IntroductionOur three weeks in Spain were drawing to a close. We’d spent two weeks climbing and trekking in Mallorca celebrating the end of exams, and the last week in the Pyrenees marking our graduation. Objective after objective had been met: 2 routes on Sa Gubia, a traverse of the Serra de Tramuntana; then ascents of Aneto (3404m), Vallibierna (3056m) and Tuca de les Culebres (3051m) in the Pyrenees. Now we had a single day left before making our way back to down the valley and off to Barcelona.
This is a report of my ascent of Aguja Argarot from the Refugio de Coronas (1,990m) with my climbing partner Tom, which for us was an adventurous undertaking, and rewarded us with fantastic views of the Aneto massif from an uncommon vantage point.
So two days later, at half seven in the morning, I found myself on my third ascent of over a thousand meters in three days carrying a 9mm rope that weighed unreasonably heavy before breakfast. Tom and I set off for the Ibon de Llosars, after I refused to walk back up to Ibon Inferior again (to be fair it would have been the fourth time in just over a year). Sean sensibly decided to stay in bed.
It took us an hour or so to reach the Ibon de Llosars, a beautiful little lake nestled below an impressively blank and black cliff face. From here we had our first good views up towards the col, and even from our 400m lower vantage point we could see Tom’s coveted route looked far more committing than we’d planned for. I felt very dubious as to whether I wanted to even touch that rock. We decided to continue upwards anyway, following a rough line of cairns, but we soon ruled out the col as a viable objective. We scanned the ridge and quickly identified a W shaped line in the ridge that could provide us with a climb. I looked up wistfully at the Arista de Tempestades, which rose to the peak of the same name at 3,278m, but that would have to wait for another time.
As we continued up and into the boulder field below the three needles we discussed the virtues of all the possible lines and we whittled our options down the left hand V, which had a definite gully filled with loose scree and appeared to us quite doable. As we neared the base of this gully it became clear that the left hand ridge would give us the most chance of success. Unfortunately I’d left the map behind for Sean to use, so we didn’t know to what point we were climbing until the evening.
AscentThe gully was filled with loose scree but to the left the rock appeared to allow an easy scramble upwards. As we gained height the drop onto the small snow field and scree below added an exciting level of exposure to the climb, and the scrapping over loose rock had me carefully focused. 25 metres up the gully several large boulders had jammed forming a spacious cave but with a steep floor, blessedly providing cover from the ever powerful sun. Here we put on our harnesses and assessed the route ahead, before climbing up and outwards onto a generous ledge. Here I found an old sling wrapped around a large chock stone and while Tom kitted up for the first pitch I set up an anchor in the same place.
Tom made quick progress over the easy ground, placing the odd runner, and soon ran out the full length of the rope a few metres above the col between Ag. Argarot and Ag. Tchihatcheff. When I joined him at the belay a short time later I was pleased to find a cairn marking the col, and on closer inspection a gully on the west side, although hugged by snow, appeared to be a safer descent. Unfortunately, as we’d decided to go light we’d left one rucksack at the bottom, and so would have to down climb the same route to retrieve it.
We debated the route again, with the options being to either attempt a gully directly above us that would the ridge whilst being more technical or to scout out the western side for an easier line. Unwilling to commit to the direct gully, I belayed Tom around the col and onto the west flank before taking over the lead myself. The rock was loose and broken, but larger than it had been before and the angle wasn’t steep. Some of the larger blocks provided excellent opportunities for nut and hex placements, boosting my confidence and allowing me to get on with the climbing. I ran out about 35 metres of the rope before setting up a belay. Three lakes far below me sparkled in the sunshine and looking across the valley I used the summit of Aragüels as a benchmark, and realised for the first time that our desired summit might be above the 3000m mark.
DescentThe day was getting on and we still had the descent to do. We knew this would be more challenging as it required down climbing to the col, and then back to the cave before we could abseil down onto the scree field below.
The descent to the col was straight forward and uncomplicated as we could place plenty of secure protection. Tom went first while still on a fixed belay, and placed the runners on the trickier moves has he went. I then followed down climbing and cleaning the route. It took around an hour to regain the col, some 65m below.
The next pitch to the cave 50m below proved more difficult due to the poor quality of rock, and Tom once again set off first to place the runners. Finding the best route down was an interesting experience, and required a traverse that committed us each in turn to the climb. This was the pitch were we couldn’t afford to go wrong. Careful climbing however saw us both safely down to the cave. From here we abseiled down the last 25m, and began the 1000m descent back to the refuge.
ReflectionOn reaching the hut I was pleased to discover that we had in fact climbed a 3000m peak, which was important to me as it was my 20th peak over that height in the past two years.
Overall I felt that we’d handled ourselves very well. We’d been flexible about our objectives, had been open to all possibilities- importantly the possibility of turning back. We worked well together as a team; our climbs at Sa Gubia in Mallorca had helped to speed up our change over time between pitches and we both knew what jobs to do to keep busy and efficient. Pride and egos had also stayed out of the equation, as we’d both been happy to veto lines that we weren’t individually happy with.
The climbing itself had been easy on the whole, and even the last pitch of down climbing hadn’t felt over committing. We both learnt plenty, and it was satisfying to see what was within our reach. Vitally, we’ve learnt from the whole experience. Our alpine rack was sufficient, but it was a blow when we lost a nut to an unyielding crack. The rope as well should have been better- a compromise perhaps that even students shouldn’t pay. Overall, I was incredibly happy with the day and it made for an excellent finish to a brilliant three weeks.