Back in 2009 I was staying with relatives close to the Pyrenees. I felt like a walk in the foothills, and found a detailed map book with nearby walks. The book was in French, and my ability in the language very poor. Nonetheless, I felt confident with the map provided and set out on a road south, starting out from a small village somewhere close to the Spanish border.
On the day it was overcast and rainy. Many of the hills were covered in cloud. I had no compass. Undaunted, and trusting in what appeared to be a well defined path, I set off.
At first I made good progress, and as I climbed I noticed a series of yellow markers on the path. I grew more confident as I ascended further, but was disappointed to see that the cloud cover wasn’t shifting.
The forest path was eerie with the mist, but it was quiet and the walk refreshing. At one point I passed some donkeys, and became aware there were some houses dotted around the lower slopes. Getting higher and higher, I finally reached what was probably the peak of that particular walk. It was then my problems began.
Everything was covered in cloud. After waiting a little while, I realised it wouldn’t clear even for a snippet, and so began to follow what I thought was the path down. That quickly led no where, except a steep drop. I had to be careful, because I knew there were deep ravines appearing without warning that people could easily fall in.
I retraced my steps, and searched around, but couldn’t find the correct path. I had no sight of the yellow markers. Worse still, when I simply tried to retrace my steps back the way I came, I found I had become completely disorientated and couldn’t find the path.
I was alarmed, but not panicked, and simply opted to find the easiest way down in roughly the direction I thought I had come up from. This quickly turned sour, as I struggled through the undergrowth. Soon the path I thought I was following deteriorated into nothing but dense bushes and trees. It was getting darker and I had no sense of where I was, except that I was head downhill.
I took a moment to consider my options, as much to quell the rising sense of panic. I was soaked, my clothes covered in muck, and my cheap poncho torn to shreds. For the first time I considered the possibility I might be stuck here over night, a situation made worse because I wasn’t sure I had clearly left details with my relatives of where I was going. Now I was really worried.
That was when I saw the marker.
On a tree, about 10 metres away and behind me, was a circular red mark. Further I realised there was another. I checked quickly and found they were only on one side. Looking downhill though, I began to realise there was a relatively clearer stretch of path through the foliage. Whatever path this was it was the best way back, so I began the descent in earnest and with a lot more hope.
Every so often I had to check behind me to make sure the red markers were there, but they were, and then finally I hit a section of the original path I recognised. Huge relief.
The light was dim, but bring out of the trees meant it was much easier to see now. I passed a couple of men busy with some logs. I expect I must have struck a miserable sight; caked in mud, soaking wet and with a ripped raincoat. I summoned as much pride as I could as I walked past them, feeling as daft as my appearance probably looked.
Not long after, I made it back to my car right at the bottom of the valley. I gave myself a few mental kicks for bring so stupid. It was a lesson learnt. Looking back at the hill there was still cloud cover, and I never got to see much of the Pyrenees that day. But I got back safely.