Walking The Pyrenees | Day 3- Part 1 | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Walking The Pyrenees | Day 3- Part 1

Travel Writer Hal Keelin begins his final instalment of his Walking The Pyrenees series

We awoke sometime after half past 6. The air was cool, and a pale mist had descended upon the valley, encasing the islet of our refuge in a pasty whiteness.

“We should get up,” Dan said abruptly.

Breakfast was at 7:30 and we had planned to pack up and leave swiftly from the refuge no later than 7:45. I agreed reluctantly with him and stepped outside, yawning, groggy from the night before and watched as a small mammal made its way down the side of the steep verge ahead. Its movements were slow, precarious, and as it came closer, the figure took full form, it was a Chamois, a distinct type to this Pyrenean hillside. I watched as it made its calculated movement, picking its traverse down the hillside before me, I smiled, reflecting on the night before.

“What are you laughing at!”, Dan asked from inside.

“Oh, just last night, it was fun wasn’t it!” I grinned.  “Red Red wine!”, I cried, and Dan repeated, remembering the bald man’s toothy grin as he bellowed out UB40 while we tucked into our meal last night. We swiftly packed up our gear: compressing the air out of the sleeping mats, rolling up sleeping bags, and stuffing valuables into our elastic pouches attached to our waists. After an adequate breakfast of warm coffee and cereal, we set off sharply on the cusp of 7:45, having to round the lakes northern edge to reach the opposite end and find the path that snaked up and over, onto Bareges. The air had been cold when we first awoke, but now, rounding the lake, the sun shone through the clear blue sky. It burned the sharp early mist away. The dam was now on the far side of the lake to us, to the south, and sat between two huge faces that enclosed it like the trough formed by the letter V. In this way, the mountainsides framed the reservoir, accentuating its beauty. I was reminded of the sheer strength that concrete wall possessed, andcould only begin to understand the monstrosity of the task facing those builders in 1912. On the opposite shore of the lake, we passed small bothies, tidy shepherds huts between the shore of the lake and the fern forest to our west. We were looking for a sharp cut in the Gr10 up through this forest, and this we found and followed. A steep climb that carved parallel beside a stream and through thick ferns took us to a soft grassy plateau, a few hundred metres or so above the lake to the east. We passed hiking couples sweating in the heat with sunglasses and safari style sun hats.  We continued to climb. Up through the grassy pasture where the path was clear now. Cap d’estoudou on our left, Soum de Monpelat our right, with the lake now out of sight behind us. We summitted Cap d’estoudou in the late morning, stopped and caught our breath, looking at what was now beneath us. The scale of the peaks in front was an intimidating sight.

The taller ones neared 3000 metres in height, they’re rocky faces were jagged, casting huge shadows over the lakes, clefs, and woods in front of us. I took a compass bearing. We would head northeast from here. We traced the route on the landscape below us with our fingers:  skirting round shallow tarns that glinted a deep blue in the bright sun, passing through deep woods and then ascending, up and over those imposing faces we looked upon now and down swiftly onto Bareges. The town was still some 20 km away. It was late morning and we had barely started.

“Still a long way to go mate”. Dan shouted over a wind that had picked up after we summited.

“Yes, let’s go I agreed.”

I remembered the enthusiastic young guy from the night before who had told us that we should allow for seven hours walking to Bareges. It seemed a long way off and I assumed, that while he was enthusiastic he was also probably stretching the truth a little.

“I’m not sure we should take too much notice of that guy from last night’s estimate”

I shouted at Dan, to be heard over the wind, as he was desperately pinning his flapping sun hat to the side of his head with his hand.

“Ha! I think he was slightly flexing his masculinity with that, there’s no way we could do this in seven hours!”

We pressed on, descending quickly, knowing it wouldn’t be much fun walking in the dark. Our path made its steep descent through wood and we passed a family with two small children in the lead, anxious to reach the summit behind us first.

“How much further to the top of d’Estoudou?” The dad panted in English”, he had a baby on his back.

“About an hour maybe” I replied, aware the small kid’s enthusiasm may dwindle as the ascent through trees continued. We reached a road, and after that two small lakes flanked us on either side. My guide told me their names: Lac d’aubert and Lac d’aumar almost islanded our Gr10 trail as we pressed on, passing swimmers and resting parties of hikers on the lake’s shore. We stopped, and I took my socks off, eager to feel the sensation of plunging them into the cool fresh water. They emerged from the water; revitalised and replenished as Dan took the chorizo and bread out of his side pack pocket and handed me slices in turn.A martial arts group, in their white gowns, practised in the shade of the trees beside us. After our short pitstop for lunch, we continued along the flat banks of the lake until the ground began to rise and we began our ascent of the Pic de Madamete.

The path curved up and round to the first col, and, meeting huge slabs of granite rock, we picked our way around a hidden tarn. The tarn had the appearance of a deep well, cut from the mountainside and an even deeper shade of blue to the lakes we had left some 400 metres below. For now, in mid-summer it appeared as an Ice-cold plunge pool: in mid-winter, it would be thickly ice-bound. It reminded of a mountain in Snowdonia named Moshabod I had climbed once with my Dad. We hadpassed a tarn to that day when scaling that snow canvassed peak, but this one was icebound as it was mid-winter. I had taken a photo and shown it to my mum, convinced that it should be on a postcard. The name Moshabod has stuck with me just like the image I took has. The unusual cluster of harsh consonant and vowel sounds strung together - Mo-sha-bod, they caught in the air- unfamiliar. It was wild and harsh up there, the name fits the character of the mountain distinctly; underfoot, snow had embedded itself to the mountainside, while the icy wind had made our cheeks raw. In quite a different climate, we were relieved atop Pic de Madamete. That was the high ground completed for the day and we stayed for a minute or two: savouring the moment, catching our breath, and taking pictures. Atop the cairn that signified the summit.


Second Year Ancient and Medieval History student


30th January 2018 at 9:00 am

Images from

Hal Keelin