Finding my legs on the HRP

Day 2: Lac d’Ayous – Lac de Pombie (11km, 900m ascent via Col de can’t remember and Col de l’Iou – 2,194m)

After yesterday’s struggle in the heat, I was set on starting as early as possible and avoiding most of the climb in the midday sun. I set off from Ayous at 7am (after waking up at 5.40am – must improve breaking camp time) and made my way up the first col. It was a beautiful hour in the shadow of the giant surrounding peaks and sounds of cowbells.

I eventually reached Lac Castéreau, nestled at the foot of its beautiful namesake peak. I must confess I almost pooped myself at that point, which led me to using my trowel for the first time on this adventure. I can’t say I’ve mastered the art of digging a cat hole yet but your girl is trying.

I made my way down to the valley floor, which is both relaxing and frustrating given that absolutely every meter of descent will have to be climbed again and then some.

Before I made my way uphill in between two imposing rock faces, I stopped by a tiny farm and bought some cheese as well as some creamy, proteiny byproduct of cheese making called Greuil. It was super tasty and I could literally see the sheep whose milk had made the cheese so it felt right to stop and enjoy the finest of local products.

The way up was steep but it was in the shade for the first part, which helped greatly. The inevitable sunlight hit me as I reached a wee plateau. I powered on slowly and stopped to give my legs a rest by the Lac de Peyreget, located right at the foot of the northeestern face of the Pic du Midi and the Pic de Peyreget.

The day so far had been good and I was happy with my progress, despite it being still way slower than the book’s indicative times. How has my body changed on these past months, I thought! Was it just because of my heavy food or had I really lost most of my fitness? Or was it the altitude which was greater on the HRP than on the GR10? From being a couch potato for 4 months at sea level to hiking the equivalent of almost two Munros in one day at over 2,000m altitude, there was quite a contrast. One that I was perhaps underestimating. Everything always looks so achievable on paper!

From the Lac de Peyreget I opted for the longer but much less boulders variant. I felt like pacing myself and building my fitness back up so this was a good choice. Plus it gave me beautiful views of the Spanish side so it was a win win.

I arrived at the Lac and Refuge de Pombie at 14.30, on time to find a great spot to camp and have a swim in the lake. And I mean swim, not just a dip. It was perfect!! The sun was still shining hard when I came out so my stuff dried in no time (I didn’t take a swimming costume on this trip).

Later I shared a beer with Bruno, whom I met the night before and whom I’ll likely share a few more camping nights with since he’s also following the HRP, at least until Gavarnie, where we’ll hopefully meet a few others for a nice meal.

I had a terrible dinner of half rehydrated tortellini with a kind of tomato sauce thing but it was very salty and chewy. Not how I imagined it would taste! Dried mango saved my meal.

Tomorrow I continue on to Arrémoulit. The route is supposed to take a mere 5h however I think I’m more likely to complete it in 8! I must leave very early to beat the storm, due at 18.00 at the latest. I am feeling a bit nervous about the incoming thunderstorm but that is all part of hiking in the Pyrenees in summer so I guess I must experience that too.

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