I’m not doing raquettes (snowshoes) ever again. Never. If I ever show signs of changing my mind, lead me into a darkened room, talk kindly to me, and sit with me till the feeling passes.
I have no idea how I got through yesterday. I must have done though, because every move I make causes some protesting and unhappy muscle to complain vigorously at the pain it endured on our expedition, and is still enduring now. Five hours walking, with half an hour off for lunch. Something over 600 metres up, 600 metres down – that’s nearly 1900 feet each way in old money.
I said last week’s sortie was tough. Compared with yesterday’s, it was a stroll in the park. I said last week’s was ‘an upward slog: unremitting, tough’. Yesterday’s was a vertical slog: unending, unforgiving. Last week, the snow had been deep and crisp and even, and easy to walk on. We had crunched satisfyingly upwards through the forest, and our descent had been a brisk and easy downward march.
Yesterday, following a warm and sunny week, the snow was soft and our snowshoes sank deep. Bad enough on the upward route march, but coming down, we all skidded, slipped and lost grip of our poles as they plunged into unseen cavities. I made landing smack on my back and descending bumpily downwards, legs waving helplessly in the air my personal speciality.
Still, it was good to see Montségur, looming above us at our starting point, providing points of reference throughout the day. Soon after we started, we were level with the castle at its summit, then it was below us, and disappeared for a while as we plodded upwards through a stretch of forest. At lunchtime it was impossibly far below. As we ate, we enjoyed plotting the landscape for other landmarks: Lavelanet and Laroque of course, the lac de Montbel, and far north of us, the Montagne Noire.
Best of all were the cloudscapes: massed plump white cushions of cumulus with wispy brushes of cirrus above, turning a more characterful and moody grey in the afternoon, foreshadowing the evening’s expected rain. We were just back at the cars when the rain arrived a little ahead of schedule, with a brief hailstorm of pencil-point-sharp hailstones to encourage us on our way. We didn’t need telling twice. Home comforts have never seemed more inviting.