Friday, September 9, 2011

Pic d'Anie

For a finale, today's goal was a local high peak: Pic d'Anie. From the side facing Lescun, it appears only to be reachable using rock climbing techniques. However, by following a mor circuitous route, you can come around to the gentler west and south faces that aren't much more than steep trail over scree. At over 8,000 ft (2504 m), it is definitely one of the highest climbs I've done - higher than anything in the Whites by a fair bit.

The hike starts at the Refuge L'Arberouat, which is like a hut you could find in the Whites, although a little less rustic. A purist might have walked the extra 1:30 from our doorstep to get up to it, but I got a lift instead.

I was hardly alone: the parking lot had many vehicles and hikers lacing up.

This is not Pic d'Anie. This is le Billare - the hulking massif that looms like Half Dome over the Cirque de Lescun. I just like the dog hanging out near the refuge.

Pic d'Anie is the hulk just right of center. Trust me, the stuff in the foreground is all shorter.

The walk started with by following the GR10 northwest through some ups and downs in forest before opening up into a long open valley bordered to the north by a spine of limestone called les Orgues de Camplong. Although the trail shows the trail running right past Cabanne d'Ardinet, I didn't notice it until I got nearly all the way to the next landmark of Cabanne Cap de la Baitch. (I have to resist the urge to pronounce it as "Be-atch").

Here is Cap de la Baitch and the Orgues, looking back the way I came up.

I did not linger to hobnob with the shepherd there selling cheese, but instead pressed on and began to ascend in earnest up the head of the valley. For this I broke away from the GR10 and instead followed the HRP: the High Route of the Pyrenees. This is another trans-Pyrenean trekking trail, but as you could guess from the name, stays pretty high up.

The hike up from the Cabanne to the Col passed through numerous distinct rock strata. This layer really caught my eye.

Before I fully realized, I was topping out at the east edge of Col des Anies. This is a broad, mostly flat, large expanse of broken rock, fissures, clefts, and intertwined routes. It is, I expect, much like traversing the broken end of a glacier. Wayfinding was difficult and, were it foggy, almost impossible. Although the HRP travels a good ways west before hitting up a trail to ascend Pic d'Anie, I and another guy started heading up the slopes much sooner to the east, under the shadow of Pic de Countendè. Following cairns, he and I threaded our way around the broken rocks and clefts, passing an 8-foot wooden cross planted into some boulders on a promontory, to pick up the main trail.

This made a long sloping traverse around the north face. As we reached the west face, there was a little scramble where handholds were both necessary and plentiful, before we started switchbacking up to, eventually, the windswept summit.

Yours truly at the summit.

From here there was a spectacular view! Of course one can see down into the Cirque de Lescun, but also northwards into the bulk of France. Lescun is actually close to the northern flank of the Pyrenees - within a few miles of here everything becomes flat to the horizon. To the east and south: mountains as far as the eye can see. Directly south: bits and pieces of the hikes we have done earlier this week as well as peaks I've seen on the map but didn't get a chance to climb. Not too far to the south is the Spanish border: a day's walk on the HRP.

Looking down on Lescun (and about half the hikes I've done this week) from the top.

Coming down I ran into a spot of trouble on the Col. As I mentioned, it is a broad expanse of crumbling limestone: a patchwork of small ridges, fissures, and gravel piles. I knew the way I had come up, and I knew in which direction the descent to the Cabanne lay. But, for the life of me, I could not locate the trail I had taken up. Perhaps with a bit more time it would have presented itself, but instead I followed the blazes for the HRP, which took me much further north and west from where I wanted to be, and probably added a half hour to my descent. No matter - i got down without any further trouble.

As I passed the Cabanne d'Ardinet and re-entered the trees, I turned my back on the mountains. I have now done five solid hikes in five days, and really am ready to hang up my boots for a bit. Plus, on the last mile or two of walking through the woods, the thought that had crept up during every hike became dominant: Hilary really ought to be here to do this with me. Next time, I suppose.

Tonight it was a smorgasbord or leftovers, build up over the previous week by Paul's excellent cooking. He has been doing many of the local dishes which, while delicious, are quite heavy. But for that, I'm sure I could have dropped 10 lbs on this trip!

Tomorrow morning we are packing up and heading out. It's the first step on the way home to see Hilary and little B! But before I fly out, we have a day and a half in Barcelona!

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