Pyrenean 6-dayer

By Simmo

Day 0: Train: South Wales - London - Paris - Lourdes via Eurostar and the TGV (something like 10 hours travelling time).

Day 1: Pont d'Espagne to Refuge Oulettes de Gaube.

Took cheap bus from Lourdes to Cauterets, and teamed up with an Aussie couple to share a taxi up to Pont d'Espagne. Put the waterproofs on for the trek up in the cloud, but after half an hour we were out and above the cloud and in bright sunshine...and I didn't really see much by way of a cloud for the rest of the trip. Went past a a very sleepable little bothy on the way up and arrived refuge mid-afternoon, which is in an incredible location at the foot of the Vignemale's 3000ft North Face, took a bit of getting my head around. By way of a bit of value-added trekked up to the col overlooking the impressive cloud filled Lutour valley, before return to a dinner of veal and mustard-rice and sampling a bit of Mirabelle (distilled prune) at 55%. Stylish.

Day 2: Refuge Oulettes de Gaube to Torla

One bit of climbing over the pass, then it is downhill all the way to Torla through the fabulous remote Valle d'Ara: Vignemale rearing up on the left, and a hint of the Ordesa canyon in the distance. Bujaruelo canyon en route really impressive also. Torla a great little historical village to stock up, with plenty places to grab bed, evening meal and brekkie. Dinner was garlic garnished with assorted roast veg (I must've stank the hostel out).

Day 3: Torla through Ordesa Canyon to cave (Refugio de Goriz)

Tortilla and salsa bread breakfast, and then on the road to Ordesa. No bus running in September, but just as well as would have missed the easy walk up past some great waterfalls. Then a steep 1700 ft zig zag to gain the sensational terrace path on the south side of the canyon, the 'Faja de Palay'. Incredible views over the whole canyon and up to the frontier peaks, with Monte Perdido coming into view around the corner at the end. Goriz is at the upper end of Ordesa Canyon, situated in an incredible exposed limestone pavement landscape: like the Yorkshire Dales on acid.

No room at the refuge, which is apparently always mega busy and has a real international vibe to it. Wasn't too bothered though as had heard there were plenty of caves in the vicinity, and fancied a night as had the kit (sleep bag, survival bag etc.). Bit of mouse action going on in the night on the fringes, but thing was likely deterred from entering through presence of lit candles c/o the jewish student couple I was sharing the cave with (it was very busy at the refuge that night).

Day 4: Monte Perdido and Breche de Roland.

Early start from cave to leave Refugio Goriz before 8 and head up Monte Perdido. A terrific mountain - series of cheeky steps leading up and through limestone canyons. Not for the first time, Spain reminding me alot of the US. No snow in the final scree gully so was able to make it up without any slides. Cosmic views all around at the summit: could see to the Sistema Iberico range to the south over 100 miles away, as well as a load of other Pyrenean ranges. I was up there for near and hour before the windchill made it advisable to get moving again.

Back down to Goriz by early afternoon, and made the decision while weather was good to tackle the isolated trek from Goriz to refuge des sarradets, over the Karstic limestone plateau and through the Breche de Roland. This is an incredible, lunar-like landscape; the weather was good, but a bit too good as it was getting super hot, and I was conscious of any thunderstorms developing. Pretty isolated and exposed in an arid rocky landscape; misnavigation didn't help also, in that I'd miscounted the number of cols and started taking the wrong route up to the Breche, with a 'cairn forest' on the slope up to the Breche adding to confusion. After a scorching hot, windless ascent I got to the breche, where the clouds peeping through the gap hinted at the change beyond. Step over the border into France and it's green, windy, cold, cloud threatening rain, and 2 layers on straight away. Parallel universe.

Refuge des Sarradets / Breche de Roland is another great refuge, I think there is some good history there with the Club Alpine France. Smashing food yet again.

Day 5: Refuge des Sarradets to 'Cabane Pastorale' Cirque d'Estaube

Clouds of the previous evening had gone, but not before dumping a bit of rain in the night which froze on the tents outside. Flushed from the previous day, I ambled down to Gavarnie and had a chocolate crepe, but decided there was another pass in me so took pot luck on the map and headed for the Hourquette d’Alans pass which went past the Refuge des Espuguettes. Good choice - the views of the Cirque de Gavarnie right up to the Breche were incredible, and 'big Vig' Vignemale over to the west (and 4 days previous) looked superb. Cirque d'Estaube is another giant cirque, though not in the same mind blowing proportions as the Gavarnie. Made my way down the valley to a great little pastoral cabin - like a bothy - where there was some stock herding in full swing. Shared the cabin with an accommodating shepherding family and their working 2 dogs, who did me a good turn in dissuading an alpine cow from goring me.

Day 6: out to Lourdes

Needed to get back to civilisation for the train home, so raced out of the valley to just catch the early bus out north back to Lourdes. And that was pretty much it for my Pyrenean odessey, but managed to slip in an a fabulous afternoon trek up the Pic du Jer next to Lourdes: highly recommended, full of interest, with a funicular railway and an info board with terrific view of the mountains when clear (they were in cloud when I went up, but I can forgive that given 5 previous days of glorious weather); great views north also to the plains of Southern France stretching away in distance.

All in - one of the best weeks away I've had, but constant good weather played no small part in that. Key decision was to leave the tent at home and buy myself a few more miles and feet of ascent, and getting to experience the refuges at the end of the day. If you don't mind overt religiosity and groups awaiting divination, Lourdes is a great base for the Pyrenees: hotels and good choice of restaurants competing for your tourist dollars. Quicker and likely cheaper to fly, but a good laugh on the train.

Great mountains - already planning a trip back out there 😀