Ascent of Pic de Montcalm on 2018-09-10

Climber: Gerick Lee

Date:Monday, September 10, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Pic de Montcalm
    Elevation:10098 ft / 3077 m

Ascent Trip Report

L'Artigue (Auzat, FR) to Arinsal (AD), 9-11 September 2018

Following triplet desires to spend some mountain quality time (living, as I do, on the East Coast of the US), follow Hemingway's footsteps in the mountains of Spain, and go on an adventure with my expatriate best friend, I sought a good three day hike, accessible from Barcelona with public transport.

I couldn't find a section of the GR11 that seemed worthwhile for three days - the sections that seemed accessible were disappointing, and the sections that were most stunning were hard to reach by train. I eventually found the Porta del Cel, a five-stage loop that has a number of access points. Using the fourth stage of the route, from Pinet to Vallferrera (via Catalonia's high point, the Pica d'Estats), as a centerpiece for our three days, I then strung together one of my favorite chunks I had seen on surveying the various GR routes in the area - the sections from Vallferrera into Andorra would not only give us a third day on the sunnier south side of the Pyrenees, they would take us to Andorra, via the Andorran high point, the Comapedrosa. Transport to Barcelona from Andorra is relatively abundant, relative to the surrounding area, and the three-country plan was a pleasant way to scratch the French-way-of-life and niche-European-microstate itches.
Basic Logistics

We booked the Pinet and Vallferrera huts in advance - Pinet filled up, but they have a couple tents on hand (with mattresses and blankets, and fully set up) for late-comers. We booked one for 15EUR (for the tent, which sleeps two - so 7.50EUR per person!). Vallferrera had plenty of space. Remember to bring cash for both huts - the majority of the bill is paid on arrival, in cash. Both huts offer food, though you should of course have enough food to survive in case of emergency.
Day Zero - Barcelona to Tarascon (plus trailhead access details)

To get to the trailhead, we left Barcelona Placa Catalunya on the morning R3 Rodalies train to La Tor de Querol - Enveitg (sometimes called Latour en Carol - the spelling is highly variable between French, Spanish, and Catalan, it seems). On arriving in Latour, we had a brief layover before taking the SNCF train to Ax-les-Thermes to buy some last minute supplies.

A view of Ax
Ax-les-Thermes is a charming mountain village on a river, with a beautiful square and a number of ski/outdoor gear shops. Following this little break, we returned to the train station to continue to Tarascon-sur-Ariege, where we spent the night at the Hotel Confort, a pleasant family-run hotel on the river.
Tarascon, complete with clock tower

We had pizza next door, and tucked in early for a morning cab ride to the trailhead at L'Artigue. Important note - the cab ride cost 70EUR. We were unable to find any local bus service for the area, so if finances are tight, consider hitchhiking toward Auzat the day before - it seems to have a few hotels. Hitching a ride from Tarascon all the way to L'Artigue seems practically impossible, especially if an early start is the goal.
Day One - Tarascon to L'Artigue to Pinet

We left Tarascon at 8:00 using the taxi booked for us by the hotel. He took only cash, and the total cost was 70EUR. After customary trailhead photos and the like, we left the trailhead at about 9:00. The hike itself was uneventful - we took a detour to the Cascades L'Artigue, which led to a nice outlook.
Shortly after the start Cascades overlook I think this is the end of the Cascades Artigue Spur.

I'm not sure we actually made the end of the Cascades trail, but we were happy to turn where we did. The rest of the ascent was straightforward, and following a few false "summits" we reached the hut in the early afternoon around 13:00.
The refuge in the fog. The refuge, after a brief clearing of the fog.

Again, bring cash, as our dearth of cash meant we couldn't afford to buy drinks from the hut. Dinner was a filling "Cassoulet du Pinet." The hut cleared out shortly after dinner, so we could all get early starts the next day.
Day Two - Pinet to Vallferrera

We left the hut at about 6:30, with headlights shining. Progress was steady for most of the way - red/white trail marks were ubiquitous the whole way (which is how we determined we had missed the trail at one point in the ascent). I suffered from a fair amount of gastric distress throughout the day, which became worse as the day went on.

We gained the ridge (marked A on the map) at 10:40, after traversing a couple small snowfields. The climb was gentle throughout (there were no sections of loose rock or scree), with the primary difficulty being my increasingly contentious stomach. Based on a misreading of the map, we mistook our position.
Where and how we mistook Montcalm for Pica d'Estats.

We were at the saddle leading to the Montcalm (marked A), but we mistakenly thought we were already at the saddle point leading to the Pica d'Estats (marked B), due to fog and our own poorly printed maps. We then turned left from point A. After a few false summits, we reached the Bivouac at the top of Montcalm at 11:08. Having seen summit photos from Pica d'Estats, we knew we were in the wrong place. We returned to the saddle point A, having lost about an hour (in exchange for some foggy summit photos).
A view from the first saddle (point A) to the Pica d'Estats.

The fog lifted enough for us to re-establish our position, and we proceeded to the summit of Pica d'Estats, reaching it at 12:23.

The time was growing late. My bowels were growing increasingly disgruntled, and the combination of pain and altitude was making me rather fatigued. We therefore chose to skip Pic Verdaguer, though it looked to be a straightforward climb in normal circumstances. From this point, we attempted to make as good of time as possible, I was feeling increasingly ill, so my companion took a fair amount of my extra weight and we raced as fast as we could (though not as fast as the gentleman who parkour'd his way down the Cresta de Pica d'Estats). We shadowed some locals until we reached the end of the steep descent just north of the Estany d'Estats.

A view of the descent.
A view of the descent.


Following a prolonged gastric delay, I took some of my weight back to relieve my now tiring companion. The descent from there to Vallferrera was long, and included one exciting chain climb (a chance to take weight off the feet!).
My friend climbing.

The GIF of my friend climbing

We arrived at Vallferrera at 20:00, sore but alive. The warden was kind enough to share some joint-pain-relief cream, which seemed to work. We scarfed down a wonderfully presented soup and salad, and a delicious main course (whose details I have forgotten).
I think this is the end of the Cascades Artigue Spur.
Day 3 - Vallferrera to Arinsal

After a lengthy debate of our options (namely, continue to Arinsal, or take the shorter way out to Areu), we decided that the numerous huts along the way to Arinsal gave us plenty of fall-back options in case our legs failed us (my glutes - the muscles this time - felt particularly weak, though my knees were much improved).
Total time for the day, based on the sign's time estimates, is about 6 hours.

We left in the morning at close to 9:00. In the interest of brevity, the path was beautiful, the weather was clear and stunning, especially with the dew rising on the fields around us. We made steady progress, a little slower than the time estimates on the signposts (which were more numerous, now that we were on the GR-11) all day.
Refuge de Baiau Refuge de Baiau, interior Looking up at the ascent to come.

The section to Baiau was uncomplicated and we reached the Refuge around 11:30. Following a quick lunch break, we continued on.
Looking back towards Baiau.

The scree field up to the main ridge (the ridge just south of the Pic de Baiau) was blissfully stable, despite our concerns. We gained the ridge at about 13:15. We chose to skip the Alt de Comapedrosa on account of time and our legs, which had improved as we went. Nevertheless, we felt it was prudent to descend without the hour or so delay a summit attempt would impose.
A view up to the Comapedrosa from the main ridge.

Our descent to the Refuge de Comapedrosa was again uncomplicated.

We made good time, stopping primarily to feast on the ripe huckleberries covering the fields around us, and reached the refuge at 15:00. From there, the signs told us it would be a 90 minute descent to Arinsal, which it was, save for continued feasting on huckleberries and the occasional raspberry.
The final descent
We reached the trailhead at 17:00, and walked another 30 or so minutes down through a short car and pedestrian tunnel to the local bus stop, which required cash (and rather gruffly denied our boarding when we mistook the required fare). One half-hour wait later (this time with cash), we got on the bus at 18:16, and reached Andorra la Vella with just enough time to eat before taking the 3h30 bus to Barcelona at 19:15 (note - there were buses leaving as late as 22:00).

All in all, a great trip!
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Open Country, Snow on Ground, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Headlamp, Ski Poles, Hut Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
Ascent Part of Trip: Pyrenees 2018 (2 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Pic de Montcalm2018-09-10 
2Pica d'Estats2018-09-10 

This page has been served 69 times since 2005-01-15.

Copyright © 1987-2023 by All Rights Reserved. Questions/Comments/Corrections? See the Contact Page Terms of Service