One Hourquette is better than none (wine is the best anti inflammatory)

HRP Day 10: Gavarnie to Héas (18km, 1,285m ascent via the Hourquette d’Alans – 2,430m)

I reluctantly left Gavarnie at 6.50am, knowing that I had a significant climb ahead and unsure my tendinitis could take me all the way.

As soon as I entered the Arribama Forest, I started feeling unwell. The kind of unwell where your stomach is in knots and you need to use the toilet. I don’t know what I was so anxious about starting another day. I think part of me felt unprepared after 2 full days resting. I was no longer in the flow of things and I was scared hiking again was going to be a struggle. The town vortex had swallowed me whole.

I recorded a little video, as if to simply cure the problem by acknowledging it, and continued uphill towards the Refuge des Espuguettes. Quitting was not an option. I only had a few more days until this hike was over and there was no way I’d quit early.

To my surprise, I was marching the signposts’ times, which proved that 2 days of rest hadn’t quite transformed me back into a couch potato.

I met an older trail runner near the refuge and had the typical conversation I’ve been having with so many people on trail: we said hello, he asked me if I was hiking alone, I said yes, he said it was brave, I responded not really, he insisted that it was, I told him he wouldn’t say this to a man, he left, told me to keep going (uphill), I returned the words of encouragements and he turned around with a surprised look on his face as if to say that I was the only one of the two of us who needed some encouragement to keep going uphill. Some men on trail have this habit of cheering you on and when you do the same with them they behave as if you’re patronising them. Welcome to my world. I needn’t be encouraged even if you think I look like I won’t make it to the top. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

I nursed my ankle at the refuge for a good 30mins, massaging it and dipping it in the source. Before long I was back on trail with two older men from Pau who had for objective to climb the Pimené, a nearby mountain over 3,000m. We hiked together until the junction where the path splits and I turned right, heading towards the pass. It was easy enough compared to the other passes from the previous days. This one had a clear path, no boulderfields or snowfields – what a treat!

At the top the nearby peaks looked so beautiful and imposing. I could see the whole of the Cirque de Gavarnie, including the Brèche de Roland. It was inviting.

A few more HRP hikers showed up, including a Belgian couple who’d been section hiking the HRP over the last few summers, and two English guys who I’d spotted at the campsite in Gavarnie the last two nights. I noticed one of them had an Atom Pack, the second one I’d seen on trail so far. I started a conversation. Jack was hiking the HRP and Matt had joined him in Gavarnie.

I descended into the hot Cirque d’Estaubé, stopping quickly for lunch and topping up my water, and reached the Lac des Gloriettes in the full afternoon heat. It was the warmest day on trail so far. I was tired, my ankle was sore from the descent and I was dying for a swim. As soon as I reached the northern end of the lake, I deviated from the path, took my clothes off and jumped in. The water was cold and clear. It felt so good. I stayed in a wee while and then let the sun dry my skin and underwear.

Up a little hill there was a café. I decided an Orangina would do me a world of good after that refreshing swim. There I met Jack and Matt, who we’re discovering their new love for Lipton Peach Iced Tea. We talked for a while and headed off to Héas together. I got us a hitch from the lake’s car park down to the main road as none of us fancied walking on tarmac for a whole 5kms and from there we hiked to the tiny village where we checked in with Soazig at La Munia.

Shortly after arriving, Jean showed up. He’d left Gavarnie at 10.30am and had powered uphill, staying true to himself.

We set up our tents and headed back to the B&B for dinner. I did the translation between the boys and we enjoyed our surprise menu, not knowing what each course would throw in our plates. It was excellent. Englishmen having an affinity for cheap (and very good) french wine, we ordered a bottle, then a second. Jean did not partake as he had an early morning the next day. Jack and Matt were not really concerned about anything other than “right now”.

Suddenly, a big storm broke out and strokes of lightning filled up the sky. It was impressive. A true Pyrenean thunderstorm at the end of an exceptionally hot day. We took refuge inside the B&B and played a game of dice which Matt has brought with him. I must say that it was excellent weight for entertainment value. We ordered a third bottle between the three of us and laughed our way to the end of the game, which Matt won.

I went to “bed” in a white wine daze, with no ankle pain and a plan for the following day.

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