Sept. 13th, 2022
Lac de Peyreget to Refuge Pombie
2 miles +713 ft
Early morning. Still raining. I hear voices. The sound is faint, muffled by wind and rain but it must be Erika and Bart. I wonder if they are walking? I wonder if they will walk over to my tent to check on me?
The rain remained steady all through the night, I slept some and now I really feel the angst of getting up and walking in these conditions. I snuggle in a little longer but my body is yearning to eliminate and I have to fight the feeling. I can’t go out unless I completely change clothes and put on my hiking gear and then put on my rain gear. I know the drill, if you go outside to pee in your rain gear and then get back inside your tent and take it off, everything gets wet. And I have to do more than pee so I’m gonna get really wet. This, clearly is a mind over matter situation. I have to hold it.
I check everything first to tabulate any damages and I am surprised it’s no worse than it was when I fell asleep. Sweet, I’ll take it! I can’t concentrate on anything and I know I can’t stay here in my tent all day either, so I rally. It takes several minutes but I manage to get all dressed for the day and put on my rain gear to go outside. I wait for what seems like a little break in a downpour and then go for it.
Back in my tent I sit with my rain gear on and all my stuff basically protected from getting wet. I make coffee and eat my my breakfast in the vestibule as I look over my maps again and try to understand where exactly I am going. There is fog pouring in over the pass, super high winds and it’s still raining steadily. Visibility is bad. All I have to do is hike for an hour an a half to the refuge and that’s it. I can do this.
Once I’m done with coffee and breakfast I finish very carefully packing up all my gear to ensure everything stays dry. That would be bad if my stuff gets wet. I’m pretty fastidious about packing everything in stuff sacks as my pack is just lined with a thin trash bag, I don’t have a pack cover. Finally I am ready to go. I sit poised in my tent, the last thing I have to do is make a break for it and take down my tent, pack it up and start walking.
As I’d loathed to admit, it’s much too windy for my umbrella. It’s a piece of equipment I’ve relied upon in the past to keep dry, but I cannot use it now. The wind is fierce, the rain is coming in sideways and up at the Col du Peyreget the fog rolls in quick in big swirls. I can’t believe I am voluntarily walking into that. Welp, here goes.
My feet, of course, are instantly wet, and soon I feel my arms are wet. I don’t have a good feeling about this rain jacket. Nothing I can do now, just go. I push up along the rocky terrain towards the Col. It figures, this is the most “technical” and steep terrain I’ve had to climb over since the start of this hike three days ago. This is so ironic, the conditions couldn’t be worse, I try to find humor in it but it’s not coming easy. To my surprise I feel my feet gripping well on the rocks and that, at least, comes as a relief. I climb fast and fierce, scrambling over boulders and pushing up steep pitches as the wind becomes more intense and rain slaps me in the face, stings my eyes.
Just before the last push for the pass, I stop to duck behind a large boulder and get out of the wind. I am freaked out by the wind, it’s so intense! I stand still to get my bearings for a minute and am thinking to myself I’m done with this. I don’t want to do this. Then I look at where I have to go and I don’t know if I can manage it with that intense wind and the rain coming in sideways. The wind has already knocked me down twice at this point. I am learning to fall uphill.
Standing behind the rock, I start to feel my body temperature drop. I need to do this. I rally myself and finally just go for it. I stay super close to the ground like I’m a crouching tiger, keeping my legs deeply bent and I am choked up way far on my trekking poles for balance and stesdy myself by gripping the rocks rocks as well. The rain is blowing in so hard, it’s like nothing else exists.
When I reach the Col there is a thick fog but I can see far enough for the path I need to take, thank goodness, so I keep moving. It’s right about now I am thinking how I seem to keep getting myself into these situations. This is super intense. Crazy pants. I don’t feel scared anymore now that I’m over the pass, but honestly, if this is how hiking was all the time I would never do it. Part way down the wind calms just a little and I duck behind another rock to check my location on my GPS. I am just a wee bit off route, not surprised with the thick fog, looks like I need to backtrack. Glad I checked. There are so many little trails out here, some are legit footpaths and others are animal trails. Often times I am on the correct trail and there are two paths side by side. Super confusing in good visibility, really bad now.
I get out my map and compass and orient myself. The Refuge Pombie is due East. Cool, that works for me, I csn just use my compass. I retreat back into the wind and pick up the trail that broke off to the East, it is a fadded grassy path and looks less like a trail than the one I’m on, but I trust I am going the right way. After dropping for several minutes I come to a little pond and climb up above it on steeply angled pink rocks. They are serrated and layered and my feet stick wonderfully. When I crest this little ridge, there is an inkling of sun breaking through the clouds and this makes me smile from a deep place.
Minutes later the mist parts just enough that I can see the Refuge! Ahhh, that is a sight to behold! I am so happy, relief washes over me and I feel saved. My upper body is soaked through and I can’t believe what crap my rain jacket is. Figures. I bought it used in Flagstaff when I hiked the Arizona Trail three years ago and I probably should have chosen a better piece of equipment for these mountains. I vow to purchase only Goretex from now on.
Just as I approach the refuge I see two people hiking out. They have pack covers. They look like they are wearing good rain gear too. I bet it’s Erika and Bart. I bet they have GoreTex. If I had that kind of gear, this would be a different experience. With how wet I am now, I am at risk of hypothermia eventually if I don’t get warm and dry soon.
When I walk into the entryway of the building my mind is so busy with expectation and curiousity. I’ve never stayed in a refuge before, what will it be like? I expect to be greeted with a host of hikers, instead I walk into a dark, dank room. I peek around and there are a few people sitting in a small side room at a table. Fortunately they speak a little English and let me know what to do and show me how to turn on a light. I am to leave all my wet gear hanging outside, then take off my shoes and there are sandals (crocs) provided in the entryway. Sweet, dry feet!
I start taking my gear out of my pack in the dark, everything on the outside is soaked, so I move my tent aside, take out my cooking gear and dig down to my sleep clothes. Fortunately they are dry. My two shirts I am wearing under my rain jacket are both totally soaked and I need to get out of them. I step into the hallway and change into my dry sleep clothes, hanging everything else on provided hooks. I had expected maybe a fire inside but there is none, that’s probably just a winter thing.
The couple that greeted me are Quebecois and very sweet. They are hiking the HRP in the opposite direction. I make my place at the communal table next to them and start waming up. I make arrangements with the Guardian to stay the night and add my name to the dinner list and a order a hot coffee for now. Then I fix my lunch. It’s early, only 11:30 now, but I am hungry. I used a lot of energy in those two miles!
Later, the Guardian shows me where I can sleep. The accommodations are very simple yet comfortale. My kind neighor lets me know her partner snores and asks if I have ear plugs. I do. She offers to switch places so she is next to me instead of him. Phew. This is going to be a first for me. I seriously hope I can sleep. I don’t have my hopes up but it sure beats a cold wet tent.
I am super grateful to be warm and dry. This is my first real hostel experience and everything is new and interesting. I don’t know all the unforseen rules of conduct and try my best to speak French but then some people seem to speak Spanish and then I am speaking a combination of terrible French and terrible Spanish. But it’s all good. Everyone is very friendly.
The time seems to draw on slowly today and as I sit by the window at the table writing and watch as the weather changes outside. It’s a writers dream. There will be brief periods of sun, then more wind and more rain. The mist and fog are a constant and the views of the Pic du Midi come and go. I meander into the dining hall and find a place to charge my electronics. This is a score indeed, was not expecting this. There are books lining the shelves with all kinds of information about the mountains and things you can do in them. The Pic du Midi is a very popular rock climing wall and there are a ton of routes. So fascinating.
I am fighting fatigue from lack of good sleep and I would love to take a nap but resist. Instead I get into my sleeping bag and read for a while. Evenually it’s 5:00pm and I am curious as to when dinner will be served. My stomach is growling. There are more and more people who have shown up by now and it looks like we have a half full house. I venture into the upstairs dormitory and find more bunk beds. I guess I can’t have that all to myself? I am so accustomed to privacy and solitude this is really challenging my comfort, but I am going to embrace it for all that it is.
Found out dinner will be at 1900 so I order a hot chocolate and sip on it while perusing the guest book. It’s a large book that started back in 2009 and as I turn through every single page I only find three entries that are in English and only one that is an American. Of course, there is also a giant gap in entries from 2020 to 2021. I love in particular seeing all the drawings people make. I wish I could read the entries and enjoy knowing what people here want to share when they are full of inspiration from this beautiful scenery.
I venture outside to get some fresh air and since it’s not raining at the moment I go for a short walk. There are a few footpaths that lead around the small lake and over toward the approach to the Pic du Midi. If today were nice I would be curious to walk up to it’s base. It is still quite windy and the mist is pouring in and around this little cirque. The Pic is still mostly enshrouded in clouds but occasionally peaks out. I snap a few photos and walk around, then feel grateful again that I have this warm building and happy camraderie to retreat into, even if I barely speak the language.
I settle back into the dinner table and start writing again. My Quebecois friends Ania and Daniel sit across from me along with two others: Olivier and Xavier who has long dreadlocks like me along with a crew cut and he wears it really well. It’s a good look for hm. He rolls his own cigarettes, wears glasses and has a lot of piercings. He too, is hiking the HRP in the opposite direction. I also learn through comparing guidebooks that the actual route of the HRP is different depending on which language your book is written in. Odd? Olivier is not an HRP hiker, he is planning to climb the Pic du Midi tomorrow. He is an official Alpine Guide with loads of expertise.
By 19:00 dinner is being served and the room is fairly full with about 20 people. The first course is a green soup, I would have expected split pea by the looks of it, but it’s more like a spinach vegetable puree and is delicious and light. The second course is couscous with what looks likee rye seeds in it, along with a medley of vegetables, chickpeas and stewed pork in a light broth. I am not sure at first whether it is lamb, so I go light on the meat, but when I taste it, it is absolutely delicious. They seasoned it with some cumin and cardamon too and that makes it even better. I order a small red wine to compliment my meal and figure why not go for the entire experience? Apparently I am also having breakfast here which will be at 07:30. Why not!
After dinner we sit talking for a while, I don’t understand much, but enjoy listening. The energy is what matters and it feels peaceful and genuine here. For tomorrow’s forecast I hear it’s going to rain in the morning again and should start to clear up by mid-day. I honestly don’t know what that means for me. I don’t have any more dinners, so I can’t just camp wherever I want unless I want to eat energy bars or granola for dinner. I need to make it to a refuge where I can order a meal again.
For tomorrow’s route there are two places where I may need to take the Variant Route: one is at the Passge d’Ortieg and the other is at Refuge d’Armoulit. These are two critical areas where I will need to made decisions for safety reasons based on the weather. If I am to take the regular HRP route tomorrow, this is the first day calssified as E level, which is difficult. Everything I have done so far is level 2-3 so basically just walking on a trail with maybe some steep tocks, but basically safe. I am leaving it to the weather. If I take the variant, I have less of an idea of how far I need to go until I am at a refuge that serves meals. It’s so funny because everyone says that’s the refuges are the best way to go, but I am wishing I had just one more dinner to make my life a little easier and flexible, and sleep in my tent if the weather improves.
I just stepped outside to boil water for my tea, there is lightening flickering again and I just heard thunder. There is a group of young people sitting at the communal table now, we all have our headlamps on, sitting in the dark. They are playing cards, drinking beer and whispering in French. I am starting to get sleepy, so I think I will retreat to my bed with 10 other people, pop my ear plugs in and see if Ican get some rest. Good night.