Col de Pailhères

The road winds up through the forests from Ax-les-Thermes eventually passing the Station de ski d’Ascou and the paraphernalia of winches and guide posts as well as the various ski runs. At the Col, and just above a small hameau of chalets, the road barrier is down even though the snow has cleared and the road appears undamaged, unlike the Port de Lers where a washout has left a huge hole in the road that surely will be filled before the Tour de France runs through in August.

Above the tree line, the road passes banks of broom and heather with trumpet gentians Gentiana occidentalis and wild daffodils Narcissus pseudonarcissus in bloom. At the col itself, a lammergeier circles over and then a distant short-toed eagle calls and does the same. In the patches of grassland amongst the snow there are alpine chough, skylarks and water pipits. The sun comes through the milky cloud and a skylark sings.

The spring flowers of the mountain are just appearing in the short, dry turf, including spring pasque flower Pulsatilla vernalis, spring crocus Crocus vernalis, spring gentian Gentiana verna and (possibly) alpine anemone Anemone alpina together with oxlip Primula elatior; the last possesses remarkable altitudinal and habitat flexibility being abundant in damp valley woodlands and pastures as well as dry mountain grasslands.  Purple saxifrage Saxifraga oppositifolia is also in flower and common in sheltered rock crevices on the small outcrops. The pasque flowers are only located along one side of a fence line, which may reflect a difference in grazing pressure. The small plants at once once stunning and odd-looking; the long, fine hairs on their stems, buds, leaves and beneath the sepals insulate the flower from the cold.

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