La Mongie Pas De La Crabe

Ski-Areas > Pyrénées > Hautes-Pyrénées (65) > Haute-Bigorre > La Mongie > Off Piste > Pas de la Crabe

Ian called me up. "It says in the Sunday Times that Barèges is the best kept secret in the France". "Not any more", I commented. So it was that a week later I came to find myself on the Friday navette to Toulouse. I queued up at the Air France check-in at Orly West, in front of a long queue of suits who'd left themselves little time to make their flights. In contrast I had over an hour and a half to kill, having become paranoid after being bounced out of my seat due to an overbooking in the autumn.

"ooh la la", said the petite dark haired check-in girl. "You have skis, hmmm, and sooooo long and wide, you 'ave to come with me please". She shimmied off her chair, adjusted her skirt and headed off with me in tow. "The skis they get stuck so we go to put them onto the direct belt to the plane, that way you see them again in Toulouse, much better that way." The suits looked annoyed. As she promised the skis popped out safe and sound at Toulouse airport.

Saturday morning we headed to la Mongie, the twin resort of Barèges and allegedly a Pyrenean Mecca for off-piste skiing. The forecast had promised snow and the resort had claimed most of the lifts were open with over a meter of snow. Interestingly if you check the English guide-books they don't rate this resort for off-piste skiing, which is one of the reasons for starting this site. La Mongie is a dreary grey purpose built ski station who's architecture emulates the Soviet 5 year plan, circa 1960. Fortunately the low cloud obscured the worst horrors of the resort.

pas de la crabe

We decided to have a look at the popular and long descent from the brèche du Contadé (2600m) through the wooded valley of the Aygues Cluses to the parking Tournaboup at 1450 meters. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the chair lift of the Quatre Termes the cloud had come down and visibility was around 100 meters. At the top I sent Ian off to ask a couple who were equipped with ski touring gear if they knew where the Breche was. "Non comprendo français" the man replied. "English?", "yeah buddy we're American". Our single serving friends were called Eric and Lorna and were veterans of Washington State ski mountaineering. They had seen some guys heading up from the chair lift a bit earlier but didn't know the route.

pas de la crabe

In fact it was the Pas de la Crabe, I explained where it lead and showed them on the map. They seemed game so we started the climb. The slope was around 40° and quite icy and the pas was fairly narrow with it's characteristic block of stoned wedged at waste height. From the same chair you can also climb to the hourqette de Quatre Termes (2650m) and then ski down through la Haut Vallée de Campana and pic-nic at the refuge of the same name. You will need to have left a second car at the parking at the end of the Campan valley or hitch back to the resort, I don't know about bus services. An alternative is the Sugar Loaf, after passing the hourqette de Quatre Termes climb directly south, on foot this is about 1 hour. You now join the ski touring route from La Mongie which passes the Sugar Loaf and joins the drag lift of the same name.

Ian was less than happy in his ski boots and was pleased to reach the rather cramped safety of the Pas. Looking back the chair lift had vanished in the fog. The block has to be crawled under, a bit tricky with ski gear.

pas de la crabe

At the top we took a small break to check the map. The slope was slightly less steep on this side, maybe 35° but quite narrow for the first 20 meters. Eric and I both chose to put our skis on at the top, where as Ian tried to climb down only to slip and start off down the slope, this was really worrying as there was a rocky outcrop before the slope got steeper. Luckily he dug his boots in and self-arrested but lost his grip on his skis. One of them stopped immediately but the other headed off into the fog. Lorna cried "oh come on, STooopppp". The ski must have heard her because just as it was about to vanish it ground to a halt.

The scenery must have been marvellous but in the fog we were more interested in route finding. In the cold damp air the snow and any tracks were frozen solid, it was much like skiing over a corrugated iron roof. We couldn't find the refuge of the Aygues-Cluses, which is normally a nice pic-nic stop.

la mongie off piste

We kept to the right of the valley floor, at some points quite high above the river. This avoids much pushing at the end and getting stuck amongst the scree and trees where the valley turns North. At the exit of the valley we traversed two large avalanches which had come down from the Pic de Caoubère, I assumed from the proximity to the parking Tournaboup that these had been blasted off by the pisteurs.

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