Circular trek in the high Pyrenees: 5 days on the edge

68.3km, 4875m of climbing on the French-Spanish border – gps infothe details

 

Dawn in the valley d’Oô, near the Lac Saussat, above the refuge d’Espingo

Dawn in the valley d’Oô, near the Lac Saussat, above the refuge d’Espingo

 

On our last day, at dawn, the sun had turned the cliffs red. “Ciel rouge le matin, pluie en chemin – red sky in the morning shepherd’s warning,” said Anne-Marie. By lunchtime, soaked and shivering in a deserted car park at Superbagnères, we were desperate to change into the dry clothes in the car. Thankfully there was nobody around.

 

5-day near-circular walk on the French-Spanish border in the high Pyrenees

5-day near-circular walk on the French-Spanish border in the high Pyrenees

 

View south from the Col de Benasque (2444m)

View south from the Col de Benasque (2444m)

The walk had taken us from France into Spain over the Port de Benasque pass (2444m), up the Pico Cordier (3254m) and back over the Port d’Oô (2910m) into France. We had the help of professional guide for the Pico Cordier and the Port d’Oô.

***

Day 0: Bagnères de Luchon

We arrived in Bagnères de Luchon to discover a flower festival in full bloom.

 

Tintin & Co. in Bagnères de Luchon. The floats are extensively decorated with flowers

Tintin & Co. in Bagnères de Luchon. The floats are extensively decorated with flowers

 

Day 1: Hospice de France to the Refugio de la Renclusa

The first objective was the Port de Benasque

 

Looking back from half way to the Port de Benasque along the zig-zag path we have just climbed. The Hospice de France is the building at the bottom of the valley

Looking back from half way to the Port de Benasque along the zig-zag path we have just climbed. The Hospice de France is the building at the bottom of the valley

 

Panorama of the Maladeta/Aneto massif from the Port de Benasque

Panorama of the Maladeta/Aneto massif from the Port de Benasque

 

Rural graffiti on the S side of the Port de Benasque

Rural graffiti on the S side of the Port de Benasque

 

Anne-Marie with her faithful attendant

Anne-Marie with her faithful attendant

 

At the Refugio de la Renclusa the donkeys were friendlier than the receptionist. They also helped to eat up the dry sandwiches.

Day 2: Pico Cordier (3254m)

David dragged us across fields of boulders and scree, explaining that hardly anybody went there. Most people are attracted by the more prestigious Aneto – and discouraged by the fatiguing scrambling.

 

[Following David Pujol, our guide, up the Pico Cordier in the Maladeta range]

Following David Pujol, our guide, up the Pico Cordier in the Maladeta range

At the summit of the Pico Cordier – just us and a lot of rock

At the summit of the Pico Cordier – just us and a lot of rock

 

Snow – not as innocent as it looks

Snow – not as innocent as it looks

 

Helping us across this patch of snow, David lost balance and slipped down the slope on his back. Before we had time to think, he had twisted over acrobatically and thrust his ice axe into the snow. The second time he fell, he let go of the ice axe. I had just the time to wonder how we would rescue the crumpled mess at the bottom of the slope before he dug his feet in deep enough to stop himself.

On our second evening at the refuge we were paying our bill just before sunset when a young man rushed in, jabbering in Spanish. He had been at the Portillo superior watching a couple of climbers cross the glacier on the other side. He had seen them on the glacier, coming towards him, but they never arrived. He had waited two hours, but they had disappeared. He was sure something had happened to them. The hostel manager refused to phone the mountain rescue. They went outside to have a look but the manager shook his head. No, he wasn’t going to do anything. It was only the following evening, in Estós that we found out what had happened.

Day 3:Refugio de la Renclusa to Refugio de Estós

On the third day we passed by the ugly, evil-smelling health spa at the Baños de Benasque – for the seriously ill, I imagine – and up the rather prettier Literola valley.

 

Literola valley seen from the Baños de Benasque

Literola valley seen from the Baños de Benasque

 

Plan designed for those more used to travelling in the Underground than walking in the mountains

Plan designed for those more used to travelling in the Underground than walking in the mountains

 

In the Estós valley vultures were just finishing off the remains of a donkey.

We stayed at the Estós hostel overnight. Our guide came to join us again. Since David had been down in the valley all day, we asked him if there was any news of the lost climbers from the Portillo Superior. No, he said. People are always disappearing like that. The mountain rescue would only come out if someone was injured, not if they disappeared. There are so many ways across the glacier that people often ‘disappear’ like that by taking a different route.

Day 4: Refugio de Estós to Refuge du lac du Portillon

In the night a thunderstorm arrived, barrelling down the valley, spitting hail, but by dawn the clouds had started to disperse. On the path up to the Port d’Oô we saw first one, then a whole series of fire salamanders, yellow and black stripes darting away into the grass. I have only ever seen one before, but they are common here, David tells us.

 

Fire salamander near Estós

Fire salamander near Estós

 

At the E end of the Port d’Oô, looking W, Estós is to the left. The passage is 50m away, just in front of the steep cliff

At the E end of the Port d’Oô, looking W, Estós is to the left. The passage is 50m away, just in front of the steep cliff

 

This is another little-used route – beware: the passage is at the W end of the pass, though the cairns head for the E end, more popular with rock climbers.

 

Isards on the snow to the N of the Port d’Oô

Isards on the snow to the N of the Port d’Oô

 

Looking down at the Lac du Portillon

Looking down at the Lac du Portillon

 

Another tumble-jumble of rocks took us down to the Portillon and a comfortable refuge, with a smile as well.

 

Panorama of the lac du Portillon. The refuge is near the dam. The Portillon d’Ôo, the alternative route across the border, is just to the right of centre, above the glacier. A few years ago the area to the right of this was completely covered in ice

Panorama of the lac du Portillon. The refuge is near the dam. The Portillon d’Ôo, the alternative route across the border, is just to the right of centre, above the glacier. A few years ago the area to the right of this was completely covered in ice

Day 5: Refuge du lac du Portillon to Superbagnères

Our last day and we have been walking in heavy rain, chased by thunder. The thermometer says 8 degrees centigrade. Two hours earlier I had remarked: “cinq jours de randonnée, et on est passé entre les gouttes – five days walking and we have managed to pass between the raindrops.”

 

Sheep near the Lac d'Espingo

Sheep near the Lac d'Espingo

 

On the GR10 at the Col de la coume de bourg to the west of Superbagnères de Luchon

On the GR10 at the Col de la coume de bourg to the west of Superbagnères de Luchon

 

Thanks to Claude, Anne-Marie and Evelyne for company and photos.

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2 Responses to “Circular trek in the high Pyrenees: 5 days on the edge”

  1. Sille says:

    Hi,
    I have decided to do the “Circular trek in the high Pyrenees: 5 days on the edge”, which you have described in great details. However, I was wondering where I might be able to find a detailed map of the route. I hope you can help me with this.
    Thanks

  2. steve says:

    Hi Sille
    I have now put the track on Wikiloc so you can print maps from there or put it on your GPS. You will be able to buy 1:25000 maps in Luchon (or from Alpina Editorial). It was a great walk though not easy.
    Take care, Steve

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