Julie Michel vanished at Port de Lers


Julie Michel of Auxerre (France) reported missing on July 19th 2013

Julie Michel who vanished at Port de Lers in July 2013

at Port de Lers - sector : Le Port, Massat, Vicdessos, Aulus

Julie Michel, young lady from Burgundy, 28 years old, vanished at Port de Lers, col in the French Pyrenees (Ariège). This pass at an altitude of 1517m, is a well known col of the Tour de France which links the valleys of Massat and Vicdessos.
Julie's car was found there, on the parking at the top of the pass, with all her personal things, money, mobile, papers, clothes and some food for several days...

(see more photos of Julie on the French page)

Port de Lers - well known col of Tour de France
Port de Lers

last kilometer to Port-de-Lers
1km before Port de Lers

Hypothesis and unanswered questions

After staying a week at Lacanau, (a sea resort on the west coast near Bordeaux), with some friends in a camping site, Julie intended to spend some weeks in Spain.

On July 18th 2013, Julie, alone in her car, headed toward Toulouse, then Auterive, to arrive finally in Massat (Ariège Pyrenees) where she was seen at the night market.

Probably later in the night she headed toward the South and reached Port de Lers where she parked her car, and slept on a mattress in the rear of the car.

parking of Port de Lers - June 2015
parking area at Port de Lers - june 20th 2015 before the season

At night, during the summer holydays, campers and holyday makers sometimes sleep at the col. This enables the hikers to start their walks early and avoid the afternoon heat. Furthermore, camper cars are permitted to park in these mountains and are often found at the col near to Etang de Lers. Port de Lers is the starting point for numerous walks including : Pic des Trois Seigneurs, Pic du Girantès (also called Girantos or Mont-Ceint), Etang d'Arbu and Plateau du Bispou.

On the day of Julie's disappearance, in July, there would have been traffic in the local area of Port de Lers, including : cyclists, motorcyclists, paragliders and anglers who spend the day at the lake (Etang de Lers). Other tourists would have driven over the Col in their way to lunch at the lake's restaurant, and whilst driving along this scenic road with its high mountain passes : Port de Lers, Col d'Agnes, Col de la Trappe, Col de la Core...

Etang de Lers - lake of French Pyrenees
Etang de Lers

Disparition de Julie Michel - l'étang de Lers et les blocs de lhertzolite

a trout fished at Etang de Lers

Julie's car was an old green station-wagon-type car, (Renault 21 Nevada), the rear seats had been folded and a mattress arranged up on the rear platform, to form a bed for sleeping. But it wasn't a van and there were no curtains hiding the inside, so passers-by would have been able to see inside the car and may have seen Julie sleeping during the morning of July 19th 2013.

One paraglider reported seeing Julie at 1 o'clock on July 19th, taking her lunch beside her car. This was the last sighting of Julie, and she has not been seen since. We are sure Julie was alone and nobody else had accompanied her or her car to Port de Lers.

Port de Lers paraglide spot
the starting point of paragliders at Port de Lers

Port de Lers start point for paragliders

flying over Port de Lers

There are many unanswered questions concerning her disappearance and many possible theories as to what may have happened to Julie.
Here are some ideas :

1) Why did Julie make a detour to Massat and Port de Lers instead of following the normal road to Spain : Toulouse / Auterive / Pamiers / Foix / Tarascon-sur-Ariège / Ax-les-Thermes / Portet-Puymorens / La-Tour-de-Carol / Bourg-Madame / Puigcerda ?
Her arrival in Massat may have been a mistake and, from Massat, Port-de-Lers may have been another mistake because you have to travel via Tarascon before being able to head South and the Spanish border. Perhaps she has a friend in Massat ? But, in this case why did she stay overnight at Port de Lers, at such an isolated location ?
May be she wasn't in a hurry to reach Spain and she was enjoying the mountain scenery...

night market at Massat (Ariège - French Pyrenees)
night market at Massat just before dark

night market during summer at Massat
night market at Massat

2) Did Julie arrange her disappearance ?

Julie is slightly eccentric, single, without a steady job, and maybe fragile with unconventional religious beliefs... Could has she have decided to join a sect ? This theory is unlikely, because, until she vanished, she was in supportive relationships with her mother and sister and with some good friends. Among them Marjorie who she planned to visit in September in Toulouse.
Besides, in the very middle of summer, Julie was enjoying life and heading to Spain to find a more festive atmosphere... That seems far from the attitude of somebody preparing to join a sect.

3) Did Julie commit suicide ?

As many she had gone through some problems or difficulties, but from all her friends and family members she had no suicidal tendencies. Furthermore we do not have any reasons to believe that she would first of all disappear and then commit suicide.

4) A mountain accident ?

It is possible that Julie had an accident in this mountainous area. The area is very isolated and the terrain quite rugged. Julie was known to take risks and may have wandered away from the usual tracks. Julie wasn't scared and enjoyed walking alone in the forest.

Forest of Freychinède reaching Port de Lers - Julie Michel - Missing person alert

The forest of Freychinède, between Vicdessos and Port de Lers, has a thick canopy of beech trees which hides a number of steep cliffs. If she walked in the forest she may have been surprised by the afternoon storm and got lost. In the middle of Freychinède forest, on the North flank of the valley, there are gaps in the trees allowing you to see the houses which comprise hamlets on the South flank of the valley.

Les Bordes little hamlet on the South side facing the North forest of Freychinède
hamlet on the South side just in front the Forest of Freychinède

When looking at the houses on the other side of the valley, they seem to be very near, and you can often hear dogs barking and people shouting after them... so, if you are lost, you may be tempted to cross directly toward these house, but just under you the valley is very deep, the slope is sharp and barred by very dangerous cliffs. At the end of the day all public lights are automatically switched on, some cars arrive and the inhabited houses are alive with noise and lights.

5) An accident in the ferns ?

On the South side, at the same altitude as Port de Lers you can easily reach the area of Col de Rose (20 minutes by a flat track) which is partly covered by high ferns. If you are charged by a boar or by a bull in the ferns you become invisible but not for the vultures which are very common and circle the Port de Lers. In summer it is not unusual to see up to a dozen of vultures circling the Col in thermals. In summer 2013 a group of about 30 vultures was spending the night in a nearby cliff...

6) A wrong encounter ?

If Julie was sleeping in her car on the morning of July 19th, people would have seen she was alone. After lunch if she has walked alone for some distance from the car she may have been followed.

The six different theories or ideas mentioned above are unsubstantiated potential explanations for Julie Michel disappearance. We hope that in reading this ideas someone may have his memory triggered and someone who saw something on the day in the vicinity of Port de Lers may be able to provide us with a new piece of information that may help us and the police to solve the mystery that surrounds July disappearance.

If you think you may have some information please contact : GENDARMERIE DE SAINT-GIRONS : +33 (0)5 34 14 33 30


A difficult area for the searchers

Freychinède forest - Julie Michel reported missing at Port de Lers
Freychinède forest

Freychinède forest - search for Julie Michel - Missng Person Alert - 1
Freychinède forest - see more details