We get to the Pyrenees after a few days spent around the Tarn canyon – you can read about that part of our journey here.
To avoid traffic jams from the Tarn we avoid the main roads that go through Toulouse. The roads we drive nevertheless are fast enough – so we manage to reach our studio in village of Vignec, at 9pm on Saturday 14th June 2008. When moved in we have yet to check the inventoir of the studio and to fill in the papers for gendarmerie.
Day 1. Horquette d’Aubert (2499m)
Vignec is situated near the town of St. Lary Soulan. The first thing in the morning we drive to the town centre to the tourist office. Here we purchase a couple of track description brochures.
As the first trip we select the lakes that are not far from St. Lary Soulan. We drive to the South then branch off to the lake Lac d’Oredon.
We park near the lake and at 10:45 start our trip to Lac d’Aubert.
The path leads us through the rocks and woods by the several smaller lakes. It starts to rain a little. We climb up to the lake Aubert and see from here high in the mountains the group of skiers. No cable cars or routes here. We don’t know how they get there – perhaps drive as high as possible and then climb to the right place. The descend seems a bit risky.
Next we move on to the pass Hourquette d’Aubert (2499m).
It rains but still there is a good view on the mountains. We take some chocolate bars and apples for a snack and go back down. At the parking place we are at 5pm.
Day 2. St. Lary Soulan
Our morning starts at seven. Sausages, salad, bread with a jam, yogurt in breakfast. We decide to use tunnel of Bielsa (which connects France with Spain) and climb the mountains there. When we get to the tunnel, it’s cold and rainy there. Therefore we return back to St. Lary Soulan to take a local track to the nearby hill. First our track leads us to the church of Vignec then up in the mountains to the several Soulan villages (each in different height). The weather changes frequently – hot and sunny changes to damp and rainy and back. The path crosses the border of pastures. The staircases are used to allow the for a man to move out and in the pasture. Cows do not like the staircases – so they are trapped in the pasture.
We return back to our studio at 4pm. Having left the backpacks we walk to the town center. The town is pretty but a little bit fake – the houses look like ancient ones but are built recently – to attract tourists.
It’s still damp and foggy. We decide go to Spain next day – to Ordessa valley.
Day 3. Ordessa National Park
We get up at six and drive to Spain. We had to go through Bielsa tunnel – 3km long and stright almost through end to end. On the way to tunnel there is a fog and rain. When in tunnel we almost instantly see the other end and a promisingly bright light through it. Bingo – there is a perfect weather behind the other end of the tunnel. The road is perfect as well – broad and stright (as much as it is possible up in the mountains). The road goes gradually down – we drive it to town of Ainsa then turn right to Torl. Torl is a town by the famous Ordessa (and Mont Perdido) National park. We stop at the park information center and get the maps and suggestion to drive more 8km to Pradetta village. There the road ends with giant green parking place (a lot of trees and no pavement. We are there at 10am but the parking place is already busy. Just after us two large tourist buses drive in and cars come in one after another. Thank God the path is very broad and has place for everybody.
The path goes by valley with high mountain walls left and right – the Ordessa canyon. It’s warm and sunny. A couple of beautiful waterfalls are there for our delight. Couple of hours take us to the stunning mountain ridge – circus,
we start to climb uphill. We get to the section where the chains have to be used to proceed. After overcoming the part of the chain supported section we understand that it is time to turn back. We take a rest and then start the way back. At 5pm we are at the parking place.
When in the Bielsa tunnel we see the cloud sticked in the French end – the weather has not changed in France.
Day 4. Sum de Barroude (2674m)
We get up at 7.30am and drive to a parking place at road bent near branch to Piau Engaly. The parking place is almost full already. We park the car and at 9.30am start to walk by a mountain stream. The path runs through wood and then after an hours walk by the pastures. After yet another hour walk we are at the steep hillside covered with snow. We catch there our parking place neighbours and one more couple. Everybody is examening the hillside ahead. Our neighbours start to climb the snowy hillside and we follow them The third couple decide to retreat. Walking a deep snow we get to the rest house (Refuge de Barroude). Then we move on to the Bielse pass and further to the summit Sum de Barroude. No plants up there – just rocks, stones and snow (and the sun above us).
We take a rest on the summit and then go back. It looks easy to move down by the deep snow – one has just to move upward the legs and the rest happens by itself. I even exercise running down and gliding on my leggs. Feels exciting although not very reasonable.
We se the goat with the kid on the way. They are timid still Ilze manages to take a couple of photos.
We talk with our parking place neighbours on the way down. The man is from the Netherlands, the woman is Spanish. Like us they have been in Pyrenees before. We discuss our impressions from the Gavernie and Breche de Roland.
The snow has melted inside our boots and made them (as well as socks) absolutely wet. We wring out the socks but it makes no big difference. We are back in parking place after 8 hours trip.
The first thing in St. Lary Soulan we go to a shop and purchase gaiters.
Day 5. Pic de Cuneille (2628m)
We drive almost to the Bielsa tunnel and leave the car by the road. We found no signs of track. Then we look one more time in the map and find where the track must start. Then we take off the boots and wade accross the cold mountain stream. On the other side we find the track quickly and walk on through the pine wood steeply upwards by one more stream. After a while we are at the lake Lac de Cachet. Here we put on the gaiters and move upwards to the summit Pic de Cuneille. We loose the path in the snow but still make our way to the top.
We take another path downhill. Here and there we see the marmots. They whistle like birds and dissapear in their burrows when we come closer. Further on the path is full of large ants.
We see only 2 other persons during the trip – and this was at the beginning of the track.
Raviolli and salad for supper. After the supper we take a walk in St. Lary Soulan. At one of the shops Ilze explains to the shop-woman where on the map is the Latvia.
Day 6. Lakes
Today the tourist favored lake disctrict is on our schedule. A number of lakes and number of hiking tracks there. We stop in the parking place of Lac d’ Artigouse. The couch and 5-6 cars are already there. Quickly we put on the boots and start the route (while the passengers of the coach are taking the shots). The track leads us to the lake Oula. We move on by the top of dam and then by the right side of the lake. Further on we take a wrong track and by the snow-covered track climb the pass Col de Bastanet (it’s only on the pass that we understand we are not where we planned to go).
On the other side of the pass everything is covered by snow – including two lakes we are supposed to go between. We ar not sure we know were this “between” lies. Nevertheless we decide to go. Carefully we move trying to keep distance to the uncovered part of the lakes. Having passed the lakes we climb the next pass which is lower then the first one. The landscape behind the second pass is not much different – snow everywhere. The snow and rocks replace one another below our feets while we reach our destination – the lake Lac de Port-Bielh. Standing here we see a number of lakes downhill – the lake Oula as a last in a row. Looks like they are nearby. Nevertheless we have a long walk by the path surrounded by rocks and fallen trees. The path from Oula is easy go to the parking place where we arrive at 5.30pm.
Day 7. Lacs de Consaterre (2344m)
We take a mountain road that goes from St. Lary Soulan up to Sailhan, then Ens – both being tiny villages with a handfull of houses. We leave a car in the center of Ans and move uphill by the only street. We have explored the track description but still we miss the right path. After some time of uncertainty we climb up the nearby hill and find our track again. The hour of walk takes us to the hillside full of rhododendrons in blossoms. A beautiful sight – we do not have another opportunity to see that much of rhododendrons in one place.
It is hot and that makes hiking a hard experience. To our relief light wind starts to blow. Moving through the rhododendrons we climb Pas de Laubere (2179m), then to our todays destination –
to lakes Lacs de Consaterre
(2344m). Behind the pass snow is al around again. During the way back we get lost but the French hikers help us to get on the right track.
We are done with the track at 5pm after 7 hours walk.
Day 8. Col d’Aspen, Pic du Midi
We decide to be lazy today. At first we drive some 15km North to Col d’Aspen (1400m). The parking place on the pass is occupied by goats and cows. While I take things out of the trunk a cow breathes in my back of the head and pushes me with her muzzle.
When ready with the cow and with our hiking equipment off we go to the nearest summit. It’s very hot – when up on the summit we take a rest and enjoy the landscape then descend back to the pass. While descending we see a gray snake that hides quickly in the grass. When we are back we see that the road is blocked by the cows. The drivers and cyclists need a patience and skill to get through. I squeeze the car between to cows and drive to Mongie – a famous mountain resort. There we take a cable car to get to the summit Pic du Midi
de Bigorre. There are two cable cars in fact. In the middle of the way there is a station where we have to move from one carriage to other. Both carriages move at decent height. At the summit there is an observatory and a deep snow. The teritory around the observatory is surrounded by the handrail – inside there is a souvenir shop, bistros and a museum. We enjoy the mountains around and check what we see on the information table. Here is Breche de Roland in particular (we were there last year). We visit the museum as well (includes the elevator that moves slowly up like a space ship).
When back in Mongie we have a lunch in cafe (a baked camamber served on a round wooden plate, ham, baked potato wrapped in foil, salad). On a way back to St. Lary Soulan we drive trough village of Cadeac les Bains. There the road runs through the one wing of the church.
Day 9. To the Pic de Heche Castet
We start our trip from the parking place near lake Oredon. Nearby runs a bunch of marmots. At 9.30am we start to walk to Lac d’Aubert. When getting there we have a nice view on the snow covered mountains. Further we climb the snow-full hillside to the Pas de Gat (2465m). The snow is deep but one must be careful because in some places (near the rocks, in particular) it may hide melted out gaps. Ilze falls down almost until waist in one of such gaps. When I pull her out we see the gap and the stream underneath.
There is a beautiful view on Lac de Cap Long from the pass. On the other side one can see Pic du Midi de Bigorre and the observatory.
Next we struggle our way to the summit (Pic de Heche Castet). One have to go over narrow and snow-covered ridge. Looks pretty dangerous. I manage to cover almost half the way to the summit, further on the way looks even worse. No chance to get to the summit. We make by the deep snow our way back.
Just before the St. Lary Soulan we branch to the village of Tramezaigues. In a narrow mountain road we have to stop because the road is blocked by the tractor who is dragging something out of a ravine. There is nobody inside a tractor and we get frightened when it suddenly starts to move in our direction. It appears that on of the workers drives the tractor by the remote control 🙂
Tramezaigues is a charming little village with a church on top of the hill. We startle a kitten who tries to flee from us but bumps right against the drainpipe. This does not hold back him to escape in courtyard.
After spending some tome to view the village we drive deeper in Rioumajou valley. Unfortunately we have to give up soon – the road gets worse and we do not have a jeep 🙁
Day 10. Ō and other lakes, St. John’s day
Today we plan to visit a lake with interesting name Oõ. To get there one have to drive over the pass Col de Peyresurde to Valee de Astau. We drive through village of Oõ (the road sign looks funny indeed) and by the freshly paved road proceed to the parking place of the lake Oõ. The place looks just as one may expect it for the tourist favored spot.
We ascend from the parking place to the lake. Just as we are by the lake we see on the opposite side a waterfall. Further we walk the comfortable path by the left side of Oõ to the next lakes – Lac Espingo, Lac Saussat and Lac Portillon (the latter being the destination or today’s trip). The snow gets deeper and deeper as we get higher on the track. A couple walking ahead of us uses crampons. We use our hiking boots just pushing them harder in the snow. By the Lac Portillon the weather changes. The clouds and drizzle. On a way home behind the Col de Peyresurde we have a fog as well.
There is a St. Johns feast tonight in St. Lary Soulan. The feast takes place in the parking place in the town center. There is a stage built at the one end of the parking place for this occasion. At the center of the parking place there is a layer of sand with a giant fireplace on top. The fireplace is safely barred from the attendants of the feast. The audience (mainly the people at senior age) stands by or sits on the stone parapet that splits the parking place and the river that flows by. Everybody seems to feel perfect. Then the band on the stage (accordion, trumpet, guitar, keys and drums) starts to play. They sing Franch and Spanish. The parking rapidly gets full with dancers. We join them for a couple of waltzes and polkas.
After 10pm the fireplace gets in the center of attention. A couple of importantly looking men walk to the fireplace and flash it over with some gas-mixture. Then they set on fire. The fireplace burns splashing the light high to the sky. A half an hour or so the fireplace draws everybodies attention. Then the band proceeds with the music and the public return to dance.
Day 11. Hell’s waterfalls
We drive over pass of Peyresade again. This time we do not branch to lake Oõ but drive further by Bagneres de Luchon to Valee du Lis.
We drive till the end of the road and leave the car there in large parking place. It’s fog most of the time we drive. It’s foggy and damp when we start to walk as well. We ascend by the path that goes through wood. Gradually the weather clears up and get’s hotter. We enjoy the couple of beautiful waterfalls – Cascade d’Enfer (hell’s waterfall), Goufre d’Enfer (hell’s groove). Ilze takes a shots of a pretty salamander. Our trip ends where rue d’Enfer (the hells stream) runs through a very narrow gorge. No way to get further – the stream fills all the gorge from one side to other. I take a bath in the stream – the water is cold, this do refreshes.
On a way back we stop in the center of Bagneres de Luchon. One of the sales-women asks were we are from. When we mention Latvia she knowingly nods and tells us that somebody from Latvia works nearby. This makes feel a bit home 🙂
When back in St. Lary Soulan we take a walk to the nearby village with a beautiful name – Vielle Aure.
Day 12. Pineta valley
We drive to Spain – to Bielsa, then turn to nord-west and up by road in Pinetta valey – about 14km to Paradora parking place. The weather is sunny and hot. We select a track to balcony of Pineta (apparently the name of the mountain). We walk the road then branch to the mountain path. A number of waterfalls around.
The streams struggle through the snow heaps and melt them from below. The streams are full of water – we have give up the plan to reach the Pineta balcony because the path ends in front of a fast and deep stream. It does not look a good idea to to slip on the back down the riverbed.
We still make another effort to get to the balcony – we find another path and follow it through the pine wood. We get to the nice sandstone cliffs. Behind it there is a gorge full of snow with the stream below. We do not take a risk to use a snow as a bridge and turn backwards.
When down to the road we turn away from the parking place and walk till the charming bridge that stands almost below the waterfall. The bridge is constantly below sort of the shower. For a hot weather as today it is pleasure. We proceed further to the base of the beautiful mountain circus and enjoy the mountain landscape.
On a way back we make a stop in Bielsa and have a short look around. The houses are mainly freshly built but the town has a sort of ancient look – narrow streets, stone walls etc. To attract tourists. We take a look inside the church of Bielsa – it is large enough for the tiny village like Bielsa.
When back in France we stuck in the middle of goat herd that has decided to cross the road. We get trough with great care and attention.
Day 13. Anisclo canyon
The weather is cloudy in the mornign therefore we decide to go to Spain again. As usual the weather is beautiful at the another end of the tunnel. We drive to Escalon, then turn westwards and drive to Anisclo
canyon. There is 10km of very narrow road that runs the canyon and takes us to the parking place. Cliffs on the left, stream (Rio Bellos – the beautiful river) down in the gorge on the right.
The gorge continues behind the parking place – we take a path that mainly goes through dense wood. That is good because the weather is hot and the trees protect us from the hot sun. The stream is full of shoots and waterfalls. All the time we walk by the steep cliffs.
After four hours of walk we are at the end of the gorge and at the base of the picturesque mountain circus. It might be possible to get there in a couple of hours. Bet we have no time because we have the way back. After a short reflection on this we decide to return to the car. We are there about 7pm after 8 hours walk.
We drive back another way. This goes up the hill and uncovers a great view to the mountains around. We stop a couple of times and Ilze takes shots. Then we drive back to France. After the Bielsa we are back – to the France and to the fog.
Day 14. Pic de Madamete
It’s a perfect weather today (to regret going home, perhaps). We drop in to the market of St. Lary Soulan (in the same parking place where we experienced the St. Johns feast there is a market on Saturdays). One can purchase here everything – fruits, vegetables, cheeses, vine, meat, honey and shoes, cases etc. We buy strawberries and drive to the parking place of lake Oredon.
We take the track to Lac d’Aubert and further to Col de Madamete. In the car park of lake Aubert a group of schoolchildren falls out of the coach and move on to the pass. Still they soon have a picnic and we manage to leave them behind. The snow covers the last stage of the path before the pass. We do not need the gaiters because the snow is hard enough. We have a rest on the pass and watch how a couple ascends to the summit of Madamete. We look carefully how they progress to the summit and then follow them by the same path. After a half an hour we are on the summit. There is a gorgeous view from the top. We see Pic du Midi de Bigorre (sort of habit to see it), behind it the valleys full of clouds. Right in front of us there is one of the main summits of the region – Neouvielle. A number of lakes down the hills – the higher ones covered with ice. Having enough the sights we climb by the same path downwards.
We drive to Pau – to our usual hotel Lui de Bearn. A large black dog meets us in the hotel. He is very friendly and perhaps would be happy to play with us. The hotel is almost empty – the other guests are at the wedding and should arrive later on. We do no wait for them – we have to get up early in the morning and get to the airport.