HRP Chapter 14: The Fork
Harv and I tiptoe out of camp while it’s still dark, opting to skip breakfast. The morning climb is steady and we make excellent progress. After a while we pass a sign that declares, “Coll de Sellente: 45 minutes” in big letters. Wow! We really are doing a phenomenal job this morning. Imagine that, less than one hour of climbing left!
Mind games. Always with the mind games on this trail. Forty-five minutes later, we’re still nowhere near the pass. We keep passing signs with time estimates that make absolutely no sense, and we get our hearts broken by about a million false cols. Where even are we right now? And which crack-smoking asshole made the signs around here?
But when we finally reach Coll de Sellente, it’s just as Tom Martens described: a big, broad pass from which we can see the little orange Refuge de Baborte in the distance.
Things go better on the downhill (go figure), and pretty soon we’re descending past the unmanned refuge toward the largest Baborte Lake just below it. Here we stop for water and food. A naked man is busy drying his gear on the opposite shore. Once he has his tent spread out in the sun, he slips into the water and starts scrubbing his armpits vigorously. I start thinking maybe I should do the same, since I’m so sweaty and disgusting.
In the meantime, we cook up some breakfast. Arne comes by while we’re eating. He shares how he got lost on the other side of Coll de Sellente, and we tell him about our frustrations with the signage. Well, we’re all here now, thank God.
Once we’ve eaten and our pal has hiked on, I decide my time has come. The water is deep and so clear that I can see trout swimming several feet below the surface. I tiptoe in.
Wow! The temperature is surprisingly perfect. I savor the water’s cool embrace, which is tempered by the warm sun on top of my head. My scalp is a Petri dish, so I dip my head underwater, rake my nails through my hair, and come up stinging but feeling slightly more human. Then I just drift this way and that as all my tension melts away.
Eventually, duty calls; I can’t just laze around swimming all morning! Also, I can see two hikers coming downhill toward us and I’m currently super naked, so I drag myself out and flop on the warm grass to air dry for a minute before getting dressed. Sigh. What a good swim.
“Good morning! We have a present for you,” says Lukas when he and Nathalie arrive. He pulls something small and blue out of his pocket. It’s a fork! Remembering that we lost our spoons, they poked their heads inside the refuge just now and found this one and brought it for us.
What good friends they are. We appreciate this gift all the more for having just spent 20 minutes trying to shovel couscous into our mouths with a spare tent stake.
How long have we been sitting here? It must have been a long damn time already, because everyone we have ever met in our entire lives is passing us by. Next up: Valerie and Silvan. We only chitchat for a little while, and then we decide it’s time to get moving.
The sun climbs as we descend. The heat builds until the trail is a blistering hellscape; my refreshing swim already feels like a lifetime ago. We cool down again in the river that crosses the valley floor, and then the trail starts uphill again. The sun cooks us mercilessly.
Curse the day star! This heat is going to be the death of me. We pass a couple of day hikers and a tiny dog that seems far too adorable to be real. I’m not into small dogs, but even I have to admit that this little guy is freaking cute, and I fall in love instantly. An hour later I’m still thinking about how it wobbled around on its toothpick legs and looked up at me with its big sad eyes. Gwah.
As we climb, I entertain myself by rewriting various Cage the Elephant songs to be about couscous. I take to the exercise with surprising alacrity, and pretty soon I’m muttering under my breath as my new EP takes shape. Couscous on my left, couscous on my right, I’ve been eatin’ couscous almost all my life. My sweet couscous won’t you pull me through, everywhere I look I catch a glimpse of you …
I’m having too much fun with this dumb task, but it can’t completely distract me from the heat. We stop halfway up to get water from a tiny dribble that cuts across the shadeless tundra we’re traversing. Calling this thing a stream would be a stretch, and it takes forever to fill even one liter. But I’m eager to not shrivel up like a prune before we reach the pass, so I keep after it.
Near the top we encounter some beautiful black horses and two yearlings. The little ones are busy eating each other’s flies, but it looks as though they’re smooching, which is adorable. Why is everything so gosh dang cute today?
Arne walks up from behind us when we pause for a snack. I am impressed by this feat of teleportation, since I distinctly remember him passing us at the lake this morning. Turns out he hiked off route – off route! in this heat! – to get a sandwich at a manned refuge nearby.
Having already climbed 2000 meters today, we all stump up to the pass on fumes. The sky has grown ominous and we can hear quiet thunder in the distance, spurring us onward.
A large herd of sheep is grazing on the dry yellow grass in the col when we arrive. Meanwhile, the tall, lean shepherd is standing atop one of the peaks above us and yelling something down at the animals in a booming voice like Saruman remote-controlling Theoden from Orthanc.
I look around expectantly, hoping at the very least to see some murdering, pillaging Uruk-hai emerge fully formed from a boiling mud pit. This does not happen, so I trudge on toward the lake where we’ll be camping tonight, my mind back on dinner.
On the shores of Étang de Soucarrane, we reunite with Nathalie and Lukas. Camping with them again tonight is an unexpected yet delightful gift, since they hike so much faster than us. We all set up our tents quickly in case it starts raining, but miraculously, the weather holds all the way through dinner. Nathalie and Lukas are having noodles, while Harv and I enjoy yet more couscous with our snazzy new fork.
My mind wanders back to Cage the Elephant. You can drive, all ni-i-ight, looking for your couscous in the pouring rain. Wanna find, peace of mi-i-ind, looking for the couscous … Suddenly, I realize I’m muttering out loud again. I look around self-consciously to see if anyone noticed.
Nathalie shows us her horrific open foot wound over dinner. It looks quite painful, and we all cringe when a fly lands on it as she turns her foot this way and that so as to display the wound in the best possible light. “It’s not that bad,” she says with a casual shrug. “Whoa,” I think to myself. “That’s metal.”
While the rest of us prepare our meager and pathetic rations, Chef Arne explains the heritage of the traditional fisherman’s stew he’s making and starts literally toasting flatbread over his camp stove to go with it. He’s uncharacteristically quiet, though. I think we’re all just tired after today’s killing heat. We don’t stay up nearly as late tonight and everyone is in bed by 8 p.m.
By now the thunder has diminished and the angry clouds have moved away. Twice now the storms have spared us. How much longer will our good luck hold?
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.