Sunday, 21 August 2016

Comedy of Errors

When I set off this morning, the last thing I was expecting was a traffic jam in the gorge. The aim was to ride up Luz Ardiden, and then, if I was still feeling ok, to ride up the Tourmalet again. The weather was a vast improvement over yesterday, with sunshine and a cloud base much higher up the mountains. The hope was for clear views from the top by the time I got there.

The traffic in the gorge turned out to be a combination of the good weather, a food festival happening up above Bareges, and an organised bike ride. This seemed to be for gentlemen of a certain age. They were riding for a few kilometres, with a car protecting their rear, and a World War 2 Jeep going ahead. While they were moving, traffic found it difficult to pass. Then they would pull over and clear the queues that had formed. The result was that for quite a while, between Pierrefitte and Luz-Saint-Sauveur, I was in a queue of traffic moving fairly slowly. It all seemed to work ok, though. Cars and bikes mixed fine, and everyone gave road room. We caught the group when they pulled over below Luz-Saint-Sauveur. I managed to film them leaving, then tagged on behind. They were going at a very relaxed pace, so I quickly caught them, and even got applauded by folks watching the event, as they thought I was part of it. Clearly I look old enough! It was worth staying on the main road, rather than taking the alternate route to the start of the climb.

They stopped again just outside Luz-Saint-Sauveur. I passed them, and headed for the road to Luz Ardiden. Heading up, the gradients are high, but comfortable, as the road zig-zags up through Sazos and Grust. Then, there was another queue! In fact the traffic was stopped, and engines were off. According to the man with the walkie-talkie, there was a tricycle race happening further up the mountain, and there had been an accident. After a bit of a delay, the traffic seemed to be starting to clear, but it turned out that they were turning everyone back. The route was most definitely coupe!

The ride up to Grust is available on Garmin Connect.

I dropped back down to where Angela had stopped on the way up and we decided to head for the Tourmalet. So, slightly grumpily, I started the descent. At the bottom, just after crossing the river, I made a mistake that was to cost me at least an hour. Instead of going all the way back into the middle of Luz-Saint-Sauveur, and knowing that somewhere on the Tourmalet route we had be told to 'suivre Gavarnie', that's exactly what I did. Except that doing it from where I was, took me up the valley towards the Col de Tentes and the Troumouse.

Hotels above Luz-Saint-Sauveur
On the way up there are some good views of the area of Luz which seems to have some hot springs. It's signposted 'Thermes' anyhow.  A little further on is the Pont Napoleon, a superb stone bridge high above the gorge. It's now used for bungy jumping!

Pont Napoleon
Eventually I heeded my Garmin's instructions to ride to the Route du Bareges. I'd ridden quite a way up the valley before taking a proper look at the map, and concluding that I was not going to get to the Route du Bareges this way. At least, not without a helicopter. Mountains being what they are, the only option was to retrace steps back into Luz-Saint-Sauveur, and to head out on the right road! I sent Angela a text to let her know what I'd done.

The route up to the Tourmalet hadn't changed since I did it on Thursday, but the weather certainly had. What a delight to be able to see the mountains. The worst bit of the ride is the section around Bareges. Not only is it one of the steepest, but there isn't much to look at. Once above the town, however, the valley opens out and feels much more Alpine

Views near the top of the Tourmalet as the cloud cleared
There was a food festival going on at the first set of ski lifts above Bareges. There was also a continual stream of paragliders coming down from the Tourmalet, and landing next to the car park there. Finally there were groups of what we later decided were Gryphon Vultures, circling overhead. All this activity had kept Angela happy while she waited for me to correct my earlier errors and make it up to where she had set up bird watching camp.

Griffon Vulture
After watching the fun for a while, it was time to head on for the top. I set off again, pausing only to take a view of the road back town towards Bareges from just below the top.
View back towards Bareges
The final kilometer or so is a fairly steady 10%, apart from the rather rude final ramp that hits 13% just below the summit. I met up with Angela again, and headed into the cafe for an Orangina.

Obligatory photo is better with a view
The (misguided) ride up to the Tourmalet is available on Garmin Connect.

The descent was relatively uneventful. There were a couple of cars that seemed to be content to amble down while sight seeing. I backed off from them so that they didn't spoinl the descending too much. Eventually I passed them just above Bareges. Further down, the traffic was quite heavy in the gorge. And to cap a day of poor navigation, I managed to miss the turn to Saint-Savin in Pierrefitte again, despite looking for it. Sigh!

The route down from the Tourmalet is available on Garmin Connect.

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