June 2001 - Our base at the Ordesa National Park
Ken, Colin and I made our visit to the Ordesa National Park in June 2001 and although I had driven through the valley of the Rio Aro way back in 1974 during a tour from Valencia to Vielha for a weekend's solo mountaineering , it was our first trip to the Pyrenees together. After picking the brains of our good friends Andy & Trevor who had visited the area many times, we decided to base ourselves in Torla, a small village of less than 400 people located on the south western perimeter of the National Park. Being a very remote rural area, we were not suprised to see cattle wandering through the town.
We found the Refugio Lucien Briet in the centre of the pueblo and quickly settled into our dormitory. Across the cobbled street from the sleeping accomodation was the refugio's restaurant. We were more than ready for our first meal there after our flight from Liverpool and the 150 odd mile drive from Barcelona's El Prat to Torla. The food was excellent and plentiful so the carbo-hydrates were well stocked up for our first day's walk.
Our first day in the park
Unfortunately, the weather on our first day was very wet, so we decided to take a tour around the Ordesa Gorge to size up the area. We followed a trail called the Faja de Pelay through pine woods that followed the southern side of the Gorge towards the head of the valley at the Circo de Soaso. This tour gave us an excellent appreciation of the impressive Gorge and some of the fine mountain features like the Tozal del Mallo on the opposite side of the valley.
We were also to understand our route from the Information Centre car park to the Goriz Refugio where we intended to stop over night before our attempt at Monto Perdido.
A walk down the Gorge
Our second day dawned bright and clear and we drove up to the Information Centre car park.
This is not possible during the high season and you have to park up in Torla and take a bus up to the park.
The route that we had seen the day before was quite clear and although the signage throughout the park was excellent it was not needed for us, we just had to hoof it along the valley for about 7 kilometres until we reached the Circo de Soaso and a river bridge at the impressive Cascada Cola de Caballo (horses tail).
Once over the river there were two choices, a long curving trail or a short climb up a wall assisted by "clavijas"
Always keen to minimise the length of the approach route, we choose the clavijas (Spanish equivalent of Via Ferrata), which comprised stainless steel rods set in the rock and sometimes linked with stainless steel chains on tricky traverses. Moving over these was reasonably easy but it provided us with an interesting break from just using our legs.
The Goriz refugio
Once above the clavijas we just had to follow the well marked, steadily climbing trail in a northerly direction. Marmots provided us with light entertainment on the way and we took in the breathtaking view of the gorge during a rest break. This is reputed to be the biggest in Europe (our equivalent of the Grand Canyon).
Before too long we saw the roof of the refugio which gradually drew nearer, rather slowly as our legs were running out of puff by this time.
We hadn't booked ahead and were prepared to bivvy if necessary but the guardians welcomed us and gave us places for 2 nights. The food as usual was excellent and plentiful and the guardians very friendly except when we noticed that one guest rather peremptorily appeared to order something and was advised by one of the guardians in no uncertain terms "this isn't a hotel you know!". We did raise a smile at the rather rude guest's embarrasment. The concept of "treat others how you would wish to be treated yourself" is a good rule in many walks of life.
Our first attempt at Monte Perdido 3355 metres
Although we had embibed probably a little too much wine with our evening meal, we did manage to get away early the next day and we moved reasonably easily over the fresh snow (probably precipitated from the heavy rain 2 days earlier).
The snow was well frozen at that early hour and the first part of the ascent was in shade. The route was simple and just required us to move straight up snowfields from the refugio.
Our first real sight of new ground was when we saw the destinctive shape of "El Cylindro" above us to our left. Our friend Andy had told us that there was a reasonable route up Cylindro but it looked pretty severe to us. Anyway that wasn't our objective for the day.
We saw what appeared to be a col between Cylindro and Monte Perdido but this in fact was just a bowl with a frozen lake (Lago Helado) inside it. Once we arrived there we saw the impresive snow ramp to the right side of the lago leading up to the snow cone summit of Monte Perdido. Colin led off up a snowy ridge before traversing to the obvious steep gulley over to his left. Information from Pablo (summitpost user id=30297) recently provide the name of this impressive feature, La Escupidera. I believe the English translation is "spitoon" if that is correct I can appreciate the Spanish humour, as being spat out of there would be extremely serious (see Pablo's account of Perdido). It was at the crossing point that out attempt came to a halt, the snow was very steep and icy and we were only equipped with our telescopic poles and one ice axe between the three of us. We all had crampons but without an axe each the crossing and ascent of the iced snow would have been too risky, so we agreed to retreat.
Our second attempt - May 2002
We agreed that we must go back to Perdido and indeed we did 12 months later. Unfortunately the three musketeers were depleted, Colin couldn't come with us and was sorely missed by Ken and I.
We repeated our previous year's journey but took it more sensibly when tasting the Vino tinto at the Goriz refugio. The weather was great, we knew the way and we soon arrived at our high point of the previous year (on top of the snow ridge framing La Escupidera's right hand side.
Having our axes with us, we were able to move over the steeply sloping approach to the couloir with confidence and climb the 45-50 degree frozen snow/ice of the Escupidera until we reached the summit snow cone. 100 metres of steady plodding brought us to the top and one of the most amazing views we had ever seen.
We both thought about how Colin would have loved to have been up there with us, but he was enjoying himself swinging on Via Ferratas in the Dolomites.
An exquisite area of natural beauty with aromatic pine forests, roaring rivers, springtime flowers and sunny meadows echoing to the shrieks of marmots and the occasional piercing call of an eagle. These pleasures are then multiplied by the crisp cool air of the high mountains as you ascend above the valleys to the land of snow and rock where stunning vistas are revealed in every direction.
The hospitality of the local people is wonderful and their patience in trying to decipher our garbled spanish very commendable. If you haven't been - GO THERE!!
Maps: Editorial Alpina - 1:40,000 Ordesa & Monte Perdido
Guide: Kev Reynolds - Walks & Climbs in the Pyrenees - Cicerone Press
Lodging: Refugios in Torla, Goriz refugio (alt. 2200m.) plus others.
Photos: Original Kodak 100ASA negatives scanned via VEHO scanner in
High Quality resolutions to jpeg files of about 2.5megs.
(plus one digital foto by Ken)