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Spanish Pyrenees - Pyrenees, Spain

Rupert de Borchgrave's Peaks of the Pyrenees walk

Rupert de Borchgrave told us about an amazing-sounding walk he did in 2016, mainly on the Spanish side of the range.


"A friend of mine told me about your website https://www.walkopedia.net/100-best.asp

So I thought you might be interested to read about the trek I made through the High Pyrenees last year for the charity MIND. It’s a longer walk than your Gavarnie-Ordesa listing (#26= in your top 100), 300km from Pica d’Estats in the East to Balaitous in the West and took 23 days (+ 5 rest days). But if you know the Pyrenees, then you might find it inspiring. There is an explanation, then the details of the route divided into 23 etapes, and photos at the end.


Dear Friends, To those of you who sponsored me to make this trek through the High Pyrenees: THANK-YOU. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Rupert-de-Borchgrave

Over 28 days I walked from Àreu in Catalunya to Arrens-Marsous in Béarn, and climbed solo to the summits of 10 of the 11 massif peaks of the range. Having lost some days to weather, injuries, and disintegrated equipment, I could not take the detour to Pic Long, which lies some distance off the main route of the other peaks, and was also advised that the rocks along the crest ridge are unstable and dangerous to climb solo. Five rest days aside, over 23 étapes, the 300km route involved an average daily denivelation of ~1200m up & down. Lest anyone think that peak hopping is as languid as island hopping, even as I became fitter towards the end, I was still gasping for breath in the ascents, while the descents required intense concentration to avoid falling in the midday heat (as I did once on Aneto).

In the Pyrenees, there are randonneurs who trek from coast to coast along the GR-10, GR-11 & HRP, and there are grimpeurs who scale peaks. But to do both? Only those veritable chèvres of the Pyrenees, the Basques, thought I wasn’t completely crazy to try. Climb any Pyrenean peak, and you will invariably find a grizzled, wiry Basque who got there first. On my aborted attempt to climb Posets from the North I reached the col after ascending the Coma de la Paul only to meet one of these human Isards, Roberto, who had set out from the refuge after me, already on his way down from the summit. And it struck me that these ancient indigenes are reflective of the Pyrenees themselves, once the defensive ramparts of Europe carrying names such as Breche de Roland and Passo de Mahomet that echo down the centuries to today’s defiance of a different sort: Je suis Charlie.

When I return to the flatlands, and I see my fellow Londoners engulfed by our endlessly stimulating but often life-sapping metropolis, I become more convinced that the solution to many mental health problems is to encourage people to reconnect with the purity, beauty and physicality of nature, and especially the mountains. The weathered Scottish Munros have their moments, when you can see them through the mist and midge. But the jagged wildness of the Pyrenees far surpasses anywhere in our crowded, suburban little island that seems to have so foolishly turned in upon itself.

In a single day in the Pyrenees, you can pass through an extraordinary gradation of landscapes, from lush, almost sub-tropical, forest in the valley floors, to verdant upland pastures watered by falls off the ledges above, to the high mountain moonscapes of boulder fields & scree, nevées & aquamarine lakes, to the summits themselves with their vast exuberance and enormous vistas above the clouds.

The Pyrenees have an untouched quality that is hard to find in the Alps with all those ski-lifts and infrastructure, towns, roads and bikers. Across the entire route, 300km from East to West, I passed through just three charming towns (Esterri d’Aneu, Bielsa & Gavarnie), with almost no settlements in between.

The details of the route I took are below. The route can be completed by anyone with a reasonable level of fitness, determination and organisation, and does not require ropes or belaying, or indeed any specialist mountaineering training beyond basic crampon technique (for Aneto & Vignemale) and level II rock climbing on the UIAA scale (IFAS peu difficulté). Of course climbing in the high mountains always requires the utmost attention. But unlike the highest peaks in the Alps, the route carries no dangers of seracs, cailloux or crevasses.

To split the route into two parts, Bielsa is a natural break, and the truly adventurous can hazard Pic Long between La Munia and Vignemale.

Lastly, I must thank: Valentin Weber, excellent physio who got me fit after a lingering Achilles tendonitis; Alain Garcinuño Collet for the send-off in Barcelona; Aleks & Magda who drove me to Benasque from the Vall d’Esera to buy new boots; Claire Zarembowitch who drove four hours to le Maillet to take a tisane with me after my hairiest moment (descending to the Cirque de Troumouse, and having to throw my rucksack to climb down an unexpected cliff); Manuel Graña who gave me an excellent lunch on a much needed rest day in Bielsa and told me that the purpose of walking through the mountains is to clean the mind; Jorge at the Fonda Agusti in Esterri d’Aneu who posted redundant maps back to London (very helpful in the quest to trim weight); all the randonneurs who seemed to mysteriously appear from nowhere just when the cairns & hitos, guides to the most vital consideration of all, the way, vanished against their background of boulder fields and seas of stones; and lastly to the guardians of all the refuges who do the most incredible job of providing humour, sustenance and shelter: Laura (Valleferrera), Patrick & Laure (Pinet), Ieltxu (Pleta), Elena & Nagore (Ventosa), Nils & Jorge (Renclusa), Ana (Hospital de Benasque), Isabel (Estos), Joaquin & Pedro (Viados), Rosalind (Gavarnie), Emma & Pierre (Beysellance), Eric the Viking (Wallon) and Laetitia (Larribet).

Rupert’s Way across the High Pyrenees

Etape 0: Areu to Refugi Vallferrera; [9km, +655m].

Etape 1: Vallferrera to Refuge de l'Étang du Pinet (via Pica d'ESTATS, 3143m); [9km, +1238m, –897m].

Etape 2: Pinet to Refugi de Certascan (Porta del Ciel via Pointe de Recos & Porte de l'Artigua); [9km, +986m, –1002m].

Etape 3: Certascan to Refugi Pleta del Prat (via Coll de Certascan & Quanca); [9km, +726m, –1236m].

Etape 4: Pleta to Esterri d'Aneu (via Campirme & Gavas); [12km, +911m, –1671m].

Etape 5: Esterri d'Aneu to Refugi Amitges (GR-11 via Espot or taxi to Saint Maurici); [18km, +1420m].

Etape 6: Amitges to Refugio Ventosa i Calvell (via Barrage de Colomers & Port de Valdes); [10km, +651m, –813m].

Etape 7: Ventosa to Refugi de Conangles (via Platiu de Riumalo, Estany de Malavesina, Pic de COMALOFORNO (3029m), Coll d'Abellers & Estany de Besiberri); [11km, +1149m, –1809m].

Etape 8: Conangles to Refugio de la Renclusa (via Hospital de Vielha & Tuc de Mulleres); [13km, +1655m, –1070m].

Etape 9: Renclusa to Hospital de Benasque (via Pico d’ANETO, 3404m); [13km, +1264m, –1654m].

Etape 10: Hospital de Benasque to Refugio de Estos (via Valle de Remuñe, Ibon de Lliterola, Pico PERDIGUERO (3222m), Collado Ubago & Barranco de Perdiguero); [15km, +1735m, –1590m].

Etape 11: Estos to Refugio de Viados (via Puerto de Chistau, Cuello de la Senal de Biados, Punta BACHIMALA (3174m) & Las Trallas); [16km, +1906m, –2021m].

Etape 12: Viados to Viados (via Pico de POSETS, 3375m); [11km, +/– 1625m].

Etape 13: Viados to Bielsa (GR-11 via Collado de Urdiceto & Parzan); [23km, +564m, –1261m].

Etape 14: Bielsa to Parador de Turismo along the Rio Zinca / Valle de Pineta; [13km, +247m].

Etape 15: Parador to Parador (via Balcon de Pineta & Monte PERDIDO, 3348m); [12km, +/– 2196m].

Etape 16: Parador to le Maillet (via Col de la Munia, LA MUNIA (3134m) & Cirque de Troumouse; [13km, +1834m, –1334m].

Etape 17: le Maillet to Gavarnie (via Lac des Gloriettes & Granges de Coumely); [14km, +72m, –507m].

Etape 18: Gavarnie to Refuge de Baysselance (GR-10 via Cabane de Lourdes & Barrage d'Ossoue); [14km, +1399m, –113m].

Etape 19: Baysselance to Refuge des Oulettes de Gaube (via Grand VIGNEMALE, 3298m); [10km, +934m, –1433m].

Etape 20: Oulettes de Gaube to Refugio de Respomuso (via Col des Mulets, Col d'Arratiles, Refuge Wallon-Marcadau & Col de la Fache); [15km, +1239m, –1182m]. 

Etape 21: Respomuso to Refuge de Larribet (via Lacs d'Arriel, Cuevo Abri Michaud, BALAITOUS (3144m) & Col des Ciseaux); [10km, +1051m, –1199m].

Etape 22: Larribet to Arrens-Marsous (via Aste & Lac du Tech); [15km, –1172m]."

By Rupert de Borchgrave ()

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