Pyrenees Grand Tour Day 2 – Snowy pass to the Refuge Wallon   16 comments

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We woke to a stunner. The previous gloom and clouds had been replaced by a deep and clear blue sky. The early morning views across the lake were magnificent

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Our usual routine of breakfast and packing but this time outside in glorious sunshine

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Our route took us back along the high path above the lake towards Campoplano. Today it was even better than the day before and a pleasure to walk it again under such stunning conditions

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Our plan was to traverse the high pass of the Col de La Fache and possibly climb the Grand Fache itself at over 3000m. The pass is the one just right of centre in the photo below with the Grand Fache to the right

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We needed to cross the major stream that issues from the col and we were preparing to wade it (bridges on the Spanish side seemed to be in short supply) . On a whim I climbed up to the top of a small ridge and spied a dam below that we could cross. Result!

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We stopped to fill water bottles, once again admiring the glorious scenery in the environs of Embalse de Campoplano

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As we began to climb to we saw lots of marmots on the surrounding rocks

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We’d not been climbing long before we started to reach the snow. The hut itself is pretty high at 2200m so it was hardly that surprising. It mainly filled the bottom of the valley with the roaring meltwater stream often hidden underneath. The going was easy until we had to cross a boulder. The footsteps went down and round it and so did I only to collapse into a large hole and then pitch forward and slide headfirst towards the torrent that was disappearing under another patch of snow. I stopped myself after a couple of metres but the thought did cross my mind as I plunged that if I fell in the river I’d be washed under the snow. Sobering thought.

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I emptied the snow out of my pockets and boots and we pressed on. As we climbed the snow became more extensive. I took a line above and to the right following some footsteps and thinking staying away from the chance of falling through a hole into the river was a good idea

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In the event the footsteps turned to crampon marks and the snow became a little harder and I had to kick steps for quite a while. No real danger but it felt a little precarious. TJS gave me another “you never told me about this sort of thing” look

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We headed up finding the snow hard work. We thought we’d reached the col but it was a cruel deception. It was still well above us as we walked into a perched corrie with a lake, completely frozen over. All the photos I’d seen when researching the route was of a rocky hollow with two deep blue lakes. Seeing it in pretty much full winter conditions was something of a surprise!

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To reach the col we had a long rising traverse around the lake followed by a short steep section. TBF managed to fall off the trail and slide down a few feet (you can see here making her way back up in the photo below). Again it felt a little precarious but a slip would only have ended in a wet slosh into the snow at the bottom. The steeper section was hard work but after what seemed like a long and tiresome toil we were at the col at 2664m. Only a climb of some 450m but with heavy packs its seemed much harder

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The views were immense and we settled in for a long leisurely soak in the sun

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The climb up to the Grand Fache sounded easy enough but we were quickly realising that we were walking with heavy packs in winter conditions and finding it much harder than we thought. We agreed that climbing cols was more than enough and abandoned the idea of the summit (and the extra descent it would entail) in favour of more time lazing about

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The way down, back into France, was over more snow but at a perfect angle for descending, at least for me. TJS was still nervous on snow despite my assertions that at this easy angle it makes for a rapid and easy descent. He seemed to hate the snow despite the fact he’s been down much steeper snow slopes in the Brecons near to home. Perhaps a little intimidated by the high mountains around us rather than just dealing with conditions underfoot

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We passed another beautiful frozen lake and then another snow filled gully before finally leaving the white stuff behind

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We descended into the Marcadau valley and the Refuge Wallon (just visible in the centre of the photo below)

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The surrounding scenery was majestic and the valley below green and verdant. A long descent as the refuge was much lower at 1800m

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One of the best features of the Pyrenees are the valley meadows and clear mountains streams. We added the Marcadau to the list of marvellous places.

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As we approached the hut there were several people sunning themselves and swimming although the water was likely to be icily cold being primarily snowmelt. I’d planned to take a dip at some point but we never really had time and the water was far too cold even for me

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The refuge was a much older traditional building. We drank a cold coke on the terrace before booking in and making ourselves at home (a dedicated and rather shabby 4 bed bunk-room with paper thin walls). We sat outside and watched the local cows, donkey and horse as the mingled with crowds, the hut was clearly very popular and busy. Our evening meal was hearty as always and after a long day we turned in relatively early as we had another long day ahead with two more passes to cross

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Weatherise the best day of the trip and a tough one. There was more hard work to follow, much more than we anticipated!

16 responses to “Pyrenees Grand Tour Day 2 – Snowy pass to the Refuge Wallon

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  1. Fantastic mountain scenery in these photos. What a lovely place

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  2. Incredible adventures…you should write a book ….or guide…

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  3. Beautiful, stunning mountain views! Looked like it was perfect weather too!

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  4. We passed the Marcadau on our walk. I suspect we crossed a different pass, although we also had snow and on the descent a hugely satisfying standing glissade. Looks like you had a storming day (slips and slides excepted).

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    beatingthebounds
    • If you didn’t go via the Respumuso Hut then my guess you would have gone over the Col de Cambales which is even higher than the one we did (about 2700) from the Larribet or Arremoulit Hut. All the passes around here are pretty high and quite serious when there is snow around. It was melting fast while we were there so possibly when you did it most would have gone. It was an amazing day, probably the best of the trip for a variety of reasons

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      • Having searched for images I pretty confident that we stayed at the Arremoulit. Most of the snow was gone, we crossed one large patch just short of the top of the pass. The descent was over huge boulders, one member of the party slipped and was quite hurt, falling between boulders. It was purgatorial and I could see a large patch of snow stretching most of the way down to the valley bottom, turned out to be the perfect way down. I went down standing, TBH did it on her behind, then most of the rest followed. We had a long wait for the few who decided to walk down.

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        beatingthebounds
        • I’ll bring the maps to N Wales and we can compare notes – well they are your maps after all! Sounds like you went over the Col de Palas and then the maybe the Port de Lavedan. My guidebook says its one of the toughest sections with lots of boulders etc.
          By the way I sent you a couple of mails last night and they both got rejected not sure if you received them or not or if you are having problems with your e-mail

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  5. Hard work but so rewarding. Magnificent vistas, snow, tumbling water, grassy fields, rocky trail – wonderful! Thanks for sharing with such beautiful pics.

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    • Its such a wonderful place with some much contrast between the mountains, snow, green valleys and rivers. Under a clear blue sky its magnificent walking country, although a little tougher than we thought as you’ll see in the next post!

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