Wed 22 July
After our disturbed night we weren't quick in getting up or getting away this morning, which wasn't ideal as we knew that if we were going to make it to our intended destination then it was going to be a long day with a profile which went: 720m up, 1000m down then 1000m up.
The first ascent started from our pitch, right at the bottom of the switchbacks that led up from the valley floor, and made its way up and around the foot of the Pic du Midi d'Ossau. With the skies now being perfectly clear (thankfully the towering peak gave us shade for this climb) we could see the magnificent spectacle of not just this hill but all the others for miles around, as we plodded our way up.
A whole family of marmots was seen up by the lake and from there we were into the boulder field, where after a brief chat with a British family on their way down after a night at Refuge Pombie, we skipped our way up from big boulder to big boulder. I do like a good boulder field!
A brief pause was had at the pass for second breakfast, in the company of a couple who had also camped last night and had been terrified in the storm. They were taking the time to dry their tent up there in the sun, but my mind was on getting down to the refuge and getting some food. We knowingly started this section with inadequate food bags, knowing there would be opportunities to buy some meals on the way, and by the time we reached the refuge I was ready to eat a scabby dog. It was a bit early for lunch when we arrived but when asked by the chef what we wanted (it was between breakfast and lunch service) and having answered "anything you've got" he commented that we must be hungry and said he could serve us a spag bol in 10 minutes. I readily agreed even though it's one of the food combinations most disliked by my stomach. It was delicious - and plentiful, and worth any discomfort it may cause.
A long break was had in the company of the couple we had met at the top of the pass (she's a Belgian teacher of English, living and working in France, so communication was no problem) and as we left we had our doubts that we would make it as far as intended. There were other options to stop short, so off we went to see how far we got.
The 1000m of down (now on the HRP) was straightforward, as was the first 900m of our final ascent which was mainly gently graded. Then we got to the choice of whether to descend-to-reascend, or whether, at the end of a 10 hour strenuous day, after a night of little sleep, and in appalling visibility, to take the shorter 'passage delicat'. We twice started down the easy option before I decided I couldn't face unnecessary ascent at the end of the day. Back we went and onto the passage delicat, which the HRP guide book says is very straightforward, but shouldn't be tackled in bad weather or by sufferers of vertigo.
Well, we had very limited visibility but it was dry and no ominous clouds had been seen before we had ascended into the cloud, and surely not being able to see is a benefit when you're about to embark on walking along a ledge with a sheer drop below? Even without the visibility I focused very hard on not looking anywhere but straight ahead and I clutched onto the wire for dear life (except where the wire has become detatched and now forms a trip hazard; that didn't instill much confidence in the protection it afforded) and soon enough the ordeal was over. The guidebook had been right - it was very straightforward; far more so than the earlier boulder field, and any quaking of the knees was entirely caused by my overactive imagination.
The refuge was then only a few hundred metres away, although so bad was visibility that we couldn't see it until we were half way across the adjacent dam, about 30 seconds away. With relief there's no one else camped here tonight as the pitching options are severely limited.
The first person we spoke to on arrival had also stayed here last night. Her group had left today only to fail to find their way and return for another night. I do hope we have better luck tomorrow.
(Incidentally, the sleeping quilt was used in anger for the first time of the trip last night. Upon arrival this evening both fleeces and warm jackets have been called into action. If I could have been bothered digging them out I would have put my gloves on for the final ten minutes of the day. A bit of a change!)