High Pyrenees, 22-30 August 2019
We have been thinking about the Pyrenees for some time. We wanted to see Pyrenean glaciers before they disappear, but were mindful of reportedly ferocious thunderstorms in the afternoons. The Pyrenees dispelled our fears and enchanted us. We spent two days hiking with Igor and his family (which included two 4.5-year olds), and then went for a more adventurous 7 day hike.
Coloured lines show our track. The arrow shows direction of travel, and the "P" icon shows the car park.
Walking time includes short breaks and lunch break.
- Our planned route was in the highest part of the Pyrenees. The glaciers here have all but disappeared, crampons were only useful on the Aneto glacier. However we had a few arêtes, and the route proved busy and interesting. Some positive features of our route:
- Wild camping in Posets-Maladeta nature park is allowed above 2000 m (more than 500 m away from the refuges, only between 20:00 and 8:00).
- The route allowed rapid descent to the Benasque valley from any point. Hence we were able to plan technical elements pretty much every day - with the knowledge that in case of any difficulties we could quickly get to civilisation.
- We visited most summits and arêtes in the morning, so potentially bad weather in the afternoon presented no danger.
- Two technical arêtes (Posets, Aneto) were climbed without backpacks, which made it possible to do them without roping up.
- There are only 129 summits above 3000 m in the Pyrenees; we visited 4 (this was not our aim, we could have easily visited a few more) and once camped on the snow above 3000 m. So out trip combined beautiful lakes, forests and meadows with high mountain scenery (snow fields, glaciers).
- The linked passes Portillón de Oô - Pointe de Literole - Col des Crabioules - Puerto Viello - Pico de la Montañeta - Puerto de Benasque allowed us to get from the Posets range to Aneto without going down into deep valleys.
- Technical level. Portillón de Oô was the hardest part of the trip. We did not anticipate the descent to be technical but in reality had to abseil two ropelengths (30 m) on bad, loose rock. The other challenging sections (Posets, the arête around Pointe de Literole, Montañeta, Aneto) were passable without ropes, they were well within our capabilities. Nonetheless, this trip was probably the hardest we have done in the last 6 years.
- Notable features of the Pyrenees:
- Lots of sections with large boulders which slows one down significantly.
- Lots of loose rocks, more than we saw in the Alps.
- No water sources at high altitude, many dry streams. In anticipation of these problems we carried empty water bottles with total capacity of 18 L. We were also ready to melt snow to make water. However in reality all our overnight camps were by the water (except one where we camped 5 min from the nearest water source). We did not drink much at high altitude, it was not as hot as we feared.
- Walking time. The sun would set at around 9 pm and rise again at 7 am. We would start walking at 8.30-9 am which is quite late. Nonetheless this allowed us to come down from the high sections before 1-2 pm - so we would be in relative safety in bad weather. On the day we climbed Aneto, we got up at 5.30 am and started walking by 7 am.
- Weather. We were extremely lucky with the weather. We had no rain, just a little drizzle on two afternoons. We once saw a short thunderstorm quite far away. We did not have strong winds.
- Gas cartridges were booked in Decathlon - unfortunately we could not collect them as the store was closed on Sunday! We were lucky - Igor bought gas cartridges at a petrol station.
- The guitar survived the flight packed in the backpack and checked in as hold luggage.
- Maps, paths and trip reports. TopoPirineos is a fantastic map. It should not be taken as absolute truth though. Not all paths shown on the map exist, and the paths which do not show difficulty level could require ropes etc. However, when the difficulty level was given, it was correct in our experience, and vast majority of paths is very accurate. A good topo map of Spain is here and individual areas could be downloaded here. We also bought a paper map (Valle de Benasque from Alpina 3000 series), which was not better than TopoPirineos. There is plenty of information about the Pyrenees on the internet. It could be found by searching for the names of specific summits, passes, ridges. The most useful resources are Pirineos3000, Komando Kroketa and Pyrénées-rando.
- People and animals. We saw more people in the Pyrenees than in the Alps, particularly at the better-known summits (Posets, Aneto) and on the key paths. On the other hand, we saw no people at all in more remote places further away from the refuges, particularly in the afternoons. We saw some griffon vultures and marmots. We saw no evidence of bears, but we stored food away from the tents when we camped below tree level, just in case.
- Mobile networks were needed for up-to-date weather forecast. There was signal on some (but not all, not even the highest ones!) summits, and in some other unpredictable places. One just has to check periodically above 2500 m.
- Weather forecast. We used MeteoBlue.
- Webcams can be found here.
- GPS tracks were recorded on a smart watch and the quality turned out to be not so good, with a long distance between adjacent points.
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