Distance: 12 km (Cum: 538 km)
Ascent: 1320 metres (Cum: 31,100 metres)
Time taken: 6.5 hrs including 1.5 hrs stops
Weather: sunny, with cloud building by late morning, some rain, then sunny periods, thunderstorm later
Today Graham declared UDI and headed back up to Cabane du Clot du Lac to embark on a high level walk towards Mt Valier (2838 metres), and down to perhaps meet me, depending on which route I chose to take.
"Eleven miles should be easy enough" said Graham. I decided not to argue. He is proud of his Alpine experience and confident of his ability. I'd considered his route, albeit not well defined on my old map, and rejected it for a number of reasons. I may have been wrong, but I felt the route would be well beyond my own limited ability, especially without an axe and crampons for the north facing snow slopes.
I next expect to see Graham in Seix tomorrow or on Tuesday, but I have camped where he has the earliest opportunity to see me if indeed his route was "easy enough".
Splitting up like this was always the plan - we can both look after ourselves, and Graham can go high when he wants to. He may appear later - he's much faster than me, and more confident on steep ground.
So I set off alone at 7.50, after a fine night's sleep. Today the tents were dry thanks to an early morning breeze.
The good path wound amiably down to Cabane de l'Artigue, which would be fine for two people to spend the night.
The cabanes in this Ariège region are numerous. They are very much like Scottish bothies, and are sometimes used totally or partly by shepherds. A useful resource in bad weather. Or suitable for use by those without a tent (but you would need everything else).
An easy descent through trees led to Pla de la Lau, where it was hot and sweaty. I'd met five very sweaty people ascending slowly up the path. Should I have gone with Graham? I quickly dismissed that rash inclination.
The toilets, and a very brief phone signal, the only one all day, helped to justify my decision, though I do have to break some bad news to Graham. One of his fish has died.
The car park was full. This is a very popular spot, and the gite used by Pierre and Yolaine last night - Gîte Auberge La Maison du Valier - looks excellent, if rather full of children.
Incidentally, I didn't see P&Y today. They must have left early and finally escaped from us!
It was a 'blue sky' day, so shade from the sun on the ascent through woodland was most welcome. Especially as this was a particularly steep ascent. The cool breeze created by the rushing river nearby was much appreciated. Then the narrow Muscadet valley was forsaken in favour of many short, steep zigzags up to a small cabane at 1620 metres.
I nearly caught up with a group ahead, but they got away whilst I rested. It was not a day for rushing.
More steep zigzags, gradually lengthening and easing in thrutchiness, led past lots of orchids, and Spring Squill still in flower, to Cap des Lauses, at 1892 metres, basically a path junction.
Here I needed to decide whether to take the easy GR10 path to Étang d'Ayes, or explore some lesser paths. It was only 11.45, and the former route would take little more than an hour. So I headed along a path well marked with yellow paint, in the direction of Refuge des Estagnous, which the sign told me would take three and a half hours. Luckily, I wasn't going there, but Graham might be. ..
Fifteen minutes along the path I came to Cabane du Taus, where I could take advantage of the good water supply.
Curiously, I met lots of people on this section. A bit of a puzzle. One of them seemed completely bemused about where he was. He seemed reluctant to accept my analysis!
Just beyond that cabane I stopped for lunch in the shade of a large rock. It was hot. A couscous salad was enjoyed in an area that looks magical for wild camping. But it was a bit early for that, so I continued, leaving the Estagnous path in favour of one leading to Cabane des Espugues. That cabane was a little off my route, but I went to look at it anyway. Partly occupied by a shepherd, it seemed to have space available for passers-by as well, but I didn't go in.
Another well marked (in yellow) path led NNE, gently up to Col de Crouzette - 2210 metres. That was a nice surprise, as the rucksack was feeling heavy and I'd expected the col to be at 2361 metres, but that was the height of a minor summit that now overlooks my campsite.
The cloud had been building, as it does, and whilst I was looking into clear blue sky over France, drops of rain were splattering me from the central Pyrenees. I sat on the col in my anorak, until the rain eventually stopped and I could make my way down towards the next cabane - Cabane d'Eychelle.
I could see a huge herd of sheep descending in that direction, so after sliding down a few steep (but luckily soft) snow slopes, I reached a grassy plateau at 2050 metres, only fifteen minutes from the col. There was a good water supply from a nearby stream. The thunder was still banging and roaring like a flapping tent, so I set up camp and put on a brew.
It was 2.30 pm.
I was pitched next to a snowfield, with a view back to the col, and in the other direction, down to the flatlands of France. (Both pictured)
It rained for a while. Then the sun came out. A convenient rock meant that I was excused back ache whilst writing my diary. Whistling marmots kept me company. The last of the Sentein main meal provisions gave me a good supper in this wonderful location.
A shepherdess rushed past. Closely followed by the biggest thunderstorm of the trip.
Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary