I had a bad night. Too hot or too cold, up and down to the can. Claudia also felt a little "unstable", but Alf and Martha seemed to have recovered. Perhaps we have what they had yesterday. We both took Immodium to stop us up. It worked. Claudia and I set out at nine o'clock, only about an hour after we hoped, Alf and Martha about half an hour later. With perfect timing, they caught us up three hours up the trail, at the edge of the Col Perdu. Until then, we enjoyed a leisurely climb away from the ski station, following the path through the trees until they ran out, then alongside the ski lift as it bee-lined up the valley floor. It was simple walking. For the first time it was possible to put your hands in your pockets, (or my favorite, through the loops on my rucksack) and could spend less time watching your feet, and therefore more watching the scenery.
The long bowl of the valley floor, scooped round by a glacier unless I'm seriously mistaken, swept up to near vertical inclines at the ridges marking its edges. The sun shone, but from the other side of the ridges, black clouds built up, and spilled over into our valley. The light was beautiful, flooding across the valley like the sunbeams through a church window. I could happily have spent the day there, trying to capture the immense beauty on film.
After a couple of hours walking, we could clearly see the head of the valley and with it, off and high up to the east, the deep (and tiny) cleft in the wall that marked the col. We watched anxiously for signs of clouds coming from that quarter, and sure enough, with about half an hour to go, they appeared. I cursed once more our late departure, but I suppose we would have waited for Martha and Alfie at the col in any case, so our arriving there simultaneously was a blessing—no one had to stand around getting cold waiting for the others.
Shortly before the top, a new phenomenon: walkers coming the other way. I studied their faces carefully for signs of distress, but found none. Some consolation. I began to realize how keyed up I was about the col, and the Cirque du Solitude . Iwas worried about the weather, about Claudia, and her knees in particular, but most of all, I was worried about me. I had not enjoyed the rock climbing antics of the second and third days, and the guide led me to suspect that these were nothing compared to what we going to find today. And if I was worried about my own confidence and safety, how was I going to instill any in Claudia, for whom everything was a new experience?
The four of us breasted Col Perdu (2183 m) together. Suddenly and at last we were able to ponder the view on the other side. I thought I was going to be sick. There was no valley, just an empty void. The horseshoe of the Cirque du Solitude was perhaps only two or three hundred meters wide, but this only served to heighten the horror of the depth of the vertical cliffs that confronted us. They dropped away forever, way past the three hundred meters we were to descend, down into the haze, and often the clouds, below.
A chill wind blew the clouds up towards us, until it was sometimes just a fog. There was a deathly silence. No birds, no trees. My diary reads "it was a climb into hell and back. A straight rock climb, never shallow enough for a path except at the very bottom (still half way up the cliff). A ghastly, ghostly, place—Cirque de la Solitude is right."