Although our previous trip to the pyrenees was not without problems, our pictures and stories inspired more people in the family to come along next time so we started training early in the year doing several hikes in Belgium. So by the time we were about to leave (early July) everybody was in good shape. My oldest sister strained her foot on one trip only 2 weeks before we left but she made it in the end and we all left for Cauterets on the 10th of July. From Belgium it's fairly easy to get there in one day and we arrived at the Pyrenees around 4 o'clock. We were welcomed by a very friendly host at the pension du lau after enterring 2 wrong hostels before that. We had just about enough time to grab some food in the nice city center of Cauterets and do a final overview before getting to bed early and prepare for :
Day 1 (Barrage du Tech - Refuge Migouelou)
Our plan for today was to go from the barrage du tech over the Col de l'hospitalet to the refuge Migouelou. We left Cauterets early by car and got to the barrage du tech were we started our hiking trip. The first part of the walk is an ascent of about 1200m on a very good path. A lot of walks to the refuge Migouelou start from a parking place further down the road (Plan d'Aste) but the valley that you go through from the Lac du Tech is not to be missed. I'm not a flower specialist but we were told there are some very rare plants to be found in this valley. Also the view on the surrounding peaks from the col d'hospitalet is magnificent. On our way up we crossed some snow fields, but there was never any trouble and certainly no crampons needed at this time of the year (even if there was a lot of snow for the time of the year). After circling the Lac de Pouey Laun, a very nicely situated lake isolated by the surrounding mountains, we set foot for the final climb to the Col de L'Hospitalet. When we arrived on top, not only were we granted by a magnificent view on the surrounding area, but also an eagle just flew up right next to us. The decent to the Refuge Migouelou only took about 30 or 40 minutes before we arrived safely at our first stop. The hut was pretty crowded, although we were told it usually isn't. There is only one big sleeping area and since camping is not allowed around the hut there was no escaping possible and we enjoyed a short night with a lot of snorring.
Day 2 (Refuge Migouelou - Refuge Arrémoulit)
We got up early and after a short breakfast we took off by first dawn (6 o'clock), half asleep, still recovering from the night. Our first goal for today was the Col d'Artouste (2472m), a short but steep climb after circling the Lac Migouelou. By coincidence, we were lucky enough to find chocolate on top of the col, placed there by some anonymous stranger. From the col there's a nice view on the Lacs de Carnau and a part of the big valley behind it which leads to the big Lac d'Artouste. It is in this valley that my sister strained her foot for the second time which would give her a hard time in the comming days, but still she pulled through. We arrived at the Lac d'Artouste, which is pretty crowded with tourists comming by a small train, circumvented the lake and went up for the climb to the Refuge Arrémoulit. Our plan was to get to the Refuge Respumoso today so we had to hurry up. The climb to the refuge Arrémoulit was hard for my girlfriend as she had trouble breathing because one of her ribs was dislocated. My youngest sister fixed it later on luckily ! We arrived at the refuge Arrémoulit and left there at about 3 o'clock for the col d'Arrémoulit, an easier alternative for the Col du Palas. However, the weather started changing when we were close to the top, and after a short discussion with my father and brother-in-law we decided to return to the refuge Arrémoulit, since we didn't know how the decent after the col looked like. There was no room left in the refuge (we hadn't booked this refuge because we weren't planning to stay there) but after some talk with the host and flashing my card from the VBSF (Flemish Mountaineering Federation) we got 3 places to sleep in the hut and meals for everybody. The three girls were more than happy to sleep in my tent after the bad experience the night before, so us 3 guys were bound to be the victim of snorring once again.
Day 3 (Refuge Arrémoulit - Refuge Respumoso)
It turned out to be a far more comfortable night however, so we all got up a bit later today and we took our time to get everybody fixed up again for the next part of our hike. My youngest sister's physiotherapists' skills and my brother-in-law's nursing experience proved to be very useful to fix both my girlfriend and my other sister's problems. We took off by 10 o'clock once again for the col d'Arrémoulit (2448m) but this time we reached the top safely although the climb was a bit longer and the terrain pretty rough (no path, big rocks). The decent took a lot of time because it was a bit more difficult, although it wasn't dangerous at any time. The view from the col is magnificent and the Lacs d'Ariel have a very nice color which resembled a lot to the color of some lakes we came across in Canada (Rocky Mountains). By the time we arrived at the lakes, the sky was clouded again, but nonetheless we took the time for a short swim, and then set foot for the last part to the Refuge Respumoso. By the time we arrived there it was raining a bit. Since we arrived one day later than we had planned, we had no reservation here either, and so we started a long discussion round with the host in order to get a sleeping place for at least 3 of us (the other 3 could sleep in my tent). A big group of students occupied almost all rooms of the big refuge though, so we only got my injured sister in for the night, so me and my girlfriend just slept outside, hoping the weather would stay reasonable.
Day 4 (Refuge Arrémoulit - Barage du Tech/Cauterets)
We decided to split up this day : my youngest sister and her husband continued as planned and went by the Col de La Fache and the refuge Wallon back to Cauterets. The other 4 of us decided to take an easier route, seen the difficulties we had the previous days and the information we had about the condition of the Col de La Fache. We went by the Col de la Peyre St Martin, an easy walk up and then a long decent through a valley between the peaks of Gavizo-Cristail and the Cambalès. Unfortunately, we were accompanied by our noisy spannish student group of yesterday most of the route, but we didn't let this spoil the fun and we enjoyed the beautiful valley and the approach of the finish line. The other group (my sister and her husband) came across very difficult conditions on the Col de La Fache were they, having no crampons, had to go underneath the snowfield in order to reach the top of the col. They had some scary moments but in the end they reached the top safely and then had a fairly easy but long decent to Cauterets. We drove from Barage du Tech to Cauterets so we all arrived at the pension at the same time and reunited at a local bar. After telling our stories, having a good meal and a bath and informing the family in Belgium about our safe return we all enjoyed a good night's rest before we set off for the long ride home.