Cuillin Ridge Traverse

Cuillin Ridge
This was a bit of a weird one for me as there was no real thought or planning because I didn't really expect it to happen. A chance comment to a very old friend from the dark ages led to us agreeing that if the forecast was ok-ish for the last week in May we would drive up and have a look.
Now as much as I love Scotland I gave up going there a long time ago. In another life, for a few years, I would drive through on my way to Shetland buying sheep in the Borders and on the Islands, the weather usually appalling. I even persuaded my wife to come with me on a couple of summer excursions, the weather was similarly appalling for the most part, we do however still talk about standing atop An Teallach under a glorious blue sky looking out to the Summer Isles, but despite the passing years we also remember the midges! So living on South Dartmoor close to a ferry port it's actually easier to head south to the Pyrenees. Anyway the forecast was pretty optimistic.

16 hours driving brought us to Glen Brittle campsite. Some sleep and then copious amounts of coffee we settled the camping bill and by mid morning we were gearing up to go. Now I had never been here before and my partner in crime had sat on Skye in the rain on a few occasions in the hope of getting on to the ridge, pretty much a pair of virgins. We did have some photocopies of a guide, a good 2+ days food and a well established ability to suffer, we were ready.

We followed the well trod path from the campsite towards the southern end of the ridge and headed up into Coir'a' Ghrunnda to the Loch for a quick lunch. Here we gained the ridge and headed south in the sunshine to Gars-Bheinn where we about faced and did it all again including the detour to Sgurr Dubh Mor. We now needed to replenish water supplies and with the previous day's travelling catching up with us we headed down to a bivy spot we spied earlier beneath the T-D Gap with a good spring.

Apart from my snoring mate a good night was had and we were breakfasted and back on the ridge quite quickly having finally given up our warm sleeping bags, no alpine starts here! The immediate scramble up to, abseil off, and climb back out of the T-D Gap first thing in the morning certainly grabbed our attention, but what an awesome day of never ending interest we had as far as Bealach na Glaic Moire where finding a good supply of melting snow only a few metres off the ridge we decided to have supper and set up our second bivy.

Well we were lucky the forecasted showers didn't arrive during the night but the niggling northerly breeze of the previous 2 days intensified making for a freezing bivy, wore everything but still too cold to catch more than a few moments of sleep. Dawn brought the sun again and the wind died back to a breeze, I just lay finally warm in my sleeping bag, seriously tough getting out!
We were both tired and although it didn't look as though we had far to go it was slow going, route finding to multiple abseils it was a relief to have sections of grade 3 scrambling to solo!
With lunch on the summit of Bruach na Frithe the end was in plain view. Arriving at the Baister Tooth we were both fried and bypassed it to climb Am Baister up the east ridge then return to Bealach a'Bhasteir to climb Sgurr nan Gillean to complete the ridge.

Having given no thought to what happens now it was fortuitous to meet several people on the summit who wanted to descend in the same direction as us but didn't have a rope or harness for the final abseil, lift back to Glen Brittle negotiated we saw everyone down and staggered the remaining miles down to Sligachan in a daze. Having showered at the campsite the breeze that had been our companion for the last 3 days died and the midges came out to feast! Crisps, peanuts and a few noodles provided a celebratory supper whilst hiding in the van.
A broken nights sleep preceded the caffeine fueled 16 hour journey home, what an adventure! Thanks Pete.   


Just stuff about walking across the Pyrenees Haute Route


This is all about personal preferences, mine. Having done two full crossings, one in either direction and countless multi-day trips, I now have some opinions. Taken with a healthy pinch of salt they may even be relevant to someone.

The Route.
All three routes, GR10 GR11 and HRP, are great adventures, however I love the high mountains and the solitude they can still provide, sometimes, so for me it has to be the Pyrenean Haute Route. Herein begins another dilemma, which HRP? Most common for the English speakers is to follow Ton Joosten's Cicerone guide, however far better is the Georges Veron guide, if you can find one, which will keep you higher if you have the supplies and weather with you. Above all don't get bogged down in an only one way mentality, there are many variants from which to choose your crossing and every year is different depending on the previous winter, spring conditions and current weather cycles.

Planning a Pyrenees walk
Which Way?
Firstly travelling East is the direction the two main HRP guidebooks have been written which makes them easier to follow especially when tired, but there are other factors. The Basque country is generally cooler than the Mediterranean and provides a longer and more gentle introduction to get those limbs match fit. For me I love walking into the sunrise, the first steep ascent of the day tends to be in the shade and the views from that first col are why I'm there.

Heading down to Refuge Pombie for breakfast

How Long?
Both guide books describe the route in 45 stages, which I think would be pretty luxurious. Mid 30s with a lightish load, reasonable weather and the ability to adapt the route if required should be fine for those not relying on Refuges. More time allows you to wait out poor weather to keep to your intended path or fit in additional side trips of which there are many tempting options.

Early starts and late finishes

This can be frustrating in some of the smaller communities as advertised opening times are often just a maybe and lunch closures can be very long. That said I have found the shops at Aldudes, Lescun, Candanchu, Gavarnie, Salardu and Arles sur Tech to be good and fairly reliable. There is a great shop in Bolquere but is closed for 3 or 4 hours around lunch and the shop in Hospitalet has been unreliable and limited. The border shopping at Ibardin, Dancharia, Parzan and Perthus are less useful as they tend to cater for cheap bulk purchases, whole hams and a gallon of olive oil may slow you down a bit but with a bit of hunting something can always be found in these shops, just don't expect to enjoy the experience.

Banyuls the land of  plenty.

And would we, will we do it all again one day?................ Absolutely!


Walking the HRP (or not) Pyrenees East to West 2015

Estanh de Baish de Baciver

So with a free summer and our love/obsession with the Pyrenees we decided to see if travelling West was particularly different and if possible to have a look at some alternatives routes we've had in mind since our last crossing.
This is the trail diary of how that went...........

18/7/15     Banyuls sur Mer to Font de la Tagnarede

If 36 hours of travelling, trying to grab snatches of sleep in a variety of singularly uncomfortable chairs were not enough, it is hot, very hot, well into the 30s. It takes us 5hrs to climb Pic Sailfort, less than 1000m. The day's high point is about 1200m and no water along the ridge we press on to Font de la Tagnarede, arriving at 7.30pm having set out from Banyuls at just after 10am. Marginal heat stroke, very sore limbs, unable to eat - this is Fun!

Pic Sailfort

19/7/15     Font de la Tagnarede to Las Illas

Never camp near a road access at the weekend in good weather,there are always chavs around wherever you are. They didn't stop partying until gone 2am. Perthus was as revolting as we remembered but the little bar we visited 2 years ago remains an oasis of calm, friendly, good food and cold drinks. The heat of the afternoon is brutal, we scurry (slowly) from piece of shade to piece of shade. Followed the GR10 markers, which is the long way and arrived at about 6pm. Cold coke at the Hostel, camped in the middle of the village and made use of the shower at the bus stop, everywhere should have this. I am still unable to eat, its also obvious others are struggling too.


20/7/15     Las Illas to Arles sur Tech

Reasonable early start for the climb to Las Salinas, stopped at the source with its luxurious cold water, then climbed through the col to Roc de Frausa and then the long down to the Eco Gite for cold drinks melon and a salad, managed to keep it down. We dangled our feet in the river before attempting the climb up to Col de Paracolls and on to Arles. We left the river at 3.30pm, but by the time we reached the col I was done, unable to regulate my temperature and maintain hydration the long descent was punctuated by regular stops/collapses, only Jo's careful encouragement got us to the campsite at 7.20pm, I was baggage, sat/lay/collapsed in a cold shower for an hour, not going anywhere tomorrow.

Col de Paracolls

21/7/15     Arles sur Tech

Yesterday was hideous and close to being a disaster, got to know when to stop, as it was we were the only ones of the group we have met to make it to Arles, but I am in bits. The others arrive during the day and like us head to the river, I am not the only struggler. Cold drinks, cold showers and the cold river have hopefully put us back on track, I am at least eating. Given an early start progress should be made. Love the vibe at this campsite.


22/7/15     Arles sur Tech to Refuge des Cortalets

Managed supper at the campsite restaurant along with a carafe of wine, unfortunately the heat in the evening continued to build and it was impossible to sleep. We set off before 6am arriving at Batere before 11am, the air now begining to clear a little with the gain of about 1000m. Fabulous ice-cream, home made lemonade and coke, what a binge! amazing, but not surprising that not feeling that great climbing the further 400m to the col. Having cooled in the breeze at the col we continue along the Balcon de Canigou as far as l'Estanyol hut where we meet up with Nicholas, aspiring guide, who kindly comments on our slowness! Whilst discussing route selection for the next few days over coffee Jo slept only to be awakened by the first rumbles of thunder. With Refuge des Cortalets our intended stage we headed out into the storm, with no real camp options after l'Estanyol (beside the famously bed bug infested hut) we had to push on, this time it was me doing the encouraging as it was Jo's turn to feel lousy. All in a 13hr day with well in excess of 2000m of ascent, fine planning that one!

Refuge des Cortalets

23/7/15     Refuge des Cortalets to Pla Guillem

Stormy night with strong winds and rain allows only intermittent sleep. Jo still not good in the morning, but as the weather is obviously improving we decide to try for Canigou, up in about 2.5hrs we enjoy the summit views with a few others before downclimbing the chimney and gradually make our way to Mariailles for a late lunch. Omelettes, fresh apple juice, champagne ice-cream and coffee, all is well with the world. Coke, generally a disgusting concoction suddenly becomes the beverage of choice for many when working hard in hot weather, an English lad on the GR10 orders 2 which are dispatched in quick order, never touches the stuff at home. Headed up to the ridge at Pla Guillem, found a camp spot with water and settled down to watch the clouds build again. Watercress soup and garlic croutons for supper, mmmmmmmmm!

Pla Guillem

24/7/15     Pla Guillem to below Col de Noucreus

First cold night. 6.15am start and its not long before the sun starts to warm things up, fortunately as the heat rose so did the breeze and we made great progress along the easy ridges. 2 cans of coke and a freshly cooked chicken baguette at the ski station before moving on past Ull de Ter. As we climbed higher the gathering storm became more apparent although we could see the worst of it behind us, we made coffee at the emergency shelter below the ridge to wait and see how it developed. With the storm appearing well behind us and moving away we headed onto the ridge with the intention of making the Eyne valley. Very soon we were enveloped in cloud and a huge clap of thunder greeted us at Col de Noucreus, we raced down the scree to the valley below and a fairly flat and safe pitch.

Storm over Cirque de l'Ull de Ter

25/7/15     Col de Noucreus to Etang de Trebens

There appeared to be a Troll in the valley last night who delighted in rolling stones of various sizes down the mountainside towards us, this and the near constant light show from the now far off storm made any sleep difficult. We were up and climbing back up to Noucreus before 6am with cloud and mist swirling around the edges. Fairly nervously we pushed on gaining in confidence as blue skies appeared with the rising sun. Eyne is a long valley but the wild flowers were stunning. With only a short stop for coffee we pushed on hard to Bolquere for the shop and much needed supplies - Bollocks - shut until 4pm! Not wanting to waste 3hrs we carried on up to Bouillouses. No chance of a meal until after 7pm we opted for a coke and sandwich from the Auberge followed by chocolat chaud in the Hotel Bones Hores. Finally finished walking at 7.30pm near the highest lake before Pic Carlit for tomorrow. Hospitalet for a Sunday, what could go wrong!!

Dawn from Col de Noufonts

26/7/15     Etang de Trebens to Hospitalet

Up and going by 6am we were topping out on a very windy Pic Carlit by 8am with stunning views all around, first up! Down the scree is not too bad but it was a mistake to go via Besines again, its longer than the other way and we didn't need it. We did stop at the Refuge for an omelette before heading on down, about 10mins outside Hospitalet we bumped into Nicholas which led to a great evening meal at the Gite d'Etape with said French fastpacking aspiring guide, a Dutch couple and an English guy, much food, beer, wine and good company. We stayed at the Camping Municipal which was great and cheap.

Dawn ascent of Pic Carlit

27/7/15     Hospitalet to Collada de Juclar

Having missed Bolquere and with no fuel in Hospitalet (and little choice of food) we took the train to Ax les Thermes, good supplies, fabulous pastries, nice cafes and Telemark Pyrenees who supplied me with a new rucksack and sent my old one home for me, excellent service. A problem with the trains meant having to get a bus back which slowed us up a bit, but still packed and away by 2pm, camp set up at Collada de Jucla by 7pm. A fabulous walk of never ending interest and beauty. Unfortunately it appears the camera was on strike!

28/7/15     Collada de Juclar to Val de Sorteny

Awoke tired which I think coloured my decision to go through Andorra again rather than a new route in France. What a hard day it turned out to be. The breeze kept some of the heat at bay but I slow roasted as the day went on. Skinny dipping in the lake we shouldn't have gone past was fun although getting back on track was tiresome and by the time we reached the Col de la Mine at about 2700m I was done in. Found a cabin for the night which was a nice change but the pasta supper I had been looking forward to was awful, such is the way of Birthdays!

Val de Sorteny

29/7/15     Val de Sorteny to West of Port de Romaset via Port de Creussans

Not an auspicious start falling from the top bunk onto a stone floor, now bruises on top of a poor nights sleep.The walk down to El Serrat was pleasant although the flowers were not as abundant as our last visit. El Serrat is a waste of space for hikers but we found the trail up to Vallnord along the river very nice despite its proximity to the road at times. Vallnord was abuzz with activity mostly related to tourists visiting the Estanys de Tristainia. Bar Restaurant open! Burger,chips, coke and Haagen Das  awesome. A good pull up to the col with outstanding views to Pic d'Etats and a very deep valley between, both had sore knees by the time we reached the valley floor, sat and recovered by the stream. Decided to keep going so headed towards Port de Romaset first alongside a stream to a hanging valley where a number of people had already set up camp, then more steeply until reaching a huge boulder field, the extent of which we were never quite sure as the visibility dropped the higher we went. Not much in the way of a trail on the other side of the col so headed down as far as a reasonably sheltered pitch, its cold now.

Pic d'Etats

30/7/15     Port de Romaset to Tavascan

The first squall hit the tent at about 5am, 2 or 3 more short ones before we raised ourselves to head down to Val Ferrera, my nav error meant some messing about in the rain before we reached the refuge for hot drinks and kitkats. Raining hard, thunder and lightening we abandon all hope of Pic d'Etats and instead decide to follow the GR11 to Tavascan, no redeeming features, a boring walk in the pissing rain we arrive 12hrs after setting out. Very friendly welcome at the Hotel, hang gear everywhere in the hope of getting it dry, batter myself once again falling out of the bath, then beer and olives followed by a 3 course meal and a bottle of wine, slept well.

On the way to Tavascan in the rain

31/7/15     Tavascan to Bord de Graus

With the forecast still stormy we remained in the Hotel for breakfast before setting out in the wrong direction from Tavascan, nice walk though it was, wrong direction is still wrong direction, so on returning to Tavascan and completing our warm up we took up residency on a bench, did a little food shopping and had lunch. Now headed in the right direction we were at Camping Graus by 2.15pm, bar for beer and olives! Fortunately we had decided to stay put as the storms that now rolled in were of the very long and very lively variety. Great supper in the Refuge and lovely staff, a real pleasure.


1/8/15     Bord de Graus to Bassa de Sobriu

After a great night, and following our recent navigational prowess we are pretty slow trying to find our way over unfamiliar ground with irregular traces of a trail. We then had a crisis of confidence which resulted in nearly climbing the col, backing off, re-assessing and deciding it probably was right, maybe! only to find some while later we recognised the small lake some way down the other side when almost convinced we had never been here before, see things do look different heading West. Some easy miles would be nice but a lovely walk.

Bassa de Sobriu

2/8/15     Bassa de Sobriu to Estanh de Baish de Baciver

Very cold night, awoke to clear blue skies.Familiar gentle walk down the valley and then along the road through Alos Isil to Isil. The girl in the bar made us sausage and onion ciabatta sandwiches, awesome. Decided to head down to the abandoned hamlet of Arreu, a very sad sight. The gently rising trail made light work of the 1000m of ascent despite the heat. Jo briefly swam in one of the lakes, very cold. From here the trail is intermittent up to the second lake and on to Forquetta d'Arrou, 6.30pm, to cross the ridge for the run down to Salardu. Another pretty lakeside camp.

Estanh de Baish de Baciver

3/8/15     Estanh de Baish de Baciver to Lac de Deth Port

Beautiful clear morning for the walk into Salardu which took just a little bit too long although the wild flowers were stunning. Breakfast at the bakery after shopping at the supermercado, very friendly, and an early sandwich at the outdoor cafe before the long road climb to Colomers. So hot now, Jo struggling, by the time we reach Port Caldes we have been walking up hill for 6hrs. As we are within a restricted area we had to carry on over the next col towards Deth Port, the approaching storm was very evident making for an interesting boulder field descent. Tent is up before the worst and a brief gap in the hail allows for a hot supper and coffee.

View from Port Caldes

4/8/15     Lac de Deth Port to Lac d'Anglos

What a night!! Lightening, hail, rain and strong winds, 8hrs the storm rages on, at well over 2000m it all seems rather close, fortunately the tent is bomb proof. However the lack of sleep and steep trails make this a day to remember, I'm a right grump. Steeply down to Restanca, then followed the GR11 up to Port Rius which seemed to go on and on and no where near as beautiful as the HRP via Collada de Mar. I remember disliking Port Rius to Conangles in ascent and it wasn't much better in descent against the tide of day hikers. Coke at Conangles next to a screaming child who managed to find our picnic spot sometime later. The route up to Lagos de Anglos starts gently through woodland along the river but rears up through scrub for nearly 1000m, hot, fly ridden, tired and my new boots are falling apart, a hard day.


5/8/15     Lac d'Anglos to Camping Aneto

Extreme fatigue and a still, cool night allowed a good nights sleep and we got going by 7am. We have no map for this route, as we hadn't planned to be here!, but managed to photograph an artistic impression of the route and it will be marked GR11. The fact we have done it before counts for very little. As it was the 3 steep cols we negotiate in the first few hours sap the strength from our legs but provide little to remember, it is only as we reach the Balibierna lakes that it becomes more familiar and we make Camping Aneto by 3.30pm. Made the mistake of having a nice cold beer, wasted, the heat (mid 30s) and tiredness catch up. Great supper at the tent, plenty of wine chatting to some young Austrians about day routes close by. Rest and shopping tomorrow.

Coll de Vallibierna

6/8/15     Camping Aneto

Good nights sleep, pain au chocolat and chocolate for breakfast!. Walked down to Benasque, cool early on but heating up very fast, to buy a new pair of shoes as the new pair I had bought for the trip were falling apart (more on this later). Bought provisions at the supermercado and stopped at a garage on the way back for an ice-cream. Back to the campsite to spend the rest of the day between the swimming pool, bar and restaurant whilst keeping up to date of England trouncing the Aussies at cricket, all rather good.

Camping Aneto

7/8/15     Camping Aneto to Paso de Los Caballos

Big day in new boots! Left Camping Aneto after breakfast at 7am. Cokes at Refugio Estos at 9.20am with a spanish mountain biker drinking beer, that could be an interesting day. Through the Col Christau with lunch down at the crossing. We had intended to cross to Riamajou from here but with storms every other day we couldn't afford the time waiting for clear weather for the ridge to Barroude, so we followed the GR11, stopping at Camping Forcallo for more coke before continuing to Passo de Los Caballos where we picked out an iffy camp spot by 8pm, great views of Posets. Helped an Austrian HRP'er east bound with a few litres of filtered water for him and his Australian companion, they were pretty done in. V. tired, Barroude tomorrow.

Paso de Los Caballos

8/8/15     Paso de Los Caballos to Refugio de Barrosa

Didn't make it, rain stopped play again! Showers are hitting the tent before we even contemplate getting up and its all about timing in getting packed up. Long dirt track down to the valley. With supermarkets in sight hunger gets the better of us and we go the extra 1k or so for a breakfast of yoghurt, magdelenes and chocolate washed down with fizzy orange, and peaches for later. All this makes the tedious road march up to our exit valley all the longer, the storm hits and all is horribly familiar to 2 years ago. We shelter on the steps of an abandoned border post and make coffee. Get going again and make quick time to the Refugio de Barrosa 1.30pm, have lunch but there is little let up in the weather, not wanting to get caught out on high ground we make ourselves comfortable for the night.

Refugio de Barrosa

9/8/15     Refugio de Barrosa to near Estaube Hut

Very cold start 7am, after a pretty rubbish nights sleep. 2hrs up to the Port de Barroude where we are greeted by an icy wind and swirling cloud. Some brave souls were trying to dry their kit out having camped beside the burnt out refuge. Stopped and had coffee before continuing towards Horquette de Chermentas, on route we had a very near miss with a rockfall, fortunately nothing more than a cut to the hand protecting my head. The cloud continued to push over us as we climbed the Hourquette de Heas, too cold and zero visibility we avoided the Col de Sede and continued down to Cabane Aiguillous for a lunch stop. We then picked up the path to Traverse the Cirque de Troumouse, Jo struggling on the initial re-ascent but despite the conditions its an interesting walk and far preferable to the road at Heas. Energised by an early supper at La Maillet ,omelette salad coke and gateaux basque, we could set of on another traversing line  that leads into Estaube finding a pitch near the hut at 8pm.

Port de Barroude

10/8/15     near Estaube Hut to Gavarnie

Knock the ice off cold this morning, clear and bright. 7am start to Horquette Alan, arrived exhausted at 9am, both tired this morning and some-one is coming to terms with a big birthday! The views from the col are immense and we enjoy them for a while before descending to Gavarnie. Campsite owner is as brusque as ever and shopping for supplies not easy. We had missed all the breakfast pastries so settled for stale croissants and a muffin. Had a massively overpriced beer whilst Jo read all her messages, then after a picnic lunch we got all our washing done. Supper out was no more than ok but it was nice to relax. There is much to dislike here but the scenery is stunning.

Refuge des Espuguettes

11/8/15     Gavarnie to Refugio Goriz

Ready to go at 6.45am and walk into Gavarnie as both the supermarket and bakery advertise 7am opening, nothing! So without breakfast we head to the Cirque glad to be leaving. It is stunning, and once we have located the start of the Echelle des Sarradets we enjoy the easy scramble up into the heart of the Cirque and then on to the Refuge by 11am. Chorizo Tortilla and chocolate brownie, best we had on this trip, also despite being overrun daily with day trippers from the Col de Tentes the staff were very friendly. We quickly made the Breche, must be quite fit, and arrived at Goriz soon after 3pm. Fantastic walk.

Refugio Goriz

12/8/15     Refugio Goriz to Camping Valle de Bujaruelo

The chaos, colour and noise at Goriz always takes me by surprise but this is Spain and things only start winding down at 10.30pm. Up at 6am to see the bobbing headtorches of those heading for Perdido, we are away by 6.45am in the other direction through the Ordessa Canyon and we are soon through the upper reaches and into the woods as the first arrivals from the summer coaches pass us. Well before reaching the Pradera we are swimming against a strong tide of disgorged tourists. The bar at the parking produced fantastic sandwiches coffee and cakes all with a friendliness and attention that is sadly lacking in much of Gavarnie. The path continues down to the road juction with stunning glimpses of the river below but without the crowds, after which its just a march up the road to the campsite, help some youngsters with their GR11 route finding, its now cooking and we are both getting grumpy. Arrived 2pm, tent up , bar for beer and olives before much needed showers and supplies from the little shop, more bar time before supper at 8pm, always good.


13/8/15     Camping Valle de Bujaruelo to Embalse de Bachimina Alto

A proper Jo day, Big! It was a bit of a shock to be rudely awakened by a particularly sharp storm in the middle of the night following a great supper with an equally good bottle of Rioja. What was even more rude was the storm's re-appearance at about 5.30am. Packed up in the pouring rain, thunder and lightening and had breakfast in the campsite shelter, by which time things had eased off and we were only delayed by half an hour. We made our intended destination by lunch, so after a picnic at the lake continued up through the Collado de Letrero. Trickier than we both remembered but keen to keep off the boulders on the north side we had some scrambling to do, fun. Continued down past the lakes on sometimes difficult broken ground until finding a campspot near the Embalse de Bachimina Alto 7pm.


14/8/15    Embalse de Bachimina Alto to Cabane de Socques

Another Jo day! Left camp about 7.15am after a very cold night. The low swirling cloud did nothing to warm us as we climbed to the Col and on down to Respumoso before 12pm for some food, Spanish omelette baguette! whilst a serious catholic blessing of mountaineering equipment was being conducted outside, this was still continuing as we set out for Arremoulit. Unfortunately the low cloud persisted over this beautiful landscape and devoid of the usual snow fields this year. However Bols de Chocolat chaud and cake re-vitalised limbs and spirits to head on.
Passage d'Orteig is better dry and travelling East (Up), downclimbing the wet, polished stone was not as much fun. With no suitable pitches we carried on down the valley to the road and the cabane. We bought the best sheep's cheese we have had from the Shepherd across the road, and very nearly left with one of his collie pups.

Collado de Piedrafita o de Tebarray

15/8/15     Cabane de Socques to Lac d'Estaens

Third Jo day in a row! I was aware of the rain before getting up, first there was the swish of the odd early car on a wet road and secondly, slightly later, the drip drip from a hole in the roof. It had eased off by 7.30am so we headed up to Pombie, initially warm and muggy but increasingly cold as we reach the Refuge. Bols de Chocolat chaud and a chat to the gaurdiens before taking their recommendation of a traversing route round to Lac Peyreget. Fantastic Marmot display at the lake. We missed the short cut on the way down, ending up further down the valley so adding to our climb back up to the Col de Moines. Great lunch at the ski station of Astun whilst it rained, only clearing as we finished coffee. A quick re-stock at the little supermercado in Candanchu, now loaded with chocolate and biscuits we decided to go all out for Lac d'Estaens! Tent up about 9pm, a real sore foot day.

Lac d'Estaens

16/8/15     Lac d'Estaens to Lescun

Awoke very early very cold, put on all the layers I could find but still cold, not sure were all the feathers in my bag have gone and Jo looks so snug. Slow start with coffee so didn't get away until 8am, still made Arlet by 12 for a coke. This long traverse has many more ups and downs than we remember although its probably just the toll of the last few days. Looking back Pic du Midi still dominates the skyline and it is with sadness that we leave the high mountains, all that is left is to finish the route. Lescun proves to be something of a disaster. Arriving at 6pm we set up camp, shower and wash clothes in quick order so as to get to the restaurant. With great effort we persuade tired limbs to climb the 1km uphill, beer ordered we seem to be rebuffed regarding supper but wait as requested, this has turned into a farce, by 8.30pm with much shrugging and muttering from other would be diners we return to a now closed campsite for a cup-a-soup and no wine......fuck!

Looking back to Pic du Midi d'Ossau

17/8/15     Lescun to beyond Refuge Belagua

Still dissapointed by last night we awoke late and rather wearily packed up to visit the shop on our way westward. An expensive upgrade in provisions and a large breakfast complete we continued uphill on road track and stony trails for more than 1200m to the col above Source de Marmatou where we enjoyed lunch in thick mist.
 All started well enough at the col until coming across fresh red and whites, we became dazzled by their brightness despite the obviously wrong direction in which they went, inevitably this led to an additional although pleasant detour of around 2hrs (GR12 I think). The rather spooky ruin of Belagua appeared to have its own Golom in residence, so having collected water we carried on to the windiest and coldest camp spot I could find just to make boiling water with the alcohol stove more interesting.

After Col d'Anaye

18/8/15     Belagua to Chalets d'Iraty

Rubbish nights sleep. The wind cold and Golom did for that. We dragged ourselves out of our bags and into the cold by 7.30am. No visibility and a strong wind, its very cold and I'm wearing everything I have. Fortunately much of the route is way marked red and white for the same GR12 we followed yesterday. Not much in the legs but once established on the ridge its easy going in our fog bound bubble until the steep up to Pic d'Orhy. We saw vultures in the distance bring down a healthy sheep with sheer numbers, slightly more nervous the next time they cruise past. Arrived at Iraty 6.30pm missing the shop and early for supper, so more coke before a fine meal, nearly dark by the time we had found a pitch.

Frontier ridge near Txardekagaina Barazea

19/8/15     Chalets d'Iraty to beside the Compostella trail

Cattle clanked all night and we are slow to get going in the beautiful morning light. Cold under the inversion as we descend to Chalet Pedro and we climb through the woods until we feel the sun's warmth and stop for coffee and cake. Route finding is fairly easy but the ups and downs are taking their toll on both of us. We meet a surprising number of people a week into their Eastward crossing, all carrying huge packs. Topped up water at one of the huge horse troughs before reaching the Compostella trail, made supper but a local farmer was not keen on our presence, so having eaten and refilled water bottles at the font we continued down the trail to a bivy spot.

Near Iraty

20/8/15     Compostella trail to Iparla Ridge

Easy miles on Basque ridges kind of a day. Firstly along the Compostella trail (which has the worst litter encountered), then a mixture of road, track and trail to Aldudes where we over indulged. Coke in the Bar whilst waiting for the shop to re-open, then prepared Couscous, Cacolac, Peaches and Yoghurts! We could hardly move, especially with the extra food and water we were now carrying. The afternoon is very hot and the climb up onto the Iparla ridge is a slow steep 600m, both soaked in sweat by the time we reach the summit of Urrichka to camp in the breeze.

Aldudes from Iparla Ridge

21/8/15     Iparla Ridge to Bidarray

The heat was apparent at sunrise, all hint of the previous evenings breeze had gone, in fact we had both overheated in our bags in the early hours. The ridge itself provides a great variety of walking, never difficult in itself, but in this heat by the afternoon it was more trial than fun. Ispeguy is a great stop for lunch in terms of quality value and service. On the long descent to Bidarry we met some English guys on the GR10 who told us of a free camping field in the centre of the village. After a long hard day in the heat the evening's cold beers were awesome.

Iparla Ridge

22/8/15     Bidarray to Ainhoa

Awoke early again, hot, expecting the storm to finally develop but nothing happens and we drift back to sleep only to wake about 7am. A quick look around doesn't reveal a bakery so we sit on a wall waiting for the small supermarket to open at 8am. Been here before, nothing! empty handed we set off into a muggy overcast morning. All up at first on road then steeply on a sometimes rocky path, we are dripping again, but each of a series of cols is reached fairly easily in turn. A coke in the Gite d'Etape is followed by a long traverse, nothing is big or arduous but we are tired and ratty. Arrive at the campsite at 3.30pm, it takes a while to raise the owner to get set. Long long shower before we hobble back to the village which seems to only cater for tourists, fortunately the pizza van is in town, washed down with local cider and chocolate. All tucked in as the storm starts.

Heading to Ainhoa

23/8/15     Ainhoa to Ibardin

Today was the day we needed to put in a good shift to make the last day a short hop or limp! The storm kept us awake on and off through the night didn't help. Taking down a wet tent in the dark pre dawn in the hope things would improve. We set off in full waterproofs through dark woodland and riverside tracks with little to see but the weather was improving. A fantastic feast of blackberries supplemented our meagre breakfast before arriving in the land of plenty, Sare. Great boulangerie for more breakfast and bread for lunch, we were all set for the climb up La Rhune. Fantastic views along the coast, Hendaye, St Jean, Biarritz and Bayonne all laid out before us. After a picnic lunch near the summit we made good time to Col d'Ibardin, which in 2 years has become more like Perthus, where after a brief drink and stock up we carried on for an hour to camp.

La Rhune

24/8/15     Ibardin to Hendaye

Wind and rain showers came throughout the night although the stiff breeze dried the worst off the tent before packing up. Well past 7am we set off uphill starting the rather convoluted route down to Hendaye, up, down, round and even around we went before plodding along the river, not to the GR10 finish at the Casino but rather the 8ahuit store at Sokoburu, 10.30am, in search of breakfast of pain au chocolat, yoghurt, orange juice and peach, the first of many meals!!

Hendaye Plage

I hate finishing a trip, even a difficult one. There is always a tendency to rush to the finish with its promise of food beer and relaxation, all the things you crave on the hard mile days, but when its over there is an emptiness, the purpose has gone which can quickly turn to listlessness. The sharp focus of distance, navigation, nourishment and shelter give way to the immediacy of everything at hand. Its the time to reflect and plan another adventure!