Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Two Day Special. A Big Walk In The Kerry Mountains.

Friday June 20th;

Special is perhaps a word that's overused. I know I am guilty of doing it but in the case of the walk I went on this weekend I think its a word thats justified. Having returned from the Pyrenees just last week and having a couple of days off work I decided to take advantage of the wonderful weather we are having and go for a two day hike in the mountains of Kerry. My biggest problem was what to do. The mountains hereabouts are lovely but it isn't that easy to string a truly wild multi day outing together as the ranges are quite small. The Everagh peninsula offers one of the best options and it was to here I headed. A place I hadn't visited in perhaps eight or nine years was the Coomasaharn group that rise near Glenbeigh so I thought this would be a good starting point. It also had the added advantage in that I could use public transport to get to the start. The route was  long and serpentine in nature and initially wound its way from Drung Hill around to Meentog, across the Ballaghisheen Gap, onwards to Finnararagh before finally crossing Mullaghanattin and down to the Sneem to Killarney road where I would trust in my old thumb to try and get a lift back to the train in Killarney. Approximately 48 kilometers and a total of nearly 3000 meters of ascent promised a testing couple of days. It is always interesting to revisit your home patch after a foreign trip and I suppose comparisons are inevitably going to be made but this time, immediately from the start, I left aside any doubts I may have had and was bowled over by the beauty of the landscape.
The old railway viaduct..soon to be reopened as a greenway


Dingle Bay

Across towards Mount Brandon

An early start saw me catch the 07.25 train from Mallow to Killarney and a bus at 09.45 saw me alight at the appropriately named "Mountain Stage" junction about four miles beyond Glenbeigh at 10.45. The bus driver was a bit of a character who was entertaining and had a great line in chat with all his "regulars" on the bus. The morning had been cloudy inland but here by the sea, blue sky was the order of the day. The high temperatures of the previous days were gone though and there was a chilly breeze coming from the north but that was nothing to complain about as any day when the sun is shining makes being near the sea such a beautiful place to be. My  first objective was to find a was a way onto the open mountain, the oddly named "Drung Hill", which rose gently in a westerly direction beside the road. I walked down a lovely little lane for a few hundred meters before spying a gate that allowed me climb up to open moorland. I also spied the large bull in the corner of the paddock and I kept a close eye on him (and he on me) until he was well behind me and I could truly start my wild outing. Drung Hill was a revelation. It rises gently on a long spur to 640 meters and the views to the right straight down to the sea and the Dingle Peninsula beyond are lovely. I always feel there is something special about any mountain that rises directly from the sea and here was no exception. It also helped that the weather was so nice and that I had never been here before. If I thought that the views on the way up were nice, I was blown away by the panoramic vistas from the summit. Everywhere in all directions lay wonderful mountain and seascapes. To the east the Reeks looked wonderful but it was the imposing hulk of Knocknadobar that caught the eye as it stood in magnificent isolation. When viewed from the road below it looks an uninteresting lump but from up here it took on a more complicated form. I can honestly say that this must be one of the best viewpoints in the country.
Towards The Reeks


Rugged ground

Heading towards Ballaghisheen

I sat and enjoyed a bite to eat and but not for too long as I had a long way ahead and I was keen to put some kilometers behind me. The tops just kept on coming in (not so quick) succession and each one gave new and varied views. Drunh Hill, Beenmore, Been Hill, Teermoyle, Coomacarrea and Menteog followed and the views down the series of impressive cliffs and coums was spectacular. The normally boggy ground was crispy and dry from the recent sun and it made the going a bit easier and all the more pleasurable. I had the added bonus of getting a  really good view of a pair of Hen Harriers soaring and calling round and about me from the summit of Meenteog. Water was also becoming an issue as since I was thus far entirely on a ridge I was relying on the liter and a half I started with. From Meenteog I left the spectacular coums behind and headed southeast for the delightfully named Colly mountain. I must confess to feeling quite tired at this stage and even though the bag wasn't that heavy (about 13 kilos) I was still struggling on the uphill sections. I made a detour at the col below the climb to the summit down a promising looking gully in search of water but even though I went went down a fair ways it remained stubbornly dry so I returned empty handed. I wasn't too worried however as I wasn't too far from the next possible source at "William Scotts Well" less than three kilometers further on. Thankfully I was able to replenish my supply there and I continued onwards over increasingly rough ground over Knocknagapple and down to the roadway that traverses Ballaghisheen pass. By now I had been on the go for seven hours, had covered around 20 kilometers, climbed 1400 meters and my thoughts were turning to finding a place to camp for the night but first I had to leave the road behind and this meant climbing the 300 meters to the summit of Knocknacusha. Leaden legs meant that any thoughts of going beyond Ballytrusk had gone and I was scouring the ground by the pass below to try and see a possible camping spot. I headed down and as I neared the bottom I saw a likely looking gully and followed it down. Soon I was delighted to see a nice steady trickle of water at its base and shortly afterwards a level grassy spot...result!. I quickly set about setting up the tent and cooking a bite to eat but it was with considerable dismay I discovered that my gas wasn't working so I figured a hungry night was to follow. There wasn't exactly a lot of wood about to burn but I gathered up some dead gorse and made a fire with that and soon I had a boiling pot of water and a nice hot meal followed. I slept very well.
Wildcamp heaven

Saturday June 21st;

Last night had been the shortest of the year but it didn't make too much difference to me as I had slept soundly from well before sundown till well after sunrise. Not having any cooker I wasn't going to waste time trying to start a fire so it didn't take long to break camp and I was away. The midges that had thankfully been missing the previous evening had made an appearance which added to my enthusiasm to get moving. I was a bit surprised to see a big leech just outside my tent as well. Keen as I was to get going I'm afraid my body was less so and I was still feeling tired after yesterday. It took me nearly 3/4 of an hour to cross the 1.5 kilometers to the base of peak 666 (call it what you will). Admittedly the ground was very rough but still!!.Anyway the day was beautiful and so were my surroundings and I had a long way to go still so I kept moving. Eventually I reached the top and an easy descent to the next col (where I was able to replenish my water supply) and I climbed to the next top 636 meters before turning towards Finnararagh 667 meters. The view across to Coomalougha Lough with its savage rough ground is one of the best in the area. I was starting to feel stronger as well and the long undulating rough ridge that stretches to the base of the second last steep climb to the top of "The Pocket" passed next. I hadn't had a breakfast and I only had some chocolate biscuits to eat but they kept me going and I made sure to eat a couple before setting up the 180 meter climb. It passed off well and as this was an area I hadn't been for several years I relaxed a while to take in the views. Next comes the final peak of the trip Mullaghanattin and at 773 meters also the highest. The 200 meters to the top is steep and unremitting but this too passed and while I was tired I was also a little sad that the journey was heading towards its end, but not yet as I still had five kilometers to reach the little road (that descends from Ballaghbeama Gap) and then a further seven to reach the Killarney road. This all passed off well but yet again I had been on the go for over eight hours before I finally dropped my bag and started hitching. A half an hour later I was on the move thanks to a couple of German tourists who were certainly seeing the countryside at its best. So another 24 kilometers covered and 1300 meters of climbing was done today and I must say I was whacked but really glad I had done it. I can say with hand on heart that without doubt the scenery in Ireland is, when the weather is good, a match for any I have seen anywhere. It's so good to have it on my doorstep.
Over Cloon Lake towards "The Reeks"

Another great weather day

I had come from way way back on the top right.

Cotton Island?

The ridge onwards from Finnararagh

Back towards Finnararagh


Back towards "The Pocket"

All the climbing done, now for the next twelve kilometers

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Pyrenees 2014 Continuing West On The GR10

Monday June 2nd;

On June 2nd I returned to the Pyrenees to continue the journey I first began on a trip in December 2011 when I enjoyed six superb days from Banyuls sur Mer to Canigou. Last June I paid a return visit and continued from Canigou to Ax Les Thermes. This year I departed Dublin and flew to Toulouse and caught a train from there to the village of Hospitalet Pres L'Andorre from where I would be able to start my hike. My train from Toulouse didn't depart until 16.45 and as I was due to arrive in the airport at 14.20 I figured that I would ample time to get a canister of gas to have on my trip. But in the way that these things always seem to work out, we were twenty minutes late arriving and I just missed a bus into town which meant I arrived into the train station at 15.50. Still plenty of time says I, but as I went to buy my ticket I was horrified to discover that there was a numbered system in place and a Big queue. I was number J25 and the numbers were painfully slow in moving so at 16.00 I decided to leave and make a dash to a Decathlon store I knew was a kilometer away as I figured I needed my gas, otherwise I would have to stay in Ax les Thermes or somewhere similar that evening before I would be able to begin my hike. "Running" with a really big rucksack in quite warm conditions is never easy and the startled look on the sales assistants face when I entered the store said all that was needed to describe my condition by the time I got there. By the time I got back to the train station with my precious canister I must have been on the radar of the security people as my heated visage and profuse sweating must have been a cause for worry. Anyway I re-entered the ticket hall a mere 17 minutes after I left and was horrified to find the I had missed my slot by just one number. I went and found an officious looking staff member and explained my situation and she had me at the front of the queue and I had my ticket with 15 minutes to spare. I was then able to completely relax and enjoy the 2 hour 35 minute journey.


Straight away above the treeline

Entering the high valley


Industrial landscape gives way to intensively farmed flat agricultural land before, near Foix, the initial foothills of the mountains appear. From here the train winds its way through increasingly dramatic valleys before finally climbing steeply through the woods towards Hospitalet. I alighted at 19.15 and after a quick consult of the map I was setting my first steps on the trail at 19.20. Oh my but the bag felt heavy but I was delighted to be on my way and I concentrated in just putting one foot in front of the other and I reveled in my alpine surroundings. The trail starts at over 1400 meters so almost straight away I was in open hillside and some small hazel trees were the only woodland to obscure the views. The wonderful wildflowers were once again all about and seeing the stunning orchids and gentians etc was like greeting old friends. I was immediately relaxed and enjoying myself. Initially the track rises near a large pipe that feeds the hydroelectric plant in the village but after a while this is left behind and the trail contours around a valley coming from the southwest. Here at over 1700 meters, there were lots of great camping spots but I had my sights set on reaching the bothy like refuge Brougnic that was about three kilometers further on and at around 2100 meters. I was making reasonable time and I reckoned I could reach it before dark. Anyway, I had by tent and food so I was set either way. There was a little bit of cloud clinging to the tops but I was delighted to be able to begin my trip in the dry. It was a little cool as well, and this too was a good thing. Gradually the track rose and I entered another higher valley at nearly 2000 meters. This wide almost flat stretched towards the northwest for about five kilometers and in the gathering gloom of the evening had a wild remote feel about it. Snow covered peaks were all about with the most prominent being Pic de Nerassol at 2663 meters. After passing a small lake I spotted the refuge about 300 meters to the right and  about 80 meters higher up. It was with great relief I dropped my bag at 21.30 and I set about exploring my new home. It was dark and dingy inside and the sleeping platform had two mattresses on it. This I didn't like as I reckoned that these would only provide a haven for critters that hadn't had a good meal for some time and judging by the amount of rodent droppings to be seen I would have no shortage of company in the night. That decided me and I wasted no time in setting up my tent outside and if the weather turned to a horror show I could always retreat inside. I did use the table and chairs to cook my meal and it was getting quite dark as I finally settled down to sleep. My little adventure was underway.

Tuesday June 3rd;

After a somewhat fitful night I emerged from my tent at 06.30 to a great weather morning. There was only a little cloud to be seen and no wind to speak of. It promised to be a good one. I immediately busied myself with breakfast and breaking camp. When I entered the refuge to ready my bite to eat the sight of mice scurrying in all directions confirmed to me that I had made the right choice by sleeping in my tent. I was on the move again at 07.30. My main target for today was to climb Pic de Ruhle 2783 meters before continuing on the GR10. So I set off up the valley until I reached a lake which still had some snow on it before climbing to over 2200 meters and then contouring around and entering the narrow pass and arriving at the beautiful almost entirely snow covered Etang de Couart which nestled under the very lovely, very alpine Pic de Rhule.
Leaving Refuge Brougnic with Pic de Nerassol behind

Etang de Couart with Pic de Rhule behind
Now the going became more demanding and after initially crossing a lot of bouldery ground I had to climb steeply on soft snow to reach a higher coum before climbing once again to the rather lengthily named Portielleide de Ruill ou de Savignac which is at just over 2600 meters. Its fair to say that I was struggling and I don't know whether it was my lack of fitness, the soft snow, the heat or the altitude but my progress was very much a stop start affair. The climb to the coll was fairly steep so I opted to head for a rocky spur coming down from its left that would at least have me off the snow earlier. The last few steps up to the rock was steep and the rock wasn't quite as laid back as it first appeared and before I knew it I was in a situation which required a few committing moves where a fall would have been pretty nasty. Still I got over them and the contour around to the coll passed off okay. I was tired but at the same time revelling in my surroundings. Here things had a real high mountain feel and I enjoyed sitting awhile and soaking in the scenery and sun. There looked to be a nice scrambly ridge from there to the summit so after my rest I left everything behind and set off up. Initially all was great until after gaining around seventy or eighty meters I came to a twenty meter or so steep step that looked like it may have posed some problems. It was easily by-passed on the right by a snow gully but I was disappointed to find that here on the shady side of the rock the snow was frozen and whatever about going up I wouldn't relish descending without even an axe with me. Bugger and bums to it but I had no option to retreat and frankly I didn't feel energetic enough to return to the col and get my axe and crampons make the return journey.
Above the Col

Looking back from the col

Home at the Col des Finestres
 So I turned my back on the summit and went easily down to Col de Calmettes and from there to the manned Refuge du Rhule 2185. This was surprisingly busy with guides and their clients and but as it wasn't yet lunchtime I just replenished my water supply and set off up towards Col de Belh. Soon the refuge was left behind the next section sees one travel along the crest of Crete des Isards before dropping easily to Col de la Didorte. I was briefly tempted to drop from here to the refuge Ruitort which looked to be beautifully situated alongside a stream but I reckoned the 200 meter climb back up in the morning would have been a bugger so I continued on my way. You are now traveling along a broad undulating plateau that extends to the ski station on Beille above Ax les Thermes. I had now been on the move for over seven hours and I was getting quite tired and finding a good spot for my tent was my next priority. A contour under the next hill was welcome and the sight of an eagle soaring nearby made for a pleasant passage and not long afterwards I reached Col des Finestres (1967 meters) which had a good water-source nearby so I decided that it would be my home for the night. The cloud was inclined to gather all about and I thought there was a chance of rain but thankfully this never materialized and I enjoyed a long evening relaxing and recovering after my eight hour day. My only company between that and the following morning was the sound of hoofs and a few alarm calls from passing animals in the night.

Wednesday June 4th;

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday.....
I stuck my head out from the tent with a little trepidation this morning as the weather forecast for today hadn't been great. So I was very pleased to see that the cloud of the previous evening was gone and that the morning at least promised to be good. I did my usual ablutions and was on the move again by 07.30. The views were great, especially the one back towards Pic de Rulhe which seemed to tease me for not reaching its summit. The following five kilometers along the Plateau Beille were a delight. Wonderful views all about and nice easy walking meant that the time flew by. I reached a pastoral cabin (locked) at Beille d'en Haut and stopped here to relax for a bit. There was evidence of cattle grazing all about and later in the season I guess the cabin would be occupied so the place wouldn't really be a good place to camp but now it would have proven to be ideal. The cloud was starting to build and very shortly after I left the cabin I was enveloped in the fog. Now the feel of things took on a much eerier timber and when I entered the woods shortly afterwards and the air suddenly filled with howling I had visions of meeting with beasts from "the hound of the Baskervilles". It was difficult to now see the markings that gave one comfort that you were on the right track and sure enough I managed to take a wrong turn and had to retrace my steps back to the turn and eventually I found the correct way again. Shortly thereafter I saw the reason for the earlier howling as I walked past an enclosure full of big dogs that ranged from German Shepherds to what looked suspiciously like wolf crosses. They were none too pleased to see me and I really thought the "private property-no entry" sign wasn't really necessary. Anyway I continued gently down in the gloom and after a while I left the forest and crossed a scrubby, grassy area which contained another cabin (Jasse d'Artaran) where following the markers was difficult in the gloomy mist. Once again I entered the forest and descended all the way down to Caban de Clarens at just 1100 meters. This is a fine clean basic refuge that would make a good spot to stay as the distance between refuges/gites is long on this leg. The weather wasn't getting any better and the mist was threatening to turn to rain and the temperature stayed stubbornly in single figures but I was still enjoying myself immensely.
Looking back to Pic de Rulhe

Not a bad morning to wake up to.

Wonderful easy going on the Plateau Beille

More great views

Cloud building in the valleys,,,soon to rise

The woods in the mist are magical

Lots of fungi

Strange flowers

 The one problem with losing so much height was that I had to climb almost 700 meters on the other side of the valley. So far the going had been easy but now I was faced with my first meaningful climb of the day. I managed it ok and eventually I crested the broad ridge at  1700 meters and had to search once again for the widely spaced way markers on the grassy ground. The path was once again found and I dropped down once more to 1300 meters before rising once again to a lovely meadowed valley at Balledreyt 1550 meters. Here a cabin was marked in the map but it was a ruin with half its roof missing. The rain was getting a bit steadier and I briefly considered staying here but the herd of cattle all about with their accompanying bells decided the issue. I pressed on up the 300 meters or so to the plateau above and here I was delighted to find a little refuge that wasn't marked on my map. I arrived just over eight hours after starting and was once again very glad to drop my bag. Here I had about 10 horses ( of varying types) for company and only one sported a bell. The mist stayed down but the rain stopped and I entered the refuge to explore. Firstly it was clean with no evidence of rodent infestation but it did have a mattress on the sleeping platform. There was a good supply of candles and some gas canisters as well. Under the platform was a large collection of tins of various fruits and rice pudding and on a shelf above were several six packs of beer. On the wall there was a notice welcoming walkers to the refuge and a price list for the various goods and the request to pay in Refuge du Rulhe if traveling that direction or in the Gite in Sigeur if going that way. What a result, and on my birthday as well. I set up my tent outside again and enjoyed a most convivial evening with music, beer and some rice pudding for dessert. What a wonderful service.

Thursday June 5th;

Early morning visitor
For some reason the horses, who had ignored me all night, decided that beside my tent was the place to graze at five am but even so I awoke refreshed and looking forward to the day ahead. I poked my head outside the tent and was delighted to see that the mist and rain of the previous evening had cleared away and the views that were absent greeted me now. What a beautiful spot to watch the sun rise from behind Montagne de Tabe as I readied myself for the day ahead.

Towards Montagne de Tabe

Looking back at the little refuge.
Just as I was leaving the cattle from the lower valley decided to make an appearance and I was grateful that they had waited until then. Nice easy going followed to Col du Sasc with a short pull to the great viewpoint of Pla de Montcamp. A lovely easy walk along the grassy plateau followed in the glorious sunshine. Yesterdays temperatures in the single figures were well and truly in the past and the heat only increased as I made my was down into Gesties and lower still into Sigeur. Both these villages are lovely sleepy little spots but I had further to go so I had little option but to climb again the 600 meters to the pass above Lercoul. Its fair to say I was suffering a bit in the heat but the water fountains in each village proved a welcome gift. Here I left the GR10 and made my way down into the delightful little village of Sem with its mining history and then further down into Vicdessos. Here in the valley floor the heat was intense and the three kilometers on the road, where the heat that was radiated back at me wasn't terribly pleasant and I was really glad to finally arrive at the campsite in Auzat. Another eight hour day was done and I was very glad to just chill out for the remainder of the day.
Beckoning me on

Wonderful airy easy going

The valley awaits

Down to Sigeur with Lercoul above

The way way back


The view towards Montcalm from the campsite

Sorry tis a tough life.

Friday June 6th;

The weather forecast at the campsite promised temperatures in the mid thirties over the following couple of days in the valleys with strong winds high up with the possibility of a build up of cumulous cloud in the afternoons with all the problems that that brings. My objective for the next couple of days was Pic d'Estats which at 3143 meters was considerably the highest in the Ariege, with the Refuge de l'Etange du Pinet being the first stage. My first dilemma was getting to the trailhead at Marc (1009 meters) which was over six kilometers away. I could have walked through the valley but I opted to try my luck at hitching and lo and behold I got a drive from the first car that was heading up the valley. So it was exactly 9am (according to the church bell) when I commenced my walk. The trail climbs up to over 1200 meters and then turns left off the GR10 and undulates its way along to L'Artigue where a fine parking facility is provided for people heading on the various outings that can begin from here. An hour had passed and it was already hot but at least I would be in the shade for the next while as I re-entered the forest. A very well designed path ensured that I was able to make steady progress and it wasn't too long until I exited the tree line and once again traversed open mountainside with its wonderful profusion and variety of flora. Across the valley the the snowy peaks of Puntussan and Rouge were a joy to behold and the thunderous cataracts that roared down the mountainside, swollen by snowmelt, was a good excuse to pause often and enjoy my surroundings. I was now coming across plenty of snowfields and at times it wasn't easy to follow the trail but the ground isn't too difficult and other ways to make progress are easy to come by. I was making good progress and eventually I crested the last rise to see the refuge ,at 2242 meters, quite nearby. I was the only one there and I dropped my bag at 12.30. Not bad as the signpost gave a time of 3.5 hours from L'Artigue and I had matched that time from Marc.
The church at Marc

Is this the smallest car trailer in the world??

Looking back out towards Auzat

Looking across the valley towards Pic Rouge de Bassies


Looking down to Etang Sourd
The guardian appeared. An interesting looking character in denim and braces that reminded me a bit of a small Gerard Depardiu. Anyway after checking in for the night with half board I cooked a lunch for myself and relaxed. Shortly afterwards a couple of guys from Belgium arrived back from the summit and I was able to glean some information from them. They said that conditions were poor with one passage where they could hear water rushing beneath the snow and thought that it might be dangerous to proceed solo. At around 14.45 I decided  that I would go for a walk up from the refuge so I got out my little foldaway rucksack and put my crampons and a bottle of water into it and armed with my ice axe I set off up. I set off on a rising traverse on snow on the eastern side of the steep sided valley towards Etang d'Estats. The snow wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and by using the ready made steps I was able to make good progress. It felt great to be unencumbered by the big bag and I was able to enjoy my alpine surroundings. I reached the lake quickly enough and I decided as not much time had passed so I decided to continue to the upper lake (Etang du Montalm 2568 mtrs) and see what I would do from there. I think I had already decided but eventually when I reached the lake I went for the summit. So far there hadn't been any difficult or dangerous passages and the next section didn't look difficult either. Now all progress was on snow and I was glad I had used sunscreen as the heat and glare reflecting back at me were at times intense. Still, progress was fairly easy and I wasn't sinking too much into the softening snow. Occasionally the sound of sections of snow suddenly shifting and settling in the sun put the willies up me and I wondered about avalanche but I reasoned that the slopes weren't steep enough ( never steeper than 20 degrees I reckon) so I continued on, firstly up 100 meters over a shoulder and then around and up into a final little coum before finally gaining the easy ridge that stretches between Pic du Montcalm 3077 mtrs with its snowy dome and the slightly rockier Pic d'Estats. Ordinarily I would have detoured to Montcalm as well but I didn't want to be late for dinner so I concentrated on Estats. The ridge passed easily and gave some nice airy views to the southeast before I finally climbed the summit slopes and arrived at the 3143 meter summit. What a beautiful spot which I was able to enjoy all to myself. This was a truly alpine environment and the snow covered mountains stretched as far as the eye could see into the distance. It was 17.10 when I arrived and I left again at 17.17. The way back was easy and I was able to glide and slide down the snow and I arrived a bit tired and hungry back at the refuge at 18.30 on the dot. 
Heading up from the refuge

Contouring above the first lake

Heading up to Etang du Montcalm

Looking back

And it goes on...

Finally the summit

Happy chappie


Wonderful vistas

Almost back to the refuge
The two Belgians had departed and now there was a party of five people in their sixties on the terrace. It seemed I would have company for the evening. I ordered a beer from the guardian who asked me where I was from and seemed delighted when I told him Ireland and immediately introduced himself as Patrick. We were set for the night. Very shortly afterwards a tray containing two bottles of whiskey, a bottle of port and some wine was produced and it was aperitifs all round before dinner. Dinner I was told would be a half an hour, (good as I was famished). Patrick had very little English and only one of the group (from Montpellier) had any so I wasn't able to follow much of the conversation but they were really nice and tried to include me as much as possible. Shortly we were ushered into the inner sanctum of the refuge and Patrick had a table laid near the cooker. Burners blazed as our meal was readied and our faces blazed from the generous and continuous aperitifs on offer. I had seen a guitar outside and when they asked Patrick for a song he wasn't long disappearing and returning with said instrument and it quickly became apparent that he could both play and sing well, as could my companions who joined in with gusto. They had been here before and promised me a different and good evening. Once those two songs were done he disappeared again and came back with an armful of songbooks which were dispersed among us. A wonderful and entertaining singsong followed and I joined in where I could (choruses etc) and even gave a few bars of an Irish song. "Aperitifs" flowed and so did the tears of laughter before eventually at the groups insistence the soup was served at 21.30. It was welcome and tasty and during the meal the wine flowed. Eventually the evening ended at nearly 22.30 but not before a generous nightcap of a local spirit which I was assured was 55% proof, oh dear. So ended the best night I have ever spent in a refuge with great company and a most generous and entertaining host. Patrick is indeed one in a million.

Saturday June 7th;

After the success in every sense of the previous day it was with a tinge of regret I left Refuge Pinet behind me and set off back down for the valley below. I chose a slightly different route back and I passed beside the beautiful Etang Sourd some 300 meters below. This was a nice diversion and didn't add any time to the route. I had formulated a plan for today where I would climb from the valley over Pic Rouge de Bassies (2676 Meters) and descend the other side to the Refuge de Bassies at 1650 meters. This promised to be a tough day but I reasoned that after the success of yesterday it was do-able and would see me made great progress in my oddessy on the GR10. Another sight I wanted to see was the Cascade de L'Artigue which would mean a bit of a diversion but I hoped it would be worth it. I continued down until I reached the raging torrent of a river once again and now I turned up the track towards the cascade. I was already quite warm and the day promised to be a scorcher. It took longer than expected to reach the falls and i was astonished to see that it was already 10.30 which meant that I was on the move three hours already. The river was indeed a thunderous affair, swollen as it was with snowmelt. The falls themselves weren't that high but I was glad I had taken the time to visit them and the whole river was spectacular. I turned back down and returned to the parking area, where I joined briefly the HRP before turning towards the slopes of Pic Rouge. At least that was the plan but try as I might I couldn't find the turnoff and I ended up heading much further along the HRP than I had intended. There was a possible route up ahead but it would entail crossing the swollen torrents and I didn't have a clue whether there was a bridge or not so eventually and reluctantly I turned around and retraced my steps all the way back to Marc. From here I followed the GR10 once again as it contoured along above the valley that headed towards Auzat. I was in for a pleasant surprise however as shortly after Marc the route followed an old aquifer in the shape of a large concrete box that progressed almost completely level for over three kilometers. This was delightful and provided easy walking with great views. I even got to see a large lizard ( at least larger than the usual) who stayed on the edge of the path and seemed to give me a Robert de Niro stare,,(you talkin to me). All too soon the aquifer ended and there followed a stiff 200 meter climb before a lovely easy rising traverse towards yet another cascade that descended from the valley which held the Refuge de Bassies. I even got my first glimpse of a snake on the way and its distinctive diamond pattern meant I was later able to identify it as an Adder whose bite can be dangerous. Still when I saw it it seemed more intent on beating a hasty retreat than any confrontation but I still found myself checking the path ahead a little more carefully. Out of the woods again and a long but pleasant walk passing lakes and greeting new horizons saw me eventually arrive at the nicely situated refuge at 16.30. I was quite hungry by now and the cheese omelet I ordered was one of the finest I ever had. I had intended to stay in the refuge but when I saw that some new arrivals were setting up camp so I asked in the refuge if it was permitted and once I was given that assurance I wasted no time in setting up my own home. The heat was intense and it was with great relief some hours later when the sun finally hid behind the nearby ridge and the air cooled considerably. A most peaceful night followed.  
Etang Sourd

Unusual clouds

One of the many cataracts

Whitewater heaven

The old

And the not so old

Wonderful walkway

I don't see no one else here !

Worth pausing to look back

Yet more white water

The scenery turning alpine once again

Nice bridge

Etangs des Bessies

Home sweet home.

Sunday June 8th;

For some reason I was wide awake before the dawn today and I decided to rise and pack up and make an early start. So I was on the move after breakfast at six am. It looked like it was going to be another great weather day as I set off into the glen that descended from the circuit of mountains at its head, the highest of whom Pic Rouge de Bassies 2676 meters which was my aim for the morning. The fairly flat valley extended south for about four kilometers before the route turned east and rose fairly steeply on a spur to over 2100 meters. From here a long semi circular traverse saw one arrive at a couple of completely hidden snow covered lakes where a straightforward snow plod to the col just to the north of the summit gave easy access to the airy top. I don't know if it was the lightening bag (less food) or me getting stronger but I was definitely much better able to cope with carrying it and I made steady progress up the spur. The river in the valley floor was a raging torrent and the bridge that gave access to the correct bank for the route near the refuge was broken so the normal way was now to stay on the right bank until just under the spur a large and hopefully very deep snowfield allowed one to get across the river. I was acutely aware of its existence as I passed over it and I just prayed that when it eventually collapsed that it wouldn't be when someone was on it. Anyway from the top of the spur the traverse was quite easy and I soon reached the point where I was able to leave my bag and head up across the snow towards the summit. From this point I would be able upon my return to traverse under Pic de Caumale and continue along the ridgeline before eventually rejoining the GR10 above Port de Saleix. So very much unencumbered I easily reached the summit and I relaxed a while and savoured my final peak of this trip.
Looking in the valley with Pic Rouge behind

The view back out

Extensive snowfields

Views at the col


Views west

Looking across to Pic d'Estats

Summit selfie

Etang d'Alate back near the GR10
I reluctantly left the summit and turned back down. It was now 09.30 and already getting warm. I was really surprised not to see anyone else climbing the mountain as there seemed to be lots of people in the refuge the previous evening. I reached my bag quickly thanks to some glissading and set off on the traverse under the next peak. This went relatively uneventfully except for the brief steep slope that proved to be surprisingly icy and not having my axe in hand was a worry. Still it passed off ok and I was soon on easy ground and enjoying the ridge ahead. The apparent destination of all those at the refuge now became clear and lots of people were to be found over the next few kilometers. The final section between Pic de Cabantous and Mont Garias gave some fine scrambling which only one other party and myself crossed. Finally all difficulties were behind me and I descended easily down to Port de Saleix where I had a decision to make. It was now lunchtime on Sunday and my flight home was on Wednesday so realistically I had only two more days left to go. I had been trying to figure out a way to continue westwards but the best I thought I could do was reach Seix where I would still be over twenty kilometers from Saint Girons where I could get transport to Toulouse and it could be the one time where hitchhiking failed me so somewhat reluctantly I turned to the east and descended into the very pretty valley that led towards Auzat. It was really hot by now and my water had long since run out as I was on a ridge most of the day so far but the glistening streams in the valley promised relief. I continued down as far as Col de la Crouzette where an open meadow promised an idyllic camping spot. There was a large family group enjoying a picnic so I retreated into the woods to the rear to await their departure when I could set up camp without disturbing them. They took a while but eventually at nearly 16.30 they left and I made my way into the field. Unfortunately as I did so a gentleman emerged from one of the two ramshackle cabins on the meadows edge and informed me most definitely camping here was forbidden. So there was nothing for it but to return to the valley when I actually went as far as Vicdessos and finally was settled at 18.30. even if you took out the 90 minutes I waited to claim the camping spot at the col it had still been a long day when I had been on the move for eleven hours in intense heat and I was pretty whacked.
Port de Saleix

Fine rock formations above

Heading down into the valley

Wonderful alpine pasture

It would have been a nice place to camp

Monday June 9th;

The plan for today was to climb up a few hundred meters to the village of Orus and follow the Tour du Pic des Trois Seigneurs through Illier as far as Lapage before descending once again to a campsite in the valley floor before continueing the following day into Tarascon Sur Ariege from where I could get the train Wednesday morning to Toulouse. It was another scorcher and since it would be a short day I enjoyed a leisurely morning and finally left the campsite at 10.30am. In the heat it wasn't long before I was sweating but my pace was leisurely and despite having finished with the high mountains for this trip the scenery and route was beautiful. Orus was a delightful little sleepy spot and I paused to take a drink from the usual fountain and replenish my supply. I continued on to Illier where a similarly sleepy spot awaited. Here some children were playing in the street by the fountain and across the road a toddler was absolutely covered in wet sand and busy in the throes of making sandcastles. A little girl either put some sand on his mouth or he did it himself but either way he was soon in floods of tears which immediately brought his big sister (perhaps seven) to his aid and she made a fuss of him and cleaned him up a bit before leading him by the hand down the lane. It made for a lovely, quite touching tableau. I moved on and all of fifty or sixty meters later I was at the village edge where a tiny little graveyard held the plots of the local families. I stood on the wall by the path and was surprised to see quite a large snake emerge from the shrubbery just below me and slowly cross the open ground. It was between four or five feet long and quite beautiful. I felt privileged to see it in its natural surroundings in such an unconcerned state. That changes however when a few moments later it spotted me and moved with astonishing speed back into cover. Again for quite a while after I was a bit more observant of the trail ahead. I continued on until I finally reached the point where I was do descend to the valley floor. It was only three hours into my day and I was enjoying myself so much I decided to forego the campsite and continue on as far as Tarascon.
Leaving Vicdessos

A rather delightful old building

Final views back towards Montcalm

Beautiful Illier

Quite large but non poisonous
So I turned left and climbed the 200 meters to my final alpine col of the trip at 1226 meters by La Serra. It was a lovely spot and had a nice welcoming pastoral feel about it. I re-entered the forest and zig zagged down until I emerged in a lovely open valley at La Granette that had an impressive dent in the rock face opposite and probably the entrance to a cave at its rear. Wow but it was warm when in the open sun but I had no option but to go on. I actually had had very little to drink for the previous hour or more and I was looking forward to replenishing my supplies in the next village Genat. Alas the usual water fountain was missing and I had to forego my drink. I followed the trail across an undulating agricultural plateau until I passed a water trough by a cabin that promised me a by now much needed drink but I was thwarted yet again as a "non potable" sign was on display. To make matters worse I followed the trail markings and almost ended up back in Genat, which didn't improve my mood any and added an hour to my day. On my map the route was only marked as linear but on 1-25000 maps there is a loop walk from the village. I eventually found the path down to Quie where I had my first drink in over three hours. It was now after six pm and I still had a couple of K to go to reach the campsite so I wasted no time and I was finally settled and readying a meal for myself at 19.00. A relatively short day had turned into another 8 hour plus outing and I was in need of a rest.
Typical pastoral architecture 

Charming old barn

My final col

Impressive rock formation

Finally heading down towards Tarascon

Tuesday and Wednesday June 10th and 11th;

My trip on the GR10 was now finished with and today I lazed about and relaxed in cooler temperatures. The campsite was very well appointed and I relaxed for a while in the pool and spa. I explored the charming old section of the town and was really impressed by the large old church in the square. I even went for a long siesta, I must be getting old. Mostly I reflected on the trip and overall I was really pleased with it. It was a little frustrating not to have gotten further west and ideally I would have had a couple of more days available and then I would probably have been able to reach Luchon which would have allowed me to make better use of public transport. The amount of snow was also something of a surprise as I think it was as plentiful as last year which was supposed to have been exceptional. The Pyrenees are exceptionally beautiful range of mountains which offer the best of all worlds. At times you are walking through steamy forest and the next crossing a highland plateau before finally rising into a pure alpine high mountain environment where snow and rock is all around. All this abundance is matched by the flora and fauna that compliment and enhance the whole experience. I feel I have to go back. 
A rather public public convenience in Tarascon

Typical charming lane in the old town

The square in the old town

The stunningly beautiful interior to the church (sorry for the blurring)

Nice lane by the walls 

A superb organ in a basilica in Toulouse

Enormous and beautiful

Interesting tower

Odd but intriguing

Typical street

Fine boulevards and bicycle and pedestrian friendly

No need to get lost

A rather posh shopping street

Nice modern apartment block

My last day saw me take the train to Toulouse in the morning which allowed me a couple of hours to walk about and explore this vibrant , prosperous and beautiful city. It is a pedestrian friendly city with some beautiful boulevards and buildings. There is a nice friendly buzz about the place and the two huge markets I came across were oh so vibrant and oh so French. Definitely a town worthy of a return visit. Now where will I go next ???