Day nine – near Col du Tourmalet

Today was the last real day we had for mountain walking as we wanted to allow ourselves plenty of time for the drive back to Dieppe. I fancied a nice long walk, not too many hard climbs but some descent views. This was apparently not something I was allowed, any walks fitting this description were not within our reach. The ‘easy’ walks nearby varied in the ascents from around 900m+, no thanks.

We found something we thought looked good, and began to drive there.

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However we managed to completely miss the turning by several miles and it was getting a bit late so we decided to head on into the town as we needed the supermarket anyway. Arriving in Luz-Saint-Sauveur, we found a large Carrefour which was very closed. These guys needed a serious two hour lunch break and we were in the middle of it, so we came up with a new plan, to head to a walk just outside of the town. This takes you up to Col du Tourmalet, which is also shut as it appears several still unmelted ski slops cross the road. Fortunately you can park at the bottom of the ski lift, and walk. The intended route looked like this, a steady hike to the lake up the valley, Lac dets Coubous. It’s not even 5 miles!!

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So we got ready, a bit better than yesterday as we remembered the water and a sneaky chocolate bar, and headed off.

The path starts along what looks like a ski run, and then a GR footpath forks off the left heading for the small wood. P1000344

The paths continues to climb up through the valley.

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It begins to rain, as usual. Hoping it will blow over we keep going up. The path was the rough track pictured for most of the route and now this stops.

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It is replaced by snow which is a little unclear as to where we should go as they waymarks are most likely under it. Still some other nutter has been here before so we follow their footprints for a bit.

P1000348Lee has the footpath on his phone with GPS so we can see how wrong we’re going. And the views are good…

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This is good as we are getting it completely wrong and following a path up to the peak rather than the one to the lake. We head back a bit and try to pick out the route, it’s very snowy. If you look you can see a zig zag path in the hill, this continues from right to left to climb between the highest peak on the left and the ones in the centre of the photo.

It didn’t look that great, it was already over a foot of snow where we were standing and it wouldn’t be the first time we had to turn back around because of snow. However, we had spent the morning faffing about and did not want to cut short our last proper walk, especially as we were so close. We wanted to see the lake! It was still early in the day, we could just go slowly.

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We started off to re-cross the river, this is something to be very careful about when it has been snowed over. The snow melts and runs underneath the still frozen snow above, you stand on it, and fall in the river. Which we both did. Still inexplicably we kept going.

We got quite excited by the tiny patch of blue sky that appeared. It was lovely to have some sun, but shining off a very snowy landscape makes it quite dazzling. Soggy and a bit cold, but I wish I had my sunglasses.

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And still we climbed, very slowly up. The snow is about 2-3ft deep so requires about 10x more effort than regular walking.

At this point we were just both being very stubborn. We only had to get over the ridge to see the lake, or head back down feeling like we hadn’t achieved anything. So we kept going…

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It is hard to get a sense of scale from the photos, but this is a very, very steep slope. Some of it requires you to be on all fours. This was particularly true when crossing the boulder patch in this photo. The rocks here were incredibly loose and loosing your footing even for a brief second is not a fun experience.

We also found that less snow is worse! In some places it has melted to only a few inches thick, you put this over a grassy mountainside and it becomes incredibly slippy and there’s not really much to hold on to. I found myself actually saying those terrible words, “I wish I had a lekky!”

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At this point we are very close to the top, it’s a final push over the ridge. Here everything hates you. The snow is deeper, the climb is steeper and even the grass is sharp and spiky. I stopped taking photos because I was focusing on not falling off and dying. To saw we were out of breath was an understatement, we stopped every few minutes to catch our breath before continuing.

We did make it though, finally. Here is the very, very frozen lake. Complete with mountain refuge which I did contemplate living in rather than going back down.  P1000361

A panorama worthy moment.

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We were now faced with the descent. It took use about two hours to make it up here and I don’t think either of us were looking forward to going back down. After falling over and slipping several times, it seemed inevitable that it would be worse going the other way.

We started off slowly, trying to follow our return route so we could use our original footsteps. As a pleasant surprise it was actually a lot easier going down.

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We skirted the horrid boulder patch and then decided that instead of walking we would sled down on our coats. This would save us sinking as much and meant we couldn’t fall over, the only issue was stopping.

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After a few practice runs, it was actually quite easy to dig your heels in and slow down. Progress felt a lot quicker and weirdly safer. It was also incredibly fun, if very cold and wet.

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We made it accident free to the bottom in about half an hour and then retraced our steps down the snow free path in about the same time.

Even from right at the bottom of the mountain, you can see our bum prints running through the snow.

One of the advantages of the camper is that you have everything with you, so getting changed in the car park is not an issue. The heated seats also went on and we headed for the supermarket again.  After stocking up and washing all our wet horrible clothes we headed a few minutes up into the town to find a quiet car park for the night.

It then started raining which meant trying to dry all the washing inside the van, not as easy as it sounds!

 

 

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