|Page Type:||Trip Report|
|Lat/Lon:||42.56277°N / 0.55325°E|
|Date Climbed/Hiked:||Jun 9, 2014|
A lot of water has surged under the bridges since our first visit to Benasque in 2005 including that from the tragically melting Aneto glacier and although Ken and I had been back there in the intervening years, 2014 did feel a bit special.
By way of a change, Ken travelled down from home in Liverpool to my Essex abode for an overnight stay before we flew out on June the 9th from Southend on Sea to Barcelona.
A taxi from door to door made for a relaxing start to our trip, Ken had been suffering somewhat before we went and had been for a short stay in hospital so we planned a gentle introduction to the hills.
Pico de Sacrotz –2676m.
At the road head, newish signage indicated the ‘estimated’times on the route up to a pedestrian crossing of the ridge above which the trail allows a passage into France and also to the nearby ibon of Gorgutes. We generally found that these times were somewhat ambitious.
This signposted trail was obviously a very well trodden route in the height of the season but amazingly although we saw one other car in the roadside layby, we didn’t encounter anyone else on the trail during the whole ascent or decent of this the first target for our holiday in the beautiful national park. After we crossed a small stream, the trail began to rise steeply through dense pine woods and as we plodded along we were gifted with most pleasant views across the Plan d’Estan through the occasional breaks in the tree cover.
After crossing the stream we soon arrived at the snowline. The old snow was quite firm and so we started to enjoy kicking steps across it as we made our way towards the Ibon. Although the air temperature was quite cool, the Ibon was not completely frozen over and it almost looked inviting enough for a dip if it were not for the icy surroundings and of course the rules of the National Park that prohibit bathing in its rivers and lakes. We decided to take a few minutes rest stop there beside the Ibon to enjoy the panorama of those familiar views of the Maladeta across the valley and the various other surrounding mountains that we had climbed on previous visits during the ten year period since our first visit to the area.
Moving on past the Ibon, we soon sighted the summit ridge above and headed towards it.
As we neared the Puerto, we discovered a small one person bivvy constructed just above the descent route into France.
I guess two people could have crammed themselves inside the bivvy in a dire emergency if they were friendly enough.
Above the bivvy we noticed that the slope had avalanched and it seemed that the resulting debris had crossed the area of our intended ascent,so we took care to be alert for any signs of a repeat fall of rock and ice.
Stunning views of the Maladeta, the twin peaks of Forcanada and the nearby tops of Salvaguardia and Pico de la Mina stirred memories of our previous visits.
Before too long we had reached the summit and typically we were still alone with no other mountaineers in sight.
The air was cool, crisp and ideally suited for viewing the surroundings.
We had arrived at 13:30 after our unhurried and almost leisurely ascent which took four and a half hours from the roadhead.
Before too long we were back at the Ibon where we paused for a short while and took the mandatory team photo.
We thought that the Ibon area would have made for a brilliant wild camping spot but reluctantly we left there and were back at the car by 16:30. A reasonable days outing and not too strenuous to start the week.
True to our normal expedition style, the next day we agreed to take an easier ascent and after scratching our heads to find one that we hadn’t done before, we decided to tackle the Pico de Cerler, an almost perfect pyramid rising above the pistes of the Cerler ski resort.
Being outside the ski season, the road up from Benasque was deserted apart from a tarmac gang putting a new surface on the road. We arrived at the deserted resort car park at 10:23.
We did actually see another car in the parking area at one point but we were again amazed at how few people were in the area. If it were our normal stamping grounds in the UK it would have been swarming with all flavours of outdoor types.
Passing the ski lodge and its associated buildings we crossed over a vehicle bridge and headed up to one of the lower ends of a ski tow.
Above us we could just make out the top of Pico de Cerler so navigation was not a problem. We just had to avoid bushwacking through the junipers that seemed to completely cover the lower slopes at the side of the tow cable route.
Following Ken I found the climb very pleasant and without any difficulties apart from having to make our own trail. We didn't completely follow the direction of the piste route as we wanted to move north towards the peak so there was a lot of vegetation that otherwise would have been flattened by the resort's machines.
The day’s temperature was a pleasant 12 degrees C, ideal for a steady climb and we crossed the shattered scree slopes easily before arriving on the top at 12:19. After consuming our refreshments we decided to head down along the well defined ridge towards the top of the ski tow below. It was quite an easy descent along the ridge and we spotted a lizard amongst the scree.
Later, descending back to the ski station we had time to admire the local flowers and animals.
Back down in Benasque we were able to view the Pico from below and it still looked quite impressive as you can see.
The evening weather proved to be a bit stormy so we stayed in the refugio with a sumptuous salad for our dinner whilst searching the TV channels for future weather forecasts.
Having seen a rather nice ridge to the south of the ski station the day before, we decided to return the next day and have a look at it. According to the weather forecast, in common with every other day we were there, there would be ‘tormentas’ in the area, but so far these had been minimal and not occurring whilst we were on the hills. Today would change all that but more about this later.After a leisurely start following our usual breakfast of café con leche and bocadillo tortilla in the café opposite the Hotel Ciria in Benasque, we drove up the hill through the small town of Cerler again past the tarmac gang and arrived at the ski station at 10:49.
The resort car park was totally deserted again as we parked our car under a solitary tree for shade. We crossed between the locked buildings of the resort and headed up the 4x4 track towards the upper ski station.
It was quite a steep pull from the 1910 m level up to the ski station at 2240 m but we arrived shortly after 11:30 and got a brew going. A marmot under the building kept us entertained with his burrowing attempts.
He did look out a couple of times but soon ducked under at the sight of us.
A steady pull up the hill brought us to the summit of Gallinero at 2685m (according to my Suunto watch) at 13:45.
The 53 m difference to the actual height was accounted for by a change in the weather and obviously the barometric pressure.
From the rocky top of the hill, we could survey the distant Maladeta and over to the west the impressive peaks of Posets and Perdiguero.
Right about then we noticed a definite thickening of the clouds and a cooling in temperature, so our possible plan to traverse the ridge to the east was abandoned and we decided to lose height as soon as possible.
Soon enough though the rain eased off and we had returned to the car, got changed and had headed down to Benasque for a beer by 16:45. As heavy rain was falling again outside the bar we had no choice but to stay in there for a couple more cańas.
We didn’t visit the Biados this year either but we got closer than ever before. We decided to go up the Estos valley to the refugio there and then head onwards towards the Puerto Gistain beyond that point, the trail gives access to the Biados refugio about 5km further on than the puerto.
Leaving the refugio at Camping Aneto just after 9:00 am we crossed the old Puente and entered the Ball de Estos, following the surging river to a vehicle bridge provided for farmers and park wardens. This was familiar ground for us as we had been there quite a few times before.
We noticed that the footbridges at Batisielles had been much improved but apart from that, the trail was much as we remembered it from our previous visits.
We had no reason to hurry and took our rest stops at regular intervals.
The trail is designated as part of the GR 11 and as such has a number of unattended and guardian attended refugios along the section through the national park. We had passed one of these, the cabin of Santa Ana before the 2nd river crossing where we had taken a short break. Further on we stopped outside the private Cabańa del Turmo for a short rest and a rehydrate. As on previous days, the forecast of‘ tormentas’ had luckily proved inaccurate and we were sweltering in the late morning sun as we admired the mountain scenery.
After losing a considerable amount of perspiration, we crested the steep slope of the trail to see not far ahead the welcome sight of the Estos refugio.
Arriving at the refugio at 12:15, we wondered if our old acquaintance Nando was still the guardian but that was not the case. As I entered the cabin after removing my boots, I discovered a lady guardian in charge. “Como va” I said in greeting and she replied with what I took to be a sardonic response of “estamos aqui”. Seeing only her I wondered about the plural but soon spotted a large woolly haired dog asleep behind the counter.
I enquired about Nando who she obviously knew and she told me that he had left the organisation and possibly the area also. A shame I thought as we had enjoyed a lot of amusing repartee with him on previous visits. I ordered a couple of cafés and took them outside to Ken along with the latest gossip.
We sat on the veranda supping our coffees and munching on our sarnies that we’d prepared earlier at the refugio Aneto whilst also chewing the fat about the previous times we’d been there together and with our other companions.
It was a very pleasant rest spot, surrounded by stunning mountain views with clean crisp air and clear, sunny skies overhead but we had to eventually get up and go.We knew the first part of the trail beyond the refugio as we had used it on our previous ascent of Posets. Not that this was necessary really as the way further up the valley was obvious and marked with signs at intervals.
Suitably refreshed, Ken set off at a cracking pace and Johnnie was wallowing behind a bit. Obviously our first few days exercise had restored Ken to his usually vigorous self.
Before too long we were traversing new ground for us and we looked forward to seeing view into the next valley once we had reached the Puerto.
Another couple has left the refugio before us and were travelling in the same direction. We got occasional views of them as we passed clearings on the trail.
Up we started with a steady gait, well I did for sure.
Ken went a bit ahead of me after taking this picture and I returned the favour with a shot of him.
Looking back down the valley, we could see that the weather was closing in somewhat.
This crossing point is situated at a height of 2577 metres,only 99 metres short of our high point on day 1!
Following the rock spur actually led us to a point at 2595 metres (according to my Suunto) and we had to descend a short scree slope to reach the marked crossing pointThe marker post indicated the route following the tour of the refugios.
Views to the west were interesting but limited due towering clouds so we decided to set off back towards the Estos refugio.
It was more fun descending than going in the upward direction. The old snow was firm so there was no ‘postholing’ on the way down.
A marmot lookout spotted the two of us descending and soon started off whistling to warn any other marmots around there of potential danger.We whistled back but the cocky little creature was obviously unimpressed with our poor mimicry of its warning signals. Our trekking poles could have looked like hunting rifles.
I’m not sure if the erratic angle of the foto was due to the influence of alchohol or just plain tiredness.
However we soon felt refreshed enough to leave the refugio and head back towards Benasque and dinner. We got back to the refugio at 20:40, a long day out.
After the strenuous previous day, we decided on a rest day and a visit to Ainsa, an ancient fortified town some 61 kilometres from Benasque.
Returning to the car we were left with our own silent thoughts as we drove away from Bielsa.
In Ainsa, coach parties of youngsters were milling around so we quickly bypassed them and took a stroll into the old narrow, medieval streets.
Finding a small café/bar open, we ordered a couple of cańas and dos bocadillos de queso for our lunch.
This time Ken and I agreed to follow the route recommended in the Kev Reynolds guidebook which is to ascend the Ball de Barrancs, and passing below the Pic de Barrancs, locate an easier ascent line between the two mountains. This line is also marked on the Editorial Alpina map.
So setting off from our car parked in La Besurta below the Renclusa refugio at 8:30, we followed the trail towards the Forau des Aigualiuts.
The sky was sullen but free of the promised tormentas so we were able to enjoy the walk. The trail is well defined as hordes of tourists travel on it to see the Forau and we could just stroll along enjoying the morning without the need to use the map and compass.
Once past the Forau, the next stage was the crossing of Plan dels Aigualiuts, a rather boggy area with a number of streams. Essentially,here, the trail is divided by the bulk of the impressive pyramidical Pic dels Aigualiuts which rears up ahead.
The trail was fairly well marked with cairns and paint spots on boulders but it was confined between opposing wall anyway so these didn’t seem entirely necessary although we found out later that we should have paid more attention to them!
We soon lost the trail as it was covered with old snow but we continued on as we did have some remembrances of the previous time we had ascended in the same direction albeit then we were in virtual whiteout.
Once we were through, the narrow valley reached a much wider profile with a distinct dome over which we had crossed to see below another dome but unfortunately this one was convex and so we had to descend but from there we at least had a view of our objective.
It’s never a nice feeling loosing height when you know that straight afterwards you are going to have to gain it again, but girding our loins we headed down, trying to contour around the bowl as far as possible in order to minimise the loss of height.
After crossing the depression we weren’t exactly depressed but had to choose a line up the snow slopes that looked the least likely to avalanche on us as it was at a very steep incline. We picked a line on the left hand side of the main snowfield so that we would be partly crossing rocks as well as snow as this seemed a safer proposition. Even so we still had to cross some pretty steep white stuff.
Once we’d crossed the initial snow slope, a rocky ridge appeared and it became a occasional hands on experience as we scrambled upwards and before long we saw our final obstacle.
The summit ridge reared up again but we at least thought that we must be very near the top.
It was a lot of fun scrambling along the last few metres of rock. The friction was amazing and verglas totally absent. A suddeen urge to break into a yodel was suppressed but the smiles on our faces said it all.
Once below the northern end of the lake we had to cross back west to recapture the trail to the plan. Following what was apparently the trail (see earlier comment) we crossed a surging stream and descended a boggy hillside. Then we found ourselves boxed in by a dead end and couldn’t see a way to continue the trail down to the plan. We searched along the river bank for a suitable crossing place, climbing back up the hill the way we has descended. Ken spotted some large boulders that seemed to offer a potentially dry crossing over the raging torrent.
I was looking around for an alternative as my reach is not as extensive as Ken’s but when I looked back he was already across. Ah well I thought, nothing ventured…, so approaching the nearest boulder from the bank. I stuffed my poles away and leapt across the void, grasping a sharp flake on top of the water surrounded boulder. After a brief scrabble of the boots, I found purchase and a short hand traverse and a mantleshelf got me on board. From there it was a couple of short leaps to other boulders and I fetched up alongside Ken on the far bank. Ken didn’t look too happy then, but it was nothing I had said (apart from a few expletives on the crossing). What up mate?I said, “I’ve lost a pole” said Ken and he only had one left. Oh bugger I thought, we should have followed the paint spots back down the trail instead of trying to find a new route. Oh well at least we were over any difficulties and still bone dry with just about an hour walk back to the car park. We got back to the car at 19:15, another fairly long day.
We felt that we had done justice to our past performances andso decided to stick with another rest day. That thought didn’t last too long as we were getting itchy feet. Not too keen on another marathon, we thought that taking the trail from below the campsite to the top of the Collado d’Ixeia, a smallish hill (1714m.) that overlooks the town of Benasque. At a height gain ofonly 400m above the campsite, we could almost classify it as a rest day.
The path was fairly well trodden but quite overgrown at the sides with lush vegetation and box bushes. Apart from the steepness, our only problem was the flies, they buzzed around our heads incessantly all the way up the hill. At last we reached the top and a light breeze seemed to be a bit of a deterrent and the fly nuisance reduced.
Ken’s foto of the town of Benasque from the collado perfectly illustrates its compact nature.Almost like a Ying & Yang symbol the old townto the left is snuggled up to the new development area on the right hand side.
A final beer at the Camping Aneto refugio bar. As with our experience in previous years, the bar / restaurant had seasonal opening times so it was only towards the end of our stay that we found it open.
(probably a good job too!)