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David-Guenot: Track 3333 in area near France, Nouvelle-Aquitaine ()
Pic du Midi d'Ossau
Length: 16.2km, Creator time taken: 9h44m, Ascent: 1353m,
Descent: 1460m

Places: Start at Lon -0.416414, Lat 42.817, end at Start
Logged as completed by 1
The idea came from my 60-year-old, freshly retired neighbour, as we and some other members of the local badminton club met in a restaurant last winter. He had always wanted to climb the Pic du Midi d'Ossau (2884m), one of the most impressive and popular summits of the Pyrenees, one of the toughest as well for non-climbers. We talked about it that evening with two good friends, and all decided to plan it for late summer. I had read a few reports about it about two or three years ago and at the time had come to the conclusion that I did not have the required skills and would never attempt it on my own. But this time it was different; there were four of us willing to go, one of them having some climbing skills, which could be useful. My neighbour shared some reports through e-mail and this time I thought it could be feasable now that I was a bit more used to scrambling. Meanwhile, he finally decided not to go, worried about the challenging terrain, leaving the three of us the mission to fulfil the quest.
So in the end of September 2016, the three of us met one late Friday afternoon and drove to the village of Laruns (Pyrénées Atlantiques), where we pitched our tents at a campsite and had a wonderful BBQ with red wine under the stars; the best way to start the week-end !! The next morning, we packed our stuff and drove to the starting point along the D934, a popular spot called la Cabane de l'Araille, about 1km before the Spanish border. The first hour-and-a-half was rather easy going, with about 400m climbing along a well-defined path up to the Col de Soum de Pombie (ca. 2120m) and a gentle stroll down to the Refuge de Pombie (2031m), with beautiful scenery all around and under the brightest weather we could have dreamt of.
On the way to the impressive Pic du Midi d'Ossau. The refuge, hardly visible in the centre, gives an idea of the dimension. From the refuge, the route crosses a large boulder field before gently rising up to the Col de Suzon (2127m, centre-right in the background) and veering left along the ridge in the central background.

After a short break near the refuge, looking up at the numerous climbers tackling the massive S cliffs, we followed the path up to the Col de Suzon (2127m), a gentle stroll in terms of distance and climbing, but with a rather tough-going section through a large boulder field. We met two horses at the col and there were more of them further around. We paused to enjoy the views, watching a large flock of sheep dotted around the grassy slopes to the E, before taking a left turn up the faint path which follows the ridge up to the first chimney, where the true ascent commences, actually the only way up that can be tackled without a rope.

Looking back at the Col de Suzon (2127m). The path follows the ridge up to the first chimney.

Both excited and impressed, I took quite a few pics along that beautiful ridge, but needed some refuelling as we reached the first chimney. A bit of fatigue was starting to show, and I had to sit for a while, looking up at the hordes of climbers and hikers abseiling down the chimney and around. Actually, ropes are not absolutely necessary as long as you are used to scramble; but this is a pretty tough climb, with no less than three chimneys, the first two (15m and 20m) being likely grade 2 scramble and the third one is easier, likely grade 1, but rather high (50m). My two friends had no problem finding their way amongst the abseilers and their numerous ropes, but I found out I did not feel confident in the first two chimneys, as it happened to be a bit technical for me. I soon realised my rucksack was slightly too heavy and too large to manoeuvre confidently up the rocks, and the hordes of people on their way down did not make the route-finding easy. I slipped at one point and found myself in a very uncomfortable position for a while, until I found a solid grip that put me back on my way. My friends were waiting for me higher along the way, and as they were fitter and with the time flying by also due to the time we had had to wait at the foot of the first two chimneys to let the abseilers go down, I told them to keep heading up and I would see if I could make it on my own within a reasonable timing. I knew the third chimney was easier, and indeed it was, and although I felt knackered, I really enjoyed that part. After the last chimney, the path reaches a steel cross, a useful feature to find one's way down between the sheer cliffs. The views from there are absolutely breathtaking and gave me an idea of what the 360° vista would be at the top. The last 220m climbing through the loose scree were like hell, but I soon reached the (very) high ground and waved at my friends, who had arrived quite a few minutes before.

Almost there !!

The last bit is a question of finding its way along the tricky summit ridge, involving some detours and a few ups-and-downs, with the final pull-up close to the edge, requiring the use of hands. For the first time I cried with emotion as I reached the top cairn, with my two friends warmly congratulating me, as they told me they were not sure I would make it.

The summit cairn and the views to the E.

A feeling of great pride and amazement added to the emotion. I had been pushing my limits further, had believed in myself, also knowing I would not be on my own on the descent. I was there, standing with two of my best friends on top of one of the most amazing summits a simple hiker like me could ever dream of climbing, and looking all around me at the unreal scenery and back at what I had achieved was the most incredible of feelings, and I thanked them two cheerfully for accompanying me up there. The phone selfies made, the DSLR was soon out of the bag and on for a few shots of the breathtaking scenery, but we soon had to leave as it was getting a bit late and it was a long way back down.

The amazing SW vista from the top, with the starting point visible by the roadside down to the right.

The descent was as tough as predicted, and my friends helped me a lot down the second chimney. We found a way to somehow by-pass the lower one, which was still busy with the last groups of abseilers, making our way down another, easier-going chimney. We ended up complimenting each other for making our way up and down the whole steeper part without needing a rope, and after a short break, we started the long haul back down to our starting point.
As a conclusion, I would say this was technically and physically the toughest hike I have ever had. And a good lesson learnt, too. I have probably reached my limits in terms of scrambling technicality on that one. The first two chimneys are not really exposed (nor is the third), but were challenging enough for me. Should I do it again, I would climb up to the refuge the previous day and stay there overnight, so as to save some time and energy for the big climb, and carry a smaller rucksack so it would not interfere during the scrambling.

Uploaded on: Sun, 25 Sep 2016 (14:23:17)
Trackback: http://mountainviews.ie/track/3333/  
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Note: ALL information such as Ascent, Length and Creator time taken etc should be regarded as approximate. The creator's comments are opinions and may not be accurate or still correct.
Your time to complete will depend on your speed plus break time and your mode of transport. For walkers: Naismith's rule, a rough and often inaccurate estimate, suggests a time of 5h 29m + time stopped for breaks
Note: It is up to you to ensure that your route is appropriate for you and your party to follow bearing in mind all factors such as safety, weather conditions, experience and access permission.

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