent
A lovely walk up and down Pic Carlit, the highest peak in the Eastern Pyrenees.  More people around in this pretty area with lots of lakes, but the countryside is opening out and we are clearly entering lower areas.  Martin fell over and grazed his shin, but luckily nothing is broken!  Even had some gentle sections today – a sign of things to come?  Not a cloud in the sky – made for a hot walk.

Friday 10/9/04

Friendly refuge to Eyne Valley
A morning of lakes and pines, then high plateau before fine ascent through trees – 8.7 hours, 20 km, 600m ascent
Another lovely sunny hot day and a scenic start past lakes nestling in pine woods.  A few ski pistes to negotiate before we arrive in the village of Font-Romeu.  Good to visit a large French supermarket, but the rucksacks felt heavy afterwards!  Once the new housing estate was negotiated (during which Martin tripped on a kerb and fell over again), we stopped for a sumptuous lunch.  A twisty route across fields of cut hay took us eventually to Eyne, from where a climb through woods led to a fine wild camp by a stream.

Saturday 11/9/04

River camp to Refugi d’Ull de Ter
A fine ridge walk – like the Lake District, but in metres not feet – 7.0 hours, 16 km, 1200m ascent
We reluctantly left the nice wild campsite – possibly our last this trip, and had a short, sunny, windy day in high mountains that reminded us of the Lake District.  Lots of people about – mainly day walkers.  Tonight we have our first experience of a Spanish Refuge.  We arrived here at 3.15, but they don’t serve food until 8.00.  Luckily we had a very lavish lunch, thanks to the supermarket we visited yesterday.

Sunday 12/9/04

Spanish Refuge to Marialles
High level contouring, dodging the mist – 7.4 hours, 22 km, 600m ascent
We spent the day with the compass and altimeter out trying (and succeeding) not to get lost on some high ground ~ 2200 metres.  The paths came and went, scenery changed from Lakeland to Derbyshire (but in metres not feet, of course) and we did get occasional views before descending to a nice refuge – only 5 staying – good food and company despite the language barrier.

Monday 13/9/04

Convivial Refuge to Batere Mines
Lovely scramble up Canigou (2784m) before a 4 hour contouring path – 10.2 hours, 25 km, 1400m ascent
A memorable ascent of Pic du Canigou, with a lovely clear sky until the afternoon.  From the summit, a sea of white clouds to the East, and views back to Pic Carlit to the West.  Towns with red roofs a long way below.  A lovely balcony path right round a valley in the afternoon, and another convivial evening in a gite with an English speaking French couple.

Tuesday 14/9/04

Gite in cloud to Amelie-Les-Bains
Foggy descent, mainly on Deserted Dirt Roads – 4.2 hours, 16 km, 100m ascent
The gite looked a bit like a prison, but we spent a pleasant evening in the restaurant next door with Vincent and Ann.  Vincent is a fiddler who busks in Paris.  We spent most of the morning in a cloud, then had a nice lunch in Amelie, a lazy afternoon and an extra walk up a gorge, and a very nice evening meal in Le Poivre Vert.

Wednesday 15/9/04

Hotel Residence Jeanne D’Arc to Las Illas
Long walk through Forests, partly in cloud – 8.7 hours, 14 km, 1400m ascent
After a dry start, more rain today, but over a ridge, the first sight of the Mediterranean!  Having not had a navigation error for a while, we had one today – in the cloud we struggled to find the summit of Roc de France – succeeded eventually!  But no views!  Nice route down, overlooking the sea, to Las Illas, a hamlet with a homely gite, which we shared with Vincent and Ann again, and a good restaurant with nice steak, and chocolate gateau!

Thursday 16/9/04

Homely Gite to Col de L’Ouillat
More trees and blackberry lanes as we head east in fine weather- 7.3 hours, 21 km, 1000m ascent
Despite being nearly at our final destination, we only caught occasional glimpses of the Mediterranean today, as we progressed from the nice gite at Las Illas to another gite at Col de L’Ouillat.  We travelled an undulating road (mainly dirt tracks bordered by succulent blackberries) down to a dreadful place called Col du Perthus, where the streets were crammed with people trying to buy cheap booze from the many supermarkets.  Then along a quiet road for lunch by an ancient fountain, before taking woodland paths up to our destination.  The views from the gite were breathtaking, west to Canigou, and south into Spain.  But the gite was fully booked!  This turned out to be to our advantage, as we had a meal there at 6.30 and were in our cosy tent in the forest when the party arrived, all in 4WDs!  We were able to go to sleep early, in preparation for an early start on our final day.

Friday 17/9/04

Camp Fortunate to Banyuls-sur-Mer
Fabulous long walk in brilliant weather to a big cold salty bath – 9.0 hours, 22 km, 700m ascent
Despite a cold and windy early start (7.30am), this was a brilliant day.  Canigou glowed pink, and we saw the coast from the high point at 1250m, Pic Neulos.  We passed people out collecting mushrooms in the beech woods of the final ridge.  Our lunch spot on Pic Sailfort gave the first view of our destination, Banyuls, and way up and down the coast.  Fantastic views – clear for 50+ miles in all directions.  The afternoon passed all too quickly as we passed by cactus plants and vineyards on our well-marked (for once) path to the sea.  Sue was determined to end the walk with a splash.  She did, but not for long as the sea was cold!  Then to a rather dusty campsite to consume an excellent (and cold) bottle of champagne before returning to town to contemplate our success, and the rest of our lives.


Other reports:
Peter Edwards - 2006
David Lintern - 2011


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