Whiteburn's Wanderings

One man's wanderings backpacking around Scotland plus the odd digression

A Pyrenean Wander – Part 1

I started out planning a gentle jaunt along the Pyrenees from Candanchu to Puigcerda exploring some of the trails I’d not traversed previously & taking around 4 weeks, the plan eventually morphed into a seven-week trip starting at L’Hospitalet Pres L’Andorre & generally following the GR10 west to Gavarnie & then turning east along a higher route to Latour de Carol (only about 10 mile from the start point).

In this post, I’ll cover the westward journey.

Day 1 – L’Hospitalet to Refuge Ruhle; 13km, 1400m↑, 600m↓.

I’d looked at jumping off the overnight train from Paris at Merens Les Vals & following the GR10 up to Refuge Ruhle but reckoned that involved an additional 300m ascent & as afternoon thunderstorm was in the forecast I rode up to Hospitalet with the intent of following the HRP. The first disappointment of the day was that the café/ shop was closed depriving me of the desired breakfast double expresso (sign stated that it wouldn’t be open until 2nd week of July; with the shop in Merens now permanently closed the only practical option for an early season resupply on the HRP would be a train ride to Ax Les Thermes); I finally got underway at 9:30.

I found the route of the HRP was easy to follow as since last time I passed it’s gained the familiar red/ white flashes & signposted ‘GRT’ (one of the 20 planned trans-frontier link routes between the GR10 & GR11).

2017 - 1 (Large)

By the time I reached Etang de Pedoures (2165m) the couple of breakfast cereal bars seem to have been depleted so it was a quick pit stop for Aberdeen butteries & chorizo watching the cloud over Col D’Albe (2535m) grow darker.

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Still nearly 500m of ascent to go so I pushed hard until over the D’Albe & Juclar (2442m) passes, time for another short break, just long enough for the rain to come on & the thunder start to rumble. By the time I reached Ruhle the storm was in full flow, the few people in residence were huddled around a small gas heater drying their waterproofs (?????). I decided to stay the night rather than go out into the storm, turned out to be a good move as the storm ran on most of the night; I didn’t think much of the evening meal (quality or quantity) but the wine was good.

Day 2 – Refuge Ruhle to Cabane Balledreyt; 25km, 1300m↑, 1800m↓.

I was away early as I had a long day planned, stepping out from the refuge into a very damp world, cold, drizzly rain & low cloud. It looked as though the traverse of the ridge north wouldn’t enjoy any ‘fine views’ today.

I traversed the 12km along the ridge down to Plateau de Beille in light rain & clag that Scotland would be proud of before descending to the Cabane Des Clarans (1080m) for a late lunch; pretty scruffy but plenty of good camping in area & water.

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Most of the day’s mileage had been completed but there was still a whole lot of ascent (8-900m) to get up so I was soon back on the road climbing through forest up to the Col de Sirmont (1693m) before wandering descent down through the forest to the Jasse de Sirbal (1350m). A large water meadow with lots of cattle not really a place to camp but Cabane Balledreyt (1602m) was only a short distance up the hill.

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The bothy was in very good condition, 2 rooms with water nearby, it even had a stock of tinned food (for sale) with pans & a gas cooker.

Day 3 – Cabane Balledreyt to Vicdessos; 20km, 1000m↑, 1800m↓.

Awoke to a chilly morning & a very heavy frost coating the grass, a nice morning for a walk; I was a bit peeved that a mouse had got to my food bag despite the table being pulled away from the wall.

The ascent to Cabane de Courtal Marti (1812m) went quickly & after sticking my head in the door I was glad to have stopped when I did, it was quite small & scruffy; Balledreyt was luxurious in comparison. The traverse over Pla de Montcamp (1880m) on a clear crisp morning was a delight.

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Until it was time to contemplate the long descent to Siguer (740m) & the 600m climb beyond.

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Once I had gained the ridge (1274m) above Lercoul I left the GR10, heading off down a forestry track then an ancient mining route.

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This proved a delightful dawdle all the way into the village of Sem, a short section of minor road & it was off down another mine track straight down to the outskirts of Vicdessos. The supermarket proved well stocked & I had no problems resupplying for the 5 days ahead; pitched up in the local campsite & enjoyed a bottle of vin rouge listening to the rain now coming down.

Day 4 – Vicdessos to Etang de Plan de la Fon; 10km, 1000m↑, 100m↓.

A short section of road walking west through Auzat & the GR10 was re-joined for the steep 800m climb up through the forest to Lac Bassiès. I’d almost finished the steep bit (1400m) when I noticed that one of the flex tips from my poles was missing, s##t! No damage to the aluminium tip & only a few scratches visible…….I decided to back track. I descended to 1350m, then returned, 1300m then returned, 1200m then returned……found it at 1340m!

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All this wasted time & effort in the building heat took its toll on the body & spirit. Thoughts of getting over Port de Saleix (1794m) today were abandoned but once up out of the forest spirits lifted a little with the more open landscape.

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I ended up pitching up about 0.5km before Refuge Bassiès finding a quite spot near the lake hidden from prying eyes.

Day 5 –Etang de Plan de la Fon to Casiérens; 16km, 1150m↑, 1300m↓.

Despite only planning a relatively short day I was underway shortly after 7am & Refuge de Bassiès, 1640m, was soon passed.

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A short climb led over Port de Saleix (1794m) still envelope in cloud, the skies cleared for the uneventful 9km descent, mostly in forest, to Aulus-Les-Bains (760m). Beyond the town the 800m climb up through more forest began. I must admit to have started to get pretty bored by trees, the path however climbed close to the Ruisseau Du Fouillet which has numerous cascades to detract the eye.

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I arrived at Casiérens (1527m) with the meadow enveloped in swirling low cloud but soon found a good pitch next to some sheep pens. Late that evening the cloud broke up a little as an inversion developed & a clear sky was revealed.

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Day 6 – Casiérens to Col de la Serre Du Cot; 16km, 1200m↑, 1200m↓.

I was underway by a chilly 7am only to run into the berger a few minutes later driving a large flock towards the pens.

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In less than an hour it was back to the familiar routine: a 900m descent though the forest down to Saint Lizier; a short section of farm land; then back into the forest really looking forward to the 800m climb up through the forest ahead.

The Col de la Serre Du Cot (1527m) looked an ideal place to pitch up but looked to have no water nearby. However on speaking to a very friendly berger who’d come down from the Cabane Du Tuc, a couple of hundred metres south, he showed me 2 good springs quite close by (200m NE & 60m W). Game on……I was soon pitched up enjoying a cuppa.

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Day 7 – Col de la Serre Du Cot to Cabane de L’Artigues; 17km, 1400m↑, 1700m↓.

A 500m descent through forest down to Rouze started the day, below Rouze I’d been warned that the rain (& cattle) had made the track a quagmire so I made the final 200m of descent to Couflens down the minor road. A was glad to see that the way ahead was at least devoid of forest.

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The closed Refuge Forestier D’Areau (1897m) at the head of the valley provided a shady spot for a late lunch & provided a nice view down the climb up from Couflens.

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Port d’Aula (1998m) was short climb west & provided a great view of the border ridge.

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Then it was the usual steep descent down to the Refuge D’Aula (1558m); I had thought to continue a further 2km down the valley but the bothy looked reasonable so I put my feet up early. Less than an hour later a party of seven arrived & after they filled the bothy with smoke from the fire I moved out to a good pitch a short distance away.

Day 8 – Refuge D’Aula to Seix; 14km, 100m↑, 700m↓.

Another bright but chilly morning as I left the bothy; a wonderful setting.

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And an easy walk all downhill into Seix (520m)

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The lone supermarket was engaged in shutting up shop when I arrived at ~12:30 so I went off for lunch to return at 3pm to pick up supplies before moving on. 3pm came & went, the shop finally opened at 5pm, too late to do anything but head for the campsite with a bottle of wine.

Day 9 – Seix to Pla de la Lau; 24km, 2000m↑, 1500m↓.

Another early start as I had mileage to make up from yesterday supermarket hiccup; probably an extra 2hrs on the hoof today.

The trail climbed up through the forest for nearly 900m up to the Col de la Core (1395m), I stuck my head into the Cabane de Tariolle (1200m) as I passed & it looked in good condition.

It was good to be out of the trees & roaming high ridges with a bit of a breeze to cool things down a little.

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I briefly met up with Jerome (French) just west of Étang D´Ayes, a few minutes friendly banter then he raced off ahead; we were to meet a few times over the days ahead with much talk of the ‘tortoise & hare’ (the ‘tortue et le liѐvre’ story is obviously international).

By 5pm I’d reached the Cabane D’Aouen (1630m) where I’d thought to spend the night.

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But I decided to continue the descent to the valley & look for a pitch there…….mistake! The valley didn’t turn out to be very pitch friendly, only the area around the road end & carpark looked reasonable but lots of no camping signs. Not finding a ‘stealth’ pitch I resigned myself to the 500m climb up through the forest to Cabane de l’Artigue (1420m), not something I really was looking forward to. Fortunately after only climbing ~100m I spotted a small level(ish) area just below the path, with a small stream close by…………..took less than an hour to pitch up, eat & be in bed, I was knackered!

Day 10 – Pla de la Lau to Eylie-d’en-Haut; 15km, 1800m↑, 1800m↓.

Thanks to the early night I was away just after 7am & was soon up through the forest at the l’Artigue bothy which would have been a good place for the night.

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Met with Jerome again as he caught up as I descended to the L’Orle valley where the next climb of the day up to the Col de l’Arech, 1802m, came into view; only a 750m climb!

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Jerome had set off later than me having spent the night in his hammock very close to my pitch (the Ariege is definitely a tree hangers’ paradise), we descended to the river lunched there before continuing our separate journeys.

I called into the well maintained Cabane de L’Arech, 1620m, where I had half an idea to stay the night but it was only 4pm so after a brief sit in the shade it was up & over the col mulling over where & when to pull up. Ended up chatting to Mattѐo on the descent & we both came to the conclusion that a good meal & a bed wouldn’t go amiss; a short call & we were booked into the Eylie Gite d’etape. The Gite turned out to be have been a good move; hot shower, a 3-course meal (€16 inc wine) which was huge, good quality & a comfortable bed.

Day 11 –Eylie-d’en-Haut to Camp de l’Ours; 15km, 1700m↑, 1500m↓.

I was away early wanting to at least break the back of the initial 1200m climb before the day’s heat really got going again. One positive was that the forest ended after the first 400m of ascent & I managed to gain a good breeze for the push up to Mine de Bentaillou, 1870m.

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I met up with Jerome again just west of the mine buildings trying to avoid the attention of a huge Patou guarding a large flock scattered across the mountain side, after a short conversation it was agreed that ‘going around’ was impractical, best to stick together on the path. The beast harangued us for over ½ km getting unnervingly close on a couple of occasions, 2m is too close in my opinion, & I had to ward it off with my poles. Eventually it gave up & took off after another couple making their descent east.  Jerome & I parted company as he raced off ahead again.

The wind became increasingly aggressive as I descended to the Refuge D´Araing (1928m).

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The rain & hail hit shortly after I reached the refuge so I had lunch & put my feet up for an hour while the worse of it blew through. It was still full waterproofs as I departed but by reaching Col d’Aueran, 2176m, the wind had faded to a breeze & the rain had stopped, time to strip down while enjoying a view of the border ridge.

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All downhill to Fos from here on.

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I reached the outskirts of Labach around 4pm & was not looking forward to the ~2hrs trek to Fos when I noticed Jerome with a small group on an old terrace just above the path, I called in to say hello & was immediately invited to join the soirée. It turned out the owner is developing a small bivouac site & possibly in future a cabaña/ refuge but today (Sunday) was a party day with plenty of food & wine; all thoughts of getting to Fos were abandoned in favour of a level pitch on another terrace just 30m up the hill.

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Day 12 – Camp de l’Ours to Cabaña Courraus; 18km, 1400m↑, 900m↓.

Due to over indulgence & fatigue I didn’t get underway until after 9am quite thankful that the first 12km of the day was all downhill; a bit of a boring walk with lots of black top but it suited my brain/ body power that morning.

I pulled up for lunch just before in a lovely shady spot beside the Ruisseau de la Batch just before the first big ascent of the day.

2017 - 29 (Large)

A bit of a confusing ascent as the marked trail turned out to be different to my maps, instead of following the Ruisseau up it zigzagged up well to the south bypassing the Cabane Artiguessans (1002m). I called into the Cabaña Artigue (1357m) to say hello as someone was in residence, fairly tidy but it was still too early to stop so I made the short hike up to Cabaña Courraus (1586m).

2017 - 30 (Large)

It was still early to but the next good spots to pitch up looked hours’ away & the bothy was in a fairly good state but notably infested with mice. I later stepped out of the bothy for a few moments to speak with a passer-by when one of the voracious creatures was seen running off with a 5cm chunk of saucisson (probably weighed more than the mouse) acquired from the table, despite it being 15cm from any access? Later ‘baiting’ tests confirmed that the said mice could jump 20cm from the window ledge to the table but not 25cm, needless to say after the experiments the table was placed well away from the wall…..the things we do when bored!

Day 13 – Cabaña Courraus to Bagneres de Luchon; 20km, 750m↑, 1700m↓.

It was only a short climb to Col D’Esclot D’Aou (2079m) where I decided on a slight detour away from the GR10 in favour of the delightful rolling border ridge down to Cabane de Peyrehitte (1947m) where GR was rejoined.

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It felt good to have left the forests of the Ariege behind me & be in open country, it was a little disappointing to have to make the descent to Luchon. I ended up at Camping Au fil de l’Oô, just to the south of town, with the intent of staying a couple of nights & putting the feet up for a day; I reckoned after 13 days, 220km & 16km ascent the old body deserved a day off.

Day 14 – Bagneres de Luchon to Lac D’Espingo; 10km, 700m↑, 500m↓.

First question of the day; a 6km yomp with 1100m ascent up through more forest to Superbagnères or take the ski lift up? A no brainer……..I hitched a ride in on the ski lift just before midday……..the best €6.50 spent on the trip.

2017 - 33 (Large)

Superbagnères turned out to be the usual gaudy ski resort complete with tourist hoards.

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Best thing about it was the path leading towards the mountains.

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It was an easy dawdling cruise to Refuge D’Espigno (1953m), not wanting to arrive too early & fall foul of the park camping restrictions (7pm to 8am).

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I noted that there were already 2 tents erected in full view of the refuge so despite it being too early after finding a good spot near the outfall of Lac D’Espigno I pitched up as well, fortunately just as the rain started.

Day 15 – Lac D’Espingo to Val d’Aube; 12km, 1000m↑, 1600m↓.

The day started cold & clear.

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I had planned a little deviation from the GR10, no shorter than the GR but it avoided a big descent/ ascent back in more forest; the only issue a 2800m col. Heading west from Lac D’Espigno I climbed up past Cabane D’Arrouge (2113m), which was in good nick, beyond the bothy the path up the valley was quite feint but the scenery was pretty.

2017 - 38 (Large)

At c2500m, head of valley, there was a couple of hairy moments climbing a 60deg grass slope to gain access to the upper corrie.

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And there was a further sting in the tail, quite a steep section of grass/ scree/ rock scrambling to gain the col itself.

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The Lac Des Hermitants perched in the col at 2800m.

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The route north down the valley passing the Lacs de Nere proved a lot more well trafficked & hence easier to follow.

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I re-joined the GR10 at Couret D’Esquierry (2156m) for the final leg down the Val d’Aube, I’d quite enjoyed the little diversion.

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I had thought to stay the night at Cabane D’Ourtiga (1622m) but it was still early & the bothy was surrounded by 100 cattle (all them bells for hours on end!). I spoke to a passing backpacker who advised that the campsite in Loudenville, 2 hrs ahead, was small & jam packed due to the ‘Tour de France’; plan B scuppered. Decision made; detour off the GR, dawdle down the Aube valley & find a spot. I checked out a few places, on both sides of the river, & finally found a good spot amongst the trees at c1300m.

Day 16 –Val d’Aube to Vielle-Aure; 14km, 700m↑, 1200m↓.

I was underway by shortly after 6:30am as the plan was to get to Vielle-Aure, resupply then hike up to Lac de L´Oule. An easy start to the day, a short wander down the valley, hop across a hydro-weir & a downhill dawdle into Loudenville ( a ‘developed’ vacation/ ski town & not the prettiest). The campsite was cramped full which some-what easing the conscience for have stopped so early yesterday.

The 600m climb up to the col Couret de Latuhe, 1586m, seemed to go by un-noticed as did the easy descent to Vielle-Aure. The only problem with the plan turned out to be that I’d arrived on the 14th July (Bastille Day) & the supermarket had closed (normally open all day). I wandered around the corner to Camping La Moussquere & checked in. Sometime later I found out from other backpackers that there was a supermarket open in Saint-Lary-Soulan, c2km away, & made the short walk to resupply (at least I would have to wait until 9am the next morning to go shopping) & of coarse pick up a bottle of vin rouge to ease the pain.

Day 17 – Vielle-Aure to Lac D’Aumar; 19km, 1900m↑, 500m↓.

6:45am, warm, muggy, I was ‘really’ looking forward to the 1400m climb up to Col de Portet!

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At least the scenery improved as I climbed & the air freshened.

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It took about 5hrs to reach the col & join the hordes of day trippers than had driven up! I didn’t hang around & took off down the track to Refuge-Auberge de L’Oule & the dam. Shock, horror…….the route across the dam was closed for engineering work……no choice but to make the 3km detour around the head of the lake. I sought out a quiet spot away from the hoards & settled down for a long lunch.

At the head of the lake was very busy with trippers taking advantage of the holiday weekend with many coming armed with overnight gear.

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The 400m climb up to Col d’Estoudou, 2260m, took about an hour, still lots of day trippers? Then I note the carpark by Lac D´Oredon just below. The area ahead toward Lac D’Aumar looked to be getting more rugged so despite the early hour I decided to look for a good spot to pitch up.

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I ended up finding a good spot with plenty of shade just off the trail about 1km before Lac D’Aumar & was joined ½ hr later by Frederick who I’d met the day before; we did wait until the proscribed 1900 hrs before erecting the tent (though it was all pegged out ready to go so inside 5mins I’d moved in).

Day 18 –Lac D’Aumar to Luz Saint Sauveur; 19km, 750m↑, 2150m↓.

It turned out that I needn’t have been concerned about camping near Lac D’Aumar, there was plenty of good spots.

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It was here I was to leave the GR10 again for a bit of a wandering, well really a bit of a short cut to Luz Saint Sauveur; instead of heading north to the Bastan valley & down to Luz via Barages I was to head west to the Bolou valley on a direct line to Luz.

The 300m climb to Hourquette D´Aubert, 2480m, proved easy enough on a well-trodden path; the passage to Hourquette de Mounicot, 2532m, across the upper valley looked as though it was going to be a little more problematical with lot of rough ground to traverse.

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From Mounicot the ground down towards the col into the Bastan valley (about 1km south of Refuge de la Glère) looked equally ‘entertaining’ but at least the fringes of Luz could be seen down the valley beyond.

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The scenery was however most splendid, just too many places to choose from for a lunch stop.

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The passage down the Bastan valley turned out to be a lot rougher than expected, zillions of boulders, & it took 2hrs to cover the 3km down to the Cabane de Sardiche, 1620m.

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I found the bothy ill-used with lots of rubbish inside & out, not the kind of place I’d wish to spend the night but there was a good water supply. After drinking my fill & topping up the water bottles I sought out some shade. I felt absolutely shattered, 34C (in the shade), & despite pouring water down my throat all day I felt drained; a wetted shirt & hat felt wonderful.

The path down from the bothy was 10 times better than that above & quickly led down to the junction with the GR10, an old mule track, a veritable backpackers’ motorway.  The ‘easy’ 6km to Luz took me nearly 2hrs with the frequent stops I made & by the time I stumbled into ‘Camping Cascades’ I was exhausted. It took a lot of effort to pitch up rather than flop on the grass & sleep; a long luke warm shower was needed before I had the energy to go out searching for food…..in the end I decided I couldn’t face a restaurant & opted for a huge can (800g) of duck cassoulet, bread & of course vin rouge…..it went down a treat!

I’d originally thought to jump on the followings’ morning bus for the short ride up to Gavarnie & take a rest day there before starting my east-ward journey (that’s another story) but I quite liked Luz Saint Sauveur so stayed there a couple of nights; a much nicer town with much better supermarket than Gavarnie in my opinion……& no whistling stuffed marmots!

Reflections:

I must admit to have had the impression that the GR10 was a fairly easy trek & in terms of navigation & availability of accommodation (cabins, gites & refuges) it is BUT particularly through the Ariege there are big climbs & descents every day (1000m+) more often than not in forest with high humidity & little breeze. It certainly tests the fitness level particularly when carrying camping gear & several day’s food, not something I’d advise anyone to underestimate.

I personally found the day after day trekking through the forests quite oppressive, I far prefer more the open environment of the high Pyrenees……..but like I said that’s Part 2.

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4 comments on “A Pyrenean Wander – Part 1

  1. Kirsten
    August 21, 2017

    Great information and photos Paul. I really enjoy reading your concise and honest accounts. Thank you!

  2. Robin
    August 22, 2017

    Enjoyed reading that. Thanks

  3. Andrew Taylor
    August 22, 2017

    Thanks Paul. I’ve put my personal plans on hold for a while due to family reasons but the positive in that is that I have more time to learn from your excellent blogs. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and will no doubt read it again at leisure with maps making notes!

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This entry was posted on August 21, 2017 by in Trip Reports and tagged , , .
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