Category Archives: Pyrenees
After a rest day in Gavarnie where we enjoyed restaurant food, ice cream and beer we packed once again and joined the HRP towards Barroude. The path climbed steeply up towards the Refuge des Espuguettes then dropping down along the Western wall of the Cirque d’Estaube. Plodding bored down some switchbacks on the road we were surprised when a British registered Nissan SUV stopped and asked if we’d like a lift.
We certainly did.
We were driven down to the valley and deposited at the campsite near Chapelle de Heas. We thanked our countryman and booked into the campsite.
The mist rolled in and we headed for an early bed.
The next morning we left Heas and climbed up towards the Aguila hut. The visibility was still poor and we decided to make a short day of it to see if the weather would improve. We settled down in the hut and played cards for the remainder of the day before spending the night there.
After Aguila we set off for the Hourquette de Heas to take the path to Barroude and the hut there.
The path was unclear. Part misty, part snow covered and all over a jumble of rocks. We weren’t confident we’d be able to stay on the right path so we decided on an alternative. Descending to the bottom of the valley we could follow an easier path and reclimb up towards Barroude.
A few hours later we were back on the snow, following boot prints to the hut. Walking the last few Km through the mist we felt as though we were on a wide open plateau -we could see nothing.
We booked into the hut and sat down for a coffee. The mist outside briefly lifted and the Barroude wall appeared. This is a long high wall forming a barrier beyond the lac de Barroude.
We were some of the first guests of the refuge this season, the hut had only reopened the day before. We paid for dinner and waited excitedly for it to arrive. To date, the food we’d had in refuges had been excellent; tasty, plentiful and restoring. We were keen to see what we’d receive in Barroude.
Steaming bowls of a rich tomato soup and plates of bread arrived and were scoffed quickly. The warden brought us a large kilner jar of homemade pate. Delicious.
Time passed and our hunger grew. What would be the main course? A stew? What delight awaited us?
Time continued to pass and we muttered amongst ourselves “I think this pate is IT!”. “Thats no good, I want something more”. “Well, if thats all there is, I’m going for it!”
I tucked in to more of the pate. Then more. Then dinner arrived! A stew of beef and vegetables. I felt bad that I’d eaten so much of their pate. Leaving too little pate for them and too little room for my dinner.
One of the places in the Pyrenees I was most keen to see was the Breche de Roland. A gap in the wall between France and Spain. Legend has it that when Roland was fleeing the Moors he smashed his sword against the rock in an attempt to smash it. Instead, the rock broke and he and his soldiers escaped into France.
Geology tells a less exciting tale. The rock broke because it was weak.
I’d seen many pictures of the Breche in guidebooks and on websites and I was excited to see it. We left the Goriz refuge at the head of the Ordesa canyon and set off for the border. As we climbed the snow cover got deeper. It was firm and not icy so it was good to walk on without crampons. The sun shone down on us keeping us pleasantly warm in our shorts and T shirts as we walked over miles of snow.
The final approaches to the Breche were steep and a fall and a slip would have been a very long slide. We kept to the foot-worn path and made it safely to the border. There is a chain bolted to the rock wall to help the ascent but this was buried deep under the snow.
The French side of the Breche is the Glacier du Taillon which slopes down towards the Cirque du Gavarnie. We slid down the glacier on our backsides, the cold ice strangely refreshing against our shorts-clad selves. We stopped at the Soldats hut for a drink and a sandwich before carrying on down to Gavarnie where we stayed for 2 nights at the same campsite as before.
Friday 25th June
A relatively easy day. After the traditional breakfast of coffee and porridge we packed up and followed the path towards Ordesa. Crossing the Bujuaruelo bridge we turned right and followed a pleasant forest path. As the rivers are in their full snow-melt guise one of the stepping-stone crossings was more fun than expected. Boots off, sandals on and away we went.
After a few Km and hours the forest became a dirt road and a trudge for the rest of the way. We arrived at San Anton, paid to camp for the night, pitched, ate and walked a few Km into Torla where we enjoyed a cold beer and browsed in the shops. Afterwards we picked up some food and returned to our tents. Our neighbours on the site were an older British couple walking the range for a few days.
Saturday 26th June
Up at 7, left at 8.20. We walked the 800m back along the road to the mouth of the Ordesa canyon. Once in the canyon the footpath avoided the hairpins of the road, instead taking a steeper route through the forest on the southern side of the canyon. The first few Km were thick forest, which excluded most of the view. The forest thinned and occasionally gave way to clearings which allowed us to see the canyon walls towering above us. The path climbed and joined with the river and the crowds of visitors.
We passed sign after sign advertising waterfalls and viewpoints, great numbers of people milling about. We left the path to side beside the river to cook some lunch. Cous-cous. I couldn’t manage to prime the stove as it was too hot. Everytime I let some fuel into the stove it evaporated before I could get it lit. Cous cous abandoned, we set off again hungry.
Climbing steeply once more we found ourselves at the broad end to the canyon, a large meadow with huge walls to three sides. Pushing through the crowds of day-trippers we crossed the bridge and joined the scree path up to the canyon-side. A steep climb and a couple of hundred metres we were at the top -ish. We followed the path around above cola de caballo waterfall and along the side passage towards Monte Perdido and the Goriz hut. Although the map showed the linear distance from waterfall to hut as about 1Km it seemed interminable. Guarded by two loose scrambling sections and a steep slog the hut sits between Ordesa, Monte Perdido and the Breche de Roland. After almost 8 hours of walking we finally made it!
At a height of 2180m this was our highest camp to date. From where I sit to write this Ordesa is far below, Monte Perdido is behind and above.
The two Brits from last nights camp site made it here a while after us.
We ate dinner twice this evening, to make up for the lack of lunch.
Tomorrow it is through the Breche and back to France
We spent the night camping on a rocky area near to the Goriz hut under the slopes of Monte Perdido.
Thursday 24th June
From our wild camp at 1995m we ascended to the border ridge. It was cold and windy. Just over the ridge is a small lake encircled by steep banks of snow and scree.
A scramble down loose rock got us to the shore and then an easy flat walk around the lake. The final hurdle was a thin ice-bridge blocking our way. Helen chose stepping-stones close to the waters edge. I climbed up and over the rocks. Daz initially followed me but couldn’t reach the same holds as I could due to the difference in our heights. Attempting a ‘third way’ he ended up caught between rock and ice. Much to my amusement. After removing his pack and taking his Lekis he was on his way. We climbed out of the bowl of Ibon de Bernatuero and began the descent to Bujuaruelo, under the summit of Alto Crapera.
The path was well-worn ad obvious, making its way ever downward through scree to alpine meadow and eventually to lowland fields and forest. Here the track seemed to end. We searched and tried a way through the forest but to no avail. After a fruitless hour we walked back uphill to a small un-wardened refuge we passed on the way down. We saw a path on the left (Eastern) side of the valley and made our way over to it. We descended the valley towards Bujuaruelo and the path got twistier and steeper -seemingly endless descent until we arrived, exhausted at the river. Daz was missing so we went straight for the bar. We found his pack next to a bench and him at the bar.
Next: Bujuaruelo to San Anton
Wednesday 23rd June
Breakfast of coffee and pain au chocolat. Packed up the camp, it amazes me how it all fits into the three packs. We set off along the road out of Gavarnie in the direction from which we arrived 2 days previously. Having seen the Ossoue valley from a height we decided to follow the road to the dam. This also spared us the hairpins up the GR10. The walk along the road wasn’t too bad -very warm though, bright sunshine and little breeze. We stopped for lunch when the road and river became a similar height. An hour spent under a tree for sandwiches and sweets. Further up the Ossoue valley we took a side track up to the Cabane de Lourdes, a pleasing little cabin on the mountainside. Passing this we entered a high side-valley which would lead us to Spain.
We climbed up to about 2000m which was quite close to the valley head wall which forms the French/Spanish border. We took off the packs and rested a while on some warm rocks. A snack of instant soup was made in our ‘kitchen’ -a sheltered area among large boulders -just right for cooking. At about 7pm we pitched the tents on some flattish ground between cow-pats. Dinner was cod and potato stew -lovely!
After dinner we took to the tents as the air was cooling. Tomorrow we’ll be in Spain.
Next: Spain, at last!
Tuesday 22nd June
A rest day in Gavarnie. Ate, drank, ambled about, admired the view. Overall a very pleasant day. Pushed the boundaries of MSR cookery with a delicious pasta dish -jamon, chorizo, shallots, lots of garlic, tomatoes and butter. Also made garlic bread.
Gavarnie has 3 main populations; Locals, Tourists and Horses -four if you include the ever-annoying flies. The horses provide tourist rides to the cirque. Every morning they walk down to the road -seemingly unguided and every evening they walk back up into the hills.
We spent the evening relaxing in a bar overlooking the cirque. The beer was good, Jupiler and the view spectacular. The bar’s decor, however, reminded us of a hair salon.
Next: Gavarnie- up!
The day dawned clear and bright. Ish. We decided against our planned-from-the-comfort-of-a-sofa idea of anascent of Petit Vignemale because of the snow and our lack of crampons. Instead we followed the GR10 down to the Ossoue lake. Snow and scree and a 1000m descent. When we made it to flat ground we had lunch by a large boulder over the course of an hour. 2 Brits on their way down from Vignemale stopped for a chat (small world moment: Months later I met one of the men when I visited Astra Zeneca in Loughborough!) We packed up our gear and wandered on. Climbing up the GR10/HRP we decided to head for Gavarnie instead of crossing into Spain as Daz had fallen, hurting his wrist and damaging his watch. The GR10 follows the pattern of the road, but about 500m higher up the valley. We stumbled into Gavarnie at about 7.30pm absolutely exhausted. The two Brits we spoke to at lunchtime were already at the camp site. Just as we got the tents up the rain came down hard. We went for a beer and then straight to bed.
Next: Day off
We went for a non-existant 8am bus to Pont D’espagne. Had croissants and coffee in a cafe then took a taxi to the road head. A long hairpinned road with a great deal of ascent got us to the end of the road. After 5 minutes walking we arrived at the chair lift up into the mountains.
From the top of the telesiege it was a short walk to lac de Gaube -very misty. Two hours later we reached the refuge Oulettes de Gaube. After a brief lunch stop we once again set off, this time Bayesellence which was over a high col at around 3000m. The route was advertised as 2.5hours on the way markers. It took us about 4.5 hours because of the thick mist and snow covered ground. We met up with a Frenchman, Anthonie who joined us for the crossing of the col. We followed foot prints in the snow and GR10 way markings all the way. It was exhausting work for our first day out. We arrived at Bayesellence at about 6.30pm, and stayed for the night paying for dinner, bed and breakfast.
*This blog post is another transcription of notes written in my journal at the time. Intended as a more permanent record than a tatty notebook*
Departures: Saturday 19th June
Hold luggage: 32kg
Daz searched by customs officer at Stansted airport. No burger king here, drat.
On arrival at Pau in Southern France we took a taxi to the train station. Helen was sent on a fuel foraging mission. She returned with a couple of bottles of ‘Essence C’ which turned out to be a dry cleaning fluid!
We took a train to Lourdes – the noted Catholic Theme Park. There was what appeared to be a large war remembrance parade going on. All restaurants were closed except for McDonalds.
No evident departure point at the coach station for the coach to Cauterets. We only just made it in time!
Stayed in ‘les Gleres’ campsite in Cauterets. Good facilities, terrible pitches -all rocks. We could barely put the pegs in. We pitched next to a loud river, it was very misty.
Next: The mountains