From Refuge des Sarradets (2587 m), it is another 220 m climb up to La Breche de Roland (2807 m), but due to the too soft snow conditions, I did not went up.
But it is impressive anyhow, even from looking at it below.
The tale says that Roland, the chief palatine of Charlemange / Charles The Great, lost his life here, after their campaign against the Basques. He did not want his sword, Durandal, to be lost to the enemies, so he threw it against the rocks – and created Breche de Roland.
Well, actually, he died some km west, at the battle of Roncevaux Pass, but ... :-)
The breche is 100 m high and 40 m wide, and situated directly on the border between Spain and France (resp. the border was created according to the peaks :-) )
One of the beauties within Cirque de Gavarnie (Gavarnie Circus) is the Grande Cascade, a long waterfall, which, with a height of fall of 423m, is the longest one in Europe. Her spring is somewhere upmountain, on the spanish side, an underwater glacial lake close to Mont Perdu / Monte Perdido.
What I found so fascinating might be seen in the pictures – the wind was so strong, that the water did not fall vertical, but was drifting off to the right (south).
From Gavarnie (1365 m), you can either hike uphill to the Col des Sarradets (2589 m), or go by car to Col de Tentes (2205 m), and start the hike from there.
From the Col, it is first a bit hiking on a road, which was obviously intended to link the french part with the spanish part, but is no longer of use due to road destruction by rock slides.
At the end of this road, turn east (left), along the mostly visible path. Visible everywhere, where no snow is left, and even on the snowy parts, you’ll see the footsteps of the previous hikers. It is STRONGLY recommended to stay in these pathes, as only then you can see from the steps conditions (if they are recent) if and how deep you will sink into the soft snow during the hike.
It took me more than 4 hours (well, with tea rests) up to the Col des Sarradets, but I am slow and was also some times quite cursing when I ended up again with 1 leg in the soft snow….
The first part of this hike has not much of altitude difference (maybe 100 m), but when the path turns south (right), it climbs quite steep up to the Col.
Beautiful scenery around, lot of folded mountains and in the time when I was here, lots of cascades and springs – but well, take care, they can also be below the snow and invisible.
On top of the Col, it is only 100 m more to the Refuge des Sarradets (or Refuge de Breche de Roland), at 2587 m.
I didn’t take much pics on the hike, but if you want to see more, also of the Refuge – please see here:
Refuge de Roland
Hiking map : IGN No. 25 (french and english), 1:25.000
To go to Gavarnie is best done by own or rental car, and I highly recommend to drive off the main roads, but on the little ones, which lead over passes. Coming from Tourlouse airport, you can go for example via Col de Tourmalet, 2115 m. It is the highest french pass in the Pyrenées, and also part of Tour de France (Tessy, correct me if I am wrong).
For german speaking bikers, there is a nice website which describes biking the Col:
Bike on Col de Tourmalet
In Luz St Sauveur, you turn south (left), to pass a lovely valley with meadows and farm houses, then pass Gédre, where you turn southwest (right) to Gavarnie.
Now it depends on what you will do - either go into Gavarnie, and stay in a hotel and make the popular hike into Cirque de Gavarnie - you should take road (2), as marked in the screenshot in pic 2.
If you want to do serious hiking up into the mountains, take road (1), up to the Col de Tentes, where you can leave the car and start your trip.
Elevation difference from Gavarnie (1365 m) to Col de Tentes (2208 m) is quite a lot.
Hahaha, this is more for the New Zealanders, and more of a fun tip :-).
What amazes me always, having never been in NZ, is how the sheep farmers find “their” sheep. So I often thought, why not color a sheep before shearing, each farmer colors his / her sheep in different color.
So, when for example a pink sheep hops around in a crowd of green sheep, the green sheep farmer knows whom to call to pick up his run away sheep.
Well….. the sheep farmers of Gavarnie seemed to have started a similar procedure…..
There are inumerous hiking trails around Cirque de Gavarnie, you can stay only on the French side or hike to the Spanish side of the Pyrenées.
In Gavarnie itself, they provide you with a little map, however only for simple hikes (e.g. from the village to the bottom of the Cirque). If you want to do serious hikes, bring your IGN maps (best 1:25.000).
Some good websites for trails are:
pictures of the fixed rope / iron ladder route ,
Or this one, which has 14 hikes with description and pictures
One serious word about the hikes:
Make sure, you know your physical condition, and get information about the weather. The slopes are steep, in summer surely a lot of rocks on the trails, in late spring some snow might be on the trails, which make the use of ice axis necessary (otherwise, if you slide and fall….). The hike in high mountain terrain are nothing for seasonal good weather hikers. This is written nowhere, so none of the in some countries typical warnings “can be dangerous for your health”, and no one can be blamed if accidents happen due to overestimation of condition and not sufficient mountain experience.
There are, however, lots of nice and easy hikes possible, starting at the village.
My picture shows the Col de Sarradets, 2589 m, in the middle.
Equipment: Depending on the time of year and weather, ice axis and crampons might be necessary, as you will definitely hike over snow fields.
Apart from that, the usual high mountain equipment: down sleeping bag, trekking poles, lots of layers of clothes, water, food and sunscreen.
Get weather forecast at: Meteofrance
(Original tip date: June 2006: update Sept. 2011: dead website removed).
The little village of Gavarnie has only approx. 170 inhabitants, and, at 1365 m, is one of the highest situated mountain villages of France. Its popularity started early 19th century, after french scientists have published information about the marvellous landscape. This attrated not only the “usual” tourists, but also a lot of well-known philosophers, writers and artists, such as Victor Hugo and Kurt Tucholsky.
The famous Cirque de Gavarnie, accessible by an easy approx. 2 hours hike from the village, is a mountain amphitheatre, surrounded by several peaks higher than 3000 m, the steep walls being up to 2000 m. Due to the glaciers in the high mountains, inumerous waterfalls rush down the walls, the Grande Cascade being the longest in Europe with a height of fall of 423 m.
Fondest memory: No fondest memory of Gavarnie, but of the surrounding landscape and mountains :-)
But you can find information about the village itself here:
The Parc Nacional des Pyrenées is « covering » an area of nearly 50.000 ha, stretching out west-east from west of Col du Somport to Néouville in the east. The region around Gavarnie is in its more eastern section.
The landscape is exceptional, for me it is more impressive than the Alps, as it shows earth history at its best and everywhere, and does not have that vast infrastructure as the Alps. Hiking some 10 km might bring you to places, where, with a car, you would need to drive around 500-700 km :-)
It is fascinating to imagine the collision of the micro-continent of Iberia with the Eurasian Plate, which started between 65 and 40 million years ago (and is still in progress). The uplifting, folding, thrusting, faulting is seen everywhere, and further movements, glaciation and erosion have continued to move, cover and carve these spectacular mountains.
Fondest memory: Very informative is this website:
Parc Nacional des Pyrenées (in French only, no more English)
And well, also an UNESCO one:
(Original tip date: June 2006; update September 2011: wesbite exchange)
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