Pyrenees Haute Route Variants

Having through hiked the Pyrenees twice, deficiencies in Ton Joosten's HRP route become more evident. Obviously individual timescales, snow conditions, prevailing weather and re-supply strategy all make demands on route selection but there are some sections that can certainly be improved. A look at the original George Veron Guide is useful.
One such section is that from Gavarnie to Biados. Here Joosten will send you all the way down to Heas with a road walk to the Auberge and camping that in high season is often full. Following the climb out to Hourquette Heas, Hourquette Chermentas and Barroude you descend once more through the Cirque de Barrosa to a very busy road to follow towards Parzan before which you turn up a dirt road for the long climb up to Collado de Urdiceto. In effect you have traversed through a wild, high section of the Pyrenees mostly on road and track and to a large extent low down, not very Haute Route.
There is an alternative, not for bad weather, but certainly far more interesting and within the spirit of the HRP, this would be the George Veron route.

Follow the HRP from Gavarnie through the Hourquette d'Alans and head down the Cirque d'Estaube to Lac des Gloriettes. At the southern end of the lake a bridge leads to a rising path heading East, follow this as the way becomes clearer and eventually a broad grass track that intersects the road leading to the Cirque de Troumouse, follow the road to Auberge du Maillet.

Cirque d'Estaube
The Auberge has rooms catering for hikers, meals and a bar, it is also possible to pitch a tent opposite as this is outside the National Park.
From here you will have to follow the road and/or take the paths between the hairpins until picking up the path leading to the Cabane de la Vierge. Paths abound, some human some animal but it is fairly easy to follow the curve of the Cirque in order to reach the Cabane des Aires.

Cabane des Aires, Troumouse.
North East of the Cabane is an obvious hill (Tuc de l'Escaurede), keeping to the South side of this a vague path becomes clearer as you approach the steep flank of Pic de la Sede.Once started the way is clearly marked with many cairns, zig zaging up the steep limestone height is gained quickly to reach the Col de la Sede.

Improbable from here, cabane, hill and flank of la Sede.
There are stunning views of the Cirque de Troumouse from the Col de la Sede.

Cirque de Troumouse.
At the Col rather than going through climb up onto the ridge and head South towards Pic de Gerbats where you will find a vague path through the scree and boulders below the cliff of its Northern flank. On arriving at the grassy edge there are increasingly dramatic views into Barroude as you get closer to Pic de la Gela.

Barroude and the ridge to Rioumajou.
If you have the time there are great views from Pic de la Gela or continue to skirt below its peak on a traverse to gain the ridge at a grassy col and continue North Westerly to gain Horquette de Heas. (This final section of ridge is quite narrow and rocky, a la Striding Edge, approach with caution in poor conditions)

Approaching Hourqette de Heas.
Back on the standard route now heading East and then South through Hourquette de Chermentas on a clear path to Barroude. Really miss the Refuge for it's friendly welcome and sustenance, I hope that one day it will be re-built.

Lac de Barroude.
From Barroude it is a short climb up to Port de Barroude. Here Joosten's guide has you descending the Cirque de Barrosa and on down to the Parzan road before joining the GR11 up the long dirt road to Urdiceto. Instead we turn left and follow the ridge over Pic de Port Vieux.

Leaving Barroude.
This is a long day, through hiking with a reasonable pack at least 9hrs walking so be prepared and take enough water for the day. The ridge is generally wide and easy but poor visibility could lead you into problems with steep ground and you would be very exposed to stormy weather, having said that it is escapable at fairly regular intervals on reasonable paths. The way is obvious in places, but not always, there are cairns and the occasional white paint mark indicating the way but in good weather sticking to the ridge the way is pretty obvious.

Pic de Bataillence.
The real sting comes right at the end if the ridge where you arrive at a well marked col just South of Pic de Lias. The initial down climb is steep and loose and seemingly heading into an abyss, but orange paint marks on your left (looking out) on better rock provides a fairly easy descent that soon eases.

Un-named col South of Pic de Lias.
There is now a long traversing descent to reach Hospice de Rioumajou that is not to be under-estimated, nothing difficult but route finding can be taxing as the path disappears repeatedly in the grassy sections as you search for orange paint flashes on the odd rock!

Long way down to Rioumajou.
Hospice de Rioumajou is not going to be of any use as I think it closes at about 4pm, but there is a water source, a bivouac area and a good foot soak in the river on a nice evening can set you up for tomorrow.

Hospice de Rioumajou.
Veron now takes you South on a very pleasant hike to Port de Urdiceto where we can rejoin the GR11 to Camping Forcallo or Refugio de Biados. There is also Port de Plan which will also lead on down to the GR11 and Port de la Madera which catches up with the GR11 beyond both the camping and Refugio.

Leaving Rioumajou.
A fine route, highly recommended for inclusion in anyone's Haute Route Pyrenees crossing.

1 comment:

  1. Looks a nice addition to the future list of possible strolls along the Pyrenees