Bivouac in Néouvielle


This has been my leitmotif for years: the mountain belongs to those who get up early!

The shores of Lake Aubert


The Pyrenees are truly magnificent and I never tire of them. But to be able to observe them when the sun rises, to see them change colors, from purple to red, then from orange to gold, as the shadows retreat to the hollows of the valleys, is priceless!

And to be able to enjoy these magical moments, there are only two solutions: the mountain refuge or the bivouac.

Not a year goes by that I don’t spend a night bivouacking in the Pyrenees. It’s great this feeling of melting into the surrounding nature and living a friendly, frugal, resourcing moment…

During my last short stay in Saint-Lary, I chose an option allowed to everyone to try the adventure of bivouac in the mountains. The area dedicated to bivouac near Lake Aubert gathers every summer evening those who walk the GR10, as well as those who will face the slopes of the Pic de Néouvielle in the early morning…or the simple mountain lover.




The route of the lakes


The famous lake road leads to Lac d’Orédon, the starting point to the Néouvielle nature reserve. From the lake, the road is regulated and it is possible to reach the bivouac by the Laquettes trail, or thanks to the shuttle bus (in season, from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm), or by car outside of these times.

So we chose to drive to the bivouac area in the early evening, and we undertook the famous quest: that of a small grassy space between the rocks, without great asperity, not very steep and not too close to the trees (so dangerous neighbors in case a storm breaks out!) to set up the tents.

Several tents are already set up around here and some are already having dinner (the corkscrew has begun to rage, its sweet song amplified by the echo…our neighbors are French!), and after setting up the tent and preparing mattresses and comforters, we decide to imitate them (alcohol abuse being inadvisable for the early morning hiker, we willingly abstained, contenting ourselves with a nice knob of ham bought that very morning at the Saint-Lary market).


A starry night

The place is conducive to observation since no light source pollutes the vision. My neighbors have a telescope and an amateur astronomer ready to show them Cassiopeia or the Andromeda galaxy. I think they have chosen to spend the night here for this simple and friendly moment. Modestly I stay a few meters away from them, under the Milky Way, scanning the trajectory of the planes crossing the big bear, and delighted by the sight of half a dozen shooting stars too eager to disappear. A few unfortunate attempts at night photography later, I too decide to join the arms of Morpheus.

5:00 am: the alarm clock rings! The night was cool and I quickly get dressed while extricating myself from my warm comforter. The quality of the material is important. Choosing a comforter adapted to the temperatures encountered at altitude and a mattress that insulates as well as possible from the coolness of the ground allows to sleep serenely…

Christophe also gets up and we tidy up, fold, clear the place under the moon, now at its zenith. After having had breakfast and stowed the equipment in the car, we leave to reach our goal: we decided to observe the sunrise from the Pic de Madamète (2657m), a formidable viewpoint on the Pic de Néouvielle and on the lakes of the nature reserve.


By the light of the moon

The glow of the moon is sufficient, and our eyes quickly become accustomed to it: we do not need to use our headlamps to advance on the trail (we are following a portion of the famous GR10, which is very well marked and perfectly readable). We progress in a silence barely disturbed by the muffled sound of our footsteps.

When we reach the banks of the Gourg de Rabas, a small, discreet lake, dawn begins to break and the clear, snow-strewn rocks of the Pic de Néouvielle stand out clearly in front of a thin vein of clouds that seems to highlight the summit under the last stars. Fairy-like!

We reach the Madamète pass (2509m), whose opposite side conceals the luminous little lakes of Madamète, in the darkness of the Aygues-Cluses valley. The Pic du Midi de Bigorre stands out from the other shadowy peaks thanks to its emblematic antenna. The same painter drew a thin cloud to highlight it.

Christophe wants to take a break, but worried about reaching the summit after the first rays of the sun, I convince him to resume our route for the final ascent. From cairn to cairn, right in the middle of the rocks, we quickly reach the Pic de Madamète.

The Pic du Midi in the early morning

Our impatience gives way to wonder when the Pic de Néouvielle, under the first horizontal rays of the sun, finally takes on colors above the lakes of Aumar and Aubert, dark mirrors. The magic happens. And there, at our feet, all around us, the show has begun, and we hasten not to lose a crumb of this brief moment!

The Pic du Midi brandishes its coppery antenna in front of an ochre sky when, one by one, the rocks around us are adorned with the same hue. I take photo after photo, ever more impressed by this light. The numerous clouds contribute to this fabulous atmosphere.

We finally decide to leave our lookout to reach, on the other side of the Madamète pass, the Estibère peak (2663m), whose summit cairn has been towering over us since it came out of the night… Our progress on the scree allows us to cross cairns in places, but without ever following a real path.

We still reach the summit without difficulty after following the rugged ridge.

And the magic happens

The view before us is incredible: to the east the black silhouettes of the ridges enhance the gradation of colors on the horizon, while to the west the many timidly lit peaks awaken under a cloud cover that has already donned its rosy colors.

The show has changed: the warm morning colors have become brighter and the threatening sky offers incredible contrasts, illuminating the lakes of Aumar and Aubert at the foot of a Pic de Néouvielle that seems to want to hold back the dark black clouds, harbingers of chaotic weather.

In the backlight, toward the east, we dominate the Estibère cirque and its magnificent lakes, while in the background the sun floods the Soum de Terre Nère and the highest slopes of the Saint-Lary resort.

We descend slightly into the cirque to cross the pass allowing us to find our night trail and reach our car.


And finally...

The sky keeps its promises: a few rare drops arrive as we pass these unfortunate families, whose weekly outing to the heights of Néouvielle will undoubtedly turn into a fiasco.

When we climb into the car, around 10:30 am, the rain becomes continuous and the storm rumbles. We go back down to Saint-Lary by taking the small road and its luminous laces overhung by a mountain in black and white… with the satisfaction of having studied the weather well!

The mountain belongs to those who get up early!!


Even more

of moments to live