Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Friday, 2 August 2013

Friday 2 August 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 49 - Stage 38 - Refuge de Rulhe to Mérens-les-Vals

Distance: 14 km (Cum: 722 km)      

Ascent: 440 metres (Cum: 41,810 metres)
                     
Time taken: 5.75 hrs including 1.0 hrs stops                                     

Weather: hot and sunny

As acknowledged in yesterday's comments, today's path was more 'HRP' than 'GR10' in nature, featuring some steep and very bouldery sections. 

There were several campers dotted around the refuge, one group with its resident donkey. 

Leaving at 8am, I was well behind Pierre and Yolaine, who had been despatched early on an important mission. 

On another glorious day  I picked up a phone signal after half an hour,  on Col des Calmettes (2318 metres) and enjoyed reading Humphrey's comment (see my reply on the day in question) and hearing about Graham's successful journey home. It's good to receive comments etc when you are on your own - I like it anyway. 

There wasn't a soul about until I reached the valley leading into Mérens, just P&Y's fresh prints across the occasional snow gullies. Here, someone had been along the route with a shovel in order to open the path to those without winter equipment. There were also lots of small cairns marking the way where the painted waymarks were sparse. I expect someone has the job of rebuilding these cairns every spring. There were other signs of footpath maintenance on this path that isn't shown on my 1993 map, though it is shown on my 2001 map that overlaps this section. 

I didn't hurry. There was no need, and the undulating sometimes bouldery, sometimes sheep track path, all through clumps of Alpenrose, was certainly not conducive to hurrying.

On the way to the high point of the day,  Crête de la Lhasse (2439 metres), a huge meadow of pale yellow pasque flowers concealed some shrieking marmots. 

After another break to admire the views, I descended steeply past Asphodel and through scratchy Broom to the valley, where people were walking up to Étang de Comte from a nearby car park. 

The long hot descent brought about a skinned toe and a nosebleed. Minor annoyances.

Once in Mérens, with my map open on the wrong page, I fumbled about looking for the gite, eventually finding it with the help of P&Y who zoomed past on their mission.  It's exactly where marked on my newer map, about a kilometre out of town. 

I was there by 1.30pm. Time for a relaxing afternoon, in lieu of a rest day, a feature of the trip that has become a bit sparse!

'Chilling' isn't the right description, as it's 32°C in the shade and the breeze.

Today's photos show a couple of 'GR10 friends' - the frequent signposting, and the regular provision of fresh, cold water. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Occasional Pyrenean Flowers (17)

Alpine Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla alpina apiifolia) - which is prettier, the flower or the seed head?

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Thursday 1 August 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 48 - Stage 34 to 37 variant (4) - Below Port d'Incles to camp near Refuge du Rulhe

Distance: 10 km (Cum: 708 km)     

Ascent: 750 metres (Cum: 41,370 metres)
                     
Time taken: 5.0 hrs including 1.0 hrs stops                                     

Weather: a 'blue sky' day

A short day to end my four day excursion on the HRP. Classic HRP country - very slow going over big boulders for quite a bit of the time, superlative mountain views, and the sun beating down. 

My camp site looked nice enough, and I got a great night's sleep with the door open (midge net shut).  It was a starry night, very calm, shocking for the deer that nearly stumbled over my tent, and dark for the little procession of folk who seemed to be tackling Port d'Incles as a night hike. 

The only problem was the plague of mosquitos. 

The little blighters followed me all the way up the HRP path to 2300 metres. Even when I got a strong phone signal it was pretty much impossible to stop for long enough to do very much without getting bitten. There's no signal here at the Refuge, so this will be posted in the morning. 

I regained the path marked on my map a little below Refuge de Juclar, perched at about 2300 metres above Estany de Juclar (a small lake), from where an adventurous path led around the side of the lake to the excellent camping spot recommended by Simon. Sadly if I had pressed on last night I'd have arrived too late to enjoy the spot.

There were a few people around in this lovely area that is well served by refuges. I made my way over Collada de Juclar and back into France, lunching on my last Salade Parisienne - the one with tuna and mushrooms and mayo, before ambling on to Refuge du Rulhe, arriving before 2pm.

So I've had a half day today, but not as lazy as Pierre and Yolaine's day - they arrived yesterday and are resting here today. It's quite acceptable to camp nearby and eat at the Refuge, as long as you don't camp on the helicopter pad.

It's great to see P&Y again. Their rest was well earned as on Tuesday they had a very hard day from Rialb cabin to Refuge du Juclar. 

Today's photos: the top one is the Estany de Juclar, from near the refuge, and my excellent camping spot is below. 

Tomorrow: another easy day on GR10. 

Later: spent a pleasant few minutes with an English family staying at the Refuge. The first English people I've seen since Luchon. They are on a six day circuit from Ax-les-Thermes, backpacking and hutting. I hope it inspires them to do more. 

The refuge staff were very friendly, the meal was good, and the company (P&Y) exceptional. 

The refuge is in a great spot. The sun finally dropped out of a still cloudless sky at nearly nine o'clock. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Occasional Pyrenean Flowers (16)

Yellow Turks-Cap Lily (Lilium pyrenaicum) - not the most frequently seen flower of the trip. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Wednesday 31 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 47 - Stages 34 to 37 variant (3) - El Serrat to beside Rio Manegor below Port d'Ingles (2000 metres)

Distance: 19 km (Cum: 698 km)     

Ascent: 1780 metres (Cum: 40,620 metres)
                     
Time taken: 9.0 hrs including 1.5 hrs stops                                     

Weather: perfect summer's day, if a bit hot

It was great to hear from Simon Harper yesterday. Well done to him for finishing the HRP when so many others have been unable to do so. On his own as well. Respect. I'm sure that people like Humphrey, David and Alistair (not to mention Chantal) will agree. 

I decided to 'fuel up' with a hotel breakfast this morning - there are no shops here (I knew that, hence setting off with several days' food on Monday) - so that made for another late start on a hot day. But at least El Serrat is at 1500 metres, so there was less than usual woodland ascent to enjoy (endure?) before striking out over open ground. 

I soon passed the lone lady backpacker I'd seen a couple of days ago.  She is Natalie, from Brittany, walking the HRP over three summers in three week stretches. This is her final stretch - Vicdessos to Banyuls. I'm unlikely to see her again because I'll  probably be ahead of her when I next encounter the HRP. 

Today was a classic mountain day, crossing two separate ridges, each at around 2600 metres. I really felt I was making progress across the landscape, though the extensive mountain views both east and west show no sign of abating. 

The first landmark passed after leaving El Serrat was Sorteny Refuge. I recall a rather strange, ill equipped place, but now it's being made into a full service refuge. A big project. 

The flowers were great today. A series of 'occasional flowers' could result from today's sightings. I also saw  a slow worm, eagles, and a few shy marmots. 

There was lots of Thrift up at today's first col - la Collada deis Meners. It's flanked by two climbable 2912 metre peaks. I'd considered going up the more accessible of the two, but decided that the panorama from the col was more than good enough for today. 

The top picture shows the view from there back towards El Serrat and yesterday's hills.

A fine belvedere then led to an unmanned hut called Jan, where a couple seemed to be in residence. 

Today was spent entirely on the HRP path, which has excellent red and yellow waymarks hereabouts. I don't remember them from my previous visits, and the route from Jan has changed. It now contours (if a stiff 400 metre ascent to the second 2600 metre pass of the day can be described as 'contouring') round to another cabane - Cabane Sorda. This meant my planned camping spot by the Clot lakes was by-passed. I was tempted to go down there, but the area seemed to be full of horses. 

After seeing just a handful of people all day, I found hordes of children at Sorda, either staying in the cabin or camping. I hurried past.

By now I was missing my afternoon tea and fancied stopping, but the path had switched to a hillside with no water. There seemed to be little choice - camp with horses, or without water.

I was feeling fine so just continued, in the knowledge that Simon had suggested a good spot a bit further on. Then, just before 6pm, the head of this valley appeared, with flat ground, no horses, and lots of springs. Perfect. The tent was up, and a brew on, in no time at all. 

The view from my front door isn't to be sniffed at either. See lower picture. 

Oh, and who says the HRP is flat compared with GR10?  

It's back to GR10 tomorrow, probably by a roundabout route, as the direct route over Port d'Ingles looks a bit too simple. 

No signal here so I've no idea when this will 'send'.  A couple of comments from Nightbird did get through, though, reminding me to use my own photos, not Sue's, when entering photo competitions! 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Crux

You can't quite see my footprints, but it was about 100 vertical metres from the start of the snowfield to the innocuous looking rocks that would have arrested any slip.

People reading this with GR10 in mind need not worry - this is on the optional 'fly free' route! 

Don't worry if I go awol for a few days - it's remote country until Mérens on Friday.  I haven't heard from Pierre, so I assume a phone signal is hard to come by. 

Sent from a safe haven in Andorra

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

Occasional Pyrenean Flowers (15)

I saw lots of this beside yesterday's belvedere path. I think it's the flower head of Mountain Onion (Allium montanum).

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Monday 29 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 45 - Stages 34 to 37 variant (1) - Auzat to Étang de Petsiguer (2240 metres)

Distance: 17 km (Cum: 668 km)      

Ascent: 1520 metres (Cum: 38,290 metres)
                     
Time taken: 7.5 hrs including 1.0 hrs stops                                      

Weather: sunny periods, cloud later

A perfect day for a fine walk. A bright Monday morning brought a freshness that was lacking last week, for this third part of my GR10 crossing, companionwise. Having lost Sue, and now Graham, I am all alone. That means I can go at my own speed, pause whenever I want, and not worry about Sue being left too far behind or Graham being kept waiting for too long. 

I've climbed over 1500 metres today, with a heavy pack containing food for several days, but as the climbing was mainly very gradual and spread over the entire 17 km of walking, it doesn't feel like it. 

Stuffed full of Yves's breakfast, and my head still buzzing from the bangs and crashes of last night's excellent fireworks finale to Auzat's fête, I wandered up the quiet sunken lane to Olbier. A lovely way to start the day. An early mountain biker was pushing his steed down the hill, obviously afraid of losing control near a steep drop. 

Olbier turned out to be a hamlet of narrow streets full of shuttered terraced cottages. I wonder whether the aluminium factory workers lived here, or is it an ancient farming community?

A similar gentle path led on to Goulier. I was finding the ascent over slippery rocks easier than yesterday's descent, despite the heavy load.

I passed the Croix de Massot and pee'd behind a tree called Leo. I wondered what the tree thought about its name. (Walking alone has some peculiar effects!)

At Goulier the unmistakable red and white daubs of the GR10 directed me south, up the steepest hill of the day. Bizarrely, I was now travelling towards Hendaye. I'm sure Marceau Derrieu (1912-81) would have smiled from his grave. I soon came across a monument to this man, who died in the mountains near here. It was he who 'fathered' the GR10 footpath, this section being opened in 1975.

I'd passed horses with bells, in the woods, and even spotted a couple of tractors (too modern to be of interest), at which point a plaintive comment arrived from Alan R. It's such a shame that I didn't inspect the tractor at Aulus more closely - I thought Alan would recognise it instantly. ..

The path had climbed gently through the Forêt Domaniale de Goulier Auzat - lovely walking at 15°C with a gentle cool draught and not a fly in sight. Views were starting to open up as we approached the memorial to Marceau Derrieu, with Small Yellow Foxgloves littering the hillside. 

At around 1400 metres (I'd started at 750) the path stopped rising and embarked on a wonderful long belvedere for a few kilometres. It wound its precarious way around the steep hillside. A slip here would be disastrous but luckily the path offers a metre or so of width in most places. 

Harebells were coming increasingly into frame, and the bright purple flower heads of Mountain Onion were also splashed beside the path. 

I was delighting in a freshness to the weather that has been absent of late.  A few minutes were passed with five French walkers on their way to the Fourcat refuge where Pierre and Yolaine were last night. They were taking their time around the precipitous belvedere, and on the look out for izards. I looked as well. I saw plenty of lizards! 

There were good views to a jagged ridge across the valley, but the highest summits remained cloaked in a stubborn cloud. 

Two small rams pottered along in front of me for a while as the path rose to 1550 metres by a junction that led down to Arties. The upper picture was taken near here, looking back to a less precipitous section of the path.  There was lots of Broomrape and Fringed Pinks in this area. Before lunching myself, at 1800 metres or so, I passed a lady backpacker lunching some way off the path amidst a herd of cattle. Looking back later, I could see no sign of this lady, nor of the French group. 

A sheep looked injured. On closer viewing, it was afterbirth, and a new born lamb was vigorously exercising its lungs.  One lamb amongst a large flock. I thought the rams were a shifty pair.

Shortly after that, a wired section of path saw me stashing my poles and map case and easing myself along the wire across the steep wet rock. I was glad I'd stashed the poles. 

Then I forsook the red and white path leading to Fourcats, in favour of a thin path with yellow waymarks, rising past rushing streams lined with Marsh Marigolds and Alpenrose, which effectively by-passes the refuge. I was last here with Dave, on 24 August 1994, when I seem to recall the main feature of the walk being the cloud in which we passed the day. We camped a bit further on then. Today the cloud wasn't far above me when I stopped at this fine spot (pictured) at 3.30pm. It's in the Snowbell zone at about 2240 metres, just before Étang de Petsiguer. There are some large patches of snow nearby.  I took full advantage of the nice weather while it lasted, but as I write I'm engulfed in the thickest cloud of the trip. It's about 10 metres visibility, so extremely unwise to venture far from the tent - you'd get soaked by the cloud, and. .. have you ever tried to find a tent in a white out?

Anyway, I'm making inroads into the giant bag of food and have all my needs (not the Internet of course, and a Kindle would be handy) so I'm quite happy here in my cloud. 

I'll send this sometime tomorrow when I have a signal. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Sunday 28 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 44 - Stage 33 (variant) - Étang de Bassiès to Auzat, via Vicdessos

Distance: 14 km (Cum: 651 km)     

Ascent: 100 metres (Cum: 36,770 metres)
                     
Time taken: 5.75 hrs including 1.5 hrs stops                                     

Weather: cloudy with light rain at one point, but sunny periods developed later. Pleasantly warm

To my surprise, it rained in the night, with distant lightning flashes but no thunder. 

I'd planned a lie in, and woke late at 7am, but there was no sign of the sun, and the mozzies seemed lethargic, so I was almost ready to go when Graham set off at 8am.  He was anxious to get to Tarascon - about ten miles beyond Vicdessos - in time to catch his train tomorrow morning. There are no buses today, so he will have had to hitch or walk, though I did spot a taxi firm in Vicdessos. Anyway, if we had set off together he'd have been far ahead in no time at all. 

The mist was down and the rocks were slippery, so I descended slowly past Heather and Honeysuckle, then past giant toads and large clumps of Yellow Saxifrage, to an ancient aqueduct at 1160 metres. I chose the eastern descent path, not GR10, and I don't think it's marked accurately on my old map. The upper picture shows the sort of sunken lane that GR10 uses quite a lot, though this one is slightly off that route, which heads to Mounicou. My 'variant' missed the delights (or otherwise, according to some reports) of that particular spot and headed down a rough road rather than down the steep path that would be accessed from the GR10 route. 

Once down at the 'main' road, pleasant woodland paths on the west bank of the river led amiably to the outskirts of Auzat, once a town to be avoided, and a place about which I was a little apprehensive due to its aluminium factory. 

It had taken just over three hours to get there, but after staring in amazement at the state of the art athletics stadium where I was expecting an aluminium factory, I avoided the village for now and took a minor road that led past Vicdessos's campsite, bringing me to the southern end of that town. It was noon on a Sunday. I needed an épicerie in order to stock up. The next shop I would pass would be in five days' time. I walked all around the town and eventually found the shop hidden round a corner just near my arrival point. It was a good one though. 

Graham was nowhere to be seen. He has gone home. He is no doubt enjoying the pleasures of Tarascon's campsite tonight.  

Several kilos of food later, a picnic bench under a magnificent lime tree was found, my tent was pitched next to it to dry out, and I set about consuming a heavy lunch. Objective only partly achieved, I then stumbled back up to Auzat, where Sue had mistakenly booked both Graham and me into l'escalette B&B.  We had realised the mistake and Yves and Sophie don't mind me being just one person, having received a clarifying call from Sue. 

Yves and Sophie don't mind having a quiet night tonight - they catered for a garden party of 115 yesterday.

Yves greeted me with more English than I was expecting. I must have looked thirsty as he provided a second beer 'on the house'. I must have been smelly as he then offered to 'process' my dirty clothes. Both I and my clothes are now really clean, and I'm pleased to report that I'm also re-hydrated.  

So rather than the planned rest day here tomorrow, I'm having a half day today and am setting off up a big hill in the morning. 

When I was last in this area, with Dave Scruby in 1994 (we spent a day in Vicdessos writing postcards), Auzat was a place to be avoided. Its huge aluminium factory was chucking out all sorts of pollutants. Today, those times are remembered by way of an 'aluminium walk' - a tour of the village highlighting its days as an aluminium town from 1908 to 2003. There was strife in the latter year, when the factory closed due to maintenance and safety issues, with four hundred families left without employment. 

The transition from aluminium factory town to a sports and leisure mecca will no doubt take some time. The stadium was only opened last year and Yves tells me there have only been two meetings there. I noticed the local restaurant doing a four course meal deal for just €14, which is cheaper than we've been seeing. I suspect that this B&B will be on the verge of being unacceptably cheap! I'll find out tomorrow. 

Tonight I ate on my own for the first time on this trip. A slightly odd experience, but I did enjoy a chat with Yves every time he brought another course to my table outdoors on a very pleasant and insect free evening.  An excellent meal: 
Goats cheese and courgette tart
Veal cutlets with buttery pasta and ratatouille
Chocolate cheese cake with raspberry jam
With the usual red wine and coffee. 

And they can do breakfast for any time I want it, not the usual 'from 8am'.  Well done Sue, you found me a top place. 

Auzat's fête is in full swing, with baton waving girls and a brass band. Not quite Morris Dancing, but the girls are more attractive (sorry Rick).

The lower picture was taken shortly after I arrived here, when I was being plied with beer.

Keep commenting (I like your comments Chantal, wherever you learnt your English they need to be congratulated!) and I'll be in touch in a couple of days - there's virtually no chance of a signal tomorrow night. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Occasional Pyrenean Flowers (14)

We see a lot of these tall bright blue flowers in rough and stony places. 

I think it's Mountain Lettuce (Lactuca perennis).

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Occasional Pyrenean Tractors (4)

Motivated by the enthusiastic response to my last 'tractor' posting, I looked around and saw this one.  If it's any help to Alan R, the side plate said '0301'.  The end plate said 'Amouroux Freres Toulouse', but I guess you already knew that.

I would imagine it's their 1HP model,  but I'll let you be the judge.

Sent from our GR10 trip - outside l'escalette B&B in Auzat, with a fluffy towel in one hand and a beer in the other

Saturday 27 July 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 43 - Stage 32 (part)/33 (part) - Passerelle d'Ars to Étangs de Bassiès

Distance: 19 km (Cum: 637 km)      

Ascent: 1250 metres (Cum: 36,670 metres)
                     
Time taken: 9.25 hrs including 2.0 hrs stops                                     

Weather: we seem to have a heatwave

It was a fairly hurried departure as the midges were also early risers.

There had been a lot of flapping overnight due to a gusty wind.  Our most sheltered site, the finest the weather has been, and it's windy. A hot wind from the south. It can't have been bad, as neither of us could be bothered to get out and tighten our guy lines.

The first two hours of the diay were spent strolling through the woods, down to Aulus-les-Bains, past three tiers of spectacular cascades (the middle one is pictured - it's much wider than portrayed in the image).

We met a few folk coming up the path, and some may have spent the night admiring the scene under a waning moon.  I was surprised not to find a large car park, but the path retained its integrity all the way down to Aulus. 

An old round building with mature trees inside was passed, and we saw many more examples of an 'eye' icon that is rotated by ninety degrees. What do they denote, we wonder? 

Down in the fleshpots of Aulus we were able to stock up with provisions and with caffeine, though when I went to pay for the coffees I realised we'd missed a trick - there was an appetising row of croissants behind the counter. But Graham had long gone, so I moved on and vowed not to miss any similar opportunities. 

Graham had moved on due to my rather rudely chatting to Sue about the disorganised state of my plans. Accommodation in Vicdessos was a problem, and it was needed tomorrow, when Graham leaves for home and my clean clothes and batteries expire.  Graham seems to manage fine on hot campsites in a heatwave with flies, and is actively opposed to anything more luxurious, but whilst I enjoy wild camping, and get my best nights' sleep in my tent, I can also cope with 'fluffy towels'!

So a plan for the next six days has been hatched, based on Stage 7 - fine option 2 on the itinerary you can link to below:
Sunday - B&B in Auzat
Monday - camp at Étang de Goueille or earlier
Tuesday - El Serrat (Niunit Hotel Ordino)
Wednesday - camp by Estany near Clot
Thursday - camp at Refuge de Rulhe - eat their meal if possible
Friday - Merens - chambres d'hotes du Nabre
Graham's newer map shows different paths to my old one, so if I get a chance I may purchase one in Vicdessos. 

Many thanks to Sue for organising the accommodation, and well done to Booking.com for resolving the problem when she mistakenly booked the El Serrat hotel, on a non-refundable basis, for a week after I would actually be there!  Booking.com's freephone service simply phoned the hotel and changed the booking, with no penalty, whilst Sue was holding.

I've heard from Pierre and Yolaine that they are doing something similar, perhaps with shorter days than I'm planning, so maybe I'll catch them up at some point. 

The only other GR10 ers that I've heard about are Roland and Marie, who were last 'seen' on the Canal du Midi. This seems to be a sensible antidote to Marie's growing intolerance of hills. Thanks to Chantal for that information. I suspect there are a few folk currently on GR10 who would like an antidote to hills, heat and biting insects. 

We haven't met anyone else going our way - not in a meaningful way, anyway. That's the effect of camping, I suspect. 

We did however meet one GR10 er in Aulus. Christophe was a jolly chap, on his way from Banyuls to Hendaye. There was much shaking of hands and well wishing, then we parted like ships in the night. I hope that some of my coming encounters aren't quite as brief as this one. 

I digress. The 1100 metre hill out of Aulus wasn't at all bad. Gently graded paths with few flies if you kept moving, transported us (with Graham miles ahead as usual) to the ancient village of Coumebière, of  which few remains are visible. The water from the fountain (spring) that served the village was delicious. 

The Cicerone guide doesn't mention this place of interest. Is Paul Lucia (the author) missing a trick, or is he facilitating a pleasant surprise? 

A delightful if rather slow path drew us over Port de Saleix and nearly to the 2006 metre summit of Mont Garias (I'm surprised that Graham didn't leap up it in a few strides), before undulating past our planned camping spot - Étang d'Alate (difficult but possible to find a place) and descending over rough ground to a signpost. It was 3.30pm, hot but not thundery, and the sign not in our direction said 'Refuge de Bassiès. 

"Beer o'clock" said I. Graham agreed. So we spent a happy half hour in the cool of the refuge, which admittedly wasn't far away, before descending hotly to our campsite beside the path that runs alongside the eponymous lakes. Luckily there's a large stone howff the other side of the path, in which we sought refuge from the heat and the flies, before it was possible to adjourn to the tents and fling up the midge nets. My tent soon became splattered with blood.  "Another nosebleed?" enquired Graham.  "No" I replied, "but probably my blood" as I swatted another mosquito. 

The site of our camp is somewhere in the middle of the lower picture - of the lakes, taken from the descent to the refuge. Probably not visible are the numerous day trippers, out for a satisfying day in the mountains. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Occasional Pyrenean Tractors (3)

Feast your eyes, Alan R!

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary