We last wrote from Bagnetes de Luchon, missing out the days prior (Germ to lac d’Oo & lac d’Oo to Bagneres de Luchon – more on ‘the missed days’ later), but more on them later. Our announcement of entering the Ariege was misleading in that it was short lived. After a couple of long days and a refuge experience from hell we packed it in and hitched a ride out (babies;).
Day 1 we walked 27km (1524m up & 1630m down) and had a delightful stay in hotel in Fos. The walk was long, but sped-up by the introduction of down hill scampering – not quite running but more than walking and with elements of attempted pole vaulting owing to our newly acquired trecking poles.Day 2 (17.9km) saw us climb 1651m, mostly through cloud and mist, to arrive at spectacular views from Col d’Aueran when the sun finally broke through. Our destination was 245m down: refuge de I’Etang de Araing. There were at least 40 people staying there, and just 1 shower and 2 toilets. This, however, was all managed quite well and was not the problem. The tipping point was somewhere between the snore-chestra of the night (dormitory accommodation and inadequate ear plugs), the rubbish breakfast (crap coffee, powdered milk, nesquick if one wanted it and some scraps of last night’s bread), the hefty bill for the experience (equal to our lovely time in Fos living it up) and the 10.5 hour hike (day 3 in the Arriege) that followed.
Day 3’s hike started quickly: neither of us could wait to get out of there, despite the location’s beauty (and some fantastic elements of the evening before: good company at dinner and watching the international space station whizz by in an otherwise clear sky). After a relatively short climb, we crossed the col (sere d’ araing) and entered old mining territory. It was a hellishly steep descent and a stark, brutal landscape with the detritus of mining gear everywhere. It felt as if the descent was made more unkind by man’s influence. Nature has not had us on our posteriors with such force! [Stats for the day up to lunch: 7.3km, 310m up and 1270m down]. After a quick lunch the ascent began: 800m over 4km. The day was starting to heat up, so we were grateful for the coverage provided by oak and birch trees: more magical forest. At the top we took a variation to the GR10, as the alternative was staying in an unmanned cabin, and we aren’t carrying sleeping mats or bags, or a tent. The signposting indicated 3hrs to our destination: Bonac – but this suggestion must have been for a less warm day or a time when the path was better maintained. We fought our way through shrubs and spikey plants which had reclaimed the path. We squelched through mud down a narrow track sanwiched against an electric fence and rock. A shepherdess slowed our progress as our direction was interfering with her attempts to corral her sheep downhill. Then, another beautiful, but seemingly endless forest, despite the incorporation of the previously mentioned run-walking. 3 hours of descent later (don’t forget the previous eve’s snorechestra) finally Bonac appeared across a river. It was a relief, and also a surprise. As we walked up past the church and towards our gite, we came across something akin to a mefieval market place: stalls selling blueberries from the mountain, hand made leather sandals and flower based lotions and potions spread about before the overflowing bar of our gite. We later learned that the gite and the people selling their wares were part of a collective, or commune, which had been established some 10 or so years prior, or part of a neighbouring collective (ie there are a few in the area). The vibe was welcoming and time to relax was the agenda offered to us. Our original plan had been to continue the next day to Aunac, an 8.5-9 hr hike. It would be like this throughout the Ariege: because we were not carrying a tent, etc., each day would be a long hike between refuges..and because we only had rubbish, airline-issue earplugs..sleep would only be available on chance of missing the snorechestra! What to do? We’d not even been able to confirm the availability of accommodation for most of next week. For one of the days, we had a lead on a different route, into Spain, which might take us to a refuge and eliminate the need to just sleep in all our clothes and Mars blankets for one of the nights.. but as yet we’d not found the route on a map. What to do? The hippies were nice. We stayed for the night. We’d ordered a picnic for the advance. We were also treated to a rock and roll band that evening. The bass player played a tuba through a Korg keyboard and they played Kyuss tracks. There were also travelling Brit hippies. One was called the Bearded Clam and had a youtube channel. We have yet to investigate. He had a pink beard.
We were asked if we’d like a lift the next morning to St Giron, where there is an amazing Saturday market. It had become obvious that the bettet way to cross the Ariege was with a tent and as we don’t have enough time to do the route in entirety, we decided this would be somewhere we’d come back to and jettison ahead via a lift and public transport to Merens Les Vals to pick back up on the trail. We’ve now walked for 2 days from Merens – but one update at a time!