Haute Route Pyrenean stage 2 – Lescun to Gavarnie (four days, 125km)

Day 6 Lescun to Candanchu – an epic day of inversions

36k hiked, 2560m ascent, Stayed at a ski resort in Candanchu

In total 204k walked, 1.3kg cheese consumed

I woke up at 5 and it was raining, and I finally roused myself at 6.10, packed up my went tent, after putting on my wet clothes, said goodbye to the Martina, Sylvain and Reiner who were still getting moving and headed out at 7am. I walked for almost three hours in solid warm mist, first up a road, then a dirt track, then a trail and I saw nothing at all until the Col de pau at 9.40 when I saw through the most into sunny Spain. Sadly. I wasn’t going to Spain so I turned left and headed along the ridge in the mist. I was ready for breakfast and I met a couple coming the other way who told me there was sun in 20 minutes so I kept going – outstanding advice. I stopped at the highest point of the morning (2100m) surrounded by irises and had the most spectacular cloud inversion with the huge peaks sticking out (in French, it is delightfully called a sea of clouds). It was worth the first three hours of mist. It was probably even worth the next three hours of mist.

Breakfast was an improvised pumpkin couscous with saucisson and cheese (no dehydrated meals in lescun so I bought packet soup to improvise with). It was delicious. Onwards two hours to Refuge Arlet on the shores of the first lake on the route. Arrived at 12.20 and it was totally covered in mist, so I refilled my water and played with the patou (huge Pyrenean sheep dogs) who were more interested in the hikers lunches than their sheep

An hour or so after the refuge I bumped into a member of the hiking Facebook group I am on – so we had a chat about conditions and refuge omelettes. I then meandered down the hill and eventually got some views.

By 3pm I was at the bottom of a lovely valley with yet another 400m ascent in front of me, fortunately most of it was in the forest though there was a steep section along a cliff which got me to the Col with splendid views down to Lac Estaun. That was my planned campsite for the day but it was still early and the tide was out on the lake (it’s very dry here), so I got some signal and booked a cheap hotel room in the last town before Gavarnie – the crappy ski resort town of candanchu. I took my shoes off and enjoyed this stunning view, I contemplated a swim but it wasn’t quite warm enough.

The book said it was 2.5 hours to the end and it took me 3 – it was hot, and by that time I already had 29k in my legs . I told a few breaks, and even took my shoes off and eventually made it to town. The tiny supermarket had dark chocolate and good yogurt, and I checked into my very retro hotel and had a shower, a huge steak, a bath, than an apple, two yogurts, some Gorgonzola and some dark chocolate. Yum! Epic day!

Day 7 – Candanchu to Lac Arrious – two excellent swims

25k hiked, 2600m ascent, pitched at delightful spot above lake arrious

In total 229k walked, 1.45kg cheese consumed

I slept in given the luxury of a bed and didn’t leave until just before 8, with a nice boring 4km road walk to Astun where I was hoping for a coffee but everything was closed. From there it was a steady climb past the lovely lac de escalar and up to the Col de moins at 2100m and head back into France.

The descent to Lac Casterau was loud with cowbells and when I got there I decided it was breakfast time. I made pasta and a huge sheep dog surprised me from behind and then went in the lake for a swim. I wondered where his sheep were but all 500 of them soon arrived and it turned out I was right in their path. My quiet breakfast turned out to be quite lively

From casterau I headed down to a shepherds cabane at 1600 m and had to turn right and grunt up a bit slope to the Col Peyreget at 2300m but I rewarded myself with a dip in the lake just before the top.

Then a descent down the Plombie valley with great views of Balaitous but we went all the way down to 1300m before again heading uphill in the baking afternoon heat to the Col de’arrious at 2250m. It was a slow climb

I had hoped to pitch at Lac arrious but there was not much in the way of flat spots but I got lucky with a nice French girl who had just gone down to get water and she showed me a quiet spot away from the trail to pitch. I had a swim and it was idyllic (until a loud group of three Spaniards showed up – though they eventually quietened down and I was secretly pleased there six women pitched here and no men, always great to see women alone and confident in the mountains).

Dinner was yuck – an experimental firepot chilli, so I had extra chocolate.

Day 8 – Lac Arrious to Lac Aratille – glorious day of lakes

21.5k hiked, 1500m ascent, pitched lakeside at Lac Artille

In total 250.5k walked, 1.45kg cheese consumed

I slept well but woke up before my alarm. I was mildly bracing myself for the passeig de orteig, a cabled passage on which I would start my day, but I knew I had done it before. I took it slowly, didn’t look down, and relied on my hands on the rock more than the cable (which was quite wobbly) and all good. I passed the refuge arremoulit which was a building site with quite a few people bivouacked as the generator was running. This year I turned right to take the HRP variant through Col de Fache (having done the terrifying Port du Lavedan section last year)

The climb up to the col was bouldery, but I quite enjoy a bouldery uphill, and then it was an easy if steep descent to a series of stunning lakes on the Spanish side.

I made it to Refugio Respumosa around 10.30 and cooked breakfast. There was a crowd waiting for them to open, and when I was leaving at 11 they opened the doors to the amassed hungry hikers.

The 2 and a bit hour hike up to Col de Fache was up a stunning ravine with a lovely stream with lots of swimming spots, but I decided to wait abd swim at the lake at the top, so of course it started raining when I finally got to 2500m and the lake. Oh well, over the col in the rain and a swift descent down the other side

The sun came out again pretty quickly and I walked down to the heaving monstrosity that is refuge wallon. I presented myself at the bar at 3 and was told I was too late for food except sugary crepes as savoury service finished at 3. Arse. I had two overpriced sparking waters and one crepe with no sugar that I put my own cheese on

This place is always heaving so I put my pack on and climbed the extra 4K and 450m to the much quieter Lac Artille, and arrived in time to secure one of the last flat private lakeside bivouac pitches . A quick dip in the lake, some sunbathing and another big dinner

Day 9 – Lac Aratille to Gavarnie – lovely Vignemale

26k hiked, c.1500m ascent, stayed at the mad hotel Marbore in Gavarnie

In total 276.5k walked, 1.6kg cheese consumed

I figured I could make it to Gavarnie today, and then not have to wait around to resupply, and maybe even get a hotel room. I left the lake at 6.30am and my neighbours were also packing up but no one was moving. It was a lovely cool ascent to the Col De Aratille and then a spectacular balcony path across a boulder slope over to Col de Mulets. I didn’t see a soul until I got the Mulets around 8.10.

From there it was a steep bomb down the hill to the wonderful valley which is home to the refuge Oulettes de gaube – with the best view in Europe of the Vignemale. And after the 500m descent it is straight back up the other side to the 2734m Hourquette d’ossue (this climb was fortunately in the shade)

I arrived at the refuge de baysellance at 10.45, too early for food so I made some tea and ate some cheese and chatted to two British retired teachers who were doing the HRP for the second time.

I headed down the hill, hastened by the thoughts of the delights of town. It took 90 minutes to get to the Barrage d’ossoue – and from there last year I walked the GR10 into town, which was an interminable slog in the heat with a lot of unnecessary winding and undulation . The brits had alerted me to an alternate direct dirt road route which they preferred, and it was a gem. Still 8km of walking in the heat but it was efficient and the views just as nice .

I got to town, had a sandwich, bought a tonne of fruit and yogurt to eat, found a hotel room (nothing available on line but I asked in one place from the 70s and they had a spot). Also went and bought more food. Dried my clothes and aired my feet. Was feeling a bit odd before dinner and wondered if I was dehydrated. I ate dinner feeling increasingly off and threw it all up immediately as I got back to my room. Hmmmm – maybe I have been testing the shelf life of brebis carried in a hot pack to aggressively. Oh well

Next update from Salardu

Wednesday 2 August, 2023

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