Posted on 4th March 2014.

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Mountain and Maps recent snowshoe trip to the Pyrénées was superb. Based at Ax les Thermes there was three days of great snowshoeing, visits to the wonderful thermal baths and time to watch the 6-Nations rugby. Plus, great French food of course.

The first snowshoeing day was at Plateau de Beille on a waymarked snowshoe trail often alongside similar cross-country ski trails. Starting at 1815m we walked through woods before coming onto an open area with panoramic views of the snow-clad Pyrénées towards Andorra. After a steepish climb to the top of the plateau we marvelled at the 360 degree views of these majestic mountains. Our return was via part of the GR10 route and a descent through woods. There was time to enjoy a coffee at the Plateau de Beille’s winter-activity centre and watch excited children learn to ski and have fun on toboggans.

Day Two was at Col de Chuila, starting at 1481m. It was an overcast day and snowing lightly so there weren’t many people about. Again, the route followed a marked snowshoe track through beautiful birch woods, arriving at the Refuge de Chuila for a welcome ‘chocolate chaud’. After a short break we snowshoed up to Col de Pierre Blanche and beyond to the highest point of the day at 1650m. Then a descent to Cabane de Sorgeat for lunch in a ‘shelter’ - two abandoned caravans, slight the worse for wear from snow, joined by lean-to roof providing shelter for a table and chairs. Low cloud and light snow provided some beautiful, ethereal outlooks over the cols and we had the trail to ourselves for most of the time. We stopped at the refuge again on our way back to enjoy another hot drink by the refuge fire.

The final day’s weather could not have been more perfect - cloudless, blue sky and no wind. This snowshoe was higher in the mountains, at Col de Puymorens (1920m). A fantastic route up a wide valley aiming for the Col de la Coma d’en Garcia (2514m). In the summer there is a roaring stream, now frozen in winter which we crossed, then up a spur to avoid avalanche risk, for the final steep ascent across the face to the col. This gave uninterrupted views of the Pic du Coma d’Or, one of the high points of Mountain and Maps summer walking trips.

Our guests were mostly snowshoeing novices and enjoyed discovering this great way to be in the mountains in winter without the need to ski! A 5-day trip (3 days of snowshoeing) seems to be an ideal amount of time for most people trying snowshoeing for the first time. It’s fantastic exercise and, although you’re walking, it requires more effort and stamina so after three days most guests are ready for a rest!

Although it was the school holidays and there were many young families visiting Ax to ski, once on the snowshoe trails we mostly had the mountains to ourselves. That’s the beauty of being able to go snowshoeing off-piste to discover winter mountain trails. However, we can’t stress enough that a qualified guide is essential.

Mountains and Maps are running more snowshoeing trips in the Pyrénées in April, when daylight hours are longer and the weather can be more settled: a hut-to-hut trip in the Spanish Pyrénées - this is a true wilderness snowshoe experience - from 11-15 April. There’s another 3-day trip (4-8 April) based in Ax les Thermes. For groups of four or more people (maximum eight) we can arrange a trip at other dates to suit your group. Just get in touch with us.

Discover the fun, exercise and enjoyment of snowshoeing with Mountains and Maps!