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Néouvielle - Central Pyrenees - 12 and 13th May '73

We received this screed from Kangy complete with a note from his typist saying that the article which follows contains more padding than any normal sleeping bag!  It is, in fact, in Kangy' s normal and most readable style.

Rendezvous at 4 o'clock on Saturday afternoon as far as possible along the route to Cap Long. Incredulously, I stopped my car at the avalanche barely 2 km out of the village which, itself, is about 18 km from the 'roads Bridges' department hostel where we hoped to spend the night.  Several other cars were there, with other member of the party preparing to carry their gear.

At  4.30 p.m., I shouldered my ‘karrimor’ rucsac and skis de randonnee and calculated, unhappily, that I would have to carry this lot uphill for the next four hours at least.  At 5.30 p.m. I stopped, not the last, but regretting the pace which was faster than normal.  My hip hurt because I had over stretched it and my foot had cramp.  I fixed my boot with some sponge under the instep, tightened the rucsac straps to raise it higher on my back and continued on at a deliberate pace. This was the set of hairpin bends where, two years earlier, Arboucalot and I had left the car and spent twelve hours wading knee-deep in heavy snow to attempt the same mountain.  Another saga.

I picked my own way through avalanche debris and rejoined the road; walking on the edge from which the snow infill had melted.  At 6.30 p.m. I joined the fast men sitting around at Lac d'Oredon.  I sat with them wondering why I had come ("C'est bon, le ski.").  At 6.45 p.m., the fast men shot off up the grass slopes to join the road, now straight, wide and black with clean asphalt.  I plodded behind with the last man, refusing to work up a sweat and munching a cake for tea.

A cold mist developed and snow covered the road.  Dusk gathered.  I felt my pulse – 120!  I didn't, quite, feel bad enough to stop and anyway, was not tempted by the terrain. On each side, pine trees were growing out of broken, rocky ground.  Road edges were flat, but at a steep gradient with the bitumen squeezed up into the loose, grey gravel border.  Grey mist confined the view.  I passed the time imagining bivouac sites.  I was now last.  The ground levelled out as the road disappeared under a snowfield.  M. Moreau was there in the gloom, fastening his skis as I joined him.  At 8.15, I fitted the Silvretta bindings to Mark James's old ski mountain boots thinking that, at least, it made a change from road slogging.  Moreau plodded off without saying much, and I followed on, liking the different sensation of sliding and the pack lightened by the removal of the skis.  Moreau fell twice, resignedly, while I stood by and watched, wordlessly.  We crossed the dry surface of the bridge, carefully placing the skis to avoid large stones.  The hostel lay on the other side and slightly above.

At 8.30 p.m., I took off the sac and stood the skis and batons against the wall and went in.  The others, who had not long arrived, were still exploring the rooms.  The place, being private, is very well equipped. Gas lighting, stoves, everything for cooking and eating - except grub.  I went back to the bridge with M. Norman and filled two large containers with water.  It was now almost dark.  The tea I had started went down well and sweating backs were dried out against a fire which someone had lit.

An hour or so was spent chattering and bantering happily, eating soup and omelettes and trying out various red wines.  Outside, I found that the mist had lifted and the mountains stood out clear in the moonlight. Superb!  My Black's 'Romsdale' sleeping bag was far too hot and I only got off to sleep after midnight by lying under rather than in it.  I suppose I rested.  My hip gradually stopped hurting.

At 4.30 a.m., M. Plenier got up to start the day.  I lay on until 5 o'clock and then got up, had breakfast, pack my bag (my small super-lightweight bag) and stood around waiting for the others.  At 5.45 we started out.  The snow was frozen hard and some of us walked carrying our skis. Others skied.  It made little difference on the slightly rising ground.

At 7 o'clock, the steeper slopes were reached and, unequivocally, the skis were donned.  We climbed using seal skins and, in addition, those that had them used 'couteaux' - knife-like edges which cut into the snow and stop the skins and skis from sliding sideways when traversing.  I didn't have them and carried my skis quite often.

Eight o'clock and a stop for breakfast in the sun.  The snow stretched out smoothly and steeply to the wall of the summit.  We climbed slowly and, on the final snow slopes, where the couteaux-equipped skis forged ahead, I stuck mine upright in the snow and struck out directly for the left-hand arête, while the others made long traverses to the right.

As I arrived, Plenier shouted back that there was a bad passage on the ridge.  I hesitated but decided to go on.  He was right.  I came back, more onto the face and used strips of rotten snow and good handholds to climb.  Four metres from the top I ran out of enthusiasm for rotten snow.  The others, comfortably arrived, were vastly amused. At twenty years old, I would have taken a chance on the snow and would have managed somehow.  As a dad, I asked for - and got - a top rope, which pleased me.

9.45.  The views from the summit were almost unbelievable and occupied us happily until mid day.  We watched the slow progress of a party following our route.  We nibbled food, drank and chattered.  The sky was completely clear.  Then we rattled down the right-hand arête and, while the others put on their skis, I ran down to mine not to be left behind.  They came down in carefree, wide sweeping turns and I joined them.  The surface was excellent - a few cm of soft snow on top of hard, and in an exhilarating run we descended in five minutes what had taken us two hours going up. Understandably, we paused frequently to look and comment before diving into a series of broad turns across the wide snow slopes of the valley.  An intricate traverse was carefully retraced.  That, and two rather frightening schuss, and the hostel was in sight.

From 12.15, we idled around in the hot sun at the hostel.  Feeling rather ‘one up’, I drank a can of Newcastle Brown Ale.  We pottered around packing and cleaning up. At 3 p.m. we humped packs and skied by a connecting route to join the road.  We passed between rocky outcrops, traversed the length of a frozen lake, went through the pines and made a swift series of turns to stop by a vigorous stream to pack the skis.  My mind 'switched off' so much for the downhill road that I didn't quite understand when Plenier started to put on his skis.  The road, in fact, was partially covered in snow and with care, because of a savage ravine to the left, we skied on it.  The two series of hairpins were as good as a piste and lower still the thin thread-like path of snow continued.  I enjoyed that unexpected 4 km of ski transportation as much as anything. At 4 p.m. I reached the end of the snow road and repacked the blessed planks.

A road is a road, but going downhill in warm late after¬noon sunshine, this one wasn't too bad.  I noted, with interest that my heartbeats corresponded with my pace.  I was content.  I recognized the avalanches which had caused the extra work and, shortly afterwards, arrived at my car.  I was slightly tired, somewhat stiff and very happy ¬5.30 p.m. on.  Sunday - 25 hours after starting.