More pictures here! (Plus a DITL movie of this adventure will be coming when I can get a strong internet connection.)
Having found a safe spot to rest Salt (the aforementioned Le Malazeou campground) we decided to test our backpacking endurance with a two night trek into the French Pyrenees. Usually our well-planned, well-stocked backpacking trips end early due to weather; they have never ended early due to a mammalian attack. But I am getting ahead of myself.
We parked at the Etang de Comte parking area just outside the town of Merens-les-Vals and commenced the gorgeous two-mile hike to our camping spot above the lake. Having done a portion of this trail as a day hike a few days ago, we were well prepared for the almost vertical first ½ mile. But the effort pays off nicely when you reach the alpine meadow and take in the sparkling river tumbling around brightly colored wildflowers. Rosco upped the enjoyment by jumping in for an early swim.
We arrived at the Etang around 5:00 p.m., carefully herding The Noses around a group of wild horses grazing at the shoreline, and selected a tent spot on the hill overlooking the water. There were four or five other tents around the lake, their occupants already out fishing.
I set about getting our tent, the North Face Minibus 2, up while SP gathered wood for our fire. Yes! A camp fire! We haven’t had one since the Shasta/Trinity area of Northern California last November. With the fire going, SP went down to the shore to try a few casts while I kept an eye on The Noses who, thanks to being upwind, had yet to discover the proximity of the horses.
Unfortunately, backpacking food (i.e. dehydrated) is difficult to come by out here; I doubt the French language includes a phrase for “rehydrate your dinner in a tin cup, sit on the ground and eat while balancing the cup on your knee.” It sure wouldn’t be their cheery, “Bon Appetit!” But eat we had to do, so we reheated some spaghetti bolognaise and reconstituted packages of instant mashed potatoes and asparagus soup for dinner. Unbelievably, SP had discovered marshmallows at the store so we ended the meal with fire toasted marshmallows. (Can’t recommend the pink ones as they tasted like strawberry, but the white ones tasted like home.)
With the weather due to be clear for three days, we opted to crawl into the Minibus without the rain fly so we could gaze at the stars. However, we were so tired we couldn’t wait for the complete dark (at 10:00 it was still light) and promptly fell asleep. Much later we awoke, put on our glasses, and gazed up in wonder; The Noses contentedly snoring away in the corner.
Near dawn River’s snoring turned to growling and I peeked out to see the horses at the edge of our camp and moving in. We managed to shoe them away (literally, by smacking SP’s thongs together) and they trotted up the hillside. Once they were far enough away, or so we thought, we let The Noses out. River, who never forgets a nasty smell, charged right up the hill after them. They didn’t take kindly to her obnoxious barking and moved further up to the ridge where they took a stand and spent the morning looking down on us. River kept them in line with an occasional Charge and Bark, but clearly they were just biding their time.
The weather was as lovely as promised so we set about preparing for our day hike up to the Etang de Couart. Putting the rain fly on the Minibus, we stored our extra food, clothes, and the stove inside for safekeeping and headed up the mountains. What a grueling hike! After two hours and over a mile of rocky uphill (some steps higher than my knees!) we were exhausted and stopped for some lunch and fishing. Fishless no more; I landed a Brook Trout quite quickly and SP managed to land a Brown. So we cleaned the fish, packed them in some icy water and headed back down to camp.
Coming down the mountain we had a clear view of the Etang and our campsite. To our dismay we could see that the horses were over for a visit. We scampered down as quickly as we dared, hoping the herd was not destroying our site. Tired, we stumbled into camp to find our beloved Minibus ripped open. Somehow the fly wasn’t damaged--merely tossed to the side, but the netting was ripped in two places and the stench of manure and urine was overpowering. My clothing bag had been dragged out, the deodorant crushed (do wild horses think everyone should smell as badly as they do?) and the dog packs were strewn around. Maybe they had been after the dog food?
In any event, staying another night was out of the question. The stench, the additional flies and the lack of tent netting would have made sleeping impossible. So, tired as we all were, we packed everything up, put the fish in fresh icy water and headed back to the Pepper.
We made it back to Salt by 7:00 p.m., still plenty of light in these long, gorgeous days of summer; we showered and headed to the campground’s restaurant (La Marmotte) for a delicious and easy dinner with a good dose of house wine.
I have long championed the virtues of day hiking over backpacking. It will undoubtedly take us awhile to find a new Minibus; until then, we will get in as many day hikes as possible, preferably without horses.
PS: We thought the horses were wild until we noticed two of them sporting bells around their necks. Clearly they are free to range all over the mountains, but also clearly, someone wants an occasional update on their whereabouts.