The Pyrenean Traverse, Day 30: Route with a scent

It is not even 6 a.m. yet when the first hikers in the gite start to pack their bags. We try to keep our eyes closed for at least another hour, but unfortunately we don’t manage to fall back to sleep. We immediately remember why – despite the holes in our sleeping pads – we always prefer to spend the night in our tent. In a tent there is only one person who can keep you awake at night. In this gite there are forty … Wim gets up and goes looking for water, which must first be filtered before we can drink it. After all, there is no potable water in this gite.

Wim immediately pays for the beer and the can of food that we “bought” in the urine booth a few days earlier. That’s how it works out here. When you use a can of food in an unstaffed cabin, you pay for it a few days later in a staffed cabin. Here, people rely completely on the honesty of the hikers. And of course we are honest, so we pay for the entire beer stock that we drank that night.

When we leave the gite behind us, we soon end up in the snow a few hundred feet higher up the mountain. We follow the little flags that the guard told us about yesterday and find our way through the snowy landscape. At a given point the route turns over a snow covered mountain lake. I tell Wim that I think that is a bit risky, now that the snow is melting. However, Wim is convinced that we do not walk on the lake itself, but on the shore. I trust him. So with full confidence, I put my foot in the snow. A loud “splash” shows that the bank is a bit further away … I sink into the snow and the underlying water up to my hip. My right shoe is soaked. I feel the icy water gushing inside. Not that pleasant. But luckily the mountain lake is not deeper here and the damage is limited to cold and wet feet.

Shortly afterwards we take a break so I can wring out my socks and let my feet dry a little. We take a seat on a rock and see in the distance how the trail becomes dangerously steep in the snow. We decide that it is time to tie on the crampons.

We climb surprisingly smoothly through the snow. The snow is soft, making it a little less slippery, but at the same time harder to get to the top. Wim points out a beautiful lake that lies a bit further below us. I was too busy focusing all my attention on the steep path and my crampons, that I had completely forgotten to look around and enjoy this unique and beautiful landscape. I am happy that Wim, both literally and figuratively, makes me stop for a moment. These are moments that you want to keep in your memory forever. Like a picture, that you hang up on the wall and can watch whenever you want to.

At some rocks, the crampons need to go out. With these things on your feet it is impossible to climb over rocks. So the backpack goes off to take off the crampons, the backpack goes back on to pass the rocks, and then it has to go off again to put the crampons back on for another passage through the snow. It is a hassle, but safety first!

The last stretch we climb over a steep winding path. The sunrays apparently can get to this spot easily, because despite the altitude, we can reach the summit free of snow. Again I want to store pictures in my head. I wish I could carry this view with me forever. When after a few days we will return to normal life again, I hope to be able to bring this image back to life at any given time. I feed my eyes and try to absorb the smallest detail. Just to be sure, I take a few real pictures as well, in case my memory fails me …

After the summit it is only down to Mérens les Vals, our bivouac place for tonight. Along a river we eat some baguette with honey and fresh goat cheese, which we bought from the lovely family of the chalet. A sheep with her lamb also wants to taste all those goodies and comes to sniff our backpacks. When we walk on, Wim throws some bread at their feet, but they don’t bite.

The path turns to a beautiful river, whose banks are lined with colorful flowers. If a rainbow saw this, it would immediately become jealous of the incredible color palette. But it is especially the wonderful scents that strike us. It feels like we are entering a perfume store. Wim picks a bunch of flowers. Not to give to his lovely wife, but to put in our bag of clothes that smell a little less than fresh. Hopefully it can camouflage our outdoor odour…

When we arrive in Mérens les Vals we first look for the local bar for a well-deserved beer. In the meantime I am going to look for a shop, because we have to do groceries for three days. When I find the store I see a sign saying it will not open until 5:15p.m.. I return to the bar. At the time we have our second beer it starts to rain. I pick up a conversation between the “patron” and other hikers. I hear them say the shop isn’t opening anymore. So no shopping today. We walk another mile to the campsite, where there should also be a small shop. Once arrived there, we immediately find the shop, but you guessed it: “fermé” (closed). So we stick to a sober noodle meal tonight.

Less sober is the perfectly clean sanitary block of the campsite, where we get rid of our outdoor smell. For way too much money, we even take the opportunity to put our clothes in the washing machine and dryer. However, the laundry does not come out completely dry, so Wim hangs up a clothesline. The weather has cleared up, so the sun and wind will do their job.

We can prepare and eat our simple meal inside the reception building of the campsite. That’s nice, because it has cooled down a lot. When we want to hit our broken sleeping pads, the rain suddenly comes pouring down. We rush to our clothesline to save what can be saved, but the damage has already been done. That expensive € 5 token for the dryer has now literally fallen into the water. We swear aloud, but we can laugh about it at the same time. We crawl deep into our warm sleeping bags and wouldn’t hesistate for a second to spend another € 5 if it made sure that the tent canvas would keep us dry tonight.

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