After almost a week spent in and around the lower Benasque and Estós valleys – as recounted in my last post – we moved up the valley the following week to where the high mountains and last remaining glaciers of the Pyrenees really come into focus. Starting from La Besurta (1920m), the highest point of the Benasque Valley accessible by road transport, we tackled a steep trail that zigzags up a grassy South-facing slope..and which presents two emblematic Pyrenean phenomena for close inspection.
The first phenomenon is the marmot, a relatively large squirrel-type rodent found in many high mountain areas of Europe, and closely related to the North American groundhog. This animal disappeared from the Pyrenees thousands of years ago but was reintroduced in the last century..and can now be readily observed in Summer, particularly on sunny slopes above 2000m. Around and above La Besurta we saw many marmots, and heard their piercing whistles alerting to the presence of intruders..us!
The second phenomenon is the vast panorama of the highest peaks of the Pyrenees, those of the Maladeta massif, and their glaciers. These glaciers have been in severe recession for many years now, and will almost certainly disappear completely in my son’s lifetime, if not in mine ..victims of our warming planet.
I have enjoyed skiing down these icefields and the considerable slopes below them many times, usually in the Spring..even up to the middle of June there is often 1000m of vertical descent. I wonder if my son will have the opportunity to do that in, say, twenty years time?
We kept on towards our objective for the day..the historic Puerto de Benasque, a point where people have crossed the Pyrenees between France and Spain for centuries. It consists of a natural breach in the rocky ridge..somewhat improved with the help of explosives in the 17th century.
On the Spanish side, the path to the pass zigzags across a steep but still grassy slope..and only in the last fifty meters does the terrain become rocky.
On the other side however, things are very different. It’s a rocky high-mountain scenario..the path, at times hewn from the rock, descends very steeply in short uneven zigzags – you can see why they might have used explosives – till it reaches a boulder field above a series of beautiful lagunas, les Boums du Port.
In general the mountainscapes on either side could hardly be more different, on the French side the abrupt rock walls dropping down to the deep blue Boums du Port..
..and on the Spanish side the gentler grassy slopes below the pass, giving way to the glaciated high mountain panorama of Las Maladetas.
We set up our tent about 100m below the pass – it took a while to find a good spot, though there is a relatively flat area extending over hundreds of square meters – and settled in for a good night’s sleep.
Sleeping in mountain huts and refuges surely offers more comfort and security, but it’s spending the night out in places like this that really gives the feeling of being in the mountains.
. . .
The next day i rose in the still dark morning well before six, dressed quickly and hit the steep trail that leads to Pico Salvaguardia. Also known as Tuca de Salvaguardia or Tuca Cabellut, this mountain, at 2738m far from being a threethousander, is still an emblematic peak in the Benasque Valley.
Despite the abrupt slopes of the mountain, the trail is straightforward enough..if at times very steep and slightly exposed. At one point there is a short length (10-12m) of steel cable to guarantee security. I moved quickly hoping to make the top by sunrise..
..and i just about made it! Truly magnificent. Sunrise is pretty cool seen from anywhere – even from the train on the way to work – but seen from the top of a mountain..there are really no words to describe it. Add to that the always wondrous phenomenon of looking down on a sea of cloud..
..i can honestly say that it was awesome, truly awesome.