Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Distance 17 km
Duration 6 hours 30 minutes
Ascent 575 m, descent 1340 m
Map 69 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topo-guide (ref. 1086) Pyrénées Occidentales
Our sleep had been short after the retreat from the storm and our possessions were in a muddle. A couple of things were still outside, luckily blown against the cliff and not over it.
We had breakfast in mild sunshine on a bench beside the door, repeated our thanks to Jean, who would not hear of taking money for our unexpected nocturnal visit, and set off. Taking a short-cut over the spongy turf, we joined the road coming up from the ski-resort to a deserted chair-lift station.
The GR then turned onto a path picking its way across a slope of bleached, broken, fissured limestone, dotted with small pines. Every step of the way was loose and awkward, but the flowers were beautiful – buttercups, daisies, small pink roses, blue campanulas – spilling out of every crack. Patches of snow imitated the white rock.
Eventually we came to a col and met the stony road again. We wasted time hunting for the GR here, but finally worked out that it followed the road down briefly, then struck off to the right across an even rougher and rockier expanse. To our left the land fell away to a far valley, to the right a long scree-slope led up to a cliff.
The path climbed a crevice between two soaring rock towers and we had to haul ourselves and our ungainly packs up, hand over hand. Keith got his pack stuck in a tree halfway and was cursing by the time we got to the top.
This was the Pas de l’Osque. It was a knife-edge and the wind almost tore us away, but the descent was surprisingly easy.
We arrived at a shallow valley and climbed again to the last col of the day, the Pas d’Azuns. Here we stopped for a preliminary lunch (bread and sardines), with great pointed peaks all around.
The sheer drop in front of us was a bit of a worry, but the track went round the corner and zig-zagged comfortably into the valley. We stepped off the scree onto short green grass.
At the little stone emergency shelter, water from melting snow from the Pic d’Anie was pouring out of a spout and we filled our empty bottles.
From here we took a leisurely downward path along the valley floor. We met a man striding up, out for a day’s walk from the roadhead. He was French and had done the full Pyrenean traverse a few years ago. He made us promise faithfully to do the Tour of the Pic du Midi (we had no intention of it).
Then we entered a beautiful forest of pines and beeches. More walkers appeared, which we took as a sign that the road was not far away, but we were wrong.
By the time we reached the carpark at Labérouat, the charms of the forest had long since worn thin. There was a refuge at this point and for a crazy moment we thought there might be a bar, but the place was derelict.
After finishing off the last of our bread and sardines – slightly better than nothing – we continued down towards the village of Lescun.
The GR was overgrown but direct enough and an hour later we came down through a steep field into the streets of Lescun. It was a charming huddle of grey-roofed houses clinging to the slope above the river and surrounded by a wide bowl of farmland.
Keith was so tired that he could hardly take another step, with his huge pack. We fell into chairs outside a bar for our first coffee of the day, a deeply pleasurable experience, and decided that we would have a rest day tomorrow in this excellent town.
Leaving Keith motionless, I went back to the Hotel du Pic d’Anie and reserved a table for the evening, just in case.
When we felt sufficiently restored, we put our boots on and walked the extra kilometre, sharply down and up, to the camping ground. Nobody was in attendance but it looked green and pleasant, so we had showers, put up the tent, crawled in and slept the sleep of the just.
When we woke it was late and the valley was full of mist. We had to hurry back to the shop before it closed at 7pm, after which we retired to the downstairs bar of the hotel for apéritifs.
The only other occupants were two sturdy British walkers, here to climb the Pic d’Anie in the morning. They were amusing company and we ended up eating together in the dining room upstairs. David and Alan had been friends since childhood, although David now lived in France.
The dining room was large and low-ceilinged, with a wonderful creaking dumb-waiter contraption hauling the food up from the kitchen below.
The choice was the €15 menu or nothing. We had melon balls in port, then blanquette de veau and finally Lescun cheese or chocolate mousse. It rained torrentially while we were eating but we got back to the tent perfectly dry, just as darkness was falling.
We were settling down to sleep when a gym-mistressy voice shattered the peace a few inches from our ears – it was the municipal officer coming to collect the camping fee. This method evidently works better than having someone at the desk all day. After that we sank into another delicious deep sleep.