Thursday, 1 August 2013

Caught in Aneto


 (Pico de) Aneto – the highest point in the Pirineos/Pyrenees, the second highest point in mainland Spain, the second highest point in mainland Europe without the Alps, an Ultra with P2812 and a height of 3404m – is not a mountain to be taken lightly. And it isn't a mountain where you are allowed to drive to the start point at La Besurta – however, there is a (4.5 Euro return) shuttlebus service. I caught the 5.00am bus from the Vado car park (1730m) N42.68246 E0.60452 – and considering the number of motorhomes in the carpark was surprised to find I was the only passenger – to La Besurta (1895m) N42.67884 E0.64982. By the light of my headtorch I found the path that leads up to the Refugio de la Renclusa (2127m) N42.67884 E0.64982. Thankfully as I passed the refugio it was beginning to get light as it is quite a rough climb through rocks with lots of twists and turns.
When I reached the foot of the Glaciar de la Maladeta (2620m) N42.65896 E0.64658 there were quite a lot of people putting on their crampons. I walked past them to find a more solitary point on some rocks further along the glacier. For some reason I seem to be quicker at putting on crampons than other people, because once again I was ready and off before anyone. At 2844m, N42.65475 E0.64415 it is necessary to take off the crampons climb over an intervening ridge from Pico de Maladeta and then drop down through the Portillon Superior onto the Glaciar de Aneto (2860m) N42.65405 E0.64648. 
Portillon Superior
Ahead of me on the path there were a lot of people who clearly must have set off from the refugio at the same time or earlier than the time I had left La Besurta. Some of them were moving painfully slowly. It is long way across that glacier and there are several points where it is bare rock – do you keep the crampons on or not, I kept them on and skittered across the stones.

Towards the end of the glacier it gets steeper and several parties had roped themselves together, which meant overtaking them was quite hazardous with loose coils everywhere. Finally the gradient eases off at Collado de Coronas (3284m) N42.63330 E0.65516 – thankfully as it enough effort to cope with the thinner atmosphere. The snow ended at N42.63185 E0.65639 (3361m) and then there is a steep short exposed ridge scramble to the summit at N42.63113 E0.65668. 

However, the summit was rather crowded so I waited a while and chatted with a group of Portuguese people, an Austrian couple and two Czechs whilst we waited for the summiteers to return.
Puppets on a string

I am not a rock climber, however, I know enough about the art to know that that the way people were using their ropes was worse than useless. Loose coils of rope; the rope passed through karabiners but not tied on; everyone moving at the same time and no-one taking up a stance; ropes held in hands; seemed to be the norm. One falls and they all fall – getting away with nice rope burns if they are lucky. It made me wonder how many of them knew how to use the ice axes they were carrying on the glaciers – most of them walking like Quasimodo with a short axe in one hand and a walking pole in the other (nobody used a strap on their axes, so likely to lose them anyway if they should slip).

The Austrians and I had the summit to ourselves for a while until another couple of roped groups invaded. We scuttled back over the ridge as quick as we could – by the way, despite the exposure and the scrambling needed it is very nice grippy rock, so don't bother with a rope.
By time I got back to the glacier it was beginning to soften in the sunshine. It was possible to slide past the ‘Quasimodo’ impersonators down to where it levels off at about 3180m N42.63504 E0.65388. I decided to abandon the ascent route and use the alternative one marked on the map. There was a trace of others having used it. As I slid down the glacier I realised that about twenty people were following me – I began to worry that if I were wrong that I would be held responsible for them. It was a quick and efficient way to go, no rocky outcrops to deal with until a thousand metres lower at 2180m N42.66530 E0.65914 looking down at the glacial lake Ibon del Salterillo. As I was removing my crampons the people following me started to arrive – I was asked several times did I know where the camino went. When I replied I had no idea, they repeated the question in English and I replied by saying that I had understood what they were asking in Spanish, but my answer was the same.
Two Spanish women and myself set off at the same time and between us we found a way down to the glacial lake and then found and lost several times the path that traverses ..... At N42.66590 E0.65914 (2194m) we met a woman coming down a path from the refugio who assured us that the path going down to the Cascada d’Aiguallut was the best way rather than continuing to traverse.
This path is marked on the map as crossing the river above the cascades. 
As we approached Aiguallut we could see and hear the bells of a couple of hundred cows in the valley and across the water probably about one hundred tourists. When we reached the river we could see that the water was quite deep and that the cows were having to wade across. The two women chose to strip down to their underwear, wrap their ponchos around their rucksacks and swim across. I decided that considering the number of cows in the water it would not exactly be potable and with the woman, we met from the refugio, waded across. (Later when I hung my socks to dry on my ice axe back at the carpark they were literally covered with flies of all different sizes and types – there must have been something in the water to attract them). I gave the two women a wave and left them to be gawped at by 100 tourists.
Shortly after the cascades the river goes underground and the surface river bed is quite dry. Question – why doesn’t the path just cross lower down? Indeed, in the dark in the morning I recalled crossing the dry river bed lower down the valley, on the ascent route to the refugio. With water filled boots and wet trousers I made my way to La Besurta for a welcome ‘una canya’ (a small beer) and a full bus back to the carpark.

19.21km 2233m total ascent

Overnight at Vado carpark (1730m)

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