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The Perfect Storm

Fri 23 Jul 2010 20:46 » Jon

During the first ten days I got used to walking in the rain, but I never had to pack up and set off in the rain, partly due to luck and partly because I stayed in refuges so much. For some reason walking in the rain is OK, but setting off is a different matter.

After we left the refuge and pitched our tents on Wednesday night the rain returned, and carried on through till Thursday morning. Neither of us had the courage to pack up until there was a gap in the rain, so we didn’t get moving until 09:30. Even then we were warily watching the clouds, trying to predict when we’d get soaked.

We were actually quite lucky, and apart from the odd spit, we didn’t see much rain until the afternoon. Even then there were only a couple of showers, but in full Gore-tex we got through unscathed.

After a break at Refugi de Baiau (2517m), we began the climb up to Port de Baiau (2757m). This was similar to the 78% climb I mentioned a few days ago, with one vital difference: that was on grass, while this was on a combination of boulders and extremely mobile scree – so mobile that at times we went backwards. It was incredibly hard work – probably the toughest climb of the trip that didn’t involve snow.

We had a fairly easy walk down from the summit to Refugi de Comapedrosa, where we met the English gang we’d spent Tuesday evening with – Andy, Sarah and Steven – and also another Brit doing the HRP, Barry. Klaas and I joined them for the evening meal in the refuge and discussed how to survive in lightening, but decided that after some poor nights’ sleep in refuges recently, we’d camp nearby. This seemed like a good decision until about 01:30.

The last few days there’s been a lot of counting the gaps between flashes of lightening and thunder to work out how far away the storm is, but last night this became completely irrelevant, as all hell broke loose directly over our tents. It was the biggest, brightest, loudest, heaviest and most intense storm I’ve ever experienced.

For the first half hour it was normal thunder and lightening – enough to wake me up through my ear-plugs, but nothing unusual. At 02:10 though, the rain and thunder subsided, but the lightening intensified. I began counting the seconds of constant lightening, but after one hundred I gave up and started using my watch. I desperately wanted to stick my head out and watch what must have been an amazing display, but after the earlier conversation I was a little concerned that if I sat up then I’d be instantly fried.

After seventeen minutes of lightening flashes no more than a few seconds apart, the rain returned, the thunder became louder than ever, and they were joined by hail and a gale-force wind for added entertainment.

The combination was terrifying. The hail became so heavy that it was hitting me through the tent, even though I was lying down – I ended up in the foetal position in the middle of my tent, where it’s highest, desperately hoping that the pegs would stay in the ground and the tent would stay upright.

After about two hours the storm subsided and I got some sleep. There were a couple of minor thunder storms (directly overhead again) as we woke up, but nothing to compare to the big one.

We joined Andy, Sarah, Steven and Barry for breakfast, and they were quite relieved to see that we’d survived! They’d been watching from their dorm when the lightening had hit the refuge’s conductor – apparently there’d been a loud bang and the window had blown open.

Luckily the rain gradually died away. Klaas and I took a while to get over the trauma of the storm and didn’t leave until 10:00, but had another good day, beating the guidebook’s times easily. We had some sun during the day, so all the kit is dry again, and this evening we’re on a campsite with warm showers, so we’re feeling a lot more relaxed than in the early hours!

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