I thought there were sea people and mountain people, just like there are cat people and dog people. As a proud Breton, I was a firm sea person. I thought the sea and its tides couldn’t be matched; they create a landscape kaleidoscope that pins my attention to the present moment like nothing else. I didn’t think the high mountains, in their looming stillness, would capture me and ground me in the same way. I just didn’t think of the mountain weather.
As I drove over the col d’Aubisque, the weather closed. What was meant to be a scenic drive became a challenging, tiring, at times scary one. I was inside the cloud; it enveloped hairpin after hairpin, concealing the views, but also cars, camping cars, motorbikes, cyclists, cows, horses, and sheep. It became me and my vehicle against the rest of the world. Hairpin after hairpin, the road eventually conquered the mountain pass. The conditions were just as bad on the descent, but at least we were on the way down and out of the cloud. I was glad to arrive in the val d’Azun.
So glad I stopped for a few days and just took in the scenery, as the clouds created the show. On a clear morning, the still, cool, pure air draws your eyes up to the mountain tops and their ridges, to the strong lines of cliffs. But as the day builds, clouds rise from the forests. In turn they appear, rise, merge, fray, break up and vanish into thin air.
At times the clouds lock away the entire view, almost abolishing colours. The sound of cowbells then fill the air, gripping your attention all the more. Like a mantra in a language you don’t understand, their repetition creates a sort of meditation, invite stillness.
Or the clouds slowly reveal hillside after hillside, drape the middle of the mountains, cling to the tops, flow from a valley over the passes and into another. Your eyes naturally then focus on the softer, rolling lower levels of the mountains. You notice the texture of the different vegetations along the hillsides. The bracken, in high pastures, and further down, the woods of pines, hazel, birch and beech trees.
At the next weather window, I set off again. Thankfully the drive was of the sunny and scenic type this time. There is a very different feel in vallées de Gavarnie from vallée d’Ossau (discover here). As it is a valley that doesn’t allow passage to Spain, at least by car, it feels more like a refuge up in the mountains, away from the modern world, rather than a path towards another land.
As I drove up and up once again, towards the cirque de Troumouse, past the last hamlet, past the last chapel, on an ever smaller and windier road, I find the clouds again. When I reach the end of the road, they coat all the high summits that make the cirque’s scenery unique. Streams seem to pour down directly from them. Undeterred, I walked up.
There is no set path from the last car park up to the cirque. Cows, sheep and hikers all pick their own ways up and down the slopes, across torrents, over ridges and across cotton grass bogs. When the pierced through, the dark Pic de Gabiédou glistened. Then the clouds turned into thick blankets, thinner scarfs and then disappeared, revealing the immense cliffs of the cirque all around me. What a show.