Jun 29, 2015

Picos del Infierno

Vista from Hell's Central Summit
Back in 2008, Xavi proposed to climb three summits known as Picos del Infierno, which translates as Summits of Hell. Together with Jordi, a friend of his, we actually gave it a try, but during our climb somehow took a wrong turn and finally ended up climbing 4 neighbouring 3000m summits, known as Algas Norte, Pico Algas, Pico de las Argualas and Garmo Negro. Xavi, furthermore summited Aguja de Pondiellos... an account of that story, albeit written in German, is to be found here.
Hell's Summits, however, remained to be summited.

This  time, the proposal was to do a circular trip, leaving Manresa on Friday, arriving at Baños de Panticosa in the afternoon, and setting up a bivouac as close as possible to Collado del Infierno. The three Picos del Infierno were our primary targets for the following day, but we also had in mind to climb Pico Arnales and Aguja de Pondiellos before heading back down to Baños de Panticosa from Pondiellos Col.
A map I've found on the internet. We almost exactly did the same trip, only that we passed on the right shore of the third lake on our way up, and also summited Aguja de Pondiellos before heading back down to Baños de Panticosa
Everything went pretty well according to plan, and a couple of minutes after 4pm we started our hike northwards. From the first moment on, we very much enjoyed walking through the valley that not only would lead us to three lakes known as Embalse de Bachimaña Alto and the first and second Ibon Azul (Blue Lagoon), but also to Collado del Infierno. I had been worried about my physical condition, not having done any mountain trip in a year, but our hike was so entertaining and the landscape so beautiful that I couldn't spare any time to worry any longer, wanted I to take in as much of it as possible.

Waterfall before arriving at the Bachimaña Alto artificial lake
First Ibon Azul
Last lake, we were aiming at the col to the left
We seemingly were the only ones going up the mountain at such late an hour - a benefit from doing a bivouac trip. As a matter of fact, there weren't many people around and the few who were, we had encountered on their way down shortly after we had started our hike. 

From the third lake on upwards, the bottom of the valley was covered by snow, so we decided to gear up with crampons. It probably wouldn't have been nessessary, but since we had brought them with us, there was no point in not using them.
Upon arrival at Collado del Infierno
At about 8pm we arrived at Collado del Infierno. Instead of an ordinary col, it's sort of a double col with a kind of crater inbetween the two depressions - the crater being occupied by a pintoresque, and probably very cold, lake. For an hour or so, the col was being sunlit and the temperature was perfect, so that our bodies could dissipate some of the heat, they had generated during the ascent, but as soon as the sun dropped behind the mountain range, we started to search our backpacks for some additional layers of clothing.
Lake at Collado del Infierno
There were two bivvy spots to be found, both looked chilly. Whereas one was on the snow, the other was on the rocks. We decided to prepare the former for spending the night, because the softer the surface is, the less prone are the sleeping pads to suffer from puncture. It turned out Xavi hadn't to worry about the stones puncturing his camping mat, for it already was damaged. He herefore rectified his initial decision of sleeping on the snow and chose the rocks instead, exchanging some softness for less thermal inconvenience.

Xavi, still smiling
None of us had a pleasant night, but interestingly, it wasn't the cold that bothered us, but primary the little sleeping confort due to the hardness of the ground, even on the snow. Yes, I know, I'm not in my 20s anymore. The awesome view at an incredibly clear sky throughout the whole night also distracted me from sleeping.

At around 6.15 we got up and prepared for the day. An hour later our bodies were generating heat again. Just before making the first summit of the day, we ran into two curious goats. I always wonder what would drive those animals into the bare terrain of those heights, where there's hardly any plantlife to be found.... and they seemed to think something similar about us.
Goats at roughly 3000m
We had to scramble a little bit in order to reach the ridge, but then it was almost plain walking. Soon we set foot on Infierno Occidental (3073m). From there, we already had a good view of the famous Marmolera, a stretch of white marble which marks the better part of the mountain range between Infierno Occidental and Pico Central del Infierno, and we were keen to cross it. In that moment, Xavi received a message on his phone, a congratulation. It was his birthday!! Happy birthday buddy!
Upon arrival at Infierno Occidental
A few minutes later we stood on 3082m high Pico Central del Infierno, summit number 50 on my personal list of climbed 3000m pyrenean mountains. Though it had been easy to get there, that was as high as we would get that day. 

Note: You may notice, that the rock cairn in the next picture marks an altitude of 3081m whereas I'm talking about 3082m. As always, I stick to the heights as they are stated in Luis Alejos' book: Pirineos - Guia de los 3000m.
Pico Central del Infierno
Next to come was another walk which in little time led us to the third of hell's summits, Infierno Oriental (3076m).
View from Infierno Oriental of the valley of our ascent the day before 
Next, the tricky part was to come. In order to reach peak Arnales without leaving our ridge, we had to negotiate a relatively small, narrow cut in the ridge. The book indicated a 10m abseil section followed by a short wall. We had a 40m rope with us which turned out to be not a single meter too long for roping ourselves down. Maybe, the vertical drop indeed wasn't longer than 10m, but from where the belay station was, we clearly needed a rope much longer than 20m.

Xavi went down first, and before it was my turn, I asked him to evaluate the possibility of escape, just in case we should be unable to negotiate the climbing section on the other other side of the cut. He deemed an escape down through the chimney as feasible, so it was my turn to let myself down the rope.
Next to come was the climbing section we didn't know anything about. Xavi went first, him being the better climber. More than technical difficulties, he encountered a lack of securing points. The heavy backpack wasn't of much help either, but after some struggling he reached easier terrain, where he could set up a belaying station. And again did he almost run out of rope. My part was easier, for at the most difficult point I could make use of one of the circular slings Xavi had used to secure his climb.

From there on it was exposed ridge scrambling mostly. Peak Arnales has two summits and since we weren't sure which one to take we decided to summit both of them. The first one looks less impressing whereas the second nicely protrudes from its surrounding. It turned out, that's the first, which is 3006m high, while the second only measures something like 2997m, but since the second was nicer, we couldn't have bothered less.
Arnales, 3006m
After we had carefully made our way down into less exposed areas, we went on to Collado de Pondiellos where we met the first people of the day. It was midday and by then we started to feel worn out. Furthermore, we were kind of rationalising our water consumption, what under the burning sun didn't make things better. 

From the col, however, the way back down to Baños de Panticosa looked well "irrigated", so that we decided to stick to our plan and summit the last peak of the day, Aguja de Pondiellos. For doing so, we temporarely deposited our backpacks at the col. The climb was marked with the same difficulty as was the technical section we were faced with earlier that day, but it turned out to be much easier. Scrambling it was, at times exposed and mostly on lots of loose rocks. After 40 minutes we had summited La Aguja, snapped some quick photos and were on our way down again, trying to leave behind as much as possible of the loose rocks before encountering a group of climbers on their way up.
Summit of Aguja de Pondiellos, 3011m, crowded Garmo Negro in the background
From there on it was downhill only, on a seemingly neverending path bound for Baños de Panticosa. When we finally reached the car, we felt totally exhausted but otherwise happy with how our whole trip had went according to plan.

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