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, 29 July 2016

Day 17 - Cabane Arago to Col de la Cirère

Thursday 28 July
? Miles, 950m?
Wall-to-wall sunshine to start, clouding early afternoon, clearing towards evening

Whilst last night's pitch has to be up in our top five worst ever, with the judicious use of clothing to level out my Thermarest, I had a good night's sleep and thus was raring to go with our ascent of Canigou this morning.

We had the path to ourselves as we set out just after 7am and we remained on our lonesomes as we made our way up the easy path then, latterly, up the nasty eroded shaley bit, just before the scramble. By then a group was making its way down and one of them remarked that it was easier for us going up than it was for them coming down. I don't doubt that assessment for a minute; going up it was an easy scramble, but I wouldn't have fancied reversing it - particularly the very top part.

Arriving a couple of minutes before 9am, we then spent over half an hour on the summit, where it was warm enough to stand around with just a fleece on (although I did don my gloves for the descent*). There had been a flurry of activity just after we arrived, but by the time we left we had the place to ourselves.

When Mick saw the sideways on version of this photo he said "Oh my god, I'm skin and bone". He wouldn't let me post that version.

Things didn't stay quiet all the way down. We knew this was a popular hill and our final hour down to Chalet-Refuge des Cortalets was against a continuous train of people. Much bonjouring was done.

Having been on the lookout for a scabby dog to eat (despite having already had breakfast, second breakfast and elevenses by 9.30) we were hoping we might be able to get some real food at Cortalets.

We were excited, upon entering to see croissants on the bar, and were even more excited when the chef said he would make us omelette, even though they didn't officially start serving food until 12.30 (it wasn't even 11 yet). The peak of excitement was when the omelettes came with large salads.

croissant starters

delighted with our omelette and salad brunch

Feeling much better, on we went for the GR10 variant recommended by both the GR10 and the HRP guidebooks. It was a nice path too, taking us past some plane wreckage (about which no information was given)...

...and then onto the Balcon de Canigou. The latter path is one of those which hugs the side of the valley, often being a feat of engineering, following the valley all the way to its head and then around the other side.

If you click on this photo to see it full size, you should be able to make out the line of the path as it gently ascends the whole way across the side of the valley

Finally descending to the Maison Forestière de l'Estagnole (a house in the forest, half of which has been converted to a bothy), our water bottles were replenished at the source there and we gave a little consideration to spending the night before deciding it was a nice day to spend the night on the col. Rather than carrying water the whole way, I identified two streams higher up the hill that we would pass. The first was a good one, the second seasonal at the level of the path, but a good one about 20 metres lower down. As almost every seasonal stream has been running, excepting only a few when we have been in need of water (hmmm, that should have been our clue...), we banked on the one nearest to the pass. I'm now sitting at that stream typing this, unable to hear any evidence of water even further down the hill, whilst Mick is making the half hour detour back to the previous good stream. Once again proof that water is always running, except when you need it. We found the exact same thing last year too.

I just hope now that: a) there's not a spring around the corner; and b) there's somewhere good to pitch on the col... hour later and we have a pitch on the col which is as good as last night's was bad. And we didn't pass any water on the way up here, so we're happy campers - with exceptional views both to the north and the south.

(*Incidentally, Conrad in a comment mentioned us getting into the Med climate by now. On the contrary, the last few mornings have seen us setting out in fleeces, wind shirts, hats and gloves, although it has been getting quite warm in the afternoons.)


  1. Well done - sounds like you had perfect weather on Canigou and have found a great place to camp. My own experience on your route (HRP/GR10) to the Med is that the wind increases and fleeces are needed for the higher sections. No insects though...

    1. In the temperature we're currently suffering in Arles (about a billion degrees) I'm quite looking forward to getting to somewhere where a fleece is required again!

  2. That scramble up Canigou was a highlight of the trip for me. I was on my own all the way up, but when I poked my head over the top there were masses there - made me feel a bit superior coming up the harder way. I seem to remember that omelette place is a popular venue for locals to drive out to for a day out. It was very busy.