Prelude: Four years ago, I bagged my first ever Pyrenean summit, the Pic du Bergons, whilst out on one of my first mountain walks with N. Here's a little flashback to that memorable day...
0h00: Departure at 10am from the Vallon de l’Yse (1,500m). Driving up from Luz to the estibe (summer pasture land), our walk is nearly over before it begins as we are momentarily stuck behind the broken down lorry of a farmer on his way up to collect his cattle. The hills are truly magical this morning. The autumn sun plays games in the fields, picking out the contours of the estibe and throwing the hillsides into dramatic relief. Gently ascending, we pass through clumps of burnt ochre and crimson, ferns and blueberry bushes now past their summer best.
1h20: A well needed water break. I greedily break into my dried fruit provisions. Perched on a rocky outcrop, we spy the white dome of the observatory on the summit of the Pic du Midi, two valleys away from us.
|The observatory atop the Pic du Midi|
Arrival at the Col du Portillon
and I'm blown away by the view. Looking down, the EDF hydroelectricity station at Pragnères nestles in the valley bottom, a long way beneath us. Before us, all the jewels of the Pyrenees glisten in the sunlight; across the border lies the majestic, snow-capped peak of Monte Perdido, the various peaks of the Cirque de Gavarnie
with their emotive names (L’Epaule, La Tour, Le Casque
etc.) and the Brèche de Roland
, flanked by the Taillon
Sheltering from the icy breeze whistling up the side of the valley, we walk just below the ridge towards the summit. They weren’t joking when they said the terrain here is ‘escarpé’ (steep). At one point, I make the mistake of looking down and have a little attack of vertigo. It doesn’t last long though as despite being momentarily frozen with terror, I realise that I have no choice but to go on...
|Looking towards Gavarnie, the Brèche and the Mont Perdu|
2h10: We’re at the top and I’ve conquered my first summit in the Pyrenees! Ok, so it’s still not the Vignemale…but I’m getting there slowly! We celebrate with a picnic, made all the better by the panoramic view, and after I have a sneaky kip in the midday sun. Later, I learn that our picnic spot has a supernatural reputation; according to local legend, the caves on the southern side of the Le Bergons are supposed to be inhabited by fées (fairies). In days gone by, foolhardy shepherds, attracted by stories of fairy gold and beauty, would often venture onto the steep slopes…and often fall to their deaths.
|Down from the summit, along the ridge|
We descend in a leisurely fashion, following the ridge down the other side of the Bergons, before eventually dropping back into the estibe, now drenched in the hot, sun of the late afternoon.
Getting back to the car, I’m pleased to note that unlike previous walks big walks over the summer, my left knee is not in agony and I’m feeling pleasantly tired, but not exhausted. ‘How much ascent have we done then?’, I ask, expecting it to be around the 300m mark. ‘Oh about 568m’ comes the reply. 'You've got be joking, that's actually 68m more than the last one!!’ and I have to be picked from the ground, not from exhaustion, but rather amazement.
|A traditional barn|