Bagneres de Luchon - Backpacking Port de Venasque

When we packed the Campervan weeks ago back in Scotland, we put our hiking kit in a big bag.

We remembered to bring large, backpacking rucksacks and a small tent with us because we knew that somewhere we'd want to spend a night camped high in the mountains.

This was that time and place.

I'd climbed the Port de Venasque from the Spanish side many years ago, and because I knew the countryside around it was spectacular, I was certain it would feature in any multi-day hike.

Years ago I'd spotted a 4-5 day route described by Chris Townsend and tackling Chris' route was in the back of my mind.  However, we decided that was too long for this Pyrenean visit, being more a holiday in its own right.

A single overnight would suit us better on this occasion, and anyway, there was a storm due in less than two days.

Hospice de France
So I turned to Kev Reynolds Walks and Climbs in the Pyrenees which describes a long single day hike from the Hospice de France, which now a refuge.

I felt this single-day walk could easily be split into two days, so that is what we did. 

We spent the night in the van just below the large car park at the Hospice where level platforms, with rather steep access, have been created.

In the morning we only just made it into the large car park before the whole thing filled up - there would be a lot of people hiking from here.  If you want to walk from here get into the car park before 8am.

Refuge de Venasque
We tackled the walk in the opposite direction to that described in Kev's book, going straight into the tough climb to the Refuge de Venasque with laden sacks.

That seems a bit daft but there was a reason - we weren't sure about the availability of water at our chosen campsite.

If the guardian of the hut told us there would be no water, we'd have to carry it from the hut, but fortunately there was lots.  And I think the walk worked well this way around.

The cleft in the ridge is every bit as dramatic as I remembered, with stunning views from the Port de Venasque (2444m) across to Aneto, the highest peak in the Pyrenees.

On my first visit here, I remember a guide telling me this route was regularly used during the Spanish Civil War by foreigners coming to fight with the International Brigades against Franco. 

Sorry about the initial wind noise in the video below - it does die down.  (story continues)

We hiked to where we intended to camp, but it quickly became clear the Port dera Picada was too rocky and windy as a campsite.  

However, the meadow below the Pas de Eascalette looked lovely, with tiny lochans and lots of shelter. 

It took seconds to decide that this was home for the night and soon the tent was up.  

The ultra-light single-skin hooped tent with sewn groundsheet is a Rainbow 2 made in the US by, run by Henry Shires and is excellent for this type of hiking.  

A full moon illuminated the entire mountainside and it was chilly by morning, even inside our sleeping bags. 

Soon the sun warmed the tent and we were on our way, heading down through sheep-filled meadows.

Curiously, three goats were sitting amongst a huge herd of sheep, looking for all the world like they were the ones in charge.  

It was a gradual, pleasant decent followed by swift drive down into Luchon and the Pradelongue Campsite (one of the best so far) to shower, do laundry, email and sit out a couple of days of rain.  

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