Not only do I enjoy long and strenuous treks in the high mountains, I enjoy mountaineering in almost, if not all it’s forms, from bouldering, through to sport climbing, ski touring, alpine climbing, and climbing in the Greater Ranges. Enjoying all these disciplines generally mean a number of things, including:
a) the next trip is always planned
b) day’s off are spent doing more of what I love
c) new guidebooks to an area I frequent excite me
Here, in the Spanish Pyrenees, one of the trickiest things when it comes to climbing and mountaineering, is finding information for particular routes and areas, as the information (route diagrams, photos and descriptions) might be found hidden on a blog somewhere on-line, in a routes book in a local bar or cafe, in a guidebook, which may be out of print, or through word of mouth. It’s a very different story to back in the UK, where every mountaineering and climbing route can be found in up to date and by and large, easy to get hold of guidebooks, normally without fail.
I was therefore quite excited to see that Vertebrate Publishing had recently translated into English ‘Pyrénées, les plus belles courses’ by mountain guide François Laurens.
None of the routes mentioned in the guidebook are new, far from it, but up until now, much of the information for these 25 mountaineering routes, only really existed in French or Spanish, and whilst there will be plenty of you who are reasonably handy when it comes to understanding either of these two languages, mountaineering descriptions can often use very specific terms, for which the exact translations may prove crucial when actually trying to follow the exact line when out in the mountains, so an English guidebook is hugely welcome.
The 25 hand-picked routes, many of which are ridge traverses and rock climbs span much of the Pyrenees, although are largely concentrated to the higher, central Pyrenees (Aragon on the Spanish side, and the eastern end of the Pyrenees Atlantiques, Haute Pyrenees and Haute Garonne on the French side). The format for each route description will feel very familiar if you’ve used the more well known guidebooks, for the Alps, by the same publisher. For those that haven’t, fear not, this guidebook is very easy to use, unlike many of the older, monochrome (and out-of-date) guidebooks available for the area.
The descriptions start with the essential facts: starting points, difficulty, timings, best time of year, required gear and first ascensionist, followed by a brief history of the route, before giving a detailed description of the route, and just as importantly, the decent. Coloured photos and topos and maps are used throughout.
There’s no doubt, that this guidebook gives an inspiring selection of some of the classic mountaineering routes in the Pyrenees, however, I do have a couple of thoughts:
Firstly, the guidebook is quite francocentric, with only a fraction of the routes being easily accessible to those on the Spanish side, of which all bar one are in the central and eastern parts of the autonomous community of Aragon.
Secondly, the Pyrenees cover an enormous distance and area, and to have only selected 25 routes for such an extensive range seems like a slightly wasted opportunity to open up what are some of Europe’s most beautiful mountains to the rest of the world.