2007 - Vignemale

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 42.76375°N / 0.13829°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jun 6, 2007
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Summer

Vignemale (alt. 3298m) - French Pyrenees - June 2007

Vignemale - Courtesy of Edition Alpina)

The title foto shows Vignemale towering over its lesser neighbours as seen from the summit of Taillon some 12 Km to the south-east. 
Vignemale, also known as Pique Longue is the highest of the mountains on the French side of the Pyrenees. 
The cirque of peaks around Vignemale form an eastward facing basin for the Glacier d'Ossuoue which similarly to many other glaciers in Europe has reteated significantly due to global warming.

Gavarnie and the Holle hut

Based at the town of Gavarnie in the Midi-Pyrenees close to the pilgimage town of Lourdes we stayed at the excellent La Grange de Holle refuge (alt. 1495m.), owned by the French Alpine Club (CAF). From there, we choose to walk up to the Baysellance Hut (alt.2651m) also CAF, the highest guardianed hut in the Pyrenees on June 5th for an overnight stay before we tackled Vignemale the next day.

The CAF Holle hut
La Grange de Holle refuge
Route discussions in Gavarnie
Ken explains some finer points to his brother Peter  

There were three of us in the party, Ken, his younger brother Peter and myself. It was the first time for all of us in the French Pyrenees except for a few high level border crosings from Spain. Ken can be seen explaining the benefits of the Alpine start to Peter at our favourite Gavarnie bar.

Gavarnie is a tourist town with souvenier shops, horses for hire and lots of restaurants, cafes and bars. As we were early in the season we saw few crowds, but as we spent most of our time on the mountains we weren't too concerned with a lack of people. We also noticed that Gavarnie was a station on El Camino the Pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella. (The way of St James)

We noticed that an early explorer was celebrated in the town. This was HENRY RUSSELL who was infatuated with Vignemale and even lived there in a grotto over one hundred years ago. A statue at the edge of the road into town commemorates him. Luckily for us, the Bayssellance hut was slightly better than a grotto (more of this later).

June 5th - Going up to the Bayssellance hut

End of the road = Vignemale
 approach road
Zig-Zags to heaven
 on the trail

We set off along the GR10 trail at a civilised hour and with a liesurely pace, passing the Barrage d'Ossoue and crossing the river feeding it by a sturdy stone bridge.

The bridge was at an altitude of 1900m and the hut was at 2651m.

Up to that crossing point the walking was quite enjoyable but after the bridge the path started to zig-zag up the hill towards the hut and our normal heavy sacs stared to exert a tiring downward force.

The whole distance between huts was about 11Km. 
Rest at last!
Outside the refugio 

Ken & Peter on the zig zags
relaxing at the hut

Johnnie, Peter & Ken at the Baysellance hut
 Sunshine before snow

Snowstorm at the Renclusa hut - June 2007
Sudden snow appears

Throw another stick on the stove Cratchit
Put another twig on the stove Cratchit

Three brass monkeys
Three brass monkeys - waiting for food

We arrived at the hut around 5:30pm and after a cold beer, found out from the guardians about where our domitory was and what time dinner would be. It was really warm when we arrived in bright sunshine but about an hour later the sky turned black and snow began to fall.
The temperature in the hut then rapidly fell to zero and we amused the guardians by shivering under blankets until dinner time. At one point the guardian came out of the steaming kitchen in a duvet jacket and asked us if we were warm enough. (Gallic humour I suppose).Peter tried to get a glow from the stove without much success.

There was a wood burning stove but with a lack of wood and a poor radiation capability it didn't even give a psychological warming effect.
However, bearing in mind that all supplies to the hut have to be flown up by helicopter I guess we shouldn't complain about a lack of firewood.

June 6th - Ascending Vignemale

Traversing towards Vignemale
Early light as Ken starts the ascent

Heading up to the Glacier d Ossuoue
Johnnie and Peter warming up

We were up early but found the ablutions locked, the guardians told us that all the water had frozen overnight, so no washing or toilet use was possible. Still, dawn came with a crystal clear sky, bright sunshine and no wind, cool but ideal for the ascent. So we set off, slightly smellier than planned.  At about 7:30am, we dropped back down the hill from the hut to the 2500m contour to skirt around the "Crete de Petit Vignemale" and then climbed back up towards the glacier.  The ascent was on scree, morain and frozen snow, following a rising trail toward the snowfields and the glacier.

Morrain of the Glacier d  Ossoue
On the morain
Glacier d Ossuoue
Glacier d'Ossoue

Summit rocks of Vignemale
 Loose slabs near summit

Arriving at Vignemale summit - UV knocks out camera metering
 nearly there

Vignemale summit 2
 Peter & Ken on top
Vignemale summit 1
Peter & Johnnie on top 

No handholds were necessary until we got to the foot of the Vignemale rocks above the three thousand metre level, here progress required more care as the rocks were quite loose and the snow cover was thin in places.

The route was not obvious but when we pulled over the crest of the summit ridge at around 10:30am, we were within 50 metres of the summit post.

Descending from Vignemale
 descending the ridge
Descending from the summit of Vignemale
 summit ridge

Once on the summit we saw a sad memorial to a Spanish girl who had died aged 30 and this gave us all some cause for silent reflection on how lucky we were to have been alive for so long.

We spent about a half hour on the summit, having a snack, taking fotos and discussing the descent.

Ken suggested avoiding the loose rock and thin snow cover of our ascent route by descending the ridge to an obvious cornice and then down the nearest snow gulley.

Ken on the descent gulley from Vignemale
 Ken finds a snow gulley
Descending the Vignemale glacier
 whiteout almost

Summit rocks of Vignemale 2
Another party ascending

Both Peter and I thought this was a good plan, so off we went, arriving near the cornice with little difficulty although taking care to keep off the crest of the ridge to avoid potential accidents.

Strangely enough we spotted the tracks of a fox that crossed the cornice near our descent gulley.

We found a steep snow gully and descended this quickly, as we went down we saw the two Spaniards who were also staying at the hut crossing the glacier to follow the same route as we had.

Then off we went across the glacier in semi white-out conditions as the rising sun drew mist from the frozen snow.

Back to Gavarnie

After descending we had to climb back up to the hut to get our gear and make our way back the the Holle hut for a well earned dinner and a good nights sleep.

We stayed at the Holle hut for 4 nights in total and we really appreciated the nourishing food provided by the guardians. We 3 were the only english visitors at that time but we got on famously with the other guests who were mainly French, swapping wine and lifetime stories and even cracking some multi-lingual jokes.

One of our fellow French guests mightily impressed us with her recounting of having walked 5000Km whilst doing "El Camino" by various routes.


A good outing involving a long walk, an overnight stay in the highest Pyrenean hut, interesting route finding and some exciting scrambling over mountain rock and frozen snow.

Photographs by : Ken, Peter & DrJonnie

Map: Editorial Alpina - Vignemale Bujaruelo Valle de Ara
Guide: Kev Reynolds - Cicerone - Walks and Climbs in the Pyrenees
Huts: Club Alpin Francais
Walks: La FFRandonnée


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Rafa Bartolome

Rafa Bartolome - Mar 26, 2008 3:49 am - Voted 10/10

Attach the trip

Attach the trip to the page of Grand Vignemale. Click on "Attach/Dettach", type Vignemale, click search, click on "parent" in Grand Vignemale, click o.k.


DrJonnie - Mar 26, 2008 6:48 am - Hasn't voted


thanks for the tip Rafa

Viewing: 1-2 of 2



Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.