When is the best time to tackle the summits?

Reaching for 3000m+? Autumn is the ideal time

Just as March is one of the best times of the year for snowshoeing (see previous post), September and October are some of the best months for walking in the Pyrenees if you are looking to scale the heights. While it might seem strange that the snow maximum and snow minimum are in spring and autumn rather than mid-winter and mid-summer this is indeed the case! So why when the days are shortening is it such a good time for walking?

Three main factors mean September and October are perfect for walking up high:

1) The weather is at its best. The summer heat is over, and these are the driest months of the year. The August thunderstorms have disappeared and the weather is generally stable. Precipitation days on the graph below is the key variable.

2) Snow is at its minimum. Something that often surprises people when they are here in June and July is the amount of snow remaining above 2000m. To give a concrete example, the Col du Tourmalet (2115m) opens sometime between mid-May (as in 2012) and the 10th June (and in 2013 even this wasn’t possible). Snow plows are often required to clear the last patches. From 2000-3000m snow remains all through June and into early July. We advise clients to begin our Pyrenees National Park trek after mid-July because the Hourquette d’Ossoue is often very snowy before this time. It might be 30°C in Luz at 700m but at 2700m it is a different story.

The photos above show the snow on the Hourquette d’Ossoue on the 24th June 2010 – extra photos from parts of this walk can be seen here.

Again – see our previous post for information about the best time for snowshoeing and to find out why it takes so long for snow to melt!

3) There is plenty of daylight in September/October for even the most ambitious walks. No-one needs to be out until 10pm to finish their walk. In October the days shorten further, but again, on any walk you should aim to be finished by 4-5pm, giving plenty of time for ambitious day walks to 3000m+ peaks. As daylight saving doesn’t end until the last weekend in October you still have that hour at the end of the day up your sleeve. And, as we are on the Greenwich meridian, but on European time, this gives another hour of daylight at the end of the day.

All these factors are important if you are wanting to head high in the Pyrenees and tackle the 3000m+ summits. Sign up for our Passes and Summits walking week, our PNP Trek or our Cauterets-Néouvielle GR10 Trek to take some of them in.

And this does not mean that spring isn’t also a lovely time to visit the Pyrenees and walk in the mountains – it just means that different itineraries are preferable. Our Gavarnie Trek is perfect for spring and early summer, as is the Lavedan Valleys and Villages hotel to hotel trek. Our Luz based Cirques and Lakes and Eco Independent Walks are also good for this time of year. There is no perfect time to visit – just better itinerary choices for different seasons. Mid-July to about the 25th August is busy, and you will appreciate our help suggesting little visited valleys and paths less travelled.