Peak After Peak.
The beginning of the Ariège was actually fairly enjoyable. A long steady ascent in nice sunny weather – the kind with a bit of a breeze that doesn’t make you feel like you’re melting as you trek uphill. I think we’d all had it in our minds that this was going to be a killer of a week so the kind start was more than welcome and kept us in high spirits. We were in for a long day however and when we arrived in Fos that evening we still had a 5km ascent to tackle. Fos is a small town with nothing much in it save for a bar, which was closed and, to our delight, an open boulangerie which was stocked with about 1 baguette and a couple of delicious local cakes called Canelles which revived our blood sugar levels nicely.
We camped just outside a village called Melles and woke early to drizzle and fog. I did not want to get out of bed, and rightly so, the morning was miserable. Soaking boots, constant ascent and a bitter finger-numbing chill. One of the disadvantages of such an early start is come 10/11 am you start getting pretty hungry and lunchtime is not yet justifiably in sight. I was relieved when we stopped at a refuge so we could warm up. I ordered a hot chocolate in a bowl, mainly to warm my fingers, and 3 slices of cake (one each, not just for me). We’d realised that I was the only one left with any cash and as there aren’t a multitude of cashpoints readily available at over 2000 meters, I was subsidising the group. Lunchtime, much to my disappointment, didn’t come till around 3pm due to another unexpected detour otherwise known as getting lost. Again, more climbing to complete after lunch making this the hardest day we’ve done at a total of 2,800 metres ascent. I’m kind of hoping we don’t have to top that.
Just past the peak we found a little cabin inhabited by two kindly Frenchmen who let us warm up, cook, and dry our clothes by the fire before heading to our tents to sleep. The night was freezing. Wrapped in most of my clothes with my fleece on over the top, my sleeping bag and sleeping bag liner, I woke every half hour or so, shivering. Part of the issue is that the sleeping mat I’ve brought with me is only ¾ length which gives little respite from the cold ground. Well, we live and learn. Luckily nights this cold are a one off and I’ve not had too much of an issue otherwise.
The next morning was exceedingly tough. I had slept badly and was tired and not enthused for the plan the mountains had in store for us that morning; descent followed by an uphill battle only to have to drop down again, all before lunch. That is the nature of mountains though, as it goes they’re pretty consistent in their ups and downs.
We took lunch by a stream, treating ourselves to more couscous than usual as we were now going to cut the 6 prescribed days into 4 so were carrying more than enough food. Still hungry (the amount of energy we are burning calls for serious calorie intake), we headed up to an overpriced and under-staffed restaurant where we waited 40 minutes for 3 ice creams and cokes. When we eventually started walking again I felt sick, like I was going to throw up and was regretting the overpriced ice cream. Craig walked with me and distracted me with chat about philosophy, medicine and space and before I knew it I’d forgotten all about the dread of the next climb and we were almost at the top. The view that greeted us up there was stunning. So stunning it didn’t really look real, more like a desktop screensaver or a film set. After sitting and inhaling the beautiful view for a few minutes, we clambered on down to a lake to camp for the night. A quick swim and dinner later I wanted bed and sleep despite the early hour. I was getting cranky at the other two who to my irritation were genially winding me up about something or other.
We woke again to fog all around so that the lake was barely visible. Morale was generally high though as we knew there were showers and rest in store for us once we reached camp in Seix later that day. We completed those 6 days in the guidebook in 3 and a half and so were being rewarded with another rest day already. It seems so soon to be resting but at the same time we’ve done a hell of a lot these past few days, pushing our minds and our bodies to their limits so rest is very deserved I feel.