This Guide to the West Pyrenees gives details for all surfaced passes we know, or have identified on maps.
Attention Cycloclimbing OCD members! Since this is our first online guide, please read the rest of this introductory sub-section before sending feedback or sending update information for any of the climbs.
In order to make collection and compilation of information for future guides as easy as possible, and to ensure consistency throughout all guides, each climb has three categories of information for comments by members, as follows:
- General Comments: this section is for general subjective opinions, typically about scenic merit, type of countryside, anything of special interest, relative difficulty of climb etc.
- Road Condition and Hazards: this section is for comments on condition of road surface and any riding hazards such as tunnels (lit/unlit), absence of roadside barriers, unpleasant traffic levels etc.
- Facilities: this section is for comments on facilities such as cafés, hotels, campsites; or lack of facilites, such as scarcity or absence of water refilling points.
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Thus endeth the introductory lecture for Cycloclimbing OCD members. Please read and enjoy the rest of this guide. If you spot any errors or omissions, or have any additional information that may interest our members, please send the information to firstname.lastname@example.org. Update information is requested and welcome, particularly for the many categories that so far have no comments by Cycloclimbing OCD members.
Dennis Waterman, a Cycloclimbing OCD member from Holland, has drawn a series of maps to accompany this guide. There is an overview map, showing the geographical location of the six areas. In addition, each area has its own dedicated map, which appears on the relevant area’s page.
Each pass or road has been allocated a three-letter code, which appears in the text heading. This code has also been used on the maps, to make it easier to cross-refer the text to the drawings.
Please note that these maps have been optimised for speed of download, not top-notch quality. The online maps are merely intended as pointers to help members locate climbs on...
For the French side of the Pyrenees, the most suitable maps are 1:200,000 Michelin No.85, or the larger No.234 for those intending to tour also in western France, north of the Pyrenees. For roughstuff in France, IGN maps 69 and 70 at 1:100,000 are better. (IGN 1:50,000 walkers’ maps are now widely available, and include even the obscurest cols. The 1:25,000 maps, though amazingly clear and detailed, are unnecessary for all but the most audacious roughstuff!)
The Michelin Spanish map No.443 usefully covers almost all of the Spanish Pyrenees at 1:400,000. Firestone map T-23 at 1:200,000 is apparently less detailed, and found very inaccurate in the past. Michelin map 442 shows the roads from Bilbao and Santander, again to be preferred to equivalent Firestone (T-22).
Cycle shops in Bayonne (good stocks), Campan near Bagnères de Luchon (good stocks, petrol sold outside!) and St. Jean Pied de Port (smaller) have been mentioned by members. Luchon has two good bike shops at the north end of the main road through town, located where the road makes a right bend. One shop is just before the bend, with hire bikes displayed on the wide pavement outside. The second shop, more road-bike oriented, is a just few yards around the corner, up a side road. This shop has huge stocks and the very knowledgeable lady in the shop speaks excellent English (I think she’s actually American).
Apart from the cols listed here, there are several scenic cul de sacs, especially near St. Lary Soulan. (Article on this area in OCD Magazine No.2, which is included in our compendium of articles on the Pyrenees.)
Another good centre is Argelès-Gazost in easy reach of the famous Tourmalet and Aubisque/Soulor passes. But don’t stay in the noisy town square! It is also good for many minor cols including the Spandelles, Couraduque (part rough), Bordères and Tramassel. Good cul de sacs in easy reach are the routes to Pont d’Espagne and Gavarnie, although these are unpleasantly busy at the height of the season.
Avoid busy Lourdes at all costs! A back road, D26, from Pouzac to Lugagnan makes a good bypass, reaching 708m but without passing over any true cols.
Roughstuff: Roughstuff routes are indicated as such with indented text, coloured background and dashed border, as you see it here. Much of the information comes from Roughstuff Fellowship records and more details of individual routes are given in a guide prepared by E.D. Clements and available from us. Cross references to the roughstuff guide pages may be indicated by including the more detailed maps of several areas than we have in here.
This overview gives a brief summary of all six areas covered by the West Pyrenees Guide. The brief summary for each individual area is repeated at the beginning of that area’s dedicated page.
This westernmost region has extensive foothills, starting at the Atlantic coast and finishing just before the higher plateaux mountains beyond St Jean PdP. The busy routes of the coast are soon left behind, and a rich network of roads enable frequent crossings to and fro between France and Spain. Much of it is a vibrantly green landscape of shapely hills, where bare cliffs and rocky outcrops are rarely seen (except the Iparla ridge - a walkers’ paradise). Sheep farming is widespread, and the Basque heritage is prevalent in village architecture and customs. The higher hills are prey to frequent mists and drizzle!
This area covers a wide range of scenery. Rolling hills and complicated plateaux (of either open pasture or of beech forest) typify the Basque country in the far west of this section, with a multitude of narrow and very steep lanes. Longer, steadier climbs at the eastern edge of this section explore major valleys, and go higher but more easily. They run between the high rocky - sometimes snowy - mountain peaks of the Pyrenees, including the highest, Pico d’Aneto, 3404m. A few foothill climbs in lanes to the north of the main mountain chain are also detailed here. For border crossings Spanish names are given first with the French in brackets where different.
This area, all in France, includes famous climbs popular with cyclists. The mountains, though high, are north of the tallest peaks, and are predominantly green in summer. Tourism is highly developed in this area, so expect high season traffic on main routes. Once-fashionable spa towns are a feature of the area.
A far-western, all-Spanish region. Included here are a few climbs arguably just outside the Pyrenean chain on a plain-like landscape, typical of inland Spain. Wooded peaks in the westernmost chain proper often appear tame and shapeless from afar, but many are riven with excellent gorges where griffon vultures abound. Heading eastward and higher, dramatic silver-coloured limestone peaks can be seen. The whole area is full of quiet and remote roads, with few reports by members despite some excellent cycling routes. Many climbs are neither steep nor long, with just a few of greater difficulty.
Some of the grandest climbs in the Pyrenees are to be found in this area, with many frequented by club cyclists in summer. The general rule that climbs are longer and harder on the French, northern side of the chain is never truer than here. An exciting new development of special note is the newly-surfaced route to the Pic du Midi de Bigorre observatory (2872m). Summer tourism (especially in August) attracts heavy traffic on some routes in this area, and the towns are busy. On no account miss seeing the incredible Cirque de Gavarnie if touring the area.
It appears that quite a lot of road surfacing has been completed in recent years. Some of the information here is less certain than we would like.
The Ordesa National Park is the scenic gem of the area and for the present is very secluded. Torla, an old town with narrow cobbled streets, makes a good stopping point as it has several hotels (‘Bella Vista’ hotel and the ‘Brechia’ restaurant recommended in 1997). Unfortunately it tends to be busy even in mid-September.
Torla is also the gateway to a magnificent cul-de-sac in the park, following a narrow gorge and hemmed in by a phalanx of snow-covered cliffs even in June, so high and spectacular that the area has been compared with the Grand Canyon. The latter stages of this route have to be walked - no cycles or cars are allowed.
The roughstuff border crossing to Gavarnie in France is described under Bujaruelo (Boucharo).
The text for this West Pyrenees Guide was originally collected by Matthew Sidford, with assistance from articles and claim notes by several members. However, the text never made it to a printed edition, and in 2003 it was decided to (attemp to) move all Cycloclimbing OCD guides to online versions.
Matthew’s text was restructured into its present form by Brendan Rowland, who designed the web pages to conform with the latest standards (XHTML and CSS) issued by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Maps were drawn by Denis Waterman, who did a splendid job of making the maps small in physical size whilst still readable. Equally importantly, he made the maps small in electronic size, so they download quickly.