Walk in , ascent 802m, length 9.2km
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David-Guenot: Track 3149 in area near France, Midi-Pyrénées ()
Length: 9.2km, Creator time taken: 6h 5m, Ascent: 802m,
Descent: 805m

Places: Start at Lon 0.46152, Lat 42.9296, end at Start
Logged as completed by 1
Here is the perfect example of how to make a short walk long (in terms of time). Or should I say, what not to do.
Did this walk with a friend I hadn't seen for a while, on a certain Sunday..., the plan being to be back on time to watch the Ireland vs. France World Cup rugby game which was to define the first place of the group. 1h30 out and back driving each way meant we would have about 5 hours or so to complete the walk. Heading to the village of Mauléon-Barousse in Hautes-Pyrénées, we took a right turn and started driving up the road that leads to the Port de Balès, then took another right turn about 8km further. The narrow, pothole-strewn road winds up its way W for a few kilometres before taking a sharp SE turn and deteriorating into a stone track. We parked just before this turn, at the beginning of what seems to also be the start of snowshoeing or cross-country skiing tracks. No snow on this glorious October day, just a thousand hues of wonderful autumn colours and this beautiful summit right in front of us. First mistake. Had we had a look at the map, we would have noticed this mountain was not the one aimed at, but a secondary summit out of quite a few that stand along this beautiful ridge.

Right place to start, wrong summit visible...

The tracks we first followed were the right ones though, and we made our way across some forestry, stopping for directions from time to time, looking carefully at the map. Second mistake. If hiking maps are generally rather accurate on open ground, it may not always be the case where the ground is covered with forestry. We missed a left turn at some point, maybe partly discouraged by an electric fence -which was easily passable though- but most of all disoriented by our first mistake. Oh, and wait, I always carry a compass, plus I have the GPS hung to my belt. But the weather was fine and the track before us was so obvious I disdained to have a look at it...
We finally took a left turn much further and the ascent really started there, on very steep ground, my eyes relentlessly but unsuccessfully looking here and there for some edible mushrooms. We soon reached the base of some cliffs and passed by a few massive, diagonal stones which can be used as temporary shelters in case of bad weather. As we came out of the forestry, we noticed a steep gully heading straight uphill, right above us. To the right, the extension of the cliffs mentioned above. To the left, a kind of shoulder composed of a mix of rock, bushes and low trees, which could have been easily contoured. But hey, let's have fun. Mistake number three.
The treacherous gully getting steeper and steeper...

The steep ascent quickly turned to a funny, light scramble, but with the ground steepening and only a few grass bundles to hold onto, plus the loose, unstable earth which covered most of the hollow, it soon became really difficult. My friend, who has a few rock-climbing skills and went first, got through the steepest part, and was allowed some rest, just a mere 5-6 meters above me, but I could not get through. The difficulty mainly lied in the fact that it was impossible to stand and search for the next hold because the ground offered no real grip, and I was constantly struggling as my feet were losing grip every one second. I managed to jump on a few rocks which were laid beside the cliffs and had a rest, getting a bit nervous about how I could get out of this trap. Along the cliff, on the rocks? Too steep and no real hold. Going down the gully? Too steep and too slippery -can't imagine what it would be under wet conditions. Up the gully ? No hold, it seemed. I finally decided to climb down a meter or two along the rocks and cross horizontally to reach the other (left) side of the hollow, where some deeper vegetation offered some better grip.
In the mean time, my friend had crossed over the shoulder to the left to find a better route. I finally joined him and it was then, when we peeped out above the gentle, grassy slopes we should have been walking on instead of choosing the tempting but treacherous gully, looking S, that we noticed we were facing the Pic d'Areng, while we thought it was completely on the opposite side (N). The GPS confirmed and I kicked myself for not checking it before. The climb to the col was easy from there, and we then followed the good trail which runs N to S along the ridge, now enjoying the extensive views to the W. We stopped for lunch, both more exhausted than we would have expected after less than 700m climbing.
Nice spot for a picnic before the final ascent up the Pic d'Areng (2079m).

The final ascent was made on firm ground and despite the weather having turned cloudy, we could enjoy the amazing 360° vista from the top of the Pic d'Areng (also called Montagne d'Areng) at 2079m. The descent, though rather steep at the beginning, happened to be much more enjoyable than we expected and is the route I would recommend for ascending as well, in an area where getting oriented is actually quite tricky due to the forestry and the numerous shoulders of various sizes extending to the E of the ridge, most of them lined with high, vertical cliffs. We ended up crossing the damn electric fence we had seen on the way up and from there the rest of the walk down was a stroll.
View to the N from the summit.

Having lost enough time to miss the beginning of the match, we stopped in a local bar to watch Ireland logically defeat France, laughing at how totally absent-minded we had been on the way up. Still learning...
Looking S from the summit.

Uploaded on: Mon, 26 Oct 2015 (20:10:58)
Trackback: https://mountainviews.ie/track/3149/  
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