A 360˚ Panorama from Pic de Girantès / Mont Ceint, and an absent reminder of the French Résistance

At 2088m, Mont Ceint (also known as Pic de Girantès) gives a superb 360° panorama over the surrounding ridges and valleys. It’s also a fairly accessible and straightforward hike, although steep on the upper section.

The most straightforward route is from the parking at Coumebière.  The first stage follows the GR10 zig zags (les lacets) that bring you up to the Port de Saleix in around an hour and a half.

Spring gentian above Port de Saleix
Spring gentian above Port de Saleix

The views down over the pastures become more spectacular as you climb, with Mont Valier always there on the horizon.

Looking down on Coumebiere
Looking down on Coumebière, with Mont Valier on the horizon

At Port de Saleix you turn left to climb much more steeply up to the summit, with a spectacular view down the glacial valley to the east.

Port de Saleix
Still plenty of snow on the north-facing slopes in early May 2018

The summit is reached in about an hour unless, like me, you keep stopping for the dramatic view at your back.  Stop to catch your breath and turn around as the slopes behind you open up; your eyes range across the bare grey rock that’s high above the pastures.  The scoured half-dome of Pic Rouge de Bassiès dominates the ridge.  In summer the étang d’Alate is visible as it nestles and sparkles in its glacial hollow.

The ridge up to the summit; the bump of Pic Rouge de Bassiès visible on the horizon
The ridge up to the summit; the bump of Pic Rouge de Bassiès visible on the horizon

Once you reach the summit, you can look across to the massif of Pic des Trois Seigneurs, then further left to the Col de Rose and the long ridge leading up to Tuc de la Coume.

Until recently, the summit was dominated by a strange contraption on a pole.  From a distance it looked a bit like a parking meter that was barely held together with wire.  It was actually a plastic hood that protected a roughly painted sign and a glass jar containing a visitors’ notebook.  I first saw it back in 2014, when quivery red lettering told of that year’s ascent by Jean-Marie Claustre – 85 years old – who, as a 14 year old shepherd in 1943, would climb this peak for surveillance to help the local resistance.  The peak overlooked one of the wartime escape routes up towards the Spanish frontier beyond Pic des Trois Comtes, so it was vital work.  Jean-Marie would pass on any information about German patrols to help the passeur (smuggler) using that escape route.

Jean-Marie Claustre's sign on the summit of Mont Ceint
Jean-Marie Claustre’s sign and notebook jar on the summit of Mont Ceint

The passeur in question was a well known Ariège smuggler: Jean Bénazet, a mechanic who went by the codename Piston.  Bénazet successfully smuggled 61 escapees in the earlier part of 1943, although it all ended on the 13th June 1943 when a German ambush apprehended his group above the Garbet valley.  Bénazet himself managed to escape and lived until the age of 87.

Claustre had actually placed this sign on the summit of Mont Ceint back in the mid 1990s. He regularly ascended the mountain, replacing the visitor notebooks as they filled.  Groups of hikers often accompanied him, hearing stories of his wartime exploits as a barefoot teenage shepherd and commemorating the bravery of the passeurs.  Not to forget the escapees, many of whom had been in hiding for months and had been unprepared and inexperienced for such gruelling mountain hikes under cover of darkness.

For over twenty years the sign had captured the interest of hikers, and the comments in the notebooks showed their appreciation for a elderly man’s effort in keeping alive those memories of wartime action.  It was therefore a surprise to hear that the sign had been removed in the autumn of 2017, due to it being seen as a potential environmental hazard (well, it was plastic…).  Jean-Marie was photographed holding it at his home, claiming defeat by the ecologists but also admitting that at 88 he’d grown too old to make the ascent.

The summit is now marked by a rather insubstantial cairn.  I don’t think I’m alone in feeling a little saddened by its unimpressive stature…

Mont Ceint summit -the new cairn
The cairn replacing Claustre’s sign

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