So the challenge has seriously started now and we have reached the Subera hut at 1,500m where we are camping wild tonight.
So why has the challenge only just seriously started? For the past few days since we met at Heathrow there have been numerous discussions about what kit we would have to carry ourselves here to Subera hut, and then what we will have to carry on ourselves into Spain (all being well). Everyone seems to have had a different idea of what is needed and is expected of us and all will be revealed.
We started with a breakfast of fresh bread, home-made jam and coffee outside the refuge at Aunac having also been joined by a family of donkeys. Unfortunately this little taste of rustic heaven was soon disturbed as we had to leave and start walking in what promised to be very warm temperatures. Initially descending through woodland on paths that were surprisingly muddy we soon recrossed the river Salat from yesterday afternoon before starting the ascent to the Col de la Core (a Col is the lowest point on a ridge between two mountains and have frequently have been used as a communications/transport route). With the sun shining we made our way slowly uphill wondering how we would cope later in the trip if this weather continued. We finally reached the Col and a well-deserved picnic, with lovely views back down the valley. With what seems typical fortune I collected a wrapped slice of vegetable pizza for Vicky and one for myself and just after she'd bitten into hers I unwrapped mine to discover that, despite all assurances to the contrary, it was Ham & Mushroom. Still the vegetable pasta was tasty with lots of veggies (including one we couldn't identify, which turned out to be palm heart).
After this the mystery was over and the reality of everything that we will need for the remainder of the trek was revealed and we discovered exactly what we need to carry for ourselves (with the exception of the thermarest which they will carry back from the camp for us). Fiona had a set of travel scales and my pack comes out at 13.5kg. I'm not sure why, but bear in mind that we have 3 Cols over 2,400m ahead of us with a series of sharp descents to accompany them and the Col de la Core is a mere 1,395m. Ouch.
Eventually we were all packed and with the now heavier packs hoisted (I'd swapped to carrying my bigger trip pack), according to the trip guide we would head off into the woods to contour around the mountainside. In reality we gained 100m relatively quickly before traversing past the sites of several large landslides through prehistoric feeling woodland accompanied by the sound of cowbells. There was much discussion about the source of these and the hillsides seem too steep for cattle. Passing a hand painted sign for 'Fromage de Chevre' (goats cheese) we found our questions answered. We soon found our path temporarily blocked by a group of donkeys and as we continued through the gloomy wood we started discussing how non-threatening the raptors in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park films would look if they followed the latest finds
and were actually feathered. A lot of the fear factor would be replaced by slight comedy was the general outcome of our debate.
It was at this point that the promised weather change occurred and we quickly stopped to don full waterproofs and ensure that our water covers were fully functional. One slight positive in this was the fact that the temperatures dropped with the rain. Finally rounding a corner we saw the Subera hut in a grassy area surrounded by sharp cliffs dotted with cattle. Several tents were already up and with the news that the hut was in a more hospitable state than in previous years, with less likelihood of being visited by mice, several people abandoned the camping idea to sleep in the hut (probably sensibly as the rain had only increased in strength as the afternoon progressed). Me and Mike found a tent and after finishing the job of erecting it we set ourselves up while trying to keep the rest of our kit dry. Typically the 2-man tent we have got is only large enough for 1.5 people at most and so we decided that the sensible option would be to leave our bags in the shelter of the hut overnight.
Having set our stall out in the tent we made our way into the hut for hot drinks and left ourselves there for the rest of the evening keeping ourselves moderately dry and enjoying the convivial atmosphere as despite the trying conditions we are all still enjoying each other's company. Our evening meal we have been informed is a rehydrated expedition meal (and apparently they have got a special veggie one for me, time will tell though) and just goes to show how far we have come from the wonderful rustic fare of last night.