Pyrenees – cirques and lakes

Pyrenees - cirques and lakes

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Cauterets, Gave de Loutor, Lac d’Ilheou: 42.889054, -0.114246
Pic d\'Ayous: 42.868683, -0.448251
Little Artouste train: 42.880037, -0.395905
Pont d’Espagne: 42.871876, -0.109520
Breche de Roland: 42.713715, -0.050758
Marcadou valley: 42.852498, -0.135441
Cirque de Troumouse: 42.728163, 0.096045
Pic du Midi de Bigorre: 42.908192, 0.145000
Casque du Lheris: 43.041737, 0.169988
Lac Bleu: 42.962358, 0.089521

The preparations for the trip started well in advance. The best flight ticket prices where searched for. Itinery – Riga, London (Stansted), Pau, the same way back. We did not manage to find a way to avoid night in London airport (on a floor of Stansted airport amidst other travellers).

We have searched for accomodation as well. A good option we found was a studio, not expensive if booked for a whole week (starting on Saturday). When ready with the studio we booked accomodation for a rest of days in several hotels. We have used a Hospitality club services as well – found a french girl Audrey who was so nice to accept as for a couple of nights in her flat. As the last we booked online at a Ryanair web page a car from Herz at a discount price.

We ordered online some maps and itinery descriptions. Some descriptions we just printed out from the Internet. Thus we were well prepared for our trip. We have purchased as well the pair of tracking poles – one for Ilze and one for me.

Chemin de la Mature

And then on a fine Monday evening in Riga airport it started. After a kind of exhausting and chilling night on a floor of Stansted airport we land at 9am on Tuesday 18th September 2007 in Pau airport well close to Pyrenees.

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Day 1. Pau, Lescun

Geting our Renault Twingo at Herz office in airport we are off to see the city. It is raining a bit and Pyrenees (although near) are in clouds all the time. After a hard try we manage to park the car in the city center and take a stroll to see the beautiful Pau castle (Castle is built during 14th century as a fortress, later during 16th century it is rebuilt by Marguerite of Angouleme according to taste of Renaissance) and the Pyrenees Boulevard. Palms and other species of Southern flora where all around. Later on we get back in the car and drive closer to the Mountains to our first hotel – Hotel des Vallees. On a way to the hotel we make a short stop in a beautiful small town Oloron St. Marie.

The building of the Hotel des Vallees is beautifull – 2 floors, the court in the center is covered by glass roof, a giant palm there. The swimming pool outside. The hotel is at country side close to a small village Lurbe-Saint-Christau.

Next we drive to Lescun – a village high in mountains. Geting closer to the vilage the road is narrow and steep. We leave the car and continue on foot to see Cirque de Lescun – famous for its white cliffs. After 3-4km by the country road we discover that the clouds are still there and they leave no chance to see the white cliffs. On a way back we nibble some blackberries.

On a steep way down I drive mostly on a second gear (the locals use more optimistic driving methods).

Day 2. Chemin de la Mature

At 7:30a.m. we take French breakfast (bread, cruasan, jam, honey, butter, tea, coffee, juice).

Our itinery today is the famous Chemin de la Mature (means Track of Spars, the track was cut out in a rock in 18th century to drag by the mules down from the mountains the spars). The track looks like a deep groove cut with a giant knife in a absolutely vertical cliffs. We go up by the track to the pass Col de Aras (1280m), then over the pass Redo (955m) back to the car. The trip longs 5 hours in total.

We take a lunch in a center of Etsaut village near the church and drive towards the Spain – almost to the Somport tunnel. Before the entry in the tunnel we turn left by the old road and stop near Peyrenere. There we make a short stroll to the Gentian plato.

Day 3. Lac d’Ayous, Pic de Ayous, Lac de Balaitous

We move out of the hotel and drive to the lake Bois Artigue. Some sort of cleaning is in progress there – the lake is empty and a caterpillar tractor moves round in it’s bed. We move up long way by the woody hillside to Lac d’Ayous, Ayous pass and the summit (Pic de Ayous).
At 1:45pm we are here. The view is magnificient – a number of lakes downhill, redish cliffs all around.

When we had plenty of the beauty around, we go down through the meadow full of giant rocks, to the next lake – Lac de Balaitous. We take a short brake there and then descend to the parking place. A cup of tea in a car and then drive to our next stay – Le Cot. The last 5 km we drive the very narrow road through corn fields. Just about the time we were sure that we are lost we noticed the hotel sign. The hotel road goes down and through very narrow pass between two buildings. Just behind the fence there is a herd of cows, then woods and mountains. The hostess Patricia welcomes us. Two darling doggies follow her – Napoleon and Ta-ta-winne. Ta-ta-winne is a distant village in Algerie. To send somebody to Ta-ta-winne means to send him far away. The hostess shows her garden full of different spices and her house. There is a hall with a giant fire-place on the ground floor. Our room is on the first floor. It looks like a museum or perhaps a noblemans bedroom. Our worry is that our belongings do not get lost between numerous tidies, serviettes and other luxuries. The hostess shows her library as well – the shelves are full of ancient and probably very expensive volumes.

We settle in and then go down to the garden to enjoy different odours and the beautiful landscape.

Day 4. Little Artouste train

At eight in the morning we have a breakfast by the fire-place. We ar alone at the large round table. The hostess serves by herself – the homemade jogurt and various jams, almonds, nuts, plums, everything delicious. Napoleon and Ta-ta-winne asks for treatment very expressively. The hostess gently intervenes that the doggies eat too much.

After saying goodby to our wonderfool hosts we drive to Artouste. Some places in a car park have ocupied donkies – at least that’s what it looks like. We continue by the cable car up to the Artouste train stop. It is warm and sunny. The train departs at eleven and moves by the hillside to the lake Lac d’Artouste. It takes an hour to get there. While on the way we enjoy the beautiful landscape around (and sometimes below us :)). When out of the train we move up to the lake. One can see the lake itself only from top of the dam that stands over the end stop of the train.

Next we move by the other side of the valley to the lakes Lacs de Carlou. Track goes by the hillside up and down until it turns strongly upward and then both lakes appear one after other. Short rest there and back we go to the lake Artouste train.

Day 5. A fog on the mountain pass, Pont d’Espagne, Cauterets

We drive to the pass Col d’Aubisque. It is foggy – as higher we drive as fog is getting thicker. We park a car on the pass and move on to the summit Soum de Grum. We follow the path – the fog is so thick we can see only a couple of meters ahead. Suddenly the horse appears from the fog – sceary. We get through to the summit but one can see a little around. We have to retreat to our car. Downhill I drive mostly on the second gear and with fog lights on. Fog is so thick that the only thing one can see is the white stripe on the middle of the road. I follow the line and very slowly we manage to get down and out of the fog.

Next we drive through Cauterets to a nearby Raillere village. There a beautifull track starts – Chemin de Cascades or Waterfall track. It is an hour and a half hike uphill by the torrent full of small waterfalls. Some of them really nice. The weather becomes damper – something it feels like raining, sometimes not 🙂 The clothes get wet nevertheless.

The track leads us to the famous Pont d’Espagne or Spanish bridge. There is a parking place for 1200 cars – tells about the popularity of this place. We look around and take some photos, then get back to our car and drive to Cauterets – a town situated 9000m above see level. We settle in into studio. It costs Euro190 per week, very friendly offer indeed.

When settled in we go out to see the town. It rains a little but still we see that Cauterets is pretty and clean (as everything we hav seen in Pyrenees).

Day 6. Col d’Ilheou, Argeles Gazost

Today we go to the pass Col d’Ilheu. It’s foggy. No sightseeing 🙁 When back to the car we settle down to the table near parking place to have a lunch. It appears though that we are not the only ones desiring to snack. The local horse comes to the table and grabs our lunch with an obvious intention to eat it. After a short struggle our lunch is ours again – but we decide to be on the safe side and to retreat.

Day 7. Gavarnie, Breche de Roland

We gett up at seven and take a look through the studio window at the mountains – no clouds, sunny. Means – this should be a perfect day for Breche de Roland. We drive to the Gavernie village, then forward to the pass Col de Tentes.

At 9:40am we start our track to Breche de Roland. The track follows an old unused (scattered by of rocks) road. Then the path starts that goes by the hillside to the Refuge de Roland. There we see a marmot – he does not object much that we take some shots. Later on the tracks goes steeply up by the torrent – chains ar installed and have to be used.

When reaching the refuge we can see already a giant gap in the mountains. The legend tells that the gap is cut out by the knight Roland. The gap is 100m deep and 40m wide! We proceed to the gap over the glacier and then up by the rocky track. We are there at 12:20. France behind, Spain ahead, high cliffs left and right, the sun above. Stunning!

Next stop is Gavernie. When inside the town we see a lonely donkey by the road side. I stop the car and go out to socialize with it. When coming back I hear a donky shout. The donkey follows me with apparent intention to punish me for not treating him. I am not inclined to discuss this with him so I close the doors and we drive on.

We go through the village to the famous Cirque de Gavarnie. The mountain ridge forms something similar to circus indeed. There is a waterfall that starts from the very top of the circus and apart from that the water falls from the top by the numerous tiny streams across all of the circus.

While we proceed to the giant wall dark clouds accumulate above th circus. Now it has walls and a roof as well. Looks really impressive – Ilze hurries to take shots.

Day 8. Gave de Loutor, Lac d’Estom, waterfall of Loutor

It’s foggy. We take the track from Cauterets to Lac d’Estom. The track goes up the hillside. It’s dump and cloudy. We go by the mountain stream Gave de Loutor and pass some cows and horses. We are up at the lake about the 12 – the lake is almost invisible, it is covered by the fog.

We have a snack on the top. The fog goes away meantime and we can see both the lake and the mountains around. When descending we see that the couple of cows and goats we have seen when ascending are in fact a part of a large herds. We proceed down to the Loutor waterfall and Raillerre. The clouds accumulate again.

We by hiking boots for Ilze. The sales-woman is an ex proffesional sky-runner – she shows how to tie up the boots (put on the boots, knock-knock heelpiece two times against the floor, then tighten the ropes that way and this way). Sales-woman says that tomorow the snow will be at the height of 1500m. The same we heard on the news in the evening. So – in Pyrenees the snow falls at the certain height!

Day 9. Lac d’Ilheou

It reins. And there is a snow up in the mountains. We leave Cauterets at 9am by foot and go to Lac d’Ilheou. We go up by the hillside through the woods then by the pasture. Then by the old road up to the lake. We are there just after the 12pm. Cold wind blowws – we got wet and we freeze (me in particular because I wear shorts) thus we go back down. The sun shows up occasionally but mostly it rains. Still the snow is all around.

We had the lesson that our clothes are not warm enough for the sudden winter (the locals tell that it snows rarelly in September in Pyrenees – but this does not make the weather warmer. We hurry to buy warmer clothes.

Cidre in the evening, as usual.

Day 10. Marcadou valley, Lac de Arratille

It reins all the night. The weather is terrible in the morning, we consider driving to Lourdes. When we are done with the breakfast the picture has changed. No rain and more light in mountain. We change our plans and drive to valley de Marcadou. We reach the Pont d’Espagne and leave our car in the giant almost empty car park.

We start our way in the middle of the group of French kids – apparently the classmates. Everybody (us including) is busy watching the goats high in the mountains. The mountains are covered with snow the still green plants are covered by snow and ice crystals. We follow the path almost till the Refuge de Wallon, then take the path to Lac de Arratille. There is a cold wind up there, dark clouds accumulate, puddles cover with ice.

It snows on the way down to the Pont d’Espagne but sun shows up from time to time.

Day 11. Cirque de Troumouse

When looking up to the mountains through the study window it is obvious today will be a good weather. Sunny!! We go to the Cirque de Troumouse. The road takes us 2103m high. The weather is perfect – sun shines, white snow all around. We start with the nearby hill to see th monument for virgin of Tromouse. Here we examine the steep cliff wall before us to find out where is the path uphill. Up there should be marvelous sights around. The chances of getting there does not look promising. Stil we select a direction and climb up by the hillside. After an hour or so it becomes obvious that we will not get to the top. Still we enjoy the beautifull sights around. We find the lake covered with ice ornaments. We descend to the car. The next stop is Gavernie.

We go to see the waterfall of the circus. Today the circus looks different then the last time. The sun shines from the Spanish side. The top of the wall is bright blank and above it sort of white clouds hang. It takes some time before we understand that the clouds are in fact the snow that the wind blow off the mountain ridge.

Time after time we hear a rattling sound from the waterfall. The snow heaps come down here. We proceed to the waterfall. It takes a couple of hours to get there. But it is worth it. We climb down. The sun descends rapidly as well. We manage to find a an elevation still in the sun light. Still while we have finished our fast lunch the sun has gone from there as well.

Day 12. Col du Tourmalet, Pic du Midi de Bigorre, Bagneres de Bigorre

We move out of our studio and drive to the pass Col du Tourmalet. Here we take a look on the monument for participants of the Tour de France and then move on to the observatory at the top of the Pic du Midi. At the beginning we go by the old road that has two tunnels. The snow gradually thicker and it is not easy to walk. Still – the group of kids with a teacher go ahead of us, a group of elder people follow us, so we have to move on. The last slope is particulary hard. The track is full of snow and we follow the school kids up to the top.

While ascending we watch how the cable car moves up to the observatory. The cable car moves really high above the valley (we see that better the next day – a small black point moves from one mountain top to another).

Up at the observatory winds stongly and gets cloudy. We watch the beautiful sights and just as we start to descend the top is covered by the thick fog. After an hour and a half we are back to our car. It snows and then rains while on the way down. I call Audrey, she agreed to be our hostess for the next two nights. Audrey is a little grumpy about me calling her so late. But still she promises to accept us.

We drive to Mongie – one of the largest sky resorts in Pyrenees. The town looks empty – the season has not come yet. Next we proceed to Bagneres de Bigorre. This is the largest Pyrenees town we travel. Traffic jams, no free parking place – everything like we have used to. We meet Audrey at here house and move in in here little flat. Audrey proposes her bedroom for us and moves to sleep in a smaller room. She serves us with coffee, we talk about the Pyrenees track and things.

Day 13: Casque du Lheris

Today we drive to Aste village. The track follows the road then a rocky woody path. It’s cold and we follow the hills side in shadow. After a couple of hours hiking we are out of the wood and proceed through the meadows to the hillside and then climb up to the summit
Casque du Lheris. At noon we are on the top. It’s sunny and warm. Marvelous sights around, to the Pic du Midi in particular – here almost all the snow has melted away. After a short break we start to descent. It’s sunny and hot weather.

Next we drive to the pass Col d’Aspin – too take a look. The parking place on the pass is crowded by the goats – spoiled by the tourists. The goats lie by the cars, walk amidst the tourist and let the tourists treat them. We climb up the nearby hill Mount de les Salies (1641m, some 250m up from the parking place). After that we drive down from the pass and have a lunch in a roadside cafe. Then we proceed to Campan village famous for the man-large dolls that are near almost every house.

Day 14: Chiroulett, Lac Bleu, Lac d’Ourrec, Lurda

We get up at half past seven. Audrey brings hot Chocolatines from the nearby Boulangerie and we have a breakfast. Then we say goodby and drive to the village Chiroulett (1062m). There we take a track that goes up to Lac Bleu. On the way to the lake we go by the pasturing horses. Getting the sights near the lake we move on to the summit Les Aguillettes. After a short rest on the summit we descend to the pass and then to another valley – to Lac d’Ourrec. This path is slightly longer and harder to hike. We ar down at 3:30pm.

This is the end of our Pyrenees story. On the way to the airport in Pau we make a short stay in Lourdes to take a look at the famous pillgrimage sites. Then we have a last hotel night in Lui de Bearn hotel near the airport and the way back home.

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