Day 21 (continued) – Etang de l’albe to Ruisseau de la grave (via Hospitalet pres de l’andorre at the start of the final stage 5)
27.5 hiked, c.1715m ascent, bivvied on a flat spot above the stream en route to Bouilliouse lake
In total 567k walked, 3.2kg cheese consumed
(the first few paras are a repeat of the end of the last blog post, as the day covered the end of stage 4 and the beginning of stage 5; the photos are just from stage 5)
What a night! I went to sleep with the tent doors open it was so calm. At 3am I was woken up by the wind so I shut the doors and tried to go back to sleep. Then the wind started howling and about ten minutes later a peg went flying and the side of the tent came down on me. Just as well I was awake. It was too gusty to get out and fix it so I just held on for dear life for ten minutes and then managed to get another peg in. Ten minutes later it fell again. Arse. To be fair I hadn’t properly pegged the tent for wind. Headlamp on, went out, properly staked everything, got back into tent. The winds were ferocious though so for parts of the next two hours I literally held on to the poles hopping the tent wouldn’t fly away (and hoping the lightening wouldn’t come back – no one wants to hold metal poles when lightening strikes). Eventually either the wind abated or I passed out, and I woke up to a red breezy sunrise
I was very tired but packed up and left at 7.10 regardless – meeting the man who had pitched nearby taking water from the stream. He said he didn’t sleep all night.
The descent down was slow – in part cos I wasn’t awake, in part because there was a lot of boulders. There were lots of tents on the way down, and some tired faces. I was super happy to roll into Hospitalet pres de l’andorre, the official stage end at 10.30. The ‘shop’ literally had nothing worth buying, so I went to the well recommended bakery – breakfast was three coffees, a croque monsieur, half a mini pizza, a slice of flan, and then I had a pain au raisin as was still hungry. I took two quiches and the rest of the pizza for the road. Fortunately there is a supermarket on the route tomorrow – I have food but would like some fruit and am a bit over Refugio sandwiches. I hung out in the bakery for an hour, catching up on mail and reading the news.
I then carried my full tummy up to refuge bessines on a nice shaded trail. I overtook a lot of day hikers, who always seem shocked you want to pass them. I had a swim in the lake bessines and then two cans of drink at the Refugio
The weather forecast had been for more strong winds and a risk of a storm, so I decided I better take the bad weather variant and leave Pic Carlit for next time, so I followed the GR10 over two passes and continued down to a valley where I sound a flat enough spot next to a stream with the musical sound of cows. My tent is now very securely pitched (the poles double staked), and I am eating the rest of my baked goods bootie, fingers crossed for a quiet night.
Hmmmm, five minutes after writing this the cows decided to relocate to me :-), I closed the tent doors and sat quietly for about 30 minutes as I was surrounded on all sides by munching – less than a metre from the tent. My biggest conundrum was what would I do if they started eating the tent – probably nothing – startling a herd of cows feels like a bad idea! They eventually wandered off and I made a hot chocolate and went back to reading my book.
Day 22 – Ruisseau de la grave to Pla de La Fonts (past Eyne) – a day of eating!!!!
29k hiked, c. 970m ascent, bivvied on a flat spot next to Ribera d’Eina
In total 597k walked, 3.4kg cheese consumed
Yay! A good nights sleep. I woke up at 6.20 and was moving by 7. The wander by lake Bouillouses was lovely and clearly popular as I saw at least 100 hikers and 20 tents before I arrived at the Auberge at the damn. I stopped for a couple of coffees and realised for an extra 4 euros I could have unlimited petit dejeuner. 9 euros later I had consumed 6 coffees, 3 pots of yogurt, 5 dishes of compote, a hunk of bread and three slabs of butter. A good outing. I also read the news while charging my batteries
The trail then took me on a lovely stroll past three quieter and lovely lakes – Long, Black and Pradell. Then it was a long forest road walk to Bolquere. Continuing on the theme of feeding my face, I diverted off trail at super Bolquere to visit the shrine of food – the casino. It didn’t have everything I wanted, but I stocked up on some yummy treats (saucisson, Comte, dark chocolate, nuts). I had hoped for some nice rotisserie chicken for lunch, but no luck, so I decided to continue to the lower village of Bolquere to get a menu du jour
More road walking and then sadly the restaurants in Bolquere were unwelcoming – one closed for lunch, one with a sign saying they had no space. Crap! I walked another couple of kms to the next small village La Perxa – and fortunately they were happy to feed me. Goats cheese salad, steak and chips, crème brûlée and 2 litres of sparkling water and I was good to go. I had about 10km more to walk but it was only 3pm and I was in no hurry
I slowly meandered with my full tummy a further 3km along the road to Eyne and the strolled up an easy path to ascend about 600m over 6km to Pla de Fonts at 2150m. I could only go as far as there was water today, as there is a 4-5 hour dry stretch between the river in this valley and the Refugi that is tomorrows lunch spot. I could have probably ascended another 150m but it is a bit windy and I am still cautious about the wind
I tried one bivouac spot but couldn’t get the pegs in securely (a thin layer of grass on top of a lot of rock), so moved to another spot which was a little better and also added some rocks to secure the pegs. Am feeling quite full, so dinner will be some tea, and the apples and goats cheese I bought at the supermarket. Early to bed tonight, tomorrows a big long day with not much water so it will be a heavy carry
Day 23 – Pla de La Fonts (past Eyne) to Orri de La lipodere – a lovely long day along a high ridge traverse
36k hiked, c. 2105m ascent, bivvied near Orri de La Lipodere (just before Refuge Mariailles)
In total 633k walked, 3.6kg cheese consumed
Today was always going to be a long day, so I planned to get up early but somehow slept through my alarm. I did get moving around 7am and had a spectacular morning heading up to the Col. I avoided lots of cows and horses and then was delighted by multiple herds of isards on the top of the Col silhouetted against the morning sun. It was a good work out as I had an extra few kilos of water in the bag as there were few sources today
The bulk of the morning was a stunning (and relatively straightforward) ridge walk above 2500m on the frontier of France and Spain, passing Col de Nuria, Pic d’Eyne, pic de Noufonts, Col de Neuf Crois, and Pic de Vaca. I saw noone for three hours, and then a handful of people and just around 11.45 I reached the Col de Marrana which is near some peaks and a car park and there were about 200 hikers scattered around
I bombed pass most of them on the descent to the refuge d’ull de ter and happily ordered a huge sandwich, a cookie, an apple (I saw the apples in the kitchen so she let me have one) and two coffees. I figured I better get going around 1 as the guide said I had 7.5 hours to go.
Another 2kg of water in the pack (on top of the 1.5 I already had) and I set off for another stunning walk of about 21k continuing along broader gentler ridges and wide saddles along the border. I was amused to overtake two people on horses on the trail (I felt bad for the horses, it’s pretty hot).
This section was lovely, but hot and long. I enjoyed the views but by km 30 my ankle was complaining. I stopped and made some tea and food, put some opera on the headphones and restarted. I planned to go as far as I needed to to get some water and then camp – which turned out to be where I expected, about 1km before the busy refuge de mariailles, where I arrived at around d 6.30pm. I much prefer a quiet bivouac spot to myself. Though I do have a very curious horse nosying around the tent, let’s hope he doesn’t get too curious
Day 24 – Orri de La lipodere to Refuge Batere – conquered the Canigou chimney with 13kg on my back
29k hiked, c. 2000m ascent, bivvied in the field next to Refuge Batere
In total 662k walked, 3.6kg cheese consumed
It was a cool morning, and I did managed to head out by 6.45am. I was pleased I had pitched in isolation, as the area around the Refuge looked very busy, and people were bivouacked near parked cars (yuck). The day started with a lovely forest walk, and then a nice gentle climb up a valley – where I saw noone but a man with a wheely backpack at the cabin – odd. I stopped at the fountain at 2400m for coffee and breakfast and to absorb the stunning Canigou ridgeline. As I finished my coffee, i was passed by a couple of day hikers, and looked down the valley and saw the hordes (ok, probably about 30 people) coming up the valley.
I headed up crumbly path which traversed under the ridge line with some intereting bits. And then arrived at the bottom of the chimney. The ‘cheminee’ was actually made by the french with explosives to give another route up to the summit of Canigou. I am a nervous scrambler with bad vertigo, but actually the chimney was fine. Only in 3 places did I need to ‘pull’ myself up with my arms, versus push myself up with my legs (i have very strong māori legs, and less strong arms with a formerly broken wrist, and was thankful my PT makes me do lots of push ups). One guy did overtake me on the way up, but I felt ok about that given he had a wee tiny salomon trail running pack with one hard boiled egg and one small bottle of water.
It was lovely at the top, but quite crowded – mostly with hikers who had come up the’easy’ way from Cortalets. I was (unsurprisingly) hungry. so bombed down to the refuge, arriving too soon, so had to wait for noon for lunch. I had an excellent omelette, salad, two coffees, badoit, and a delicious blueberry tart.
From there, it was a steaming hot path to the Ras Prat Cabrera and then the extraordinary balcony path further around Canigou. I got quite hot, so amused some day hikers by stripping off to the minimum and effectively taking a shower in a stream en route – it is the best way to cool down. I met two british hikers – Maya and Eddie on the trail, and we compared notes (and bemoaned the absence of water in the water points at the cabin), and strolled together for a while. It. was hot but I was enjoying how easy the trail was, and was listening to some excellent tunes (I even had a few dance breaks – which is where I just stop and have a boogie). I could have kept walking for a few more hours but there were no obvious water sources to bivouac near for a few hours, so I stopped at 5.30 at Refuge batere. It was 29 euros for dinner, shower and breakfast, and the bivoackers all pitched in a nearby field. The shower was much welcome after five days of lake dunks. I had a lovely dinner with the other solo hikers – Jordi from the DR (on day 1 from Arles, with 30kg in his pack and a big worry about where he would shower), Christoph (a serial French through hiker), Wilson (from Hong Kong on Day 57 of his Pyrenean traverse) and Ulrike (from Germany, a mum of five and a teacher of refugees who is solo hiking the GR10). Dinner was ok, but the portions were not quite big enough, so I had to double up by eating the rest of the saucisson and cheese in my pack
Day 25 – Refuge Batere to Hermita La Salinas – hot as all hell, had to wring my shirt out
A sweaty muggy day
30k hiked, c. 1950m ascent, bivvied next to the fountain at Hermita La salinas
In total 692k walked, 3.9kg cheese consumed
I woke up in my field to an amazing cloud inversion in the Arles valley with a lovely sunset. Petit dejeuner was very petit – it can be an inconsistent experience in Refuges – just a few bits of bread, 1 small slice of cheese, and one pat of butter. I could definitely see a second breakfast in my near future when I reached Arles. The descent to Arles (from 1500m to 250ish) was muggy but easy, through some nice forests, and without many places to sleep, so I had probably made the right choice stopping in Batere
Arles sur tech won’t win awards for loveliness. The town smelled like pee and had an abundance of dog poo. The bakeries were disappointing – the first sold me two tiny quiches and a pain au raisin without many raisins. Those went in the bag for later. The next bakery sold me a soggy microwaved croque monsieur, a flan which tasted factory made and two coffees – I demolished those in about 3 minutes. Fortunately the little Spar supermarket had a good range and a decent wholemeal baguette. I bought more cheese, nuts and some fruit.
From Arles, you ascend again, and I sweated up to the Col des paracolls. The humidity was mad. I arrived at the top soaking wet in sweat and wrung my shirt out. There was a tiny stream on the way down, where I dunked my shirt and put it back on to cool me down. The big stream at the old Moulin was delightful. I met a guy who was on his first day hiking (had started at Arles) and surprised him by stripping down and submerging myself to lie down in the stream. It is a good way to cool down. We chatted, while I had my first lunch of a cheese sandwich, chorizo and coffee. He headed off, and Christoph arrived shortly after.
I left before two and was planning to head to either Hermita or Las Ilas. The walk was nice, but by 4pm the humidity was unbearable and the thunder started up. I was barely moving on the climb up to Roc de Frause. In spite. of the thunder, and as there was no rain, I took the HRP variant and got a good scratching from the gorse. The views were lovely from the ridge line.
I rolled down to Hermitas around 6pm and it was the perfect place to pitch. The building was closed and there was one french GR10er in the unmanned refuge. I pitched down by the fountain in a quiet picnic area and had the place by myself until about 9 when two others showed up but pitched at some distance away. Another massive dinner and an early quiet night.
Day 26 – Hermita La Salinas – Tanyareda – more hot and muggy climbs in the baking heat
35k hiked, c. 1880m ascent, bivvied next to the fountain at Tanyareda
In total 727k walked, 4.1kg cheese consumed
I was sweating before I started walking this morning. It is just hot and muggy. It was a quiet morning with an easy forest road stroll back across the border to Las Ilas. A local dogwalker told me the town had had a party the night before and was surprised to see anyone moving around. The restaurant was closed sadly, so I filled up with water at the grubby bivouac toilet block, ate some breakfast and started back uphill.
It was a long largely dirt road section for 15 km to Perthus which was fine with some nice views, but very blimmen hot. Perthus was my idea of hell on earth. Lots of french tax touristis buying boxes of cheap alcohol given lower spanish taxes. The supermarkets had pretty much nothing but booze. Between two supermarkets I managed to get yogurt, cheese and a few pieces of fruit. I had a chicken and chips at the very busy kebab bar, and then sat outside the mairie on a shaded bench. ate all four pots of yogurt, a nectarine and a plum. Christoph arrived and confirmed the local restaurant had terrible food, and wouldn’t even let him refill his water bottles. It was about 35 degrees, so I went and bought 3 litres of water (only 1.10 euros, but annoying to have to take more plastic), and began the slow march up the hill. Christoph was contemplating waiting for the heat to abate, but I couldnt see that happening
I left at 12.30, and drank three litres of the 4.5l I was carrying over the 3.5 hours it took me to walk the 9km and the 800m-ish of ascent to Col Ouillat. I stopped a lot in the shade to drink. This stretch also had amazing blackberry bushes and I ate about 400grams while walking, and picked about 300g to eat with dinner.
I arrived at Col Uillats’ gite at 4 and had an excellent sandwich, 1.5litres of badoit and a great chocolate moelleux. Lots of people bivouac here but there were a a lot of people and cars. I decided to head further on to Tanyareda to camp, but noone could confirm that the water source was active. I was feeling strong, so rather than risk running out of water, I just took 6 litres with me, and treated that hour section of the hike like a strength workout. It was quite an easy if sweaty stroll, and I arrived at a lovely picnic spot to pitch in splendid isolation. Well sort of isolation. -a fox came and sat outside my tent to watch me for a while. Dinner was sweaty roquefort and sweaty brebis, with baguette, a plum and lots of berries. I am craving steak.
The hiking for the past two days has been ok through forests, but it is definitely not the most scenic and stunning part of the HRP, it is really all about just getting to the sea.
Day 27 – Tanyareda to Banyuls sur mer – a final sweaty downhill, a swim and two steaks
20k hiked, c. 500m ascent, slept in a nice posh hotel and showered three times
In total 748km walked, 4.3kg cheese consumed
It was a sweaty morning. I woke up early wanting to take advantage of the ‘cooler’ hours to get most of the hiking done early. It was largely a lovely easy ridge stroll down to Banyuls with delightful sea views. There was also a lot more lovely forest than I was expecting, right up until the outskirts of town. There were very few people around, a couple of enthusiastic day hikers. I also passed 5 people starting the HRP. Arthur from Australia was taking a break in the shade about 2 hours into his hike, and I assured him it got easier after Batere as the heat abates at elevation. I also saw two very dispirited hikers collapsed under a tree about 3km out of banyuls in the late morning – there were really struggling…… Definitely not the easiest temperatures to hike in. .
I arrived at banyuls at noon. It is not my kinda place. I found a place to sell me a menu du jour, and demolished it in about 45 minutes. (I noted that I received my starter at the same time as the table next to me, and I finished my main while they were still eating their starters, they were french though, so they had a smoke break during their starter). I went for a swim on the busy beach, and then bought snacks for the train ride to Montpellier as I was still starving (two apples, a whole goats cheese, saucisson, and some rose wine). Amusingly, I had two seats to myself on teh busy train, I suspect as I look like a crazy scoffing lady, and also I don’t smell amazing!!!!
I had a flight out of Montpellier back to London the next day, so stayed at a nice place, had a shower and a bath and then went out for dinner. I realised one of my favourite french institutions (L’entrecot) had an outpost in Montpellier so I went there. They only have one menu item – sirloin steak with one sauce and it is delicious, you also get unlimited fries. It is so popular that there was a queue when I arrived at 6.45pm for the 7pm opening. I had a very big serving of fries, and then another one. I think the waiter was impressed with my ability to fit them in. I then followed it with a chocolat liegois. To be fair, that actually made me very full – the first time I have felt properly belly full for a while. So I rolled home, caught up on the news, and had a big nights sleep
I do hate the end of a long hike, as I am never really ready to finish. I really enjoyed the whole route, but suspect I would never do the full thing again. Instead I might try and work out a circular route through the high parts of the Pyrenees taking in the GR11 and HRP and adding in some new lakes. I also need to the three tricky days at some point (I took the variant this year and last due to weather and injury). The route has confirmed that the Pyrenees is my favourite place to hike in Europe -I suspect as it is the most like hiking in New Zealand, with fewer people, lots of unmanned cabins and some great views.
Next stop the Dolomites in a few days to attempt to do the AV2 in 6 days before I go back to work in September.
22 August 2023, Montpellier