The Ariège peaks, for me, are not a discovery. I had already lined up some of them in the past, especially during my crossing of the Pyrenees in 2002, and I therefore already knew intensely demanding nature.
If the spotlights are often turned on the prestigious 3000m of the Hautes-Pyrénées and the central Pyrenees, it would be a shame to relegate the Ariège behind this heroic showcase by considering its peaks as secondary.
The Ariège, in my eyes, is a bit like the wild horse of the Pyrenean herd, the one you don't notice at first sight but whose particular ardor, initially masked by a deceptive classicism, ends up attracting the attention of keenest eyes. Ariège is a land of connoisseurs, modeled for the use of those who have turned their backs on the sirens of the spectacular and the commercial superlative.. And to make the most of it, here is 5 major summits that will surely put stars in your eyes and whose common denominator is to have, nearby, a refuge and one or more lake(s).
Moth The Pic Crabère (2m): the most panoramic
Far from being the highest or the most difficult, the Crabère nevertheless has a high love rating among walkers. Why and how ? Just because the hump of the Crabère, preserved from any surrounding competition, offers an exceptional 360° panorama on the chain and, in particular, on the high Spanish massifs of Aneto and Maladeta. A spectacular belvedere that makes you forget the pangs of its patient ascent.
Notoriety does not in fact dispense with effort. This is the lesson taught to walkers by Ariège. Nothing is free here. The spectacle is paid for in hours of walking, meters of elevation and sweat, giving it all the more value.
Discovering the Cirque de l'Étang d'Araing coming from Frechendech gives the impression of entering paradise, especially if, like us, you emerge through the sea of clouds suddenly held in check on the Couserans. A show that never tires of amazing!
Moth Mont Valier (2838m): the most iconic
The Valier is to Ariège what the Matterhorn is to Switzerland or the Triglav to Slovenia. A mountain of heart, with a silhouette identifiable from afar, a strong symbol where the pride of being from Ariège is rooted.
Climbing to Valier, more than an ascent, here takes on the appearance of a pilgrimage. You go up there with friends or family to soak up the soul of the territory and renew your pact of belonging.
We stop so often to Estagnous, at Stéphane and Laurent, a historic address on the way to the summit, where you can talk about the mountains, between suffering and exaltation, while enjoying a good meal in a lively atmosphere.
The Valier remains a unique experience. First, by its unique atmosphere, revealed by the collective and daily energy of the contenders at its summit. By the considerable effort required to reach it then. Once again, Ariège is not easy to coax, opposing its conquest to a long and sometimes exhausting journey. Along the way, a series of remarkable cool oases breaks the test of the drop. It is here the majestic waterfall of Nerech or, there, the welcoming shores of the Round Pond. A relief on the road to this summit which, when reached, provides the indefinable satisfaction of being knighted by the Ariège.
Moth The Pique Rouge de Bassiès (2676m): the most original
Point of passage almost obligatory whatever the route of ascent chosen, the refuge of Bassiès served as a launching pad for this new ascent. The decor of the refuge is worth the detour on its own.
Lthe Ponds of Bassies, central jewels of a painting of insolent perfection, are the dark cobalt fragments of a larger puzzle, sculpted in a rock setting around which peaks of just over 2000m form the farandole.
Bassiès has the face of these immense natural sites distilling tranquility and carnal beauty in an indecent display of seductive visual elements.
Photo: above the ponds of Bassiès @Ariège Pyrénées Tourisme – D.Genestal_Carnets de Rando
The route which, from the Port of Bassiès, leads to the summit of the Pique Rouge, stands out from the other summits presented here by its overlapping nature and suspended in balance between two valleys. It is customary in Ariège to float above the seas of clouds. A custom whose quintessence was expressed during my visit as I oscillated from pass to peak towards my distant objective.
The finale reveals a more mineral face where small ponds play to sold-out crowds surrounded by an audience of smashed blocks. Up there is a new shot of beauty, a steep terminus on the edge of the Raspe beyond which emerges the massive block of Montcalm and Pica d'Estats.
Photo: the summit of the Pique Rouge de Bassiès @Ariège Pyrénées Tourisme – D.Genestal_Carnets de Rando
Moth The Montcalm (3077m) and the Pica d'Estats (3143m): the most classic
Two peaks for the price of one. A nice double that passes the 3000 mark. They are also the last to do so for candidates to cross the Pyrenees from Hendaye. Claiming to inscribe one's name in marble requires, as often, to fulfill demanding preliminaries from the Artigue car park. The stopover for the night at refuge of the Etang du Pinet is often the option chosen by those whose willpower lacks at the thought of climbing the two summits in the same day.
Sleeping at the refuge also gives you the opportunity to take advantage of these sunrises over a sea of clouds, of which Ariège has the secret here. The bright, grazing gleams of dawn will then cover the bare slopes of this small block of eminently mineral peaks with gold.
Here the footsteps merge with rocks in shades of ocher and orange that make Ariège look like the Atlas, when it is not like Mars.
An atypical décor, fascinatingly austere, which reminds me of the GR®20. I walk here in my own footsteps, returning twenty years later to the theater of past adventures on the HRP. The cross of the Estates finally arises, topped with the colors of Catalonia which shares a slope of the summit with the Ariège, recalling at all times the specificity of its cross-border nature.
Moth The Pic de Tristagne (2878m): the wildest
The name of Tristagne remains invariably linked to that of Etang Fourcat, another of those Ariège paradises that you would never like to leave again once you have reached it.
Like Bassiès, the Etang Fourcat site belongs to those places where time stands still and where the mad pace of the world seems to lose all hold. Not only for the great landscape value that unfolds there, but also for the people who live there.
As is often the case in Ariège, there is a love story between a place and men whose hearts beat strongly in the refuge where it is told. In this category, the Étang Fourcat reaches new heights, a repeated theatre, in my personal case, of strong and unforgettable human experiences.
A massive wall erected above the hypnotic blue waters of the Étang Fourcat, the Tristagne invites walkers to challenge it. It is reached via a short but surprisingly pleasant route. A highly playful finale releasing, in its last meters, insane alpine flights to dominate, while playing tightrope walkers, Etang Fourcat on one side and Andorra on the other.
Wilder than the previous ones, the Tristagne is in my opinion the expression of this adventurous Ariège which, despite modest altitudes, knows how to offer beautiful pieces of bravery to sports climbing enthusiasts. A sample of what the territory has under the hood because, don't doubt it for a second, the difficulty slider is far from having been pushed to its maximum in this selection!
Good to know
The section that goes up to the Fourcat refuge from the right bank of the Izourt pond will now be reclassified as " Access GR10 ". You will therefore no longer see the GR10 signage but the path does exist 😉 And it would be a shame to deprive yourself of the view that the arrival at the refuge will offer you! The section is mapped in black dotted lines on the IGN maps. The trail remains visible on SCAN 50 scale hiking apps.
Find David's blog post on the blog of Hiking notebooks ????
do you also want to take up the challenge?
If you too want to follow in the footsteps of Carnets de rando and climb the highest Ariège peaks, ndo not hesitate to call on a mountain guide (here 👌), especially if you don't have much hiking experience!
The vertices cited in this article are in the category High mountain and you have to be extremely careful and prepare as much as possible for your outing!