Ascent of Pico de Aneto on 1985-07-25

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Guy from Valencia (Stayed behind)
Date:Thursday, July 25, 1985
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Pico de Aneto
    Elevation:11168 ft / 3404 m

Ascent Trip Report

(At the time I made this climb and wrote this account, I was a college student with very little knowledge of mountain climbing. Before visiting the Pyrenees my experience was limited to trail hiking in the Appalachians. The text is presented as written, with edits in parentheses.)

I left (the town of) Seira early and drove north on Route 139 for about half an hour until it suddenly stopped in a deep valley. The slug car I had been behind seemed surprised and a guy came out and asked me which way to Aneto—I, then re-checking my map, told him of a turn we missed a little (ways) back. This narrow road led through the green meadows at the bottom of the mountain valley to a campground, the Plan de Estan/La Bessura. This was the road’s end and I parked, put a mineral water bottle as a canteen, food, map, and shades in my canvas pack, laced up my hiking boots, and was starting my hike as the Spaniards I had given directions to pulled in.

A few paces from the campground I climbed a dead tree and broke off a sturdy branch to serve as a walking stick and ice-axe. The first part of the climb was a gentle uphill through lightly–wooded meadows up to the Refugio de la Renclusa, a mountain hut. Here I filled my canteen in a brook, but stupidly lost its cap—the best I could do was tie a plastic bag around the top with a pack string.

The trail beyond the Refugio became steep and switchback-full as it slabbed up La Cresta de Portillones, a narrow, rocky ridge. There I started passing the group of Spaniards from the wrong turn, who had passed me earlier. I started hiking at the same pace as their lead hiker, who told me at a rest stop that his friends below had copped out and he was now going on alone to Aneto’s summit. I expressed concern about his gear—T-shirt, shorts, sneakers, no pack—but he was confident. (He was from Valencia and we were able to converse well despite my limited Spanish).

The two of us continued together until we at last reached the crest of the ridge at a col—the Portillon Inferior. Here, a fantastic view of a huge snowfield and glacier with Aneto’s shark’s tooth summit at its far end presented itself. I offered my companion water, he offered to take my pack (I said no problem, I’ll keep it), and we took each other’s picture.

We then started the difficult, rocky, rock-hopping traverse along the ridgecrest of jagged points, resting often. At one rest, my companion told me to use the familiar “tú”, instead of “Usted” (when talking to him in Spanish)—I apologized for not picking up on this. After the difficult traverse we reached a second col, the Portillon Superior, which the trail passed through to the snow field. Here my companion said he had to turn back, obviously unprepared. I expressed my desire to continue, and after a last picture taken for him, I bid the Valencian farewell, and took the steep trail which led to the snowfield shortly. (I was) very thirsty, (since) my canteen ran out.

For the next few hours I followed the well-worn path that led diagonally up the long snowfield, slowly gaining altitude as the pyramid of Aneto drew nearer. I was very thankful for my shades over my eyeglasses on the snowfield this bright day. A ways along I stopped at a brook flowing through a rocky area in the snow to eat lunch. The water overjoyed me—I was so thirsty I had been looking for droplets of water melting to quench my mouth. Lunch was enjoyed on the rocks, and a man and his son passed me after a chat—I would be playing tag with them for the rest of the day. They were concerned about a glacier (really just an ice patch), its gray ice visible in the middle of the snowfield, so they took a detour up and around it.

After my lunch I took the direct route—a tongue of snow almost bisected the glacier, so I was on the treacherous ice for only a few minutes. From there it was a long, long slog uphill on the well-worn snow path, which finally approached the cone of Aneto and extremely steeply climbed the snowy cone, and I, at last, exhausted, reached the forepeak of Aneto. The true peak was a short but difficult rock scramble over a jagged ridge, and I had to wait for a group of people to complete their traverse before reaching the cross-topped summit, the highest of the Pyrenees.

Today was Santiago Day, a Spanish holiday, so there were many people on the summit, including the father and son. I talked to some people there, took pictures for people and had mine taken, and admired the view. I then scrambled back to the forepeak around some slow people I was fed up with, and started the long descent.

I half-skied down the cone, and became very tired and my feet wet on the long trek back across the snowfield. On the icy glacier I slipped and fell a few yards down the ice, but stopped myself with my stick and climbed back to the trail. I finally reached the short pitch to the Portillon Superior, where the father and son urged me to descend to the Refugio on the valley route, on more snow, but I told them I preferred the ridge I had already been on. So I laboriously clambered over the ridge, following obscure cairns, to the Portillon Inferior, and then I started towards the Refugio, which, although I always had in sight, I lost the trail to. This was most unfortunate, and I had to bushwhack down the steep valley side over occasional low cliffs and by pretty brooks in a very footsore and tired condition. (Obviously, I should have taken the advice of the locals.)

Dead to the world, I arrived at the Refugio and walked down the easy downhill to my car in such a stupor and thirst I felt it took hours. I finally jettisoned my stick near the tree it came from and arrived at my car after my 13 km hike over hard terrain, bought a warm coke at a stand at the lively campground, took off my boots (aaah!) and drove down the road back to civilization, vowing to crash at the first hotel I saw.

This turned out to be at Benasque, the first town I saw, a tiny hamlet. After driving through town twice, I stopped at an inn which had a nice 3rd floor room for me. I ate a large dinner at the hotel’s bar, observing the many screaming kids then staying at the establishment, then, footsore and sunburned, went to sleep nice and early and slept deeply.

The summit block of the Pico de Aneto is a shark's tooth rising above a small glacier (1985-07-25).
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5312 ft / 1619 m
    Extra Gain:197 ft / 60 m
    Round-Trip Distance:7.9 mi / 12.7 km
    Trailhead:6250 ft / 1905 m
    Grade/Class:Class 3, Snow
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy

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