Trekking the French Pyrenees Con’t

August 24, 2012

After my heavy climb up to Cortalets, I slept alone with a strong wind whipping at the sides of my tent. I dreamed strangely that night and then woke to a crystal blue sky with the jagged Peak Canigou towering in front of me. I realized just how high I’d climbed and felt privileged to be there, breathing in crisp mountain air, being that much closer to the sun, facing Canigou up close still with patches of spring snow. I felt the healing process begin that morning. It was as if the mountains were responding to me, blowing away the mist, revealing the beauty and immensity beneath.

My first night on my own, far from a village or staffed refuge, was at a place called Bonne-Aigue, which means good water. But the spring was dried up, so there wasn’t any good water there for me. No matter, this camp will forever remain special to me because it marked my first stray from the guidebook and the reassurance a staffed refuge represents for a novice mountaineer.

Charlie asked me about fear and I have to admit I had a lot of it, most of the time. Despite appearances, I really don’t know anything about backpacking, or mountains. Nearly all of my outdoor expeditions have been in a sea kayak. Since moving to this region, I’ve done lots of day hiking and I’ve read a lot about extended backpacking, but this was my first attempt. And of course, I was alone.

Bonne-Aigue was only two hours away from Cortalets. But I didn’t want to go further. I wanted to stay there to acclimate before making my way around the rugged edge of Canigou. Staying put for the day was pretty nerve-racking. You don’t have the meditative action of putting one foot in front of the other; you’re simply left with your thoughts and fears. I watched clouds form over the afternoon peak, then saw them clear for a mysterious glimpse of the imposing summit, before Canigou summoned the clouds back again. But nothing in way of bad weather happened that day.


I think I sat in one spot the whole time, half paralyzed from fear of an unknown world and half mesmerized by a magnificent world opening up before me. The mountainous view across from Canigou was like nothing I’d ever seen before—a solid mountain mass, but arid and crumbling at the same time. It looked as if it were melting, crying down like a water color with too much water. And then there were the distant snow-capped peaks of the range I would eventually walk to. I thought, this is earth at time’s beginning, this is earth now and this is earth as it will be in the future. That view was like a bridge across time and space.

The next morning I woke to a beautiful moon over Canigou. I packed my tent in the silence of dawn and started walking well before 7 a.m. Within minutes a family of izards leapt from the trail to make way for me. Just after, a little head peeked up from the treacherous cliff side below and watched me with the same wonder and curiosity I had for him.


The forecast called for rain later in the day, so I didn’t dally around. But while I walked briskly along the edge of the sacred Mount Canigou, I took everything in,  and reveled at the wonder of life, of sorrow and joy. I’m certain my inexperience added to the intensity of it all. I had to stay tuned all the time, checking in with map and compass, paying attention to the wind and clouds, looking always ahead and behind. My mind was wild with questions and uneasiness as I learned the ways of mountains.

That day I navigated through my interior while discovering an expansive exterior. It was a meeting of myself, in this world, at this time. Courage and vulnerability were the themes; I met two sides of me up there.

to be continued…


3 Responses to “Trekking the French Pyrenees Con’t”

  1. Alan said

    enjoyed this no end – often thought of doing something along those lines after wonderful walks on the canigou massif, so far only got round to photos on picasa. recognise the bit about being there alone with your fears – 3am with the wind howling around the tent and not a soul for miles wondering why do i do this and instantly knowing the answer, because the solitude is part of the hills, maybe the biggest part, at least sometimes. then to wake with the vultures and isards in all that … overwhelmingness. nothing much compares in those moments.
    alan, céret – we met once in arles with nick and justine

  2. Reblogged this on marianinfrance and commented:
    My daughter’s blog:

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