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A night on a three thousand metre summit

Last week, Juanma and I had an adventure in the Ordesa National Park and bivvied on the summit of the three thousand metre Punta de las Olas. It was by far the highest I’ve ever bivvied and I have to admit to a little nervousness about being that high up without a tent!

The following day we tackled the 3257m Pico Añisclo (also known as Soum de Ramond) before heading back down.

Our bivvy spot – a room with a view!

We started in the beautiful Valle de Pineta which is a stunning kilometre deep glacial canyon with near-vertical walls. The first half an hour was lovely, walking amongst the meadows and woods on the floor of the valley – then the hard work started as we had to climb up the side of the canyon.

Our ascent was via an infamous section of the GR11 known as one of the steepest sections of the whole 800km route. From the valley floor you climb nearly 1200 metres to the Collado de Añisclo which separates the two deep ravines of Añisclo and Pineta.

It’s a pretty special place as you look north into Pineta and south into Añisclo. To the west the massif of the Treserols towers above you and to the east El Zucon and the Tres Marias. I’d been wanting to hike here for ages and the views certainly didn’t disappoint.

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Above: Heading up the walls of the Pineta Valley. Below: Views from the Collado de Añisclo

From the Collado de Añisclo we headed along the Faja de las Olas – another infamous section of the GR11. It’s known as a very airy section of path with some chains and received so many complaints from GR11 hikers that the official route was re-routed to avoid it. Instead of contouring around the Faja, the GR11 proper now heads down into the Añisclo Canyon before climbing again which adds almost 800 metres of ascent and descent to your day. The Faja is still marked as the GR11.1 (an official variant) and as long as you’ve got a good head for heights and the route is free of snow this is definitely the route I’d choose – less ascent and the views over the Añisclo Canyon are stunning.

Below you can see the Faja de las Olas (also called the Faixa de las Solas on some maps) marked in red. The chains are on the slab of white rock – one set to ascend and two short sections to descend down onto the Faja proper. Personally I didn’t think the chains were too much bother at all, but we passed a couple of hikers going the other way that had a different opinion. In wet weather, they could be quite tricky and the faja definitely shouldn’t be attempted with snow or ice on it. However, in good weather and if you’ve got a good head for heights I think the faja is perfectly manageable for the average GR11 hiker.

The route in blue shows our descent route. It was OK but very loose scree and not particularly comfortable to hike on, it also didn’t have anywhere near as good views that you get on the faja route. You can also see the summit of Punta de las Olas marked (sorry the text is a bit small!)

After the faja most of the hard work was done and all that was left was a bit of a slog up the final few hundred metres of ascent to the summit at 3022 metres. After 1800 metres of ascent it felt good to take off our heavy rucksacks and take in the views which were fantastic. We could see Posets (second highest in the Pyrenees) in the distance, the valleys of Ordesa, Añisclo and Pineta and dozens of other summits.

We didn’t rest for too long though as it was really windy on the summit (it had been all the way from the col) and we started to search around for somewhere sheltered to sleep. There were several bivvy spots just off the summit and one seemed to be sheltered from the worse of the wind so we set ourselves up there for the night. As we were eating and watching the sunset suddenly dark clouds appeared above us. The strong wind was blowing up the Ordesa Valley and as it rose over the string of 3000-metre peak it created a big dark cloud. It was literally just hanging over us – everywhere else was sunny.

The clouds descended until they were just above our heads and we both got pretty worried and were wondering about beating a retreat – we had no waterproof bivvy bags or tent so getting caught in the rain would have been a disaster! Fortunately, the cloud started to rise again and we decided to sit it out and during the night the skies cleared again and we got an amazing view of the stars. There was a very new moon, the milky was spectacular, in the evening we could see Jupiter and Saturn, and then in the morning Mars and Venus – wonderful for a stargazer like myself.

I have to say it wasn’t the most comfortable nights sleep I’ve ever had but we were warm enough. To start with I was wearing all my clothes, hat and down jacket inside my sleeping bag but actually I warmed up and had to take a few layers off during the night. The following morning we woke to a wonderful sunrise and after a hearty breakfast of a muesli bar, packed up our sleeping bags and headed off.

Our first objective was Pico Añisclo (3257m), the summit alongside Monte Perdido. I’ve done Monte Perdido lots of times as it’s on our Refugio Week itinerary, but I’d never done Pico Añisclo. It’s not a technical climb and after a steep climb up a scree slope, there was a nice ridge to the summit. Needless to say, there were more wonderful views, particularly across to Monte Perdido. We could see lots of people already on the summit, while we had Pico Añisclo all to ourselves. It’s amazing, the world over some peaks attract hundreds of people while the neighbouring peak just 50 metres lower is hardly summited.

Pico Añisclo as seen from Punta de las Olas

On the summit of Pico Añisclo

The summit ridge

Views of Monte Perdido

We were hoping to cross from Pico Añisclo to Monte Perdido, descend down to Lago Helado and from there go down the north face of Monte Perdido to the Balcon de Pineta. Unfortunately, we came across a steep snowfield between the two summits. For weight reasons we hadn’t brought ice axe or crampons with us and the snow was to steep and hard to negotiate safely, so we had to turn back and descend the way we came. We thought there was a chance we might meet snow, but our plans were flexible and we didn’t mind too much that we had to turn around – our main objective of spending a night up high had been accomplished!

There was only one problem – we’d chosen the direction of our route deliberately to come up the super steep section of the GR11 in Pineta, now we were going to have to go down it! We varied the route slightly on the way down following the path down to the Collado de Añisclo marked in blue on the photo above. However, from there, it was a knee crunching descent down to the valley floor. In total, we did 2400 metres of descent that day. My legs didn’t feel too bad on the day but the following day my thighs were screaming at me!

Finally, we reached the valley floor and a quick few kilometres on some very welcome flat saw us back at the van. A brilliant trip – thanks Juanma for coming up with the plan. A wonderful way to spend a few days in the high mountains – I can’t wait for my next high altitude bivvy!

1 Comment

  1. Graham Taylor

    Superb narrative and photos. Having the shortest ever walking season has had a bonus ! Well done Phil !

    Reply

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