The Fall

Saturday 4th June

I broke camp and it wasn’t long before I was pursued up the path by a herd of cows off to their summer pastures. It was to be a day of hurrying and feeling that I couldn’t stop. There were more stunning views when I eventually got to the top, passing a cabana (mountain hut) on the way by a divergence of the GR10, which in hindsight I should have returned to. I continued along the contour again passing many gorgeous flowers of every colour and shape and another field of marmots.

The snow started to thicken here shortly and I foolishly climbed around it. Not easy with a full 15kg rucksack on. I then had to take my boots off to ford a fast flowing stream but still I pressed on. I headed up through the snow field conscious of the large nimbus clouds coming over the mountain range behind me. I kept going and with sun fully out I started to see pink as didn’t have sun glasses on. Too late I realised that with my shadow in front of me at midday, I was headed up a south face and the north face was likely to be worse. It was. Much, much worse.

As I crested the top at 2700 m I realised my mistake as thick snow lay everywhere. Then the clouds and fog descended and for the second time I was in a white out. This was to prove far worse than the last time. I followed the GPS and headed from dark shape in the mist to the next dark shape that would loom out as I slowly and painfully descended. I was zig-zagging and changing my single walking pole from hand to hand trying to remember to keep it on the upper most side of the slope.

Suddenly my feet gave way and down I went tobogganing on my backside and rucksack. thundering downwards, I managed to roll onto my front and dig my hands into the snow but that did nothing to reduce my speed. I didn’t have an ice axe. I rolled over onto to my back and lay there, plummeting down, thinking my last words in this world are going to be SHIIIIIT. Finally I did manage to dig my feet in and came to stop shortly before the Lac d’Angles – otherwise they may have changed the name to Lac d’Anglais.

Luckily nothing was broken or lost and by some amazing coincidence I was still on the right path albeit I had descended 700 metres in a matter of minutes.  In my shorts I was freezing, wet through and my hands were burning with the cold. My mouth was cracked and sore.

I decided to press on and look for somewhere warm to get changed. Bizarrely out of the fog I heard dogs barking and met three young French army cadets and their young Alsatian puppies camped on an island of grass in the snow. We exchanged snow news (which wasn’t good news in this case) and I pressed on down, anxious to get out of the cloud and my cold, damp clothes. Following a welcome, brief sunny period, to add insult to injury it began to rain. I passed a shepherd’s hut but decided to not go in as it looked damp.  An hour later I arrived at dreary, deserted Gabas. I pressed on for Eaux-Bonnes but camped half way at the base of the funicular.

Tomorrow I will have to make some tough decisions about the next steps to the coast.

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