No End in Sight.
I’m going to call this the week of getting lost. Apparently I set a precedent last week and fate has had it in mind for us to get in a few extra kilometres. Or maybe we just need to pay more attention.
‘Sometimes walking up mountains you feel like you’re treading water and not making progress…’
The aim on the itinerary for the day was a town called Barages but as this was only 12km away we unanimously decided to push on. It’s got to the point where we sometimes don’t really know what to do with ourselves if we’re not walking and even feel a little guilty for stopping if we’re not exhausted or prescribed a rest day. Anyway, it was before lunchtime and we pushed on, following the red and white markers as usual, only to find that we were headed in one big fat circle back round to where we had just come from. Disgruntled, hot and bothered, we stopped for lunch and then turned around and headed back the same direction. 4 hours later we were back in Barages. Sometimes walking up mountains you feel like you’re treading water and not making progress at all but at least you’re getting miles behind you, albeit slowly. This getting lost business just feels like you’re wasting time. After a discussion and a coca cola each we thought it best to push on and find somewhere to camp outside town, namely because campsites cost money and wild camping is free.
The next day we didn’t get lost per se, but we did lose Doug. When I got to the bottom of the foresty, tree sheltered descent that afternoon, I found Craig sprawled out on the grass waiting with his rucksack and we both simultaneously asked ‘Where’s Doug?’ After affirming that he was definitely behind Craig and in front of me we spent a few nonplussed moments looking for him. We tried ringing him to no avail and then came to the conclusion that the logical thing to do would be to meet him at the cabin where we’d planned to stop for lunch that day. Sure enough he was waiting there for us. Turns out he’d managed to completely by pass Craig at the bottom but hey hum, we were all pretty hungry by now and there was lunch to be made. We cooked by a lake and chatted to 3 fairly kooky French girls who shared their coffee and some laughs.
But the walking day wasn’t finished and it was still early, so although pretty knackered we packed up and moved on with the aim of getting the next day’s ascent out of the way. Once at the top we found ourselves cloud covered with poor visibility. The air was so wet that I literary had dewy eyelashes and Doug was collecting condensation on his beard. Though we were exhausted and had only meant to make it to the top, we were already walking and we just decided to push on once again and do the descent down to town. We made it down that Sunday evening to a village where, predictably for small southern French towns on Sunday evenings, everything was closed. We had made almost 2 days in 1 and were starving hungry. We got out our gas stove and cooked in the town square and got a few looks from passing locals. Then Doug took a phone call and Craig and I went off in search of a supermarket in the hope of finding a bar of chocolate to wash down our dinner. We found it and it was closed. By this time the pursuit of chocolate had got to us and we were determined to find something, somewhere that was open. We joked about knocking on someone’s door and asking if we could buy a bar of chocolate off them; obviously we weren’t quite that desperate. Instead we found a hotel bar with ice cream. Grinning at our excellent find, Craig called Doug and told him about our discovery but Doug had got lucky too it seemed, a French woman had seen him sitting in the square and invited him into her house to have a shower. Surpassing all the stereotypes, the French people we’ve met here really have been extremely generous, friendly and willing to bear with our awful attempts at the language.
We camped that night in an empty bell tent on a rugby pitch, assuming that it was severely unlikely that a game would ensue early on a Monday morning. Turns out our assumption was wrong and 5 minutes after we’d packed up and left we saw a bunch of school kids kitted out in sports gear headed to the pitch. Lucky escape that one.
Now on day 19 we were feeling pretty proud of ourselves as the itinerary says it should have taken us 24 days to reach this point. We pushed on to Germ before lunch as the weather forecast had predicted 100% chance of rain at 3pm. Once there we found a campsite with a pool. I was sold and didn’t want to move another inch that day. And after all we were ahead of schedule. Craig was reluctant to pay for a campsite when we could wild camp for free but was forced to give in to the 2 against 1 democratic vote. It didn’t rain in the end, despite the 100% forecast so I guess we could have kept moving, but there was a local market selling delicious gateaux, fromage and saucisson so I was not regretting my decision to stay put.
The next morning we got lost again. Although we realised sooner than last time, this was the more devastating mistake. We had gone up entirely the wrong peak and had to go all the way back down only to climb up again. It set us back about an hour time wise and quite a bit motivationally too. After me almost heading in the wrong direction again, and then an ice cream and water fill up pit stop, we pushed on to Lac D’Oo amongst 100 or so other tourists heading along the same trail to and from the lake. Actually most people seemed to be headed away from the lake rather than towards it but I couldn’t work out if that was just because we would have been walking at the same speed as anyone else headed there. Turns out it might have been because other people had checked the weather forecast and were savvy enough to avoid the on coming storm. We had pretty much sacked off weather reports by this point after that 100% rain lie from the day before. Once we got to the lake we had a couple of minutes to take photos of the stunning scenery before the rain commenced. We grabbed our bags and pushed on up the mountain ahead of us in the hope of making a dent in the ascent before an on slaughter from the heavens. We were not so lucky. Although we pushed on uphill, the rain was now beating down on us accompanied by thunder and lightening and there was no shelter in sight. As the boys sped round the corner, I found myself struggling up a mountain at 2,000 meters, sopping wet, with only a backpack, and could see nothing but storm and more mountains all around. I felt crazy walking further uphill with no end in sight and no choice but to carry on walking, but I guess you have to adopt a little crazy in signing up to spend your summer like this in the first place. As I carried on up I heard someone calling from above and looked up to see Doug and Craig perched in a cave slightly off the path. It was pretty cosy and after squirming out of my wet clothes we all snuggled in and cooked a very late lunch, spirits somewhat revived. The rain stopped and then started again but to a much lesser degree, (i.e. the lightening wasn’t making me jump out of my skin anymore). Plus the cave started leaking so we packed up and carried on though the wind and the rain and finally found shelter in an empty and conveniently unlocked ski lift operators cabin for the night.
Down in Luchon the next morning we checked into a campsite and embraced our rest day before what is deemed the hardest 15 days of the entire walk. One of the most challenging feats of this next section is that there are no shops to stock up in so we will have to carry all of our food for the next 5 days. That’s 3 meals a day for 3 people, so 45 meals which comes to about 8kg. Luckily, (or unluckily) because I’m the slower of the three of us and am walking with two lovely boys, I am carrying the lesser section of this weight.
So, we’re now halfway through (minus my little blister escapade) and are gearing up to take on the hardest section so far. We’ve spent the afternoon working out the best calorie to weight proportions for food and portioning out couscous and porridge in sandwich bags. We are as prepared as we’ll ever be. There’s no turning back now, I mean we’re closer to the Mediterranean than the Atlantic coast. So here’s to another early morning start tomorrow and a good days walking.