Friday, 27 August 2010

Pyrenean Assault: Day 1

Another round of Pastis was ordered as the lightning crackled overhead and raindrops the size of old pennies splashed down onto the little mountain village. The perfume of wet, heavy woodland and red Pyrenean mud swirled about the cafe table as the team once more squeezed baguettes, cheeses, saucissons and pastis into already overloaded rucksacks.

Jungle assured Binder that it was but a stroll to the team's objective that day - the Refuge D'Arlet and waved about a map with a confident air of authority. Binder relented and slid once more into another glass of the good stuff as the monsoon struck relentlessly over the mountains above them. And so at past mid-day, the team set off for the short stroll into the teeth of the storm.

A local was sought out within a few minutes of setting out, who had never heard of the Haute Route, the Pyrenees or any Refuge hereabouts. But luck stayed with the team and before too long a second breakfast was being taken to dry out Binder's waterproof plimsolls after their unexpected dunking in the Torrent. This was the life; shirts socks and shorts, steaming in the sunshine tucking into bread and cheese. For the first time that day the team were confident of their location.

Also for the first time that day, Binder casually sneaked a peek at Jungle's map and a chill horror gripped his vitals: This short stroll included 1,500m of ascent and lots of wiggly switchback paths climbing up into the upper stratosphere. The temperature was definitely at the upper end of his boiling point thermometer and there were cows.

These were not your common or garden ordinary cows. Not the happy-clappy cows of Englandshire. These beasts had long, blood-spattered, pointy horns and a look in their eye that terrified those that held their gaze. They were the hoodies of the breed, swaggering menacingly across the path to the upper pastures.

There was the Mountain Dog, guarding the unseen silent inhabitant of the hut high on the hillside with the gargantuan loose pig. There was the loose red mud of the region that caked and covered every conceivable inch of your legs, shorts, rucksack, arse and elbow.

Binder was a picture of misery as Jungle trotted further and further up into the death zone, a tiny little figure on the horizon as he wallowed in her wake as the sun slid down below the mountain tops.

Binder recalled all those promises of merry sing-songs and jugs of wine and flagons of beers, tasty soups and nourishing sustaining stews in the mountain huts, as Jungle melted from view, seemingly permanently, amongst the rock pinnacles and grassy transhumance pastures of the High Pyrenees. Where had his youthful vigour and effortless stride disappeared to? He was alone, stranded and exhausted. Abandoned by his Navigator. All hope was lost. He slumped amongst the meadow flowers. Was this all a bad dream? Had this all been a cruel hoax to tempt the unfortunate Binder on this madcap expedition?

He awoke from his sorry plight at the sound of a loud hiss in his right ear.

It was Jungle! And she was opening two cans of ice cold lager next to his head and rolling their sumptuous cooling bodies over his fevered brow.

Camp 1: Evening Camp 1: Evening

Just over the top of the grassy hillock was the refuge and plates of steaming nourishing food. Cold beers were being poured, ready for his arrival. Camp One had been reached!


  1. "Transhumance" is a word I've not encountered since 5th form geography lessons!

    Glad to hear Shirl is whipping you into shape! However, a game of cards doesn't seem very energetic. Aids dexterity I suppose.

  2. I meant to put this onto this one not the one before ....

    Moi J'avais le BIG jealousy de votre trip to Les Pyrenees Hills. Je also parlez the French a un expert 'mais non'. Ma femme et moi vacance dans les hills Pyrenees grande before les petit enfants beacoup des ans ago. C'est tres bonza! Aussi le Pernod. Maintenant je aussi want to allez up les big Mountains, mais je has to work pour to get l'Argent for le trip a Peebles et Moffat. See tu et Shirl dans Peebles je hopes big time.

    Votre ami Andrew W.

    PS.. Do you know where I left my boots after the Challenge?

  3. "Transhumance"is a word I have never encountered before...and I've read Heidi!

    Eagerly awaiting next installment.

  4. Robin: Wotcha! Transhumance - it's all coming back to me - didn't realise it was all those years ago either..

    Andy: Your boots (skis?) are still probably on the bench outside the Park Hotel where you left them...

    Mark: Hi fella. Heidi - a lovely little bit of totty! (I'll get a kick for that....)

  5. "Camp 1 : evening". Spain ? I don't believe you, I can see Shiehallion on the horizon !


  6. It's a life-time ago (before children) since I hiked in the Pyrenees and your report is making it sound like it's time to revisit the place. Got to persuade DH that it's a great idea too.


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