Jul 30, 2016

Pico Mir and Punta Delmas

After almost one year in my new job which really made me understand the concept of "full-time", I've finally been on a mountain trip again. Friday after work Xavi and me met (also for the first time since our last trip) and off we were to Benasque, the Pyrenees' main hub when it comes to climbing 3000m summits. Our plan was to continue the Alba mountain ridge which we had started three and continued two years ago. Those two trips had successfully seen us summiting 7 of the 9 peaks comprising the ridge between the "Gendarme de Alba" and "Pico Cordier". Unfortunately however, there are two more we had not stood on yet: Pico Mir and Punta Delmas. Not missing a certain logic, our plan foresaw to climb these. In case we would have time left we'd also go for the next mountain of that ridge: Pico del Collado de la Rimaya - a peak of secondary importance but considerably higher difficulty. We planned to have dinner in Benasque, drive to "La Besurta", the last spot accessible by car, and then either sleep there or start our hike in order to gain as much altitude as possible before resting for the night.

Dinner was good, but then we were slightly set back by learning that the road to la Besurta was closed, without any doubts a measure as to ensure that all those mountaineers and hikers on holiday wouldn't collapse that spot with their cars. A shuttle service would transport people to and fro instead, but obviously not so during the night hours. We therefore decided to do some walking, which actually turned out to be quite nice since it allowed us to continue the conversation we hadn't had time to finish during the 4 previous hours.
After an hour or so we arrived at La Besurta and still were keen on gaining some altitude. The way to "La Renclusa", the mountain hut most people use as base camp for their Aneto-summit-attempts was easily traceable in the darkness, but then it got ever more difficult for us to stay on the trail which should have led us to "El Portillon Superior", where we would have liked to settle for the night. When we got to a point that saw us spending more time looking for a suitable path than actually walking, we decided to call it a day and pitch camp.
I'd like some fried eggs and a mug of coffee please
I love sleeping under the sky. With no clouds above, I could enjoy an amazing view of the Milky Way whenever I woke up during the night. It's also interesting to notice how its orientation between one "awakening" and the other changed due to Earth's rotation.
Strangely it was me who woke up first on Saturday morning. It probably was the first time I woke Xavi. A quick glance around revealed that we weren't that far away from the path leading up to "El Portillon", where a crowd of a hundred eager mountaineers was huffing and puffing as the sun was slowly bathing the landscape in orange tones.
We quickly had some nibbs of our sandwiches, as we were dismantling our camp and hiding everything we wouldn't need for the day behind a rock. By the time we were on our way, the main load of other hikers had passed by. Three quarters of an hour or so later, in the very vicinity of El Portillon Superior we finally diverted from the main path and all of a sudden were by ourselves.

We already could make out the better part of our way which would lead us to the remains of the Maladeta Glacier before crossing it in its upper part so as to gain access to a 3075m high mountain saddle situated between Picos Sayo and Cordier.
Soon it got too much of a hassle trying to avoid the snow, so we decided to gear up with crampons and ice picks.
Snow ahead
At something like 2950m we changed back to rocky terrain and things got trickier. The ramp up to the saddle was steep and the rock of such bad quality that even most of the bigger blocks were loose.  
Last meters of snow
We had to doublecheck all our holds for hands and feet. At that point I was wondering whether we would be able to use that particular access for our way down later on. Although we could still gear up with our harnesses and rope I wasn't sure we would find suitable belay stations .... and if we could not, what would we do? We decided to tackle that issue at a later moment.

  Once at the saddle things looked brighter. There was a bivouac shelter made up of four apprixamtely 70cm high walls and in excellent shape which would serve us as a great place to have a second breakfast. After that we temporarily dumped our backpacks and set off for the two peaks we had come for. Since they were located on the far side of Pico Sayo, the easiest way to get there was by climbing that one first.
Way up to Pico Sayo
Pico Sayo, 3220m
  The rock was of good quality again and in no time we made it to the top of Pico Sayo which is only the second 3000m peak that I have climbed twice. Xavi and me had been there a little more than two years before and that day the landscape had had a quite different appearance, since everything had been covered with snow.

 After a quick celebration and a rather short photo session we were heading for Pico Mir. The way was clear and from where we stood it looked as if it wouldn't surprise us with any major obstacles.
Pico Mir in sight
 About 20 minutes later we stood on our second peak of the day where we took some more pictures under an amazingly blue sky.
Pico Mir, 3185m

View at Picos Sayo, Cordier and Pico de la Rimaya (right to left)
Pico Mir has two summits of equal height which are seperated by a trench about 4 meters deep. In order to get to our next peak, Punta Delmas, we either would have had to overcome the trench or lose considerable altitude in search of suitable terrain. Since we had left the rope behind together with our backpacks, we decided to go for the latter option.
The book we usually use as our guide when doing mountaineering in the Pyrenees marks the difficulty of Punta Delmas as F+ (easy but exposed to drops) when coming from Pico Mir but Xavi as well as me were surprised by how the mountain was resisting our best efforts. Not only could we hardly find a route up but we also constantly had to struggle with sections that really asked for all our concentration and confidence in ourselves. After trying several dead ends we finally succeeded and stood on top of Punta Delmas. We didn't take any photos during that part of our climb as often is the case under any such circumstances. 
Selfie on Punta Delmas, 3170m
Before we had started our hike we had thought that it would be a nice but rather boring and effortless excursion with regards to adrenaline production. Little did we know it would take as so long to make it to the top. Needless to say that when we got there we already had taken the decision not to go for Pic del Collado de la Rimaya anylonger. Our priorities were firstly to make it down safely from Punta Delmas and back to our backpacks so as to get something to drink as soon as possible and secondly to overcome the steep and intimidating ramp that would lead us down from the saddle and back to the security of the glacier. 
The first point was achieved about an hour later and by the time we were back at our packs we  were really thursty. After what we considered to be a late lunch we put on our helmets and harnesses and made sure to have the rope as well as other climbing gear and our crampones easily accessible. The first 50m down were the most difficult and since we couldn't find any suitable belay station we instead decided to scramble down in turns. One of us would decend a section until he found a place to hide from any falling rocks and then it would be the other's turn. As soon as the terrain got less inclined we opted for simultaneous descend, making sure not to bother the other with too much scree tumbling down.
Mountain hut "La Renclusa" to the right of the lake, as seen from one of our summits
Once on the snow we could be fairly sure not to encounter any more technichal difficulties. As quickly as possible we headed for the place where we had hidden our bivouac equipment in the morning hours and then further down to la Besurta. By the time we got there we felt really worn outOur hopes to get a lift on the shuttle bus were not deceived and around 8pm we were back at our car.

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