HRP Chapter 4: Kelly Meets a Happy Little Cloud
Larrau is very picturesque, though I’m not sure where all the people are. At first the only sign of life is a tiny hedgehog lying half-dead in someone’s driveway. Later, we encounter a family of four humans playing trinquet, a racquet sport similar to squash, at an outdoor court in front of town hall.
The people of Larrau are slightly obsessed with this sport. Besides the outdoor court, the tiny village also boasts a massive, state-of-the-art indoor trinquet facility in the heart of town. Every building is plastered with flyers advertising the facility and encouraging community members to sign up for an upcoming tournament.
Leaving Larrau in the morning, an hour of road walking gets us to Auberge Logibar, where we pick up the GR10. We’ve decided to improvise a bit getting back to the HRP, choosing a route that takes us past a scenic suspension bridge and a big waterfall.
We soon meet a Swiss GR10 hiker named Christian, who’s also getting back to the trail after a night in Larrau. If you’ve been reading closely (hi Dad!), you may have surmised that this is the same Christian who I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the one who couldn’t believe we came all the way from America to hike the Pyrenees. One could conceivably feel the same way about a man who came here from the literal Alps, but I digress.
He and Harv carry the same backpack, and it turns out they have many other similarities as well. They become fast friends. We hike together up a lovely stretch of singletrack alongside a river. The area reminds me, improbably, of Olympic National Park.
Finally, the scenery gives way to striking white cliffs and densely forested slopes, indicating that we’re nearing the scenic Holzarte suspension bridge. And sure enough, it soon comes into view between two stark cliff faces.
The bridge straddles a deep gorge at a height of some 150 meters. Crossing it is actually a bit anticlimactic despite the vertiginous drop and a slight bounciness in the middle. We part with Christian and the GR10 soon after Holzarte.
Our route soon takes us on a faint trail straight up the mountainside.
It’s a long climb, and at the top I realize my phone is missing. The last time I remember using it was at the bottom. I’m certain I dropped it somewhere on the steep, shitty bushwhack we just fought our way up, but will I be able to find it again? We’ve come almost a mile; the phone could be anywhere. I panic.
But after about five minutes of frantic searching, I catch a glint of something shiny and yellow in the underbrush. My phone! Recovering it, I tuck it away and vow to keep better track of it from now on.
God, I’m such a millennial. What abject terror I felt when the phone was missing. You’d think I had lost a limb. But besides Gaia GPS and my guidebook, the phone also houses all my photos, several books I’m really excited to read, and a portal to the cumulative knowledge of the entire human race, so, you know, it actually is kind of important to me.
After a week of mainly road walking to start the HRP, I’ve really enjoyed all the singletrack we’re following today. It finally feels like we’re getting into a more remote backcountry setting, which excites me.
When we finally regain the HRP, we decide to press on to Refugio Belagua, the first of many manned mountain refuges we’ll encounter on this route. When we get there I skirt the building looking for a faucet to refill our water bottles.
On the far side I encounter a patou reclining in the shade. Patous are the sheepdogs of the Pyrenees. You might know them better as Pyrenean mountain dogs, those fluffy white ones that look like smiling cumulus clouds or four-legged snowmen. They’re working dogs and sometimes react aggressively to hikers.
This particular dog leaps to its feet and runs at me, barking. I’ve read that the best way to handle this situation is to stand still and let the dog approach. Patous are trained to deter rather than attack, so if you just give them a chance to determine that you’re no threat to their sheep friends, you shouldn’t have a problem.
It works like a charm. Although I tend to get nervous around big dogs, I feel no fear as this one approaches me. And once it’s had a chance to check me out, it sort of just stands there next to me looking around at the surrounding scenery like it’s a bit bored with this whole situation but not willing to let me off the hook just yet.
I look around too and feel a strange kinship with this stern but adorable sentinel. Eventually, I take my chances and slowly move off in the opposite direction. Mr. Fluff doesn’t try to stop me, so I keep going.
While this is happening, Harv has already found a tap inside the refuge and filled all our bottles. Peeking inside, I see that Belagua has quite the menu, but we’re in that weird in-between time after lunch and before dinner, so no treats for us.
We press on through a cow pasture and soon discover a sheltered area that’s perfect for our tent. As we’re setting up, a passel of cows comes trotting down the path. They immediately beeline for our tent upon seeing us. Really, cows? You have 150 acres of premier grazing at your disposal, but you have to be right here tonight?
Harv yells at the cows. They hesitate, so he yells some more and clacks two trekking poles together. Finally, they run off. They all have bells around their necks, and, you know, cows and their overactive digestive systems… it’s better if we maintain our little island of tranquility and the cows pass their evening elsewhere.
Today we spend the whole morning climbing amid surreal karst topography. The fragile limestone bedrock here has given way to strange, deeply scoured rock formations and sinkholes. Thick grasses and a dozen varieties of wildflowers soften the otherwise austere landscape.
I get a little thrill every time I encounter a flower I recognize. I spot something akin to monkshood and identify a pretty purple bloom as a type of columbine. Its deep violet hue isn’t as showy as the lavender and cream of Colorado columbine, but it’s lovely nonetheless.
Harv loves the blue thistles that grow everywhere around here. The entire plant – not just the flower – carries a gorgeous true blue pigment. It looks like someone came through and spray-painted all the thistles from top to bottom.
It’s mostly downhill to town, and we foolishly convince ourselves that this means it will be easy. It’s not: the descent is long and grueling. Along the way we encounter two patous lounging in the shade some half a mile from their sheep. They bark at us a bit but don’t seem motivated to do much else. Slackers.
We think we’re nearing town when we hit a set of brutal switchbacks. But before we have a chance to celebrate at the bottom, we encounter a sign that says, “Lescun: 4km,” obliterating our dreams of being done with this endless knee-crushing descent. And to add insult to injury, the remainder of the day is a road walk.
We’re shameless, so we stick out our thumbs as soon as we hear a car approaching. By some stroke of cosmic mercy, it stops!
The driver is a mushroom hunter with a trunkful of golden chanterelles. When he drops us off in Lescun a few minutes later, he offers to send us off with some shrooms, which is generous – chanterelles are rather valuable – but we demur since we don’t really have a way to prepare them.
We wander aimlessly through town and book beds in the first gite we pass. We share our room with a GR11 hiker named Johan. I feel bad for Johan because we both reek. I think the smell is largely because of the homemade goat cheese we packed out from Larrau.
It’s quite pungent, and the aroma has gotten into absolutely everything. I have a thousand regrets about this, but it’s too late to do anything about it other than throw out the leftover cheese in a trash can on the far side of town.
Dinner isn’t much, but the conversation at the table is stimulating. James and Sophie are there, and I enjoy the chance to get to know them better (although they both seem fairly shy, which is quite the statement coming from me). On my left, Harv is rapidly befriending two Belgians named Bert – I seriously question whether that’s really his name – and Jeroen.
An intense storm breaks over Lescun during dinner, and it pours all night. It’s a good night to be inside.
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