Baños de Panticosa. A few seconds later and I am walking along the top of the dam of the Ibón derro Brazato. The reservoir is mostly covered in snow but near the edges blue water shows through, like streams slinking in voluptuous curves across a sandy estuary. Although the colours are arranged in the same duotones as yesterday the effect is quite different. Yesterday the ice on the lakes was almost bereft of snow: sharp, angular shards of broken glass, flotsam crashing against a rocky shore. Here the reservoir is clothed in fur. Looking around, it seems that everywhere is clothed in that same white fur. Soft and sensual; but dangerous, like Venus.
Getting around to the other side is easy. You only have to follow a clear track in the snow a few metres above the surface of the reservoir. Many people – the soldiers perhaps – must have walked along the track but it continues around the edge in the wrong direction. I need to climb the snow-filled coombe without tobogganing into the water. Nobody else has.
I take a historic last photograph and turn to face the slope. It is steeper than yesterday and there are no footprints here, no rope. Going straight up isn’t an option, so I traverse diagonally, mentally practising a self-arrest.
I invoke Cheryl Strayed and her book, Wild: From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail. If she can walk the PCT with no experience whilst making all kinds of basic mistakes, some of which should have killed her, then…
Cheryl Strayed doesn’t get me very far. She works very well on a rational plane, but that’s not where I am. I need instinct. No, not instinct: action.
Left foot, right foot, ice axe. Stamp, stamp, stab. Slower. Always two points of contact. Stamp, stamp, stab. Get a rhythm going. Lift, stamp, lift stamp, pull stab … Turn. I don’t like that. Passing the ice axe to the other hand. I don’t like it on my left either. Stamp, stamp, stab…
I’m tiring but can’t stop even though that would give me the reassuring stability of a three-legged stool. If I stop and let thoughts trickle into my mind I won’t be able to move again, either up or down.
I’m now well above the icy water and unconvinced that a self-arrest will work: the crust here is too hard to pierce properly. A little higher and the slope starts to slacken off. I balance myself carefully, leave go of the ice axe and take my camera out of my pocket. At the top I collapse behind a rough stone wall and eat a snack. It is cold, but there’s no wind and the sun warms my black trousers.