Pyrénées, 18th-26th June 2005

We fancied a weeks walking holiday, and hadn't been to the Pyrénées before. We flew to Pau and got the train to Lourdes then the bus to Cauterets, arriving early Saturday evening and getting a room in a hostel.

On Sunday morning we set off early, walking up the side of a gorge above Cauterets, towards Pont d'Espagne

 

Then along the track up Vallée du Marcadau

 

To Refuge Wallon and its church. Refuge Wallon is pretty much a hotel, and even has private rooms in it! It's set in a scenic alp, with the mountains looming above and a river flowing by. I saw leaches in the wild for the first time here, in a stagnant pool by the river.

We got a good nights sleep in our twin room, then headed for the border on Monday morning.

 

Looking back North down Val d'Arratille

 

Nearing the border - Pico de Bramatuero above Lac d'Arratille

 

Looking back into France over Lac du Col d'Arratille, at Puerto de Arratil - the border with Spain

 

Then on down into Spain, Valle del Ara

 

The Vignemale, the 8th highest peak in the Pyrénées and the highest in the French Pyrénées, looms over the head of the valley

 

Flora above Rio Ara

 

Marmot!

 

The mountain path became a landrover track further down the valley. It became a bit monotonous, until Jen nearly stepped on a snake...

 

We watched some butterflies tuck into a nice meal of cow dung, then carried on down the track towards the Spanish town of Torla. Several thunderstorms passed over, and then it began to rain torrentially. Luckily, a passing car stopped and offered us a lift, which we were delighted to accept. The occupants turned out to be a Spanish guide (who had given up climbing, except in the hills, as he had begun to find it boring - but he'd heard that in Scotland we didn't use any bolts, that sounded good), and his girlfriend, who had been intending doing a spot of canyoning before it got too wet.

They dropped us off in Torla, where we spent the night in a very cheap, but very nice, hostel - more like a B&B really.

 

On Tuesday morning we set off towards the Ordesa Canyon, passing this rather nice snail on the way

 

Entering Ordesa Canyon. We chose to take the higher path, which climbs about 600m up the South side to a terrace, then runs along that to the head of the canyon

 

Looking North across the canyon

 

Looking back West out of the canyon

 

Viewpoint in Ordesa Canyon

 

A local

 

Looking East along the terrace to Monte Perdido (the 3rd highest mountain in the Pyrénées)

 

The head of Ordesa Canyon. The lower path rises up here (to the right of the waterfall) to join our path

 

Looking South, back down the canyon

 

Eventually, we arrived at Refugio de Góriz. There was no room in it, so we pitched our tent and got inside just before it rained. We ate dinner in the hut, sharing a table with several cheery Spaniards who were up for a couple of days celebrating one of their birthdays. They plied us with enormous volumes of the hut's red wine, and refused to let us pay for any of it. At lights-out we staggered back to our tent.

 

We started fairly early on Wednesday morning, as we wanted to get up Monte Perdido before proceeding. We stashed our tent and some other items in the hut and headed up the slightly scrambly path above.

 

Cilindro de Marboré looms to the west, and the path goes right up under it

 

The route (graded Facile) then scrambles over some buttresses and turns East. We chose to scramble up the rocky rib (obvious, below the summit, to the right of the picture) rather than walk up the snow slope left of it, as the snow was brick hard and we hadn't brought crampons

 

Fortunately another pair had made it up before us, so were on hand to take the obligatory cheesey summit shot. Shortly after this another pair emerged from the other side of the mountain, having climbed a slightly harder (PD) route

 

The view to the South from the summit. The head of Ordesa Canyon can be seen on the right, and on the left is Anisclo Canyon, which we'd like to have visited but didn't fit easily in with our walk

 

We returned to the hut and picked up our stuff, then headed on West, along the Spanish side of the frontier range, through gorgeous flower-speckled alps and limestone karst

 

This stream flows down from the frontier, zig-zags around some rock barriers, then disappears down a fissure

 

The first view of Breca de Rolando (on the right). The route winds through some scrambly buttresses then over a small glacier and up to the pass

 

We weren't the only ones making our way over the snow

 

Nearing the pass - the border with France

 

Through Bréche de Roland, back on the French side of the frontier range. We descended to the nearby Refuge for something to drink

 

I can only surmise that this is what happens when a Dalek gets on the wrong side of the Mafia

 

The view across to the Cirque de Gavarnie. Our route descended the steep, slabby slopes to the floor of the cirque through some terrain that could be quite 'interesting' in the wet

 

Further down

 

Despite there being only two other tents, this was the flattest pitch we could find in the campsite at Gavarnie. The town itself was extremely dull, but we did manage to get some good pizza for dinner. A thunderstorm arrived late on in the evening.

We had planned to finish our walk here, but had made better progress than we had expected, in part due to the great weather. We decided to head on through the hills back to Cauterets, and have a go at getting up the Vignemale on the way

 

Thursday morning saw us enroute from Gavarnie to Refuge Bayssellance, the Vignemale peaks at the back

 

We stopped for a break at a dam, and I'd swear this frog jumped out of my rucksack

 

The Vignemale peaks from Barrage d’Ossoue

 

It became clear that I had had one pizza too many

 

But at least I wasn't the only fat one - there were plenty of marmots out sunbathing.

We got to Refuge Bayssellance just in front of the thunder, and were greeted by the warden's pet angora rabbit. The warden was happy to cook us a veggie dinner (some sort of fondue), which was delicious, and to lay breakfast out for us for the morning - we were starting earlier than anyone else.

 

It was quite a mild night, not dropping below freezing at all. We set off early for the glacier on Friday morning - we hoped it would be soft enough to negotiate without crampons (we did have an ice axe each). It was overcast, with some of the tops in the clouds

 

Luckily, the glacier was indeed quite soft, and not very heavily crevassed. We worked our way up it, into the clouds, and across to the foot of the rocks above. The problem was that we didn't know whether we were under the Vignemale or one of its satellite peaks.

 

We scrambled up for a look. It was loose and slabby, and it started raining gently, but it was quite easy and it didn't feel like it would thunder, so we pressed on. At the summit it was clear that we were not on the Vignemale - the best we could work out it was Pointe Chaussenque instead. We returned to the glacier and headed further left along the base of the rocks, past a large pinnacle (Piton Carré, I think) - and emerged above the cloud.

 

Some delightful scrambling on much sounder rock led to the ridge, and a short walk...

 

... to gain the real summit of the Vignemale, and some atmospheric views out over Spain. France was blanketed in cloud. We scrambled on round over another of the satellite peaks, then walked on to another, before descending the glacier back into the light rain. At the base of the glacier we caught up with a French pair, who had turned back due to the weather - something we might have done if we had started a bit later. There was no indication of the better weather we had enjoyed higher up, and I think we were probably the only ones to get up the Vignemale that day.

 

We headed back to the hut and the rain stopped, but we couldn't get anything to eat as they were busy having their groceries delivered

 

We headed on around the mountain

 

And descended under the Vignemale's impressive North Face

 

We stopped for refreshments and a late lunch at the head of Lac de Gaube, before heading back down past Pont d'Espagne to rejoin the trail where we had headed up on Sunday, then down by the gorge

 

And back to Cauterets!

We spent Saturday relaxing around the town and nosing around in its interesting Alpine museum, then headed home on Sunday via Lourdes and Pau again.

 

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