Pyrenees 03/06/2012

I headed off on the Stanstead express and met John at the airport where we amalgamated our bags. We had time for a pint before boarding as the plane was a little bit late. It was a Ryanair flight to Zaragosso so we didn't get to sit together. We arrived to a downpour so sprinted across the tarmac, but our single bag was almost quicker. I was very grateful for sat nav as it wouldn't have been easy trying to navigate at night in Spain in the rain and to make things worse the main road had loads of roadwork’s and we struggled to turn off. We did get to the hotel galias in zuera with about 6 minutes to spare before midnight. Luckily they were also prepared to sell us a beer which we were able to consume on the balcony overlooking the pools.
We popped downstairs in the morning and had a nice breakfast with coffee and croissants and then set of for the hills, we listened to 80's pop on the radio and John's iPod. The weather was looking pretty good after the huge thunderstorm ij the night. We drove for about an hour and a half and parked up at a place that we had stopped a few years before at with Nick before moving to a car park further up that valley which would make the journey on the last day a bit shorter. This did mean todays walk would be a bit longer though. We set off and it was ideal walking weather and we largely followed this river as it plunged down the mountain. There were some stunning views. Occasionally it threw down a spot of rain and we would have to pop on our jackets, put it was never enough to get us really wet. We pootled along discussing all the various words for walking, such as tramp, traipse, wander, wender, amble, stroll, meander, yomp etc and the day flew by I spent some time photographing waterfalls with my new camera. We had made pretty good time and then we found a sign to a restaurant and bar across the river. So we stopped for the beer thinking the finish was not far. It was a very good bar and the beer was great and Verena had an ice cream. But after we set off again the walking got trickier and my new device which was a monopod and walking stick got called into play to help us get across some slippery waterfalls, then just as we were nearly at the Refugio we got stopped by a tributary that was too full to cross, John had a go but decided the water was too fast. I recce ahead but could not find another crossing point, so we backtracked at speed to the restaurant and then walked up the road. We made it back in double quick time as we thought dinner was at 7pm. This unfortunately took a toll on Verena's feet and she swapped into trainers for the last bit as the pace had taken the skin off both heels. When we got to the place we were pleasantly surprised as we had rooms with en suite showers. The dinner was basic but filling. Bean stew to start with then an undisclosed animal with potatoes and salad and chocolate dessert to follow. By this time we had had a number of beers then we tried a few local shooters. A baileys like mixture a lemoncello type shooter and some Ricardo. John and Verena had a bottle of red. After this we popped to the dorms about 10pm.
I got up just before the alarm and had a nice shower, the kids had mainly gone by the time we got down to breakfast. Breakfast was toast from a conveyor belt toaster and plenty of coffee. We set off about 9.20 am and we were at 1;346 m, we needed to get to 2,600 m. The start was pretty easy we just went up at about 20%. It was quite warm and we made good time the scenery was pretty impressive but we were following electricity pylons for a bit of the way, as we got higher we came across the valley of the mountain beaver. There were loads of the them. We pushed on a bit higher and we had a stop near a high altitude car park where Verena attended to her blisters. Then we set off for the tricky bit. Initially we came across snow just occasionally the first bit had not been trodden on by others so I went across using my mini ice axe and kicked steps for John and Verena that took a little while. After that the trails across the ice were well trodden so that the path was a bit easier but every now again your foot would break through and you would get a wet trouser. We ploughed on slowly then it got steep and all snow, it took quite a while to get up that last bit as it was steep and we were at altitude. One chap coming the other way decided to slide down to go quicker. Finally we made the ridge and the Refugio was just a few hundred yards away, hurrah! We put our stuff out to dry and went inside to drink beer till dinner at 7pm. We shared a table with some French guys and had soup, cous cous, pasta and then chocolate tart for dessert. We then watched a drama of a husband and wife team struggling down from breche de roland, but they finally made it ok. We were squeezed in tight that night the bottom three in a very full dormitory. We slept with the window open and it didn't feel cold due to the heat of the bodies in the room. However I struggled to get to sleep. The pillow was a bit small and I really should have had my ear phones with me as I struggled to read my phone.
Despite what seemed an almost sleepless night I seemed to be refreshed when i awoke and I was up for breakfast which included some nice gingerbread and off course plenty of coffee. I got a picture of the waterfall in the valley as the mist had cleared and then a picture of a mountain beaver that came right up to the hut. We talked to the couple who had struggled the night before, she was Mexican and had never seen snow before, and had hurt her leg so did well to make it down the route. Finally it was time and with my stick in hand we set off to the breche de roland. It was a long uphill slog, but it wasn't too bad as you could follow others footprints. It was nearly 3000 metres by the top though so you felt the altitude a bit. Despite this we made very good time to the top only taking about 20 minutes to the top, which Verena reached first as she went straight past us when we waited for her at the false summit as she had her earphones on. There wasn't too much concentration left for conversation as you had to concentrate on finding the next footstep all the time. After a brief rest at the top now it was the tricky bit. We had to set off down the steep far side. I went withe benefit of my stick and kicked steps where a sufficient one hadn't been left by the pervious walkers. I was very glad of that stick there was a certain amount of exposure at certain points where if a foot had slipped you would have built up a lot of speed before being stopped by rocks. I would dearly have liked an ice axe at this point. We made it across this highest part with no incident and then met two English guys who had spent the night in an ice cave. But they told us that we could not go to see them as we would need crampons. After this first steep downhill, conditions got easier, the snow was softer and you could really plant your foot in and the angle was less steep and the exposure gradually reduced. We made our way across the valley from rock to snow to rock. It was quite tiring and we no longer had the red and white markers to guide us there were just a plethora of cairns. Sometimes we followed tracks and then had to back track as they led to places were you would need crampons. After one of these goes at following a track we got to the next bit of rock , but just before the rock the snow had melted away due to the heat soaked up by the rock and when you stepped on the thin crust you sank through, John went down to his waist and then I plunged down till my pack wedged or I would have gone further as I could only see blackness leading down below my feet. Luckily I had not collided with the rock on the way down or I would have been badly hurt as the rock was sharp as I found when I grabbed it. to pull myself out. I certainly did so in. hurry and used a lot of strength and climbing technique to forcibly extricate myself in a hurry, no doubt a bit of adrenalin was also involved. after this I tended to avoid the snow if I could and enjoyed scrambling about on the rocks in the sun, when I did need to lead off across snow i would test it extensively with my stick, but no other surprises appeared and the snow was mainly flat stretched with little exposure. we dropped into a large bowl then as we emerged from that we left a lot of the snow behind and could see the goriz hut that we had stayed at years before. When we got there it turned out they were replacing the old toilets and there would be a 2 hr wait not to disastrous for me and John but more of a problem for Verena as the temptation to sit in the sun and drink cans of estrella was too tempting. Verena also attempted a nap like the day before but the noise from the workmen kept her awake. When the sun went down we stowed our gear in the lockers provided and headed in doors for lunch. We had a great 4 course meal and shared our table with a Portuguese couple who were doctors and a chap from catalan all of who spoke extremely good English. So much red wine and beer was consumed and the new toilets were christened. We were about the last to struggle to bed and we luckily had at the bottom level of the bunks to the three of us. I sorted out my pillow this time and had my earphones so even the fairly loud snoring did not bother me or it may have been the extra beers.
I awoke slightly early and popped outside to use the new toilets, unfortunately we were too late they had already started working on them and the water was off. I managed to use the toilet at least, Verena was too late for that as she had to cover her heels with John's help. Coffee for breakfast and some bread and little cakes then Refugio Goriz outdid themselves with a huge packed lunch. It was warm enough to set off with just a t-shirt on. 5he day was a little cloudy compared to the day before but there was never any danger of rain. We saw an Ibix as we were on the plateau then we descended down the zig zag path to the valley of the cowbells. We walked along the path in the Ordessa valley the opposite way to the way we had come the last time we were here about 6 years ago. They seemed to have done a lot of work on the place since then there were little bridges and a very nice path installed and there were numerous observation platforms from which you could take pictures of the many stunning waterfalls or cascadas. We also stopped by one to eat our packed lunches and to watch our final mountain beavers at play. We descended further and further into the valley and crossed over the river a number of times on bridges. Finally we spotted the car after a good 14 km walk. We had a nice ice cream at the restaurant at the end of the car park, then we drove into Torla and had a beer at the cafe where me , Nick and John had been saved from certain death by dehydration at the conclusion of our last trip. We headed back to the car then and drove to the airport in saragrosso without incident. It was a bit of a trial to back the single bag in the scorching heat but we managed on the first attempt. This left us time to have a last beer before the Ryan air flight back to London. The flight was short at 1hr 45 mins and arrived on time.


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