Saturday, September 06, 2008

Three Valleys In Huesca

Taking advantage of the mid-August “puente” in much of Spain, we managed to do 3 days of walking in the Pyrenees of Huesca, using the village of Benasque as our base. All of this left me a bit footsore, two of the routes we did were a bit longer than what I'm used to. Fortunately, the scenery compensated for the effort involved. Day one started with a walk up the valley of Ballibierna, which is one of the possible approach routes for climbing the peak of Aneto. There is a bus service that will take you up to the refuge of Coronas, we found out about this service about 10 minutes after the bus left and the alternative is a 9 kilometre walk. The weather wasn't very promising as we set off, it had rained for most of the previous day and the clouds coming down the valley looked threatening. As it turned out we were lucky and after a brief shower the weather cleared.

The walk up the valley is easy on a good trail, and we made it to the refuge in less than two hours. From there we decided to go up to the Ibones de Coronas, a steep climb up to the lakes lying below the summit of Aneto. This was as close as we would get to the highest peak in the Spanish Pyrenees.

It was cold up there, forget any ideas of summer as a biting wind brought back memories of other seasons. We even got a bit of sleet at one point. The stop by the lake was short, we admired the determination of those who climb up there to camp overnight for an early ascent of Aneto, but we didn't feel tempted to follow their example.

Going down the mountain by the same route, we decided not to wait for the bus and walked back down to the campsite where we had left the car. All of this effort had to be compensated for by the big chuleton we ate at night back in Benasque.

Day two took us to the valley of Estós, which leads to the other major peak of this area; Posets. A trail leaving the main path up the valley makes for a beautiful detour around the Ibones de Ballisielle.

Here we got a bit over confident, trying to do a circular route of all of the lakes left us improvising a path across a field of huge boulders; just when it started raining. Boulder hopping is one of my least favourite activities, a combination of vertigo and a keen survival instinct mean that I avoid it whenever possible. This time there wasn't much choice and it made the round route a bit more exciting than I needed it to be.

From the bottom lake there is a path that leads up the valley to the refuge of Estós. This is what I call a proper mountain refuge, it sells beer. The return route was a path gently returning down the opposite side of the valley. Another long route, but amongst the best we have done.

On the third day we went to the frontier. From the inappropriately named Hospital de Benasque (it’s a hotel) a path goes up to El Portillon, a historic crossing point between France and Spain. This route passes opposite the other side of Aneto, and offers as convincing a reason as I need for not trying to climb it; the glaciar that runs across the breadth of the peak.

They predict it won't be there any more in 50 years time, the glaciar that is, the views from the border side were stunning and we could see all the way up the valley to the beginning of the Catalan Pyrenees.

Benasque makes a great base for walking, we only had to do a few kilometres in the car to cover all three of these routes. As always, GPS recorded routes are available on request for those who want them.

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