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Col de Tentes(ow)

(also includes Cirque de Troumouse(ow))

This high, wild and windy one-way paved summit is near - but not on the France - Spain border. Numerous people mentioned to me that fact that it was on their "bucket list", ie a list of things they feel they have to do. Surprisingly many people like to have to do things. So there can be a lot of traffic, bicycle and otherwise. On one side the popularity with cyclists is surprising, because neither summit has ever been on a Tour de France stage, and they never will be. The reason is, that they are too environmentally sensitive. One is located in a National Park, the other in a designated World Heritage Site. On the other side you can understand the popularity. Philosophers and writers remarked about the beauty of these places already generations ago. Victor Hugo called the Cirque de Gavarnie a "colloseum of nature" and Flaubert considered it the most spectacular thing he has ever seen (just to drop a few famous names). During the time I was here, it was very cold and windy.  Almost all the motorized traffic remained in the last "village" below, Gavarnie. Above that there were still some traffic, mostly cyclists, sheep herders and hiking / mountaineering traffic. But I'm told during vacation season in August, Gavernie is "overcrowded as hell", and every Frenchman has to visit here at least one time, preferably on the back of a donkey.

But the most important thing about this pass is its superlative scenic spectacularity factor - very high, and when it's cold and windy, you mostly have the place to yourself. The profile goes a little beyond the pass itself, direction Port de Bucharo, as far as the pavement lasts. From there a trail leads down to a paved road in Spain.

1.(00.0km,0460m)START-END EAST:Argeles-Gazost
2.(12.2km,0680m)Luz-St_Saveur
3.(23.1km,1030m)Gedre
4.(30.9km,1380m)Gavarnie
5.(41.8km,2208m)TOP:Col de Tentes
6.(42.8km,2180m)end of pavement before reaching Porte Bucharo

Approaches

From South.
The profile starts on the bike path below Argeles-Gazost. The bike path ends soon and the next canyon section has the most traffic of this entire ride. The road has to negotiate two gallery tunnels and several rock curtains. The canyon ends and the first unobstructed views of the walls ahead come into sight. From this vantage point these walls appear mostly green. Later during the day from a higher vantage point, the will be white.

As the road leaves Luz-St-Saveur, it enters the next canyon, far above the last incised V. The bridge over to les-Baines-de-St-Saveur has made many cyclists and drivers stop alike, in order to take another look. I included a photo. It was commissioned by Napoleon.

Above the village Gedre the road forks into 3 options. Gavarnie gets the most traffic. From this junction, the churchtower in Gedre appears from a birds eye perspective. Here the road finds a new, higher hanging V-shaped canyon, and crawls along its bottom on a thick carpet of green.

There is very little that prepares the visitor of what there is to come, starting in Gavarnie. Until then uou only get a glimpse of the peaks a few times along the approach.In other countries, that shall remain unnamed, they would put up cheezy billboards and construct go cart racetracks next to the road.  Gavarnie itself is a spectacle in itself with its shops and restaurants and even a few nick-nack shops. It is a tourist circus, but somehow more tasteful than what you might expect elsewhere. To me it looks a little bit like a campus of hotels. All the businesses and other man made distractions line the route into the cirque. Along the way you catch glimpses of a most amazing water fall at the end of the cirque. The way the town is set up reminds me of the setup in nearby Lourdes, with a central highly adorned and well designed promenade, leading to a central attraction, weather it be the cathedral in Lourdes or the waterfall at the head of the cirque. Here the altar is made by nature - also a form of God in the many eyes

But actually the profile bypasses the town Gavarnie and its views of the cirque completely and heads for the pass above it. Chances are good that on the way down there is still plenty of time to check it out. The road now starts to climb above treeline. It ascends in switchbacks between confining vertical walls, topped above by sandwiches of white. The top of the view is often indistinct - merging into clouds. Signs make it clear that the road enters a National Park. Other than signs informing of what is not allowed here (camping and biking on trails are amongst them), there are no other costs or formalities to be completed.

I am amazed by how many cyclists I see up here, working very earnestly to get up into, what today seems like a pretty cold and incredibly windy, hostile environment. But then again - I am here too. This last part of the climb consists of 3000ft of climbing on switchbacks between tundra, skilifts, freely grazing sheep, and a maze of power lines. These take advantage of the other pass up here: the Port de Bucharo to cross over into Spain. The top of Col de Tentes is a fairly large parking lot. Only 2 cars are there on the day of my visit. Pic de Tente is not much higher than the pass. A well troten trail leads up to what promises to be a panoramic view - panoramic but contained in France. Col de Tente only crosses a perpendicular rib of the main ridge, forming the France - Spain boundary.

The pass on the main ridge is Port de Bucharo, even if it is just a few meters lower. What looks like an old highway leads up to it. The first part is well paved and included in the profile. After that it is easier to walk the route because of extensive rockfalls. But it is an wide, well engineered road bed all the way to the top of the Port.

I walk the rest of the way to the v shaped gap in the monumental ridge. It is extremely windy. As I hurry between shelters from the wind to steel a glimpse into Spain, I see two hikers coming the other way, equally anxious to find out what France looks like from this vantage point. We wave hello, but it is too windy to try to communicate. After taking pictures with partially numb fingers we hurry back to our respective countries of origin (and hope the pictures came out okay). I have always been wondering, if it was feasible to ride and/or walk a mountain bike down the Spanish side to the road in the Monte Perdido National Park. I suspect it is possible, but not during weather like this.

Slideshow of Col de Tentes and Port du Bucharo

cLiCk on image , arrows , or thumbnails to advance slideshow


Sidetrips:

Cirque de Troumouse(ow)

This route branches off the first profile fairly early. It is really a day ride in itself, not something to quickly fit in before Col de Tentes. You notice one big difference right after the signed turnoff above Gerde with its great view of the valley and church below. There is hardly any traffic on this road. The surface is a little rougher too. But you don't notice that until you build up some speed on the way down.

The road stays at the bottom of the valley and the mountains are only visible framed by a high green V. But that is a temporary condition. the goal of another possible sidetrip from the cirque now becomes visible, together with the turnoff: to it: a damn, the barrage de Gloriettes. I have skipped it sofar. Another place along the road, marked on the map, Heas - is just a house that is some sort of vacation base. It did not exhibit any signs of life when I was there. But it does mark the transition of where the road goes above treeline and starts its first set of switchbacks. It becomes clear that the road is not going to try to get into that narrow gorge in front of the white wall, but instead work itself up the tundra slope to the right. This first set of switchbacks ends on a small plateau and then goes down a short hill to another inn of sorts. From here another set of switchbacks climbs the knoll that sits at the base of the cirque.

There is a large dirt parking lot here, and several trails take off to explore the width of this bowl, including a small knoll with a Maria statue on top. None of these trails show signs of climbing out of this 3000 meter high amphiteater of rock and ice. It is an amazing place.

1.(00.0km,0460m)START-END EAST:Argeles-Gazost
2.(12.2km,0680m)Luz-St_Saveur
3.(23.1km,1030m)Gedre
4.(13.3km,1460m)turnoff to barrage de Gloriette(ow)
5.(32.4km,1510m)Heas
6.(40.0km,2120m)TOP: Cirque de la Troumouse



Dayride with at least one of the points on this page as highest one-way summit, and no two way summits

( < Lac d"Aubert/d'Aumart(ow) | Hautacam(ow) > )

Col de Tentes(ow) : Pain de Sucre campground below Gavarnie > Col de Tente(ow) << Gavarnie > closed loop with out and back through Gavarnie towards cirque >> back to starting point below Gavarnie <> separate out and back down the road with turnaround point Gedre: 29.0miles with 4703ft of climbing in 4:06hrs
Notes: day also included a walk to Porte de Bucharo and a hike up Pic de Tentes(2322m)
h+b: max-min=7621-3337=4284, 30.5miles with 5584ft of climbing in 4:54hrs
h only: 1.5miles with 881ft of climbing in 48min

( < Col des Borderes | Col de Arnosteguy > )

Cirque de Troumouse(ow) : Boo-Silhen <> Luz-St-Saveur <> Gerdre <> Heas <> Cirque de Troumouse(ow) : 61.1miles with 6360ft of climbing in 6:00hrs
Notes: day also included a walk to the short unnamed knoll, a small high point in the amphitheater of the cirque
h+b: maxelev-minelev =  6960ft-1430ft=5530ft; 63.1miles with ft of 6661ft of climbing in 6:56hrs

Slideshow of Cirque de Troumouse summit




cLiCk on image , arrows , or thumbnails to advance slideshow