Fancy a hike in the Pyrenees ?
If anyone intends to spend some time in the SW of France, here is a nice hike in the northern, "lower" Pyrenees (Haute-Garonne). Maps: Pyrénées n°5, Luchon (1/50000) or Aspet-Pic de Maubermé, 1947OT (1/25000). Start: Col de Menté (1349m, famous gap on the Tour de France). Summits: Pic de l'Escalette (1856m), Sommet des Parets (1869m), Sommet de Pique-Poque (1898m) and Pic de Cagire (1912m). Time: circa 5h30 + breaks. Ascent: circa 1100m.
From the col de Menté, head NW up the steep, well-marked forest path/mountainbike track which will lead you to a flat, open area at about 1600m. From there, head straight to the left of the rocky outcrop in front of you, on open field, soon veering right on the path which climbs gradually along the mountainside to a col. The summit of the Pic de l'Escalette (1856m) lies only a few minutes to the E of the col (right). On a clear day, you will enjoy great views to the higher summits of the Pyrenees to the S. Head down back to the col then, and follow the ridge N/NE to reach the Sommet des Parets (1869m) after a short, easy ascent. Great views over the dramatic N cliffs of the Pic de l'Escalette from here. Do not do this hike in poor visibility or under windy conditions, as there are sheer cliffs all along this crest and a "one-man-path" N of this summit. The path then winds its way to the N down along the higher crest, then along the W slope of the lower crest. Some parts may be slippery under wet conditions and the use of hands may be needed at some point, but nothing too difficult. Once you reach the Col du Pas-de-l'Ane (1708m), you can either head straight on along the well-marked path to the top of the Sommet de Pique-Poque (1898m), or follow the faint path to the left, keeping level until you reach the NW side of the mountain and can ascend it from there. From the Sommet de Pique-Poque, it is an easy stroll N to The Pic de Cagire (1912m). Mind the deep hole which lies a few meters right to the path (well marked by a "danger" sign and some ropes), just about 50m from the top. This summit overlooks the lower hills and the plain to the N, and the view down over the valley is even more stunning from the cross which stands proudly at the end of the top ridge. Head back to the Sommet de Pique-Poque, then downhill to the Col du Pas-de-l'Ane, enjoying the views towards the S and the first two summits, and find your way back to the first col. From there, it is a 30 min descent to the starting point. A great walk, with rewarding views all along.
PS: Be warned that your will encounter some sheep, who are under the protection of a massive sheep-dog. He will not bother you as long as you do no disturb the sheep, but do not try to make friends with him either. You do not need to be scared, just keep on walking along calmly.