Attempting the Snowy Col du Pourtalet 1794m - Springtime Cycling in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques

The Vallee d'Ossau in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques department is a place of wide open spaces set against a dramatic mountain panorama. With plenty to offer hikers and cyclists and skiers, depending on the time of year of course, it is a perfect destination for outdoor lovers, like us. Although an unplanned stop, we woke in Louvie Juzon on Sunday morning to realise we had stumbled upon an unmissable opportunity to take to our bikes in the Pyrenees one more time before heading back to Britain. With the famous Col d'Aubisque and the challenging Col du Pourtalet to choose from and a sunny sky warming us up, we decided to set off and see where our wheels took us.

Our 500km drive from the Albufera nature reserve on Saturday was initially supposed to stop just shy of the Spanish border in Jaca, but feeling fresh we had pushed on into France. Initially we had a bit of trouble finding a motorhome aire, however, our back up of Camping le Rey in Louvie Juzon proved to be an ideal location.

Unhitching our trusty hybrids for one more big ride, on Sunday morning, we swiftly covered the 9km or so southerly ride up the Vallee d'Ossau to the pretty village of Laruns where both the climb to the Col d'Aubisque and Col du Pourtalet offical begin.  Our preference, to be honest was the more well known, shorter and steeper Col d'Aubisque. However, the big red 'Ferme' sign at the junction where the 2 climbs begin told us that route was not an option. The Col du Pourtalet it would be.

At 28km, rising from 525m at Laruns to 1794m at the Spanish border, the main challenge of the Col du Pourtalet is the length! However, as always the average' of 4.5% hides a range of gentle ascents and sharp kicks with the steepest being 9% close to the top.



We set off upwards feeling strong and enjoying the fresh air as we cruised along the initially narrow road by a deep and beautiful gorge cut by the powerful water below. Soon we round bend to find that our view for the day would be a wonderful vista of snow topped summits towering at the valleys head. With the imposing Pic du midi d'Ossau at 2884m and Le Lurien at 2826m these are some of the most impressive peaks in this part of the Pyrenees and we felt very lucky that wee were riding straight towards them.

As the road climbed through lush green pastureland mixed with steep craggy sections the air began to cool and soon we began passing slush and snow by the roadside. An avalanche warning sign reminded us how recently this entire landscape was covered in a harsh winter so different to the gentle warmth it was enjoying today.

Riding on we reached the village of Gabas at 1025m where the chill began to take hold and we paused briefly to add some extra layers. Here in the sun and still air it felt warm but the sections of road in the shade, with 3 feet snowdrifts still clinging on, were bitterly cold.

After Gabas the road climbed more steeply, rising quickly to 1250m to arrive at the Lac Fabreges, a stunning mountain lake created by a dam, set in a cirque of rocky mountains all covered in snow. The lake itself was still frozen and covered with snow creating a magnificent winter panorama which we decided was the perfect spot for a later lunch, while we watched the cable cars ferrying skiers to the even thicker snow above from the ski station at Artouste.

Sitting in a narrow strip of sun with 32km now in our legs we weighed up our options. The top of the col was 10km away, a further 500m higher and we were already suffering with the cold, plus were getting worried by the narrow, slushy roads and impatient drivers. The snowdrifts, which were already as tall as us, were only going to get bigger higher up.  Although it was hard to turn back, we both knew that today in this environment where winter was clinging on it was the right choice for us.

So, donning our warm layers we said farewell to the winter wonderland and cruised the 18km back to Laruns enjoying the increasingly warm air as we negotiated the winding descent.



Arriving back in Laruns springtime returned to the warm evening air. Transitioning from winter chill to a mild spring evening was a stark contrast and we felt especially alive as we powered our way into a headwind along the valley floor. Arriving back at our camping shortly before 6pm, just in time to enjoy a colourful sunset over the surrounding foothills we felt, once again, very fortunate to have found our way back to the Pyrenees on our journey north.

Cycle Information for Col du Pourtalet: 
Motorhome Base – Louvie-Juzon (there is an aire at Laruns)
Start/ End Point: Laruns
Distance: 28km
Ascent: 1269m
Average Gradient: 4.5%
Max Gradient: 9%







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Adventures In Life, Love, Health, Travel... & Puppies!: Attempting the Snowy Col du Pourtalet 1794m - Springtime Cycling in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques
Attempting the Snowy Col du Pourtalet 1794m - Springtime Cycling in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques
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Adventures In Life, Love, Health, Travel... & Puppies!
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