Ski Touring: Le Cerbillona; Bigorre; Hautes-Pyrénées; France - 3,247 m. (10,653 ft)

Sat, 3 May 2003


Minimum altitude: 1,680 meters

Distance: 18 km

Slope Aspect: East

Trip Reports

Vertical Climbed: 1,561 meters (5,122 feet)

Vertical Descended: 1,561 meters

Rating: 2.2

Avalanche Risk: 1

Snowline: 1,750



From the cabane de Milhas (1680 m) take the track to the Ossoue dam following the GR 10. Stay on the left bank of the lake on a nearly flat path. Follow the Oulettes stream to some waterfalls. Climb a short but steep slope on the left then follow the summer path which avoids the waterfall. Climb a small steep valley, watch out for sluffing on the sunny slopes and snow bridges over the river.

You arrive in the barranco d'Ossoue sector (2200 m), turn left into a steep bowl (35 degrees) oriented to the north-west. Climb this slope (ski crampons or on foot with crampons) to short cut the normal route which passes by the refuge de Baysselance. You join the glacier at 2600m and the slope is gentler. Climb the glacier on the left bank to avoid the crevasses. At the head of the valley the choice is between the Cerbillona in front and the Vignemale to the right.

Equipment    ski crampons

Road Access    Lourdes (N21) -> Luz St Sauveur (N21) -> Gavarnie. Take the road to the barrage d'Ossoue (sign). Park at 1525 meters in a small car-park just before an avalanche.

The cabane de Milhas (1686 m) can be reached on foot or mountain bike after crossing a couple of avalanches.

Comments    Long course partially on a glacier

Refuge    Cabane de Milhas, refuge de Baysselance

Trip Report

The original plan had been to tackle the popular Vignemale. This mythic peak was romanticised in the last century by the Irish Lord Russel. Russel was a bit of a hermit and passed his time in the many caves he adapted around the summit. His grottos are covered in snow and ice during the winter but can be visited in the summer. The summit was first climbed on the 2nd of August 1792 and the first woman to climb a 3000-meter Pyrenean peak was Lady Ann Lister in 1838. The Vignemale also has the 2nd largest glacier in the Pyrenees, although it not that steep there are the usual dangers of crevasses and seracs for the unwary.

We set off again at first light on the same route we'd followed to the Brèche d'Estom Soubiran on day 2. When we got to the plateau just below the barranco d'Ossoue we didn't continue on the normal route that leads to the Refuge de Baysselance but instead turned directly towards the summit. This meant climbing a very steep slope, perhaps around 35 degrees. For the rest of the group this presented little difficulty, as they were all adept at conversion turns. I don't mind admitting that I'm less practiced and the steepness of the slope caused me some problems, although I think it was more my friends who were worried. With couteaux (or harscheisen) I kept quite a good grip on the hard morning snow. Often, on this kind of slope, I find it easier to don crampons and climb straight up.

Finally on reaching a ridge where the snow had all but melted a decision was reached not to continue along an increasing suspect slope. Instead skis were fixed to rucksacks and we climbed directly to the glacier on a goat track. This little diversion. though somewhat airy at times, had saved a good 45 minutes skinning. At 2600 meters we put our skis back on and climbed up the right and less crevassed bank of the glacier. The slope leveled out and I took off my harscheisen to gain a bit of speed over the snow to reach a wide plateau encircled by 3000-meter peaks. Several groups were already squatting the summit of our original target, the Vignemale. We continued straight ahead to the 3247-meter Cerbillona.

At the summit the wind was tearing across from Spain, threatening to blow anyone standing upright straight off the ridge. No place for a pic-nic, a quick look at the view then boots were set to ski mode and we were off. I wanted to get out of the hurricane as fast as possible and launched myself off the Cornice onto the 40-degree face were I found perfect powder snow down towards the Baysselance refuge to have lunch in the warm sun.


Powder then spring snow lower down


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