Crossing the Aneto Glacier with Aneto in the distance

Climbing Aneto: A practical guide

At 3404m (11,168ft) Aneto is the highest mountain in the Pyrenees with Pico Posets 3371m and Monte Perdido 3355m being the second and third highest. Aneto is just over 6km south of the French / Spanish border and sits within the Posets – Maladeta Natural Park in the province of Aragon and in the Benasque Valley.

It’s first ascent was made on July 20th 1842 by a slightly contorted route due to the party losing their way and also wanting to avoid the glacier which sits on it’s Northern side. 4 days later Aneto’s second ascent was made via the Aneto Glacier which, although not without risk, was a much more natural route and has now become known as the ‘via normal’ – ‘Normal route’. Over 150 years since it’s first ascent, the Aneto Glacier is still the largest glacier in the Pyrenees however it is reducing in size annually and predictions sadly suggest it will have disappeared completely by 2050.

The Aneto Glacier with Aneto in the distance

The Aneto Glacier with Aneto in the distance

Benasque – hiking base

Benasque village also known as the Chamonix of the Pyrenees is in the heart of the Posets – Maladeta Natural Park  and an ideal place to use as a base. It is 1138m above sea level and the last village before hiking trails to Aneto begin. There are also many other day hike options from here if you are wishing to acclimatise a little or to stay for longer than the time needed to climb Aneto. Hotel Ciria is a  good hiker’s hotel but there are many other accommodation options in the village too.  Within the village there are several excellent outdoor shops. There are also many great restaurants, cafe’s and a few supermarkets here, some of which open on Sunday mornings.

Getting there

The easiest way to reach Benasque is to hire a car but if using using public transport, the next best option is by bus (there are no buses on Sundays).

From Barcelona  – change in Barbastro. There are about 6 buses from Barcelona to Barbastro and 1 or 2 buses a day from Barbastro to Benasque.

From Zaragoza – change in Huesca. Buses from Zaragoza to Huesca are regular but again, there are only 1 or 2 from Huesca to Barbastro.

From Madrid – Take the train to Zaragoza (regular) and then take the suggested bus route above.

All buses you’ll need are run by Alosa.

Bus service – www.alosa.avanzabus.com
Train service – www.renfe.com

High on the slopes of Aneto, crampons and axe in use

High on the slopes of Aneto, crampons and axe in use

Experience needed

Navigation and route finding – You will be on high mountain paths which are not always obvious, the path from Refugio Renclusa is particularly vague for a few hours.

Crampons and ice axe – You will at some point be hiking on snow how much depends on when you go but snow equipment is essential; even at the height of summer the snow is likely to freeze over night and be rock hard first thing in the morning. You will need to have basic experience on how to use both crampons and a walking axe to keep you safe.

Glaciated travel – to reach the summit of Aneto you will be crossing the Aneto Glacier. The glacier is relatively simple to cross and a rope is unlikely to be needed however you must appreciate the situation you are in and understand it is not with out risk.

Rock scrambling – the final few meters to the summit traverse along the famous ‘Paso de Mahoma’. Although not long, you’ll want to feel comfortable without a rope on grade 2 (UK rock scrambling grade) ground and a head for heights would be advisable.

The famous 'El Paso de Mahomo' rock scramble a few meters from the summit of Aneto

The famous ‘El Paso de Mahomo’ rock scramble a few meters from the summit of Aneto

When to go

Although it is possible to summit Aneto at any time of year, mid June to the end of August is by far the best time to attempt this peak. Earlier than mid June and there is a lot of snow making parts of the route, awkward, more dangerous and an extremely long outing. Towards the end of August a lot of snow from the previous winter will have melted this means there is a lot of exposed and awkward loose rock to cross making the journey arduous and memorable for the wrong reasons!

The route – Via Normal

As mentioned earlier, the normal route ‘Via Normal’ is the most popular and is the route described below. Although potentially possible in 1 day (by the very fit), it is normally done in 2 with a night spent in Refugio Renclusa before summiting Aneto and walking all the way down and out of the valley the following day.

Benasque to Refugio Renclusa

Every summer (29th June – 11th September for 2018) there is a bus service from Benasque via Vado Hospital to Besurta (the closest you can get to Refugio Renclusa by road). Outside of these dates you can drive to Besurta but bear in mind when the best time of year to climb Aneto is.

Most people drive from Benasque up to Vado Hospital (20 minutes), park at Vado Hospital (due to the road being closed after this point in summer) and catch the shuttle bus to Besurta.

Vado Hospital – Besurta – 5:00, 5:30 and every 35 minutes between 8:00 and 20:30

Besurta – Vado Hospital – 5:15, 6:00 and every 35 minutes between 8:00 and 21:00

If you don’t have your own transport there is a bus service from Benasque via Vado Hospital to Besurta.

Benasque to Besurta – 4:30, 7:30, 9:00, 11:00, 14:30 and 18:00

Besurta to Benasque – 6:00, 10:00, 13:30, 17:00, 19:00 and 21:00

Again, if you don’t have your own transport below are some Benasque based taxi numbers to get you around Benasque and also up to Vado Hospital if you preferred that to the bus.

Taxi Benasque Cerler – 655 65 06 77
Taxi Benasque MG – 699 01 75 29
Taxi Benasque Cerler – 974 55 35 45

Once at Besurta  the route to Refugio Renclusa follows the GR11.5 and is signposted. It’s about a 50 minute walk uphill to the refuge.

If you wanted to make your walk into Refugio Renclusa longer, there are many options. Tuca de Salvaguardia 2738m on the French / Spanish border is a really good peak with spectacular views or the 5km walk from Vado Hospital along the GR11.5 to Besurta is easy and pretty too.

Refugio Renclusa – 2140m

www.alberguesyrefugiosdearagon.com

Although Renclusa has 92 bed spaces it is a popular Refuge and booking as far in advance as possible is recommended, particularly during August and on weekends. The easiest way to book is online here however, if the refuge is almost full on the nights you wish to book, booking is only possible via telephone.

Tel: 974 344 646
Email: refugiorenclusa@hotmail.com

You’ll be able to buy a simple 3 course dinner and the beds are in dormitories but are very comfortable with individual beds. Blankets and a pillow  are provided but you will need to take a sleeping bag liner with you which is customary in mountain refuges.

Evening meal is at 19:00 (they may do a double sitting if busy).
Breakfast is at 5:00

You will find their pricing structure online but for a non federation member prices (as of 2018) are;

Over night – 17 euros
Evening meal – 16.20 euros
Breakfast – 6.30 euros

(you’ll need to settle your bill in the evening and not at 5 in the morning)

Refugio Renclusa to Aneto and back

The description below is not detailed as it is an aid only and the ability to read and interpret a  map are essential.

Distance – 13km
Ascent / descent – 1390m
Time – 10 – 12 hours

Aneto is not visible from Renclusa and the path leading from Renclusa to Aneto is not obvious either, it is strongly recommended that you walk at least 30minutes of the path from Renclusa the day / evening before in daylight as you will be setting off in the dark the following morning when things are even less obvious. In the morning, most people set off as soon as possible after breakfast – roughly 5:30. Eager people also set off before breakfast to avoid being held up in some of the more technical sections of the route – roughly 4:30.

Ascending through rocky terrain the path is marked by some red painted spots and many small cairns as you make your way to the Portillon Superior (2.5km and roughly 2hours from Renclusa). The Portillon Superior is not visible from the refuge and is not overly obvious once nearer either; it is a small notch in the rocky Crencha de los Portillones at 2898m. Depending on the time of year (roughly up until mid July) you will need to use your crampons and walking axe to reach this point. There is a short scramble down from the Portillon and from here, the route ahead is much more obvious as is Aneto itself.

The route on the Editorial Alpina map (image copy right Editorial Alpina).

The route on the Editorial Alpina map (image copy right Editorial Alpina).

The next 4km crosses rocky terrain and the Aneto Glacier before the route rises more steeply up the  northern flank of Aneto itself. With only about 30 meters to go and very little ascent you will reach the famous ‘Paso de Mahomo’. From here, the summit cross of Aneto is also visible.

The Paso de Mahomo acquired it’s name from a Muslim legend that describes the entrance to paradise to be as narrow as the blade of a scimitar which only the righteous can pass. It is a short rock ridge scramble on solid granite with good hand holds and foot placements. When busy people can find themselves waiting quite sometime for their ‘turn’ along this section and this is why some groups start before breakfast. It is not easy to pass people on the ridge so make sure people aren’t coming towards you as you begin your traverse. With a clear run the final 30 meters will only take you about 5 minutes and then you are on the summit!

Phil and Hannah - Hike Pyrenees guides on the summit of Aneto

Phil and Hannah – Hike Pyrenees guides on the summit of Aneto

To descend, first you’ll need to reverse the Paso de Mahoma. After this you can either return the same way back to Renclusa and continue down to Besurta or you can retrace your route for 1km from the summit to Collado de Corones and then take a path heading north, down over the Aneto Glacier to Ibon del Salterillo and beyond to Farau d’Aiguallut and Besurta. This second descent option is highly recommended as it makes the route circular and will be on snow for longer which is nicer, it also goes through some pretty meadows.

Equipment

Along with your normal hiking equipment for a day hike below is a small list of ‘extras’ you’ll need.

Map – Valle de Benasque, Mapa Excursionsita 1:30.000, published by Editorial Alpina. You can buy this map from Editorial Alpina or from Amazon UK.

Sleeping bag liner – Mountain refugios provide bedding however they expect you to have a liner – a silk one is best as it is lighter than a cotton one.

Head torch – you’ll need this in the refuge as the lights are automatically switched off at about 10pm. You’ll also need it first thing in the morning whilst hiking before sunrise.

Warm jacket – even in the height of summer it can be cold before sunrise and also on the summit, a down or synthetic jacket is a good idea.

Gloves – along with a warm hat you will need gloves even if it isn’t very cold as it’s advised you should wear gloves when walking with an axe. If cold, thicker gloves will be essential.

Axe and crampons – a walking axe is essential along with walking crampons and boots stiff enough to take a crampon. Even in the height of summer, the snow can be very hard first thing in the morning and later on the route up is quite steep and a slip and slide could have nasty consequences.

Useful links

www.aemet.es  - a good Spanish forecast website – search for Benasque in the drop down menu.

www.mountain-forecast.com - you can find the forecast for Aneto itself here.

www.snow-forecast.com - Benasque has a ski resort called Cerler, search for Cerler in the drop down menu.

www.alberguesyrefugiosdearagon.com - Information on all refgios in Aragon. Renclusa is under ‘L’ for ‘La Renclusa.

www.alberguesyrefugiosdearagon.com/webcam - Refugio Renclusa’s webcam.

www.hostalparquenatural.com - Bus time table from Benasque to Besurta and the shuttle bus from Vado Hospital to Besurta.

 https://benasque.com/en – Beasque tourist information

 

 

 

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