From St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the afternoon we hiked along the chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle to the refuge Orisson. The next day followed for a while the chemin StJdC to Col de Bentarte, where we started to follow the GR11 into Spain. Our plan was to take the Haute Route Pyreneene (HRP) but a fog came up very rapidly (not uncommon in Basque country) and since the route was not well signed at all, we decided to go down to Fabrica de Orbaitzeta. There we wanted to pick up the GR11 again, but we got lost and wandered around for a while. We went down all the way and picked up the path along the river Irati Ibaia to the Embalse de Ibaria. Meanwhile, the blisters on M’s feet were starting to become really bad (the necessary precautionary sport tape was forgotten on this trip). After some discussion it was decided to take a taxi to Ochagavía, where an extra day was spend to heal the wounds and buy tape for the rest of the trip.
After the difficult start we slowly moved again with an easy hike to Isaba, where we stayed in a hotel and watched a game from the World Championship Soccer. All the small Spanish villages turned out to be without much entertainment, but this part of the GR11 is easy going. Our next destination, the nice camping – with bar – at Zuriza, is where we were able to watch the semi-finals between Spain and Germany (which Spain won). The next day we hiked up to the Collada de Petraficha and camped somewhere on the way down to the parking place in the valley of the rio Aragón Subordán. From there the hike up to the Puerto d’o Palo and the route along the broad ridges to the refuge d’Arlet is smooth and easy going with nice views on large green mountain meadows. After a softdrink and a beer at the refuge with its ‘peculiar’ warden – we had met him before at an earlier trip – we set up camp on the grassy fields close to the lake. And just as one year before, we encountered a nice rainstorm. The last day of the first part of our trip we hiked down to Borce / Etsaut where we took the bus to Oloron-Sainte-Marie to watch the World Championship Soccer final between Spain and Holland (which we lost).
The second part of our trip started at the Col du Somport where we hiked via de Col de Mornès to the refuge d’Ayous. We camped at the nice grassy meadows below the refuge with the very characteristic view on the west face of de Pic du Midi d’Osseau. Via the HRP we continued our trip to the refuge de Pombie via de Col de Peyreget with its nice views on all the surrounding mountains. The trip became more impressive by the day, when the next day we continued to the Refuge d’Arrémoulit. In this rocky area it is difficult to find a spot to pitch your tent, but we were lucky to find the last two beds in the large tent next to the refuge available for us. After an afternoon in the sun with a glass ofwine and watching the hut warden sail the small lake, we even enjoyed a great dinner at the refuge. The Collado del Arriel brought us back into Spain where we spend the night at the Refugio de Respumoso. Here we met a Dutch couple that very kindly borrowed us their crampons for the rest of the trip (actually only needed to cross the Gran Fache the next day). In two days we walked via the Gran Fache, after camping near Refuge Wallon, via the Gave d’Arratille to the Refuge des Oulettes de Gaube. Especially the part between the Puerto de Arratil and Col des Mulets on the second day of this trajectory we found spectacular because of the large masses of stones and the threat of a nearing thunderstorm.
The magnificent north face of the Vignemale is a great decorum for a campsite. Our early arrival and the great weather made this a perfect day, as well as watching the enthousiasm of fellow campers coming down after climbing the Vignemale. The next morning we realized that the place also has its drawbacks, when we walked to the Refuge the Bayssellance via the Hourquette d’Oussoue. Hordes of people walked this same path. Luckily after the Refuge and especially after crossing the Barranco d’Oussoue everything became quiet again. Via the Col des Gentianes and the Lac Glacé we found a great camping spot on the Lac des Oulettes d’Estom. The location, the warm afternoon sun and the absolute quietness made this a place to remember. The next day, a long hike through the Vallée du Lutour brought us back to Cauterets and we had experienced yet another great trip!