Page 230 - The Rifles Bugle Autumn 2019
P. 230

  Chemin de Liberte Mountain Hut
The next we started early the town seemed to wake as we walked up hill southwards towards the Pyrenees, past Paul Barrau’s house and supporters cheered us on our way. I believe we felt a sense of collective purpose and pride, as though we were indeed playing our part in helping to keep the memory of those who attempted to cross alive. The first part of the journey was a steep road climb and it was a case of head down and ‘KBO’ as Churchill would have said. By 10am the temperature had risen, and the heat was intense. Our guides were excellent at reading our large group, setting an agreeable pace and their beedy eyes were all surveying, quietly encouraging where necessary and assessing all the time because unbeknownst to us at the time, the next 3 days were going to get a darn sight tougher.
We paused at an abandoned shepherd’s hut after about 3 hours of walking, uphill all the way. We knew that our lunch location was only about 2 miles away as the crow flies but the next hour or so walking to get there was undeniably tough and some people wisely decided to reach our lunch spot and withdraw. We walked upwards through ferns and pastures that led us to one of the highest road points in the Pyranees and met locals who had brought lunch to us in a large layby with stunning views. Here we had another dedication ceremony and those that decided to go to Spain by road at this point were ferried back down by car to Seix. From here on in there was no turning back. I doubt very much if an helicopter could have landed in any of the terrain we covered and believe it or not, it
was steeper and more challenging than many parts of the Nepalese foothills. The paths were not so well trodden and how shepherds had managed to summer horses and sheep up above us, I simply have no idea.
We passed through fields of wild raspberry and the mountain flowers were stunning. The flora and fauna, temperature and humidity was reminiscent of Nepal. We came across a shallow mountain lake which my body needed and in fact, after pausing here for 15 minutes (in ice cold water) my body felt ache free. At about 4pm we came across our camp site at La Cabane de Subera. A beautiful green expanse of mountain pasture sheltered on all sides by boulders and rocky crags. We set up tents, gathered firewood and had a really lovely evening singing and eating by an open fire. There were some beautiful French folk songs sung by one of our guides and someone brought out an harmonica.
Another early start after a bad night’s sleep and I had to draw on the reserves. I thought of all those children who had made the crossing, all those women with dreadful attire and little in the way of sturdy footwear under intense pressure to keep their family quiet and alive. I thought of all those Jews who had been brave and wise enough to make a run for it, out of their comfort zone and into the un known. I thought of all those people that walked the route I had walked yesterday and was walking today who had climbed in the most dreadful weather, how they didn’t kill themselves almost every step of the way I don’t know, and I thought of all those poor old and infirm people who were not up to making the crossing, to whom the opportunity didn’t even exist and would simply be shipped east into the ‘Nacht und Nebel’.
The third day was a beautiful day again. Collec- tively we were on a roll and despite covering relatively little ground (up one side of a mountain, down the other, up the next and half way down the next), the going was steep, varied and really quite tough. The morning was spent moving through rugged rocky pasture where sheep and horses grazed. Despite being very used to live stock and having an under- standing of the capability of sheep and horses, even under duress, it still amazed me to see them this high, knowing the routes they must have taken to get here. We encountered some breath-taking mountain lakes and the hours went by, latent bodily tiredness being the only real and proper indication of time passing. Lunch felt late in the day, but it was timely after climbing up wards over what can only be described as a boulder field. We were, as the guides had told us we would be, completely on our own. There was no sign of civilization and we had to
   Chemin de Liberte above the clouds

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