Mountain gods

The piles of rubbish and abandoned wrecks shrank into the distance and the resounding roar from the tunnel mouth faded to a subdued moan as we followed the river west towards a broad band of trees.

Beyond the woodland our map promised a steep rise, leading to a broad, flat valley section.  Between the trees we caught glimpses of an impressive waterfall cascading over the rim.  High above us, on the enormous shoulders of rock flanking the cascade, we could see tiny figures darting about as if dancing a curious ritual.  The prospect of standing in their place spurred us on, sweeping aside the feelings of fatigue that had washed over us with the onset of late afternoon.

The bitter disappointment of Hospice de Vielha was far behind us as we marched briskly upwards through the trees, hopping nimbly over roots and crunching through fallen pine needles.  The sound of the waterfall grew louder then faded again as the changing contours shifted the echoes towards and then away from us.

Then, with a final twist in the path, a broad rock terrace opened out ahead.  We didn’t have the energy to dance any kind of ritual, but, with the feeling of exhausted satisfaction that comes from achieving a hard won objective, we leaned against our hastily dropped rucksacks and soaked up the surroundings.

Val de Muleres

 Val de Muleres                      Hey, that's my photo!  See my message on the Pyrenees home page

Seeking a grand vista, we had ventured into the sacred domain of the mountain gods. They had smiled graciously and rewarded our exertion in the grandest manner: The sinking sun sent shadows across distant rock faces highlighting the intricately detailed contours which the bright light of mid-day would have masked. A light breeze sent ripples across the golden yellow meadows far below. The road and traffic were all but hidden and certainly unheard. All the while, close by, a rushing torrent pounded majestically past.

Clouds were amassing from beyond the Salencas range to our left and, though we took their threat lightly, we decided to push on. Not far beyond the waterfall the Vall de Muleres opened out and we found an idyllic pitch beside the river.

The evening was warm enough to tempt me to bathe in the river before finding a prominent boulder a short distance away that provided an excellent vantage point. The breeze played gently with my freshly washed hair as I enjoyed the beauty of our night’s domain. But there was heaviness in the air – the stillness and hush that precedes a violent summer storm.

Heavy raindrops sent us early to bed but it was a restless night. Thunder crashed into the valley, receded then returned with greater vigour. Lightning illuminated the tent for long seconds at a time and hail tore into the flysheet like serrated golf balls, threatening to shred our fragile shelter in an instant and expose us to the full wrath of the elements.

We woke to find that the river had swollen to more than twice its size. The night before, the valley floor had been a broad, dry meadow but it was now splattered with pools of murky water.  The rain had stopped, but low cloud swirled just above us obscuring the path beyond our first short climb.

We tarried for a long while, taking longer than necessary over breakfast and delaying striking camp, in the hope that the sun would burn off the clouds but eventually we had to accept that the thick, low mist had settled in for the day.We hit the trail, striking out across the treacherously slippery boulders with moist air chilling our leaden legs. There was no view either upwards to the Salencas range, or behind into the valley.  But the swirling mist, twisting in ghostly threads between boulders, lent an ethereal quality to the landscape.

Yesterday, the mountain gods had rewarded us; last night they had flexed their muscles; now the mountain spirits darted about us like the ghosts of walkers past.  A little higher up the valley, we would find a sinister explanation.

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Links to other chapters:

Chapter 1: Pyrenean foothills, please; one way

Chapter 2: Lovers and fishermen

Chapter 3: Visions and vistas

Chapter 4: Shattered dreams

Chapter 5: The mountain gods

Chapter 6: Catching the drips

Chapter 7: Ghosts on the col

Chapter 8: Teeth of the storm

Chapter 9: Stealing the solitude

Chapter 10: Voulez vous!

Chapter 11: The yellow goblin

Pyrenees photo album

The Val de Muleres watershed, where we spied, from far below, tiny figures dancing a curious ritual

The Val de Muleres watershed, where we spied, from far below, tiny figures dancing a curious ritual.

Hey, that's my photo!  See my message on the Pyrenees home page 

Recommended reading

Long distance walks in the Pyrenees

The guide book used by the Backpacker Diaries author.  It is one of a series of trekking guides from Chris Townsend, which cover mountain ranges on several continents.  It is currently out of print but copies are available via the link below.

Walks & climbs in the Pyrenees

Since the first edition in 1978, this book has become the authoritative guide to the range.  The new edition incorporates many revisions and includes more than 170 day walks, multi-day walks, climbing routes and mountaineering ascents.

The Pyrenees

A resource book covering the finest walks, treks and climbs in the High Pyrenees from the Cirque de Lescun, on the edge of the Basque country in the west, to the Carlit massif and the Cerdagne to the east of Andorra.

Through the Spanish Pyrenees: GR11

The GR11 is a high-level mountain trail following tracks and footpaths.  Affectionately known as "La Senda" (The Track), it crosses the Pyrenees from coast to coast on the Spanish side of the border.

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