We woke to a stunner. The previous gloom and clouds had been replaced by a deep and clear blue sky. The early morning views across the lake were magnificent
Our usual routine of breakfast and packing but this time outside in glorious sunshine
Our route took us back along the high path above the lake towards Campoplano. Today it was even better than the day before and a pleasure to walk it again under such stunning conditions
Our plan was to traverse the high pass of the Col de La Fache and possibly climb the Grand Fache itself at over 3000m. The pass is the one just right of centre in the photo below with the Grand Fache to the right
We needed to cross the major stream that issues from the col and we were preparing to wade it (bridges on the Spanish side seemed to be in short supply) . On a whim I climbed up to the top of a small ridge and spied a dam below that we could cross. Result!
We stopped to fill water bottles, once again admiring the glorious scenery in the environs of Embalse de Campoplano
As we began to climb to we saw lots of marmots on the surrounding rocks
We’d not been climbing long before we started to reach the snow. The hut itself is pretty high at 2200m so it was hardly that surprising. It mainly filled the bottom of the valley with the roaring meltwater stream often hidden underneath. The going was easy until we had to cross a boulder. The footsteps went down and round it and so did I only to collapse into a large hole and then pitch forward and slide headfirst towards the torrent that was disappearing under another patch of snow. I stopped myself after a couple of metres but the thought did cross my mind as I plunged that if I fell in the river I’d be washed under the snow. Sobering thought.
I emptied the snow out of my pockets and boots and we pressed on. As we climbed the snow became more extensive. I took a line above and to the right following some footsteps and thinking staying away from the chance of falling through a hole into the river was a good idea
In the event the footsteps turned to crampon marks and the snow became a little harder and I had to kick steps for quite a while. No real danger but it felt a little precarious. TJS gave me another “you never told me about this sort of thing” look
We headed up finding the snow hard work. We thought we’d reached the col but it was a cruel deception. It was still well above us as we walked into a perched corrie with a lake, completely frozen over. All the photos I’d seen when researching the route was of a rocky hollow with two deep blue lakes. Seeing it in pretty much full winter conditions was something of a surprise!
To reach the col we had a long rising traverse around the lake followed by a short steep section. TBF managed to fall off the trail and slide down a few feet (you can see here making her way back up in the photo below). Again it felt a little precarious but a slip would only have ended in a wet slosh into the snow at the bottom. The steeper section was hard work but after what seemed like a long and tiresome toil we were at the col at 2664m. Only a climb of some 450m but with heavy packs its seemed much harder
The views were immense and we settled in for a long leisurely soak in the sun
The climb up to the Grand Fache sounded easy enough but we were quickly realising that we were walking with heavy packs in winter conditions and finding it much harder than we thought. We agreed that climbing cols was more than enough and abandoned the idea of the summit (and the extra descent it would entail) in favour of more time lazing about
The way down, back into France, was over more snow but at a perfect angle for descending, at least for me. TJS was still nervous on snow despite my assertions that at this easy angle it makes for a rapid and easy descent. He seemed to hate the snow despite the fact he’s been down much steeper snow slopes in the Brecons near to home. Perhaps a little intimidated by the high mountains around us rather than just dealing with conditions underfoot
We passed another beautiful frozen lake and then another snow filled gully before finally leaving the white stuff behind
We descended into the Marcadau valley and the Refuge Wallon (just visible in the centre of the photo below)
The surrounding scenery was majestic and the valley below green and verdant. A long descent as the refuge was much lower at 1800m
One of the best features of the Pyrenees are the valley meadows and clear mountains streams. We added the Marcadau to the list of marvellous places.
As we approached the hut there were several people sunning themselves and swimming although the water was likely to be icily cold being primarily snowmelt. I’d planned to take a dip at some point but we never really had time and the water was far too cold even for me
The refuge was a much older traditional building. We drank a cold coke on the terrace before booking in and making ourselves at home (a dedicated and rather shabby 4 bed bunk-room with paper thin walls). We sat outside and watched the local cows, donkey and horse as the mingled with crowds, the hut was clearly very popular and busy. Our evening meal was hearty as always and after a long day we turned in relatively early as we had another long day ahead with two more passes to cross
Weatherise the best day of the trip and a tough one. There was more hard work to follow, much more than we anticipated!