Sunday 17 July
1550m ascent. Unknown miles
There is so much I could say about today and so many pictures I could share, but it's already approaching 8pm, which is very nearly bedtime, and I haven't even finished my tea yet.
Skipping first back to last night, we had a fantastic meal at the gite at Aunac. Four of us were eating (all of us camping, I don't think anyone was staying in the gite): me, Mick, Wonky Pack Man and Le Flasheur (see footnote 1) . The gite had seemingly catered for 8, with four very plentiul courses being served (and I'm counting the two different desserts per person as one course). The enormous paella and the tirimisu were the high points. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this massive and exceptionally tasty meal (of which, somehow, every morsel was eaten) cost less than our fancy lunch the day before.
This morning we were up bright and early, in a sopping-with-condensation tent, and after a slow start managed to get away at quarter to eight.
Except for a short overlap, our route today wasn't the GR10, but the GR Tour du Pays. Whereas the GR10 takes a very roundabout route to St Lizier, the Tour du Pays is relatively direct. If I was planning my own route across the Pyrenees (which I suppose I have, because we've not been slaves to the GR10 at all since Hendaye) then I wouldn't throw in a big loop except if a particular attraction dictated that I should, and that was the basis on which we took the alternative route.
We may have accidentally led Mr Indecision (Footnote 2) astray as we left our brief time on the GR10 this morning. We'd not long passed him, looking at his map, as we joined a D road which runs along a valley. Three hundred metres later we turned off the road onto the Tour du Pays, whereas the GR10 went straight on down the valley. When he followed we assumed he had also decided to take the alternative route, and didn't think much of it, particularly as we saw him check his map a couple of times as we climbed the hillside initially via a switchbacking road , and it was quite obvious we weren't on the GR10 by virtue of the waymarks being yellow and red, not white and red. However, after passing a signpost just before the village of Azas, he disappeared, not to be seen again. He must have either stopped for a really long break or realised he'd left his intended route and turned back. I suspect the latter.
Of course, we continued on, often steeply uphill, but when the path finally started levelling out (it stayed between the 900 and 1000m contours for quite a while) my apprehension that we would be in woods all day with no views were proved incorrect. It was a very lovely walk, mostly in woods (giving us blessed shade on this hot day) but with sufficient gaps in the trees and clear sections that we could fully enjoy the surrounding mountains, which were set off so nicely by the blue sky and crystal clear air. It's a steep hillside along which it goes too, and the path is narrow (even wired in a couple of places) so, as Mick understated: "You wouldn't want to slip here. It would really ruin your day."
As an added bonus to the pleasing route, a grunt and some scuffling drew our attention and we caught sight of a group of wild boar (6 adults, 8 little boarlets) as they ran away from us, on a path parallel but slightly up the hill from us.
A relatively early lunch was had just before our descent to Trein, mainly because we needed to filter some water and Mick needed to charge his Fitbit (which was fully charged last night but now was empty again; it keeps doing this on backpacking trips and we know not why), which meant that the road walk through Trein and Bielle and into St Lizier was done in the full heat of the day.
It was with excitement (due to the current food rationing) that we found that the epicerie in St L is open on a Sunday, even if it was closed for lunch (until 3.30) when we arrived. With an hour and a half to kill and with it being too hot to sit outside we repaired to the local hotel/restaurant for a coffee, which impulsively became second lunch, although we were quite restrained, having just three starters between us and a pudding each.
Then we realised that having eaten out for second lunch we didn't really need anything extra to see us through to Aulus les Bains tomorrow, although we did have a little browse of what was available in the shop and topped up our supplies with some nuts and some pain au lait (Mick's dodgy tummy is really struggling with breakfast. Hopefully he'll be able to cope with plain pain au lait.)
There had been discussion this morning as to whether to stay in St Lizier tonight or whether to push on. I wasn't keen on doing the next climb in the heat of the afternoon, but we need to be at the Post Office to collect a parcel by noon tomorrow (Footnote 3), which, from St L, would have required a ridiculously early start. Mick came up with the genius plan of hanging around St L until late afternoon, so the lunch and the shop opening times worked out well.
As it turned out, the climb out of the village is nicely shaded, just as Martin described it in his blog from 2 years ago (Footnote 4); a particularly good thing as the path is quite steep in places (very wet for some sections at the moment too) and our packs were heavy with 3 litres of water apiece to see us through to the first stream tomorrow morning (the maps showed no water sources on our route, so we carried water from town. We actually crossed half a dozen running streams, the last one being just before we hit 1100m. We topped off our bottles again there having already drunk over half a litre apiece on the way up).
Our stated destination for the day was the Col de Fitté, where it looked like we should be able to find a pitch. We must have taken some sun to our heads though, as when we got there and found perfectly good terrain for camping, we decided to go on. With a surprisingly (to us, at least) large ski resort over to our left we toiled up yet more ascent, and (perhaps predictably, having passed by good terrain where we were supposed to stop) then struggled to find somewhere that was both flat and shaded. Eventually, we took a break and I walked packlessly on to scout out the final bit of path where the topography looked like it might yield a pitch and right at the last moment one appeared. Here are a couple of piccies of the pitch and the view:
There are lots more photos I'd like to share today, but (a) has anyone even made it this far through my witterings? and (b) it really is bedtime so there's no time for editing photos.
( 1^^ we passed this duo repeatedly yesterday. Le Flasheur got his name because for once it wasn't me who got caught with my trousers down yesterday. For some reason I was ahead of Mick when we approached Col de Lazies and as I popped up onto the top of the pass I saw far more than I needed to see of the chap standing at the top...
^^2^^ a young GR10er who dithered at such length as to whether to stay at the cabane a couple of nights ago. Incidentally, he did catch me with my trousers down this morning. That's twice in a week (to two different people). I must be more careful.
^^3^^ the fallback plan had been to pick it up as the PO opens at 9 on Tuesday, but Tuesday is forecast to be 35 degrees which will demand an early start by way of heat avoidance.
^^4Martin: I'm so pleased Humphrey created that book and gave me a pdf copy, which I have on my phone. Whereas my blog is generally witterings, you include really useful information. It's a good resource.)