The Pyrenean Traverse, Day 23: Top-level sport

Last night the temperature dropped to 2 degrees Celsius, but we did not feel cold in our sleeping bags. In the morning I make delicious coffee on our stove, while Wim still rubs the sleep out of his eyes. When the coffee is ready, Wim attacks some chocolate wafers for breakfast. He eats six of them, while I am satisfied with just three. We need to take in enough calories, because we have a tough day ahead. After having eaten like a whole herd of horses we hit the road.

Just past the village of Oust we dive into the wide nature again. We immediately start to climb uphill. Something that will keep us busy about the whole day. It is a good training for tomorrow, when we will be back on the GR10 trail.

At the church of Comunac we eat a nectarine. It is a peaceful and beautiful village, where the houses carry steps in the roofs. There is no shop, bakery or bar to be found, but I can understand that you want to come and live in this god-forsaken piece of earth: what a view!

We have climbed around 1,300 feet (400 m) and still have a lot of altimeters ahead. Fortunately, we are in good spirits and we are in particular looking forward to the high mountains again. So bring it on …!

On top of a col we decide to have lunch. Wim enjoys the sun rays that fall on our picnic spot and takes a little nap. Meanwhile, I observe a fat beetle that wants to climb up a blade of grass to spread his wings. Every time he is almost at the top, the blade of grass bends due to his weight and it is back to square one again. After five attempts, the little fat boy succeeds and flies away. We too fly away. Our siesta is over …

Of course it is climbing again after our afternoon nap. That is no surprise. Things are going pretty smoothly, although we get lost again. We follow a river to find back the path. It is a swampy land we have to cross. It is exhausting, but it feels nice and adventurous. Occasionally, our shoes sink to the ankles in the water. Wim curses out loud. And I nearly choke when I laugh at him.

After a while we find the path again. Gently we climb through a deciduous forest where a fire must have raged a few years ago. The trunks of the trees are black and the branches do not carry leaves. Will they ever recover, and once again form all together a stately and dense green forest?

The route suddenly takes us to a whole new landscape. The trees are gone and the world is opening up before our eyes. Out of nowhere we get a stunning view. It instantly conjures up a broad smile on my face.

After an endless climb we arrive at the top of the old mountain where we digged our feet in all day long. The passage of time has made it smooth. For centuries the wind has had free play to smooth it down to the flat mountain top it is today. Behind him are his younger comrades. Rocky, sharp and wild. They instill fear. But the question really is whether we should not have more respect for these old rounded bald heads, than for the young, impetuous pointed peaks …

After a final break there is only 500 feet (150 m) of climbing left. After that we only need to descend to the bivouac place. Although those 500 feet is nothing in the total picture of today, I strangely enough do not feel like it. But also those last feet have to be climbed, so – tallyho – off we go. Initially everything goes surprisingly well: gently climbing through the grass. Excellent, I could easily keep that up another 500 feet! My optimism, however, is very short-lived…

Suddenly Wim stops. We can not continue. The path is gone. We stand on a snowy mountain slope, where a strong avalanche has completely swept away the path. Snapped trees and large rocks and stones are scattered everywhere. Long story short, even with the most impressive superlatives, I would not be able to describe the havoc we witness over here. Wim is looking for a safe alternative. It is not easy, but after some adventurous and straightforward mind to zero, we arrive back on the path an hour later.

From there on it is only descending. “Piece of cake”, one would think. But we arrive at another ice field we did not count on. But luckily we also manage to pass this one, and two hours later we arrive safely in Aulus-les-Bains.

We are broken, tired and half dead after this day of top-level sports. We book two beds in the dormitory of a gîte, since we are not allowed to pitch our tent here. We therefore do not have a choice but to go for a dormitory. We will just need to accept those snorers for once.

We are eating out in the village, because we think we deserve it. It tastes fantastic and we enjoy the cosy evening to the fullest. Just before ten o’clock we get back to our dormitory, where strangely enough nobody else has checked in. A dormitory for just the two of us. What more could you possibly want on a honeymoon …? We drink a glass of wine before we go to bed, where we will undoubtedly dream about the high mountains where we will finally arrive again tomorrow …

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