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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Classic Pyrenéean Day Walk

Whilst thinking about my previous post on the Pyreneés, I recalled my first walk with David in these mountains back in 2006. At the time we were enjoying a family holiday near St Girons in a fab house with a pool and all the usual little luxuries. Thus we judged it safe to leave our wives and David's son, Robert, to their own devices for a day whilst we set off for a day up in the mountains.

I will say now that this was possibly unwise as, unbeknownst to us, while we were slogging our way up to the Port de Venasque, Miss W had commandeered my BMW 330 and she & Debbie spent the day careering up and down mountain passes, eventually joining a TVR owner's club rally at a hilltop bar.

Oh my tyres and gearbox!

We spent the day blissfully unaware of the activities of our other halves, and drove up via Bagneres de Luchon to the parking area at the then derelict Hospice de France (it has since been renovated, and there is a little auberge/refuge type place there now).

This circular walk from The Hospice de France is one of those that often pops up in guide books, and as such will no doubt be pretty popular in the summer season. However, it is not a casual tourist's wander from the car park; this is a proper mountain walk and it will assuredly occupy a full day. The views into Spain are spectacular, not least for being hidden until the last moment, when you pop your head over the Port de Venasque to see the glacier topped Maladeta massif, reaching 3,404m at Aneto, the highest peak in the Pyrenees.

Map of our route
The Route - click to enlarge

 As you can see from the map, the ascent to the little refuge and the lakes of the Boums du Port is steep, but eased by the zig-zags, so taken steadily it really isn't as demanding as the ascent figure implies.

Ah, yes, the all important stats! The distance is a tad difficult to judge accurately, what with all the zig-zags, but I'll go along with the general consensus that it's about 13.5km. Our guide book put the total ascent at 1,120m, but with the benefit of digital mapping I reckon it at nearer 1,400m. Even so, by Pyrenéean standards, this is a relatively undemanding walk, within the capability of any reasonably fit walker.

One thing that struck me was the grassy pasture on the spanish side of the border, which offers some fabulous spots for a wild camp. Should you decide to climb up to the Port, and then take in the ascent of the Pic de Sauvegarde, just to the west, this would make a great place to spend the night. I would advise getting water from the refuge on the way up, though, as apart from a few small pools it seemed pretty dry on the spanish side.

I'll say no more, and let a few snapshots do the talking!

the lakes known as Boums du Port
The Boums du Port

David at Port de Venasque
David at the Port de Venasque
David at Boums du Port
David at Boums du Port
The Port de Venasque
The Port de Venasque



view south into Spain
Looking south into Spain



 The views on the Spanish side are quite stunning, and amply reward the effort of getting up there!

ponies grazing below the Port du Venasque
Ponies grazing - foals sleeping below the Port de Venasque


View from Port de la Picade looking west

We headed east from the Port de Venasque, over a saddle that is called Port de la Picade. This is a fine viewpoint, and on this clear day we could see mountain after mountain stretching off into the far distance. Being a weekday in the first week of  September, the french holidays were over and the schoolkids all preparing for the "Rentrée". We had the place entirely to ourselves, so we paused to sit in the sun and take it all in.

 view from Port de la Picade looking west
Port de la Picade looking east


The route back into France goes over the dragon's back of the Pas d'Escallette




From the Pas d'Escallette the route takes you down along the Crête de Crabides  before steadily settling in to the very long descent back to the Hospice de France. The cool woodland was very welcome at the end! All the way down the views of the Vallée de la Frèche far below are quite outstanding - if only I had taken a photo or two - but by this stage of the day my thoughts were focussed on getting back to the swimming pool and a couple of well earned beers.

Autumn crocus near Hospice de France
For more information on walking in the Pyrenées, It's worth having a look at   Andy Howell's pages . He's done a fair bit around here, and has a lot of information about public transport and so-on as well as some classic route recommendations.

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4 Comments:

Blogger FellBound said...

Your posts are like the proverbial busses in their frequency. But no less welcome. Looks a smashing walk.

November 20, 2014 at 5:10 AM  
Blogger AlanR said...

Stunning. Horses can be a nuisance when wild camping. They have a habit of smelling food cooking and coming to investigate.
BMW 330 nice wheels! The new model looks great.

November 20, 2014 at 8:20 AM  
Blogger Phreerunner said...

Great, Phil - this brings back great memories, including this (I hope you don't mind) postcard from Wednesday 25/8/04:

"Laundry Camp (Luchon) to Refuge de Venasque
Easy 1800 metre ascent in nice surroundings and weather – 7 hours, 16 km, 1800m ascent
Today dawned clear after being overcast all yesterday. We discovered that if we had gone on our planned route we would have been in thick mist all day. So off we went up the huge ascent from Luchon, up to Refuge de Venasque, culminating in a huge series of zigzags. After we reached the refuge the cloud from France engulfed us and we adjourned to the ‘mess tent’. This small refuge sleeps 14 people, on two bunks taking 7 each. We three are next to a family of four. One of them snores. The toilet is a concrete hole in the ground in a metal shack. The soup is warm and needs salt. The main course is adequate but not as good as our ‘home cooking’. It’s cold, so we are all in bed by 9 pm."

November 25, 2014 at 10:34 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

Funnily enough Martin I was enjoying re-reading your Pyreneean posts only last night.

Just sent you an email about it!

November 25, 2014 at 2:19 PM  

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