Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Punta Llerga and a packet of crisps


From P Montanesa - it's the one behind
Punta Llerga, Iberian prominence number 93, 2269m P739, Major 
N4254389 E0.23083

There is a large car park in the village of Saravillo N42.55429 E0.25660 (1048m) or you can pay a toll of three Euros and drive up the unpaved pista to the unguarded and unlocked Refugio de Santa Isabel at a collado N42.53661 E0025262 (1521m).

I had a look inside and it is just like a small Scottish bothy with a fireplace, a sleeping bench for one/two people and a table and seat.

As seen from the refugio
From here Punta Llerga looks quite formidable with a wide steep vertical face and not going to be as ‘facil’ as JMH describes it. An area of trees has been recently cleared, I assume to provide grazing for cattle. There are no waymarks or cairns – however, if you walk up to the summit of the meadow and down the other side to N42.53762 E0.24637 ((1607m) there is a distinct path through the trees that leads across base of the previously mentioned steep face and exits at N42.54146 E0.24572 (1653m).
Stream crossing
Llerga lurker
The path crosses a dry stream bed in a barranco at N42.54256 E0.24264 (1770m) and then zigzags through rocks and bushes up to a steep meadow topped by a narrow ridge. There are several ways up this steep meadow – on the ascent I went across to the end of the ridge at N42.54552 E0.24107 (1897m) and there was some mild scrambling along the ridge for a while until it broadens out and meets a more well used path than the one I used (on descent, this well used path quickly deteriorated into a range of options that people have taken, with no clear favourite).

The ridge eventually gives out onto a large mainly grassy Cairngorms like round lumps. The Balsa Lierga marked as a lake was, despite the heavy thunderstorms, a muddy patch. 
Spain's Tarn Hows? A muddy patch
I followed a line that took me to the left and then swung around the back of an intervening minor summit/lump to the base of the twin summitted high ground. According to my GPS both summits gave the same height – however, as the northerly one has a trig point I counted that as the tick on the list – and if I am proved wrong I am covered as I visited them both.

Twin summit
Summit view
Way below me I could see down to the Camping Los Vives where I was planning to stay for a day’s rest, laundry and blog writing.
My route of descent varied by making more direct and steeper descent to the dried up lake and missing out the scramble on the ridge end. And, I would agree with JMH, this one is fairly ‘facil’.

9.58km 1093m total ascent

Not a facile pointy mountain

Pena Montanesa, Sierra Ferrara, Iberian prominence number 65, 2291m P827, Major
N42.49086 E0.19927

La Cowllada
Not sure why I did not drive up the unpaved road to La Collada N42.50016 E0.20568 (1532m)  where there is parking space for several cars - it would have saved quite some time and effort. However, I started from the road just outside the small pueblo of Ceresa at N42.50616 E.0.17712. There are sometimes waymarked, sometimes not waymarked short cuts that avoid having to follow all the zigzags in the pista. I took some of the shortcuts others I eschewed.

JMH describes this ascent as ‘facil’ i.e. simple, easy. Fine, up to La Collada I am in full agreement. The start of the next bit around to the back of the mountain is also a simple walk along a cow path through the trees. However, when the path reaches a seemingly endless stone field up the south side I cannot concur with his judgement. Coming down it is fine if you are happy with scree running – going up though is a slog that would put off many a walker.

How glad I was to finally reach the ridge at a collado at N42.48909 E0.20085 (2143m).  Even from here to the summit although a lot easier, I would still argue that it is not a stroll in the park – it is rocky scrappy with a little scrambling needed. The summit is rocky and marked with a metal triangular thingy next to what looks like the base of a missing trig point.

The views were great across to the, by now, cloud covered high Pirineos.
From the summit I could see a path that cut across the other lower summit of the Sierra Ferrara, Pena Foratata. I thought for a while that maybe I had come up the wrong way and that I should have gone around the back of Pena Foratata before ascending. Without a map I had no idea and I was not in the mood for going to have a look – it would have been a good hour’s walk to go and see and then return if I was mistaken.
PC Montanesa's helmet
So I used my ascent route as the descent route although I took full advantage of the scree run that goes down the centre of the stone field. In bits the scree was quite good, in other bits it was spent. As I got lower I was glad that I had not tried out the other path – I could see that there is a long ridge that runs south-east from Pena Foratata which blocks the way. I had seen the ridge on the way up, but had not registered its significance. I had ascended the right way, it is just not a ‘facil’ way.
When I got back to the grazing cows at La Collada, a Spanish family drove by and offered me a lift down to the start – I accepted with deep gratitude. They are building a summer retreat somewhere down the other side of the Sierra.
11.56km 1467m total ascent

Overnight by the Rio Cinca near Lafortunada – in another heavy thunderstorm. I am beginning to wonder if there is ever a summer’s day when there is no thunder and lightning in Los Pirineos.

Monte Perdido perfection

Monte Perdido Iberian prominence number 34, 3355m P977, Major N42.67556 E0.03438

When I rang the Refugio de Goriz I found out that it was fully booked for many night ahead. I had three choices 1. forget about doing Monte Perdido; 2. try to do it in one day from the roadhead; 3. buy a really cheap tent from a supermarket in Jacas. I went for option three.
Deserted and forlorn looking Pradera carpark
The road into the Ordesa y Monte Perdido Parque Nacional has been closed to traffic. So you either have to walk in from Torla or use the provided park and ride bus service. The parking is free, the return bus fare is 4.5 Euros. The bus starts from the large Torla car park N42.62416 W0.11177 (1006m) and there is a frequent service from 6.00am until late at night. There is a sign saying that the bus will be suspended when 1800 people have entered the park on any one day. I was lucky there wasn’t quite that many on the days I went in. The bus terminates at the large almost deserted carpark at Pradera N42.64964 W0.06026 (1308m)
Gradas de Soaso
Initially there are wide paths on both sides of the Rio Arazas in the Valle de Ordesa until it starts to rise more steeply – for much of the lower section the rio is more an aural experience than a visual one with occasional glimpses of pretty waterfalls until you come out of the trees near a series of waterfalls, the Gradas de Soazo N42.63731 W0.00269 (1627m). The tourist path keeps going into a wide steep-sided valley, the Circo de Soaso, and ends where the river drops down the Cascada de la Cola de Caballo. 
Circo de Soaso
Cascada de la Cola de Caballo
There is a bridge over the river and then the path to Goriz starts in earnest – with a choice of routes for clavijas/climbers and for sendero/walkers at N42.64847 E.01585 (1774m). I reckon the clavijas route is more of a scramble than a rock climb, but as I was fully laden and it was pouring with rain I did not bother to try it.
The sendero path zigzags up the steep wall then there is a long rising traverse to meet the clavijas route at N42.65125 E0.01819 (1923m). 

Circo de Soaso from above
There is more zigzagging and traversing until, at last, there is the welcome sight of the Refugio de Goriz N42.66373 E0.01557 (2190m). 

Overnight camping is allowed in the terraces above the refugio. I put up my new cheap tent and discovered that the inner tent consisted of little more than mosquito netting and the outer layer of plastic did not provide full cover. Not to be used on the summit of a Scottish mountain in winter, then. Luckily it did not rain much overnight – I had a splendid vegetarian meal in the refugio, sharing a table with five Mallorcans (makes sense to me, why would anyone living in Mallorca opt for a beach holiday)

Next morning it was cloudy but not raining. Finding the start of the path is not easy as there are various tracks created by campers. The trick is to start from a hand-painted sign for the Fuente (it says H2O on the back), which consists of a small plastic pipe sticking out of the ground, and head diagonally up the first of several escarpments to N42.66336 E0.01716 (2257m). From this point the path is more obvious, but there are variations. The next key thing to seek out is an awkward step at the left side of an escarpment at N42.67051 E0.02399 (2623m) and make sure you know how to find it on the way down. Otherwise you will have to tackle the small cliff shown in the next photo – even if in normal years there is no snow there, it could still be difficult to get down. And, note the next part of the path crosses a boulder field where the path is cairned but twists about with variations.

Momentary view of summit
Then the snow (this year, at least) begins to become unavoidable at N42.67465 E.002483 (2724m) – crampons not needed, but there was evidence some people had been using them. There is at least another rocky escarpment to clamber up before you arrive above the blue icy Lago Helado N42.68040 E0.02726 (2977m). At this point, there were several parties of senderos putting on their crampons and readying themselves for the climb up the long snow slope that leads to the collado before the summit. 
For some reason, I was quicker at getting ready and was the first person to set off – and I was still meeting most of the others halfway up the slope when I was descending. Initially the snow was quite soft and none too steep, however it gets steeper and icier higher up and the atmosphere is getting thinner. I was labouring so much on the last part of the main slope I did not realise just how precarious it would be without ice axe and crampons – it was more obvious on the descent. One slip and ice axe arrests would be needed. As I reached the collado before the easier but still breathless final push I met a party of four coming down who were roped together.
The other parties on their way up
And found just one person sat by the summit trig. There was no view – so we did the camera swap thing and then I went to measure the longitude/latitude of the snow which was higher than the base of the trig. I think he was telling me off (in Spanish) for doing so, even though there was not really much exposure.
Made it back down the snow slope
Perdido poet
I descended by roughly the same route as the ascent – thanking myself for marking on my GPS the location of the awkward step. As I reached the refugio it started to rain. Decision time – do I  spend another night camping near the refugio or do I get everything out of the locker (you are not allowed to leave tents erected during the day) and hump the heavy load all the way back to the Pradera bus? The drizzle made me decide to walk – I couldn’t be bothered to put the tent up in the wet. As it was a Friday there were large numbers of people coming up the path – it felt like the 1800 limit was going to be breached by Saturday lunchtime.
As I reached the tourist path down in the Circo de Sousa it started to rain in earnest – all the Spanish and French tourists, I was overtaking despite my full load, had put on their capes/ponchos – I just got wet and dry quite quickly after the thunderstorms ended.

Overnight by the Rio Ara in the Valle de Broto. Lovely quiet spot down by the river. My motorhome has a very bright blue flashing warning light for the immobiliser/alarm that I have no idea how to turn off. It is so bright that quite often at the end of a walk in the dusk it provides a guiding light from a considerable distance. When I am sleeping in the van I put a hat over it to stop the light disturbing me. In the early hours I woke up to a flickering blue light that made me think I had forgotten to use the hat. Then I realised the flickering was a lot faster than my warning light and was accompanied by continuous thunder. There was virtually no gap between the lightning strikes – and it was raining heavily. It was at this moment I was pleased I was not camping high up at Goriz in my cheap little tent. The downside was that I questioned whether I should be so close to the river in this weather, my answer was to fall asleep and find in the morning that I was not floating downstream.  And the sun was shining – anyone on Monte Perdido on Saturday morning would have had a view, if they were not too busy drying themselves out.
Cloud free, but not crowd free - as seen from Laspuna on Saturday morning

 49.82km  2880m total ascent

Pena de Oreol - L more than a biscuit

East end of Pena de Oreol
No navigation skills required
Thunder in the high Pirineos

From the north
Pena de Oreol
Iberian prominence number 48, 1770m P892, Major N42.52030 W0.54232 
Being a mid day week and a hill that is away from the exciting high Pirineos I had visions of a lonely day on a not much visited hill. 

Pena de Oreol from carpark
To my surprise the large carpark at the Refugio Mirador de Oreol  N42.52775 W0.53172 (1180m) was full and there were families at all the picnic tables. And as I set off up the mountain side I met quite a lot of people coming down – I was late starting as I had been doing the supermarket run. 

Dappled sunlight
The sun was shining here – but certainly not in the thundercloud covered high Pirineos – however, for much of the ascent it was dappled because of the trees. 

Not quite Striding Edge
The path finally zigzagged its way to a collado at N42.51807 W0.52735 (1654m). From here there are three options: a path that literally follows the top of the ridge; an escape path that runs alongside and a wider path that traverses the side of the ridge lower down. I took the top one – they all meet up again later. The ridge and the steep northern and western faces seem to consist of rounded beach pebbles loosely set in sandstone.

The summit of Pena de Oreol is marked by a trigpoint and an ugly looking black metal cross. And I had it to myself, everyone else had gone down. The views were very good, if a bit hazy. I wandered over to the west end at 1751m before returning by the ascent route – except I used the traverse path back along the ridge. I didn’t bother visiting the Ermita – when you have seen one ermita, you’ve seen them all. The carpark was nearly empty.

Summit from east
9km 650m total ascent

Overnight in car park, Torla N42.62416 W0.11177 (1006m)
Sunset over Pena de Oreol
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