The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Friday, 22 July 2016

Day 10 - Cabane Balledreyt to after Col des Finestres

Thursday 21 July
12.5 miles, 1400m ascent
Sunny morning, overcast afternoon

A very good night's sleep was had last night, except for the brief period, starting at 10.45 when we were disturbed by thunder.

Rain accompanied the thunder (which was actually quite distant) which left much wet grass and bracken - and our morning involved a lot of tall grass and bracken overgrowing the path.

Route finding just before and just after last night's night-stop was the most difficult we've encountered so far on the entire route. Or, at least, finding the path has proved difficult; if we'd just opted to head in the right general direction, it would have been easy. Once we did find the path off the plateau ("is that a tiny cairn on that rock right over there?" I said to Mick after a few minutes of head scratching, and thus the path was found) it was easy to follow for the rest of the day. (We'd been enveloped in cloud when we awoke, which dispersed before we got walking - finding the path in either direction from our night-stop would have been awful in poor visibility.)

Down to a stream we went, across a meadow and quite steeply up, coming out on a lovely flat col which seemed an eminently suitable place for second breakfast.

More down ensued, all the way to a road, before we started our second ascent of the day, which, if followed to its conclusion, would continue until 1400m of altitude had been gained, with a few undulations thrown in just to boost the ascent stats. With the ascent being spread over so many miles it surprised me for how long we went steeply up. It was a bit of a bother in the bits where the horse flies were active, as it's difficult going fast enough to shake them off when you're gasping up a hill. The worst place for the beasts today was by Cabane de Claran's (aka 'horsefly central') , where we had intended to have elevenses. Fortunately horse flies don't seem to like dark, cool forests so that's where we finally paused.

Eventually, just before another Cabane, the gradient lessened and having passed the building we found ourselves on a track! That deserves an exclamation mark as generally the GR10 is on paths, not tracks, and those paths generally have one or more of these features: steeply up, steeply down, eroded, rocky, bouldery, heavily root laden or slippery. As such, "stride out" paths are few and far between. This track, being sometimes grassy and sometimes grit, continued for the next hour and a half.

That hour and a half wasn't all done in one go, as at Plateau de Bielle there is a ski centre, the restaurant of which was open, so we stopped for lunch. Three huge courses and coffee, and two and a half hours later, we finally waddled off to continue up the hill.

It was, by now after 3pm - a time when most sensible walkers in the Pyrenees are thinking about calling it a day if they haven't already. We, however, felt that there were more miles in us yet, hence on we went.

What finally stopped us was the rumbling of thunder, which made it seem imprudent to head up onto a ridge, so we started looking for a water source and a pitch.

Dumping my pack and heading down the side of the hill with two bladders I did find water, but it was only a trickle and not the crystal clear substance to which we have become accustomed. I collected some anyway, which was a slow process which involved crouching in the grass, allowing the mozzies and midges to have a field day on my back. (Post blog note 24 hours later: boy did they feast on my back! Itchity itch itch).

Whilst I'd been gone, Mick had scouted three pitch options and we very nearly settled for one of them, before the whim hit us to continue on just a bit further. A good call, as it turned out. Not far later a hut appeared before us, with a berger in residence, but also with a spring adjacent. The water for which I'd descended, re-ascended and got bitten to pieces was ditched and condensation-making, crystal clear water replaced it.

Not knowing what the etiquette is for pitching relatively close to a cabane with a berger in residence, I asked if he minded us planting our tent a ways over there (with a bit of pointing to an area out of sight, over a rise). He seemed bemused and said we could, so we did. He popped over a while later to check on his sheep further down the hill and we had a little chatette about the weather, his flock and a few other things, as our language skills permitted. Then, within the blink of an eye the clear valley became filled with cloud, which rushed up the hillside to envelop us. We duly dived into the tent, just as it really started to thunder and to rain. Time to count our blessings that we had stopped when we did.

It's an easy evening chore-wise tonight as neither of us needs a real tea after our huge lunch. Nuts and chocolate have sufficed. And now we'll settle down for the night, hoping that a) tomorrow's forecast thunder limits itself to the afternoon; and b) the sheep with clanging bells, which have just come down off the hill to surround us, wander off soon.

A track!

just the starters of a huge 3 course lunch



  1. That looks an excellent spot. I had been wondering when mention of horse flies and mozzies would start. In 2013 they drove many GR10ers onto the HRP route where they are less troublesome. By the time you receive this comment you should be through the worst areas for them. If anything the mozzies will become more of a nuisance than the horse flies. Having Deet may also be an advantage - I've never carried any insect repellant in the Pyrenees. I'm awaiting the next installment from the library at the excellent gite in Merens...

    1. Midges were the first nuisance on Day 1. Then came horseflies. Now it is horseflies and mozzies. The latter two are definitely the worst feature of the Pyrenees.

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  3. Mick is looking perkier...

    1. Still not entirely well but much better, and he most definitely enjoyed that lunch.