This beautiful and demanding trek in the Pyrenees follows the Freedom Trail, or ‘Chemin de la Liberté’, one of the toughest WW2 escape routes from Nazi occupied France into Spain. Local people risked their lives to help the thousands of allied servicemen and Jewish refugees fleeing to safety, and we pass plaques and memorials dedicated to their bravery.
Event date: 14 August 2018 to 19 August 2018
Contact: Lucy Searles
Phone: 020 7463 9297
The trek is arduous and steep, taking us through spectacular scenery on remote trails, reaching approx 2500m before we descend into Spain. Whenever the going gets tough, we have only to think of those who undertook the same paths in fear of their lives to find the determination to continue.
Day 1: Fly London to Toulouse
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 the bridge over the River Salat; escapees reportedly jumped from the train here when the guard blew his whistle, and it’s where many 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 stories connected with our route. Night hotel. (Lunch not included)
Day 2: St Girons – Aunac
We have a fairly leisurely start today, with some time to explore St Girons if you wish. Look out for the bridge over the River Salat; escapees reportedly jumped from the train here when the guard blew his whistle, and it’s where many would have met their first passeur, the local guide who would take them over his section of the network. We drive out of town to the start of our trek, taking a scenic road that winds through the valleys. Our trailhead leaves the road and takes us through woodland on a good path. This is only a half-day walk to save our energy for the strenuous days ahead, but it’s not an easy stroll! We don’t reach any high elevations, but there are plenty of steep gradients as we head deeper into the mountains – 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).
Trek approx 4 hours
Day 3: Aunac – Subera Hut
After a hearty breakfast with wonderful views, we head off through forest on another long day of trekking. Our path takes us steeply 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 to passeurs. We also meet our vehicles and collect our kit for tonight, which we must carry to the hut as there’s no access by vehicle. From now on we’ll be carrying our own gear, though we travel lighter after tonight’s camp. The hardest part of today’s trek is behind us, and we contour around the mountain-side, getting a glimpse for the first time of the terrain that awaits us. It should take us 2-3 hours to reach Subera Hut, set in pasture meadows at the foot of towering mountain cliffs. There are often cows grazing here, and we can hear the welcoming sound of their cow-bells from quite a distance. Night camp (1449m).
Trek approx. 6 - 7 hours
Day 4: Subera Hut – Estagnous Refuge
A challenging day lies ahead of us today, as our trek takes us into serious mountain terrain. We are headed for the Col de Craberous (2382m), but first pass the crash site of a British Halifax bomber. 80km off its intended route, it sadly crashed on a training flight in July 1945, killing all seven on board. Wreckage is left untouched out of respect, and a plaque commemorates the crew. We continue to climb and descend, usually steeply, and enjoy a relatively level walk alongside a beautiful mountain lake. We’re likely to see wild horses in this area. As we near the snow-line, the scenery becomes more impressive; craggy peaks 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 and in fear of betrayal and capture. After our last steep climb, we descend over boulder-strewn slopes to our refuge. Night refuge (2245m).
Trek approx. 8-9 hours
Day 5: Estagnous – Spanish Border – Ax les Thermes
We set off from our hospitable refuge, and trek downhill to the lovely Lac Rond (1929m), stretching out any aching muscles in anticipation of the next challenge. Lac Long lies only about half an hour away, but is 200m above us, and the path to it is extremely steep; in places there’s a fixed cable to assist us. Once at Lac Long (2125m) the border at the Col de la Clauère is almost 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 survived the mountain crossing. We are likely to feel a mix of relief and elation, as all that remains of our very challenging trek now is a relatively gentle descent over grassy slopes to the end of the trailhead above the village of Esterri de Aneu. We get into our waiting transport and drive back to France and the lovely spa town of Ax les Thermes.
Trek approx. 6 hours; drive approx. 3 hours
Day 6: Depart Toulouse
We are free until it’s time to transfer to Toulouse Airport for our flight home. (Lunch not included)
The full itinery of the event can be found here.
To take part we ask you to pay a registration fee of £199 and raise £2400.
Included in this is:
All transport from London to Toulouse return
All meals except where specified, accommodation & camping equipment
Discover Adventure leaders; doctor with group of 15 or more participants; local mountain guides, cooks & drivers
Local support and back-up equipment
Entry to any sites included in itinerary
This trek is organised for SSAFA by Discover Adventure, who are charity challenge event specialists.
Discover Adventure treks are graded from 1 (Moderate) to 5 (Extreme). This trek is Grade 4. Walking terrain is varied, with paths through valleys, forest, and mountain pastures. There are steep rocky ascents and descents. There is likely to be some walking over snow and boulders, and it can be very exposed. The highest altitude reached is 2522m. On the last day there is a short steep section with a cable to assist you – most people have very little difficulty with this, but guides will carry equipment to clip you onto it should you feel you need extra security. The last two days are particularly demanding, and you will need to have trained hard or be a regular, fit walker of long distances and tough terrain to complete this challenge; you should also be used to carrying a substantial weight as we will be carrying our own packs much of the time. This is a very remote area with no road access after the second day of trekking, so trekkers continuing past this point must be fully prepared and determined.