Pyrenean 6-dayer (September 2014 version)

By Simmo

Day#0: 20 September depart

Bristol - London - Paris – Lourdes: Train – Walk – Train – Tube – Train (I knew the script from last year). Rained on getting off the train in Lourdes… the only time that I felt the rain all week.

Day#1: Cauterets to Refuge Wallon

Sunday as per last year: take the bus to Cauterets with it’s terrific stock up market. This year though I head out and west through the alpine Marcadau valley. On to the Wallon refuge, with a real end of season feel about the place (like all the places I stayed at subsequently).

Day#2: Pic de Cambales

Head for Pic Cambales up a path that takes me through a stunning and stark rock / tarn dappled landscape around Lac de Cambales…start feeling the altitude a bit as well. At the summit appreciate why this peak is considered to be the stand-out in the region for views, standing in isolation from higher neighbours: Balaitous, Vignemale, Pico del Infierno…with the added advantage of having the cloud flirt with all the other peaks except mine. Boulder hop down to the Embalse de Respomuso reservoir, which takes a bit of a turn on the shock absorbers. But very comfy night spent in the very well appointed Refugio Respomuso; room for 120…there were 5 of us in.

Day#3: Rio Aguas Limpias and Sallent de Gallego

Weighed up aching joints and the talk of incoming iffy weather in the Balaitous region, so took decision to head down and South into village of Sallent de Gallego. Turns out a good call: follow a magic path that hugs the gorge next to the Rio Aguas Limpias with views to the Spanish canyons stretching west and the following day’s scenery. At Sallent I had a free run around a real old Spanish Village on the Camino de Santiago, in a lull between the summer end and the ski season start.

Day#4: Col …. Valle del Ara

The good weather arrives, but a really dreary start to the day following the GR11 along the Col du Portalet Road and trudging up through ski runs. Soon forgotten as I entered the upper reaches of the valley to take me onto Canal Roya valley. Bowl of soup and chance to dry the washed socks off in the sun to confuse the marmots and vultures, while soaking up gobsmacking views east to the Balaitous. Up over the Puerto and it’s lakes overshadowed by the spike of Pico de Anayet, and then down into the stunning Canal Roya valley with 2 hours of promenading bringing me to the forestry Bothy: not too small, but with a few tactical protruding steel bars to ‘skewer the unwary’. Set up for the night, and then spend the thick end of 90 therapeutic minutes picking a mother-load of blueberries to cook up and dip the croissants in. Starry night, but definitely could start to feel the creep of Autumn.

Day#5: Col du Somport – Col d’ayous

Weather really ramped up the heat today, as I saw out the rest of the Val del Ara with massive Spanish canyons looming in the distance (felt like I was in Arizona). Unsuccessfully tried for provisions at the eerily completely-shut ski town of Candanchu. But a faded café at the top of Col du Somport watered and caffeined me, with added bonus of running into some folk I met in the Wallon 4 days previous (and at the time seeming like it was weeks ago, as it does). Then take the magnificent Tour de la Valle d’Aspe path, the map promising a contour-line-hugging romp to Refuge de Larry; but the reality had other ideas. Last year in the Pyrenees I had a ‘lose the path and get flustered’ Thursday, and I loyally honoured this in full this year: a combination of map, swearing, and flapping got me back on the path and to the refuge de Larry and a guaranteed bed. But the prospect of sunset and sunrise over Pic du Midi d’Ossau (c/o stay at Refuge Lac d’Ayous) was too tempting. So a further 1 hour got me up to the Col d’Ayous…and a view of the Pic to fully vindicate the decision. This time there were as many wardens as guests at the refuge, engaged in a full blown pre-close-down clean-up. Cooking your tea outside Refuge Lac d’Ayous with the last rays on sun on the face of the Pic is highly recommended.

Day#6: Chemin de la Mature and Lourdes

The last day, and it was back up to the Col d’Ayous to see all the Western Pyrenean summits sprawl away in the morning sun. And then a straight romp down the valley to Etsaut village, culminating in the spectacular chemin de la mature path cut like a notch in the sheer drop limestone (easier than it looks though). Bus and train combo gets me back to the ‘sanctuary’ of Lourdes and a spree of unearned overeating.

A few snaps here if you want a gander:

All in, another great Pyrenean week. Handy to go somewhere soon after the referendum to shift the drama from my heid - I still have ties with the old country :). Late September is a bit of a chance on the weather front but I got lucky again - the last 3 days of the trip were like summer. May push my luck again for next year…