On Google Earth, the mountain looks bald. Lower down it bristles with trees, but up here it looks like the bald pate of a man trying to hide his age: covered with fine white hairs brushed parallel. There are dozens of these white lines. Animal tracks?
On Catalan maps there is a real path in there somewhere but none of the lines on Google Earth looks important enough to be a path with a name. So, does the Camí de Aulà really exist? I email Fornet, the nearest hostel, but the reply is vague. I look on Wikiloc. Nobody has uploaded a record of having walked it. I ask in the local Facebook walking group. No luck there either. There’s nothing to do but take the risk.
We walk up from the Col de Pause on the French GR10, through rolling pastures. There are horses, cows and donkeys but no sheep. Two days previously the estive was attacked by a bear, but surely the shepherd hasn’t taken his sheep away?
At the Port d’Aula pass (2270m above sea level) we cross into Catalonia and discover the multiple tracks – made by cows judging by the numbers grazing on the slopes. We eventually find some crudely painted white waymarks. But there is a flock of sheep sprawling across our path. The guard dogs, a patou and a mastiff, come bounding up to us, barking furiously. No way will the let us continue.
Scrambling down the treacherous slope we spot another set of white waymarks… and then another. Fortunately, the shepherd on his way to check out his flock points us in the right direction. He also tells us that the spring just ahead has the sweetest water on the whole mountainside.
The Port de Salau pass (2100m) at the other end of the Camí is a post-industrial scatter of roofless buildings and rusting pylons.
In 1903 a cableway was constructed running from the Catalan Noguera Pallaresa river over the pass and down to Salau in France. A vast forest was cut down to make paper. Only now are the slopes beginning to be replanted. But the effect on the pass is not as ugly as this sounds; the years have eroded the worst features and what remains is due to be consolidated as a monument to the former industry. The Port is also the site of an annual meeting celebrating the connections between the locals on both sides of the frontier. In 2019 the 32nd pujada is on 4 August.
As for us, we descend the steep GR to Fornet. I was last here when I walked the HRP. Another connection.
Wikiloc track of the Camí de Aulà between the Port d’Aula and Port de Salau on the Catalan/French border