The ‘Chemin de la Liberte’ was the toughest of several escape routes across the Pyrenees during the Second World War. Running from Saint-Girons in the Ariege district of France to near the village of Isil in Spain, the Chemin de la Liberte, or Walk to Freedom, has been an official way-marked walk since 1994. We started out at the forested foothills of the Pyrenees and climbed to cross the high mountains of the Ariege via the Refuge des Estagnous (2245m) and the Frontier Col (2522m). En route, you pass safe houses and barns used as hiding places by the escapees and encounter rocky cirques, mountain lakes, boulder-fields and snow-filled gullies, whilst marvelling at some of the finest mountain views in the Pyrenees. The trek is very hilly, with some steep rocky ascents and descents, with parts being very exposed but there is a section of via ferrata and ropes to assist with the steep gradient. The highest altitude reached is 2522m and after a couple of days walking it becomes a very remote area and there is no road access.
We packed light and did’t bother booking into refuges, just packed a sleeping bag and a bivvy, made some sandwiches, took plenty of water (and knew where we could re-fill) and made sure we had packed for every weather eventuality. It’s not worth being silly in the mountains, as with any adventure you need to plan and pack appropriately. But at the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think…if the elderly and the young managed it in their desperate state, with no extra clothing and some with no shoes, packing light but appropriately should be ok. We had good warm weather every day, each day was long and hard, with some days racking up around 10 hours of walking.
What I liked about this route, was not only that fact that you were in the middle of the most spectacular scenery, but the history behind it. It was hard to imagine that thousands of people had walked the same route, trying to save their own life and not only did they walk it, they walked it with no supplies, no extra clothing, sometimes no shoes and whats worse they did it in the dark to avoid enemy patrols.
This route was truly fascinating and if you fancy giving it a go, but don’t fancy doing it alone, there are now plenty of companies that will organise and guide you through it.
To find out more about the route and the history behind it, check out this link.