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 4 - Cabane de l'Arech to Cabane Aouen

Friday 15 July
10 miles (per the guidebook. I wonder if they measure on the map or via GPS, as those trillion switchbacks felt longer than 10 miles)
1500m ascent (down 700m, up 800m, down 900m, up 700m)
Sunny start, bit of cloud middle of day, clearing again later.

As you can see from the ascent stats above, today, like those that went before it, had its ups and downs. It wasn't big on level walking, as it seemed that no sooner had we hit our high/low point than we would start to descend/climb again.
Switchbacks featured heavily, as did the sunshine, lovely woods and steep meadows thick with wildflowers.

The one benefit of staying in the cabane last night (incidentally, for cabane you can read 'bothy' as the only real difference between the two is the lack of toilet spades over here) was that as I opened my eyes this morning, lying on a mattress up in the loft, the first thing I saw was the view out of the window. Towering mountains set off nicely by a startling blue sky.

As Isabelle's alarm clock went off, I sprang out of bed to seize the day and thus caught the glorious glow of the rising sun. The reflected glow off the mountains to the west was made even more special by the presence of an enormous stag, grazing.

Mick, mountains, startlingly blue sky^^

We met no-one on our first descent, which was little trodden. The difference between a path with a refuge or a lake at the top and one without.

After pausing to wash socks in the river running down the valley, our first ascent of the day couldn't be avoided, so on with it we got. The first bit featured ankle deep mud. There has been much mud thus far. I think it's been a bit damp lately.

A series of cabanes dotted our route up, over and down, including one right at the pass, Col du Clot. We only looked into a couple and also took advantage of the water supply at one.

We weren't far into our second descent before we could see our next low-point, which looked a disturbingly long way down considering that we were immediately to regain the height on the other side of the valley. There was, however, a particular attraction for us at the bottom of this descent in the form of a Refuge which I had earmarked for lunch.

To get there we had to pass through a large car park, stuffed to the gunwales (it was Bastille Day yesterday, so it's a holiday weekend). The number of vehicles made it curious that we'd only seen four walkers all day, and they were all walking along the previous valley.

Lunch at the Refuge was a fancy affair, with a price tag to match, but it was exceedingly tasty:

^^Main courses

And what does one want to do after a big meal? Well, to walk another 700m up a hill, of course!

A very short-lived bit of flat walking as we left the Refuge

Our aim was to reach Cabane Aouen, but I was unconvinced that we would be able to camp here, so the fallback plan was to continue another couple of hours to a popular lake, which is probably heaving with campers this weekend. That would have been another very lony day, but happily, when the cabane came into sight, it was clearly unoccupied, with doors and windows shut (these cabanes are generally dark, dingy places. You wouldn't want to be inside without at least the door open). The small trod leading to it suggested it isn't much used either.

Finally reaching the building (which seemed to take a very long time from first sight, with big switchbacks repeatedly taking us away from it), we did find somewhere that we could just about squeeze the tent, if we kept the doors rolled back and did without porches. Or, we could stay in the tiny room, rather like a cell really, which is just big enough for two people (or three if you're really friendly). We opted for the room.

We've spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the doorway watching lots and lots of people going up and down the path. After we'd been here about three quarters of an hour another backpacker came along. He'd left the Refuge at the same time as us, and probably cursed that we'd got here first and taken the better of the two rooms. He considered the other room (which unlike our cell does have windows, a fireplace and a bed with mattress, but give me a sleep platform over a manky mattress in a dirty room any day) and he considered the pitch we had stamped down. After about an hour of considering, he opted to continue on. We continued to look around at the magnificent alpine meadow in which we are situated, which is abundant in its variety of flowers, and at the truly incredible view across the valley. What this room lacks in character it makes up for in views.

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