Hiking in the Hautes-Pyrénées & the Pyrénées National Park - Gavarnie & Cauterets

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Wednesday 11 February 2015

Hiking in the Hautes-Pyrénées & the Pyrénées National Park - Gavarnie & Cauterets

The Hautes-Pyrénées Department of France, part of the much larger Midi-Pyrénées Region, consists of several distinct geographical areas stretching from the flat agricultural land in the north around Tarbes to the high peaks of the Pyrénées along the Spanish border. Overlapping with the peaks of the Hautes-Pyrénées is the eastern edge of the Pyrénées National Park, a 457 square kilometre area with snaking boundaries that sits on the border with Spain, contains 6 distinct valleys and altitudes ranging from 1060m up to 3298m at the summit of Vignemale. Barely a single portion of the the Hautes-Pyrénées is free from waymarked hiking paths making this area an ideal destination for hikers of any ability. Details of our own hiking adventures in this area are listed below.

Many of the most spectacular mountains and hiking possibilities in the Hautes-Pyrénées also sit within the official boundaries of the Pyrénées National Park, while others rest just outside within the "zone peripherique". However, whether all, part or none of a particular trail cross into the National Park or not, doesn't change the fact that the entire area is stunning.

In addition to the dense network of waymarked trails, two major long distance trails also pass through the mountains of the Hautes-Pyrénées. The GR10 Pyrenean Way which traverse the French Pyrenees from Atlantic to Mediterranean weaves its way up and down several valleys on it's way between the seas. (We'd completed 10 days of this trail in 2013). Nearby the Haute Route Pyrenees (HRP, a more extreme traverse) also cuts through sharing some of the GR10 paths but sticking closer to the Spanish border and the highest trails. Dotted along many of the trails is an extensive network of mountain refuges (huts) offering food and shelter to day hikers and thru-hikers alike.

One particularly special part of the Hautes-Pyrénées mountains is the Mont Perdu Massif. Although the summit of the "lost mountain" is in Spain, it's enormous bulk spans the border and creates 3 huge amphitheatres of rock in the southernmost part of the Hautes-Pyrenees: Cirque du Gavarnie, Cirque d'Estaube and Cirque du Troumouse and a visit to at least one of these is a special experience.

Part of the beauty of the mountains of the Hautes-Pyrénées is the wilderness and remote setting. Although there are access roads along several of the more major valleys, there are still vast swathes of unspoiled mountainside between them providing excellent opportunities to escape into the mountains. So, if you're planning a trip to the Pyrenees with the intention to get out and experience some of Europe's finest wilderness hiking, then a trip to the Hautes-Pyrénées Department is well the effort.  Or even if you don't want to take on long or mulit-day hikes in high mountains there are plenty of stunning places accessible by shorter flatter paths.

Destinations such as Cauterets and Gavarnie especially are close to the Spanish border and some of the highest peaks. It was these locations that we stayed in during our own visit in October 2014.

A list of our own hikes in the Hautes-Pyrénées are given below.

1. Pic du Monne (2724m) from Cauterets 
Pic du Monne (or Moun Ne as some maps indicate) is a high summit just north of the border of the Pyrénées National Park. It's an ideal 'big hike' from Cauterets as you can hike straight out of the town without having to drive to another starting point. The route heads almost directly westwards up a steep hillside, climbing swiftly above Cauterets (approx 550m), followed by a short section of flatter traverse which takes you to the final steep and rocky ascent. At around 2200m on this hike the view opens wonderfully to reveal countless high peaks running along the Spanish border, including Vignemale (3289m) and Mont Perdu (3350m).

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2. Following Waterfalls to Lac de Gaube (1725m) from Cauterets
Another route we tried straight out of Cauterets (approx 550m). This hike actually follows part of the GR10 route as it heads south along the Val de Jéret and ascends the "Chemin de Cascades" (the way of the Waterfalls) alongside a long section of tumbling rapids and waterfalls in a wooded section of route. Upon reaching Pont d'Espagne the route turns south and climbs a little further to the Lac de Gaube provides a magnificent outlook along a valley to Vignemale and Glacier des Oulettes in the distance. On a longer day in summer it is possible to continue following the GR10 right up to the Refuge des Oulettes de Gaube (2151m) or further to Hourquette d'Ossoue (2743m) and the Refuge de Bayssellance (2651m) beneath the summit of Petit Vignemale (3032m), overlooking the Glaciers of this Massif.

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3. The Beautiful Vallee d'Ossoue and the Refuge de Bayssellance (2651m) from Gavarnie
The Vallee d'Ossoue runs north westward from Gavarnie heading towards the base of Vignemale. It is possible to follow the GR10/HRP west of Gavarnie which will carry you deep into the valley (and eventually meet up with the route from Cauterets, see above). Or you can follow the narrow road (Gave d'Ossoue) which becomes a dirt track but will take you to the Barrage d'Ossoue (1834m) where the track intersects the GR10/HRP once more. We actually cycled part of the road before continuing on foot into the valley.

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4. Hiking into the Cirque du Gavarnie
The famous Cirque du Gavarnie, a grandiose amphitheatre of rock that measures 1700m high and 14km in circumference and home to a 413m high waterfalls that drops off one of the concentric steps that climb the cirque's face. Despite it's awesome beauty the hike to the Cirque is relatively easy going from Gavaranie, just 1.5 hours of gentle hiking with a easy place to rest at the Refuge du Pailla. If you want to get right up and stand in the spray of the waterfall you can.

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5. Pic de Tentes (2322m) from Gavarnie (1365m)
Although it is possible to drive up to a car park at Col de Tentes just 100m below the Pic de Tentes, the hike (or cycle) up is far more rewarding. The best hiking trail is a loop that ascends towards the Cirque du Gavarnie before branching west towards Plateau de Bellevue.  Ascending the Valle de Pouey Aspe to the Port de Boucharo on the French/Spanish border, a dirt road heading north-east leads to Col de Tentes and a little further towards the Pic de Tentes.  There are several mountain huts (Refuges) in this area which would allow the hike to be extended.

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Other Related Posts:

3 Big Hikes in the High Mountains of the Ariege-Pyrénées, France

See all Our Hikes in the Pyrenees

Road Cycling in the Hautes-Pyrénées - The Most Famous & Difficult Climbs of the Tour de France

7 Spectacular Cycling Climbs From Vallée d'Aure, Hautes-Pyrénées - Arreau & Saint-Lary-Soulan

7 Activities To Do Whilst Staying in Tarascon-sur-Ariege - Visiting the Ariege-Pyrénées

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