TJS has been working hard for his GCSE’s. As he effectively gets a month off after finishing we decided on a special post-exam treat of a walking holiday (minus TJF who still has schooling to complete). After much deliberation we decided on the Pyrenees as they have a real big mountain feel with none of the objective dangers of the high Alps. They are also great for long distance walking/touring so I planned a couple of expeditions into their majestic heart. Within 30 minutes or so of him finishing his last exam we were on the road. A channel crossing to St Malo which I have to say is by far the best way to reach France. 12 hours overnight giving time for a pretty good meal, a decent night’s sleep and a leisurely breakfast before hitting the road. Its a long way to the Pyrenees but midweek is an easy drive, including a stop for a cuppa in the forests just south of Bordeaux where it was brutally hot (around 34C).
As we pulled into the Hotel L’Ayguelade (very nice it was too) for an overnight before hitting the trail we got our first glimpse of the Pyrenees proper and the dramatic Pic Du Midi D’Ossau. Anticipation was growing!
The morning however was dark and gloomy both weatherwise and politically. We woke to news that the UK had voted to leave the EU and we were stunned and dismayed. I was almost embarrassed to sit with the the rest of the guests having breakfast. With grey skies and a grey mood it was a quiet drive up into the mountains. We hoped that perhaps we could break through the cloud and as we climbed up towards the car park at Lac de Bious Artigues the cloud thinned and suddenly cleared and we were treated to some sensational views
The dark mood that had overcome us in the morning evaporated as quickly as the clouds and we finished packing for our first trip
The plan was a tour of the majestic Pic Du Midi D’Ossau. Its one of the most iconic of all the Pyrenean peaks. Not the highest or even over 3000m it has a profile that’s not dissimilar to the Matterhorn, standing alone rather than as a point on an extended ridge.
Its a relatively easy summit to attain but prone to stone-fall. We therefore settled on a circuit that encircles it with a night in a hut to make a two day taster before a longer trip the following week
We set off in glorious warm sunshine with tantalising glimpses of the towering Pic du Midi through the trees.
After a steep pull through the trees we opened out into the Bious pastures. It looked wonderful with its clear mountain stream but our route was further upwards with another steep section through the forest
We emerged into another open pasture and stopped for a break. It was a wonderful spot but we were plagued by flies but luckily for the only time on the trip
A short climb led us up to the first of the the Lacs d’Ayous, Lac Roumassot. With the majestic Pic in full view it was a perfect lunch stop by the stream
Winter has not long receded from the Pyrenees (as we found out later) so the wild flowers were in abundance and a delight for our whole stay
After a lengthy feast another short climb past the waterfalls led us past the second small lake of Lac du Miey and then on to Lac Gentau above which sat our destination for the night, the Refuge D’Ayous
The hut has been perfectly placed, above the lake with the classic view across to the Pic du Midi. On warm summer afternoon it was perfect
We debated long and hard about whether to use huts or wild camp. I was in favour of the latter but the others were reluctant to carry the heavy packs in high mountain country. We decided on huts and they were very convivial and enjoyable. They fed us superbly with each hut delivering a four course meal and it does mean you can relax a little more at the end of the day and enjoy the surroundings. None of that cooking, washing up and lavatorial visits behind rocks and such like. In fact c couple of the hut even had a shower!
We enjoyed our surroundings for a lazy couple of hours just lounging on the grass in the warm sunshine
As we sat the clouds and mist from the valley’s below began to creep up creating some fine images of the Pic du Midi
We were planning on a lazy stroll around the lake but left it a little too late. By the time we set off the mist was swirling around the lake and hut and we spent of most of the walk in the damp cloud
The wild flowers were still absolutely stunning though
Added attraction of these lakes are its resident toads and there were loads of them swimming in the shallows and several frogs hopping about in the grass
This one was rearing up out of the muddy grass like some kind of monster!
I also nearly trod on a snake! It was black and possibly had a diamond pattern on its back so I thought it might be an Adder but looking online the only variety is rare and not black. Not sure what variety it was but it was thrilling to see it anyway.
The hut was completely enveloped in cloud when we got back so we sat inside and chilled waiting for tea (a hearty soup, chilli and rice with cheese and apple to follow). While we were eating a massive thunderstorm raged outside with hail thrown in. We seemed to right in the middle of it with lightning flashing all around. When it finished the skies cleared a little and me and TBF went out for a walk. The views were completely different, all stormy clouds and shafts of sunlight
We thought we’d missed the promised sunset on Pic du Midi but we lucked in as the sun came out just enough to turn its grey slopes a deep brown and the wind dropped to reveal at least some of its reflection in the lake
A fantastic end to a superb first day in the Pyrenees
Now I said this was a two day expedition and normally I’d write a post for each day. The next day we woke in swirling mist and stayed in it for the entire day. Every footstep from the hut back to the car which was still in the cloud. It was a long day and we were all pretty chuffed to complete it but we saw nothing all day. It was like walking inside a ping-pong ball. This was the only photo I managed to take so I didn’t think I could stretch this out to a whole post.
The day wasn’t without incident. Were saw numerous Fire Salamander and we managed to to go over the wrong col. We saw some glimpses of blue sky way above us but it never cleared and ironically that was enough for both sherpas to get sunburnt! It didn’t spoil what had been a superb couple of days out and we warmed up for the more serious route I’d planned for the rest of the trip. A total of 20km and 1400m of ascent over the two days