Pyrenees Haute Route Variants

Having through hiked the Pyrenees twice, deficiencies in Ton Joosten's HRP route become more evident. Obviously individual timescales, snow conditions, prevailing weather and re-supply strategy all make demands on route selection but there are some sections that can certainly be improved. A look at the original George Veron Guide is useful.
One such section is that from Gavarnie to Biados. Here Joosten will send you all the way down to Heas with a road walk to the Auberge and camping that in high season is often full. Following the climb out to Hourquette Heas, Hourquette Chermentas and Barroude you descend once more through the Cirque de Barrosa to a very busy road to follow towards Parzan before which you turn up a dirt road for the long climb up to Collado de Urdiceto. In effect you have traversed through a wild, high section of the Pyrenees mostly on road and track and to a large extent low down, not very Haute Route.
There is an alternative, not for bad weather, but certainly far more interesting and within the spirit of the HRP, this would be the George Veron route.

Follow the HRP from Gavarnie through the Hourquette d'Alans and head down the Cirque d'Estaube to Lac des Gloriettes. At the southern end of the lake a bridge leads to a rising path heading East, follow this as the way becomes clearer and eventually a broad grass track that intersects the road leading to the Cirque de Troumouse, follow the road to Auberge du Maillet.

Cirque d'Estaube
The Auberge has rooms catering for hikers, meals and a bar, it is also possible to pitch a tent opposite as this is outside the National Park.
From here you will have to follow the road and/or take the paths between the hairpins until picking up the path leading to the Cabane de la Vierge. Paths abound, some human some animal but it is fairly easy to follow the curve of the Cirque in order to reach the Cabane des Aires.

Cabane des Aires, Troumouse.
North East of the Cabane is an obvious hill (Tuc de l'Escaurede), keeping to the South side of this a vague path becomes clearer as you approach the steep flank of Pic de la Sede.Once started the way is clearly marked with many cairns, zig zaging up the steep limestone height is gained quickly to reach the Col de la Sede.

Improbable from here, cabane, hill and flank of la Sede.
There are stunning views of the Cirque de Troumouse from the Col de la Sede.

Cirque de Troumouse.
At the Col rather than going through climb up onto the ridge and head South towards Pic de Gerbats where you will find a vague path through the scree and boulders below the cliff of its Northern flank. On arriving at the grassy edge there are increasingly dramatic views into Barroude as you get closer to Pic de la Gela.

Barroude and the ridge to Rioumajou.
If you have the time there are great views from Pic de la Gela or continue to skirt below its peak on a traverse to gain the ridge at a grassy col and continue North Westerly to gain Horquette de Heas. (This final section of ridge is quite narrow and rocky, a la Striding Edge, approach with caution in poor conditions)

Approaching Hourqette de Heas.
Back on the standard route now heading East and then South through Hourquette de Chermentas on a clear path to Barroude. Really miss the Refuge for it's friendly welcome and sustenance, I hope that one day it will be re-built.

Lac de Barroude.
From Barroude it is a short climb up to Port de Barroude. Here Joosten's guide has you descending the Cirque de Barrosa and on down to the Parzan road before joining the GR11 up the long dirt road to Urdiceto. Instead we turn left and follow the ridge over Pic de Port Vieux.

Leaving Barroude.
This is a long day, through hiking with a reasonable pack at least 9hrs walking so be prepared and take enough water for the day. The ridge is generally wide and easy but poor visibility could lead you into problems with steep ground and you would be very exposed to stormy weather, having said that it is escapable at fairly regular intervals on reasonable paths. The way is obvious in places, but not always, there are cairns and the occasional white paint mark indicating the way but in good weather sticking to the ridge the way is pretty obvious.

Pic de Bataillence.
The real sting comes right at the end if the ridge where you arrive at a well marked col just South of Pic de Lias. The initial down climb is steep and loose and seemingly heading into an abyss, but orange paint marks on your left (looking out) on better rock provides a fairly easy descent that soon eases.

Un-named col South of Pic de Lias.
There is now a long traversing descent to reach Hospice de Rioumajou that is not to be under-estimated, nothing difficult but route finding can be taxing as the path disappears repeatedly in the grassy sections as you search for orange paint flashes on the odd rock!

Long way down to Rioumajou.
Hospice de Rioumajou is not going to be of any use as I think it closes at about 4pm, but there is a water source, a bivouac area and a good foot soak in the river on a nice evening can set you up for tomorrow.

Hospice de Rioumajou.
Veron now takes you South on a very pleasant hike to Port de Urdiceto where we can rejoin the GR11 to Camping Forcallo or Refugio de Biados. There is also Port de Plan which will also lead on down to the GR11 and Port de la Madera which catches up with the GR11 beyond both the camping and Refugio.

Leaving Rioumajou.
A fine route, highly recommended for inclusion in anyone's Haute Route Pyrenees crossing.


Shoe Review: La Sportiva Raptor and Synthesis Mid gtx, Salewa mtn Trainer gtx, Millet Trident gtx, Super Trident gtx and Garmont Dragontail MTN

Ok so this is a real mixed bag, but these are all shoes I have worn, abused and destroyed in the last 12 months or so. Despite big names, much marketing hype and sometimes misleading reviews I will try and give it straight, particularly as it's my money that paid for them all.
Obviously fit is hugely important, my feet are fairly standard for Northern Europeans, a fairly broad forefoot and across the toes and a low arch in a size 45, somewhere between a hobbit and a ballerina! (have you seen a ballerina's feet!?)

La Sportiva Raptor

La Sportiva Raptor
Firstly these really fit my feet, plenty of room up front, a very supportive mid section and incredibly stable heel, this shoe is so right in many ways. The lace system is simple, but given the elasticated integral tongue I more often than not just slip them on. Then we have the sole, stable in the right places and bendy where it needs to be, it will grip to pretty much anything. Lastly the mesh upper is super breathable making them really comfortable in hot weather.
The perfect hiking shoe? Well for me not quite, that super breathable mesh upper lets water straight in, now most modern ultralight hikers seem to love this but I struggle on multi week trips to stop my feet falling apart in the end. Bashed feet when tackling lots of boulder fields and scree can be wearing as can the amount of debris that finds its way through the mesh and don't try and kick steps in a snow slope with them. Good for about 500 miles so on long trips they will need replacing.

La Sportiva Synthesis Mid

La Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX
Well I fell for the marketing guff and shiny reviews on their release expecting the "STB Technology stabilizes the foot by wrapping the midsole and unifying the midsole with the upper for the perfect locked-down fit" would be similar to the Raptor. Unfortunately there is nothing remotely fitted about this shoe, it has none of the arch support, heal stability or forefoot stability provided by the Raptor, it is just wide, baggy and the foot slides around on a flat innersole.
Despite all this they were light and waterproof which I needed for an upcoming hike, what the hell. Well they lasted 16 days, and it was only that long because it took a few days to hike out to a town big enough to replace them, by which time both shoes leaked, both lace systems were broken and the sole was coming away from both. If after all this you are still tempted do not attempt wet rock unless you enjoy skating!
I did contact La Sportiva's UK distributor on my return, Lyon Outdoor, who kindly provided a refund through the retailer.

Salewa mtn Trainer

Salewa mtn Trainer GTX
Whilst reasonably broad in the forefoot these are narrower across the toes causing some discomfort to the small toes. Support under the arch is quite pronounced and takes some getting used to, but once you are they feel particularly stable and comfortable( if your feet are the right shape). I have worn these a lot day to day on and around Dartmoor and in most conditions have been reliable except on damp or wet rock where grip is at best average.

Millet Trident

Millet Trident GTX
Broad across the forefoot, just broad enough in the toe box, a supportive heal and a very stable sole unit, goretex too. I had great expectations for these shoes and in many ways they are my favorites. The fit isn't quite as good as the Raptor or as comfortable to walk in but they still have great grip and a "connected" feel to the ground. Very happy across boulder fields, up and down steep scree or kicking snow steps.
So what's wrong, well they have had a hardish 25 days and they are in bits! Cuillin Traverse nearly 3 days (we are slow!), Ogwen valley easy climbs 3 days, La Porta Del Cel (Pyrenees) 4 days, Pic's Lliterola, Royo and Perdiguero (Pyrenees) 2days, Troumouse-Barroude-Rioumajou and return (Pyrenees) 4 days, Pic Grande Fache (Pyrenees) 2 days, plus a couple of bimbles on Dartmoor and a day climbing at the Dewerstone prior to going to Skye hardly makes the 25 but I'll be generous. The side protection rand is sewn, rather than bonded to the shoe like the toe bumper, and through abrasion both sides have blown out. 
I have tried contacting Millet about the poor construction/design flaw of these shoes but had no response.

Millet Super Trident

Millet Super Trident GTX
I bought these in the Pyrenees last year when the Sportiva Synthesis shoes failed so completely. I am not keen on Mids generally as I end up with sore achilles, as I did here, but there was little choice and the rest of the fit was good. They have covered a good 300 miles of hard mountain trails and show little real wear other than the rand blowing out again as above although these have retained their shape and integrity better than their fabric counterparts. However in both cases it seems ridiculous that footwear apparently created for the Chamonix Guides last less than a month and are less durable than a pair of trail runners.
If however Millet were to bond a rubber rand around the Trident Mid or Shoe as other manufacturers do these would be as near to perfect for me as I would expect to find.

 Garmont Dragontail Mtn

Garmont Dragontail Mtn GTX after 94 days hiking

I bought these in the Pyrenees (2016) as cover for a pair of Millet shoes (see above) that were falling apart. Fast forward to spring 2017 and I was undecided about what to wear for our Via-Alpina through hike. Knowing the Millet boots or shoes were unlikely to last even halfway, I wore the Dragontails to work and around Dartmoor in the run up to our departure. Pleasantly surprised they were chosen.
The fit is broad across the forefoot and very secure in the heal, with lacing down to the toes it is very easy to customise the fit. At first they felt harsh and "clumpy" but they wore in quite quickly becoming comfortable for long days even on hard ground, although not as comfortable or connected as the Millet.  
However I think the fit is a little short, great for scrambling but not so good for long descents. The original insoles are a rubbish piece of foam that once damp (sweat or rain) will just rot your feet, they need to be swapped out for a proper insole. The other negative was the Goretex leaked from the first rain storm we had in Slovenia which meant managing periodic bouts of wet feet over the next 90+ days.
All that said they lasted to the end, tired but relatively intact (my wife's boots had to be replaced at Samoens) so the general construction, apart from the goretex liner, is extremely good. As a result I will buy these again in the non gtx lite version as I think they will be great for summer scrambling and easy climbs.


Locus Gear Menkaura Sil Review

Menkaura camping high in the Pyrenees

I have long been a fan of single pole tents for both their simplicity and their weatherliness and like many our first was the Golite Shangri-la 3. Whilst this provided a comfortable home on extended trips it was not particularly light, the door zip always snagged and strapping trekking poles together as a centre pole to keep the weight down was an unnecessary faff.

Shangri-La 3 on the HRP

A search of the web will now reveal a myriad of " mids" constructed by cottage manufacturers around the globe using the latest gucci fabrics.
Locus Gear first caught my eye because I couldn't find a picture of a badly erected tent, testament to their cut and design, but initially their models were either too big or too small, that is until they came out with the Menkaura. At 270cm x 270cm it had great floor space for 2 and a height of 130cm meant only needing  a single trekking pole to set it up, but still plenty of headroom to sit up for breakfast in bed and getting dressed and generally hanging around in shitty weather.
In the real world this is a shelter that is up in moments whether using just the Sil Nylon fly or in combination with the mesh inner. Total combined weight of ours including stuff sacks, additional tie outs and a good set of pegs is just under 1500g (this includes the heavier PU Taffeta inner).

Menkaura with a view to Posets

Whilst I had high expectations for this tent they were very soon surpassed as we encountered storm after storm on it's first outing to the Pyrenees. The slightly lower profile and pyramid shape give the wind very little to get hold of, allowing a more relaxed approach to pitch selection. An 8hr storm with all the proper accompaniments will still be bumpy but I don't worry about the tent anymore.
It's very nice when the sun shines too!

Locus Gear Menkaura near Iraty Pyrenees

Menkaura mesh inner, Iparla Ridge
Down sides?..... as with any lightweight tent and mesh inner combination condensation can be an issue and I am not convinced the built in vent does much, however undoing the door a little from the top is pretty effective.
Sil Nylon holds on to water, so whether it is condensation or rain from last nights storm and you want an early start you are going to have a wet fly. I always pack mine in the compression straps of whatever sack I am using and if possible give it the chance to dry over a lunch stop, no big deal. Sil nylon is also more forgiving than cuben fibre when it comes to difficult pitches without even looking at the comparative costs.
So how good?..... this is about the only gear I have not changed in the past 3 years, in fact I have just bought another Menkaura Sil in another colour because we need something a bit more stealthy for a long trip next year, love it!

Our new Locus Gear Menkaura in Snowdonia 

Locus Gear Menkaura on a cold and snowy morning
Via-Alpina GR5 Mont Thabor French Alps

More snow for the Menkaura in the French Alps