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The Sketch

Today was supposed to be one of my “key” days for the holiday – one including a fairly significant walk with a good course of geocaches. A vertical walk up the side of a mountain, in search of a lake. Not sure it worked out that way. It was closer to being another famous near-death experience of a day, but never mind. Here’s the story.

There was a tempting looking caching series walking around the Lac de Migouélou – an artificial lake in a cirque about two valleys over to the west from Luz Saint Sauveur. It’s branded as quite a challenging series of about 80 caches over a distance of 20km. I didn’t think we’d get all the way around, but with sufficient supplies I’d thought we might climb up to the lake and find the first 25 or so of the caches.

Setting Off

We got up fairly early and were out of the house well before 9 am – it was about an hour’s drive around from Luz, and involved driving all the way down the valley nearly to Lourdes and then hopping across the base of a couple of valleys through Argelès Gazost before climbing up into the Val d’Aste.

At the top end of the valley is a tourist information centre-cum-refuge. It gives information about the valley and the various activities that can be done there. We stopped about a kilometre short of that at a large gravel-topped car park. It was at the foot of a very big hill and also at the start point of the caching series. The first cache involved crossing a small stream on a bridge and searching at the base of a tree. After walking over and wasting 15 minutes searching, I was finally clever enough to examine in detail on the GPS, and discovered it’s not there. Nobody had found it for the last 10 attempts. Bum! Not a good start.


Anyway though, back at the main walk, we grabbed as much stuff as we’d bought with us. This was 2-3 bottles of liquids each, biscuits, sandwiches and crisps. And then we began our climb. The walk up the lake was supposedly a climb of 850-900m on a well-travelled pathway. We’d sort of done nearly that amount when we climbed Helvellyn earlier in the year, or so we thought, and as a result I was optimistic we’d at least be able to get up to the lake and back again in a day.

The walking up proved to be pretty hard though, especially for the kids. It was near-vertical and the kids were generally progressing at low speed. I wasn’t exactly racing, but the kids were definitely struggling to the point where they were grumpy about it. It seemed nobody was enjoying it. There were caches on the way, but series #2 also wasn’t there. Another failure. The caches were at near maximum density of 161m apart as the crow flies. However, I very quickly concluded that crows don’t actually fly here.

On this initial stage, each 161 m over the ground involved about 8-900 m of actual walking. We were on a narrow zig-zigged path up the side of a very steep slope. Each 161 m as the crow flies involved about 90-100m of vertical ascent too. That made for pretty tough going.

After an hour or so I was starting to think we weren’t going to get anywhere near. I suggested in a less than friendly tone that we just give up and go back down. Anyway, I got told off and we kept going. After a shade under 3 hours we’d managed to climb about 600 m and had got to somewhere between cache #6 and #7. We’d come out of “the worst” of the steep slope and were definitely above the tree line. It was still a long way up to the lake, though. We still couldn’t even see the dam that holds the lake in place.


Around this point Izzy started to have a problem with her feet – blisters, basically. And we’d been going ages. While I was walking on with Ami I suggested to her that we just take a lunch break and go back down again. Izzy was really struggling and I could tell from Ami’s regular stops to help Izzy that she’d had enough too. So we agreed to stop for lunch and then walk back down again. The view from our lunch stop was pretty good though.

The walk back down took us only half the time of going up. It was still slow because of the steepness and the zig-zags but at least we weren’t having to push our body weight uphill anymore. We took heart from the sight of the car getting gradually closer as we descended.


Once we got to the car we drove up to the head of the valley and were unable to park, so Kas took control of the car while I did some speedy caching. We did another 4 caches as drive-bys on the way back down before driving all the way down to a cafe we’d seen in the morning a few km down the valley at the Lac du Tec, a small artificial lake used as part of a complex hydroelectric scheme and having facilities both at the upstream and downstream ends of the lake. The cafe belonged to a campsite and was fairly basic, but they had a few cakes, coffees and ice creams. And it had some toilets.

After ice creams it was still warm and it wasn’t late, so we took a short walk along the lakeshore. There was a beach there (well, a bit where a load of rocks had been dumped on the shore to make a platform). We wasted a quarter of an hour trying to skim stones on the lake. The stones were a random mix, and it was quite easy to find broad, flat ones. Ideal then.

The drive back home was uneventful and we went out for dinner again. We walked up into Luz and took a table outside at the Hotel de Londres. I can’t really remember what anyone had to eat. It was the “usual” selection of French, Italian and American dishes. It was much welcomed and pretty good.

That more or less ended our day, as we’d been up for quite a while. As we were walking up the mountainside it became increasingly apparent we weren’t going to get as far as I’d thought, but on reflection (reflection that began during lunch on the mountain) I realised that what I’d thought we could manage was, in fact, was several steps too far. We’d had a tiring day and had seen some beautiful scenery, so I was happy with that. We just hadn’t reached a lake or done a shed load of caches.