The destination today is Lescun. Not far, but little do I know of the way ahead. It starts off well enough until I find I have taken the wrong route out of Jeandel and am headed up Pic d’Anie. I retrack, annoyed at myself as I have lost time gained from an early start and added a couple of unwanted kilometres.
Jeandel in the summer has none of the fairy snow covered ski pistes. The scene is one of utter devastation, abandoned machinery, snow ploughs and pylons.
Eventually i get clear of the rock strewn deserted apocalypse to enter the limestone karst scenery with towering limestone cliffs. It is at this point I come to realise one does not simply walk into Mordor on a summer’s day…
A lone Ork-like creature appears up ahead on the path snarling. It’s eyes hard and vicious. I stand my ground, nowhere to go. It stands it’s ground. “WArghh Rahhh PhatTT!” I boom as loudly as I can. What do you know, turns out I speak Ork! I raise my walking sticks in my best Gandalf impression and strike the ground hard. No lightening but it does the trick. The creature watches me balefully as I pass. I spot a dead sheep’s carcass not far off, is it guarding or feasting on its flock?
The landscape becomes more desolate. The markers are difficult to spot in the mist and I lose my way a couple of times. When you’re off the path a few metres, you are off the path a mile. I wish I had some hobbit and dwarf companion guides. I think I qualify for some, my feet are certainly turning hobbit-like, toes splaying thick-soled.
The way gets narrower, steeper, higher and mistier. Not being able to see the drop does not calm the nerves. I concentrate on placing every step securely. Up, up and up some more finally to a gap in the rockwall, hang on to rope chains, climb pulling myself, my pack and poles up, over and I’m through. Phew.
As I am nearing Pas de l’Osque, I come across another lone walker, the first person I have seen today. Her name is Laurie, she started walking the GR10 on the 1st July and has another week to go. She tells me I am near the top, the sun is shining on the other side. She warns me “winter is coming, watch out for snow”. I warn her of Mordor, orks and chains. We wish each other well and pass on our way.
Finally I reach the pass, the clouds clear and I can see down into a bright sunlit valley.
As I descend the mountain I hear faint singing riding up on the breeze. Sometimes merry and upbeat, then switching to low and mournful. It’s coming from deep in the valley, from the Cabane du Cap de la Baitch, a couple of huts barely discernible from the white rocks surrounding it.
About 50 minutes later I arrive at the cabane. Well knock me down, it’s the dwarves! Eating, drinking, drunk on red wine and love songs. They have a small child with them and a great big shaggy friendly patous dog. This patous dog a far cry from the ork-like beast on the dark side of the mountain.
I don’t know if it’s the songs, the easy company or relief from surviving Mordor, but it makes me emotional and I can’t help but well up a wee bit. Don’t let the dwarves see of course, they think I’m barmy.
I have lunch (pork pate baguette) and soon I am on my way again. Goodbye to the dwarves, Frodo and the Mountain of Doom.
Well that should have been enough for one day. Except a couple of hours later I loose the path yet again. I check my map and GPS and locate it far off to my right at the bottom of the mountain-side. I have missed a turn and wandered off along a sheep track which has got increasingly narrow until petering out. I try a few steps down but immediately loose my footing – too steep to walk down. My choice turn back, retrace my steps adding another hour to todays walk or sit and slide down on my bum. Decision made. I tie everything on tight, brace myself and push off with my poles. Slowly at first but I pick up speed slashing through grasses and ferns as I go. And the occasional gorse bush. Ouch. Owwww! Damnit!!! My poles acting as brakes against a full helter skelter tumble down.
Finally I’m at the bottom. I get up, unpick gorse from my bum, dust myself off and as if I do this everyday stroll into Lescun to the best gite etape yet – Gîte d’étape La Maison de la Montagne. Hottest shower, sofest bed, a room to myself, friendliest landlady and a fabulous dinner. With a bottle of wine from USA Bruce, German Gert and a young Belgian couple for company, we put the world to rights late into the night.