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Le Mail du Bulard, Bonac-Irazein

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At the end of the Biros valley in the Haut-Couserans, this superb looped route climbs the Mail du Bulard north ridge to switch to the Spanish side before returning via the cross-border trail from Port d'Orle. This alpine hike, an idea from Respyr magazine, is difficult because of its impressive vertical drop and the 500m of progress on the rocky ridge leading to the summit, but it's easily one of the most beautiful in the Pyrenees. The scenery is superb, with splendid views of Mont Valier and the Maladeta massif, not to mention the spectacular view of the ruins of the "Mangeuse d'hommes", an early 20th-century mining town built at almost 2500m on the north-facing slope, a vestige of an ancient world now abandoned. In short, a demanding route for experienced hikers only, but well worth the detour!

Départ de l’arête Nord

Technical summary

Type ✦ Alpine hiking
Location ✦ Bonac-Irazein
Region ✦ Ariège
Country ✦ France
Length ✦ 19km
Vertical drop ✦ 1900m
Difficulty ✦ D / III+
Max altitude ✦ 2750m
Duration ✦ 9h
Interest ✦ ★★

Access to the place

From Saint-Girons, continue south to Castillon-en-Couserans, then further along the D4 along the River Lez. Before reaching Bonac-Irazein, turn left onto a mini road that leads to the Pucelle parking lot (cul de sac). Large parking lot and start of the cross-border trail to Port D'Orle (waterhole).

Itinerary description

Hiking to the start 20'

Follow the path on the right bank, which gradually climbs through the undergrowth to rise above the torrent. You go deeper into the valley, and once you've come out onto a large meadow, you'll find the fork in the road, with the return route from Port d'Orle on the left and the start of the ascent to Col de l'Arech on the right.

Course 5h à 6h

The loop is about 19kms long, with a significant vertical drop of 1900m, all on the ascent of Le Bulard. The route is fairly straightforward, even if the ridge path and the Spanish side of the Bulard are not always well marked on the ground. The obligatory 500m of ridge climbing is very aerial and in places quite exposed, but of accessible difficulty without a rope (III/III+). This section requires good footing and experience of alpine progression.

Part 1: Col de l'Arech (1h30′ to 2h)

At the end of the meadow, cross the torrent to tackle the steep ascent through forest and then an impressive series of switchbacks in a fern field that leads to a track (GR10). Turn left towards the Cabane de l'Arech. At the enclosure, head due west on the path marked out on the grassy slopes, aiming for the ridge. After 2 large switchbacks, you reach the ridge and, after passing a sort of piton, the path leads straight on to the Col de l'Arech at 1802m.
Part 2: Mail du Bulard (2h30′ to 3h)

From here, tackle the steep, very sustained ascent to the north, leaving the GR10 plunged to the west. The trail is more discreet but easy enough to follow, rising quickly and eventually passing under the Tuc de Cagonille (2200m) at the level of an open, abandoned stone house. Continue along the ridge to discover the old mining installations used to transport the extractions, as well as the summit of Bulard. It's still a steep climb to finally reach Tuc de Coume de Lauze (2489m) at the foot of the final ridge.

Descend a few meters to reach the ridge. The 500m are divided into several sections interspersed with a small pass or intermediate flat. You can often walk along the edge of the ridge or place your hands on it without difficulty. In places, it's more logical to go west or east. Some III steps. The rock is generally good, but watch out for a few boulders that seem more unstable. A superb aerial climb with a spectacular plunging view of the mangeuse d'homme.

At the end of the 500m ridge, a huge cairn signals the end of hostilities. All that remains is to climb to the summit and reach the Mail du Bulard at 2750m. Magnificent 360° views: Mont Valier to the east, Vallée de Baqueira to the south, snow-capped Maladeta massif to the west.
Part 3: Port d'Orle (1h)

From the summit, it's easy to see the Spanish side of the traverse as far as the Port d'Orle, then head due west over the grassy dome to make a sort of bend and descend to the level of the small, silvery Pieta pond. The path is marked with cairns, but the descent through the walls is somewhat improvised. Below the lake, descend along a beautiful waterfall to finally reach the Cami du Port d'Orla at the bottom, on the Spanish side. Follow this beautiful path below the Pic des Cingles and above the valley to reach the Port d'Orle at 2328m, which gives access to the return path.


A hot descent! A good 1400m of steep descent for almost 1 hour, following the well-marked GR 53 trail. Arriving at the Hounta hut, the path crosses the torrent below to cross to the right bank. There's still some way to go, on a less steep slope, before returning to the original fork in the meadow and finishing on the approach path in the opposite direction.

Map & topo

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