I usually get to the Pyrenees a couple of times every Winter-Spring to do some climbing and skiing..and this year i’ve made plans several times to go, but for one reason or another i’ve had to put it off again and again – until last weekend. Starting with a visit to Valle de Tena on Saturday, the objective was Pico Culivillas, a mountain which dominates the ski resort of Formigal.
In this exceptional year of snow it was possible to move on skis immediately from the car-park, making the approach to the peak very quick.
The mountain rises up majestically as you get nearer, its North face looking steep and very attractive to ski..as is the case with several other peaks and steep lines in the area.
On the way we deviated slightly from the ascent route to climb Pico Royo, a secondary peak to the East of Culivillas.
Unfortunately the surface layer of recent snow on the North face of Pico Royo did not look good for ski, so we had to climb back down and continue ..beautiful summit nonetheless.
And continue we did, moving quickly along the snowy ridge which led to Culivillas as the weather threatened to complicate the day, clouds suddenly coming in and closing down visibility. Fortunately they dispersed as quickly as they had appeared..returning us to bluebird conditions.
The descent from the top along the ridge was a little exposed with vertical cliffs to the North and steep bare rock to the South but offered nice creamy snow. We moved cautiously searching for the entry couloir to the North face, which let itself be found without too much difficulty but presented somewhat crusty snow.
Then big free turns on the snowfield and once more in search of the correct entry point to the steep exit couloir ..which was less obvious and offered slightly dangerous sluffy snow plus a constriction right at the end which made for “interesting” skiing. After the couloir it was down to the pistes of the resort and the car-park.
The following day we started from Canfranc -with its amazing international station- in Valle del Aragón and headed for Somport. Due to the weather looking a little unfavourable we changed our initial plans for more North face skiing and prudently settled for a more relaxed day of activity. We climbed the South and skied the East face of Pic Benoú, a peak on the border with France which dominates the Astún ski resort.
The South-facing slopes of this mountain showed evidence of considerable avalanche activity during the Winter. Near the top we devised a huge cornice thru the playful clouds..at first we could not work out what it was that we were occasionally able to glimpse, but as we got closer it became clear..a vertical cornice up to 7-8m high.
We spent a pleasant hour on top of the mountain..as the clouds disappeared and left us another bluebird day. And then skied down the East face..
On the upper slopes we had wide open snowfields and the quality of the snow could hardly have been better..perfect creamy corn, just right for big fast turns.
The lower slopes of the mountain offered more challenging skiing with steeper terrain plus some big crevasses..and dodging between the avalanche barriers which protect the resort.
And we had time for one more ski up and down in the afternoon on the opposite side of the valley, before heading home in the early evening.. half a thousand kilometers to the Southern slopes of Guadarrama. I do love the Sierra de Guadarrama but sometimes it occurs to me that it wouldn’t be bad to live a little closer to El Pirineo!