The yellow goblin

The French hikers stirred before daybreak, interrupting our intended lie in.  There was no need for us to wake up early as today’s steady downhill plod to the road-head followed well-built paths and could be covered by lunchtime. From the road-head, we would hitch into Luchon, where cafés and supermarkets abounded.  Soon, all my week-old food fantasies would be fulfilled in an eating frenzy that would fill the entire afternoon and evening.

With this expectation in mind, we had eaten almost all our remaining food the previous night, and the relative bounty of the meal we enjoyed was a welcome consolation for having to cook in the dark beneath a draughty rain shelter.

The French hikers, despite their early alarm call, were in no hurry to leave, perhaps on account of the foul weather. We, on the other hand, were keen to descend and packed quickly.  As we prepared to leave, one of the women quipped that she would come down the mountain with us, rather than continue on with her comrades.  We understood her sentiment; the rain had turned to sleet overnight and we would have made the same joke ourselves if we had been heading higher up the mountain instead of down to Luchon's comfortable cafés.

But the fifth time she said it, the gag was wearing thin and we hastened our packing, skipping breakfast in favour of a speedy exit.  A niggling doubt was developing – perhaps she actually meant it.  We knew nothing about her hiking capability and could barely converse with her.  A high, sleet-swept cirque is hardly the place to adopt a new hiking partner; it was a responsibility that could easily prove disastrous.

Our growing apprehension became outright dismay as we shouldered our packs and prepared to leave: she lifted hers too and moved to the door.  To our relief, that is where she stopped, holding the door open for us as we moved past her into the mist and rain.

The voices faded and we heard the door shut.  I glanced towards Alan.  “For a while, I thought she was really going to follow us,” I breathed.  “She really is following us,” he replied in a desperate murmur.  “Crap, what do we do now?” I muttered.

At first we quickened our pace, thinking she might retrace her steps.  The ploy failed and we resigned ourselves to playing the gallant knights, slackening our pace so she could tag along in sight.  She wore a bright yellow poncho.  It stretched down to her knees, covering both her and her rucksack, giving her the appearance of a small, yellow goblin.  She was, at least, unlikely to simply vanish into the mist.

But as the miles tumbled away beneath our feet, self-interest began to stir and we began to wonder if we might benefit from the predicament. Could we hitch with her?  Maybe cars would stop more readily for her than us, particularly if she hitched up her poncho to give a tantalising glimpse of her waterproof trousers. Better still, perhaps she had transport? Maybe a Merc parked at the end of the trail, the keys squirreled away beneath her resplendent yellow cape...

We became more considerate, waiting occasionally and asking if she was okay. We were pretty much out of food, but we offered her stale biscuits when we ate some ourselves.  When the clouds swirled genie-like around us, we staked all our wishes on one outcome: a top-end motor to whisk us from the trail-head into Luchon.

But when we reached the road, our new friend just kept right on walking. It was hardly the fairytale ending we had wished for. There was no Merc. Our yellow goblin, whom we had escorted off the mountain in a courteous, if slightly self-interested manner, was not even expecting a friend to collect her.

The car park was deserted, which was hardly surprising considering the weather, but it meant that we would not be able to hitch a ride. There was nothing to suggest any public transport either.  It was going to be a long, weary trudge along the tar road all the way to Luchon.

It was still raining when we arrived on the outskirts of Luchon, so we booked into the town’s cheapest hotel.  Reaching our third floor room with our packs was nearly as hard as crossing the Salencas ridge.  The tiny elevator would not hold both of us and the stairs were so narrow that we feared becoming eternally wedged.I do not recall quite how we found our way to the room; possibly we went via an external fire escape. But once there, we adorned every conceivable hanging point with damp clothing. Quite soon the room was seasoned with every stale, dank, musty and pungent smell imaginable. It was intolerable, so we threw open the windows and left.

Finding a supermarket, we bought every fresh product that we could find and, returning to our room, laid our spoils across the bed. It was an orgy of food; warm, soft baguettes with butter, salami, a variety of cheeses, locally grown salad and fruit, croissants, chocolate delicacies, juices...

Our feasting lasted into late afternoon, by which time the rain was abating and the walls of our tiny room had begun to crowd in on us. Venturing out, we spent a lazy evening taking in the sights of Luchon, which amounted to finding a café and staying put whilst Luchon wandered by. But after devoting the entire afternoon to the task of demolishing the spoils of our supermarket trip, how else would one spend the evening if not eating and drinking out?

The TV weather forecasts promised a gradual improvement over the coming few days and very little rain from the next day onwards. Our hopes soared. The week ended as it had begun, as we once again basked in the promise of long sunny days walking forgotten trails through the high mountain wilderness.

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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

Refuge Port de Vénasque

Refuge, Lac & Cirque de Venasque

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.

Cirque Port de Venasque

Cirque Port de Venasque

Wikimedia photo, reproduced under Creative Commons licence

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