Ceillac, France, July 6, 2013—
I KNEW THIS was going to be a hard day. Paddy Dillon's book, which is detailed but in some ways misleading I think, suggested that it would be. My own book, which I find utterly reliable, said that it would be. ("Today’s walk, the book warned, would take nearly eight hours, and would involve nearly 2400 meters — 7800 feet — of elevation change, including a steady gain of a thousand meters in four hours.")
And my memory warned me the same. We did have one advantage over the experience of five years ago: we did not descend to Arvieux, the next town, but set out at quarter past eight, directly from our very fine Chalet Viso, on a forest trail that led us through cool surroundings and gentle ascents to the hamlet of Les Maisons, where we arrived at nine o'clock, filled our canteens at the fountain, and engaged in some banter with the three men and one woman who were cutting the grass and weeds from a triangular plot hardly bigger than a modest house.
A scythe would ne faster, cleaner, and a lot more tranquil, I observed, and the guy with the Stihl weed-wacker smiled, and agreed, and shrugged his shoulders, and went bacck to work.
The path took us through pasture and forest to the Lac de Roue, now greatly overgrown with vegetation, and then down through spruce forest and picnic ground, down down down, to château-Queyras, where we broke for tea and a rather firm but still delicious Charentais melon. The fort here is architecturally beautiful from outside, but our host at Chalet Visi had warned us that the interior was not particularly interesting, and I was thinking about the climb facing us, harder, I knew, than anything we had yet done.
It begins with a long scramble up stony paths, often very steep indeed. I've often thought about actually measuring these gradients, but when you're actually climbing them, especially not alone but with a companion, it's just too hard to take the time. If I were to bend over to put my iPhone on the ground, to measure the gradient, I might have a great deal of t rouble picking it up, or righting myself.
Instead I think about my breathing. It's always best when you're unaware of your breathing. I find that when I do become aware of it I'm probably inhaling for two steps, then exhaling for two. As the grade grows steeper it's inhale sharply on one step, exhale the next two. Then it's inhale on one, exhale the next —I try to exhale while planting the right trekking pole and advancing the left foot, then alternate.
The worst, of course, is inhaling on one step, exhaling the next.. But it gets worse than that, at times, and you find yourself panting, a quick inhale and exhale on EACH step. At that point I stop, lean on the poles, and think about my pulse, which is probably up to about 130. Before long it drops to something more comfortable, and I resume the walk.
Of course in addition to the lean-on-poles there are also the occasional sit-down-catch-your-breaths, and more rarely, when a stone or a grassy bank the right size shows up, a throw-off-your-sack-take-a-proper-rest break, maybe every twenty minutes.
In this manner we finally reached the Col Fromage at 3:30. It's only 2300 meters, 7500 feet, but it seemed higher. It was windy, of course, and a little chilly, though it was the first col we've approached and crossed without being hampered by snow. We found a place out of the wind and ate the sandwiches last night's hostess had provided, and began the long tortuous descent, through many switchbacks, steeply,
We were in the day's destination, Ceillac, by quarter past five. I remembered a fairly decent Martini I'd had at the bar across from our gîte, but that's another of the changes I'll be writing about when I really address this adventure. For mow, another amazing sunset, and another hard day tomorrow.
I seem to have taken very few photos today, or at least few successful ones. You can only do so much.