Day 8: A comedy of errors

Lac Gentau- Gabas – Shepherds hut

Distance: 42km

Elevation: 1777m

Gear fails: Nicki’s pole snapped so she can’t put her whole weight on it… let’s just say there was a stinging nettle and a rock.

Wrong turns: Day 7 was one big wrong turn!

Fuel: baguette and vegemite/jam, mars bar, 2x cafe au lait, baguette and vegemite/jam for lunch, baguette and sausage for dinner, mars bar for dessert (we’re nothing but consistent!). 

The barman in Gabas looked at us like he’d seen us before. We ordered two cafe au lait and sat down, defeated. You see, he had seen us before – 24 hours earlier. We’d done a 60km round trip to get back to where we started. 

How? Why?!

The day started with a wrong turn. We left our perfect lake camping spot at 7am ready to crack on with our big day- we wanted to finish in Gourette, 35km and a mountain pass away. 

We asked a man at the refuge which way for the GR10 and he pointed to a clear zigzag track. “GR ten this way!” he proclaimed confidently. And so began an hour of wandering to nowhere. We should have realised our mistake when:

A) the trail was going up, not down

B) there were no red-white trail markers

C) did I mention we were going up, not down?!

Back at the lake, we found the signs pointing the most opposite way you can imagine, and began our descent. 

Everything was back on track. Sure, we’d lost an hour but we’d make it up. It was better to just chill out and enjoy the run, right? 

A few kilometres out from Gabas, the next village, a small dog started following us. Then he started leading the way. “Cute” we thought and, enjoying the new company, let him do his thing. What could possibly go wrong? 

Sheep, that’s what. We were brought to an abrupt halt by a flock of sheep being  herded along the road. This would have been fine except our adopted dog wasn’t one of the designated sheep dogs. And that can only mean one thing: turf wars. The shepherds kept giving us looks and gestures to say “control your dog!” as he ran between them, us and the sheep. We just looked back helplessly and tried to use charades to tell them the chien is not our chien, he just followed us. 

Fortunately the trail diverted off the road, leaving the sheep and angry shepherds, but the dog followed us. By now, I was seriously not loving our new friend. I just wanted him gone, but no amount of shooing and “Go! Leave us! Go!” (in a French accent, of course) would deter him. Suddenly, from nowhere, a giant white sheepdog started running towards adoptee dog. Freaked out, I span so fast I lost my balance and ended up sitting in a bog. 

You know when you’re not sure whether you’re not sure whether to laugh or cry? I did both. 

Mat brushed be off and ten minutes later we were down in the town, dog in tow, and headed straight for a bar for coffee. “He won’t see us if we sit inside,” Mat reasoned. A couple of cafe au laits later and we were recharged and ready to hit the mountain pass.

What happened next would become our biggest mistake of the GR10 so far: we followed the red-white stripes out of town. 

I know what you’re thinking – aren’t you meant to follow the red-white stripes?

That’s what we thought. So, for the next ten kilometres, we did. All the way until we got to a confusing junction and the only sign was this: 

No mention of the GR10, but the GR108 is that way! 

Turns out we’d been following the wrong trail for two hours. TWO HOURS!

After a few tears (mine) and yelling at the signpost (Mat), we turned around.

Now, it’s at this point we wondered aloud if anything else can go wrong. Never do that! Because not two minutes later, I fell into a stinging nettle and snapped my hiking pole. What can you do but laugh? 

And so back we went looking at sign after sign for the GR108. Each sign reminding us of our stupidity, reminding us that we need to actively navigate and not get complacent, telling us we need a proper rest. 

We rejoined the trail on perhaps the steepest part of the hike, but were so relieved we didn’t even notice!  

Enjoying the feeling of being back on track, we hiked with purpose through the forest and high above the tree line. Water was sparse and the day was muggy, so we took any opportunity to fill our bladders. 

Gradually, the terrain changed and we were amongst ice. Rapid torrents of melted ice were thundering around us and we skidded across the top in a desperate attempt not to lose our markers.

It was close to 6pm by now and we were still eager to get over the pass and to a valley camping spot. But dark clouds were gathering fast, the terrain was getting icier and steeper, and, after 40km, quite frankly we were exhausted. One final push was all it needed, but as we got within 50m of the pass, we faced a wall of ice and moraine. A crack of thunder was all it took for us to go skidding back down the trail. “Shit!!” I yelled as the rain started and lightning lit up the sky. Mat spied a couple of stone buildings in the valley about 100m below, so we sprinted (as fast as you can when dodging potholes and streams) towards it. The main building was locked but the shepherd’s hut was open so we cowered inside as the storm thundered around us. 

These huts are everywhere in the Pyrenees. Because the sheep graze so high, shepherds also sometimes need to stay up high too. But because the snow hasn’t melted yet, the sheep weren’t yet up this high and we had the hut to ourselves. Even the solid concrete floor was inviting after the day we’d had. Exhausted and defeated, we blew up our sleeping mats and snuggled down to watch the storm in our perfect refuge. 

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