Hiking along the Pyrenean Grande Randonnee nr. 10

Hiking along the Pyrenean Grande Randonnee nr. 10


A few hours before our flight to France the weather forecast turned from bad to worse. Strong wind, snowfall and temperatures well below freezing screamed at me from the web page of Meteo France. In this kind of weather, even crampons wouldn’t make it safe to cross the Col des Madamettes, a 2509m high mountain pass separating Vallée de Bastan and Vallée d’Aure, in French High Pyrenees. Setting my current piece of work aside (I was still at my office), I frantically set out to rearrange our plans, finding out how to get to St. Lary Soulan (train, and another train, and then a bus), booking a new hotel (luckily, the holiday season this year seemed to be delayed by the cold spring), and a new restaurant to dine at (I’m not a type to relay on chance). The print-outs concerning Barèges, our never-to-be gateway to the mountains, which I’d cherished and reread for months, now ended up in a bin.
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Two days later, after an evening flight to Bordeaux and a whole day spent getting from A to B; we were ready to set out for our first day on the middle section of French GR10. Our plan (after readjustments) was to start at Lac d’Aubert, and continue walking for the next five days, finally reaching Bagnères-de-Luchon, some 70 km further east. A taxi took us up to the lake, elevation 2200m, at the foot of the Col des Madamettes. During the 30 min long taxi ride we climbed 1400m, while the plummeted to minus 2C. Reluctant, we got off the warm vehicle and found ourselves in the heart of winter. As far as we could see, snow covered the ground and the rugged peaks. Yet more snow was falling, partly obscuring the view of the Col. However, the little we could see confirmed out fears – trying to cross it in this weather would certainly be unpleasant, and potentially dangerous. Dressed in all clothes we managed to dig out from within our backpack, we turned away from the Col and started a 9 km long descent to Lac de L’Oule. The path, gentle at first but getting gradually steeper, led us alongside two lakes and into a forest. Marmots scattered from just under our feet, startled but not really afraid.
The weather changed already during our fist night in the mountains. The sun was shining when we left out lodgings for the night, the simple but comfortable Refuge de L’Oule. Soon, we gained altitude again, and the sun started to beat down on us. Sweat was oozing from every pore of my body, washing away the sun screen. Vultures started circling overhead, waiting patiently for us to drop dead. Marmots seemed to ridicule us with their whistles. I could swear my rucksack had gained weight since the night before. A big lunch of cheese, sausage and couscous salad, prepared for us by the lady at the refuge, and a small bottle of red wine to wash it down did not really help to cope with the heat. The 19km, last couple of them steep down, took a toll on my knees, and left me with severely sunburned arms. Still, the toil was rewarded by amazing vistas of snow-clad mountains, with cows the color of cafe-au-lait posing, like well-trained super models, to make the view even more picturesque. The day’s hike ended in a tiny village of Vielle Aure, St. Lary’s little sister, with its old stone church and grey and sad-looking, but well-kept stone houses.
The third day took us through a succession of small, grey, and neat villages, each with a tiny stone church of its own. Soon after leaving the last one of those, Azet, behind, we entered a cow pasture through a crude gate. The cows used the GR10 to move through their land, leaving the path badly damaged. The progress along it became painfully slow, requiring detours, or forcing us to jump over deep, muddy puddles, always in danger of slipping, and falling head-first into the foul water. The sun was unforgiving, leaving us even more drenched then the day before. Nevertheless, the prospect of a lunch and a beer in Loundenvielle soon quickened our pace.
The lunch, a full three-course meal with a bottle of wine, proved to be a mistake. Heavy and tired after the meal, I nearly did not make it up to Germ; a tiny hamlet situated 350m higher up. The relentless ascent, together with the heat, made this climb the hardest hour I had on GR10. It was however soon forgotten in the air-conditioned hall of the Auberge de Germ, where we spent the night. Invigorated by the cool air and a long shower, we decided to explore the hamlet. It took exactly ten minutes. The whole place is made up of some twenty houses and summer cottages, a tiny cemetery and a smallest church I’ve ever seen, serving the population of 25. Those 25 seem to have everything we city dwellers can only dream about – clean air, beautiful views and lush vegetation all around them, but all this beauty is bound to come at a high price – the hamlet must be pretty nearly cut off from the world during the winter months.
On the fourth day the path followed three different valleys, cut deep into the mountains. The first two, Val d’Aube and Val d’Esquierry, were totally deserted, apart from a few other GR10-hikers. Having climbed out of Val d’Esquierry and onto the 2131m high pass Couret d’Esquierry however, we suddenly had to share the mountains with hordes of day trippers. The source of those was a small hamlet of Granges d’Astau, not much more than a couple of houses, two popular restaurants, a parking lot and a few dozens of cows and horses grazing along the path. Despite other guests’ panic-stricken reaction to our arrival, we sat down on the terrace of one of the restaurants and ordered a full three-course lunch, yet another mistake as we still had over an hour of ascent to the day’s final destination – Lac d’Oô.
Having finally made it there some hours later, we found ourselves totally surrounded by tall, majestic peaks. The refuge where we were to spend the night stood on a shore of Lac d’Oô itself, with an unobstructed view of a tall waterfall, feeding the lake with meltwater from the snowy peaks. From the refuge, we could see the path climbing steeply along one of the walls surrounding the lake – we did not really look forward to the next day’s climb!
The final day of our climb begun early, since we did not want to be caught by the sun on the steep ascent. The climb turned out to be much easier then we had feared, and the views were truly breathtaking. Having reached the altitude of 2272m, we got a company of two vultures for a while. Seeing we were not to die just yet, then finally gave up and moved on, leaving us to fight the heat and the roller-coaster-like part of the trail alone. After what seemed like forever, the path stopped its up-and-down movement and decided to continue descending, all the way down to the ugly ski resort of Superbagnères, perched 1200m above the spa town of Bagnères-de-Luchon. Having arrived a week too early, we could not take the cable car down, and thus had our choice narrowed to a 2,5 hours descent to the valley or a swift, 40EUR worth taxi drive. The decision was easy to make. Before the taxi’s arrival, we managed to sweet-talk a representative of a holiday club occupying the huge Grand Hotel to allow us to eat a lunch together with the club’s vacationers. She ignored the vacationers’ pleading glances, and led us to a table situated downwind and partly exposed to the sun, thus giving me the chance to improve my sunburn. We did not scare away that many of the other diners though, most had already finished eating anyway…
The hotel’s terrace offered a wide panorama, allowing us to bid farewell to those magnificent mountains, before entering the valley for the last time. On arrival to Bagnères-de-Luchon, we checked into our four star hotel, stowed all the smelly hiking clothes in air-tight bags and started the mental preparations needed to return to the civilization again.

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Hiking along the Pyrenean Grande Randonnee nr. 10 Hiking along the Pyrenean Grande Randonnee nr. 10 Reviewed by Zahir Style on August 08, 2019 Rating: 5

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