High-mountain snowshoeing. 10 kilometers distance, 1250m ascent. Maximum altitude of 2327m at the summit of Pic de Parau.
Departure from Pont du Bisb, at the bottom of the Orlu valley, Haute-Ariège (09).
Delicate steep or overhanging slopes on snowshoes, climbing and de-climbing in mixed terrain, with the help of hands and crampons to reach the summit of Pic de Parau, a long descent above a chaos of holes and snow accumulation.
The ascent and descent are on the northern slopes. The path up to Couillade de Pinet is not very visible at this time of year, and there are no markers to help you find your way. The rest of the loop, the Pic de Parau and the descent behind the Pic de Roque Rouge are all off-trail. GPS tracking is useful and a good sense of direction is required.
Field and environnement
Beech forest at the bottom of the valley, then mineral terrain.
Gear and equipments
Bring snowshoes, crampons and avalanche beacon.
A very beautiful loop, little practised, demanding and physically demanding, both in terms of duration and technical difficulties. For experienced hikers.
Access to the place
Map & topo
Hiking to the start 1h à 1h15
Cross the Oriège by the small bridge and go straight up a few metres to cross a forest track and follow it uphill to the right (leave the downhill track). After 2 large bends, leave the track and climb left into the forest on an inconspicuous, unmarked path (cairn at the start). The path climbs steeply and steadily in twists and turns. Be careful to follow it, especially in autumn when it's covered in leaves. The climb is right in front of the Dent d'Orlu, which is at our back. After 45' or so, it becomes a little less steep and we skirt the Chourlot stream, which forms small waterfalls before crossing it. Further on, we cross a fence and a little higher up, we come out onto a flatter valley forming a long bowl. This is where we return via the combe, which can be clearly seen to the right of the central summit.
Course 5h à 6h
Part 1: Jasse de Parau hut (2001m)
Cross the flat, gradually climbing to the left, and at the end of the path, pass a junction that gives access to another, narrower, slightly sloping valley. Climb back up, staying on the left-hand side, before reaching the bottom of the valley. At the level of a large boulder, turn right and climb up a final projection, making a sharp right-hand bend to reach a sort of ridge that leads straight to the hut, in the hollow of the Jasse de Parau, at the foot of the Pic de Parau and its eastern walls, which form a characteristic rocky bar.
Part 2: La Couillade de Pinet (2230m)
Continue south past the hut, aiming for La Couillade de Pinet, which can be seen in the distance. The route is undulating, passing several bumps before tackling a final, steeper section to reach the pass that drops down into the Jasse de Pinet. View of Pic d'Ouxis in the background, Pic de la Baynaye and Couillade de la Llauze in the middle.
Part 3: Pic de Parau (2327m)
From the col, climb the ridge to the right, almost turning around. Once on the ridge, head north-west again, with the Pic de Parau, the most obvious summit at the end of the ridge, in your sights. Follow the gentler west-facing slope, passing the first summit overlooking the Jasse de Parau, then descend to reach the foot of the Pic de Parau fairly quickly. Climb straight up the South ridge with crampons, instead of rocks and trees, to reach the summit. Some tricky steps to climb with your hands, III+ max, not easy with the presence of snow.
Part 4: Combe de Parau below Sarrat de Bédeilla
This is the wildest part and the trickiest in terms of orientation. Descend from the Pic via the West ridge (not easy in snow either), then pass the Pic de Roque Rouge, cutting across the South side to reach the last pass before climbing back up to the Sarrat de Bédeilla. Here, switch to the north side in steep couloirs (crampons a must) and further down, access the wide valley filled with boulder chaos. Make your way as best you can and cross to the end where you see a sort of mamelon with a passage to the right and one to the left. Behind, you finally find the combe de Parau, which leads back down to the return path heading east. The descent is less steep, but tricky with accumulated snow and slippery gispet.
Then take the path down into the forest and retrace your steps to the Pont du Bisp. The descent is sustained and quite hard on the legs at the end...