Day Nine – Scared on top of a snowy mountain.

Our dead end road did the trick. Apart from one car that surprisingly parked near us and pitched up a tent in the night, not a single car went past in the night. Feeling refreshed. We planned to set off, heading out of Gavernie. From now we would be heading northbound, hoping to split the journey back to Dieppe into manageable drives. On the way out, we planned to stop at a supermarket which was supposedly located very high up a mountain, at a ski resort. Unsure, we drove Ruby up there anyway as it was really close to where we had camped. The road was a steep, bendy climb, offering us more views of the Gavernie valley.We arrived at the closed ski resort, not surprised to find that there was no supermarket up there. It did give is an excuse to take some amazing pictures of the van coming back down.With lots of pictures taken, we set off once again. I had taken on navigational duties and had identified a walk that was fairly close, fairly in the right direction and fairly moderate to walk. As well as designated navigator, I was also the DJ, as Willow rarely chooses to play music whilst we’re driving. I may have got slightly distracted playing one of the greatest Pyrenees playlists the world has ever heard, and as a result forgot to tell Willow to turn off for the walk. As we had missed it by quite a considerable amount, we decided to head to the next closest town to find a supermarket. As luck would have it, it was closed for two hours over lunch time, and we had missed it by about twenty minutes. Someone was clearly trying to tell us something! With a shop out of the question, I found a new walk which was only a thirty minute drive from our current location. On my phone it looked fairly straight forward. A small walk up a valley, with a bit of a steep climb up to a lake at the end. Looked right up our street. We were soon roaring through the small ski village, hoping that this time I would pay more attention to navigation, rather than which loud screamy song I would play next. We parked up in the car park for a ski resort, which was now shut as the ski season had now finished. It had an eerie ghost town vibe about it, and apparently ghosts aren’t keen skiers because there weren’t any of them about either. The walk started at the bottom of the ski slopes and then followed a trail up through a small valley.Fortunately, the start of the walk was clearly marked and you walk alongside a small river running down through the valley. We were finding the climb was more managble with our steadily increasing fitness levels, which was a pleasant change from wheezing all the way up any slight incline. Eventually, the valley started opening up and you got a glimpse of the path we had walk so far.In front of us, the path had now been lost underneath a couple of feet of snow. Some people had clearly been up the walk a few weeks ago, as their footprints were still visible. We followed these for a few minutes and then I checked my phone to make sure we were still on track. We weren’t. We were on the trail that would have taken us to a peak of a mountain. We were left scratching our heads for a while as the phone was directing us directly up the small side of a mountain.If you close enough, you can see the trails of some insane skiers would must have recently walked up and then skied back down it. Again, the photo really doesn’t help give you a sense of how steep this part of the trail was, and we were seriously considering making the sensible decision of turning around and heading back, as we were definitely not prepared for a sharp incline in snow. Both being stubborn however, we did not. At least the sun was starting the shine for the first time in a while (Didn’t help our selfie though).We thought that if someone had climbed up there with skis, then it couldn’t be as difficult as it looked.From the start, walking in the snow was challenging. As it was now melting, there were channels of rivers running below it, and it was very easy to step in the wrong place and twist your ankle in a rocky stream.The route quickly became a hard scramble, and often required our hands and feet to stop us slipping down. Every step we took sapped us of energy, and I was really struggle to walk more than a few minutes without requiring a quick rest break. What made the walk even less enjoyable, was that my boots were completely soaked and were full of snow. We both kept pushing on though, unwilling to be beaten by a large slush puppy.After about an hour of struggling, I started to realise that we were climbing steeper than I first realised. Looking down now, as I continued to struggle for footings I started to worry about what might happen if I got a foot wrong. During one of our frequent stops, were we both now seriously still considering turning back, even after all of the hard work we had put in to getting as far as we had. Neither of us could do it though. We were so close. We started plotting what we believed to be safer routes up, but whether we tried grassy sections that were uncovered, or rocks, we founding it just as difficult as they were either very slippery or really loose. After one last push, we finally made it to the top.The views were unbelievable. In addition to the views, we also had the great smugness that we had actually managed to climb up. This was quickly replaced however, with the daunting realisation that we still had to go back down. We decided to traced our steps back, hoping to use our foot prints as a guide to safe footings. This worked fine until you got to sections where the snow was quite thin and we were unable to get a secure footing. In the end we decided to sled down the slope. Using our bums as the sleigh. This method was truly terrifying at first, but we quickly developed a technique and suddenly it became great fun.

Our sleighing technique got us back down in to time. Albeit very wet and very frozen.The rest of the walk was a breeze in comparison, as we retraced our steps back out of the valley.Back at the van, we quickly changed into warm, dry clothing and headed off back to the supermarket. This time it was open. We stocked up on lots of supplies and then parked up at a local car park, just outside of the town.That night we had the heating on full, ate stodgy pasta and crashed out exhausted, but very proud of our day’s achievements.This walk had definitely replaced Benn Damh as the toughest climb I had ever completed.This would be our final mountain hike of the holiday, as we would be putting some miles between us and the Pyrenees, and start our long drive back home.

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