Tuesday, 23 July 2013

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

No comments:

Post a Comment