Argeles-Gazhost is handily placed at the foot of the iconic climbs of the Tourmalet and the Aubisque/Solour but today I am venturing to a couple more places off-limits to Le Tour. Gavarnie is one of the Pyrenees best known tourist attractions and I was going to find out why. It is deep into the National Park, very close to the border with Spain, though there are no roads crossing from here just a few long distance footpaths.
I made my way to the Voie Verte and rode it to the end at Soulom where I then entered the gorge of the Gavarnie River, which you may remember from my trans-Pyrenean trip from a couple of years ago, has quite a steep climb to it. At Luz-Saint Sauveur the road splits with climbs to Luz-Ardiden, Col du Tourmalet and the route to Gedre en-route to the two Cirques (glacial corries). After Gedre I continued on the main road to Gavernie. The climb was very steady with first gear not really used in anger. I must have timed my ascent well as I don't remember much traffic passing me but at Gavarnie all the car parks were close to capacity with lines of hikers making their way to the world-famous Cirque with its spectacular waterfall. If Covid has messed up your holiday plans for 2020 and to make up for it you are looking at brochures of the Candian Rockies and Lake Louise, don't bother, come here instead. It is absolutely stunning. I followed the paved road until it turned to gravel and said to myself "I am coming back here for some hiking". It is about an hour's walk to the base of the waterfall and extremely popular. It just so happens that I have my hiking boots with me but something tells me that I'd better come back with Jane....
I continued my way up the almost deserted Col des Tentes. This is actually the third highest paved road in the French Pyrenees and the 6th highest overall and at 2,207m is higher than the Tourmalet. Incidentally the 3 highest paved Pyrenean roads are all in Andorra (well, one marks a border with Spain and Andorra). You can see on the profile below that this section was steeper than the relatively gentle climb to Gavarnie, climbing over 800m in 10km so averaging 8%. This is the same average as the Hautacam and whilst not easy, this was nothing in comparison to yesterday's climb. Though it was a little cooler which helped.
The climb ends in a car park where a track continues into Spain but being the National Park you can't cycle it or even walk your dog. And you certainly cant carry a gun as the signs told us. Despite being at 2,200m I didn't need my jacket for the descent, but no matter how warm you should always take extra clothing into the mountains especially if you are venturing above 2,000m.
I descended back past Gavarnie but just before reaching Gedre took the minor road to my second Cirque of the day, the Cirque de Troumouse. This was a tough climb, over 700m climbing in a little over 11km but with a couple of very easy sections. There was a long stretch at 12% and though the sun was generally hidden behind high clouds, it was very humid and I was suffering a little. My lunch stop at Heas came a little too late; I really could have done with some proper food earlier. I had bars and gels so was not in danger of le bonk, but sometimes proper food is required. Mindful of the chance of rain later in the afternoon, I set off too soon after eating and was struggling up the final few km to the Cirque. Usually this section is a toll-road for vehicles (free for bikes) but presumably in a covid tourism boost, it was free for everyone. At the foot of the Cirque there is a petit-train to take the tourists further and there was a surprising number of people enjoying the cafe. I thought that was the end as all I could see were gravel tracks but I missed the continuation of the road that climbs a further 300m in 4km to top out at 2,100m. The Troumouse is very scenic; it isn't Gavarnie but well worth a visit.
On the way down I paused at the sign for a minor road to the Cirque d'Estaube and the Lac & Barrage des Gloriette. I have heard tales of a 15% road in these parts, later confirmed to be this one, and didn't think I had it in me so I passed. Plus the sky was darkening.... Maybe next time.
I descended back to Luz and must have missed the afternoon rain as the roads were a little wet but just a few km down the road I was in glorious sunshine. After the gorge I rode back along the Voie Verte taking photos of the old stations that have now found other uses but remarkably the structures have not been changed much.
|Profile (as ever from gpsvisualizer.com)|
|The awe-inspiring Cirque de Gavarnie|
|The end of the road at the Col des Tentes|
|Some snow remains on the north-facing slopes|
|The less famous Cirque de Troumouse|
|The old station at Pierrefitte-Nasatals - I think now a school or creche|
|The station complex at Argeles-Gazhost features a theatre (and a bloke filling up his bidon)|