air replenishment at the highest refuge in the Pyrenees

At the end of the 19thand In the 20th century, mountain tourism developed, nobles and notables risked with envy to conquer the summits, and so a refuge was built 600 meters below overlooking the Cirque de Gavarnie. The first was built in 1899. It takes its name from Adrien Bayssellance, then mayor of Bordeaux and president of the French Alpine Club section…

At the end of the 19thand In the 20th century, mountain tourism developed, nobles and notables risked with envy to conquer the summits, and so a refuge was built 600 meters below overlooking the Cirque de Gavarnie. The first was built in 1899. It is named after Adrien Bayssellance, then mayor of Bordeaux and president of the French Alpine Club (CAF) section of Bordeaux.


View of Roland’s Breche, Helmet and Tower at Cirque de Gavarnie from Bayssellance’s hideaway.

Claude Petit/ “SUDOESTE”

Renovated in 2003, Bayssellance is still managed by CAF de Bordeaux. It is open until mid-October. It is a starting point of the normal route to Vignemale at 3,298 meters, a stage on the GR 10 and the Hautes Pyrenees Walk (HRP). How is the highest guarded haven in the Pyrenees supplied each summer? With no access road, food, wood, gas cylinders and even artisans are transported by air. “Sud Ouest” participated in a helicopter winch on June 29.

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At the top of the Pyrenees, the great crossing: our archive

At the top of the Pyrenees, the great crossing: our archive

From Hendaye to Banyuls, from the hills of the Basque Country to the summit of Canigò, this summer discover the Haute Pyrénéenne (HRP) route, this hike that allows you to cross the Pyrenees through the summits. Meet those who walk, work or are passionate about the mountains of the French-Spanish border

Three tons to be transported by helicopter

7:30 The meeting is scheduled at the Miles hut in Gavarnie-Gèdre. The trucks park in the meadow, with two tons of liquids from the Caves Vignau d’Argelès, one of food brought in by a wholesaler from Tarbes, a few boxes of fresh produce from a horticulturist. Two CAF members from Bordeaux, Christian and Bernard, were sent to help the janitor and delivery men compose the “bags” to be transported 1,000 meters above. Storage is meticulous because packages must be balanced. The cans, dough and paper in the bottom, the 15 packets of water in the middle with the butter, chips, vegetables and dehydrated soup on top. Eggs ? It will be on your knees, in the helicopter.

Delivery people, the shelter's caretaker and two CAF members from Bordeaux help assemble the food bags.  Here canned meat.


Delivery people, the shelter’s caretaker and two CAF members from Bordeaux help assemble the food bags. Here canned meat.

Claude Petit/ “SUDOESTE”

In the meadow next to the hut of Miles, guard Pierre Lafont checks that the suitcases are properly closed.


In the meadow next to the hut of Miles, guard Pierre Lafont checks that the suitcases are properly closed.

Claude Petit/ “SUDOESTE”

10 hours. The “skirts” are up, the suitcases closed. The truck from the community of municipalities Pyrénées Vallées des gives arrives and waits to remove the garbage cans. Only the helicopter is missing. “It’s the longest,” says goalkeeper Pierre Lafont. We depend on it and the weather conditions. That day they were fine, although windy, the storm should break out at night.

Christian and Bernard, Girondin members of the French Alpine Club of Bordeaux for twenty years, are used to this exercise.


Christian and Bernard, Girondin members of the French Alpine Club of Bordeaux for twenty years, are used to this exercise.

Claude Petit/ “SUDOESTE”

Pastoral interlude. This landing area is also a transhumance site. from the twelfthand In the 19th century, to abbreviate the conflicts of grazing cows in the Ossoue Valley, French and Spanish shepherds adopted the “Lies et Passeries” treaties, formalized by Napoleon III and Isabel II by the Treaty of Bayonne in 1856. are from the end of July reserved for breeders of Mancomunidad del Valle de Broto, without compensation. Around July 22, a festival celebrates the transhumance of the thousand Aragonese cows that cross the Col de la Bernatoire to graze in France.

The flight lasts two minutes, the helicopter is subject to the climatic conditions of the high mountains: wind, storm, air currents... Sometimes it is necessary to lighten the fuel to carry enough cargo.


The flight lasts two minutes, the helicopter is subject to the climatic conditions of the high mountains: wind, storm, air currents… Sometimes it is necessary to lighten the fuel to carry enough cargo.

Claude Petit/ “SUDOESTE”

Every commodity has its place

1:47 pm The helicopter arrives from the Pic du Midi de Bigorre. Everything is speeding up. The bags, weighing around 600 kilos each, take off. It takes about two minutes to go up. There will be seven rotations. Up there, the weather is clear, the view splendid. There are sparkles in the eyes of all hikers. No time to poetize. The logistics are organized. The refuge is small and each commodity has its place. The porters’ corps de ballet is ready. José, Álvaro and Pierre Lafont, the goalkeeper, scored. They say la, “time”.

The drop zone is placed behind the refuge.  Downstairs, the team guides the pilot.


The drop zone is placed behind the refuge. Downstairs, the team guides the pilot.

Claude Petit/ “SUDOESTE”

Still a few pounds of food to transfer inside.


Still a few pounds of food to transfer inside.

Claude Petit/ “SUDOESTE”

Game over for Michel, itinerant hiker on the GR 10. He drops his suitcase and joins the small troop. “I often sleep in a shelter, it’s precious, it’s normal to help. I know where the food comes from. Retirees descend from Vignemale and also want to lend a hand. “It will be fine gentlemen, but get out of the landing zone and warm up, please. It’s off for two hours of motion. Soda packs? Under the stairs. The bread ? In the stairs. Wine ? Upstairs. Venison stew? On reserve. And so on, each bag having to be emptied without delay to make room for the next. At 16:30, everything is back.

Inside, a human chain is organized to store each food in the right place.


Inside, a human chain is organized to store each food in the right place.

Claude Petit/ “SUDOESTE”

Bayssellance is 5,000 nights per season. It can accommodate 58 people a day, up to 90 can eat there adding those who camp. “We are far from the Alps”, comments the goalkeeper, who is in his ninth year here. At the Albert I refugeer in Chamonix they rotate once a day, for us it’s once or twice a month. There are two worlds, two different ranges. »

Upon arrival by air to the highest refuge in the Pyrenees.


Upon arrival by air to the highest refuge in the Pyrenees.

Claude Petit/ “SUDOESTE”

Mont Blanc Hélicoptères mechanic in front of Vignemale.


Mont Blanc Hélicoptères mechanic in front of Vignemale.

Claude Petit/ “SUDOESTE”

Give the keys to the new audience

He believes that his work – which he has been practicing since 2009 – has changed. “Today, mailing and booking management take up a good part of the day. So, we welcome a new audience for whom the refuge is not a relay, but a walking goal. There is a general desire to enjoy the outdoors, outdoor sports are developing. But we must give the keys and the uses to these new practitioners. Teach them to walk early – breakfast is from 5:30am to 7am, not later –, to bring back their waste and to respect nature, the rules of the National Park. We have to adapt with a broader offer to the consumer. I have seven types of beer. Before, when you only had one Kro at this altitude, it was already great. Finally, the public is more connected, has a cell phone, GPS watch. We have a new photovoltaic installation, with more electrical power. No more load restriction in 15 minutes. We clearly have the audience to do an extension. »

Outside, there is still time to taste the “celestial beauty of the Pyrenees”, as Russell would say, that thing that, in the face of the polar light of the Ossoue glacier, leaves us dreaming, despite the effort, as if hypnotized. Lover.

On that day, the roof craftsmen who came to take measurements on the chimneys of the copper roofs also took the helicopter up.


On that day, the roof craftsmen who came to take measurements on the chimneys of the copper roofs also took the helicopter up.

Claude Petit/ “SUDOESTE”

(1) “Memoirs of a Mountain Climber”, Henry Russell, 1878.

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