Sunday 26 July
The packs were heavy this morning, particularly mine as I had a new canister of gas and a new tube of toothpaste on board as well as the results of a 'shopping whilst hungry' episode. We only needed food for 2 days; the bulging food bags suggested we'd gone a little OTT.
It was a hard morning. I found it harder than any other to date. I think part of the problem was psychological, in that I'd read that it was an easy day after an initial steep climb, but hadn't looked at the map in detail to see that the 'initial steep climb' would go on, almost without respite, for the best part of an hour and a half of the 4 hour stage to Barège. It didn't just feel slow; I think it's the first stage where we've been smack on the Cicerone guide's timings, of which we are usually ahead (particularly on the ups. Not so much on the steep downs).
Things became slower when we stopped for lunch 15 minutes before Barège, then stopped for a long coffee break in the village, where there is still evidence of the devastating flood that swept through 2 years ago (for more info have a read of Martin's blog (phreerunner.blogspot.com) for this stage of the GR10 in 2013; when he and Sue arrived there, their pre-booked hotel was just being demolished due to damage sustained). Happily, there was still more evidence of 'shoring up' of the river banks and general new construction.
Knowing that both GR10 options out of Barège had been damaged in 2013, and although we suspected that the higher of the 2 was now perfectly passable again (it was; we could see the new bridge as we passed) we didn't want to risk ascending to be thwarted, so we took to the road for 2km. The road in question is the one that leads over the Col de Tourmalet, which I understand is a feature of the Tour de France. It's obviously popular with cyclists in general. Some of those who passed us in a downward direction were doing astonishing speeds. Those heading up looked pained.
Then we headed away from the crowds (or so we thought at the time) and up for our second big climb of the day up towards the highest pass we will visit on the GR10 (we went higher on the HRP), the Col de Madamete.
The valley up which we climbed is gorgeous. The gradient of the ascent a delight. The going underfoot interesting (plenty of rocky and bouldery bits to keep the mind occupied). The number of potential pitches huge (big grassy plateaus appear at short intervals all the way up). So nice is that we bonjoured to many dozens of people who were heading down (including one wearing flip-flops; just like a trip up Snowdon!).
We had said that we would walk till 5 then take the next nice pitch. As it happened, at 5pm we hit the exact place we had hoped to reach today by a cabane and a lake at 2150m (bringing our total ascent for the day to over 1700m). It's an absolutely spectacular place to camp, which is probably why there are so many people around. We quickly chose a pitch and got the tent up (then unpegged it, turned it round and repegged it - something we do ridiculously often; we really should pay more attention before pegging the first time). Meanwhile, a chap who arrived at the same time as us took about a week and a half to choose a pitch, then a further week and a half to get his tent up. The way he's been faffing around I'm getting the impression that this is his first ever night wild camping.
In other news:
1) I established last night, in a mission to use up the last of our first canister of gas, that it's possible to boil 5 large eggs in one go in an MSR Kettley Thing. I often hanker after eggs on a big walk, but don't usually have the gas to fritter away. Today's lunch of boiled eggs, fresh bread, Manchego cheese and crisps was lovely and only wanting for a couple of tomatoes to reach picnic perfection. How did we forget to buy tomatoes?
2) where is everyone? We saw one other backpacker at a distance yesterday and no-one else. Today, until arrival here we saw only day walkers. Even the other people around us tonight don't appear to be GR10 randonneurs.
3) My memory must be going because I have no idea what I was going to put as number 3!