Map: Day 1
7 am. The night train from Paris arrives in Mérens-les-Vals. Roland announces that his sense of orientation is not to be trusted.
We follow the GR10 trail up out of the village of Mérens-les-Vals. Marc stops to fashion a walking stick from an ash rod. (Day 1. Map point 1)
We cross the ruisseau du Mourguillou in the early morning sun and head up the valley.
Emerging from the tree cover we come opon the grassy plain of the Jasse de Mourguillou and can appreciate the grandeur of the valley.
Time for a spot of breakfast and a snooze. Thanks to Roland for carrying the food and the stove for tea! (Day 1. Map point 2)
Tea for three.
Roland in ascent. We find much more snow than we expected and it's hard going without crampons.
We reach our highest point for the day, 2,439 m at the Crête de la Lhasse, up from at 1,052 m at Mérens, and we begin our descent towards l'Etang bleu. (Day 1. Map point 3)
We join up with two other hikers also heading to the Ruhle refuge. With all the snow we lose the trail coming down to l'Etang Bleu and end up slithering over frozen show and clambering over huge boulders.
We finally arrive at the Ruhle refuge, 11 hours after we started... (Day 1. Map point 4)
Map: Day 2
After a good night's sleep (at least for those not bothered by snoring), we check our directions for a day's hiking around the lakes. (Day 2. Map point 1)
And off we go.
Fergus checks the map at l'Estagnol lake. (Day 2. Map point 2)
Marc makes like a frog at the Estagnol lake.
A real frog, with plenty of frog spawn.
Roland & Marc ascending from l'Estagnol to l'Etang de Joclar.
After a spot of lunch at the top of the Col de l'Albe we descend towards the Albe lakes as the storm clouds gather ominously...
The heavens open and with thunder and lightening all around we take shelter under a rock. (Day 2. Map point 3)
It's a hard slog up from the Alba lakes over the snow and with rain and sleet on our heads. In addition, we fail to pay attention to our compass and we head the wrong way for an hour or two... (Day 2. Map point 4)
We finally come over the Porteille de Rulhe/Savignac and can see the refuge again. Marc celebrates by inventing the "seat-of-the-pants" luge. (Day 2. Map point 5)
Marc perfects his technique, using his walking stick as a guidance system and emergency brake.
Happy to finally find a positive side to all the snow, we all join in the fun. Roland lets rip.
Map: Day 3
Day 3 begins as the previous one ended: on our arses in the snow. (Day 3. Map point 1)
Part of a herd of cows grazing in the pasture at Prat Rodon. (Day 3. Map point 2)
Part of the same herd, with a particularly nice set of horns. (Day 3. Map point 2)
In a piece of heaven on earth, we stop for a stretch and a snack. (Day 3. Map point 2)
Roland and Marc debate the best way to cross the river with care. Unlike Fergus, who is already on the other side with soaked feet... (Day 3. Map point 3)
Marc: up, up and away! (Day 3. Map point 3)
The travellers return.
Ax-les-Thermes. Time to rejuvenate the feet in the sulphurous water of the Basin des Ladres, built in 1260 by the Comte de Foix during the reign of Saint Louis to treat crusaders who returned from the Holy Land with leprosy.
A bleary-eyed Roland can hardly wait for his bed to pull into the station.