I recall the climb out of St Engrace as being unrelentingly uphill for around 1100m, before we dropped down to Arette-La-Pierre-St-Martin, which is a monstrosity of a ski resort sitting as an offensive juxtaposition to the spectacular surroundings. Somehow, I’ve managed to fail to capture the ugliness in this shot:
But hopefully these next few serve to give an inkling about how lovely the area surrounding the Pic D’Anie were:
The Cicerone guidebook describes the final ascent to the Pas de l’Osque (upon which I’m looking dreadfully elegant in the two snaps below) as an ‘easy scramble’. I would wholeheartedly agree: even with a pack on it was exceptionally simple. In amongst the updates on the Cicerone website there’s a comment that:
“The ‘easy scramble’ leading to the Pas de l’Osque is not in fact easy, as you need to use the cables to get up with a large pack.”
Other people we met shared that view. Based on my own experience I can only assume that those who find it difficult see the fixed wires and try to follow them, which (particularly for the first section) looked like it would give a more difficult route than the line I took, a little way away from the wires. I found a similar situation on some boulder fields, where a line a short way away from the waymarks/cairns gave much easier and faster passage than trying to follow the marked route:
Once we’d scrambled up this pass and gone a short way down the other side, after a cracking afternoon in gorgeous surroundings, we nearly stopped in the sunshine by a cabane. It was a nice spot, on the edge of a good stream … but it was also relatively early and very hot, so we continued on down, through and below the cloud, to pitch by a refuge where resided the loudest donkey in the whole world ever. It may not have been remote, but it was a very good pitch:
With the cloud having cleared overnight, we started Day 9 with an excellent view from the tent (this was taken from the comfort of my Thermarest, whilst I waited for water to boil):
Later in the day, and once over Col de Barrancq, and out of the trees, the view below is what greeted us. Quite impressive, would you not agree? Thus we’re not sure whether the two lads who stopped us and asked us where they would find the good view were taking the mick, or whether there was something lost in translation (perhaps there was a formal viewpoint nearby that they were seeking?).
Our first view of Borce/Etsaut in the valley below us. It was a long, steep descent to get there in hot and humid weather. A beeline was made for the local bar when we arrived, where we found not just cold drinks, but also a surprisingly well-stocked tiny shop:
We took lots of photos of the Chemin de la Mature, the incredible feat of engineering dating from 1772 that saw a trackway carved into an almost vertical rock face in order to retrieve wood suitable to supply the French Navy’s need for masts. The mind still boggles that there was no other, more easily accessible, suitable wood in the whole of France, but equally it didn’t just achieve a wood-retrieval route, but left a lasting legacy and a very interesting walking route:
Later in the day we passed into our first National Park, where we duly noted the restrictions on bivouacking (which, in French parlance, is what we were doing):
Hmmm, not sure why I included this photo, but as it’s here I’ll leave it in:
Our pitch that night broke all of the bivouacking rules (pitched at 3pm, close to a road and within 200m of the park boundary, rather than one hour away), but it did boast cracking views in all directions and nobody came to move us on (or, worse, fine us). You may notice, in this snap, how the clear plastic groundsheet protector is sticking out beyond the footprint of the tent. It’s a really bad idea to leave it like that – a fact that we know so well that it’s incredible that we forgot to tuck it in. What the protrusion achieved was that all water that ran off the tent fell onto the plastic and pooled under the tent. The result was much sogginess where pressure was applied to the base of the tent, such as under our thermarests and pillows. When the rain stopped briefly during the late evening, we nipped out and removed the groundsheet (I’m not sure why we even deployed it here; perhaps there was the risk of spikey stuff around; usually we only use it where the ground is abrasive), and retained a dry base for the rest of the night. Our only problem then became water slowly dripping from above during the horrible storm that had me conclude, at 2am, that I’m not cut out for backpacking (an opinion that, I’m pleased to say, was forgotten by the middle of the next day).