Pic du Midi d'Ossau
I know it sounds strange - European American. So, I am Czech, but I have also an american citizenship, and I lived in US for over 16 years. I am used to the american life now, american climbing grades, and mountain ranges. Pyrenees were a terra incognita, an unknown territory for me.
As usual I had a rushed and quick holiday, chose Spain because I found cheap airline tickets to Barcelona, and I never been there before. I had no time to prepare for this vacation working busy schedules in the clinic and hospital, fixing my old victorian house, and suddenly the time was here - time to board the plane.
Yes, I did look up some wonderful pages about Pyrenees on Summit Post, and exchanged a few e-mails with Erico
to inquire about the best places and ideas about accommodations. I did a buy a book about Pyrenees - Walks and Climbs in the Pyrenees by Kev Renolds
, and was planning to read it while in the plane (at the end I chose to watch movies and drink wine).
So, I knew this: Pyrenees are mountains reaching up to 3000 meters, stretching from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean sea. The range lies on the border of France and Spain (there is that tiny state of Andorra somewhere there), and I heard of Basque people and their language not fitting into any group of Indo-European languages.
I did look up some of our pyrenean contributors on SP: Rafa
, Diego Sahagun
, todo vertical
and was considering to contact them prior the trip, but then my introverted part of me decided there is no really a time, and the adventurous part of me decided to explore on my own.
Before the mountains
Sandinies Sallent de Gallego
We arrived to Barcelona on different flights from different parts of the world: me from US and my son from Prague; my brothers arrived 1 day later from Vienna. The plan was to meet with my son at the airport, but that did not happen. I found him eventually (after too much worrying) reading a book in our hotel near La Rambla
. I guess I should not worry anymore and let my son be a grown up man.
After 1.5 days in Barcelona I had enough. I am not a city person. Although it was nice to explore the old town, and see some of the modernista style
. We met with my brothers and drove south to check out Roman ruins at Tarragona
and swim in the Mediterranean (the beach and the swim there were lovely).
Finally, we reached the Pyrenees. I booked an apartment for 6 nights in a tiny village of Sandinies, population 54. I had no clue which part of Pyrenees we were even going to, but the village ended up being pretty close to Jaca (the bigger town), and a beautiful tourist town of Sallent de Gallego
. I loved it - very quiet place, with narrow streets, dogs running around, rooster waking up us in am and super friendly people. We drove that night for dinner to Sallent de Gallego, and I bough a map. Now I knew, we are in the Tena Pyrenees
, Aragon province, and many peaks are reachable from the refugio Respomuso
Refugio Respomuso Beautiful setting above the reservoir
I thought that the hike to the refugio would be a great introduction to the local range, and a test for my brothers. The book said: “The southern approach to the Respomuso refuge is a very attractive one for it leads through the lovely valley of Rio Aguas Limpias, at first among meadows and flowers, then through a gorge and along rough mountain slopes below outliners of the Balaitous massif. The river is a constant companion, but there are also several fine waterfalls that crush down to it.”
My brothers are not mountaineers. The oldest one is a wine maker, and the middle one is a priest, and both carry a few kilos more than needed. My son
took off and we found him sipping on pepsi and eating cheese bocadillo
inside the refuge.
The weather was great and after a short rest we decided to continue further on: me and the priest reached Collado Martin, and entered into France. The greeting switched from Hola to Bon Jour. I decided to ran up to Col de Cambales
alone where I met a large group of backpackers from Belgium. One of the girls lost her camera, which I found later and put in inside her backpack while she got lost searching for the lost item. I found out the rest of the story later on from another climber from Belgium. They had to issue a rescue party for this Belgian girl. As it happens you tend to run into the same people in the Pyrenees, e.g. I met a nice austrian man at the Col de Cambales, and ran into him again a few days later on Monte Perdido. I was considering to rup up Cambales
from the col, but our meeting time was 4 PM in the refuge, not enough time. My brothers decided to return back to Sallent de Gallego and sleep in the rented apartment, I somehow could not leave. I just got into Pyrenees. We stayed with my son at the refuge overnight, which was a great experience for me. So my brothers left planning to spend the following day in Lourdes
, and me and my son walked along Respomuso reservoir, watching hikers getting natural fish pedicure
, and enjoying lovely evening. The dinner at the refuge was at 8 PM, they made a vegetarian meal for me, and the staff at the refuge was very friendly. We had no reservations, but they had a few spots open.
Col de la Facha Summit with my son
The night was good, I think from 16 occupants of our room only about 5 were snoring. I thought I drank too much wine during the dinner - shared 2 bottles with a couple of Germans crossing the Pyrenean High Route
, but no headache. We left the refuge around 9 AM after a good breakfast and started our hike towards Grand Facha
. We saw so many marmots
along our way, ascended pretty fast to La Facha Col. We took a small break at Ibones de la Facha
from the col was interesting. I was told that it was facile, but I would give it class 4 rating - tons of exposure, short climbing sections, and amazing scenery. It was cloudy, but stable day. We enjoyed our day and spoke with many people from different european countries. Summit of Gran Fache came in fast. The altar
at the top had a picture of Jesus and a broken statuette of Virgin Mary of Lourdes. I was little sad about it, would love to replace it. I do believe it was replaced this weekend by the annual pilgrimage to this mountain in memory of those who perished in the mountain.
Our return home was uneventful, we had a great lunch back in the refuge, and a long hike down to Sallent. We still found time to soak our feet in a stream (I nearly sat on a slug during that process). Dinner in Sallent de Gallego was excellent and our brothers picked up us on their way home from Lourdes. We were all happy with our days - my oldest brother got to soak himself in healing waters on Lourdes, and I got to summit my first 3000 meter peak in the Pyrenees with my son.
My brothers on the summit of Garmo Negro Summit of Algas
My son was tired after 20+ km march from the previous day, he did not want to go up another mountain again, but my brothers were ready. I had to choose something easier - Garmo Negro
seemed like the one fitting into our plans. My little spanish guide rated it as F = facile (easy), and the ascent time: 4hrs. We drove a nice steep road towards Balneario de Panticosa
(on our way back there was a cycling race up this steep road). The trail was initially easy to follow with several people on it, and was marked with interesting signs posted on rocks
. Higher up we ran into a Spaniard who was asking us for directions for Garmo Negro. You can actually see
the peak most of the way, but since I did not know the area, I have not realized that. I showed him our map and we never saw him again. We found the gully which lead us to the slopes just below the main summit and finally we reached the col
between Garmo Negro and Argualas
. I felt strong that day and took off for the summit where I waited for my brothers. The summit offered amazing views of Picos del Infierno
- incredible looking peak with a white face
. My brothers finally reached the summit, they were so happy. It was a first mountain for the wine maker. I felt so energized and unwilling to descent, so decided to continue on the ridge towards Algas and Argualas by myself. It was an interesting scramble with some exposure, but I felt confident that day. The summit of Algas came in very fast. The summit was decorated with tibetan prayer flags. Algas towards Argualas started to give me some concerns, but I kept moving, had to catch up with my brothers. Finally, covered the ridge and descended back down towards to Argualas-Garmo negro col and caught up with my brothers just above Balneario. I was tired, we all were.
- my brothers and son wanted a change of scenery, so we drove onto exploring San Sebastian - lovely resort on the Atlantic, definitively a touristy place and worth visiting. We also stopped in Pamplona because the boys had to walk the route of the bulls. I guess running with bulls
is not really my thing, I wished to be back in the mountains.
Pena Foratata Foratata Occidental
We had a late start, so I chose a short hike close to us - Pena Foratata
, a very impressive looking vertical peaks, which we were admiring from Sallent de gallego. We found the start of the hike in Formigal
, pyrenean ski resort. The trail was intially an easy hike which turned out into an exposed ridge scramble. We met some spanish climbers
with helmets and rope, and I figured out later that it would have been a good idea to have rope with us. We all reached the top of Foratata occidental and no one showed any fear of exposure
. I was a littel bit concerned about my brothers and my son, we definitively had to employ some rock climbing moves
here. We descended Forata Occidental and I wanted to climb the main peak of Pena Foratata
, initially going up through a wide gully, but then it became very steep, and I saw several rappel slings
. We descended down, and I climbed solo the north face of the peak. It was not a very smart move from my side, very exposed, low to mid 5th class moves, loose handholds and the down climb gave me several times Elvis legs. I had to calm myself several times on the down climb. Why did I not remember that down climbing is more difficult?
Ordesa and Monte Perdido
Summit of Monte Perdido Cola de Caballo
I had no information about this area. My Valle de Tena map did not cover it. The book offered only a brief description, but I thought we will buy a map in Torla
, and the national park should have plenty of signs. The drive to Torla was relatively short and interesting since we got stuck in a traffic
! Sheep marching on the road.
We had to take a tourist bus from Torla to Ordesa arriving around 8:45 AM inside the park, everything was still closed, so no map. My goal was to hike up Monte Perdido
, while my brothers and son would explore the Ordesa canyon
. I followed directions towards Refugio Goriz
, and there was the sign
Refugio Goriz 5 hrs 30 min, also a sign for Senda de los Cazadores. I took this path and nearly died on the first km. It was steep! and I tried running it because I had a long way in front of me. I did not realized until reaching the refuge that I took a lot more difficult and longer approach. I had my suspicion when I was looking at Cola de Caballo = Horse tail waterfall and saw a nice path below in the canyon. Oh well, I kept going. I reached the refuge
in less than 3 hrs, got hot chocolate and bought a map. Now, I will make no mistakes. I have a map, I know where I am going.
The trail to Monte Perdido was easy to follow - frequent cairns and many many climbers
descending down. I took a guick look at Lago Helado
and ran up the large steep gully towards the summit. I think I did it in 2 hrs from the refuge. I was looking for the large cross at its top, but there was only a pedestal. I relaxed - I reached my goal. I drank, I age, I was enjoying the moment. The descent all the way to bus station seemed long, but I knew the short way down, and even had a time to soak my feet in Gradas de Soaso
. We met in Torla at 8:00 PM. Our last day in the Pyrenees.
Time to go home
We drove back towards Barcelona and stopped in the monastery of Montserrat
, and explored the pathways above it. I tried some bouldering
, and took photos of climbers. I wished so much to go climbing. The vacation was over and it was the time to return to my home mountains in Colorado. I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the Pyrenees, and I hope to come back one day. There is so much to explore...