Saturday, 10 August 2013

Escaping Andorra's shopping shame

Pica d'Estats from Pic de Comapedrosa

Pic de Comapedrosa,  a mere Minor with a P430 and consequently not in the JMH book. So, why bother with it when there are so many Majors around? Well, it is 2939m high, so not a tiddler. It does involve 15.6km of walking and 1565m total ascent on some rather rough ground and through snow – so it is not a walk in the park. However, the main reason I went for it is because Andorra is a separate country and hence provides a chance to add to my total of European country highest points.

Andorra is a pretty place, like the rest of the Pyrenees. However, the low VAT rates have encouraged a lot of retail development in the main valley and it is horrible to look at. Imagine, say, Glen Garry or Glen Affric filled with a continuous and ugly shopping mall for many kilometres.
Comapedrosa is, thankfully, away from the worst of this development – you can get to it from across the Spanish border. However, I chose to get there from the Andorran resort of Arinsal.
At the top of the town the road ends by going through two tunnels. The start point (1548m) at N42.57946 E1.47827 is between these two tunnels – turn right immediately after leaving the first tunnel and there is space at the end of the road for a dozen vehicles and quiet enough to sleep in a motorhome.

The trail is the GR11 and is, therefore, well marked and obvious. After a while of easy gentle walking there is a wood bridge and then a rope bridge (1777m) at N42.58316 E.1.46453 where the path becomes rougher and steeper through the trees. Unusually, the Refugi de Comapedrosa, is not on the trail – you have to leave it if you want to visit. Below the refugi there is a junction (2198m) N42.58007 E1.44859 – I have read several trip reports that indicate the authors have clearly missed this junction and carried straight on, instead of turning right and slightly down into the grassy cwm of Comapedrosa and joining a stream.
The coma of Comapedrosa
Basses d’Estany Negre - that's the couple who slipped when they got to the steeper section
The path then makes a sharp right (2499m) N42.58199 E1.43248 and continues to rise to an estany (I assume that this has a common origin with the English Lake District ‘tarn’) the Basses d’Estany Negre (2574m) N42.58367 E1.43562 where there was still a lot of late snow. Thankfully, crampons were not necessary – although there was a couple descending the snow who both slipped over and slid at the same place. I crossed the snow to the larger Estany Negre (2611m) N42.58683 E1.43676, which was blue and half ice covered.
Estany's chilled

I followed the GR11 for a bit further and then turned right to cross a difficult steep slope of boulders, stones and scree to the summit.

The summit is marked by a metal post and I had it to myself – with grand views all round.

Shopping mall below
For the descent I walked along the ridge for a while and then dropped down equally difficult ground to the head of a snow covered slope above Estany Negre which was, just about, glissadable. I then used the ascent route as my descent route, in the twilight.

Overnight at Arinsal (1548m)

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