Leaving Estaut early, my destination is Refuge Ayous high in the mountains over the Col d’Ayous Tu. This will split what is a very long stage to Gabas.

A path chiselled out of the cliff, the Chemin de la Mâture to take logs down for the French navy back in the day.

Fort du Portalet
Chemin de la Mâture

I’ve replaced the “bon jour” with “good morning!” convinced I’m passing more than just a few English speakers also thinking everyone walking is French. Today stopped for a chat with Scott and Catrine. Catrine is from Bayonne and Scott is an Englishman living for the last year in Lescun, in true hermit mode he says. Catrine is the collector of people’s stories and draws him out of himself. I wish I had more time to spend with them or that we are not going in the opposite direction.

Scott and Catrine

We chat why we walk, who walks and lots about Brexit, Dominic Cummings and the state of politics. Invites to visit and assistance if I should ever need it. Lovely people. Scott, Catrine, if you are reading this you have a place to stay in central London!

I’m feeling good today, legs strong, weather good. I stop at a point halfway up the valley lie back soak up the sunshine, have some lunch. A lone Frenchman turns up, Didier… He is on a 3 day circuit. “Did you not see me in the woods, you stop, drink, keep going… Ahhh she is warrior” he says. I’m definitely faking it! He has already walked over Col d’Ayous, so is trying a different route.

Spot Didier making his own paths. Impressed!

Didier says it is at another 2 hours to the top then 40 minutes down to the refuge. Damn! I have underestimated how much of the days walk had left, I thought just another hour. I get going to encounter the endless mountain pass with no top. Thigh burning climb. Finally crossing of the Col d’Ayous, the reward is spectacular views of the Pic du Midi d’Ossau.

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Pic du Midi d’Ossau

The refuge is jam packed. Some on long treks, many just up for a day or two, a quick two hour walk up from the car park. Sleeping is packed in like sardines, 10 to a room. And no showers! Smelly.

I catch up with Boris and Philippe. They are skipping Gabas and aiming for Cabane de Cecy. It will make the following day to Gourette easier. Another English couple at the refuge, Andrew and Diana also have the Cabane in their sights. I decide to join them, a night out in the mountains with company appealing.