France 2004


July 1st, 2004

Thursday - Phagalcette to Chalet d'Iraty

Morning friends. A farm building in the valley. Bon looks back over the trail. Gaining altitude. Happy hikers. The picnic spot. Our gîte at Chalet d'Iraty.

After a communal breakfast of bread and coffee we left Phagalcette at 7:40 a.m. It was a cloudy day with some blue sky to the west. We followed Tom, Jane and Claire, up the road and then (at a small stake in the ground which I would not have not recognized as a trail marker) up a steep hillside bearing to the right toward the top. There the three we were following took a break and we passed a herd of light white-beige cows. There was a view of cloud covered peaks to the east now. We started down a long winding dirt road on the eastern side of Heguieder passing lavender and magenta foxglove and unusual vertical rocks below. At the bottom, the road looped back crossing a rushing stream with a green view of the valley and an old stone building. We diverted to a ruin as our companions passed us again. We could see George and his father coming down the hill.

We began a long steep ascent to a col at Iraukatururlu with peaks on both sides and palomino horses dotting the green slope behind. Five or six large vultures were raising a racket on the opposing slope. It was a very steep climb through beech woods and fields.

Crossing the col revealed green treeless slopes on all sides. There was a small house where we met our three companions again. They had stopped and were chilled and continued on. We stopped to buy the Brebis cheese and a saucisson - a pepperoni like meat. The shop was filled with rounds of cheese on shelves, saucissons hanging from strings, honey, pate, jam and many other things in a dark room. We headed on along a road passing green fields and a rocky peak on the right. The road led to another steep climb up a field up the Sommet d'Occabe. As we climbed we passed the Frenchman who we had lunched with when we first arrived at the gîte. He had camped out and said it had rained in the evening. He pointed out a circle of rocks which were very old. As we approached the summit we were in the clouds and the visibility lowered. We met four hikers and took each other’s pictures. We walked on past the summit to a gradual descent with piles of rocks every so often at one of which we stopped briefly. As we were leaving we were passed by George and his father. Bon had forgotten her water bottle so we stopped and dropped our packs as she went back.

The trail went down a dirt road and then entered a forest (where we passed George and his father eating lunch). At this point a number of small children and their teachers began to pass us - there must have been thirty or more strung out over several kilometers. We also passed our Canadian friend eating lunch alone on a log. The trail descended steeply on a dirt road winding down the hill. We passed Chalet Pedro and found a grassy spot next to a stream for our picnic which included the Brebis and saucisson.

After lunch the trail led through a campground and buildings with a large truck hauling mud from a drained pond. Passing all this activity, we started up some switchbacks and into woods again very steeply. The path then descended through woods and emerged at a road crossing next to a pond with fisherman. It then mounted through woods again and as we climbed we saw Claire beneath us. The trail mounted steeply through woods but at the top came out at some A-frame houses with horses grazing nearby. We crossed a high field down to a ski area. Our gîte, Chalet d'Iraty, was 700 meters up the road and we were fortunate enough to get the last double room.

We did laundry and showered with the tokens they gave us. I hung out my laundry and we shopped for some food at the alimentation and booked the restaurant for dinner. While I typed this Bon used the cell phone to call and book several reservations at the next few places.

We had a cozy dinner at the restaurant including soup or salad, tuna with rice and a crème caramel and a delicious Basque cake. Alan and George were eating with Josef and the others came in for a drink later. We went back to our room in the cold and fog. I had brought in the laundry and I rigged a clothesline in the room and turned up the heat. We collapsed quickly into bed.

Copyright 2005 Donald R. Chauncey - All rights reserved