I met the other two at a campsite just outside Lescun and with my blisters on the mend we set off the following afternoon and made it to Etsaut that evening. We went for a drink with 2 guys Doug and Craig had met the day before and then camped by the riverside. I had struggled with the weight of my pack on the ascent and the boys helped me out by taking some of my stuff on the condition that when we stopped I went through my backpack and chucked out anything I didn’t need. In hindsight, I may have over packed.
After sticking around the next morning in order to post the rejected items from my pack home, we discovered that in small French villages post office opening hours are as and when the post office lady decides to turn up, which, as it turns out, was not at all. Frustrated at having waited around for nothing, except for Doug to eat 5 (yes 5) croissants, on top of the porridge we’d made for breakfast, we got going. By midday the sun was blaring down and I was hot, so hot I could barely think. Lagging behind, I was relieved when the boys had stopped up ahead to rest in a cabin. My relief was expressed as frustration however and I snapped, grumpy at the heat rather than them. We ate and siesta-ed but when we got going again I was still knackered so Craig helped me with some of my stuff (again). Finally at the top with a beautiful view all around, all frustration was forgotten and I found it hard to remember why I’d been in such a bad mood at all. Strange how these climbs do that to you.
We camped in Gabas, a tiny and rather strange ski town. It looked almost abandoned. Everything was shut save for a few restaurants, all run by hunchbacks in knee high socks and sandals. We figured these men must be related as it seemed far too coincidental that they all looked so similar. One of the restaurants was no longer serving food and another had apparently only one dish left on the menu (although we did think that might be all they were offering on account of us being English). There was also a little hut selling local cheese which, after numerous jokes that it might well be human cheese, we decided not to buy.
The next day’s lunch was sparse. We had almost run out of food so polenta and honey would have to see us through. Not a particularly nutritious mix as it turns out. It was also Bastille day, a national holiday in France, so we were somewhat wary of shops being closed in the next town. The ascent was tough, as expected, and on the descent I went into autopilot walking mode and marched on in my own little daydream which resulted, rather unfortunately, in me missing the turning and getting lost. I eventually found myself at a choice between two paths, neither with any markings on them. I realised that it had been a while since I’d noticed any markings at all and that I could no longer see the boys up ahead. I chose the one continuing downwards rather than the steep uphill path as I knew we were meant to be descending. I soon found myself walking down a ski slope – sans snow. Realising now that I’d almost definitely gone the wrong way I checked my phone to find, sure enough, a text from Craig; ‘Where are you? Everything alright?’ I called him and guiltily confessed to my getting lost. I could now clearly see the town ahead of me not far off so I continued walking, following under a motionless ski lift, and met them in a cafe at the bottom. When they appeared round the corner (from a completely different direction than I had come from) they didn’t look best pleased with my lack of directional prowess. I think a break in the café, which was televising the Tour de France, and the discovery that there was indeed an open shop where we could stock up supplies lightened the mood.
Although we had reached the end of the prescribed day, after a break we decided to push on another 7km uphill. It was really tough and Craig walked behind me up the mountain egging me on with motivational quotes such as ‘Pain is only temporary’ and ‘It’s all in your mind’. I’ve told him he should pursue a career as a personal trainer. The very last section my energy was spent and I didn’t feel I could make my muscles move any faster. Though I was walking slow, it was peaceful, almost meditative, and the scenery was so beautiful.
The next morning we got a bit of a lie in as a reward for the over 30km and 9 hours walking we’d achieved the day before. We made it down to the town, had a pit stop in a cafe (milking the use of their facilities including wifi, plug sockets, toilets and free water) and then carried on our merry way. A not so merry ascent later (honestly the hardest afternoon we’ve had yet) we were at the top of what are now seeming like never ending peaks of mountains, and had all run out of water. With no choice but to carry on to a water source, we pushed on to a refuge by a lake where we could fill up our camelbacks and cook some grub. The boys also braved the icy lake which I thought best not to due to my still healing blisters. It was dark by the time we moved on to set up our tents and we had to fumble down the rocky path with the light of my head torch.
The next mornings descent down to the fairly large town of Cauterets was alright and the day was going fairly smoothly aside from the fact that I had got semi lost again and ended up going up a hill only to slide down it. At lunch we could hear thunder in the distance which we’d hoped was getting further away from us rather than closer. Sure enough though, at the top of the next peak big drops of sleet started hitting us from the heavens. After that rain was intermittent followed by a constant downpour all the way to Sazos where a campsite with a pool greeted us. We put up tents in the rain and then had a glorious shower followed by a brie and chip baguette sandwich, a game of French Pokemon monopoly and a well deserved rest.