HRP Chapter 8: Kelly Throws Her Phone off a Cliff

The condensation inside our tent has frozen solid by morning. But as promised, the new day dawns clear and fair. We laze around and only pack up around 9, just as a ranger comes to inspect the bivouac area. Phew! Just in time.

First step for today: stop hiking immediately. Upon breaking camp, all we manage to do is head straight for the refuge and spend two more hours there cooking and drying our wet gear on the sun-warmed rocks out front.

Now that the mist has cleared, we finally get to enjoy the promised view of Vignemale. As we admire it, a helicopter pops over Hourquette d’Ossoue and heads straight toward us. It’s tiny at first and grows larger and larger before landing on the pad adjacent to the refuge. I assume it’s carrying supplies, but no – it’s a shuttle. Two of the guests come running out with their packs and hop inside the waiting chopper, which immediately takes off the same way it came.

Helicopter + Vignemale in the background

I watch in fascination as the helicopter recedes into the distance until it’s just a pinprick against the white face of Vignemale. The perspective is messing with my head. Vignemale is so massive that it looks like it’s just right there in front of me, like I could walk for 10 minutes and stand at the base of the mountain and crane my head up toward the summit. But with the tiny helicopter for scale, I now realize the mountain is actually still quite far away.

Day 14

And sure enough, when we start walking it takes almost two hours to reach Hourquette d’Oussoue ourselves. It’s an easy walk that features impressive views of the glacier. I enjoy myself immensely.

Vignemale with its head in the clouds.

From the pass, we see dozens of hikers making their way up and down the sides of Petit Vignemale, but we’re still too drained from our ordeal yesterday to be considering side quests. And we have our eye on the prize at the end of the day: Gavarnie.

We push on down and don’t even stop for a hot drink at Bayssellance like I planned. It’s warm by now anyway, and the views from the refuge are so exhilarating that I’m eager to keep hiking.

Refuge de Bayssellance

We start a long downhill, clinging to one side of a steep, grassy valley. I keep things interesting by throwing my phone off a literal cliff. I’m pulling it out of my pocket to take a picture of some waterfalls in the valley when it slips from my grasp and disappears over the edge. Shewww! This is particularly galling because the waterfalls weren’t even that great.

Peeking down, I see my magic rectangle some 10 feet below and decide I’m going down to retrieve it. I lower myself down carefully, hanging onto one of Harv’s trekking poles.

I picture the news story as I descend. The article will begin with the headline “Hiker, 29, Dies Scaling Cliff To Retrieve Dropped Phone” and end with 17 snarky comments about search and rescue for idiots like me being a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The three waterfalls I was trying to photograph when I threw my phone off the aforementioned cliff.

Fortunately, my phone and I both make a safe return to the trail. Sorry, haters! This millennial’s poor decision-making surrounding smartphone usage shall go unpunished today.

It’s Saturday, and I worry we won’t be able to find a room in tourism-centric Gavarnie. But the town is actually very quiet when we arrive. We book a room in an old-fashioned establishment called Hôtel le Marboré that looks like a castle. The proprietor is a beautiful but severe older woman with red lips and a perfect silver bob. We can see the Cirque de Gavarnie from here, and I have to admit it’s as gorgeous as advertised.


The Cirque de Gavarnie

Gavarnie kind of sucks. It’s a major tourist trap and there’s not much heart in the place. But it has a really nice grocery store and a decent outfitter, where I finally replace my ruined Altras with a pair of Hoka Mafate Speeds.

We watch the USWNT fall to Sweden in the World Cup, even though Alyssa Naher is an absolute queen and carries the entire team on her shoulders through both halves, overtime, and penalties.

Day 15

The following morning we hike right up to the Cirque on our way out of town. We get a great view of the Breche de Roland as we climb. The Breche is a large gap in the top of the Cirque where, according to Tom Martens, the knight Roland supposedly tried to destroy his magical sword Durendal and accidentally blew up the mountain. As one does.

We encounter numerous hikers on the climb to the Refuge d’Espuguettes, but the crowd thins as we continue toward Hourquette d’Alans. Once there, we sit in the sun and eat a good lunch of boiled eggs, crisp apples, and baguettes with creamy sheep’s cheese. We chitchat with a German student who’s section hiking the Pyrenees on his way home from studying in Valencia.

View from Hourquette d’Alans

Eventually, we find our way to the crowded parking area below a beautiful reservoir. The whole area is buzzing with families out for a refreshing swim in the hot sun. We hope to catch a ride down to the hamlet of Héas, but there aren’t that many cars coming down, and the ones we see are packed with children and dogs.

Near the valley bottom, we finally catch a ride from a kind French couple. They see us down the road to Auberge de la Munia, where we plan to stay the night.

The hamlet of Héas

When we hop out of their car, we immediately run into Arne. We join him on the patio and he tells us about his attempt to summit Vignemale after he left us at Oulettes de Gaube.

Apparently, Bayssellance wouldn’t rent him crampons or an ice axe because they only offer this service for guests of the refuge. Even when he offered to stay at the refuge that night they refused, and he was forced to carry on without summiting. His frustration is palpable. I hope he gets to climb Vignemale some day.

Back in the present day, Arne decides to press on to a cabane up the trail, and we go off to camp behind the hostel.

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Comments 1

  • Jeff Greene : Nov 24th

    Waterfall pic was totally worth it, since you didn’t actually die or require a massive search and rescue effort.


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