Pyrenees – A tour of the Pic du Midi D’Ossau   14 comments

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TJS has been working hard for his GCSE’s. As he effectively gets a month off after finishing we decided on a special post-exam treat of a walking holiday (minus TJF who still has schooling to complete). After much deliberation we decided on the Pyrenees as they have a real big mountain feel with none of the objective dangers of the high Alps. They are also great for long distance walking/touring so I planned a couple of expeditions into their majestic heart. Within 30 minutes or so of him finishing his last exam we were on the road. A channel crossing to St Malo which I have to say is by far the best way to reach France. 12 hours overnight giving time for a pretty good meal, a decent night’s sleep and a leisurely breakfast before hitting the road. Its a long way to the Pyrenees but midweek is an easy drive, including a stop for a cuppa in the forests just south of Bordeaux where it was brutally hot (around 34C).

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As we pulled into the Hotel L’Ayguelade (very nice it was too) for an overnight before hitting the trail we got our first glimpse of the Pyrenees proper and the dramatic Pic Du Midi D’Ossau. Anticipation was growing!

The morning however was dark and gloomy both weatherwise and politically. We woke to news that the UK had voted to leave the EU and we were stunned and dismayed. I was almost embarrassed to sit with the the rest of the guests having breakfast. With grey skies and a grey mood it was a quiet drive up into the mountains. We hoped that perhaps we could break through the cloud and as we climbed up towards the car park at Lac de Bious Artigues the cloud thinned and suddenly cleared and we were treated to some sensational views

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The dark mood that had overcome us in the morning evaporated as quickly as the clouds and we finished packing for our first trip

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The plan was a tour of the majestic Pic Du Midi D’Ossau. Its one of the most iconic of all the Pyrenean peaks. Not the highest or even over 3000m it has a profile that’s not dissimilar to the Matterhorn, standing alone rather than as a point on an extended ridge.

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Its a relatively easy summit to attain but prone to stone-fall. We therefore settled on a circuit that encircles it with a night in a hut to make a two day taster before a longer trip the following week

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We set off in glorious warm sunshine with tantalising glimpses of the towering Pic du Midi through the trees.

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After a steep pull through the trees we opened out into the Bious pastures. It looked wonderful with its clear mountain stream but our route was further upwards with another steep section through the forest

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We emerged into another open pasture and stopped for a break. It was a wonderful spot but we were plagued by flies but luckily for the only time on the trip

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A short climb led us up to the first of the the Lacs d’Ayous, Lac Roumassot. With the majestic Pic in full view it was a perfect lunch stop by the stream

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Winter has not long receded from the Pyrenees (as we found out later) so the wild flowers were in abundance and a delight for our whole stay

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After a lengthy feast another short climb past the waterfalls led us past the second small lake of Lac du Miey and then on to Lac Gentau above which sat our destination for the night, the Refuge D’Ayous

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The hut has been perfectly placed, above the lake with the classic view across to the Pic du Midi. On warm summer afternoon it was perfect

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We debated long and hard about whether to use huts or wild camp. I was in favour of the latter but the others were reluctant to carry the heavy packs in high mountain country. We decided on huts and they were very convivial and enjoyable. They fed us superbly with each hut delivering a four course meal and it does mean you can relax a little more at the end of the day and enjoy the surroundings. None of that cooking, washing up and lavatorial visits behind rocks and such like. In fact c couple of the hut even had a shower!

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We enjoyed our surroundings for a lazy couple of hours just lounging on the grass in the warm sunshine

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As we sat the clouds and mist from the valley’s below began to creep up creating some fine images of the Pic du Midi

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We were planning on a lazy stroll around the lake but left it a little too late. By the time we set off the mist was swirling around the lake and hut and we spent of most of the walk in the damp cloud

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The wild flowers were still absolutely stunning though

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Added attraction of these lakes are its resident toads and there were loads of them swimming in the shallows and several frogs hopping about in the grass

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This one was rearing up out of the muddy grass like some kind of monster!

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I also nearly trod on a snake! It was black and possibly had a diamond pattern on its back so I thought it might be an Adder but looking online the only variety is rare and not black. Not sure what variety it was but it was thrilling to see it anyway.

The hut was completely enveloped in cloud when we got back so we sat inside and chilled waiting for tea (a hearty soup, chilli and rice with cheese and apple to follow). While we were eating a massive thunderstorm raged outside with hail thrown in. We seemed to right in the middle of it with lightning flashing all around. When it finished the skies cleared a little and me and TBF went out for a walk. The views were completely different, all stormy clouds and shafts of sunlight

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We thought we’d missed the promised sunset on Pic du Midi but we lucked in as the sun came out just enough to turn its grey slopes a deep brown and the wind dropped to reveal at least some of its reflection in the lake

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A fantastic end to a superb first day in the Pyrenees

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Now I said this was a two day expedition and normally I’d write a post for each day. The next day we woke in swirling mist and stayed in it for the entire day. Every footstep from the hut back to the car which was still in the cloud. It was a long day and we were all pretty chuffed to complete it but we saw nothing all day. It was like walking inside a ping-pong ball. This was the only photo I managed to take so I didn’t think I could stretch this out to a whole post.

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The day wasn’t without incident. Were saw numerous Fire Salamander and we managed to to go over the wrong col. We saw some glimpses of blue sky way above us but it never cleared and ironically that was enough for both sherpas to get sunburnt! It didn’t spoil what had been a superb couple of days out and we warmed up for the more serious route I’d planned for the rest of the trip. A total of 20km and 1400m of ascent over the two days

14 responses to “Pyrenees – A tour of the Pic du Midi D’Ossau

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  1. The pictures are beautiful! I’ve never been to the Pyrenees but they look wonderful. I’m curious about the huts. Are they privately owned or run by a forest service agency of some sort?

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    • Thanks Bob, they are stunning mountains, lacking the glaciers and snow capped peaks of the Alps but more in the way of grassy pastures, lakes and mountain streams. The huts are a mix of private (like this one) and those run by the Club Alpin Francais (CAF). They vary from very rustic unmanned shelters through to the newer ones that have showers and other mod-cons. They can be crowded and stuffy but as we were out of the main season they were pretty quiet. Much easier to book most of them online now

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  2. Wow – beautiful country! Love all your photos. Too bad your summit day was so foggy.

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    • Thanks Linda. The Pic during Midi is such a dramatic peak and the Lakes by the Hut make it a perfect situation. We didn’t plan on trying the summit (just outside our capabilities) but I reckon the top was out of the clouds and y the view would have been sensational

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  3. What a wonderful anecdote to GCSEs!

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    • TBF gets the credit for idea of a post exam walking holiday. Apart from this one day the weather was great.we had some moments of excitement as well, more to come 😀

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  4. Great photos! Looks fantastic! (But no surprise there!) I definitely need to go back to the Pyrenees. TBH and I must have passed one of those lakes on our walk, the view looks so familiar. The wildflowers stick out in my memory of the Pyrenees, but I don’t recall amphibians or snakes! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Fire Salamander, at least not in the wild.

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    beatingthebounds
    • If only you didn’t have a memory like a sieve without any mesh you’d remember your route exactly! 😀
      The view across the lake was probably the finest although you’ll see in future posts it has some stiff competition. It’s a stunning area for touring

      The fire salamanders are stunning with their yellow markings and they were common on this day and the next morning while the weather was damp. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos as my camera had to buried in my pack due to the dismal weather

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  5. Fabulous 1st day. No doubt you were glad you weren’t tenting it when the storm rolled in.
    A shame about the foggy 2nd day, but no doubt it gave you a great sense of achievement for negotiating it safely.

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    • Absolutely! It was one hell of a storm and a couple of people who had camped, left their tent behind and slept in the hut. The second day was a little disappointing as we were ver close to being above the cloud but not quite. It was good to complete the whole route anyway and was good training for the days to come

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