Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Tuesday 30 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 46 - Stages 34 to 37 variant (2) - Étang de Petsiguer to El Serrat

Distance: 11 km (Cum: 679 km)     

Ascent: 550 metres (Cum: 38,840 metres)
                     
Time taken: 5.5 hrs including 1.0 hrs stops                                     

Weather: a beautiful summer's day

Waking at six o'clock to a clear sky and 6°C, with masses of condensation, was no incentive for getting up, especially as I thought I had a fairly short day ahead of me. 

So a brew and a lie in followed, whilst watching the half moon dawdle across the sky above me and the sun slowly cast its light down the hillside before me. 

A delightful way to start the day, and magic when the sun finally reaches you and quickly warms everything in its ambit.

So it was ten o'clock by the time I set off from the lovely wild campsite, pictured top in the direction I was heading. 

I was wise to stop when I did last night, not because of a shortage of suitable sites, but because frequent snow fields required deviations from the path, which was quite difficult to follow anyway. 

I saw a shepherd pass by before striking camp, but then nobody, and not really any sign of anyone having been here.

Yesterday's belvedere path was soon lost to view and I made my way very slowly towards Étang de Goueille.

The area by the Petsiguer lakes was interesting, with rudimentary stone shelters, and ground covered with Trumpet Gentians and flitting Wheatears and Stonechats. Houseleeks were also in evidence here. I stopped frequently. The views were sublime. 

There were several path junctions, one of which I took by mistake, until an impossible snow gully turned me back.

I was lucky. Every time the path disappeared under a bank of snow and I thought I'd lost it for good, it reappeared as if by magic. 

Eventually the red and white stripes of the HRP path from Fourcats joined from the right, and my entry point into Andorra,  Port de l'Albeille, came into view. In the absence of a back up plan, I was relieved to see that the 2601 metre col looked feasible, albeit there was a lot of snow to get around. 

So on I continued, taking loads of photos, eventually making my way over very rough ground to reach the col soon after midday. Time for lunch. There was no sign of anyone having been to this spot for some time, though I could see folk far below by the Tristaina lakes in Andorra. 

The middle image was taken from the col, looking back into France. 

I received at this point a message from Pierre and Yolaine. It seemed they had chosen a different route into Andorra from Fourcats. It looked harder on my map. 

The marked path then rose along the ridge to the south east for a few metres, before heading in steep zigzags down scree. I had been sure it would by-pass the massive snow slope below. 

Wrong. The path led straight into the snow, which was guarded on either side by rock buttresses well beyond my level of skill.

What to do?  

I thought about my back up plan, and about the nice hotel booked in El Serrat. 

'Graham could do this with his eyes shut' I thought. 

I shut my eyes.  It didn't work. 

I tested the slope. It was steep, but if I kicked hard I got a bit of grip. For 100 metres? Anyway, I knew what would happen if I hesitated. So I set off. A few metres at a time. Digging in hard to rest. Moving like a drunken crab. A black dot on a sheet of white.

A long time later four French lads ran up to me as I strolled nonchalantly past them. 

"Nice t-shirt" I remarked to the one in Patagonian blue. 

"Yes" he replied "we had planned to go to Fourcats that way, but we watched you come down. What shall we do?"

I knew Pierre and Yolaine had found a better route (at least I hope it was better) so I called Pierre but the phone was turned off.  The lads really didn't fancy going up the steep snow - it would have become increasingly frightening the more tired and higher they got. So they sensibly rang Fourcats, whose guardian helpfully provided an acceptable alternative, probably the route P&Y took.

In the bottom picture the col I came over is the lowest point on the horizon. I'll find an easier way back into France in a couple of days' time. 

The walk down to El Serrat should then have been fairly mundane, but the HRP path is a devilish creation. It seemed to take me past a waterfall beside which the path was as steep as the waterfall. A series of rock bands that I needed to shimmy down on my bum made life interesting, as did the deep bog the path crossed at the bottom. 

But after crossing a road the woodland route to El Serrat was lovely and relaxing, so I was well composed when I strolled into the Niunit Hotel. 

"A large beer, please."

It was only 3.30pm. 

A short but memorable day in the hills!

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

6 comments:

Simon Harper said...

Hi Martin, Good to read your progress. Arrived in Banyuls today - the shoes only just survived. Awesome adventure. Thanks for your kind words at chalet Pedro and all the best for the remainder of your journey. I camped at Lac de guoeille just before a storm!

Take care

Simon

Simon Harper said...

I also found the waterfall descent interesting - not to impressed by the mapping in this region. There is a great spot for a amp between the two Estanys de Juclar.

S

Phreerunner said...

Congratulations Simon. Thanks for the message, if I'm feeling energetic I may press on to Juclar tomorrow.
Pleased to hear that your boots made it. Mine may not make it back to the UK. Like my trousers, t-shirt and socks - so who am I to question other peoples gear?!
Do drop me a line at martin@topwalks.com, and maybe we can meet up. And I hope your new job goes well, at least you'll start it refreshed.

Anonymous said...

wow woow wooow : what a thrilling experience, Martin ! it was Worth being lived !
You keep us in suspense...
Well representative and very good idea the "a drunken crab" and the "A black dot on a sheet of white".
xxx
Chantal and Joël

Nightbird said...

I think beer o'clock at 3.30 was well deserved!

Nallo Lady said...

Another 'Congratulations!' to Simon - really glad you made it to Banyuls.