Last weekend, we were invited by our friends Boris and Pauline to join them up at their Mountain hut for their last weekend of the season.
High winds and rain were forecast. We went anyway, making sure to pack our waterproofs and down jackets.
In the early morning light, we climb through the woods from Pont d'Espagne to the Lac de Gaube. We've been expecting the leaves to change for weeks. Now they seem to have done it overnight. In the lower part of the trail, we walk through tunnels of red and gold towards the turquoise lake. We slide through piles of dried leaves, shrivelled and crisp under foot.
It is a Saturday, in the middle of the holidays, so there are plenty of other walkers out on the trail. We pause briefly by the shimmering waters of the Lac du Gaube
. From here, the north face of the Vignemale is usually visible, but this morning, he's wearing a cloudy hat, pulled down low over his eyes. Leaving the crowds behind, we continue the trail along the eastern side of the lake, being careful not to twist an ankle as we hop from boulder to boulder. Next time we come here it will be winter, and we'll be able to ski straight across the frozen lake
Above the lake, the path rises slowly as the valley opens out into a series of long water meadows. Beyond, the lower part of the vertical cliffs and glacier of the Vignemale are always in sight as we edge our way southwards, blocking the head of the valley and the way to Spain.
At the final plateau, we overtake a French couple. "Is it far to the réfuge?" they ask us. "Oh, only about another twenty minutes or so," we reply. The wife is clearly exhausted. The husband looks crestfallen. They decide to turn back, and leave us to continue alone.
When we arrive at the hut, Boris is outside chopping wood ready for the winter. Pauline is inside, finishing off this evening's desert: chocolate mousse for thirty ravenous mountaineers. N stays out to give Boris a hand. I'm happy to get out of the biting wind, take off my pack and find a place beside the wood-burner with my book before we lend a hand with the evening service at 7pm.