Catching drips

Before long, short spells of drizzle speckled our hair with gently glistening droplets and we resigned ourselves to a damp day – despite the cloud it was still too hot to contemplate waterproofs.

Occasional light patches of cloud periodically brightened our hopes but then a sudden incursion of clouds over the arete brought raindrops splattering heavily all around.  We cast our eyes about us and above us – the clouds were heavy and the rain had a persistent rather than a transient feel.  We moved off the path and ducked beneath a large boulder as the downpour gathered momentum.

It was the only hint of shelter as far as the eye could see and, strategically to hand just as the rain turned heavy, it seemed like the day’s divine blessing.  But once we’d settled down and taken stock of our surroundings we sensed the catch, smelt the catch, to be precise.  Sure, we could stay dry under the boulder, but we would have to endure the persistent odour of human faeces.  The boulder, just yards from the path, clearly provided convenient seclusion for walkers caught short.

After half an hour the rain had not let up.  Lack of exertion had left us uncomfortably chilly and it was time to accept that the day was going to be no different to your average day out in Snowdonia.  The monotonous, grey cloud that had crept over the ridge now filled the Vall de Mulleres with a uniform blanket of mist.  Droplets formed along the lip of the rock, fell and formed again.  A sigh of subdued exaltation told me that Alan had succeeded in catching a drip on the end of his tongue – a game that had kept him amused for over an hour.  It also told me that we had been there long enough.

Pulling waterproof jackets on, we abandoned our soiled shelter and pushed on up the mountain.  From the time we left camp until finding the boulder a group of chirpy hikers had followed behind us.  They had disappeared now, presumably having retreated to Hospice de Viella and from there to a hostel.  We now had the silent valley to ourselves and savoured the solitude that the miserable weather had gifted us.

Soon we reached the first of a stepped series of cirques, each containing a tarn.  The mist was now low all about us, deadening any natural sounds and turning the solitude into a desolate but ruggedly beautiful loneliness.  As we continued past the higher cirques we became haunted by a sense of foreboding; we’d had no access to weather forecasts; why had those other walkers retreated so soon?

An early lunch break revived our spirits.  Crouched beneath a larger (and more hygienic) boulder, we were enthused by a sudden partial clearing of the clouds.  We had spent most of the day in a tiny world, hemmed in on all sides by thick mist.  But now, as a series of gaps opened in the previously impenetrable curtain, the scale changed dramatically.  Instead of standing tall in a world of stones and boulders, we became insignificant specks in a vast cathedral of rock.

The openings in the cloud shifted here and there as if a searchlight were sweeping across the scene, illuminating different sections in turn.  Great granite cliffs rose formidably all around.  Their towering walls appeared for a few moments at a time against a backdrop of clear blue sky framed by swirling clouds before the fog closed in again.  It was like a window into another world; a world with sun and mountains, a world we could glimpse, but not be a part of.  Then the pea soup resettled heavily around us and the world reassumed its customary grey; the window was closed and the curtains drawn.

We glanced about hopefully but the other world had gone from our view so we hastened on in the hope that it could be reached by climbing higher.

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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

Salencas ridge above Val de Muleres

Salencas ridge above Val de Muleres

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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