IntroductionThis aim of this page is to describe the complex way to reach the peak of Sestrales, from the South, and impressive peak looking like a promontory surrounded by cliffs, overlooking the Canyon of Añisclo and the more modest valley (but still impressive) of Bestué.
I am going to describe this route in the form of a story. Some might say this is rather a trip report, but considering the "spannish maps issue" (something common here, but quite important for the Sestrales), my feeling is that this route description is more useful as a story.
I wrote it in 2002 after it, and it was published in the "Revue Pyreneenne". This english version is a bit more summarized but keeps the essential.
Getting ThereDuring the end-of-October bank holiday, I took the Friday off so I could spend 4 days in the Spannish Pyrenees. During these days, I climbed the Cotiella and the neighbouring Punta Llerga and Tozal de Pegueras.
The Sestrales was the first of this serie of 4, a friend and me headed to Spain via the "tunnel de Bielsa, escaping the french clouds, not knowing too much what to expect on the sunny side of the Pyrenees.
As we drove down, clouds vanished, as expected, since the stream was North and the Pyrenees for a hermetic, often reliable, natural weather-barrier.
Suddenly, as the sun was entierely shining for the first time, apparead the formidable jagged shape of the Sestrales on the right side. We hadn't thouht of him, but in the same moment we thought the same thing. It will be him ! We turned at Escalona.
I had to give the Sestrales a visit, since 2 years before, my father and a friend (who also hike a lot, but whose orientation is sometimes random), failed to reach it, got lost in the fog and then the forest, walked down the wrong mountainside, before landing in some remote village where the only inhabitant, and extremely old woman, had to call a taxi for them to get back to their car, completely wet...
Let's mention that the Sestrales, for those who don't know what it is about, is all made of horizontal limestone stratifications, like the nearby Peña Montañesa and the Castillo Mayor, and belong to a landscape similar to the best cartoons of Lucky-Luke. The region south from Monte Perdido does not allow any single orientation mistake !
Since we came from France, and this made the drive shorter, we decided to start from Bestué, much closer by car than the usual starting point of San Urbez in Añisclo, and this despite the long return it would involve on a trak north of the valley to get back to Bestué.
That's the way we started to ascent, curiously beginning with a 200m descent, in order to cross the Rio Airés, along the marked trail "GR15". Soon followed the way up, first taking us back to the same level than Bestué, then higher. Some secondary trails divide at this level, but at this stage the direction to the Sestrales is still quite obvious. We reached this way the western hillside of this "moutain", or "cliff", call it as you want. The GR15 keeps going for some minutes, we are not exactly on the south end of the mountain when, at one point, it is easy to miss, in a dense bush, a corrie that takes you to the upper level. Some easy scramble is requied on the colorful limestone screes of the Añisclo region.
Then you get to another horizontal path, almost completely similar to the one before, the GR15 we jsut left.
We realized we reached finally the south end of the Sestrales, when we recognized the rocky piton that forms the ending edge of the cliffs.
On a little clearing, very surprisingly, some cows were eating the grass. How the hell they got there !? This mystery was never cleared, even folowing a careful study of the map, in the evening on a beer.
Then, we kept going, now on the hillside of the Canyon de Añisclo, going north. We were starting to wonder if we hadn't passed some important strategic point, when the trail was interrupted by a large corrie of screes. This couloir was mentioned in the page of book that described the itinerary from San Urbez. We started walking up this endless and uncomfortable pile of unstable stones, with the feeling to move only one step the time of two.
Añisclo on our left, and the snowy Cotiella far on our right. More South, the Peña Montañesa was fighting with clouds, under its most beautiful angle.
The end of the way was as follows: returning on the east side of the Sestrales, the trail followed some 200 meters on a very narrow and vertiginous balcony, similar to Ordesa's the Faja de las Flores. Some friends of mine who also attempted the Sestrales in the next spring had to resign at this point, because of the remains of snow in this very location... so close to the success.
This trails ends on a small messy corrie of rocks and dead dry pines, that leads to the summit plateau. Near these "stairs", if you pay attention, you'll notice a small natural arch, perfectly sqare-shaped. You can admire on a better angle, when, once the plateau reached, you walk down near the edge of the abyss.
The contrast between the immense grassy meadow of the Sestrales and the route we followed so far is breath-taking. Going west, you overlook the canyon of Añisclo on its highest point.
The Sestrales has two "tops", if we can call them so, as they are just bumps on the grass, Sestrales Bajo, Sestrales Alto (Low and High Sestrales).
In this area, we met some dead cows. Sestrales is in fact a terrible trap for them. If they venture in this zone when bad weather suddenly flows dowm from Monte Perdido and the rest of the main range, as all the south is surrounded by cliffs, there is no escape.
The return is easily made (but not shortly), reaching the north side of the Sestrales (Col de plana canal), where it fusions to the rest of the range and starts a track for land rovers, that takes you back to Bestué. On the way, you get superb views to the Castillo Mayor.
We made all the walk with each of us 3 different maps, I had the Rando Editions n°23, while my friend had the small green map of the old spannish Alpina series (the worse), as well as new Alpina 3000 « Ordesa y Monte Perdido » at 1/25000. Obviously, there are some illogisms, from which all the difficulties to reach the Sestrales result from.
We came to the conclusion that the trouble comes from what designates the "Sestrales Bajo" (small Sestrales). For the Rando Editions, it is the lower top of the plateau, the little sharp end, south of the Sestrales being named "Peña del Reloj".
For the spannish maps, on one of, it is this very top whose name is "Sestrales Bajo". For the other, it is called « El Fraile ».
Some trails descriptions locate the final pass between the "2 Sestrales", some otherd between Peña del Reloj and Sestrales Bajo. Hence, in some way both Alpina and Rando-Editions are right. But on the old map is a terrible mistake, the way being drawn straight over the abyss !
Sestrales hasn't revealed all its secrets yet, there are probably several ways between each of the levels of this mountain... The cows we met perhaps know some of these tricks...
External LinksPhilippe's trip report (english google translation, french here)
Jean-Marc's trip report (english google translation, french here)