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]

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Day 3 - Cabane d'Uls to Cabane de l'Arech

Thursday 14 July
11.5 miles, 1400m ascent
A few sunny intervals but mainly overcast

I woke at about 2.30 this morning and was cool enough to think that had I been in a sleeping bag by myself I would have needed to don my fleece. As it was I grabbed Mick’s arm, wrapped it around me and, thus stealing his heat, went back to sleep. It did cross my mind that maybe the fully-lightweight quilt (as opposed to the half-ligtweight one used for the last year) wasn't up to the job, but when we arrived at the Refuge Etang d'Araing the Gardienne told us it had gone down to 1 degree last night. A chap we met on our way up to the next pass also commented on how cold it is for mid-July. Perfect for walking really.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before the Refuge we had a 300m climb up to the Col d' Auéran (from where lots of people were ascending into the cloud atop the 2660m peak, Pic de Crabere). Just getting to the pass was hard enough for us. In fact, it felt much harder, to both of us, than it should have. We were feeling distinctly Day-3-ish.

Even though we were rather early at the Refuge, the Gardienne served us tea and coffee and after an interesting Franglais chat with both her and with Short Poncho Woman we moved on, not expecting to see SPW again as she was taking a route which avoided about 800m of descent and reascent. We would have been tempted to follow her lead, but it looked a long way around; moreover, the paths weren't shown on either of our maps (1:25k on the phones, 1:50k paper map).

Leaving the refuge the first thing we had to do was to regain the 200m we had just lost, plus a bit more, before starting the killer descent of the day - down 1300m*. It was cheering that my right knee only started to protest during the last 300m, through more pleasant woodland (I slipped on a wet path on Tuesday afternoon and my left foot slid off the path and into a ditch. My right foot stayed planted where it was, which was not a happy situation for my right knee).

At the tiny village of Eylie we dithered for a few minutes. Whether to make use of the Aire de Bivouac there, or whether to push on. It was 3pm, but if we went on then it looked unlikely that we would find a pitch until Cabane de l'Arech, which the guidebook told us would be 3 hours 20 minutes further with 800m more ascent. Fortunately by then we were feeling more energised, so on we went through more lovely woodland at first then back out onto the open hill with magnificent views. With switchbacks galore the ascent passed far more quickly and easily than we had expected.

A school boy error at the pass before the Cabane saw us believe a woman who pointed out the path to us. On the one hand, we should have checked the map. On the other hand the non-standard, off-piste route we took was more direct.

From the pass we could see that next to the Cabane were pens stuffed full of sheep and as we descended they were released onto the hill. The wrong hill on the first attempt, but after a bit of regathering they were redirected to where they were supposed to be, with much baaing and jangling of bells. Fortunately there were no Patou dogs present.

Alas, when we got to the cabane, there was nowhere suitable to camp (and it stinks of sheep poo outside), so, very unusually, we've opted to sleep inside. Our companions are Isabelle and Este from Madrid and Barcelona respectively. They walked the first half of the GR10 westbound last year and yesterday started their continuation to Hendaye.

(*We passed a flock of sheep being guarded by an abnormally high number of Patou dogs down the first part of that descent. They were being quite vocal at passing walkers, but despite my nervousness we passed by largely unthreatened.)

Photos! Forgot the photos again. Here are a few:

looking back at Cabane d'Uls first thing this morning^^

^^there was much prettiness^^

^^there was so much I could have said about today and I forgot to mention that from the refuge to the final pass was through an old mining area with much evidence thereof

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