On our last day, at dawn, the sun had turned the cliffs red. “Ciel rouge le matin, pluie en chemin – red sky in the morning shepherd’s warning,” said Anne-Marie. By lunchtime, soaked and shivering in a deserted car park at Superbagnères, we were desperate to change into the dry clothes in the car. Thankfully there was nobody around.
The walk had taken us from France into Spain over the Port de Benasque pass (2444m), up the Pico Cordier (3254m) and back over the Port d’Oô (2910m) into France. We had the help of professional guide for the Pico Cordier and the Port d’Oô.
Day 0: Bagnères de Luchon
We arrived in Bagnères de Luchon to discover a flower festival in full bloom.
Day 1: Hospice de France to the Refugio de la Renclusa
The first objective was the Port de Benasque
At the Refugio de la Renclusa the donkeys were friendlier than the receptionist. They also helped to eat up the dry sandwiches.
Day 2: Pico Cordier (3254m)
David dragged us across fields of boulders and scree, explaining that hardly anybody went there. Most people are attracted by the more prestigious Aneto – and discouraged by the fatiguing scrambling.
Helping us across this patch of snow, David lost balance and slipped down the slope on his back. Before we had time to think, he had twisted over acrobatically and thrust his ice axe into the snow. The second time he fell, he let go of the ice axe. I had just the time to wonder how we would rescue the crumpled mess at the bottom of the slope before he dug his feet in deep enough to stop himself.
On our second evening at the refuge we were paying our bill just before sunset when a young man rushed in, jabbering in Spanish. He had been at the Portillo superior watching a couple of climbers cross the glacier on the other side. He had seen them on the glacier, coming towards him, but they never arrived. He had waited two hours, but they had disappeared. He was sure something had happened to them. The hostel manager refused to phone the mountain rescue. They went outside to have a look but the manager shook his head. No, he wasn’t going to do anything. It was only the following evening, in Estós that we found out what had happened.
Day 3:Refugio de la Renclusa to Refugio de Estós
On the third day we passed by the ugly, evil-smelling health spa at the Baños de Benasque – for the seriously ill, I imagine – and up the rather prettier Literola valley.
In the Estós valley vultures were just finishing off the remains of a donkey.
We stayed at the Estós hostel overnight. Our guide came to join us again. Since David had been down in the valley all day, we asked him if there was any news of the lost climbers from the Portillo Superior. No, he said. People are always disappearing like that. The mountain rescue would only come out if someone was injured, not if they disappeared. There are so many ways across the glacier that people often ‘disappear’ like that by taking a different route.
Day 4: Refugio de Estós to Refuge du lac du Portillon
In the night a thunderstorm arrived, barrelling down the valley, spitting hail, but by dawn the clouds had started to disperse. On the path up to the Port d’Oô we saw first one, then a whole series of fire salamanders, yellow and black stripes darting away into the grass. I have only ever seen one before, but they are common here, David tells us.
This is another little-used route – beware: the passage is at the W end of the pass, though the cairns head for the E end, more popular with rock climbers.
Another tumble-jumble of rocks took us down to the Portillon and a comfortable refuge, with a smile as well.
Day 5: Refuge du lac du Portillon to Superbagnères
Our last day and we have been walking in heavy rain, chased by thunder. The thermometer says 8 degrees centigrade. Two hours earlier I had remarked: “cinq jours de randonnée, et on est passé entre les gouttes – five days walking and we have managed to pass between the raindrops.”
Thanks to Claude, Anne-Marie and Evelyne for company and photos.This entry was posted on Thursday, September 8th, 2011 at 11:59 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a comment below, or trackback from your own site.