This beautiful and demanding trek in the Pyrenees follows the Freedom Trail, or ‘Chemin de la Liberté’, one of theThis beautiful and demanding trek in the Pyrenees follows the Freedom Trail, or ‘Chemin de la Liberté’, one of thetoughest WW2 escape routes from Nazi-occupied France into Spain. Local people risked their lives to helpthousands of allied servicemen and Jewish refugees fleeing to safety, and we pass plaques and memorials dedicatedto their bravery.
The trek is arduous and steep, taking us through spectacular scenery on remote trails reaching approx. 2500m.Whenever the going gets tough, we have only to think of those who undertook the same paths in fear of their lives tofind the determination to continue. This is an incredible trek with a poignant undertone – a personal challenge whichcommemorates the bravery of others.
Stan Bowley Pyrenees Freedom Trail
BESPOKE • 6 DAYS
A demanding WW2 escape route trek from France over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain, in aid of The Stan Bowley Trust
We fly to Toulouse and transfer to St Girons, where you are free to explore this lovely small town in the Ariège. Look out for theWe fly to Toulouse and transfer to St Girons, where you are free to explore this lovely small town in the Ariège. Look out for thebridge over the River Salat; escapees reportedly jumped from the train here when the guard blew his whistle, and it’s wheremany would have met their first passeur, the local guide who would take them over his section of the network. Time permitting,we recommend you visit the town’s excellent Chemin de la Liberté museum, which brings vividly to life some of the storiesconnected with our route. Night hotel.
We drive out of town to the start of our trek, taking a scenic road that winds through the valleys. Our trailhead leaves the roadWe drive out of town to the start of our trek, taking a scenic road that winds through the valleys. Our trailhead leaves the roadand takes us through woodland on a good path. This is only a half-day walk to save our energy for the strenuous days ahead, butit’s not an easy stroll! We don’t reach any high elevations, but there are plenty of steep gradients as we head deeper into themountains – there’s very little flat on today’s terrain. The path climbs steeply up again towards the end, taking us to Aunac,where there’s a memorial to the Évadés de France (escapees of France). Night refuge / camp (760m).
After a hearty breakfast with wonderful views, we head off through forest on another long day of trekking. Our path takes usAfter a hearty breakfast with wonderful views, we head off through forest on another long day of trekking. Our path takes ussteeply up to the Col de le Core (1395m) – this is a fairly demanding ascent but the views around us are spectacular as we gain height. We pause here and admire the mountain scenery, taking a moment to pay our respects at the col’s memorial toheight. We pause here and admire the mountain scenery, taking a moment to pay our respects at the col’s memorial topasseurs. We also meet our vehicles and collect our kit for tonight, which we must carry to the hut as there’s no access byvehicle. From now on we’ll be carrying our own gear, though we travel lighter after tonight’s camp. The hardest part of today’strek is behind us, and we contour around the mountain-side, getting a glimpse for the first time of the terrain that awaits us. Itshould take us 2-3 hours to reach Subera Hut, set in pasture meadows at the foot of towering mountain cliffs. There are oftencows grazing here, and we can hear the welcoming sound of their cow-bells from quite a distance. Night camp (1449m).
A challenging day lies ahead of us today, as our trek takes us into serious mountain terrain. We are headed for the Col deA challenging day lies ahead of us today, as our trek takes us into serious mountain terrain. We are headed for the Col deCraberous (2382m), but first pass the crash site of a British Halifax bomber. 80km off its intended route, it sadly crashed on atraining flight in July 1945, killing all seven on board. Wreckage is left untouched out of respect, and a plaque commemoratesthe crew. We continue to climb and descend, usually steeply, and enjoy a relatively level walk alongside a beautiful mountainlake. We’re likely to see wild horses in this area. As we near the snow-line, the scenery becomes more impressive; craggypeaks and towering cliffs, with patches of snow between the jagged rocks. It’s spectacular, but not a hospitable landscape,especially in bad weather; it’s hard to imagine how those escaping France would have felt, making this journey in the dark andin fear of betrayal and capture. After our last steep climb, we descend over boulder-strewn slopes to our refuge. Night refuge(2245m).
We set off from our hospitable refuge, and trek downhill to the lovely Lac Rond (1929m), stretching out any aching muscles inWe set off from our hospitable refuge, and trek downhill to the lovely Lac Rond (1929m), stretching out any aching muscles inanticipation of the next challenge. Lac Long lies only about half an hour away, but is 200m above us, and the path to it isextremely steep; in places there’s a fixed cable to assist us. Once at Lac Long (2125m) the border at the Col de la Clauère isalmost within sight. Our path crosses a deep gully, usually filled with snow, which provides an arduous slog to the top (2522m), where we gaze into Spain. It’s hard to imagine how the escapees from France would have felt at this moment, having survivedwhere we gaze into Spain. It’s hard to imagine how the escapees from France would have felt at this moment, having survivedthe mountain crossing. We are likely to feel a mix of relief and elation, as all that remains of our very challenging trek now is arelatively gentle descent over grassy slopes to the end of the trailhead above the village of Esterri de Aneu. We get into ourwaiting transport and drive back to France and the lovely spa town of Ax les Thermes.
Today is free to relax! Ax les Thermes is a lovely old spa town, and a spa is the perfect way to treat yourself after the rigours ofToday is free to relax! Ax les Thermes is a lovely old spa town, and a spa is the perfect way to treat yourself after the rigours ofthe past few days! The sulphurous hot springs have been used since Roman times. There are also many cafés to visit, andplenty to see if you feel like a gentle wander around town. We meet again in the evening for dinner to celebrate our hugeachievements.
Your safety, and that of the rest of the group, is our highest priority. Our trips are designed and planned with safety in mind. Your crew will be equipped with communication devices (eg phones, radios and/or emergency satellite phones), medical kit and other safety apparatus appropriate to the destination. Our leaders always have access to our 24-hour emergency UK back-up. They are responsible for safety on the trip, and will make any changes to the itinerary they deem necessary, should local conditions dictate. Pre-trip administration - such as medical questionnaires and travel insurance as appropriate - is all done with your safety in mind.
We plan our trips around the optimal weather conditions, but could still be exposed to bad weather at any time. It is vital you are prepared for all conditions. We provide you with a detailed packing kit-list on registration, as well as details on useful discounts you are entitled to as a Discover Adventure customer. We are always available if you need advice.
If you are still to buy some kit don’t forget that Cotswold Outdoor, Snow and Rock, Cycle Surgery and Runners Need offer all Discover Adventure participants 15% off any purchases you make with them. Please ask us for the code if you do not have this already.