Sept. 20th, 2022
Valle de Estaube to Lac de Barroude
14.8 miles Vert +4,898ft / -4,593ft
So I don’t set an alarm when I am at home but on the trail sometimes I do, and usually I hit snooze. This morning my alarm chimes at 6:30am, it seems harsh and loud. As I lay there in the dark I feel the chilly air on my face. I’m trying to muster the motivation to get up and finally I do at 7:00am when the daylight rips the night away. So much for the alarm. I will do better tomorrow.
Today’s route will take me through the little hamlet of Heas and then the Barroude Lakes via a route that I still have to choose. There are two ways to get there but I need to get to Heas first, and figure it out from there. Plus, I’m curious to see what’s in Heas. Maybe I can get a coffee. Like a “real” coffee.
I start walking at 8:15am, my earliest start yet. I know I’m not a champion of the early start times! It’s a lovely and easy downhill most of the way to Lac de Gloriettes, and then it gets confusing. The signs don’t quite match my GPS track, the GPS track splits in two and I had tucked away my guidebook page for this section so I don’t have it out to reference. Hence I go the wrong way.
I know it when I start climbing and should be going down but I was sort of following two other hikers up another trail, so it was easy to just follow them. Don’t do this here! I had to backtrack just a little and only lost like 10 minutes so not too bad, just annoying. I make it to the parking area for the Gloriette Lake trailhead. There are quite a few camper vans and other cars here, it is still in the Parc National so it must be a popular place to go. Still, it’s busier than I expected for a Tuesday morning.
I had forgotten that there is a little road walk from here to Heas so I put away my trekking poles and start the long descent on a paved road. Along the way there are even more cars going up. I briefly contemplate trying to get a hitch to Heas but it’s such a short distance and it’s easy walking. Instead, I use the opportunity to play a little music on my phone. My rule for playing music on trail is that generally I don’t, though in recent times I’ve found myself appreciating it when I am road walking. I’ve never listened to a podcast or audiobook on trail either because I genuinely prefer the silence and the sounds of nature. So this is new for me.
My mood turns sunny with the sound of the music and the actual sun shining on my face. I start to feel a little homesick again and start dreaming about hiking the CDT next year and how much I feel ready to embark on such a long, arduous journey in a deep wilderness. It’s sort of one of those “there’s no place like home” moments, imagining the long road walks in the vast expanses of places in WY or NM.
It’s almost a nostalgic feeling, I think it’s really the over arching distance and relative remoteness of the CDT I crave. I guess I feel like the “wild” part of the HRP is segmented and fragmented here and the relative remoteness is not like places I’m used to back home where you can hike for days or weeks even and not see another human. To have just left Gavarnie at 3:00pm yesterday and already be in another civilized area just seems too soon. This is not a complaint, just an observation as to maybe why I don’t feel the way I hoped I would out here.
When I get to Heas it is a very sweet but sleepy place. I guess I can see why they call it a Hamlet. I see the Auberge and it looks very quiet up there. I assume they are closed since it’s only 10:15 in the morning, yet curiousity pulls me up there. I press my self along the steep little driveway and to my delight I find a small patio with two women sitting having a coffee and one is smoking a cigarette. I don’t let the cigarette turn me away from asking if I can order a coffee. To my delight, they say yes!
I plunk down at a table and start my journaling for the day, the words you are reading right now. My cafe creme arrives and is divine. I could easily drink another, though I get caught in conversation with one of the women who works here. She speaks excellent English and we chat about what it’s like traveling alone as a woman on the HRP.
She did a solo bike tour for 10 months last year from Paris to Albania. Okay, I am super impressed, yet she is impressed about what I am doing. She is familiar with the HRP and says she rarely meets a woman traveling here alone and is very encouraging to me and has lots of great questions. It’s nice to connect with someone, she has a lovely energy and warm smile. She has a vibe like she has seen more of the world than most. It’s carried in the way she makes eye contact, the way she smiles. She is very open and even asks to try on my backpack, which consequently now smells like her perfume.
I leave with a little zip in my step from the coffee and nice conversation, then begin a massive 3,000 ft climb up to the Horquette de Heas. Since it’s already 11:20am I know I will stop somewhere along the way to eat lunch. Also, there is a point at which there is no water for a stretch and I have to pay attention to that. That’s also before the pass.
The climb is the typical steep climb that shoots straight up from the valley and there is a lot of cow shit on the trail, also typical. The trail is quite rocky and it is generally torn up from cow hooves. I hit several switchbacks and keep hearing some herders yelling and a cow is loudly moaning. I’m thinking maybe there is an injured cow. Or a cow giving birth perhpas? Soon my question is answered. The herders are simply driving a train of cows down the trail. Like 100 of them.
I have to step aside and wait for about 15 minutes for all the cows to pass. The herders thank me and I smile. It is actually quite entertaining and I even see two baby cows, they are too cute! It’s no wonder this trail is in the condition it is. It’s not pleasant, especially since all the cow shit also attracts so many flies. Blegh!
Once the long cow train has passed I hit the trail with gusto to make up some time, climbing steadily and sweating like mad. I stop at a water source that is dammed and made into a cement trough. Everything here seems to be controlled rather than a free flowing waterfall, but that is probably because I am still so close to town. Nevertheless, the water I gather is super cold and refreshing and I guzzle it down. Then off I go again for more climbing in cow shit trails for another 30 minutes or so until finally I am in some more pleasant terrain and after an hour of hard climbing I decide it’s time to stop for an early lunch.
There is a perfect flat spot next to a creek and a place to lay out my tent to dry it in the sun. Today for lunch I am having a baguette with butter and cheese, potato chips and chocolate. I am skipping the salami this week to save weight as I have quite the hunk of cheese to carry. That fromagier back in Gavarnie sold me this huge hunk of cheese that I thought would be too much and I could not talk him down. I am appreciating it now, the cheese is really good.
From here it should take me a couple hours at least to make it to the Horquette de Heas. I learned from Google Translate that Horquette means “heel” literally. So there are all these terms for passes of differing kinds. Back home we just say “pass” or occasionally a “col” but a Horquette? I have two Horquettes to go through this afternoon and I went through one yesterday too.
Oh, also on my Google Translate, I found out that Omelette aux Cepes is simply a mushroom omelette, phew! I am relieved to know I was not eating some crazy animal part. It honestly was not my favorite so I will order something like an Omelette Mixe next time, which is a simple ham and cheese.
There are two ways to get to the Horquette de Heas, one is apparently an hour longer and “more interesting and challenging” according to my guidebook. I had marked it on my GPS and maps just in case I wanted to be adventurous, but honestly I am feeling like the regular route is enough. I missed the turnoff anyway and I don’t care now. I also need to be mindful of my time. I have a low level anxiety about making it where I need to be to catch a bus to Barcelona and before the deluge of rain, so adventruing off trail doesn’t seem like the best idea anymore.
Speaking of rain, it’s consistent that people are saying yes, Saturday and Sunday it’s going to rain a fair bit. I also have a feeling that it might start on Friday, so I am feeling like I need to stay on top of my miles and push a little. Although normally I’d have all day Saturday to hike, I’ve lost that day due to public transportation schedules. It’s also just so difficult to really know actual distances and how long it’s going to take me.
I am planning on taking a variant from the main route, which I have also chosen due to weather and time. Day after tomorrow I will split off onto the Variant #4 which follows the GR11 in Spain for 33 miles. I hope to be able to crush those miles in two days. So by end of day Friday. It sort of makes for a less enjoyable finish and less relaxed itinerary now. Its crazy to think that if I were on the PCT I could just crush those 33 miles in a day. Not the case here. I don’t know how anyone can do an FKT on this route. The current record holder is Mike Coppock who traversed the entire HRP in just 12d4hr41m58s. Super Impressive.
With all the logistics of getting where I need to go to finish this hike spinning in my head again makes me realize I will be done hiking this trail in just a few days. While I am definitely not ready to stop hiking, I am feeling okay with being done with this particular trail. I think if/or when I come back, I would like to traverse the entire HRP and not rush. I know now I would enjoy it more as a bigger project.
Nevertheless, the reason I only chose to do two weeks here this year is that when I get back to California on Sept 29th, I have a week of hiking in the Sierras planned with Rockin’. We are going to finally tackle that last section of the Sierra High Route I have left to complete (since 2018) so my heart is honestly aching for that more than anything. I am so looking forward to re-connecting with my first Love, the Sierras. And I am stoked to have such a solid hiking companion as Rockin’ to do it with.
Route finding is a little tricky up to the Horquette de Heas just as the guideook said it would be. It’s just a little wedge in the middle of a huge ridge, and the trail tread disappears the closer you get to it. There is a lot of shale up here and so it’s loose but nothing crazy. The views are not too shabby.
When I finally reach the pass I see a dude laying on the rocks, no shoes, hat over his face, apparently snoozing. When he hears me he apologizes for being in the way. I am taking photos of the pass and he just happens to be in it. I offer a sincere “no problem” cuz it’s really not a prolem, him laying there, he looks like legit hiker trash and I celebrate that! I’d originally planned on taking a break up here but now I want to leave him to his peace and so I decide to drop down a ways first.
It is a super steep drop and yet it’s easy going as the trail is well defined and my feet feel grippy on this tread. When I make it down to the junction about 800 ft below the pass I eat a quick snack. The snack I was planning to have back at the pass.
Freshly fueled, I start climbing again, this time to the Horquette de Chermentas at 8,002 ft (2439m). Someone with a sense of humor placed the skull of what I think was once a sheep on the giant rock cairn at the pass. Actually more than a skull, an entire body almost. The views from up here are quite impressive. Both of the passes have been stunning in scope and scale, and I feel like I am being rewarded for the frequent crosses with civilization to now see this. No doubt this mountain range is dramatic and beautiful in it’s own way.
I eat another snack and continue, eager to make it to the Barroude Lakes area where the Barroude Wall towers over the basin. It is a feature I am excited to see. I delay my own progress however by dropping too much. I should have turned right and instead saw a group of people down below and just followed them. Again! I was curious about them, as there were 18 of them and mostly dressed in black, such a mystery. They seemed young too but I couldn’t really tell. After a fair bit of descending I got that instinctive feeling that I was not on track and sure enough, I’d missed my turn and had to backtrack uphill again. Oof!
This is a really cool section however as the trail puts you directly under the rock face of the Pic d’Aguillos at 9,354ft (2851m).
I backtrack along a series of steep switchbacks until I meet the trail junction that I’d missed. From here there is a very clear trail and I continue along the foot of that giant rock wall. It feels super cool to stand at it’s base and get to feel that massive energy up close and personal. Finally I have to make one last uphill push to another small gap, not quite a Horquette but enough of a climb that my legs are sure feeling it.
It leads me around a sweet little section of trail toward the Barroude Wall. As I round a bend the sunlight is glimmering on the long soft grasses. I pass through a smattering of sheep who graze along the hillside, then suddenly the wall is in view and I am smacked in the face by it’s presence. I am definitely impressed. I can only compare it to perhaps Evolution Basin in the Sierras, though not anywhere near as remarkable or large in scale, but this wall is giantic. It rises at least 1,000 ft from where I am walking and undulates with gorgeous curves and bowls that were clearly carved out by glaciation.
When I reach the Lac du Barroude at 7,785 ft (2373m) it is about 6:20pm and I need to collect water for the evening. I walk down to the lake and take in the beautiful scenery. In the distance I see two people walking but I never do see a tent. Otherwise, I have this place to myself. There is also a perfect bivouac site right near the trail so I go ahead and take that bird in the hand. It’s cold, already 45F now and I am glad to camp just a bit higher than the lake. I think it’s going to get cold tonight and I am already feeling chilled from sweat.
9:00pm. I am all tucked in, my home made dinner of lentil pasta with spaghetti sauce and real vegetables (broccoli and eggplant) was amazing and really hit the spot. I’ve got my tea now and I am warm at the moment, except for my nose. I played some more music while I was eating my dinner, for some reason I felt it kept me company. These feelings of lonliness are sure new to me. I don’t know quite what to make of it. After a couple songs during my dinner, I turn off the music.
Now, I am enjoying the absolute silence. There is no running water here, no crickets, not even any wind. Just nothingness. There’s something nice about this absolute silence, a resonance with the stillness of these huge rock walls. A rare treat indeed. I am truly enjoying this sound of silence and this magical spot on Earth I get to call home for the night