Access from Gavarnie:
-park your car at the end of the dirt road which goes from Gavarnie to the Ossoue Dam (Barrage d'Ossoue). Although it is not necessary to have a high-clearance vehicle, your favorite Porsche might dislike the final segment of the unpaved road.
- camping is easy and, as always in France, loosely regulated and wildly anarchic.
The normal route of the main summit (Pique Longue = Tall Peak) is interesting for several reasons:
1. almost half of it takes place on the largest glacier of the Pyrenees (Glacier d'Ossoue), also one of the rare remaining ones which actually look like a real glacier (seracs, crevasses, etc...). This is exotic for the Pyrenees. Enjoy it now, in 20 years it might be gone !
2. the panoramic view from the summit over the pyrenean range is amazing
3. the final part of the climb, taking place on easy but loose rock, prevents the mountain from being only a walk-up
4. the Ossoue Valley is one of the nicest of the Pyrenees
The itinerary is obvious:
- from the dam, follow the valley, on a well-marked trail. At ca. 2550m, the trail passes along the Grottes Bellevues, some man-made caverns which have lost most of their hospitality since they became sick-moutaineers' restrooms. Don't intend to snack there, you would be disappointed.
- just after the Grottes, the trail branches: the right branch ascends to the Col de Baysselance (GR10), which is clearly NOT where you want to go. Keep left; picking the wrong branch would actually require a deliberate will.
- the starting-point of the glacier part varies, depending on the season and the year. As a general rule, mid-June to mid-July seems to be the best time of the year. Crampons will generally not be necessary at this time, but, please ROPE yourself. Accidents occur every year: there are real crevasses on the Glacier d'Ossoue
- the itinerary on the glacier is quite obvious: aim to the Pique Longue (a massive rocky triangle on the right when you go up). Climbing the Pique Longue itself is not technically difficult per se, but is really exposed: the rock is loose and stones tend to fall, especially when there are numerous uncautious climbers above you. A 5 cm diameter stone falling from 100m above you can kill you. If you don't have a helmet (we did not), it is a good idea to pay attention to this hazard.
The total elevation gain is around 1500m, since the first part of the trail goes through a couple of ups-and-downs. I highly recommend to do this climb in one day, up and down, which prevents you from carrying the camping parapharnalia.
It is important to be roped on the glacier. A lightweight randonnee rope will perfectly fit (e.g., 30m, 8mm). I recommend to bring the crampons, especially late in the season. Ice-axe is not essential, a pair of poles will be fine during most of the season. It would be a good idea to bring the minimal glacier self-rescuing gear, although nobody seems to do so. Theoretically, due to the loose rock of the Pique Longue, it would be recommended to bring a helmet but nobody does neither...
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