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A month's extra snow

Thu 01 Jul 2010 14:18 » Jon

Because there’s a lot more snow around than usual, there’s also a lot more water in the stream and rivers. The path I was following came to a crossing after about 30 minutes this morning, but the water was way too high to cross. Someone had kindly placed some big metal pipes every couple of feet and piled rocks between them to try and create some stepping-stones, but the entire construction was under water.

One of the things Andy and I learnt on our recent trip to Dundonnel was that river crossings can waste a huge amount of time, so it wasn’t long before I decided to wade across bare-footed. It felt like it added about 20 minutes once I’d put the important things in dry bags, tied my boots onto the top of my bag, waded across the freezing melt-water and put my boots back on – by the time I’d found a way down to Refuge de Wallon it was 1:40 from where I’d camped.

The day’s climb began shortly after Wallon with a pleasant path up to Lac d’Arratille at 2247m, then the snow began again. I didn’t bother with the crampons to begin with as there were big rocky areas between the snow, but around 2350m I switched to crampons and climbed up to Col d’Arratille. This time there were obvious recent tracks, and meeting someone coming the other way increased my confidence. I met a French couple at the top (the second photo shows them heading down the way I’d come) and set off towards the next challenge – Col des Mulets.

The path to the col was a long traverse along some steep scree slopes, with gullies full of snow every now and again. I did the first few of these without crampons, then thought it would be a bit dumb if I fell while carrying the crampons so used them for a couple of the bigger gullies.

As I paused for a bite to eat, a couple caught me up and I heard English being spoken. They turned out to be a Welshman (Mark) and a Mackem (Heather), but despite this they were very friendly! We chatted for a while and Mark suggested most of the stuff could be done without crampons – all he had was a single wooden stick. He also mentioned that he owns the domain lescun.com, so I told him he’d make millions if he opened up a little internet cafe there.

They left me to eat a few oatcakes then I followed them up to the col (without crampons) and caught them up at the top, where Mark took the third photo, below. We walked down to Refuge des Oulettes de Gaube together, debating everything from the amount of snow (which is apparently what they’d expect at the beginning of June rather than July) to politics to the logistics of running a cafe in Lescun, then they stopped for a late lunch and I checked into the refuge.

Tomorrow I’m hoping to reach Gavarnie for my second rest day, but first I have to climb over to Refuge de Baysellance which I should have done at the end of today. In the book it’s down as taking 2:20, but the guardian here reckons 3:00 because of the snow, and crampons and axe will definitely be required…

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