A somewhat bizarre day. We sat down last night a went through the maps again, and our goals. The problem was that the next day was fine but the two after that were well over two thousand meters which we wanted to avoid due to pregnancy.
This left us in the slightly silly situation of doing the next day on the HRP and then having to go long roundabout ways on either the GR10 or GR11 to get to Gavarnie. But then after there we wanted to go to Lourdes so why didn't we just go straight there instead?
If we did that then the best way was actually to catch the train... so we did.
Turns out the dam we had been camping near was built in 1924 and the train was the highest train line in France, Petit train d'Artouste. It also dropped its first load of tourists up at ten o'clock so we packed up camp and headed down to the station.
To make matters more bizarre there is a café at the station so we went from hiking horrendous hills to casually quaffing coffee waiting for a train in the mountains.
The ride was amazing if a little hair raising for those on the edge ward side. We motored along cliffs at 8km, 12km, and whatever speed the driver went when his foot wasn't on the brake. Through a tunnel and after maybe half an hour arrived at the other station at the top of a set of gondolas that then dropped us about three hundred meters to a ski town.
Within two hours we had gone from being camped high in the mountains by a lake to having a salad and a beer at a restaurant.
Then we started on the GR10. This is where is gets really bizarre. The GR10 tracks down the valley, around a bit, up a huge climb and then heads up the same valley to almost the same elevation. This is after roughly six hours of walking and re-climbing most of the height we had lost.
As we were having dinner the train chugged past on the other side taking the last of the tourists down.
We abandoned the HRP this morning, having realized that the next two days would be well above 2400m with a day 12 above 2600m. In other words, too high altitudes for bump.
So we left our idyllic private-mountain-lake, where yesterday we celebrated our one month wedding anniversary (just joking, we only realized that a month had passed today) and headed for the bizarre miniature yellow tourist train that would take us away from Lake Artouste, through the valley to the GR10. The train was one used to transport materials for the construction of the damn, a major infrastructure project of the 1920s. It travelled about 10km/hour, and dropped us off an hour later at the head of a ski gondola, which we took to descend into the ski resort village of Artouste.
Tourist information sold us a fine IGN map and we set off on the GR10, after a hearty meal in the village. Much tougher going than expected but spectacular views of the valley that we had just descended. Including of the tiny yellow train making its last return to the gondola.
We are camped below our last major climb - a 2500m ascent of Pic d’Anglas (so much for avoiding altitude), after which we shall head north towards Lourdes and away from the mountains. Our camping spot in this glorious valley at just under 2000m, next to a glacial stream, and mountains that are various shades of mauve in the evening sun is nothing short of breathtaking.