Sunday 26 July 2015
Refuge Oulettes - Gavarnie
This morning I said farewell to my Dutch friends Joost, Kaatje & Irena who are walking down to Cauterets & then home. It has been nice talking to and walking with them.
I set off after breakfast to climb to the Hourquette d'Ossoue, 2734m, the highest col so far. A 600m climb, and I was pleased to complete it in 1hr 50m, quicker than the guide's expected 2 hrs. On the way there are fine views of Vignemale, which you walk right next to.
From the col it is a short walk to Refuge Bayssellance, at 2563m the highest manned refuge in the pyrenees. Then, a long and difficult descent that continues all the way to Gavarnie. Descending is a slow business for me at present, because of my ailing knees and because the poles I acquired in lescun are too short. I must buy some new ones in Gavarnie, and then try to speed up a little if I can.
The tedious descent was enlivened by two things. First, it passes the Grottes Bellevue, three caves hollowed out of the mountain in the 1880s at the behest of the rich and deeply eccentric Lord Henry Russell. One for him, one for his guests, and one for meals - and we are talking Persian carpets, waiters, candelabra and full evening dress here. Wikipedia has more about this remarkable man, in whose honour Pic Russell is named.
The other excitement was a close encounter of the marmot kind. Marmots are one of my favourite animals - furry, cuddly, and totally harmless. Think oversized guinea pig, though technically they are a type of squirrel. They have a loud warning whistle that you hear a lot, but they are harder to see and seldom come as close as this one did. They were hunted to extinction in the pyrenees, but after the second world war some alpine marmots were reintroduced and they are now widespread. They are herbivore and hence not a pest or a threat to anything else much, bless 'em.
Eventually I reached Gavarnie and my first proper bed and shower since lescun.