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near Gavarnie, Occitanie (France)
Start: Gavarnie tourism office
Total ascent and descent: 2450m/500m
Alpine grade: PD-
Recommended months: Mid-July until first snowfall
Recommended gear: helmet in any time of the year, crampons and ice-axe for when there's snow left (especially needed for the climb to Tuquerouye)
Route: Gavarnie - Hourquette d'Alans - Brèche de Tuquerouye - Cuello del Cilindro - Lago Helado - Cilindro de Marboré
A stunningly beautiful route filled with steep climbs and rewarding views. There are two scrambles: one on the way to Cuello del Cilindro and the other at the start of the final climb. These can be intimidating for some.
0.00 Walk from Gavarnie towards the Cirque and turn left at the path signed for Refuge de Espuguettes. Follow a steep but easy-to-follow path to the refuge and continue E and later SE to
2.30 Hourquette d'Alans (col, 2430m) go down E on an obvious path until 2230m and turn R at a junction (the left path goes to Lac des Gloriettes). At first the path climbs easily past large brown boulders but soon you're faced with a very steep climb (risk of stonefall, helmet recommended). The steep route is obvious and leads you to
4.00 Brèche de Tuquerouye (2666m) where you find a small refuge (14 places, often crowded, but a good shelter). The views to the Monte Perdido and what is left of its northern glacier are amazing. Go down steeply but shortly to Lac de Marboré and turn right before reaching the shore (cairned path). The path climbs a little and then goes down to the lake's shore. Here there are several good places for a bivi. Continue to the most southern tip of the lake, cross the stream coming from the lake, make your way past the dam and continue S. Go down to Barranco de los Churros (flowing NW-SE), cross this stream and climb SW towards a rock face. Cairns lead you to the start of the climb up this rock face at 2750m. Climb, using hands, up an obvious chimney with good grips (PD) and soon reach safer ground again. Above the rock face there are great views of the Monte Perdido glacier. Continue SW over snow and rocks over a trail marked with cairns. Continue SW/S once closer to Cuello del Cilindro.
5.30 Cuello del Cilindro (3074m) is reached without problems. On the other side of the pass you immediately spot Lago Helado, go down to the lake and go left around it. Once on the S shore of Lago Helado, follow an obvious path which climbs steeply to
6.15 a pass in between Piton SW del Cilindro and the bottom of the final climb to the Cilindro itself. Scramble N up the left chimney (see photo), which is steep but has good grips (the right chimney is for climbers with full climbing equipment, it is most commonly used to rappel down again).
Important! As you continue after the scramble, memorise the landscape carefully in order to find your way back to the start of the scramble for the way down.
Once the scrambling part is over continue NE, scramble up a short wall and soon reach
6.35 Cilindro de Marboré, 3328m. Go the same way back to the pass.
A few suggestions to continue from the pass:
* Hikers wishing to continue scaling 3000ers can go down the same way towards Lago Helado, turn SW a little before reaching the lake and go around Piton SW del Cilindro on an obvious path. This path will bring you to the gap at 2920m mentioned in the route description from Col des Tentes to Pic de Marboré. From there you can climb Pics de la Cascade and Pic de Marboré.
An logic choice then would be to go back to the gap and summit Tour and Casque de Marboré. From the Brèche de Roland you could then opt to go down to Gavarnie or to continue to Le Taillon and the Gabiétous.
* Instead of going around Piton SW del Cilindro, it is also possible to do down NE from the pass in between Piton SW del Cilindro and Cilindro de Marboré, but this route first goes extremely steep down and then you have to find your way to Pic de Marboré through a limestone chaos with a few passages over steep and very unstable scree. It's up to you to decide if that kind of extreme hiking is your cup of tea. I have some extra research to do first before I decide if I would recommend this to anyone.