23 September 2006

A Wet Week in the Pyrenees

September 2006
With travelling companions 
Richard Pratt and Hayden Measham once again. We travelled with Exodus.

Our base at La Fenieres in the Val de Lys above Luchon
Day 1

A bright start as we left our base at La Fenieres in the Val de Lys above Bagneres de Luchon. Down through the town on a half hour drive to Bourg d’ Ouell at 1340m. Walk to col known as Port de Piercefite at 1855m, then a short descent to Lac de Bordieres ou de Bareilles, and then on to the Col du Lion. Turning right on to a steeper path we quickly reached Pic du Lion at 2102m where lunch was enjoyed with cloud increasing around us.
Rather like the English Lake District we walked a fine ridge called the Crete de la Coume de Lion back to Port de Piercefite. Then a 30 minute plod up to the summit of Mont Ne 2147m. 

Ridge walk east of Pic du Lion
Hayden and Richard topping out on Mont Ne 2147m
Wind building now, then a peel of thunder and a marked acceleration in our walking speed! Descent down steep heather covered slopes of the east ridge and return to Bourg d’ Ouell in lashing rain and hail. A very Scottish like day…heather, Autumn Crocus in abundance, and bad weather…

Day 2

A 30 minute drive to our start point in the village of Artigue ~ 1250m, just north of Bagneres de Luchon. Cloudy weather with occasional sun but no wind. A long steady zigzag up broad easy paths to Cabane de Souneres 1660m, then a steeper pull up on to a broad ridge leading to a GR 10 variant to the summit of Pic de Bacaniere 2193m on the French/Spanish border. Took lunch in increasingly hazy conditions, but good all round vista.

View from the GR10
Descent northwards towards the Etang de dessus before joining the main GR 10 path in a SW direction - a surprisingly faint track given its status – giving a long traverse across slopes covered in heather and myrtles. One or two sections crossing the head of ravines required care, but straightforward, slightly dull walking to Pt 1804 before re-ascending through heather covered slopes to Pt 1924, spotting some mountain goats on the way. Broad path took us back to the Cabane de Souneres, then an easy descent back to Artigues. About 18kms.

Day 3
Mountain biking from Luchon with Richard and Hayden. 5kms uphill to bridge over R. Lys before ascent of gravel track up through the woods. Total ascent 600m, then Richard’s rear derailleur fractures and we have to drop back to Luchon. Massage and spa in Luchon p.m.

Above Luchon
Day 4

Three hour drive to Gavarnie and set off in pouring rain up the long Vallee de Pouey Aspé. Decision taken by our guide Liz not to attempt the scrambling route up the l’Eschelle des Sarradets due to the wet conditions. Instead we walked further up the valley, crossing the main river on to a steepening path in increasingly poor visibility into an area known as les Gabetous. Some navigational challenges ensued due to cloud cover above 2100m and wet snow from 2200m. We eventually picked up the main path from the Port de Boucharo, then ascended a waterfall in spate, with assistance from chains in the sidewall. One member of our team fell in the pools at the top, receiving an unwelcome dunking in cold conditions.
Moving up on a now snow-covered path we eventually reached the Refuge des Sarradets at 2539m. Walk took about 4 hours from Gavarnie. 

Refuge de Sarradets, 2539m

Very poor visibility by now, with increasing wind strength and driving snow. A poor quality hut which we had to ourselves, sharing one bunkroom between us to keep warm. Hut guardian was a helpful Irish girl Mandy with partner. Bed by 2200, uncertain whether we could progress across the Breche de Roland into Spain to walk the Ordesa Canyon via the Goriz Refuge over the next two days.

Day 5

Up at 0730 after a reasonably comfortable night by hut standards. Liz reccied the route to the Breche with hut guardian Mandy in snowy conditions and found very strong winds at the top. Some debate whether we might use a local guide to assist the crossing over the Breche in whiteout conditions given that a very steep snow-covered scree descent would be needed on the other side and with difficult navigation all the way, but in the end our Exodus leader Liz Proctor made the call that we would descend the way we had come up given the relative inexperience of a couple of our team members.

Overnight snow at the Refuge de Sarredets
Great view of the Breche de Roland...
Departing the refuge after a light lunch we started the descent back to Gavarnie, easily down the waterfalls which, by now, had a much reduced flow and, fortuitously, had not iced up overnight. Easy path to Port de Boucharo 2270m, then long valley descent down the Vallee de Pouey Aspé back to Gavarnie, taking about 3 hours in all.

Descent from the Refuge de Sarredets

Finally, a view! Final stages of the descent to Gavarnie

Clearing weather and a little sun facilitated improving views towards the Pic de Marboré 3250m above the Cirque de Gavarnie, an impressive sight. A few beers in the village before a 2 ½ hour drive back to La Fenieres near Luchon.

Day 6
One hour drive to Bezins-Garraux. Setting off in pouring rain and low cloud, we climbed a steep unrelenting forest track with limited views to approach the slopes of Pic du Gar 1785m. We abandoned our attempt on the summit in worsening wind and heavy rain, with everybody starting to get cold in increasingly wet clothing. Descent north to Col du Hô 838m on very muddy and slippery paths, then turned NW to the Col des Ares 797m. Walked down the road to the pub-less village of St. Pé de Ardet, before getting picked up and returned for a very welcome beer in Luchon. Leffé heaven…!

La Feniere
Last night at 'La Fen'

One of the worst weeks of mountain weather I’ve endured for a few years. The Pyrenees has some serious terrain, with navigation much more challenging that you’d find in the main European Alpine areas. Better get back there sometime to see what I missed…. :-(