Pyrenees (Etang De Fontargente)
This was my first time in the Pyrenees, and I'll definitely be back. As usual on one of our "Joy Day" gatherings in the South of France, Padmasini had encouraged us to come early and enjoy the countryside, so a day was spent cycling on the towpaths of the Canal du Midi before we headed off to the mountains. There was also time for an unofficial two mile race (not accurately measured, more like 2.5) then we drove down through Foix to the Pyrenees proper. Once there, staying at a Gite in Les Cabannes, we opted for a one-day hike up to some lakes (Etangs) close to the border with Spain.
A long drive up a narrow lane finally brought us to the Laparan dam and reservoir - somehow it reminded me of Air Itam where I went trail running in Penang, but instead of tropical jungle there was rugged upland reminiscent of Scotland, with a scattering of stumpy pines and vestiges of the winter snow still hanging on the sides of the peaks. Some of those peaks were quite dramatic - not the rounded hills of south Wales that I'm used to, but proper conical mountains. Nuff said.
For once I was not navigating or really exerting - it was a leisurely stroll up a challenging climb but with no need to hurry or to have a clue where I was going - a nice change! We soon spread out into groups and waited every so often for the less fast to catch up. It was after an hour and a half that we came to the snow, not a full covering but just patches that got larger and deeper as we climbed. The top of the trail was at a lake that was frozen over thanks to its altitude - a really dramatic site that I don't often see back in the UK. Climbing over a spur we came to the second lake, and began our descent. It had been easy going on the way up, but the way back was less easy to follow - although there are paint waymarks on rocks at regular intervals, snow and shifting of the scree/rocks had obscured some. We ended up having a good downhill scramble and quite a few opted for the backside-slide down a snow slope to get down one particularly tricky section. After that it was a damp-footed stroll through upland meadow, a sharp shower to cool us down, one rickety bridge and then a long descent into the valley and the evening sun. There were few other hikers around, only the odd fisherman trying his luck in the upland streams. The atmosphere was peaceful and the trails friendly.
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