We had been talking about staying at a mountain hut for some time, to enable a longer day in the mountains. This was something I had never done before. I imagined, from descriptions in old tales of climbing in the Alps, that I was going to have to sleep on flat wooden platforms very close to strangers. It didn’t sound inviting.
John assured me this was not the case, and so I felt positive as we set out to ame the trek to the hut at Pombie, situated at the base of the Pic du Midi D’Ossau. It was actually a hot sweaty walk in with full backpacks. We walked across boulder fields - the rocks that have fallen over the centuries from the mountain. Eventually the building was in site and it looked inviting. I was already feeling hungry and was looking forward to what by reputation would be a fantastic meal.
As we approached individuals and even whole families looking very rugged (and European) were gathered around the doorway, watching the mountains. Some people looked as though they just lived on the trails so brown and craggy was their skin. We queued a bit nervously to find out what lay in store for us sleeping wise. It turned the whole idea / ethos of the Pombie hut is not dissimilar to our very own East Street Arts Hostel. There is a great community atmosphere and everyone was very friendly. Guides and walkers of all ages and nationalities were sharing stories. Although there were people speaking English (as the lingua franca), we were the only English there. But it seemed that others thought we were German. This has happened to us a few times on our tour of France.
Here came the surprise - the man speaking French to John indicated a grey blob out in the grass a short walk from the main building. Due to the popularity of the hut we had to sleep in a large tent. Oh!
We made our way to the tent (that actually sleeps 20, on metal framed bunk beds) The sky looked threatening and there was a chilly wind. I actually put on a woolly hat. We dumped the rucksacks and went back into the hut or refuge as they are properly known as and waited for food. It was a proper building apparently restored a few years ago. Far from being disappointed, it was funny to find ourselves relegated to the windy annexe. Was it because of Brexit?
I people watched while the dinner cooked and we purchased a beer. All very nice. It turned out many people were on the GR 10, the Pombie hut being an official stop en route.
Dinner was amazing. They were serving 40. The first course was spinach soup, followed by a rich goulash and then a sponge pudding with chocolate sauce. There was plenty of seconds and people insisted John have extra servings as he was the biggest person at the table. I ate as much as I could aware that tomorrow was a big day and I needed to carb up.
Back in the tent it took a while to get to sleep. The storm broke and thunder, ligtning and heavy rain split the sky and pounded the tent for most of the night. I put all my clothes on to sleep including my waterproof but a couple of hours later I was too warm and took off the waterproof, gilet and woolly hat. Despite all this I actually slept well.
After breakfast we set off (me feeling trepidation) for the enormous mountain situated a couple of miles from the hut, the sun shone and the weather was going to be perfect. We left as much as we could back at the hut to keep as lightweight as possible, but the rucksacks containing ropes, food and water for the day were heavy. I had no idea how hard this climb was going to be.
There are a series of 3 chimneys that must be climbed and this is where you need the rope, because it is steep and exposed in places. There were several groups including us who were roped up, but at the same time young men skipped up the rock face beside us in trainers. I started up the first section of scramble with enthusiasm but the first chimney turned out to be the worst and so this freaked me a bit and made me nervous. I was also wearing the worst boots that were soft and folded up around my feet as I tried to climb. Not at any point were we actually that exposed and the walking between the chimneys was relatively easy on steep shaley paths. It was still a sustained and lengthy scramble that was heart in the mouth in places.
We eventually made it to the Summit Francais and I shed a few tears of relief. There are actually two summits, so we then did the easy climb across to the next Spanish summit which was higher, and ate lunch. The height of the Summit Espana is 2,884 metres (9,462 feet)
This was definitely type 2 pleasure and I daren’t even think about the descent and getting back to the van, that was still many hours away. Once or twice I could see the car park where it was parked from the summit.
Getting down off this mountain was easier than getting up but only just. I was just so slow feeling quite unbalanced looking down the steep paths to the drops below. We may have been the last people to leave the mountain that evening. We had set out at 8 in the morning and we go back to the van 11 hours later.