St Lizier d’Ustou – Refuge de Bassies (1655m) via Aulus les Bains
Best day on the trail? Maybe, just maybe. Fresh and clean from our night in the campsite at St Lizier, we woke an hour later than we planned. But it didn’t matter – our first climb was easier than we thought. A four hour climb was cut to just two hours – we were on fire!
There was just one thing missing from the perfect morning…coffee. We’d given up hope of finding any on the mountain, until we entered a ski area and saw a chalet in the distance. “It won’t be open,” I warned Mat. “Don’t get your hopes up!” But as we got closer, we saw lights and movement inside – it was open!
Two coffees and a good wifi session later and we were off, fuelled for a fast descent through a stunning hanging valley. We didn’t need to take a dip in the stream, just having it cascading beside us kept us cool. We dipped into the forest, passing a few hikers looking fresh. We soon found out why – they’d started their journey on donkey!
We were in Aulus les Bains within the hour and filling our basket with goodies for the next three days. This is apparently the last proper food shop we’ll see until Sunday, which means we need to plan ahead and carry a heap of extra meals. But it’s worth it for the remote landscape we’ll be exploring. There will be gites and refuges, but their meals are expensive compared to tinned mackerel and baguettes – you know, the camping food of champions! So we stocked up on:
– little jams
– bread buns
And as a special treat (because if you can’t have a special treat when running over mountains, when can you?!), we found a special Pyrenees butter cake and chestnut cream. YUM!
We smashed a couple of yoghurts and litre of apple juice for lunch, and then tried to find our way out of the village. The village was not big, but there were signs and faded painted markers everywhere, so it took us half an hour to get on the right trail.
Swatting bitey flies for the next half hour, I was dubious about whether we’d make it to our destination. The book said it was another 5 hours away and we’d be climbing from 750m to 1933m – on top of what we’d already done this morning. But climbing through the forest was shady and cool, and the time flew. The we hit the car park. There’s nothing more soul destroying than finding out that people can just drive to the place you’ve been hiking to! We’d reached Coumebiere at 1400m. The landscape suddenly opened and we felt tiny hiking through the grand wilderness towards mountains that didn’t seem to get any closer. Everything soared above us and we couldn’t work out which pass we’d be crossing, if we could even see it yet.
Soon, we were zigzagging up and up and up. The pass revealed itself and we stopped. On one side we could see the village far, far below, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The other undiscovered side revealed a never-ending painting of blue and grey mountains layered one on top of the other. We ate our giant butter muffin and took it all in.
Then we climbed. Up an insanely steep ridge, we waited for the muffin power to kick in. But before it had a chance, we were heading down towards small lakes, cut like jewels into the mountain’s curves.
Over one more pass (Col de Bassies at 1933m), and we were on top of the world. We found a rock to sit on and just looked. Below us, a wonder of lakes and rivers and waterfalls unfolded down the valley. Propped in the corner was the refuge – our goal.
Later that evening…
The storm rolled in. I can’t explain how the clouds moved in, so here are some pictures: