Day 3 (6hr10)
Today was a lot of up and down and some minor scrambling that even I could cope with. Weather was kind again for hiking – a bit cloudy and cool, with occasional sun.
At the end of the day reached civilisation – a ski resort (Haut Asco) with food and showers. Met David and Peter from England (see my “Blogs I Like”).
They were more knowledgeable than me about how refuges work. They had booked the restaurant, I hadn’t. When I turned up at food time it was fully booked. Thankfully they managed to sneak me in on their booking. Otherwise would have been no dinner for me. I owe you!
Day 4 (7hr30)
The guidebook describes this as “the day most walkers dread”. It’s Cirque day!
200m of descent down the cliff then 250m back up the other side. Was raining first thing. Not what I want. Scary enough in the dry. Thankfully it had dried up before I reached the top of the Cirque and peered over the abyss. There were a lot of other hikers around so I couldn’t wimp-out. Over the edge we go!
I was not as scary as I thought on the way down. …although my shaky legs did dislodge a rock and nearly take out a Basque woman about 10m below me. She was not pleased (not surprising really!).
Made it down, but then the return was worse. I got a really big attack of wobbly knees, but thankfully Marc (the airline pilot) was a few metres behind me and coaxed me up. Halfway up there is a steel ladder. Got to the top, but it was too short for my liking – a large step needed to get off the metalwork and back onto the rock. Took me a couple of attempts.
Then it started to spit with rain. The guidebook helpfully notes “The Cirque is dangerous when wet”. It is granite polished by previous hiker boots, so becomes very slippery. Made a dash for the top – fear and adrenaline of how much worse it would be if it became really wet. Then the rain really started pelting down, just as I reached a polished granite slab (and no chains here). Made it across somehow, followed by a short scree slope to the top. Felt very proud of myself….once I’d stopped shaking!
After recovery I hiked the rest of the day with Marc. It rained… a lot. Despite him carrying the heaviest rucksack I’ve seen (probably 21-22kgs), he hadn’t brought a coat! I donated a bin liner which kept the worst off. He stopped at the first refuge, but I carried on to camp at the next one to make my miles.
Over the next days, every time I met the German dog rescuers, the greeting from one of them (Sebastian) was “I’m still alive!”.
Day 5 (7hr30)
Overnight was a spectacular thunderstorm. Lightning every 1-2 seconds. Very dramatic. One end of my tent flooded, but luckily I was on the case and managed to make a raft from my sleeping mat – raising it on coffee jars, breakfast cereal packets, chocolate bars so the water ran underneath!
In the morning the rain had stopped. My gear had survived pretty well. Sleeping bag a bit damp, but not wet. The rain restarted as I was packing up to leave at 7.00am. Then the rain hammered down for the 3 hours of ascent from the refuge.
The ascent included crossing a couple of streams, which were now torrents after the storms. Hikers gathered in groups near each crossing, waiting for a “brave soul” to venture across and then help the rest of us. Later found that in one of these groups, the “brave soul” had fallen in, and it took 40 minutes to retrieve him. Very near hypothermia.
After the ascent the weather cleared up and it was a pleasant walk down the valley.
Felt really tired when I reached camp, and unpacked only to find my plastic bag of dry clothes was a swimming pool. (lesson learnt… Use drybags not carrier bags for the important stuff). Spent the rest of the evening trying to dry them out a bit.
Day 6 (6hr30)
Woke to rain at 6.00am. Thankfully it stopped by 7.15am. Today was a pleasant hike through woodland. This was followed by a short hill, then flat for the rest of the day. What a difference a day makes….the sun was out all afternoon, and I managed to get my legs sunburnt!