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My better half and I are taking the tin snail to a campsite near Argeles Gazoste in the Pyrenees in June.  I note that there is a mountain top obsy; Pic du Midi in that region.  The website is in French and I wondered if it is possible to do a 'enthusiastic amateur' type visit.  I wonder if anybody has visited and can give me an idea of what is on offer?  Many thanks.

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I went there once a few years ago.

It's an absolutely stunning location with magnificent views and worth it just for that. It is big tourist attraction though, with big crowds who arrive by cable car and gather round the fast-food outlets. I recall it having a reasonable exhibition centre, but not much to offer a knowledgeable enthusiast. Certainly no opportunity to see the actual optics. Get there early to avoid the crowds.

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I posted a description of a visit I made with my wife last September.

I hope this is useful.  We spent the night there but in June when it gets dark so late you may have to take the last telecabine down before the stars come out.  Here's an English language link.  Believe me, don't begrudge spending the money to stay the night so long as the sky is clear.

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I think that's where a certain Mr D Peach has had access to the 102cm cassegrian telescope, producing some truly amazing Saturn images!

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Dead right, Pete.  He went up in June last year with a group of other high-rankers.  I don't have my copy with me but I believe a number of his pictures were featured in an article in Astronomy Now later in the year.  My wife offered me the trip for my birthday in June but I turned it down as I thought astronomical twilight would make conditions less perfect than if we went in September.  What do I know?

Peter

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I've just heard that I've been accepted on a Europlanet workshop being held there in mid July - excited, moi? :blob7:   I'm happy to report back...

Helen

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We're (me, wife, kids) planning on visiting in early August. Looking forward to it! 

Though I'm going to try to get there the hard way (cycling Col du Tourmalet first, before the telepherique from Mongie....)

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On 17/05/2018 at 09:08, coatesg said:

We're (me, wife, kids) planning on visiting in early August. Looking forward to it! 

Though I'm going to try to get there the hard way (cycling Col du Tourmalet first, before the telepherique from Mongie....)

As you will know it's a favourite col when the Tour de France comes through the Pyrenees stages.  The first time I ever went up (4 wheels, internal combustion engine), also in August, we found ourselves enveloped in thick cloud with strange vaguely mobile shapes appearing in the gloom.  As we got closer we found they were a herd of llamas.  Make sure you have a lightweight weatherproof cape of some kind.  A friend who runs a gite in the next village and a great cycling enthusiast himself had a near-death experience when he found himself descending in heavy rain and a biting wind with only a T-shirt and shorts.  The electrical storms in August can be pretty spectacular at night but best observed from a covered patio with a G&T in hand.  No matter what you will treasure every minute of your trip I'm sure.

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On 09/05/2018 at 21:37, lukebl said:

I went there once a few years ago.

It's an absolutely stunning location with magnificent views and worth it just for that. It is big tourist attraction though, with big crowds who arrive by cable car and gather round the fast-food outlets. I recall it having a reasonable exhibition centre, but not much to offer a knowledgeable enthusiast. Certainly no opportunity to see the actual optics. Get there early to avoid the crowds.

You have to stay the night to get the real deal.  It is crowded during the day, partly because the local communes have taken it over to develop revenue which otherwise would be pretty slim pickings in that region.  At night it's an entirely different story and forget the fast food; you'll get a first-rate dinner and breakfast.  The rooms are spartan but they are designed for workers, not 5-star tourists, and if you have a clear night sky you won't be spending much time in the room anyway.

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9 hours ago, Relpet said:

You have to stay the night to get the real deal. ....

Sorry, I didn't mean to rude about it! It is a magnificent place, and I'm sure a night-time visit would be completely different. Just noting that it is very busy during the day with 'ordinary' folk!

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Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, Relpet said:

As you will know it's a favourite col when the Tour de France comes through the Pyrenees stages.  The first time I ever went up (4 wheels, internal combustion engine), also in August, we found ourselves enveloped in thick cloud with strange vaguely mobile shapes appearing in the gloom.  As we got closer we found they were a herd of llamas.  Make sure you have a lightweight weatherproof cape of some kind. 

Yup - prepare for anything! I won't be descending, so hopefully it'll just be a case of having something in case of rain/wind for the climb, and the rest of the clan will be somewhere nearby in a car anyhow.

Edited by coatesg

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3 hours ago, lukebl said:

Sorry, I didn't mean to rude about it! It is a magnificent place, and I'm sure a night-time visit would be completely different. Just noting that it is very busy during the day with 'ordinary' folk!

No, you were not rude by any means, Luke.  I think you're quite right to advise people with an interest in the night sky that if they expect to get a tour of the observatory hardware during the day they will be disappointed.  Bookings for an overnight stay are limited as well so you need to check early. 

They can be a bit parochial here.  We went up on 14th July, Bastille Day, to hear a piano recital followed by a buffet.  The pianist chose instead to give a lecture on Artur Rubinstein, in the open air without a microphone, which largely consisted of a conversation between him and three of his friends.  The other 100 or so people, unable to hear a word, had to be content with an occasional tinkle to illustrate his point.  Then the mostly French audience, knowing the precedent, headed straight for the buffet at the earliest moment and cleared every table in 15 minutes flat.  The polite British had to be content with a few sandwiches brought from the kitchen.  Nothing's perfect, even that close to paradise.

Peter

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On 5/19/2018 at 10:30, coatesg said:

Yup - prepare for anything! I won't be descending, so hopefully it'll just be a case of having something in case of rain/wind for the climb, and the rest of the clan will be somewhere nearby in a car anyhow.

The last time I rode over the Tourmalet it was with friends, one of whom didn't want to put a waterproof on for the climb through drizzle, despite some pleading from the rest of us. By the time she put it on for the descent she was freezing and had a rotten time of it. Even though you're on a road you're also on a mountain. One thing that raised our spirits on the soggy climb, though, was a massage neatly written on the road amongst the riders' names: 'In tartiflet we trust...'

Ridiculous as it may seem I had no idea that the Pic du Midi observatory was close to the Toumalet, which I've done quite a few times by bike. Given the number of pitiless wettings I've experienced on the French side of the Pyrenees I'm surprised anyone would build an observatory there!

Down here in the SE there's the Observatoire de Haute Provence who do open days in the summer. The tour is given by an astronomer, but in French.

Olly

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9 hours ago, ollypenrice said:

Given the number of pitiless wettings I've experienced on the French side of the Pyrenees I'm surprised anyone would build an observatory there!

Down here in the SE there's the Observatoire de Haute Provence who do open days in the summer. The tour is given by an astronomer, but in French.

Olly

The observatory is probably a couple of thousand metres higher up, Olly, and from my experiences usually well above cloud level.  It's the cloud lying like an ocean below with the higher peaks rising like islands which can make it such a magical visit in daytime.  Equally the tour is in French on the Pic, the observatory being selected by NASA to explore sites for the moon landings so it must have had something going for it.  At lower level (that is three thousand metres lower chez moi) the skies dominated by Atlantic weather have been pretty poor for the past two years and observing in Provence is definitely on my bucket list.

Peter

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On 09/05/2018 at 19:17, ShrewView said:

Prices are a bit steep. You could go cheap and get the cable to any number of ski/mountaineering summits and just 'rough it' up there for the night. It's a quite common thing for alpine mountaineers to do so they get an early start in the morning before the sun gets on the ice.

https://www.chamonix.net/english/leisure/sightseeing/aiguille-du-midi

Pretty cold outside up there at night though.....

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55 minutes ago, laser_jock99 said:

 

Pretty cold outside up there at night though.....

As I noted in my piece on an overnight stay in September last year, quite severe ice formed on the metal gangways and handrails.  Not so long ago a chap who enjoyed a golden goodbye from an insurance company took a break in the Pyrenees and went walking in light clothing.  A group of Italians cautioned him about a forecast change in the weather and recommended he turn back.  It was a fine day so he ignored their advice and was found three days later dead of exposure.  The Pic du Midi is close to 10,000 feet.  Alpine mountaineers, maybe.  Your average stargazer???  It may be pricey but what price a long life?

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1 hour ago, Relpet said:

 The Pic du Midi is close to 10,000 feet.  Alpine mountaineers, maybe.  Your average stargazer???  It may be pricey but what price a long life?

I have slept outside at up to 12,500 feet in the Alps & High Atlas- but always in a mountaineering capacity and thus properly equipped- hence my warning about the extreme cold!

I should have thought about this earlier but a less extreme option would be a stay in one of the hundreds of mountain refuges run by the Club Alpin Francais etc. Typically around 30 Euros per night they are a good option in my experience.

I think this is the highest, 15000 feet! No cable car here though- you'll have to walk there.

http://www.monterosa4000.it/monterosa4000/rifugi/rifugio-capanna-regina-margherita

Nice clear skies at these altitudes though- Mont Blanc as photographed from the Grandes Montets (3300m) at night.

41542222224_c2bc0e8c81_b.jpg

 

EDIT - there are 775 huts & refuges in the Pyrenees, some close to Pic du Midi, but nowhere near as high.

http://www.pyrenees-refuges.com/#13/42.9376/0.1409

Edited by laser_jock99
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On 21/05/2018 at 22:34, laser_jock99 said:

 

 

 

EDIT - there are 775 huts & refuges in the Pyrenees, some close to Pic du Midi, but nowhere near as high.

http://www.pyrenees-refuges.com/#13/42.9376/0.1409

I'm truly impressed by your prowess and can see the appeal for experienced mountain walkers.  Your picture says it all.  But if it's going to be a once in a lifetime experience for someone on their annual holiday a night at the observatory with a film show, a lecture on the history, a planetarium, a good dinner, a night under the stars (or as much of the night as you wish) and a tour of the past and current apparatus after a good breakfast still seems hard to beat.  If the cloud cover is similar to my experiences while the observatory itself would be clear every one of those 775 shelters would be enveloped in cloud.  Only the points of the very tallest peaks poke through.  I'm guessing the Alps enjoy a Mediterranean weather system while we seem stuck with the Atlantic most of the time.

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21 hours ago, Relpet said:

if it's going to be a once in a lifetime experience for someone on their annual holiday a night at the observatory with a film show, a lecture on the history, a planetarium, a good dinner, a night under the stars (or as much of the night as you wish) and a tour of the past and current apparatus after a good breakfast still seems hard to beat.

To be fair - some of the refuges I've stayed in were a bit grim particulary in Morroco. Refuge Toubkal had the windows smashed in and snow was filling up the dorm! Looks like it has been completely re-built since I was last there.

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