France 2010

Into The Pyrenees – The Pic du Midi – France 2010

The next few days were a reminder that the mountains of the Pyrenees are every bit as ‘serious’ as those of the Alps and have winter weather to match. We’d planned to drive over several of the more scenic passes on the French side of the Pyrenees, naively expecting that they’d all be clear of snow by mid-May.

Pyrenees in distance along road
They're there, but can we get up into them?

We obviously should have known better, especially since we’ve known passes in the Alps that were still closed in June. The Col de Marie Blanque was still closed – but we weren’t discouraged, as this was a pretty minor road. Our next choice was the Col d’Aubisque – still closed, too! However, the road leading to this pass was open up to the lower point (about 1,400m) of Gourette, a ski resort. We drove up this far to see what conditions were like and it became obvious why the higher roads were still closed – loads of snow and the threat of more.

Sheep and dogs blocking road
These sheep blocked the road in front of us at one point - but what was impressive was that the two sheep dogs with them moved them to one side without any human supervision
Gourette, French Pyrenees
Entering Gourette - it's not obvious from the photo but there was a lot of snow encroaching onto both sides of the road by now. It was becoming clear why the roads above this point were still closed.

By now, our planned route was up in the air and we decided to make an intermediate overnight stop at the aire at Laruns and then take a more sensible route to reach Gavarnie, our eventual destination.

The view from the aire du camping cars at Laruns
The view from the aire at Laruns...

When I say sensible, I mean that we were trying to reach Gavarnie via one of the most famous passes of them all, especially for cycling enthusiasts – the Col du Tourmalet. Of course, this was still closed too – but the road was open up to the Pic du Midi, from where a cable car can be taken for €30 per person (May 2010) to the top of the mountain, at 2,877m.

Pic du Midi, Pyrenees, France
The view in one direction from the top of the Pic du Midi - the lower floors of the building on the left are a hotel. The windows are made up of two sets of double glazed windows!

Although this isn’t much higher than the highest Swiss alpine road we’ve driven, the landscape at this altitude never fails to awe me and the Pic du Midi didn’t disappoint. To the south the weather was clear and while we were there it temporarily cleared to the north, too. To be fair, there is a large television monitor outside the booking office that shows pictures from several webcams at the top of the mountain – so you won’t pay to go up only to find that there is no visibility. Indeed, the lady in the booking office confirmed that I was happy with the level of visibility before she would sell me any tickets.

Here’s a video of the view from the top:

view from the Pic du Midi

After this, we drove back down the mountain and finally chose an open road by which to reach Gavarnie.

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