It was one of those trips that came about through pub talk. I was on holiday in Toulouse and had met a few students from Scotland who were full of tales of the adventures they’d just had in the mountains two hours away. Next morning, I was in in a car driven by a French stranger, hitchhiking with an Irishman I had met the night before, off to claim some of the Pyrenean fun for ourselves.
At the start of the summer I had posted a blog post listing the trails I wanted to walk. I was after no.3 on my list: the GR10. The trail runs along the entire Pyrenees range, from the Mediterranean to the Bay of Biscay. If I had the time and money (looking back it was only the latter I was missing) I would have walked the whole lot. Instead we had to settle for just a few days.
We had chosen the little ski resort town of Ax-les-Thermes almost at random. The map showed some high looking peaks around it and that was that. After our kind Frenchwoman dropped us off we headed up to the mountain tops to find the Gr10 – at first going up the wrong side up the valley. Once we had located the trail we followed its red and white markers parallel to a long valley leading to Andorra. Our home would be a tarp (see below). As simple (cheap) as we could make things! Note the Irishman’s hurl. I’m still not really sure why he had it. This was our first camp before we hit the high tops.
It was tough walking, with some of the steepest climbs I’ve taken on (save for my fortnight in the Dolomites). The sun was shining, though on the peak tops the wind was gale force. No weather for a tarp. Unfortunately In the end we only managed one night in it, and for the rest had to settle for the refugios (mountain huts), they’re a bit like communal B&Bs, a bit fancy for my liking. Despite walking in July, there was still some snow to be seen tucked away in corners. Here I am brushing my teeth in a stream formed by meltwater.
It’s a landscape of colour: rich green grass contrasted with the dusty scree lined slopes and black serrated ridges, and the mountain flowers that line the zig zagging paths.
After three days of walking the highlight came when we discovered this mountain top lake (below). It was a lot colder than it looks. Really, really cold. This is the Irishman diving… ungracefully. The next day we left our mountain top revelry and descended back down to the valley where we thumbed a lift back to the town we had started at. We then found our way back to Toulouse via the same kind Frenchwoman who had brought us to the mountains in the first place.
One day I’ll return and walk the whole thing. I’m sure of that.