Welcome to my trail blogs direct from the Haute Route Pyrenees! As usual, these journals were composed on my phone from the field. Please excuse any spelling or grammatical errors.
For an introduction to the idea behind this route, please read A Haute Route Pyrenees section hike.
The HRP / GR11 blog series
Day 0: arrival
My journey to Cauterets in France was a long one. I actually began yesterday evening, taking the train to Stansted Airport, where I spent the night dozing on one of the benches in International Arrivals, along with a bunch of other travellers awaiting their flights. Originally I had considered travelling by Eurostar – the recommended method amongst Pyrenees connoisseurs – but the flights were slightly cheaper. As it turned out, however, the train may have been less hassle.
I haven’t flown with Ryanair for years, but I don’t remember any particular issues with them last time. Today, however, the flight was delayed by well over an hour – but nobody was told the flight was delayed. We were simply made to queue interminably with no explanation. When we eventually made it off the runway, an excuse about signalling was muttered over the tannoy from the cockpit.
Fortunately my onward connection from Lourdes had a lot of flexibility. I spent half an hour wandering around Lourdes itself (first impressions: mostly hotels and gift shops selling Saint Mary figurines), then jumped on my bus to Cauterets just as a rainstorm swept through the town.
Bus travel is, in my experience, both reliable and fairly cheap in France, and I enjoyed the route up into the foothills of the Pyrenees, especially that final hairpin road through an impressive gorge to the town of Cauterets itself. This place is clearly a hiker town. It has the atmosphere of a sort of French Zermatt: hotels and bars galore, numerous outdoor and ski shops, and several campsites all filled with little hiker tents.
Cauterets is on the famous GR10 long-distance trail, and I have already met five or six GR10 hikers – mostly sunburned and fit, some travelling light like me, others with a traditional heavy load and leather boots. As usual, I’m the only person in this particular campsite with a tarp, and I’ve had to explain my Trailstar to several intrigued onlookers.
The weather is cloudy and a little cool, but set to turn sunnier over the coming days. Tomorrow is my first day on the trail, and I’m taking a leisurely half day to hike up to the Refuge Wallon at 1,865m. I hope to be in a position to make an attempt at the ascent of Vignemale over the weekend, but depending on signal you may not hear from me again until I reach Gavarnie, a day after that. I’m not going to hurry the HRP; I have more than enough time.
It’s great to be back on a long-distance trail!