Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Day 9 - Refugio de Belagua to Lescun

I've got a long day today if I want to get home tonight. According to the guidebook it's a little over 7 hrs to Lescun; but then I've got over 2 hours hiking to the station at Bedous to get the train back to Pau. Of course, there's also the possibility of getting a lift from Lescun to Bedous…

Pleasant hiking in the beech forest

I get away just after 8.30 and the route goes through a shady beech forest - very pleasant hiking. It's a gradual but steady climb but as I gain altitude the scenery becomes more rock and less vegetation. The rock in this part of the Pyrénées is limestone and it gives a crazy 'karst' landscape. I experienced it when I climbed the nearby Pic d'Anie and found it a little scary. Rock features like crevasses, little cliffs and pinnacles form a maze, just like a glacier, and getting to a point just 100 m away can involve lots of back-tracking and detours. You can waste a lot of time! 

A maze of limestone

Here, though, the HRP coincides with a Spanish GR and that means red and white stripes. This made a big difference and things weren't anything like as bad as I experienced on the Pic d'Anie. After about 4 hours I arrived at the Col d'Anaye on the border and descended into France to the source of the Marmitou where I stopped for lunch and filled up my hydration system. By now it's obvious I'll get home tonight, it's just a question of when.

At the Col d'Anaye, looking down into France; Lescun is under the clouds

There followed some long but very simple walking downhill to Lescun under the clouds. I'd never been into the village before and took some time to explore it. At this point I started walking to the station, hoping to hitch a lift - but there were no cars! I'd covered a couple of kilometers before the first car arrived, I stuck out my thumb and ….  it stopped for me!

Arriving in Lescun

The driver turns out to be the gardienne at the Refuge de l'Abérouat, a refuge near Lescun on the GR10. She tells me she's got to do some shopping at the local supermarket but then she'll drop me off at the station. I do a quick calculation and it means I can get the train at 5.30 pm. And that's how it works out - I'm back in Pau just after 7 pm and home just after 7.30. 

The train back to Pau

I've finally got the HRP started!

Monday, July 4, 2022

Day 8 - Cabane d'Ardené to Refugio de Belagua

I've got a relatively short day to the Refugio de Belagua today, so I'm not in too much of a hurry to get up. My two young friends are debating how much further than me they are going to hike today - either an extra 4 hrs (in guidebook time) or 7 hrs. I get up as they are leaving and wish them a good day. I have a leisurely breakfast and then comes the moment I've been dreading - putting my wet gear back on.

Walking on a faint path on a compass bearing back to the frontier ridge
I start hiking and I'm still in the mist; I follow a very faint path on a compass bearing and pop out of the mist just below the frontier ridge. The hike follows the ridge again, but it detours below the bigger, rockier summits, first on the Spanish side, then on the French side before going back over to the Spanish side. From here there is a long, gradual descent to the hut; there were clouds spilling over a pass (the Port d'Ourdayté) from France, putting me back in the mist for part of the descent.
Horses just before the Port de Belhay

Clouds spilling over the Port d'Ourdayté; the hut is a white dot in the center

The Refugio de Belagua has been closed since 2004 and only re-opened recently. It's only at 1428 m - most huts are higher, typically above 2000 meters. And it's right beside a road and a big car park! There's not many mountain huts where motor bikers stop for lunch, but this is one. That aside, it was very nice and felt very modern; I got installed in a dormitory, had a shower and then had a beer at the bar. 

The evening meal was very good; it had two soups - gazpacho (a cold soup) and then a more traditional lentil soup. By the time I went to bed I discovered the dormitory was full up and there was a snorer. This gave me a chance to use the most valuable bit of hiking equipment measured by either price or weight - earplugs. I slept soundly and I hope the others had packed their earplugs!

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Day 7 - Col Bagargui to Cabane d'Ardené

Today is a long day that pretty much follows the frontier ridge all day. In the process, you climb the Pic d'Ohry - at just over 2000 m it's the highest peak so far on the hike. Accommodation is in an unmanned cabane and this lends a bit of uncertainty to the day - you don't know if you'll be alone or there will be a crowd there. Because it's a long day and there's no water on the trail, I take some extra water in addition to my usual 2 liter hydration system. 

The mist clears and progress improves

The forecast gives a 50% chance of storms from around 8.00 pm, so I start hiking by 9.00 am. I make good progress for the first half hour or so but then I'm in the clouds and can only see about 10 meters ahead. There isn't really a path (or, rather, there are lots of paths made by cows) and there are no landmarks to follow, so I'm navigating by map and compass and progress slows a lot. I'm looking at my map and concluding I need to follow a dirt road when the mist clears and I can see the route beyond the dirt road all the way to …. the Pic d'Ohry. Quite a relief! 

Approaching the base of the Pic d'Ohry and second breakfast

The hike continues in clear air until I get to the bottom of the Pic d'Ohry where I stop for a second breakfast and admire the hill - it's a big lump. The climb is pretty steep; from time to time there is a nice breeze blowing from the south, but, when it isn't there, it's a hot and sweaty climb. About halfway up the climb there's a sharp little ridge to cross. By the time I reach the summit I've made up for the time I lost in the mist and I'm back on guidebook schedule. From the summit I descend down the ridge to the Port de Larrau (a col where a road crosses the frontier) and stop for a bit of a break (and get back off guidebook schedule!).

Vulture just beside the Port de Larrau; there are lots of raptors on the ridge

The hike continues along the border ridge but it's rounded now, and the ups and downs are more reasonable. It's very pleasant hiking but I'm keeping one eye on the clouds over in Spain and it's obvious there will be a storm this evening. There's a steep descent to the north of the ridge I can use to reach a dirt road leading to the cabane if the storm arrives too soon, but I continue along the ridge. When I arrive at the Col Elhurrosoko I head down to the cabane just as distant rumblings of thunder can be heard over in Spain. 

Pleasant hiking on the rounded frontier ridge

I'm well down from the ridge with my rain jacket on when the storm arrives at around 5.00 pm. It's heavy rain and then grape-sized hail with distant peals of thunder; my rain jacket does a great job of keeping my top half dry but very quickly the rest of me is soaked. I splash downwards, passing cows and horses that look as miserable as I feel. The rain has just stopped when I arrive at the cabane and I'm greeted by 2 young guys doing the HRP who just beat the storm. 

I get changed and make some tea and share some cake with my fellow HRPers. They are doing what they call double days; each day, they hike 2 day's worth of the HRP. Today, they had a 'rest day' by only doing a single day! By this time, the sun is shining again but only for about 15 minutes before the mist descends on us for the night.

Later on a French guy doing the HRP in the opposite direction arrives. We all cook our own meals and go to bed. I sleep fine until my super-light air mattress (Thermarest Uberlite) springs a leak - I sleep less well after that.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Day 6 - Egurgui to Col Bagargui

Towards the top of the pathless slope, looking back on yesterday's hiking

I had seen a forecast back in Roncesvalles that predicted 30C temperatures today, so I made an early start. The day started with a climb up a steep grass slope where the guidebook warns you that there really isn't any path. It sounds a bit ominous but it turned out to be fairly reasonable. It's an open slope, the gradient eases after the start, you can see where you need to get to and the lack of a path means you don't need to worry about losing the trail! After about an hour of climbing I arrived at a ridge where I joined a decent path and headed north east.

Joining a decent path below the ridge of Urkulu

After a couple of hours of relatively flat hiking, first contouring a slope then across a plateau, I joined the GR10. After some of the hiking on the last two days this felt like a motorway! There wasn't any shade and the temperature was rising, so when the trail descended from the Plateau d'Okabe into a wood, I took the opportunity of having a shady lunch. 

Following the GR10 on the Plateau d'Okabe; Pic d'Ohry in the distance

I resumed hiking with a descent through woods and then a hot walk along an unshaded valley road. The day's hiking ended with a climb through woods up to the Chalets d'Iraty. There I booked into my night's accommodation, the gîte d'étape at the Col Bagargui, and visited a small food shop where I bought myself a well earned ice cream and some supplies for the next few days. I took my evening meal in a resto beside the gîte, and very nice it was too!

Friday, July 1, 2022

HRP Day 5 - Roncesvalles to Egurgui

After my rest (or bad weather) day in La Posada, I'm glad to see it's dry but Roncesvalles is at nearly 1000 m and it's still in the clouds. The day starts with a walk uphill back to the col and then a gradual climb in the mist to the Col Lepoeder. 

Emerging slowly from the mist

For the next 30 minutes or so, I'm walking on the Camino as the sky clears. The pilgrims are headed in the other direction and there are lots of them - I seem to be exchanging "Bon Camino" every 2 minutes or so! Crossing the Pyrénées is a big day for the pilgrims and they'll soon be heading downhill to Roncesvalles and then out of the mountains. There are also little memorials to pilgrims that died as well as emergency communications and a shelter. It was fun while it lasted, but I was quite glad when the HRP left the Camino behind.

Potoks and the cromlech at the Col d'Organbidé

As the hike progresses, we're getting higher and the scenery is more open with fewer trees and bigger hills. The hiking followed the border fairly closely and I had lunch beside the cromlech at the Col d'Orgambidé. The hiking continued with wonderful views, including the appearance of the Pic d'Orhy that I'll be climbing in 2 days. There were lots of raptors and at one point I thought I'd get a photo of a vulture eating a dead sheep, but my presence spooked it. After a bunch more climbing and a gradual descent, I reached my destination for the night at Egurgui (there are many spellings…). In my day's hiking, the only buildings I passed were a grand total of 4 shepherd huts. 

Open scenery with the Pic d'Ohry hidden in clouds

There is an unmanned cabane where one used to be able to spend the night, but it's now closed. Apart from that, all there is at Egurgui is a stream and a track - so it's a bivvy for tonight! The stream flows well but there are sheep and cows around so I treat the water with a double dose of tablets. There's a good flat bivvy site down by the stream, so I get installed there and cook myself a curry (well, I add boiling water to a dehydrated curry meal).  Later on I settle down for the night and sleep well.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

HRP Day 4 - Aldudes to Roncesvalles

The first three days of the hike were in rolling green hills from village to village, with lots of accommodation and eating options in the morning and evening. That pattern will continue today, but then the hike changes a bit; there will be fewer villages and I need to be more self-sufficient, which means a heavier pack. There's a post office in Aldudes, and I've sent a food parcel there. The post office is only open between 10 am and noon, so I can't hang around too long in the morning.

After a very nice breakfast, I head to the post office and collect my food parcel. I also sent my umbrella and an 'old' map home. I pick up a couple of snacks at the local store and talk to some fellow HRPers. The weather is great for hiking - dry and clear but not too hot - and my pack is still fairly light as I head out for the day.

Arriving at the start of the long high-level ridge

The first 3 hours of hiking were very nice - climbing up those steep little hills you see everywhere in the Basque country. Much of the day involved walking along a high level ridge (at around 800 m altitude) with great views in every direction. Around half distance, though, you find yourself walking on a road. There's no traffic, the views are just as good but the road is harder on the feet and a bit less interesting. 

La Redoute de Lindux (1220 meters) with its Napoleonic fortifications

Apart from a little excursion to climb a summit on the border (La Redoute de Lindux, 1220 m) you stay on the road until you arrive at the Col de Roncevaux and by then my feet were quite uncomfortable; strange, I've never had any foot problems when hiking before.

Corridor outside my room in La Posada

A short descent from the col took me to my hotel in Roncesvalles, La Posada. It's an old hotel (built at the beginning of the 17th century) and it's got a lot of atmosphere. My room is big, with a comfy bed and a private bathroom, but it's also quite spartan. Tomorrow's forecast is poor and I decided to spend two nights here (bivvying in the rain isn't much fun, especially with minimalist gear) before resuming my hike. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

HRP Day 3 - Elizondo to Aldudes

The weather is lovely in the morning, I've got an easy day's hiking and I'm headed to a nice hotel in France. I'm definitely in a better mood today than I was yesterday! I have an excellent, leisurely breakfast, explore the town a bit and hit the trail around 11 am. I'm going to follow the GR11 for 3 hours or so and then cut across the border and descend to Aldudes. The route I'll be taking is marked as the HRP on my map but the guidebook describes a different route; there are many versions of the HRP!

View on the climb out of Elizondo on the GR11

It's a pleasant, gradual climb through woods on the GR11 and, given yesterday's weather, it's surprising how dry everything is. Towards the top of the climb I encounter some of the hikers I passed yesterday and we continue together to the border where the scenery opens up, giving great views into the Aldudes valley. I stop for a leisurely lunch and leave them to pursue the hike. After lunch I leave the GR11 and head along a ridge line that soon offers a descent to a road. A long and increasingly hot descent follows and I'm quite relieved when I arrive at the hotel (the St Sylvestre). 

View into the Aldudes valley - my hotel is down there somewhere

Everything in the hotel is very nice. I enjoy a lazy end to the afternoon before an excellent meal. Quite a relief after yesterday's hiking!