|View down the first pitch crux corner|
|Above the forest|
I started up the pitch, only at closer quarters noticing a closer bolt at half height to the one we had initially spotted from the ground. The pitch broke right, heading up a steep, exposed wall on glorious large holds that provided some of the best climbing of the day. Time to place some cams to supplement the spaced bolts. A couple more slab pitches and we were at the epaulette where more scrambling was needed. Fortunately the route-finding was fairly obvious on this occasion.
|Our only company on the route|
|Pitch 11 on Le Pilier Sud|
We knew the pitch to the top of La Main would be tough finale according to out guest house owner Dan. But we were still one pitch away by my reckoning and whilst the wall above looked steep it was appeared juggy from the ground. I started up the wall, pulling on marvellous holds. Soon I was delicately bridging and balancing my way between moves until an awkward diagonal crack forced me rightwards onto a fantastically exposed arête. I stepped back left onto the wall and continued up. The ground rapidly eased back to horizontal ground and was soon to find myself on the summit of La Main. My calculation had been wrong and the last difficult pitch was now below. Relief swept through me. We still had four pitches to climb but the remaining climbing was easy and success was a formality. The summit of Dent d'Orlu stood before us. The stress of clock-watching and chasing time that had dogged the corners of my mind all today quickly evaporated and started to reflect on what we had achieved.
|20 pitches down, 4 to go|
|The exposed traverse beyond La Main on Le Pilier Sud of Dent d'Orlu|
|La Main on Dent d'Orlu|
|At the top of Le Pilier Sud (F6a, 24 pitches)|
|8pm: On the summit|
|On the summit of Dent d'Orlu|
The car park on arrival was not surprisingly empty so we followed the track that descended 6km to the road where optimistically we hoped our lift awaited us. The track was a particularly gentle gradient. I knew it switched back lower down and so I suggested we descend directly down the hillside to where it swung back. The reality as we were to find out was that the track only swung back after maybe 4km from the top. Therefore we were never reach the switchback by direct descent. What's more, deep water rapids separated the road from the hillside which we had chosen thrash down through. By pot luck we arrived a broad concrete bridge spanning it to the road. This proved to be the only crossing besides where the forest track that joined the road further down. Without this good fortune we would have been left with a painful bushwhacking session along the banks of the rapids back to the forest track. The road was empty but optimistically we hoped to quickly arrange a cab once at the camp site.
... The camp site office was closed. Everybody had gone home. In fact it felt as though everybody in Ariège had gone to bed. It was after 10pm and by now dark. Our only company was a full moon. Hitching a ride now seemed a faint prospect given that not a single car had passed us by. Grudgingly we continued down the road. It was still 7km to Ax-les-Thermes but it would be much further out of town. The prospect of walking through the night felt a distinct possibility but probably no less attractive than sleeping on the doorstep of a camp site office.
Then we stumbled across a small gîte with an attached bar that was still open. The man behind the counter dismissed our enquiry about a cab on the basis that it would be far too expensive and insisted he personally drive us back to our car. We couldn't believe our luck. We couldn't believe this man's generosity. The least we could do was spend some money at the bar whilst he prepared himself for five minutes. And so we ordered a glass of Leffe each to quickly down. Maybe not the best choice given our dehydrated state.
Soon we had half-circumnavigated the mountain and were back at the car. All that was left was to drive back to our guest house. By now the neurons were ready for shut-down. I drove back along national highways at maybe 40km/h, paranoid of veering into a hedge at any moment. Tomorrow would be one of the rare days in the Harrison calender of climbing. A REST DAY.