August 14, 2017
At night I dreamt some sci-fi weird shit, like I was trying to keep these gooey soft green stress balls out of the tent. They were alive! And we were in outer space, floating around in the pop-up Quechua tent. Sounds funny, but it was pretty terrifying in the moment. Though I slept not very much, I was in a happy mood when K came by to make sure we were awake. We were half awake, and quickly grew to fully awake with a large smile as I had the first peep out of our tent.
It revealed a stunning wall of sharp rock over 800m in height, its top spires illuminated by the first rays of sun. I was re-living a slice of the life I had when attending University in Toulouse. It is a place where we shared experiences, our food, water, and lives with each other in the true fullness and honesty, with a sprinkle of sarcastic humor, and lots of human empathy. I realized this is what I and probably any other Europeans miss the most after moving to the USA, as I stared around the rest of the camp gearing up – ropes, helmets, various belay devices and harnesses worn by people of all ages, backgrounds, cultures. Quickly, we packed our gear into D’s bag and sat with T and K, reflecting on the poor quality of sleep we all had for different reasons: the moon’s brightness, the resident donkey’s panting cries in the dead of the night, which in turn induced various dreams and nightmares. Glad it was behind us, we looked forward to the crux of our trip: to climb the Pic Midi d’Ossau, an 800m ascent on partial vertical terrain. Then to come back down and head into the next valley to camp one more night. The weather forecasted to be sunny – a pretty rare occurrence in these Southern mountain range – we headed out over the initial boulder field towards the saddle.
The wind howling through my hair, I lead a brisk pace till the saddle, sweating profusely in the already baking sun. A quick snack and water break later, we paused before the rock – there was already a line of French people heading up the first crack. We decided to venture on the right which turned out to be a good idea. We passed two rope teams traveling much slower. We brought a 50m rope, borrowed from Lolo’s husband Paul, but was only planning on using it to rappel down. The way up became more and more breathtaking.
Of course it was due to the view but also from the stair-like climbing which seemed to go on forever.The slope was 60 degrees or more at times where we were literally panting for breath every 15 minutes. Mainly, it was a ladder type climb with solid hand holds and spots for our feet. By the time we reached the top, I was genuinely exhausted, my legs trembling from the quick pace set by the Slovaks.
The view past the peak and all around was like from one of those red bull rock climbing video series with Alex Honnold – rock tops jutting out of the Earth all around us. Intermingled were series of lakes and huts, paths meandering all over the valley, spotted by white and brown farm animals grazing below. They were merely the size of pins from this distance. I was glad to have brought my puffy and mid layers. At 2880m, it was not summer-like heat, the windchill washing away the cozy warmth of the sun with powerful gusts. Coming back down, we met people on their way up, hearing more and more spanish “hola’s” instead of the french “bonjour” as greetings when passing each other. I mused over this as a curious difference in culture – the spanish start their day later. I was joking with the group: I bet the Germans were already back down by the time we even got going, clinking their beer as a salute to a successful sunrise finish.
Much of the rest of the way down was a blur between my aching thighs, tired knees and setting up rappels in three different sections. While waiting for other groups, I had the chance to chat with some real southern french men, probably in their 50s who have been doing this stuff for 40+ years, and reminisced about their youths: visiting and climbing El Cap and in Joshua tree. Their accented voices rose and lowered in the most charming tangy-slow and manner. It was music to my ears to hear this kind of dialect again. Back down by the refuge and lake, we sat to eat a snack and peel back the layer of sweaty sock caked in powdered dust from the climb. Refilling our water bottles and packing the tent & sleeping supplies, we headed SSW around the peak to another saddle called col Peyregret and to the Lac au dessus where I took the most restful nap in a long while. The three boys watched Marmots galavanting around, the furry animals completely ignoring all the humans around them.
It was already a long day and the sun was on its way down. Tomas asked me if I wanted to keep going or stay here. I was very tired, but felt I would be even more sore tomorrow, so made my opinion clear that I would like to continue the proposed 2.8km to the valley below where we would hopefully find more water. We were running quite low and I was definitely dehydrated in an attempt to conserve it. The amount of water I have to drink normally is at least 2-3x what I was feeding myself now. The bonus side effect was the lack of need to pee all the time. Narrowly avoiding a sheep stampede we finally got into the valley finding a canyoneering-type river that went from canyon to shallow waters. This is where I waded all the way into the water up to my neck after dropping my pack. I reveled in the feeling of frigid water cooling my inflamed joints and muscles. Quickly it became chilly and we settled in for the night. Close to falling asleep, suddenly a storm rolled in, faster than anyone could imagine, which is when we turned the 2 person tent into tight quarters for three as K, spooked buy the lightning and drizzle + wind, asked to join us. We welcomed him in, wondering what T would do. It got very hot quickly (just 5 mins before I was shivering) and between stretches of sleeping sandwiched between two dudes, the sky became starry, cloudy, shook with thunder, illuminated by flashed of light. Despite the angry weather, I felt very safe and unconcerned as I heard deep breathing on both sides. Knowing at least the two men were in deep slumber, at least while I was en guard.