After a leisurely break in an overnight hotel (and a dodgy beer and bout of sickness for me) we were up and off again the next day. The weather was still overcast but a little brighter so we were hopeful of clearer conditions. Alas as we approached the car park at Plan D’Aste we entered the ping pong ball again!
This was day one of a six day hut tour around the French and Spanish Pyrenees that I’d concocted over many nights poring over maps and guidebooks. Each day would take us over a high col or two and down to a hut with the possibility of some summits. Things didn’t quite work out as planned, as you’ll discover over the next few posts, but it turned out to be a superb trip
This day started as the previous one had ended. In thick gloomy fog for the long walk up the Val D’Arrens. I got the impression that it was a fine valley, rocky at first mixed with wide grassy pastures before a steep climb took us into the very heart of the Balaitous range. Just as we we began to lose hope that this dense fog would ever clear we caught a glimpse of blue and some faint outlines of craggy peaks
After almost 12 hours walking in fog it was a relief just to see a few hundred metres and our spirits were raised
As we climbed the weather cleared all the more and the skies became bluer and expansive views started to open up. We could see our path to the col on the border with Spain stretching in front of us. We also came across the first of what proved to be the tricky obstacle of snow patches across the path that had to be traversed. You can see it in the photo below.
The paths tend to run across the valley sides rather than the bottom (where all the scree collects) so traversing across them feels quite airy and exposed. We should have been carrying axes and crampons but I really hadn’t thought there would be much snow at this time of year so I’d left them behind. The snow was deep and firm and I found it easy enough to kick steps across but this was the first time TJS had come across this sort of terrain and he naturally found it a bit edgy. He coped ok though and we were soon moving quickly again with tremendous views back down the valley partially above the cloud by the Lacs de Remoulis
One steep snow section needed to be climbed as the path disappeared under a snow bank. I don’t think TJS fully appreciated my request to “smile” as he climbed (its nothing like as steep as it looks in the photo)
We crossed more snow, quite extensive, and filled water bottles with cold clear snowmelt for lunch. Up to col the snow was pretty much continuous and were planning to go over much higher cols than this one.
We reached the Col de St Martin in watery sunshine and stopped for a long late lunch at 2,295m, highest point of the trip so far
The descent down the other side took us into Spain for the first time with the views clearing by the minute. An easy descent took us down to the the magnificent grassland and lake of the Embalse de Campoplano
Take a look at these photos and tell me you don’t ache to throw a tent up here for a wild camp!
It was a truly magnificent spot. Acres of close-cropped grass bisected by numerous clear streams, surrounded by dramatic craggy snow streaked mountains. My favourite spot of the trip and one of my all time favourite places now. Part of me regretted we weren’t camping but my pack with 6 days lunches and no tent/stove/mat/sleeping bag was heavy enough
We forded a small stream and walked the short distance around the lake and crags to the hut
It was a breathtaking section, high above the main Respumuso Reservoir with rocky outcrops and smaller tarns in the foreground. All the while Musales and Infiernos ranges cleared from the cloud
We rounded a corner and found the hut, one of the more modern and larger variety with the added luxury of a hot shower (unheard of in Alpine Huts when I used them many years ago)
We booked and settled in to our overnight home and spent the rest of the evening watching the views unfold and wandering about. Just enjoying being high in the mountains, watching the marmots at play before our evening meal of soup and chicken & chips. As with all the huts the food was excellent and the staff friendly and welcoming
As the sun went down everything turned a deep golden brown and we marvelled at the dramatic change from gloomy murk to evening sunshine. The hut was very quiet and there was a sense of peace and solitude that was intoxicating. One of those evenings when you are reluctant to go to bed (even though your body is telling you its tired!)
We went to bed happy and content and ready for the next leg of the journey