Saturday, 11 September 2010

Pyrenean Assault: The Meat


Today’s clamber: Higher still

The team had been high the day before. As the day dawned, it dawned on poor old Binder that today was to be higher still.

The Pic du Midi Ossau was today’s objective. We were not to actually summit the beast; oh no, but we were to work our way round to the south of the blighter and scramble over the col just to the right of the beast in the photograph above, at a height that Fen Boys would develop nosebleeds and dizzy spells and be scrambling to the medical pack for the pastis. Then it was to be a tumble down to the refuge at Pombie.

Straightforward stuff, according to the the guidebook written by the previous Englishman to visit this faraway land. It has to be said that Binder thought the Previous Englishman to be a liar and a charlatan as he obviously had never dared scale the heights that Binder & Jungle were currently attempting. Routes described by the loon to be an “easy day” of a four to five hours were taking the team a good eight hours. Of course he had probably not taken into account the need for the team’s scientific studies and recordings of every single flower, petal and beetle that Jungle came across or the right and proper lunchtime repasts with Post Luncheon Lassitude; but what sort of guide would not do so? A Cad and a Bounder!

Refuge D'Ayous

Jungle, beneath Refuge D’Ayous

So, with today’s objective squarely in his sights, Binder set to the task and immediately opted for the GR10; the easy route down into the valley before the lung bursting ascent that would surely follow. As far as he could ascertain, the GR10 is the rather tasty little amble on the French side of the border. The GR11 on the other hand is on the other side of the border – which would make it in Spain.

Binder had had quite enough of Spain, thank you very much. Apart from the delightful Spaniards who had abandoned them in Candanchu, Binder believed that the Spanish locals hereabouts quite deliberately spoke in their own tongue! An unpardonable sin to the tongue-tied British Binder. Surely, the natives could make an effort?

The stroll down the pastures to the very, very bottom of the valley (so low down that even FenBoy Binder began to feel at home) was an easy affair and was made all the more enjoyable for Binder who took frequent stops to admire the French hoardes’ herculean efforts to struggle up from the valley bottom to the refuge that Jungle and Binder had so recently vacated.

Hoardes of French

French Hoardes on the descent.

The flies! The flies were terrible in the bottom of the sylvan paradise at the very bottom of the hill, and so our Dynamic Duo fled up the hill in search of a breeze. Poor Jungle suffered appallingly from the tsetse, mosquito, the Pyrenean Horse fly and the Pyrenean Cattle Fly. All the flies from Hell swarmed about poor Jungle’s nether regions resulting in a miserable luncheon while Binder snoozed happily in the dappled shade afforded by the luxuriant canopy and afterglow of pastis, taken for medicinal reasons.

Binder took the early afternoon haul up to the upper pastures in his leisurely stride for the first time on the expedition. Fitness was at last ‘kicking in’. Poor Jungle was delirious from the mauling of her nether regions and so even more frequent rest stops were required than usual, which suited old Binder just nicely!

Jungle & Pic du Midi Ossau

Peaky Jungle below Pic du Midi Ossau

At last, Binder came into his own! He was High and going Higher and after a brief stroll up a well trodden path, they were into the gargantuan boulder field followed by a snow filled gulley. Binder manfully cut steps into the nevee with the edges of his GoreTex plimsolls, up towards the col until solid ground was once more obtained. His job was done! Binder came over all faint, what with the thin air and all and the paucity of lunch and the Heavy Responsibility he had Shouldered so Manfully.

Jungle regained command and Jelly Baby and Pastis Iron Rations were brought to bear upon the situation to revive poor Binder. The summit of the pass was duly reached and a metaphorical British Flag Planted thereupon.

Jungle on the pass

Jungle with Refuge Pombie far below

The Loon in the Guidebook suggested it was but a thirty five minute stroll down to the Refuge. Binder was apprehensive. This was to be the shady side of the mountain and the expedition had already encountered vast tracts of snow. It had also started to drizzle, with the promise of more Pyrenean Thunderstorms. Jungle looked as though she had been chewing wasps in the last record photograph and things were Looking Bleak in Binder’s Skull Cinema.

Torrid flickering images of thunder, lightning bolts, and tumbles down impossible snowfields, culminating in a dashing against pointy boulders all flashed through Binder’s skull cinema as the team set off down the steep path towards Pombie.

And then, just around the the first corner appeared an impossibly steep snowfield, with a thin trail of stale bootmarks threading its way straight down the middle. At the bottom was a huge field of big horribly pointy boulders.

Binder’s second walking pole was still suffering from Altitude Lassitude and so as such, he found himself disadvantaged. Jungle leapt to the rescue with the promise of being “lead” descender. She set off at a steady plod, testing each footstep inching her way down the yawning slope.

And then, she sat down!

Binder could not believe what he was witnessing. Jungle’s poles were set to one side and very, very slowly she reached forward and cupped something precious in her left hand. Picking up her pair of poles in her right, she inched her way down the precipitous slope on her bottom and her heels. By now the rain was coming down and the top of the snow was turning to a mushy layer over the underlying ice. Things were not looking good to poor old Binder.

Then the rescued crane-fly picked itself up from Jungle’s palm and fluttered off to who knows where to die it’s inevitable horrible lonely death. Leaving us, at last to get on with a chance of saving our own miserable wet skins.

We made it eventually to the haven of the refuge, where Binder happily tucked into a restorative bottle of red after pitching Wanda on the last available tent spot.

A splendid day!


  1. Love the opening photo. Very nice Alan. Very nice indeed.
    Splendid piece of creative writing to support it.

  2. Ooh Alan: You are toooooo kind!
    Creative? It's all true, I tell you!

  3. Sorry Alan, i didn't mean creative meaning Untrue, i meant it to mean creative in a descriptive way.
    It's me poowr grasp oft English language, the nose!

  4. Delightful photos and a wonderful, fun piece of writing!

  5. Swanscot: You are toooooo kind! The photos just need a point & shoot camera (all I ever take) as the views just beg to be photographed.
    And the trip was great fun too.

  6. Come on Binder, leave off the creative writing for a while and let me have that report on the effect of a diet of wasps on the human body. Or I'll tell you all about my new fiancee...

  7. ...but you make no mention of the porters. Surely you didn't abandon them at the col? Or maybe some dispute over pecuniary remuneration has led to their departure? Lovely pics (even if they are just pointed at and shot)

  8. All this is bringing back very happy memories of our HRP crossing six years ago, though we didn't make it to Refuge d'Ayous, and Pic du Midi d'Ossau was mostly shrouded in cloud.
    You have now reached the end of our third, out of 11, slide film. It's fascinating. Keep going Binder....
    Martin and Sue

  9. A seriously good chuckle Mr.S!

  10. Nice post, especially ending with red wine!

  11. Oh my, it seems that I've been missing some interesting tales in my self imposed absence. I have some reading to do!

  12. Fiddler: Please do tell us all about your fiancee. I need to know all the details - are you missing her? Is she good to you?

    Pennine Ranger: Alas, the porters abandoned us at the Baggage Reclaim in Toulouse on the journey out. I think Jungle upset them - must have been their interpretation of her stomach belch

    Martin: Missed out on the Refuge D'Ayous? Tut, Sir! They sell beer and wine there.

    FatDog: Maisie would love the Refuges. Somewhere warm & dry to sleep with lots of opportunities for tit-bits.

    Alistair: Red Wine is vital to restore one to one's physical and mental peak.

    WP: Missed out on the blogs? Shame Sir! Shame!

  13. 'ere, bladdy Sloman,
    If we hadn't just returned from a fantabulous fortnight in the Bernese Oberland (to get fit for a ½ marathon in the Lakes this coming weekend) I could be exceedingly jealous of your stravaiging in the Pair 'o knees. As usual your literary style is highly commendable putting my meagre efforts to shame. Looking forward to the next installment.

  14. Having just read your account, OG, of the Swiss Highlands, I feel a little breathless. I think I shall have a restorative snifter and a little lie down to take it all in properly.
    I think you should too. All this tearing about isn't good for a chap, you know.


Because of spammers, I moderate all comments, so don't worry if your comment seems to have disappeared; It has been sent to me for approval. As soon as I see it, I'll deal with it straight away.
Thank you!