Cauterets and the Vignemale Trophy

In 1900, there was stiff competition between the tour guide companies in Cauterets and Gavarnie.

To challenge the supremacy of the guides from Gavarnie led by the famous Célestin Passet, who had many mountain exploits to his name, the Cauterets guides devised a crazy race.

« The Vignemale Trophy » was born.

On Sunday 24 July 1904, the Place de la Mairie in Cauterets was overrun by tourists and local residents who had come to watch the start of this challenge.

compagnie des guides de Cauterets photo trophée vignemale 1904
Cauterets guides company on horseback at the town hall square and group of guides.

Competitors were divided into two categories :

- Professionals, guides and shepherds,
- Amateurs, tourists and hunters.

Scores of guides came from all over the Pyrenees.

At the first light of dawn, the competitors dashed from Cauterets 926 m to the Vignemale peak 3298 m and back to Cauterets.

The route was incredible - 52 km with 2,363 m of ascent/descent:

Cauterets 926 m
Lac de Gaube 1,720 m
Les Oulettes de Gaube 2150 m
Hourquette d’Ossoue 2730 m
Baysselance 2651 m
Pique Longue 3,298 m, and back via the Col de Labas, Estom, the Lutour valley and La Fruitière, before crossing the finish line in the Place de la Mairie in Cauterets.

massif du vignemale carte postale guides de Cauterets
Vignemale massif and guides.

Many of the competitors took part barefoot. Others wore simple espadrilles (nique – nique).

Three guides from Cauterets with extraordinary stamina crossed the finish line first: Jean-Marie Bordenave in 6 hrs 01 min, Dominique Bordenave in 6 hrs 06 min and Baptiste Labasse in 6 hrs 17 min.

Vainqueurs trophée Vignemale Cauterets place maréchal foch
Winners of the 1904 edition of the Vignemale Trophy and Maréchal Foch square.

The event was reported in many newspapers : « An event has just taken place in Cauterets in the Pyrenees that is worthy of a high ranking in the annals of sport. The idea of organising a race for guides and tourists in the middle of the mountains, sending men wearing espadrilles and carrying sticks off into gaping chasms to conquer the highest peak in the French Pyrenees, whose ascent normally takes fourteen to eighteen hours… This race by brave and experienced fellows is a bold innovation. The route covered the distance from Cauterets to Cauterets (935 m), reaching the summit of the Grand Vignemale (3,298 m) and crossing the Col de Labasse at the side (2,910 m), which represented a distance of fifty-two to fifty-four kilometres » (Text by Henry Spont in 1904).

« It was organised in Cauterets in July 1904 by the pioneers of Pyreneism, whose names are as follows: Célestin Passet, Count Labordes, Marcel Spont, Paul Batan, Le Bondidier, Camboué, Bordères, Dupin, Meillon, Lataste, Latour and Schrader… At 4.12 am, the amateurs set off, the very best of their champions having been sent to Cauterets for this event. At 5.02 am it was the turn of the professional guides, shepherds and independent porters. It is easy to imagine how unusual this sight appeared, with the blue jackets of Cauterets side by side with the brown jackets of Gavarnie and the red jackets of Luchon. At the Hourquette d’Ossoue checkpoint, the first of the amateurs, Monsieur Sallenave, signed in at 7.20 am; the first of the guides, Antoine Catala from Saint Sauveur, signed in at 7.22 am followed by Dominique and Jean-Marie Bordenave of Cauterets at 7.36 am… Catala signed in first at the Pique Longue summit checkpoint at 8.35 am, reaching it in the incredible time of 3 hrs 33 minutes… The first of the amateurs, Henri Sallenave, signed in at 9.12 am and the first shepherd, Bégarie, at 8.55 am. The competitors descended the glacier in a short slide and then attacked the long and difficult ascent of the Col de Labasse, where Dominique Bordenave signed in at 9.20 am, his brother, Jean-Marie Bordenave, at 9.25 am, Catala at 9.27 am, Bégarie at 10.06 am and the amateur, Sallenave, at 10.10 am. The battle then entered phase three and, from the Lac d’Estom onwards, became a real running race along the length of the Lutour valley » (« l’appel des cimes » by Jean Lestelle – Sud-Ouest of 8 August 1963)

In 1906, at the second event, Jean-Marie Bordenave improved his record to 5 hrs 57 min and became the "Champion of the Vignemale ».

Jean-Marie Bordenave guides Cauterets trophée Vignemale Cauterets trophée Vignemale guides
Jean-Marie Bordenave and guides.

In 1982, Elie Cayrey challenged the record set 80 years earlier and completed the route in 4 hrs 29 min 55 s.

The competition was relaunched, and Cauterets town council decided to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the 1st known ascent of the Vignemale in October 1837.

On 19 July 1987, J. Dominique Calbéra crossed the finish line in 4 hrs 51 min and 50 s.

In 1988, the Englishman Hughes Simons won the 4th event with a time of 4 hrs 30 min 13 s.

In 1991, Jean-François March smashed the record, winning the 5th event in 4 hrs 24 min 58 s.

In 2004, for the centenary of the 1st Vignemale race, Cauterets town council decided to organise the 6th event on the exact day 100 years after the 1st victory of Jean-Marie Bordenave

Unfortunately, climatic conditions had seriously damaged the Vignemale glacier, with gaping chasms opening up.

The original race was abandoned, to be replaced by that of the Petit Vignemale.

Start line :Place de la Mairie, Cauterets 926 m, Lac de Gaube, Oulettes de Gaube, Hourquette d’Ossoue, Petit Vignemale 3,031 m and back via the Col de Labas, Estom, Lutour valley and La Fruitière to Cauterets, i.e. 45 km with 2,100 m of ascent/descent.

Cauterets town council has kept the spirit of this high-altitude mountain race alive ever since.

Every year, hundreds of competitors from all over the world race for the peaks at the spectacular « Courses de Refuges ».

On 8 July 2007, the European Athletics Association organised the « European Mountain Running Championships » ”, bringing together Europe’s top athletes in Cauterets.

Today, Jean Louis Lechène, high-altitude mountain guide and national ski instructor, shares his passion for the mountains with you.

saut lechene Jean-louis Lechene ski cauterets Jean louis Lechene
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