I woke up to a wet morning and if I had been staying in Argeles-Gazhost I might have gone to the zoo with its collection of Pyrenean Mammals (Wolves, Lynx, Bears and Marmottes) but as it was I was moving on to Saint-Lary Soulan and Meteo de France were giving me at least a 4 hour window free from rain starting from 11am. There are enough routes to spend an entire week at Argels-Gazhost but there are a couple of special rides from Saint-Lary, one of them being La Route des Lacs.
La Route des Lacs is, like Gavarnie and Pont d'Espagne, off-limits to Le Tour but it often pops up in 'must-visit' places and I am lucky enough to find out why. It took me around 1'45" to drive to Fabian, a small village on the main road above Sant-Lary on the route to Spain via the Bielsa tunnel, which (even without Covid) is not an option for cycles or HGVs, though a couple of lorries I saw were clearly disregarding the the 18 tonne (or is it 22 tonne) limit. The HGV ban is both for the 10% approaches to the tunnel and to stop big lorries trundling through the small towns and villages in the valley.
I really wanted to ride from Saint-Lary but with storms likely, and my hotel room unlikely to be ready at 10:30am, I thought it prudent to drive as far as Fabian where the small road starts. Incidentally the road up to the Lac de Cap Long used to be the the RN129 - that is Route Nationale - but now has the more realistic designation of D929, Route Departmental. If you are wondering why the profile has a strange start, I remembered that I had left my passport in the car and thought it wise to return and carry it with me.
The road climbs over 1,000m in just 13km to Lac de Cap Long where a huge barrage (dam) blocks the valley and has created the lake. Hydroelectric power has a lot of benefits but I just can't imagine permission for dams like this being granted today. It must have taken a toll on the environment during construction, land was flooded to create the lakes and water-flows disrupted to generate the power but the benefits are reduced flooding risk and, apart from any heavy maintenance, carbon-free power generation for decades. Whilst there is nothing natural about a a huge concrete dam, I find that many of the lakes are sympathetic to the environment, though that is easy to say when you have never seen it in its original state.
A few km before the Lac de Cap Long, there is a fork in the road down to Lac d'Oredon so after peaking at 2,175m (higher than the Tourmalet) and crossing the dam, I dropped down to visit the second lake, Lac d'Oredon. Here is where the fun really starts. The car parks (and there were a surprising number of spaces available) were all full as the section up to Lac d'Aumur and Lac d'Aubert is closed to traffic between 9am and 6pm; the only people allowed on the road are pedestrians/hikers, cyclists and the minibus that ferries people to/from the higher lakes if they arrived after cut-off. And those that did arrive early are not allowed to park on the road, parking is in designated spaces only.
The climb was quite tough, the section through the car park was 9% before a wall of 12% climbing. But it didn't matter; the sun was out, the view was great and the road was empty. The road peaks at the third lake Lac d'Aumur at 2,200m before dropping 50m to the fourth and final lake Lac d'Aubert. There were plenty of people up here; hikers, picnicers and sightsee-ers. If Gavarnie is the natural wonder of the Pyrenees then these 4 lakes are the man-made wonder. You have to visit and should come twice, once to cycle and once with your walking boots as there are miles (or kilometers as they call them in these parts) of trails. But don't forget a map - don't rely on your GPS phone above 2,000m.
The descent back to Fabian was tight and twisty but enjoyable and I was reunited with my car for the few miles back to Saint-Lary. I thought about doing another ride, but Meteo de France were still predicting storms and I needed lunch. And I just thought why? I may have only done 27 miles, a little more than a trip from home to Steeple but still racked up 1,500m climbing and visited one of the nicest places I have ever been to. People go to America as they love Route 66, well I think I'm in love with La Route des Lacs. My only regret - my phone camera pictures just don't do it justice.
|Profile (as ever from gpsvisualizer.com)|
|Looking down on Lac d'Oredon|
|The barrage at Lac de Cap Long|
|No swimming here - the hydroelectric turbines will have you!|
|Lac d'Oredon, with Barrage de Cap Long visible in the distance|
|The high point - overlooking Lac d'Aumur|
|The popular Lac d'Aubert, with hiking trails visible up to the ridge|