Brèche de Roland
France / Spain
Start: Col de Tentes
End: Col de Tentes
Distance: 3.5 miles (5.6 km)
Time: 2.5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Surface: Rock / Gravel Paths
Wikipedia Post on Brèche de Roland
When you first see Brèche de Roland, you hardly believe it-a massive gash 131 feet (40 m) wide and 328 feet (100 m) high in a limestone ridge in the Pyrenees that looks as though it has been kicked out by the boot of an angry giant. Naturally, a legend was created to explain it. Count Roland, an eighth-centuryFrankish officer under the command of Charlemagne who, hundreds of years after his death, became a mythic figure in medieval Europe, sliced the rock open with his sword Durendal in an attempt to destroy the sword after losing the Battle of Roncesvaux Pass in 778. There are better explanations for La Brèche’s existence, of course, but none are as interesting.
Geologists call it a “defile”-a notch or gap-a narrow gorge that restricts lateral movement.Part of the Gavarnie-Ordesa massif-the highest limestone massif in Europe-La Brèche de Roland (9,209 feet/2,807 m) sits on the border of France and Spain and can be reached after about an hour’s walk from the Refuge des Sarradets (8,487 feet/2,587 m), around 656 feet (200 m) below it, over a steep slope covered in stones and scree. The notch is in the Cirque de Gavarnie, an amphitheater-like valley in the Haute-Pyrenees containing 16 summits in excess of 9,840 feet (3,000 m) and the highest waterfall in Europe, the Grande Cascade, with a drop of 1,417 feet (432 m).
Getting to Gavarnie’s famous notch requires effort and stamina and should only be attempted from mid-June to mid-September, beginning at Col de Tentes. From there, it’s five hours of hiking joy to a doorway between two countries. And if myths and legends still count for anything these days, maybe a window onto the past, as well.