I Love the Rain the Most When it Stops.
So on the afternoon of Day 6, after a day and a half of hanging around St Jean, Craig and I embarked alone, promising not to have too much fun without Fiona.
We made it about 500m before stopping for a snack, where I waited for Craig to seemingly go to Edinburgh and back to get cash out of an atm, then to realise we had left the sporks with Fiona. So I ran back, couldn’t find any sporks apart from one broken in two and settled for that. So, semi-sporkless and banter-targetless we finally left St. Jean at 17:30.
Surprisingly we had to get used to hiking again which didn’t come too easily, but we got there all the same and we smashed through 22km of quite major ascents in 4 hours, pitching our tents by a river just as darkness hit.
Waking up to rain while camping, knowing you have to get up, cook in the rain, pack up your stuff in the rain, fold your wet tent in the rain and then walk in the rain is one thing. Doing all that in the rain and realising not only do you have to eat your overly saturated porridge (blame the rain) with the fork side of a broken spork, you also have nothing to give said porridge flavour due to leaving the honey with the weeks support crew (Fiona), that’s like waking up on the wrong side of the bed, except the bed is being rained on. Needless to say, I was lacking in motivation.
This precipitation glazed outlook on the world around us was dampened further by the route markings enjoying a game of hide and seek, which Craig and I were fully unaware of until we had climbed 200m over 2km. Walking back down to pretty much where we’d started about 45 minutes earlier, we found the route and the even more difficult hill climb, along with some poncho-toting Germans. Over 1500m ascent and 4 hours later we arrived at a Gîte (hikers hostel) named Col Iraty. We dried off slightly and warmed up over a few hours; Craig almost had to drag me out. We’d decided to carry on but along a variant of the GR10 because the guide book specifically said the main route was spectacular when you could see it, and difficult to navigate when you couldn’t. Having already been lost when apparently not difficult to navigate, I was having none of it. As it turned out it became equally difficult to navigate the variant and we ended up following the road down to Larrau. Among our sins, in Larrau, soaking wet, we decided to have a 4-course meal to brighten our moods, which we did with pleasure, especially at €20 a head. I know, I know, we’re supposed to be roughing it, but sometimes… okay I have no excuse, I just wanted a good meal, and Craig felt the same. Also we’d walked 32km in the soaking rain and didn’t really care what anyone else thought.
The next day we left camp quite late, trying in vain to let our boots dry. A relatively nice day, low cloud but no rain meant that we didn’t overheat at all. Once back on the GR10 we climbed to Larrau suspension bridge, and I couldn’t resist getting out the Monkii Bars and the camera to get some photos doing a suspension workout on a suspension bridge. Although I did have a man come straight up to me and tell me not to jump. After that we carried on with our day. The later it got the more saturated our feet got. Ironically our boots were drying, but only because our feet were absorbing all the moisture, which hurts after 15km as they begin to swell. This was made worse by an obstacle in the form of an electric fence which drove us 5km in the wrong direction. Ending up in the wrong village we decided that we couldn’t go further and stayed in a campsite, and braved an ice bath in the river to help our legs recover.
The following day, with the eventual dryness of our boots, which now fitted incredibly snugly (rain clouds have silver linings), we pressed on. After the extra 5km we began the route up to Pierre St Martin, which in the guide book looked like a tough climb, but thanks to pretty thick forest and the time of day, was actually relatively easy. However, at 1700m walking becomes harder as the air thins, but that’s something we should hopefully get used to.
Pierre St Martin is a ski village that should have been closed down had it not been for the Tour de France passing through, something Craig and I had to persuade ourselves not to hang around another 4 days to see. Time had begun to show that doing such intense walking with just one other person can put a strain on any friendship, as Craig and I had an argument over rest days. We made it up the next morning, but it is clear that so long together in such close proximity is always going to result in arguments and strong feelings either side.
We continued on to Lescun, which was supposed to be an easy day by the guidebook, but had a fair few scrambles and climbs and muddy descents. But once there we bumped into friends we’d made at Pierre St Martin, had a few beers, and welcomed Fiona back to us with a barbecue.
Today, we leave in the afternoon to Estuat, and then we have a tough but apparently very rewarding week. I’m very glad to have Fiona back, she can often be a calming influence and is the source/ victim of banter among the group. Her blisters seem to have healed and she seems ready to get moving again.
So after another 110km in 5 days, we’re well into the route, and looking at some pretty interesting times ahead.